Week of December 2, 2022


USMNT Comin’

This week, The U.S. Men’s National Team finished second in its World Cup group, advancing to the Round of 16. This was, for most observers, what was expected. Although it was by no means a guarantee, anything less would have been seen as a failure. Is this fair? I don’t know. Lots of very good teams have suffered a worse fate this World Cup (Germany chief among them). But the U.S. has advanced out of its group in 3 of the last 4 World Cups it played in, so we have come to expect it. And while this is a very young U.S. team (average age approximately 24), it’s also the most talented U.S. team ever. So they met the expectation. But what’s most exciting is how they did it.

In their first game, they dominated Wales in the first half. The goal they scored was brilliant, with a great through ball from Christian Pulisic to Timothy Weah, ending in a calm and smooth finish for the 1-0 lead.

Wales was desperate in the second half, but the U.S. still largely controlled…until the U.S. committed a dumb foul in the box in stopped time, allowing Gareth Bale to bury his penalty. The U.S. had what felt like a sure victory turn into a bitter draw. 

Four days later, the U.S. played England. England is considered far deeper and more talented than the U.S. But you wouldn’t have known that watching the game. The U.S. controlled the game, particularly in the midfield, with Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, and Yunus Musah flying all over the field. Pulisic had a shot hit the crossbar and England had a couple near goals, but the game ended 0-0. This time, the draw felt like a win. Here’s what the Ringer’s Brian Phillips said to sum that game up:

I don’t care all that much that they didn’t win the game. (I do care that the U.S. remains undefeated against England at the World Cup.) I care that they played their hearts out and looked their best on the biggest possible stage. What’s the secret to happiness that particle physicists are hiding from the rest of the world? Maybe the answer lies in the nature of the particles themselves. Maybe some particles are just fun. Maybe some particles are simply a thrill to look at. Maybe one glance at these joyful particles is enough to put anyone in a happy frame of mind.

Isn’t it the same, after all, when you watch a soccer game? Sometimes you watch two evenly matched teams and one of them somehow has an extra dash of energy, flair, pizzazz, boldness. They’re not better, exactly, but they’re freer. They’re more fun. They’re carbonated water and the other team is tap. They’re a hot air balloon and the other team is a Toyota Celica. They’re Wario and the other team is Toad. These are the joyful particles, and when you watch them, you get to experience, for 90 minutes, the bone-deep happiness that particle physicists apparently feel all the time.

Did the match change anything? Well, yes and no. No, in the sense that the U.S. will, more or less as expected, have to beat Iran on Tuesday to qualify for the knockout rounds. England, meanwhile, just has to avoid a four-goal loss to Wales. I’ve been seeing reports that non-soccer fans were bored and disappointed by this game, which is understandable —it’s tough to turn on a heavily hyped sporting event the day after Thanksgiving, see a scoreless draw that doesn’t dramatically alter the larger competitive landscape, and not feel a little let down. You probably have to be a longtime fan-slash-nerd to be deep enough in the context to get it.

And if you were, then you could see that yes, the match did change something—or at least had the potential to do so. It had the potential to change the identity of this team. We’ve been an untested, inconsistent, ambiguous proposition for a long time. Now we’re a team that can hang with England at the World Cup. Maybe we lose to Iran on Tuesday and the England game turns out to be an anomaly. But maybe it’s the start of something.

The U.S. had two points, trailing England (4) and Iran (3) heading into its finale against Iran on Tuesday. The U.S. was in an unenviable position – needing a win against a team that only needed a draw. Iran could sit back on defense, crowding the box and frustrating the Americans, knowing that they didn’t need to score to advance out of the group and send the U.S. home (again). The game began much like the Wales game. Here’s Defector’s Billy Haisley:

Probably the first step to being a great team is believing you are a great team, and the U.S. came into Tuesday’s match dripping with self-belief. Once again the Americans put together an excellent first half. The U.S. played confident, domineering soccer, zipping the ball around the pitch, gashing Iran down the flanks with scything runs from fullbacks Sergiño Dest and Antonee Robinson, and all around playing like a team that knew it would win. Pressure on the Iran goal built steadily, almost inevitably, throughout the first half hour.

If the U.S. seemed energized by the prospect of achieving the victory it needed to advance to the knockout rounds, then Iran seemed nervous about losing the draw it needed to go through. The Iranians defended decently but couldn’t plug all the holes the Americans were constantly ripping into their defense from all sides. Even when they had the ball themselves, Iran hardly ventured forward in the first period of play, and they didn’t take a single shot compared to the U.S.’s nine first-half attempts on goal.

When the game started, I badly wanted an early goal. At the 11 minute mark I said to myself, “It’s early. There’s still time.” At the 25 minute mark I said, “It’s early, there’s still time.” At the 35 minute mark I began to panic internally: “We cannot be scoreless at the half I can’t take it. I can’t take Algeria 2010 again.” And then, magic:

Watch that play slowly. Pulisic begins his run before McKennie has even lofted the ball across to Dest. Then, as he sees Dest rushing onto the ball, he turns on the friggin afterburners, beats two defenders, and finishes. What a run by Pulisic. What a ball by McKennie. What a pass by Dest. 

The second half was excruciating, as Iran was desperate for a goal. Though they had a few chances that had me gasping, they never got it. The U.S. held on and advanced. 

The U.S. was the better team in all three games it played, which is something we are not used to saying. Here’s Haisley:

Rooting for a national team of the U.S.’s caliber is sort of a funny thing. The team isn’t (yet . . . ?) good enough that fans can rightly demand passage into the World Cup knockout rounds and expect a win or two there, nor is the team bad enough that any old performance at a World Cup is good enough. Where you place expectations, then, and what constitutes success or failure, isn’t always clear.

The only thing you can really ask of a team like this is progress. Markers of progress aren’t always found simply in the team’s record in big tournaments, and to accurately assess the USMNT’s status, it’s important to have a holistic view that takes into account things like the number of European-grade players the country is producing, the leagues and clubs the players play at, the roles they have there, the national team’s performances outside World Cup play, and, yes, granular things like a gorgeous technique on a shot or neat passing and pressing sequences within important, maximally competitive matches.

That’s the great thing about this USMNT. The progress of these players is right there before your eyes, in the clubs that sign them and the transfer fees they command and the in-game gestures and actions they’re capable of and even the draws and wins they earn in the World Cup. The USMNT has grown so much that it’s already manifested in the results the team gets where it matters most. American fans can trust that now, and can enjoy the ride watching how far they can take it. Because if you thought this team was good, you’ve just been proven right.

So, what’s next? The Netherlands. A big name with some very good players. But this is not the Netherlands of 2010, with Robben, Sneijder, and Van Persie. They are beatable. And this U.S. team can do it. -TOB

Source: U.S. Soccer Matched English Football on the Biggest Possible Stage,” Brian Phillips, The Ringer (11/26/2022); USA Handled the Challenge Against Iran in More Ways Than One,” Brian Phillips, The Ringer (11/29/2022); The USMNT Is What We Thought It Was,” Billy Haisley, Defector (11/29/2022)

PAL: Damn, I wish this team had a finisher up top. I think it was on the Bill Simmons pod that I heard them analyzing the team, and one of the points stuck out: having young legs in a tournament played in the desert is not a bad deal, especially against an older team like The Netherlands. I takin TOB’s angle from the Iran and applying it here – we need a first half goal, because I think we have tendency to run out of gas at that 60-70 minute mark (before the subs come in). And yes – I used “we” multiple times this response. Let’s go!


Beam Team Comin’

The Sacramento Kings have wandered through the desert for most of their existence. The team arrived in Sactown in 1985-86 and made the playoffs just twice in its first 13 seasons, losing in the first round both times. There was then an 8 season Renaissance of sorts, with the team peaking from about 2001-2004, where they finished 3rd, 1st, 2nd, and 4th in the Western Conference, the apex being the 2002 season, where they were robbed of an NBA title by crooked officiating.

Since the 2006 season, though, it’s been all desert. 16 seasons. Zero playoff appearances. Only twice in those sixteen seasons did they even finish 10th in the Western Conference. They’ve had terrible owners, terrible management, and twelve mostly terrible head coaches (12 in 16 seasons!). They’ve had a few good players, but not enough to make the team competitive or even entertaining.

Last year, the team was kinda fun, with point guards DeAaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton leading the way. But the team still stunk and Fox and Haliburton, as good as they were, didn’t seem to mesh. The team made a deadline deal sending Haliburton and Buddy Hield to Indiana for Domantas Sabonis. I was PISSED. Haliburton was looking and continues to look like a superstar.

But something funny has happened over the last month of this early season. Everything is clicking in Sacramento. After an 0-4 start, the Kings righted the ship and then reeled off a 7-game win streak. It was their longest since 2004. And they didn’t just beat up on cream puffs. Victims included the Lakers, Nets, Spurs, Grizzlies and oh yeah – the Warriors. They put up 153 (!!) on Brooklyn. 

And it wasn’t just the wins. The team was fun. They still aren’t defending a ton, though they’re better than last season. But the offense is electric. Fox and Sabonis are unleashed. Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, and Terrence Davis are bombing 3s. By the end of their streak, their offense for the season was the most efficient in the entire NBA, and in fact the most efficient ever. 

Kings fans, who have been wandering the desert in search of a cup of water for 16 years suddenly felt as though they’d been dropped into a 5-star hotel’s pool. Text messages among my friends are flying back and forth nightly. We friggin deserve this and we’re enjoying every minute. The fans are bananas.

I mean, look at the crowd in this sequence from Wednesday night’s game. They are going off:

Perhaps the best part of it all is The Beam. After every Kings win, a purple beam from atop the Golden1 Center is ignited and it is friggin sick. 

And look at this fan’s Christmas Tree:

I WANT THAT.

My buddy Murph lives about 4-5 miles away from the arena and can see the beam from his house. It’s the coolest thing. Check Kings Twitter after a win and you will see the beam memes out in force. It’s cool as hell and it’s really fun again to be a Kings fan, which is hella tight. -TOB


Assessing a World Cup

I had to write about this article separate from my other USMNT story, because it didn’t really fit into it as a narrative. But I really enjoyed the article and in particular this passage about how thin the margins for error are in a World Cup and why those razor-thin margins make it difficult to assess a World Cup performance:

The trouble with assessing a World Cup campaign, whether in real time or in hindsight, is that four years of work boil down to the smallest margins: a bounce here, a runner not tracked there, a foul not spotted, a sprint started a fraction too early or too late, a ball that does or doesn’t cross the line by an inch.

