Week of November 28, 2020

Me and the boys at our last game of pickup before COVID hit, roughly 120 years ago.


RIP: Diego Maradona Diego Maradona died this week. Maradona was, in my opinion, one of the two greatest soccer players ever (along with his countryman, Leonel Messi). But in ways Messi has not and never will approach, Maradona captured the attention of soccer fans all over the world. His career mostly preceded my sports awareness (he peaked in the mid-to-late 1980s, when I was no older than 7). Still, I’ve seen clips. I’ve seen highlights. I watched the HBO documentary last year. The reason he was so beloved is not just his play. It’s his panache. His gravity. His Fuck You attitude. Just watch him warm up before the 1989 UEFA Semi-Finals. 

A master, at the top of his game, unbothered by anything else.  I will always love watching the way this very small man (around 5’5”) always seemed like the biggest person on the field. The Ringer’s Brian Phillips really captured it this week:

Many athletes bring joy to people, of course, and many athletes lead chaotic lives, and many athletes die too early, because many people do. But Diego was something else. I don’t know why anyone cares what a person can do with a ball; I only know that Maradona was able to do things with one that, when you saw them, made you feel like the universe was telling you a secret. The sight of him with the ball at his feet, this little guy with his hair streaming back, all chest and thighs and churning elbows, had a power that is given to very few people in any generation, the power to make a large part of the world hold its breath.

Every sports fan knows about The Hand of God goal in the 1986 World Cup. It is probably in the first paragraph of many of his obituaries.  He punched that thing in for the first goal of the game. It’s so blatant. It’s in the open. This tiny guy got up so high, extended his arm, and punched in a goal. And he got away with it. That’s pretty wild. But my favorite part? That incredible nickname, the Hand of God, was coined by Maradona himself, right after the game. He was asked if it was a handball and he said it was, “a little with my head, and a little with the hand of God”. I mean, that’s so funny. And it takes some brass ones. And there are levels to it – he kinda calls himself God there, doesn’t he? And, well, in Argentina at least, he was. Because minutes after the Hand of God, he sealed the World Cup victory with what was later called the Goal of the Century (and is certainly accompanied by the broadcasting call of the century!).

That goal is incredible – the skill, the poise, the creativity. The stakes. And those stakes cannot be overstated. This was no ordinary World Cup Quarterfinal. This was Argentina vs. England, just four years after the two countries engaged in a bitter if short war over the Falkland Islands, a small group of islands off Argentina’s southern Atlantic Coast. Nearly 40 years later, Argentina is still very angry about that war – you can imagine what that game meant to the Argentine people a mere four years after:  So when you hear that announcer lose control of his emotions, all that history is in there. An entire country of 30 million people screaming in catharsis. In 1986, and again this week. -TOB

PAL: I remarked about his passing to Natalie. She had no idea who Maradona was. I tried to explain, but then I just showed her The Goal of The Century instead. She was captivated. For someone who had no idea who he was or how much that goal meant, she got the draw of him in one clip. All the words we try to describe the greats, they fall short of whatever is transferred in the experience of seeing them be great. 


Is the NFL Hiding Positive COVID Tests In Order to Play Games? We’ll get to the NFL – I promise. But first, as I’ve written many times here, college football is problematic – and my head knows that. But my heart loves it, and I just wish it could be made better. That was tested early this month when, after waiting months for Cal’s first game of the 2020 season, word came two days before the game that a single player had tested positive for COVID-19. As a result of players being isolated based on contract tracing, the rest of the entire defensive line was wiped out, despite testing negative numerous times. The game was canceled under the Pac-12’s policy allowing a team to cancel (and not forfeit) if they have less than 53 scholarship players, or 1 scholarship QB, or five scholarship offensive lineman, or four scholarship defensive lineman. The latter two categories are an issue of safety – you can’t run a bunch of undersized kids against an experienced offensive line, for example. But I was PISSED. One god dang positive test canceled a whole game!? And worse, it was Cal’s first positive test all camp. And worse than that, the following week’s game was in serious jeopardy because the players, who again never tested positive, had to isolate for 14 days. So, the first game was canceled. The second was in jeopardy but ultimately played, sorta. As it turned out, the 14th day was the following Sunday. However, Cal’s second opponent, ASU, suffered a large outbreak. So that game got canceled (as did ASU’s next two games after that), and Cal played a Sunday morning game against UCLA, in the Rose Bowl, on thirty six hours notice (UCLA’s original opponent, Utah, also had a COVID outbreak). EXHALE. But as this all unfolded, and college games get canceled left and right, I have been wondering: how in the heck has the NFL avoided this? I keep hearing news that NFL players test positive during the week, but it never seems to wipe out an entire position group. And the NFL hasn’t missed a single game. How? And players test positive during the week but somehow play on Sunday? And how come we seem to never read about last minute Sunday positive tests?  This had been bugging me, in light of what happened to Cal, and then I saw this interesting article from Defector’s Kelsey McKinney. Here, check this chart she put together (as she explains, the NFL began the season NOT testing on game days, but changed that policy beginning October 12, so she limits her data after that date): Uhh. You know that scene in Revenge of the Nerds when Stan wants to know why the Lambdas are selling so many pies? And then Ogre gets one of the pies, it’s just whipped cream? And then he eats it and it’s good but not great, and they wonder again why the Lambdas are selling so many damn pies? And then Ogre gets to the bottom of the pie and he sees the Lambdas have lined the pie tins with naked photos of the Pis (photos that were VERY ILLEGALLY taken, I might add), and then Ogre looks up and says – well, just watch (um, the last five seconds are NSFW):