If Clint Dempsey’s shot doesn’t squeak through Rob Green’s arms and trickle over the line against England in 2010, it’s entirely possible the U.S. doesn’t survive the group stage. It certainly wouldn’t have if Donovan had not summoned his last reserves of energy and made a trailing run in extra time against Algeria. Donovan’s goal produced an iconic moment in USMNT history, something of an inflection point for the sport stateside.

If John Brooks doesn’t head home one of his three national team goals late on against Ghana in the USMNT’s opener four years later in Brazil, the Yanks never make it out of the group. Conversely, if Chris Wondolowski gets just a little bit more of his right foot around a ball dropped into his path by Jermaine Jones’s header and gets the shot on target, the Americans likely beat Belgium to reach the quarterfinal.

If a referee’s whistle rings out in Ulsan, South Korea, when Torsten Frings clearly blocks Berhalter’s close-range effort from going into the goal with his hand, the Americans surely reach the semifinals at the 2002 World Cup. Then again, if the USA doesn’t eke out a win over Portugal and a tie with South Korea in the group stage, it would have exited early.

If. If. If.

Those three World Cup campaigns were all remembered as successes. They very nearly weren’t. But they also could have yielded more glory still. These are the margins at this unforgiving tournament, at this fickle and cruel mega-event.

This young United States men’s national team learned this lesson the hard way the past 10 days. They had their chances for a win against Wales. Against England, too. They could have had this thing sewn up before playing Iran but had to settle for ties instead. Their vulnerability felt acute during several moments against Iran as the USMNT desperately defended a 1-0 lead.

If—that word again—any of Iran’s chances make it into the American net, this golden generation is suddenly a disappointment. Instead, they have been certified as 48-carat.

This is a really great point. I often think about that Wondo miss against Belgium. What is the present of American men’s soccer if he buries that easy goal and the U.S. makes the quarterfinal by beating a then-Soccer World super power? 

Anyways, there’s more great stuff on the present and future of the USMNT in this article. -TOB
Source: The USMNT Passed Their World Cup Test. Now the Fun Part Begins,” Leander Schaerlaeckens, The Ringer (12/1/2022)


Videos of the Week

Me, Friday morning at my desk, as South Korea picked me up points in the pool:

LOL, Cuban. What a pathetic loser.

-Classic Hockey guy


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Two hundred, but I’ll tell him it’s fifty. He doesn’t care about the gift; he gets excited about the deal.

Jerry Seinfeld

Week of November 25, 2022


A World Cup Without Beer

Right before this World Cup began, host country Qatar pulled the ol’ switcheroo: after ensuring FIFA for years that they would permit beer sales in and around the stadiums, Qatar announced that they had change their minds. Fans were mad, none more so than English fans. The New York Times wrote a fun story about how English fans, for many of whom beer is an essential part of the soccer experience. It’s worth a read but I particularly liked this part:

“To deny an Englishman a beer is to starve an Englishman,” said Kenny, who mentioned (several times) that he had turned 50 that very day.

To paraphrase Patrick Henry, give me beer or give me death.

Also, this was funny:

As he left, he began to sing an expletive-enhanced chorus of “There’ll be no drinking in Qatar,” to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain.”

The English fans then left the bar to head to the stadium, only to be replaced by a new batch: Welsh fans, resplendent in their dragon insignia, and the Dutch, all in orange.

“We always drink before the game, but we don’t go out to get hammered,” said Thomas Bowen, 27, from Wales.

He said while he respected the English approach, his countrymen had their own traditions. “They get quite rowdy,” he said. “We just like to sing.”

-TOB

Source: England Had a Game, but First Its Fans Had a Quest. For Beer,” Sarah Lyall, New York Times (11/22/2022)


This is Maybe the Least Timely Story We’ve Ever Covered, But It’s Also Thanksgiving, So…

I saw a random tweet this week that sounded so unbelievable to me I had to look it up:

No friggin way. What? TWO outs from their bullpen in a 5-game series win? In today’s game, that’s absolutely inconceivable. Even in 2005, that would have been outrageous. So I looked it up. It’s true. It’s actually true. Here’s the White Sox pitching line for the series:

C’mon. Look at that thing. It’s friggin incredible. The White Sox lost Game 1 to the Angels, 3-2. Contreras was pulled with 1 out in the Top of the 9th, down 3-2, after a single by Bengie Molina. The Angels held on in the 9th to win. The White Sox then won the series on 4 straight complete games.

I have absolutely no recollection of this, which is odd because in 2005 I still followed the Angels fairly closely. But it was also my first semester of law school and I was pretty busy, so it makes some sense. 

Has a staff had a better series in modern baseball history? Seems hard to believe. Anyways, thanks for coming to 1-2-3 Sports!, where we do things like ponder the incredible events of a baseball series from 17 years ago. -TOB


Checking in on Big Game

Toldja.

Also, on Friday night I got some beers with some neighborhood dads. I mentioned that I went to Big Game last weekend with my oldest and one of the dads, who I don’t know that well, asked me who won. I said Cal. “Damn,” he said. And if that doesn’t encapsulate Stanford fans perfectly, I don’t know what does: he has no idea who won, a full week after the game, but pretends to care. Go Bears Forever. -TOB


Video(s) of the Week

(I laughed so hard at the first answer by Tim Robinson)


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“What’s so great about a mom and pop store? Let me tell you something, if my mom and pop ran a store I wouldn’t shop there.”

-George Costanza

Week of November 18, 2022


Yes, Stanford Sucks; Here’s How

Cal has beaten Stanford two out of the last three years and god damnit they are winning again this weekend JUST LOOK at these uniforms.

FIRE. It is literally impossible to lose when you look that good.

And it doesn’t hurt that while Cal has had a disappointing season, Stanford REALLY sucks. It wasn’t long ago that Stanford was one of the best teams in the country, so what happened? The Chronicle’s Connor LeTourneau answers that question and buddy let me tell you I enjoyed every word. Here’s Connor on the sorry state of Stanford football:

As Stanford prepares for Saturday afternoon’s Big Game at Cal, it already has assured its third straight full season without a bowl appearance. A barrage of injuries to key players couldn’t keep Shaw from becoming the subject of recent “hot seat” chatter — a development that would have seemed unfathomable a half-decade ago.

In his first six years leading the Cardinal, he guided his alma mater to five 10-win seasons, including three Pac-12 titles and two Rose Bowl victories. But as the transfer portal, NIL deals and Air Raid offenses altered the paradigm of college football, Stanford devolved from powerhouse to punchline.

A program once revered for its toughness and smarts is flirting with its second consecutive three-win season. For the fourth year in a row, Stanford ranks among the bottom fifth of FBS teams in yards per play allowed. Its offensive line, which not long ago was an NFL pipeline and the envy of college football, is routinely bullied.

Yes, yes. More, more. 

Over the past 13½ months, Stanford has gone 1-14 in Pac-12 play. Its predictable offense and shaky defense have some opponents viewing it as an easy win. In a bigger-picture breakdown of the program published in April, the Athletic quoted an anonymous Pac-12 assistant as saying, “You used to fear playing Stanford. … Nobody fears playing them anymore.”

MORE.

Instead of being asked about the rivalry with Cal, the first question he received during Tuesday’s news conference was about his job status. Shaw kept his answer brief: “Our focus is on the 125th Big Game, and that’s what our focus is. Thanks.” Later asked whether Saturday could mark his final time coaching the Big Game, he appeared visibly annoyed as he told the reporter, “I like how you asked that question with a smirk because you know I’m not going to answer it. Next question.”

LOL, YES.

A quarterback under head coach John Ralston in the mid-1960s, Cook has not attended a Stanford home game this season for the first time in more than 20 years as a form of protesting Shaw.

“By giving up our tickets, we spend our Saturdays doing something else rather than being frustrated with the team,” Cook said. “The Big Game is up at Berkeley this ye

Hahaha, hell yeah. GO BEARS! -TOB

Source: Stanford’s David Shaw Faces ‘Hot-Seat’ Chatter, Donor Frustrations as Losses Mount,” Connor LeTourneau, SF Chronicle (11/16/2022)


World Cup Goals and What They Mean

The Ringer’s Brian Phillips has been putting out a really great series in the lead up to the World Cup – long, entertaining, poetic essays on 22 of the greatest and most important goals in World Cup history. 

Like the best sportswriting, Phillip’s stories are about more than the goals, though. Like this one, about Lucien Laurent, the Frenchman who sailed across the globe to Uruguay for the very first World Cup and scored the first goal in the tournament’s history. In that article, Phillips lays out why a coffee fungus in Sri Lanka in the 19th Century led, arguably, to the modern World Cup. I learned about Thomas Lipton (as in the tea) and his role in the World Cup. I learned about steam ship trips across the Atlantic. I saw this incredible picture of the French national team on that steam ship.

Then there was this article about Johann Cruyff, the Dutch soccer great. In this one, Phillips weaves in and out of the story a funny observation about Bob Dylan and whether he can drive a car. It sounds weird, but it works. I learned about “Total Football,” I saw cool clips of a soccer legend I’ve heard of but never really seen before. For example, this is just sick:

I also loved this one which asked the question – which kind of goal do you like best: one involving incredible teamwork or one involving sparking individual effort and skill:

But the question of teamwork versus talent. Of the group versus the individual. Of the successful English boy band versus the ex-boy band member now recording as a solo artist whom everyone tries to pretend is more sophisticated than the boy band even though really, he just wears weirder pants.

These questions are central to the appreciation of soccer goals. And therefore central to this time that you and I are spending together as an excuse not to do any real work.

Here are the contenders:

Argentina’s 24-pass build up to a goal in 2006:

 Or James’ incredible volley strike in 2014:

Phillips takes James’ goal, as he explains here:

Since the systems in play have such a powerful determining influence on the game, I often find it more thrilling, more moving, when one player manages to stand out from the system. When one player rises above it or epitomizes it.

I want to watch that person do amazing things. I want to know what that person means to the game. Or means outside the game. I like stars.

Of course I would not ever say no to a 24-pass move culminating in a goal following a no-look back-heel pass. I will have that goal seven days a week, no ketchup. But if it comes down to a choice, I’ll take Diego Maradona running through the English defense over just about anything else in the game.

Well, thank goodness we don’t have to choose. Soccer gives us both these possibilities, and it gives every possibility between them. Every nuance on the continuum. It’s a surprisingly nuanced game, soccer, for a sport that once prominently featured John Terry.

And finally, I want to talk about this article about Landon Donovan’s incredible, tournament saving goal against Algeria in 2010

My god, what a moment. Phillips discusses the goal, yes. But he really discusses the history of soccer in America which is, ya know, complicated. Phillips writes this excellent paragraph about the waning moments of that game, right before Donovan’s goal:

It’s a strange thing about hope that in the long term, hope makes life easier. But in the short term, when you’re hoping from one second to the next, when you’re hoping for something right now, hope is a labor.

Hope is work.

You’re waiting for the phone to ring. You’re waiting for the flight to land. You’re waiting for the last seven to spin up on the slot machine. It’s work. American fans are exhausted from years of accumulated short-term hope.

I also really liked what he wrote about what that goal changed for American soccer:

Does the goal change soccer in the United States?

I think the answer is yes, in the following way. It gave us all a moment when we could just be in the moment. When we could be united in the moment.

What I mean by that is that American soccer has carried this structural uncertainty about its own status for so long that if you were an American fan, you were always a little bit trapped in big-picture thinking.

You were always aware of the state of the game. The development of the game. Where’s the game going? What’s your responsibility to help get it there?

It was always partly about a process. Probably even this year, heading into Qatar, we still feel some of that.

But not in that moment in Pretoria. When joy finally comes, it gives you the present. It gives you radiance with no future and no past. And it felt to me like a lot of things fell away from American men’s soccer as we all passed through that moment. A weight lifted. I don’t know how to explain it.

Men’s soccer did not get to be bigger than the NFL, but the concern over whether it would just … never seemed as pressing after that. Because of that moment. The game didn’t get bigger so much as it got freer. It got less pressured. It got more fun.

Because of that moment, I think MLS games started to seem more like a great time, less burdened by the question of where the league is going.

Because of that moment, I think Landon Donovan was more able to open up about his struggles with anxiety and burnout—hardly anyone talks about this now, but Landon was way ahead of the discourse on athletes and mental health.

Because of that moment, when a young American player goes to Europe, I no longer think the fate of the universe is riding on the outcome. I just think, for Christ’s sake, Chelsea, get him off the bench.

It’s a really good point. We never hear, “Will soccer ever make it in the U.S.?” Man, it’s made it and that goal is a big reason why. It proved that American fans love soccer and will go bananas for it. 

Anyways, great series by Phillips. It got me so pumped for World Cup. -TOB


Source: Landon Donovan, 2010, and a Breakthrough Moment for American Soccer,” Brian Phillips, The Ringer (11/16/2022)

PAL: I love the tone and tempo to Phillips’ writing in this story. It reads fast and loose – like he’s telling you this story at a bar. He’s so much more focused on the feelings and tempo of the story than a perfectly constructed sentence in its leanest, fittest form. 

Weaving a history into (or up to) a moment can read like work, but he sums up American soccer so well. Decades of details about how professional soccer couldn’t take hold leading up to an unlikely goal against Algeria. Why didn’t America embrace professional soccer, especially when all of us were playing it growing up? I loved this insight from Phillips: “When you’re the world’s most confident superpower and you’re bad at something, you can’t be bad at it just because you’re bad at it.”

While I’m not the biggest World Cup fan out there, I know exactly where I was when Donovan scored – Ireland’s 32 on Geary Blvd drinking morning Guinness in a packed bar. Phillips is right – that moment was electric – for a moment we all got a taste of the joy of a World Cup moment. 

Fun read!

TOB: Man, that must have been a dope spot to see that goal. I was at home, lol.


How Europe Decides Who Wins the World Cup

At the heart of this story, and what’s at stake in a Europe-driven globalization of the game, is best captured in one Portuguese word: ginga (pronounced jee-en-gah).

Ginga is a style of dribbling and feinting at the core of the way soccer is played in Brazil, especially in the favelas. Pelé was one of the first. And that’s where this story from Tariq Panja, Elian Peltier and Rory Smith starts: in the favelas. Every week, the kids from a premier youth soccer academy take a bus ride to the favelas and play there. It’s the only place left where their play, preparation, and approach to the game isn’t impacted by Europe. 

Per Panja, Peltier and Smith

The demands and desires of Europe have shaped not only the way almost every country will play at this World Cup, but also which teams have had the talent and resources to qualify for it and which team has the ability to win it.

In other words, all of the best players in the world end up in Europe at around 17, 18, 19. That means all of the academies around the world teach and train based on what will give its program the best chance to send more players to Europe. It’s not just happening in Brazil. The same is taking place in Western Africa 

At the same time, those choices locked out a whole region of the continent, seemingly for good. It is not that there is less talent in Kenya and the Central African Republic than in Tunisia or Senegal; it is that there is less investment, less opportunity. Which nations can hope to reach the World Cup is determined, in effect, by Europe. And so, too, is the question of which countries can win it.

It is becoming increasingly rare for national teams to feature players who play in their home country. I mean, look at this chart! 

Such an interesting read, and a bit sad, too. There’s something really cool to a country having a style of play – an identity that’s unique. Really fascinating read. – PAL

Source: “How Europe Decides Who Wins the World Cup,” Tariq Panja, Elian Peltier and Rory Smith, The New York Times (11/18/2022) 


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“Just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

-George Costanza

Week of November 12, 2022

Say it’s so.

How ‘Bout Them Superteams

Great story here from Justin Verrier on how the NBA superteams put together in 2019 are struggling mightily. LeBron James’ Lakers (2-9) is one of those teams and I couldn’t help but think about how his Decision still looms large in the NBA, but in a way you might not expect.

The league changed when LeBron James decided to form a super team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, and the impact is rippling out, even today. Although it seemed so at the time for many, it’s not outlandish for an all-time great player to want to play with great players to increase his likelihood of winning titles. And that’s what LeBron did. He was a free agent, and went to the best basketball situation. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh won two titles in four years in Miami, and went to The Finals each year. 

When it was clear Wade was past his prime, LeBron went back to Cleveland. Cool that it was home, but as Bill Simmons has pointed many times, Cleveland was the best situation for him to win right away. They got (or would get) Kevin Love, then had a young Kyrie, and the Eastern Conference was there for the taking. He went to four more Finals. James making the NBA FInals 8 consecutive years is pretty impressive. During that second stint with the Cavs, James signed one-year contracts as a way to assert more pressure on the team to win now. Leverage the future for the present. And if the front office didn’t do that, well then maybe LeBron wouldn’t stick around. After the talent dried up in Cleveland, he went to the Lakers, eventually joining forces with Anthony Davis. 

It wasn’t long before other stars wanted the same, and teams had to leverage the future to attract the big stars. KD and Kyrie in Brooklyn. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the Clippers. 

Per Verrier: 

For more than a decade, the NBA operated under the assumption that aggregating superstars was the key to success, to the point that even a 73-win team (the Warriors) had to enlist a former MVP for reinforcement. But it’s jarring watching the league these days and seeing a team led by James and Davis—still ranked among the league’s 20 best players despite recent setbacks—look downright feckless against a no-star, all-vibes outfit like the Jazz. It’s early, shooting luck will even out, etc., etc., yet it’s hard not to wonder whether the three teams expected to dominate the league just three calendar years ago are already drawing dead—and if the blueprint that built those and other recent superteams has suddenly become outdated. 

That’s not to say that the lure of star power has somehow diminished. The Cavs, lest we forget, just forked over a half decade of future draft picks to add Mitchell, whose blistering start has been the engine of Cleveland’s early success. But there’s a big difference between adding a star to an existing core, as the Hawks and Timberwolves also did this past offseason, and starting from scratch with a newly acquired superstar (or two or three) as the center of your franchise’s universe. One augments a team and its culture; the other replaces them. And by the summer of 2019, the latter was the cost of doing business with the very best players in the league.

Also, the superstars who can command this type of treatment and win-now approach from a franchise aren’t the healthiest bunch…that, or they are just getting old in basketball terms.  

Since 2019: 

Durant has missed 57% of the Nets games. Kyrie: 53%. Kawhi and Paul George: 53% and 40%. LeBron and Anthony Davis: 25% and 37%

A ton of draft picks and prospects were traded to put those superteams together, and none of them won a single playoff game last year. As a result of the trades made in order to get the superstar players, they have diminished assets to make any more moves.

The rest of the league took notice, too. 

But the Davis and George trades, while boons for the L.A. teams, were also clear warnings to any team (and perhaps more importantly, owner) in a less glamorous market: If you want to keep the stars you have, you need to pay the exorbitant price to win now. In other words, LeBron’s and Kawhi’s power plays galvanized their competition into making similar moves, creating superish teams with younger stars and deeper rosters on the same timeline as the Lakers, Clippers, and Nets.

Verrier’s story is about positing the idea that death of the last wave of superteams assembled through free agency and trading away the future. I also see it as this odd homage to The Decision. It worked out pretty spectacularly for LeBron: 4 rings, 10 trips to the Finals (one before his move to Miami), a just about every playoff record out there. It also helped normalize the most understandable idea out there in the professional world (I would like to decide where I want to work in order to be most successful). LeBron changed the game to such a degree that he’s made winning more difficult for himself.  – PAL 

Source: “Is the NBA’s Superteam Era Already Over?” Justin Verrier, The Ringer (11/10/22)


RIP, Jane Gross

Obituaries fascinate me. I never heard of Jane Gross until reading this Richard Sandomir obituary, but I feel privileged to have read the summary of her life today. She’s no superstar. Far from a household name, but today I learned about a lady who led a meaningful, impactful life. 

Gross was a sports reporter. In 1975, she became the first female sports reporter known to enter a professional basketball locker room while covering the Knicks for the Long Island paper, Newsday. A few years later, it became NBA policy to allow women writers in the locker room, which was essential to covering a team in the same fashion as a male counterpart. 

She was scared, but Gross later said, “But I began to realize what a fellow sportswriter at Newsday had told me,” she was quoted as saying in a 1976 profile by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, “that you really can’t get the flavor of the players without seeing them in the locker room and the camaraderie they share.”

Richard Sandomir

She added: “It’s a beautiful thing, the closeness and lack of inhibition after great physical exertion. Most women rarely experience it.”

In addition to sports, she wrote about abortion, the AIDS crisis, Alzheimers and the San Francisco earthquake in 1989. Later, when her mother’s health declined, she started writing about caring for aging parents. That became her beat.

“People tended to underestimate her, and she welcomed it,” Jonathan Landman, a former Times editor who worked with Ms. Gross on the National desk, said in a phone interview. “She played the role of someone emotional, and not too tough, but she was as rigorous and tough-minded a reporter as anyone.”

Sandomir

Gross’s dad was a sports columnist, and she loved it. She followed in his footsteps, then trailblazed her own path. RIP, Jane Gross. – PAL 

 Source: Jane Gross, Sportswriter Who Opened Locker Room Doors, Dies at 75,” Richard Sandomir, The New York Times (11/10/22) 


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Week of October 21, 2022

My god, man.

The Warriors’ Future

Whew, the Warriors. What a ride. A quick recap of where thing stood a couple weeks ago: 

Draymond Green is 32. He has one year left on his contract after this year, but he can opt out and become a free agent at 33, or play that final year for $27.5M and then become a free agent at 34. Almost everyone expects him to opt out to hit free agency a year younger and to get a raise in that first year. He is the heartbeat of the team and the anchor of the defense.

Andrew Wiggins is 27. He is in the last year of his deal and will be paid $33.6M this year. He disappeared for long stretches last year, but came up big during the playoffs. He is an essential two-way player for the Warriors.

Jordan Poole is 22. This is the last year on his rookie deal. He was eligible for an extension of up to 25% of the salary cap, beginning next year. Or, if he didn’t sign an extension, he’d become a restricted free agent next year (the Warriors would have the opportunity to match any deal he signed). He is a young, talented and proven offensive talent.

Steph Curry is Steph Curry. He is 34. He is signed through 2025-26, with his contract reaching just shy of $60M (sixty. million.) in the last year of his deal. He is the face of the franchise and IMO, a top ten all time player. Everything the Warriors do offensively revolves around his skills.

Klay Thompson is 32. He is signed through 23-24. He will be paid $84M over the next two seasons. He does not yet appear to have be 100% back to his pre-achilles/ACL injuries self. 

Two weeks ago, the Warriors had some tough decisions to make – both in the short-term and the medium term. Their cap number and luxury tax bill are both extremely high. Here’s their salary cap situation, as broken down by the Chronicle’s Connor Letournau:

If the team stayed its current course and kept Green on the roster beyond this season, it would stare down a 2023-24 total payroll — salaries and luxury taxes — of around $500 million. That’s simply not feasible. The Warriors might be one of the NBA’s most profitable franchises, but even they aren’t willing to spend a half-billion dollars on a basketball team.

Myers has said that majority owner Joe Lacob would have to fire him if Golden State had a roster costing north of $400 million and didn’t win a championship. Even after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years this past June with a total payroll of around $362 million, Myers showed just how serious he remains about keeping costs manageable when he declined to match Portland’s three-year, $28 million offer sheet for Gary Payton II.

The problem for the Warriors is they don’t have any easy ways to push that projected 2023-24 payroll down around $400 million. Aside from Poole, Wiggins and Stephen Curry, Golden State’s only major contracts next season are Green at $27.6 million — assuming he exercises his player option — and Klay Thompson at $43.2 million.

If Myers keeps both Green and Thompson around, he might have no choice other than to cut costs through the rest of the rotation. That would mean jettisoning Kevon Looney ($8.5 million in 2023-24), Donte DiVincenzo ($4.7 million player option) and perhaps even James Wiseman ($12.1 million team option) or Kuminga ($6 million team option). Doing that would crater the Warriors’ depth, disbanding the young core they’ve worked so hard to develop, and set the team back for years to come.

That’s not really an option.

So, two weeks ago – the question was who would the Warriors hang onto assuming 1 or 2 of these 4 must leave over the next two seasons? 

It would be hard for me to let Draymond go as long as Curry is still an elite player. He brings so much to the table and allows Curry to do what Curry does. At the same time, with his body type and style of play, most expect a quick drop-off once he is past his peak. He’s also going to want a very big raise, and it feels like the Warriors would be paying for past performance. 

Poole was an interesting one to me. The youngest and the highest ceiling at this point. You can squint and see Poole becoming the next Curry (or maybe just the next Nick Young). He disappeared a bit during the playoffs, but also had big moments. 

Klay is old and still recovering from two devastating injuries. His offensive game has never relied on athleticism, although his previously excellent defense did. He could certainly become a spot-up shooter, but what are the Warriors willing to pay for that? 

Wiggins to me was the easiest release. Not a homegrown guy like Poole, and older, too. Not a face of the franchise like Draymond and Klay. A history of being a little soft. But a good defender and talented offensive player. 

And that’s kinda how I thought things might play out. Extend Draymond 3 years, extend Poole, let Klay gracefully retire or take a massive paycut to become a Korver-type player, and let  Wiggins walk (or trade him for picks). But then Draymond went and blew the whole thing up:

Yeeeeesh. That is not a good look, obviously. The team was pissed at Draymond and there was immediate speculation about how this would affect Draymond’s hope for a big extension. Within a week, the news dropped like a 1-2 punch:

And a few hours later:

Had Draymond’s punch changed the landscape that much? Or was this always the plan? It’s hard to know, but the Warriors have made their choice. And now the question is: Draymond or Klay?

The Poole and Wiggins extensions ensured that this choice must be between Green and Thompson. And Green is the far likelier of the two to go.

Even before Green punched Poole in practice two weeks ago, he figured to be the odd man out in any scenario in which Poole and Wiggins had been locked down long-term. In addition to his contract being much more tradeable than Thompson’s, Green only amplified concerns during the Finals that he could be headed for a steep drop-off.

Then there are the temper-control issues that have long gotten Green in trouble. Green’s violent strike of Poole — and the public backlash brought on by a viral video of it — did irreparable harm to his locker-room standing. Though his teammates might move past that incident to contend for another title, they are unlikely to ever forget Green attacked the much-smaller, much-younger Poole.

When making such a seismic decision about the Warriors’ future, Myers must consider Curry’s perspective. It was clear during his news conference the day after Green’s punch that Curry is growing tired of Green’s antics. If Curry were given the option of keeping Thompson — a model teammate fresh off an inspiring comeback — or Green, it doesn’t take a mind-reader to guess who he would choose.

The question is not so much whether a Green divorce looms, but rather how and when it will come.

It’s hard to imagine, honestly. He does so much for that team and if I could have one of them for 2-3 more years, I’d take Draymond. Then again, I don’t have to work with him. -TOB

Source: Fixing the Warriors’ Budget Crunch: Draymond Green Won’t Like This,” Connor Leatourneau, SF Chronicle (10/17/2022)


Headmaster’s Son Gets Hit With Basketball

This is one of the more bizarre sports stories you’ll ever come across, and perhaps one of the more profound ideas that you’ll find in a sports story. At the center of it all: an old clip from America’s Funniest Home Videos.

The clip is from a high school basketball game at Shipley in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. A ¾ court buzzer beater is chucked into the air, and the airball absolutely de-cleats a young child running behind the basket on the other end of the court. 

What makes the story perfect: the kid who gets smacked, Matthew Piltch, is the headmaster’s son.

The clip, which aired on AVF in 1995, was one of the first viral videos on the internet that has been uploaded and re-uploaded so many times that the origins disappeared from its online existence. Back in July, Brian Feldman set out to find its origins.

In July, he wrote, 

By and large, people want the internet to be an inexplicable machine of random stuff, entertaining them with funny videos of basketball games that could have taken place in Anytown, USA.

A seemingly infinite array of no-context funny videos—scraped from archival footage, newscasts, and increasingly, other users—gets recycled online every day for the sake of likes and shares and attention. “Basketball (so funny you’ll pee your pants).avi” could well be the very first one, a watershed moment in the history of the internet.

The lack of additional information elevates the viewing experience. But every so often, if you dig into a piece of internet ephemera, the context—the who, what, when, where, and why—have the potential to dramatically enhance your understanding of the freak accident that you just witnessed.

In the original story, Feldman concluded that the clip must’ve first aired on the show in the spring of 1995, but that’s as close to the origin as he could reliably get. 

After posting the story, people from the Delco community (Delco Christian is the opposing team in the video) reached out to Feldman to give him more info. They told him the video was submitted to AFV by the team’s coach after a kid working with the team recorded the game. 

Then the big break: Feldman found a DVD of an AFV special “Guide To Parenting” DVD. There it was: the original clip, complete with Bob Saget interviewing the kid who got walloped and his mom.  

Turns out, context is pretty important, because the kid getting laughs with Bob Saget is not Matthew Piltch, son of the headmaster. It’s Kris Jackson. Piltch had never seen the full segment – just the clip of a kid getting smacked. He always believed he was that kid. So did his parents, and so did everyone else in town.  

Feldman didn’t even have the right kid in the first story. How?

It’s not that Feldman was outright lazy in the first story. He corroborated the events of the game with several people who told the same story. The bulk of Feldman’s second story has him dissecting how he could’ve possibly had the wrong subject at the center of the original story. The truth is much harder to figure out when everyone remembers the lore. 

Fascinating story. – PAL

Source:The Misremembered History Of The Internet’s Funniest Buzzer-Beater,” Brian Feldman, Defector (10/19/22)

TOB: I loved this story when I read it in July and the update floored me. Memories are such strange things. How is it that dozens of people (hundreds even – an entire community) could collectively misremember something so memorable? How did Pilch’s parents remember that they had to check on their son after he was hit with a basketball, when in fact he didn’t? The last few paragraphs Feldman writes, about memory and about journalism, were really fantastic:

Piltch said that he has no clue how the idea started that it was him in the video, or where it came from. We talked it over together for a long time and came no closer to the truth. “It seems plausible that when the video popped up,” Piltch said, “someone just decided it was me. Like, what other towhead kid was running around Shipley basketball games? It must’ve been Matt.” (Piltch’s hair has darkened, but he did provide an old photo of him from around that age. His hair was indeed very blond, though not quite the level of Kris Jackson’s.) That’s certainly what his father thought.

Over the next hour, as we worked through the possibilities, Piltch came around to the idea that he’d been living with bad info for the majority of his life. “Our memories are not meant to be perfect,” he said. “This is an amazing instance of collective mis-memory.” He later noted that “it makes you wonder how much other stuff is out there like this.”

Later in our conversation, Piltch turned the focus on me. “How does this affect your perception of journalism?” he asked. Largely, I said, it had made me think about precision. I thought that I had done a diligent job buttoning up that first story—at the time, it even felt like I was engaging in a bit of overkill for such a low-stakes story about a funny viral video. Looking back, what I had actually done is uncover evidence of the video’s supposed legacy, rather than evidence of the inciting incident. I assumed that because multiple people independently told me the same thing, that thing was true. Should I have tried harder to find the provenance of the video, which would have alerted me to my glaring error? Possibly, but measuring what I was missing against what I’d already uncovered (along with the resources available to me; I didn’t have the budget to head down to Delco and ask for the yearbooks missing from Classmates.com), I felt there was enough there for a good story.

Kris Jackson might have been knocked into next week by a flying basketball, but I also got to watch Matthew Piltch get knocked senseless by something unexpected. You know, in a figurative sense. In the end, my attitude is fairly similar to his: This giant mistake of mine managed to uncover something even weirder, wilder, funnier, and—to be corny—deeply human. It was worth getting knocked on my ass.


When Does a Team Bat Around/A Round?

Last Saturday night, the Padres scored 5 runs in the bottom of the 7th to take a 5-3 lead against the Dodgers in Game 4 of their division series. The Padres would not give up that lead, and the Dodgers’ 111-win season went up in smoke. It was delightful

During that 7th inning, the Padres sent ten players to the plate. But as usual, a debate raged on twitter: had the Padres batted around when they sent their 9th hitter up, or not until the 10th? I see this debate on Twitter almost every time a team has a big inning in an important game. Here’s one example, of a pretty evenly split poll on the topic:

I googled, and found articles discussing this same debate. The Wall Street Journal tackled this topic in 2015. They asked a handful of players and others around the game where they stand and here’s what they found:

The day that article published, McCarthy expanded on his opinion:

But I am here to finally resolve this debate: it comes down to linguistics. Here’s what I tweeted during the game:

If you say a team “batted around” then they must send at least ten hitters to the plate. That is because the lineup has come back around to the beginning. However, if you say a team has “batted a round” then they need only send nine hitters to the plate. That is because a “round” occurs when each player has a turn (like buying a round of drinks, for example). They are different terms, but I think most people use “around.” Accordingly, it takes ten. 

Let’s all get on the same page here. -TOB


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“So, finally, I wanna thank God, because God gave me this Dundie and I feel God in this Chili’s tonight.” –

-Pam Beesly

October 14, 2022


Twitter Can Be Good, Sometimes

Weighing the impact of a website like Twitter is difficult. It has brought a lot of good to the world, and a lot of bad. But as a sports fan one thing I love is the ability to connect directly with professional athletes. I think players really underutilize it, actually. If players used it to do more than build their brand or shill for Corporate America, they could do a lot of cool things, like Brewers All-Star Christian Yelich did this week. 

In Wednesday night’s Game 2 of the NLDS, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw got San Diego’s Jurickson Profar to swing at a curveball that bounced about ten feet before the plate.  

I mean, that is honestly one of the worst swings I’ve ever seen. Look at this picture:

I think it might actually be the worst. It’s so terrible it’s hard to believe. I know that a lot of guys go up there guessing, but Kershaw doesn’t throw that hard anymore – barely cracking 90 MPH this season, on average. That’s slow enough, relatively speaking, that a professional hitter should be able to avoid looking as bad as Profar did there. But then I saw this Yelich tweet.

I’ve never seen a curveball like Kershaw’s obviously. I’ve never stood in the box for 90 MPH, either. So that’s pretty interesting – a spiked curveball starts out so much lower than a normal curveball that it starts at the same plane as a fastball. Makes sense, is simple. But without Yelich to explain it, I can’t understand how Profar can swing at that pitch. Thanks, Yelly! -TOB


Does Anything Beat a Proud Grandpa?

I love this video, lol.


Players Love Postseason Swag

This is a short article, and kinda goofy, too. But I still enjoyed it. Here’s the lede:

Francisco Lindor will make $341 million over 10 years with the Mets, but he cannot buy the thing he most covets. A World Series ring, sure. But also a World Series sweatshirt.

That’s pretty funny, but as various Mets players explain it, I get it:

Brandon Nimmo:

“It’s like if you’ve ever had a cup of coffee in a really beautiful place. You’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this cup of coffee is so amazing!’ If I had it back home it might be the same old coffee, but because of the circumstances that are around it, it’s awesome.”

Pete Alonso:

To be able to earn that patch that says postseason, earning that postseason patch on your hat—that’s sick. It’s awesome getting new stuff, but to be a part of something that you earned even though it’s as simple as having a postseason patch or whatever—we earned that. We earned that privilege to have that on our jersey. We earned [the chance] to be able to have that new stuff that not everyone’s getting. It’s almost like a rite of passage.”

This makes perfect sense. Plus, as Lindor says – they’re human. New stuff is fun. And so was this article. -TOB
Source: Baseball Players LOVE Their Playoff Merch,” Stephanie Apstein, Sports Illustrated (10/06/2022)


2 Percent

Some of you might remember Myron Rolle. He was the Rhodes Scholar and a 3rd team All American safety at Florida State. He was a late-round daft pick, but never got into an NFL game. After being let go by the Steelers, his was having a hard time coming to terms with where he was in his career and pursuit of a dream. That’s when his mom stepped in.

Per Elena Bergeron:

Showing him his grade school notebook, where he had written both goals, “she looked me straight in the eyes and pointed at the first one,” he recalled. “She said, ‘This one’s done.’ And she looked at the second one and said, ‘Now, we need to do this.’”

Today, he is Dr. Rolle, and at 35, he is in the sixth year of his neurosurgery residency at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “Those words of encouragement, her belief in me, her thoughtfulness, her disposition during that moment was just what I needed, just what I needed to move forward to the next chapter in my life,” he said.

Good work, Mom Rolle.

There’s another bit from Rolle that I found inspiring. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but I like the idea of it. He was taught the 2 percent philosophy from a college coach, which he still applies to his all aspects in his life. As Rolle explains it:

Can you be 2 percent better than you were yesterday? You can if you take small steps every single day toward a larger goal. It helps me make more sense of the challenges, the tasks, responsibilities that I have.

Learning how to open up a craniotomy, learning how to put diapers on your newborn kids and be a better attentive husband, all these were tasks that I wanted to accomplish. Any goal, short or long term, doesn’t feel daunting or debilitating. They feel manageable. I appreciate and I pat myself on the back for the small gains, the small wins that I get every single day. It’s a rush of dopamine in my limbic lobe that says: “You’re doing right. This is a reward for doing well.”

Rolle’s story is another chapter in the “It’s Never Too Late” interview collection from The New York Times. I encourage you to peruse all of the essays.

2 percent? We can all do 2 percent better today, right? Let’s go! – PAL

Source: “It’s Never Too Late to Pivot From N.F.L. Safety to Neurosurgeon,” Elena Bergeron, The New York Times (10/11/22)

TOB: I have often wondered what happened to him. Great read!


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Kramer: Boy, I really miss the Bermuda Triangle.
Newman: I guess there’s not much action down there these days.
Kramer: Oh, there’s action. There’s plenty of action. It’s that damn alien autopsy stealing all the headlines.
Newman: Yeah, tell me about it.
Kramer: See, what they gotta do is lose a plane or a Greenpeace boat. See, that would get the Triangle going again.
Newman: What keeps the water in there? I mean, why doesn’t that disappear?
Kramer: Now, what would be the point of taking the water?
Newman: It’s gorgeous water. Do we own Bermuda?
Kramer: No, it belongs to the British.
Newman: Lucky Krauts.
Kramer: So what do you think of that alien autopsy?
Newman: Oh, that’s real.
Kramer: I think so too.

Week of October 7, 2022


Pujols Hits 700

Two Fridays ago, Phil and I wrote a lot of words about Aaron Judge’s chase for 61 and why that chase still means something to a lot of people, despite the fact that it was passed six times in a four year span (three times by Sammy Sosa). Somehow, in writing all that, we forgot to mention Albert Pujols’ chase for 700. Pujols must have felt our snub, because that very night he went out and hit two dingers – numbers 699 and 700 for his career. It was a cool moment. I think our neglect is partly for the same reason that 61 still means something, but on the other side of the coin: 700 is a round number and a big number, but it’s not a magic number. 714 is that number. 755 is that number, too (And 762? Let’s wait a bit). So while Pujols hit a milestone by reaching 700, he’s still chasing the next magic number: 714. 

But what I want to think about here is how Pujols got to 700 and wonder if he’s coming back next year for 715.

The latter question is easier. If Pujols wants it, he should absolutely come back next season. He has played in ⅔ of his team’s games this year and has hit 21 home runs. If he plays in the remaining 8 games, he can expect to be sitting at 702 (Editor: I wrote this right after he hit 700; he actually hit two in his final three games and ended up with 703) or so when the season ends. If he hits home runs at 80% of the pace he’s done this year (accounting for his ever-advancing age), he would expect to hit 715 somewhere around the team’s 110th game of the season, in early August. 715 would be awesome, while 756 or 763 seem out of reach. 

The more interesting question is how is Pujols doing this? The resurgence is real. You are not imagining it. And it’s not a result of moving back to St. Louis and that being an easier park to hit in. He went from the strongly hitter friendly Angel (4th friendliest to hitters) and Dodger Stadiums (7th friendliest) last year to Busch Stadium (27th friendliest to hitters) this year. And his home rates are way up. So something is going on.

Here are his home run rates since leaving St. Louis after the 2011 season:

After a steady decline since 2015, suddenly last year and this year he has jumped to a huge peak. In fact, his home run rate this year (7.18%) rivals his career peak – it’s his fifth best ever, even surpassing some of his very best seasons. He’s 42! He underwent a natural decline, beginning at age 35, that mostly stayed steady through the end of his 30s, and then suddenly he turned 41 and he found the fountain of youth. 

And it’s even more interesting if you get a little more granular. On July 8, Pujols went homerless in one at bat. It dropped his home run rate to a season low 3.17% (4 home runs in 126 at bats). He hit a home run during the next game he had an at bat (July 10) and his home run rate climbed slowly from there the rest of the month. On August 1, he was sitting at 4.22%. And then he went on an absolute tear. For the month of August, he hit 8 home runs in 61 at bats (a home run rate of 13.11%), raising his season home run rate to 6.61%. He slowed down in September, just a little, hitting 6 home runs in 65 at bats (9.23%) to raise his season rate to a season high 7.32% on September 23. 

So…what the hell is going on here? I have no idea but I do have a theory. No, “theory” is too strong. A “thought” is a better term for it. If Pujols decided he really wanted to get to 700 this year, and if he decided to get some “help” to get there and then retire before he could be tested again, could he get away with it? 

I reviewed the MLB’s Testing Policy and could not find anything suggesting a player has a maximum number of tests per season. So Pujols can’t know he won’t be tested again. The policy simply says, “All Players shall be subject to random, unannounced testing for the use of Prohibited Substances at all times during the season, including, but not limited to, at any point in Spring Training and before and after all games.” 

So, maybe the better question is this: Would Pujols risk his reputation to get to 700? I find it hard to believe. And that’s why I think he absolutely should come back for 715. And if he doesn’t, well, maybe he knows he’d get busted. -TOB

PAL: He was one of the scariest hitters I’d ever watched during his first decade with the Cardinals, and then he disappeared with the Angels. What a terrible, terrible baseball decision for him to go to Anaheim (though not a bad financial one). He was on a legend trajectory, but that is so incredibly hard to do on an irrelevant, west coast team with no meaningful history. 

The notion that makes the most sense to me is this: 700 home runs is not a possibility in his mind when his time with the Angels ends. He goes to the Dodgers to be on a winning team. Guess what? It’s fun to play on a really good team again. It’s fun to hit in a loaded lineup. It’s fun to play in games that matter. He gets the juice for the game back, and then he comes back to the Cardinals to finish an incredible career, but then he gets hot in August – maybe even just a hot week – just enough to put 700 homers back on the table. And now we’re here. That, or he said screw it before August; one more shot for 700. Why not? 

The sample size is just small enough (hey, he felt great in August; a 60 AB hot streak can happen) for us to consider it a fitting hot streak for one of the greats. But the dude is old and wasn’t hitting homers, then he got older and started hitting homers again. 


Federer Retires

I’m not a tennis fan, really. I like tennis a lot. I enjoy it. I follow it via ESPN and news articles. But I rarely ever sit down and watch a tennis match. But when I do, it sure is a great sport. Relatedly, Roger Federer is the only tennis player I ever really loved. He’s the only guy that I ever set an early morning alarm for (it happened three times, but still). There was something about the way he played – cool and graceful, skilled and calm. There are few athletes in any sport that spoke to me like Federer did – first in his prime, and then in his twilight. 

So I was pretty sad that Federer retired this week. Over the last five or so years, there were a number of times when it seemed like the end for Fed; but he always came back, and with a vengeance. But this time, at age 41, he’s really done. If you like Federer like I do, or just great writing, I must insist you read this great tribute to Federer, by Defector’s Giri Nathan. Here’s my favorite passage:

My favorite memory of Federer will be before all the tears, when both he and Nadal were staging dramatic returns of competition. In the fifth set of their 2017 Australian Open final, Roger’s friend had gone up a break to lead 3-1. I’d stayed up all night watching with some sleepy neutrals and a Nadal-acolyte friend. Over the 3:38 epic, the room grew quieter, the sofa distance between us longer. Somehow Federer began to bend the match in his favor. Winning this 26-shot rally detonated any foregone conclusions.

So much conventional wisdom dissolved here: that major titles couldn’t be won at age 36 coming off a surgery layoff, that Federer couldn’t still eke one out over his rival, that his one-handed backhand couldn’t bear the brutal weight of Nadal’s topspin. He took five straight games and the trophy. I have never been more awake at such an hour, and as I stepped onto the sidewalk, replete with dog crap and rats in retreat, I found myself in a serene mist, sound but sore, as if my own muscles had done something tougher than adjust the volume during commercial breaks or fish ice cubes out of the freezer, as if I’d had to focus on anything more than the careful calibration of caffeine and BAC. Through Federer it was possible to close the gap between sweat-free, daydreamed fantasy and hard-won, racquet-swung reality. A lifetime of playful tinkering in the lab can earn a man a career of pure liberated tennis. It was as true that night as it has been for these 24 years. “I told myself to play free,” Federer said after that victory. “Be free in your head, be free in your shots, go for it. The brave will be rewarded here.” And he was.

Great stuff for a legend who deserves it. -TOB

Source: Roger Federer Knew The Play Was The Thing,” Giri Nathan, Defector (09/28/2022)

PAL: I didn’t watch enough of his career to know anything more than he’s very great and the smooth one (compared to Nadal being the hustler). Most impressive part of his game that I learned from this story: the SABR technique. 

I mean, these opponents are hitting serves pretty hard, and he’s charging the net on them. What an assertion of dominance. As Nathan points out in an earlier portion of the article, the hand-eye coordination is completely off the charts. 

The other detail that stood out – his feet didn’t make a sound on the court. The amount of grace that fact requires on a tennis court – pretty incredible.


The Z Man

I’ve heard Michael Zagaris interviewed on the local sports radio station every now and again, and I knew he was a San Francisco photographer that made a name in both sports and music, but I didn’t know to what degree until reading this piece about Zagaris from David Davis.

Zagaris is a pretty good representation of everything that’s cool and fun about the Bay Area, and a nice reminder when things all feel a little too techie and priced out. 

His life story started out pretty regular – a sports nut kid from central California who also liked photography. He also had a knack for sneaking/fibbing his way into sporting events and concerts. He lied about working on a coffee table book to get press credentials to shoot on the sidelines for the Colts and Redskins while in college at George Washington. When the Beatles were in New York in ‘64, he called the front desk at the Taft Hotel claiming to be on Senator Kennedy’s staff and that he’d like to go to the show. Second row. 

After undergrad, he attended law school at Santa Clara (just like our TOB). He actually worked on Bobby Kennedy’s campaign. He was there at The Ambassador Hotel, and his life changed the night of Kennedy’s assasination. 

The suit and tie were gone. So, too was law school. I took acid for the first time, moved to the Haight, and started documenting what would become a historical moment in music. 

The story gets back to sports, and he’s shot a lot of great stuff, but I love stories about people who just always seem to be in the right place at the right time. 

I constantly asked questions and I kind of evolved. I didn’t much have a plan, and I know that seems crazy. My whole life has kind of been like that, where I walk through life with my eyes open, letting everything just come through me, and the things that really resonate I’ll explore more.”

I’m beginning to understand the bravery it takes to live that kind of mantra. I don’t have it in me, but I really admire it in others. Seems to be a great philosophy for a photographer. Excellent read. – PAL 
Source:Michael Zagaris Had The Backstage Pass Of A Lifetime,” David Davis, Defector (10/05/22)

TOB: There may be no story Phil likes more in this world than a story about a sports photographer.


Pro Sports is Losing the Middle Class

The Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub is one of my favorite local writers. He’s Hella Bay (with a capital H and B). His roots are deep here, he loves San Francisco and the surrounding areas, and he is loyal as hell to our local teams. Hartlaub’s family has had 49ers season tickets for decades – for 75 years in fact, all the way back to 1947, when the Niners played at Kezar. Every time I am near Kezar I look around and marvel at the fact that pro football was once played there, and this passage by Hartlaub as relayed by his grandmother is awesome:

Kezar was an accurate cross-section of the city, which you could see on game day. There were fans walking from the Sunset, Richmond, Haight and Mission districts, like ants converging on a half-eaten bar of Pink Popcorn. The very poorest residents might have balked at a $1.50 ticket, and the wealthiest San Franciscans might have thought it beneath them. But at least every kid could go. Any child who clipped a coupon from a carton of Christopher Milk in the 1950s could get into 49ers games for free.

But Hartlaub wrote this week about his family’s difficult decision to give up their season tickets. Ultimately, between the ever-rising prices (far outpacing inflation) and the move to Santa Clara, Hartlaub and his family could no longer justify the expense:

But as the ticket prices push higher, it gnaws at me. Including parking or train tickets, a game for two of us costs $400 at the bare minimum. I stopped telling my wife how much they cost, then was stunned when we got single-game upper deck Warriors tickets for the family as a Christmas present; they cost about 60% of one football game.

I bike everywhere now, and appreciate the Chase Center and Oracle Park free bike valet through the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which saves at least $50 parking. A few Giants, Warriors and 49ers games a year are in my budget. With two sons going to college soon, 10 football games a year is not. We could move to even cheaper upper-deck seats in the sun with worse views than we’ve had the past 50 years, but after investing in the seat licenses fewer than 10 years ago, we choose not to.

I’ve noticed in my pickup basketball games more of my friends talking about Oakland Roots soccer tickets. I’ve been to a few San Francisco City FC soccer games at old Kezar Stadium where the 49ers started, and realized it’s less expensive to become a part owner of that team than just a fan of the 49ers.

So when my mother suggested this year might be the last, the biggest feeling was relief. My love of the team had been eclipsed by guilt over the cost of being a fan.

He’s absolutely right, of course. Every year I think, “I want to take the boys to a 49ers game.” And then I check the ticket prices online and I almost choke. For the Niners next home game, they are selling nosebleeds for $139. Two tickets in the endzone? $350. Two tickets around the 10-yard line? $800 each. Those prices are insane. Warriors tickets are not much better – for most games, you can’t get in the building for under $150 per ticket.

I’m sure there are a lot of families like Hartlaubs who have recently been forced to abandon their season tickets. It’s sad, and with so much money coming to pro sports teams from TV these days, I wish they’d consider lowering ticket prices a bit. They won’t, of course. But I wish they would. -TOB
Source: Our Family’s had 49ers Tickets Since 1947. Here’s Why This Will be our Final Year,” Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle (10/02/2022)


Chess, Cheating, and Anal Beads

You’re still here? Good. Now we can get to the good stuff: chess and anal beads.

The guy on the left above is Magnus Carlsen. On the right is Hans Niemann. 

We’ve written about Carlsen before. He’s the world’s best chess player. At a recent tournament, he lost to Niemann, am American. And Niemann was playing with black, which is extraordinarily hard to do. Niemann has a history of cheating – he admitted to cheating twice in online chess tournaments as a child at ages 12 and 16, but some feel he is still cheating in over-the-board chess. 

After he lost, Carlsen dropped out of the tournament and then seemed to endorse the theories that Niemann had cheated via cryptic Twitter activity. Hilariously, there were theories that Niemann was cheating via vibrating anal beads. Yes, you read that correctly.

More recently, Carlsen and Niemann faced off again. But Carlsen resigned after just one move. Here’s the video.

Carlsen later confirmed what people believed – he resigned in dramatic fashion because he believes Niemann was cheating at their previous match.

Following this episode, Chess.com released a report finding that Niemann had cheated on its platform more recently and much more often than he had previously confessed to.

Chess.com can track whether a player toggles to another browser window during a match and can track how well you do when doing so, including whether your selected move would be recommended by an online chess engine – all of which suggests a player is cheating. Niemann, apparently, had been caught by Chess.com back in 2020:

The report says Chess.com’s chief chess officer Danny Rensch confronted Niemann with proof that he’d cheated in 2020, and that Niemann confessed, in an attempt to get his account back online. When Niemann made a stink about being barred from a $1 million tournament on Chess.com this summer, Rensch sent him a letter explaining that he wasn’t going to allow Niemann to play for such a big pile of money when “there always remained serious concerns about how rampant your cheating was in prize events.” Rensch also laid out a very ominous piece of evidence: “We are prepared to present strong statistical evidence that confirm each of those cases above, as well as clear ‘toggling’ vs ‘non-toggling’ evidence, where you perform much better while toggling to a different screen during your moves.”

Chess.com’s method for catching cheaters involves engine analysis, consulting the expertise of grandmaster “fair-play analysts,” and monitoring whether players opened up other windows on their computer while playing. That last bit is the “toggling” mentioned by Rensch. A player doing significantly better when opening up another window on their computer—even if Chess.com’s software can’t distinguish what is in the window—is extremely suspicious. Doing other stuff on your computer should be a hindrance to a player’s performance in a mentally intensive game like chess, especially in smaller time-control formats like rapid and blitz. If you only have 180 seconds to make an entire chess game’s worth of moves, you should absolutely not perform better in games where you spend 20 seconds doing anything in another window. We should note here that Chess.com is not a neutral body, as they are in the process of buying Magnus Carlsen’s app for $83 million.

And just when you think this story might be over, I have this for you. At a tournament this week, players were screened with a special wand that can detect metal…and silicon. Niemann showed up and yes…they screened his butt.

LOL. -TOB
Source: Report: Hans Niemann Cheated More Often, More Recently Than He Admitted,” Patrick Redford, Defector (10/04/2022)


Videos of the Week


Tweet(s) of the Week


Song of the Week


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And if you’ve missed our last few posts, find them here:

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“Please, a little respect. For I am Costanza, lord of the idiots.”

-George

Week of September 23, 2022

San Francisco awaits, your Honor.

The Starting Pitcher, Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo

If you’ve been a baseball fan longer than 10 years, you’ve seen a major evolution in the way teams handle starting pitchers. The starter used to be the star – innings eaters who sold tickets and won games. And they really won them, going deep into games, week after week, year after year. But now that’s all changed. The complete game is nearly extinct. In 1980, 20.3% of starters finished the game they started. This season, that number is down to 0.6%, with just 30 out of 4,470 starts resulting in a complete game.  In 2022, MLB starters average 5.15 innings per start. As Passan notes, in 2022, “only one pitcher, Miami’s Sandy Alcantara, posts more than seven innings a start. Just 20 pitchers are above six. Alcantara and Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes are the lone two who log at least 100 pitches per game. Alcantara is at 101, Burnes at 100.” 

In this article, Jeff Passan asks why, and focuses on Toronto’s Alek Manoah (big fan of this guy), a dying breed. Manoah hasn’t pitched a complete game this year. He’s young and big and an innings eater, but he’s still wrestling with his team over load management. Here’s Passan:

“The story of the disappearing starter is one in which analytics beat aesthetics. A confluence of factors — small-market teams clawing for survival among their moneyed brethren, the broken youth baseball apparatus, the industry’s general ignorance about arm health — served as accelerants, but at the heart were numbers too compelling for teams to deny.”

Passan is referring here to the “times-through-the-order-penalty” – the more times a batter sees a pitcher, the better he performs. The theory was popularized in a November 5, 2013 article on Baseball Prospectus by Michael Lichtman, who noted that “over the previous 40 years, hitters gained an average of 27 on-base-plus-slugging points between their first and second plate appearances against a starter and 24 more between the second and third.” 

This knowledge has changed the game. As Passan noted:

“Soon after Lichtman’s piece, innings-per-start numbers tumbled, from 5.97 in 2014 to 5.81 to 5.65 to 5.51 to 5.36 to 5.18 in the last season before the COVID-19 pandemic. The figures ran inverse to average fastball velocity, which had continued its steady climb from under 89 mph at the turn of the 21st century to 93 mph by 2019. Teams were pivoting away from pitchers who could pitch deep into games and focusing on other skills: velocity, strength and pitch design. Ultimately, that philosophy birthed a cottage industry that inside pitch labs created a new strain of swing-and-miss pitches.” 

And, some argue, the effects are not good for fans. Here’s former Red Sox and Cubs president Theo Epstein:

“It’s math. It’s real. If you’re looking to just optimize for one game, of course you’d rather have a fresh reliever than a starter third time through. But when every team takes that approach there’s a real cost to the industry. We lose the identity of the starting pitcher as a prominent character in the drama day in and day out.”

Epstein notes, though, that despite fewer innings and fewer pitches we are not seeing fewer pitcher injuries. Why? Here’s Passan:

“Fewer innings leads inevitably to more max-effort pitches, which arm experts agree create more injuries. Teams remain at the mercy of a self-created beast; max effort is more effective, and the system — from youth baseball onward — prioritizes little else. No one seems inclined to interrupt the faulty feedback loop. The average minor league start this season lasts 4.23 innings. Only six of the 120 teams in the minor leagues use their starters for more than five innings per start. One team, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Single-A affiliate Rancho Cucamonga, leaves its starters in for an average of 2.9 innings. A minor league pitcher reaching 100 pitches is blue lobster rare.”

Epstein sees dire consequences for baseball if the trend continues and suggests limiting pitchers on a roster to 11 and force a team to lose its DH when it pulls its starting pitcher. It’s not a bad idea. -TOB

Source: ‘It’s a Dying Breed. And It Sucks’: The Decline of the Starting Pitcher — and What It Means for Baseball’s Future,” Jeff Passan, ESPN (07/06/2022)

PAL: For “the nerds” to be ignored for so long, to this: one article from Baseball Prospectus, and the starting pitcher is on the outs. This story made me wonder if we’re in the un-fun phase of baseball’s evolution, and yet I had a very unsettled reaction when I heard about the shift rules going into play next year, thereby limiting or diverting a trend.

Also, as a Twins fan I am contractually mandated to bring up Jack Morris’ 10-inning, 1-0 shutout in a game 7 of the friggin’ World Series. You want drama, Theo? That was dramatic. Where does that performance land on a list of things we will never, ever, ever see again?


What is Judge Chasing?

Aaron Judge tied Babe Ruth when he hit his 60th home run the other night. It is not a record-breaking home run; hell, he hasn’t even broken the team record (yet), but 60 still matters, somehow, and that’s what Barry Petchesky lays out with such sharp writing. 

The game’s greatest treasure is its history, and it rarely feels more vital than when that history comes alive again. A slugger putting up an absurd number 95 entire years ago doesn’t feel so distant when a slugger wearing the same uniform chases it down now. The present informs the past, makes it real in a way newsreels and ledgers can’t quite. 

And later, he addresses the fact that, as incredible as Judge’s season has been (a 60+ homer triple crown season is bonkers), he’s not breaking the home run record (14 homers in 12 games isn’t happening). So why are we treating this like a chase?

But I have a theory about 61, and it’s that a home run chase is so much fun that there’s a collective if unspoken agreement to accept that Judge is currently engaged in one. It requires a little targeted forgetfulness, and the making of strange bedfellows with those freaks still hung up on the steroid thing, but it’s worth it. 1998 was a special thing. I genuinely pity people not old enough to remember it. 

We can’t relive the supernova summer of 1998, but with every Judge highlight, every live look-in for his at-bats, every astonishing statistic, we can enjoy something of its reflected warmth. A home run chase is a good time, and it reminds one of previous home run chases, and of a slightly more naive era of fandom (or maybe just of my own life) when it was easy and good to feel things so strongly. So if Judge is not going to chase down Barry Bonds—if a chase for the true home run record is simply not in the cards until and unless the game fundamentally changes—where’s the harm in acting like or believing that 61 is still a mark worth chasing? I promise you it’s more fun to be here counting dingers than to be too savvy to.

Also, not a bad year for Judge to do this. Remember, he said no to the 7 years, $213MM extension that the Yankees offered at Spring Training. Come the offseason, he’ll fetch a hell of a lot more as a free agent. I know the Twins won’t pay the kind of money he’ll get, so I hope the Giants go all-in for Judge.

Petchesky has his heater going on this one. – PAL 

Source: The Chase Is The Thing,” Barry Petchesky, Defector (09/21/22) 

TOB: This is interesting and similar to a thought I had this week. I saw a Tweet wondering if Bonds would have hit 73 in 2011 if not for 9/11 – and it’s a fascinating question on two levels. 

First, Bonds hit 61, 62, and 63 in the same night! On 9/9/2001! He does that on a Sunday, has Monday off, and then on Tuesday two airplanes hit the World Trade Center. And then Bonds, like the rest of the league, got a week off, during which he no doubt rested and recuperated. 

Second, after he hit 63, the nation and world’s attention was elsewhere, obviously, and so maybe there was less pressure. There was certainly less coverage in 2001 and than McGwire and Sosa got in 1998. I had always attributed that to Home Run Chase Fatigue™ and the fact that the media did not like Bonds as much as they liked McGwire and Sosa (at the time). would have been under more pressure in 2001 if not for 9/11. But in response to that tweet about Bonds and 9/11, I added another thought that touches on what Barry says here.

I wondered if, once Bonds passed 60, the pressure was off. Heck, he hit two more that same day! But 61 had been the magic number for 40 years, and 61 for decades before that. 70 was the number for just three. I think for so many people 60/61 is still a magic number – it still means something to baseball fans, no matter their opinion of Bonds or 73 or the steroid era. 62 is gonna be cool, and I am rooting hard for Aaron Judge.

In fact, like Barry Bonds himself, I’m rooting for him to a baker’s dozen more and get to 73, or higher (despite Phil’s rational thought that it isn’t happening) and then sign this offseason with his childhood team, the San Francisco Giants. That way, as a Bonds fan, I can enjoy the memories of 73 in peace, without someone whining about the Cream or the Clear or BALCO. Go Judge!


1975 San Francisco: SFPD vs a Gay Bar Softball Game

This is a cool, photo-forward story by the SF Chronicle on a softball series, played in the 1970s, between the SFPD and a softball team from the Pendulum, a Castro District gay bar. If this lede doesn’t compel you to click the link and read this story, I don’t know what will.

Because I am in. And I’m not the only one. The game was attended by George Moscone, Willie Brown, and Dianne Feinstein. Check out this crowd, part of 5,000 fans (a number larger than the reported attendance at more than a few Giants games that year):

The article tells as great story, and has some great action shots, too. Like this one. NO, JOE. That ball is too damn high!

Check out the story for how the game ended, and the sad reason the series ended just a few years later. They should really bring this back. -TOB

Source: A 1970s Rivalry Between a Gay Bar and and the SFPD Reached Epic Heights (Then Crashed),” Peter Hartlaub, SF Chronicle (09/02/2022)

PAL: This story catches such a fascinating moment in time. There’s so much hope and community in these photos. That it goes away so soon after, and the reason why, is heartbreaking.


Video(s) of the Week

Look, I’ve been busy. I got a lot of videos saved up. So buckle up:

PAL: LET ME GET IN HERE! Give me every GD angle of this turd hitting the rope and whining.

Tweet(s) of the Week

Song of the Week


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“I gotta focus. I’m shifting into soup mode.”

-George Costanza

Week of September 17, 2022

“Fun, not funny.”

By now, you’ve likely enjoyed the great work of Jomboy. We regularly post breakdown videos from its founder, Jimmy O’Brien (sadly, no relation to TOB). The most famous one – the video that is credited for turning something O’Brien did in his spare time while working as a wedding videographer to a company with 64 employees and a latest funding round of $5M – was the Astros cheating scandal. You know, the garbage bins. 

O’Brien’s unique skillset is on full display in the video. He wasn’t breaking news – The Athletic had the story before Jomboy…and Jmboy isn’t a sports news website anyway…it still doesn’t even have a website! – but he walked the viewer through it so they could see it with their own eyes instead of imagining the cheating while reading along. In the video, O’Brien is funny and extremely insightful, but he never even has a whiff of that self-aggrandizement that seems so common in sports talk tv and radio (the hot take). 

It’s the tone that has come to define the company. In his own words, “Fun, not funny.” 

Per Zach Schonbrun:

O’Brien says, “The easiest way to get laughs sometimes is to knock other people down or go negative. That isn’t really our vibe.”

This can be construed as an attempt at virtuousness, but he insists it is nothing out of character for them. He and Storiale just generally don’t like confrontation.

“We’ve both been diagnosed as conflict averse because we have older sisters who fought their moms,” O’Brien joked. “We were the peacemakers.”

It’s also likely a big reason why Jomboy has been welcomed by MLB. Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Haap hosts a weekly podcast for Jomboy, and the company recently signed a partnership with the YES Network to produce content and simulcast shows. 

As Schonbrun’s story lays out, “Fun, not funny” is also a pretty savvy place to plant a flag in this current landscape of sport content.

Joe Favorito, a sports industry analyst and lecturer in Columbia University’s sports management program, contrasted Jomboy’s goofier, more inviting approach to the path forged by Barstool Sports, the insurgent media group now worth more than half a billion dollars.

“They’re the less edgy premise of what Barstool is overall,” Favorito said. “They’ve taken that unique, irreverent position while also being respectful of baseball — with some really good insight.”

Jomboy’s escape from the toxicity and polarization on social media is what attracted some big-name investors, including Alexis Ohanian of Reddit and Seven Seven Six, who joined in its latest funding round.

“The pendulum has swung back,” Ohanian wrote in an email. “People crave the good vibes.”

TOB and I started this hobby of 1-2-3 while sitting at a bar on the corner of Geary and Masonic in San Francisco, and it sounds like Jomboy was started in the same spirit of a regular dude who just loves sports. It’s really cool to see Jomboy take off like it has. O’Brien had a clear niche, he executes it perfectly, and I love it. – PAL 

Source:A Sports Media Empire Runs on ‘Good Vibes Only’”, Zach Schonbrun, The New York Times (09/14/22) 


R.I.P. Jonathan Tjarks

Tjarks, a basketball writer for The Ringer, died this week after a long battle with cancer. I was not a big follower of his work, but I wanted to re-post a story he wrote after learning the first round of chemotherapy didn’t take, and his mindset shifted. It’s an incredible, beautiful piece of writing. 

I have already told some of my friends: When I see you in heaven, there’s only one thing I’m going to ask—Were you good to my son and my wife? Were you there for them? Does my son know you? 

Read it. – PAL

Source: Does My Son Know You?” Jonathan Tjarks, The Ringer (03.10.22)


Video of the Week

Anyone who’s a fan of Russ…boy, I don’t know.

Song of the Week

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 If Relationship George walks through this door, he will kill Independent George! A George, divided
against itself, cannot stand!

George Costanza

Week of August 26, 2022

It’s that time of year again…the tears flow in Williamsport.

The New Professional Athlete

The New York Times has a fascinating series going on right now. It’s an examination of sports and fame in today’s world. One of the stories really stuck out to me: Jamad Fiin. She’s a fascinating example of a trend in sports. As Andrew Keh describes it, Fiin is one of the growing number of influencers who are  “professional athletes without competing in professional sports.”

Fiin is a Somali American and Muslim who lives in the Boston area. She wears a hijab, and she balls. Something that combination connected with the masses, and a clip of her finishing with a buttery smooth left amongst a bunch of boys on a playground court went viral. 

The followers grew— including Drake — and so did the opportunities.

Per Keh: 

Today, she has more Instagram followers than all but two Celtics players.

“Kids now, their top career choice is not rock star, athlete or actor,” said Dan Levitt, the founder of Long Haul Management, which represents Fiin and other sports influencers. “It’s digital creator on one of these platforms.”

Levitt is one of many people waiting to see what Fiin does next. Fiin said her managers had gently prodded her to make more content. They have other clients making seven figures a year, monetizing their personal brands with advertisements, sponsorships and merchandise.

So what is Fiin doing with this? She’s almost finished up grad school (M.B.A). She’s playing on the Somali national team, and she’s also putting on basketball camps for Somali and Muslim girls. Reading that made me happy. Not that I begrudge anyone for making the most out of an opportunity and earning off of your name, but it’s cool that she wants to give back, too. 

Before this — before the fame, before the camps, before Drake — Fiin had to fight to play the game. Other parents in the Boston Somali community used to call her mother and ask why her daughter was playing sports and running with boys. It was not until the eighth grade that her mother let her play on a team.

That old tension is what propels everything today. Fiin is shy by nature, but she wants to be more famous, wants even more eyeballs on her, because she wants to embody something she never saw as a child.

She wants people to keep being surprised by her — until the sight of a girl in a hijab swishing a step-back 3 isn’t surprising anymore.

That’s the good stuff. – PAL

Source: “What Will Jamad Fiin Do With Her Influence?Andrew Keh, The New York Times (08/17/22)


Baserunning Wins

Loved this article from the legend Peter Gammons on the importance of base running and the nutjobs in baseball who obsess over it (Moises Alou, the Alomar family, Mookie Betts, Ron Washington, Terry Francona. Think baserunning isn’t’ a big deal? Consider this gem from Gammons: 

In the 2022 season, through August 20, 22.2 percent of nine-inning major league games were decided by one run, and another 8.5 percent were decided in extra innings, which means around 30 percent were essentially one-run games. “How many of those games can be decided by running down the line on a groundball at sprint speed?” asks Sandy Alomar Jr., who Francona has in charge of the Guardians’ baserunning.

I am shocked by that number. 30 percent! Are you shocked? That’s about 48 games in a 162-game season. Maybe I’m crazy, but I can’t get over that stat. 

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts describes baserunning as “the measure of a great teammate.” Of course he would, considering his 2004 moment. 

Or, Giants fans, consider this from Gammons:

There are Royals people who believe that when Alex Gordon hit that fateful line drive off Madison Bumgarner with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series — the single that went past Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco and rolled to the fence, allowing Gordon to reach third — that Gordon might have tried for an inside-the-parker if it hadn’t been for the presence of shortstop Brandon Crawford. Crawford is one of the best infielders at relays because he worked so hard at the craft and once said “I love practicing relays” — a reason he was so good at the art. All that practice might have kept the Royals from tying that Game 7 and secured the championship for the Giants.

This was a refreshing story about a part of the game that gets overlooked. Hopefully we are moving out of the darkness that is the three true outcomes in baseball (homers, strikeouts, walks). – PAL 

Source: Mookie Betts’ baserunning helped win a World Series; why don’t more teams stress it?Peter Gammons, The Athletic (08/25/22)


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Nobody was laughing out loud that day in Grenada! But many people were saying OMG. Me, I was saying TTYL to my innocence.

Tony