That’s how I felt when I saw Kelsey’s chart. This why. Uh oh. But even that figure of four positive tests on Sunday is higher than the real numbers, as McKinney explains:

Two of the four players placed on the list on a Sunday were not playing that day. Dru Samia (OL) was placed on the list on Sunday, Nov. 15. The Vikings that week played on Monday. Baker Mayfield (QB) was placed on the list on Sunday, Nov. 8. The Browns were on a bye week. When I looked more closely, I only found two players in my research across all game days (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) who were been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on a day his own team played.

I mean, wow. McKinney reached out to the NFL who claimed to have not known of this disparity, but explaining that the Monday announcements are based on tests on Sunday, because results aren’t available by game time. But as McKinney points out this means that, somehow, there have been just TWO Saturday positive tests for players playing on Sunday. Or perhaps better said, by McKinney:

Somehow, every week, players are taking COVID-19 tests on Saturday and not being placed on the list (be it for positive tests or close contact) on Sunday. By Monday, they need to be on the list. Someone with a conspiratorial mind might take that as evidence that the league is pulling some number of strings to make sure that the Saturday tests are being administered in some way so as to ensure their results won’t endanger the next day’s games. It’s perhaps more damning for the league, however, if the protocols are actually being strictly followed and everything is being reported above board. In that case, these results reveal just how little repeated testing can actually tell us about who has COVID-19 on any given day, and further demonstrate how inaccurate the NFL’s elaborate testing apparatus really is. If all these protocols are meant to prevent infected players from being around their teammates and participating in NFL games—and the numbers tell us that is clearly not happening, unless you believe all those Ravens players somehow caught the virus and tested positive for it just hours after the conclusion of Sunday’s game—then what is the point of the protocols?

The NFL sure is selling a lot of pies, though, eh?

Source: What Can The Distribution Of Positive COVID-19 Results Tell Us About The NFL’s Testing Program?Kelsey McKinney, Defector (11/24/2020)


Answering a Question Being Asked: Is It Ethical To Use A Fantasy Football Loophole To Start A Player Out Of Position? Yes. -TOB

Source: Is It Ethical To Use A Fantasy Football Loophole To Start A Player Out Of Position?Dan McQuade, Defector (11/24/2020)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week


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Week of November 20, 2020


“One step forward, two steps. One step. Two steps. Three. …” Last week, Chris Kikic became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run in under 17 hours (the cut-off). As inspiring as the accomplishment is, the story leading up to that finish line is even better in this story from Kurt Streeter.  The story details the challenges for a child with Down syndrome. The number of surgeries, the amount of time it took Chris to learn tasks that other kids would figure out in a day or two. For instance, it took him months to learn how to swing his arms when he ran. To learn to tie his shoes took years.  Sports was the one area he didn’t feel like he was reminded about the limitations or being excluded. He took part in the Special Olympics, and – after learning how to ride a bike, the idea of a triathlon came up.  Such a feat would not just put him in the record books. It would also prove to himself and those around him that he could, in fact, do big things. And if he could do big things, then maybe one day he would be able to fulfill his ultimate dream: to live independently and have a wife and a family of his own. So what did the family do? Made a plan. They found a coach, started in on the work. A kid who won’t quit on learning how to tie his shoes knows something about sticking with it, of grinding it out. They turned the dream into a plan on that big whiteboard shown in the photo up there. He trained for over a year. 

Something was changing. He added muscle to his stocky, 5-foot-10 frame, but it was more than that. Everyone around him noticed that as he grew fitter he seemed mentally sharper, more attentive and confident.

Chris competed in the race tethered to his coach, and despite a run-in with some red ants and falling on a downhill on the bike, things were going well until mile 10 of the marathon, the last of the three sections of the race. Chris hit the wall and was barely moving. And that’s when the following scene unfolded. I’ve read it several times now, and the tears pool every time. “Nik Nikic clutched his son, drew him close and whispered in his ear: “Are you going to let your pain win, or let your dreams win?” Every time. I know it sounds corny. I don’t care. Maybe it’s because the idea of being a dad isn’t so abstract anymore. It must be such an incredible feeling to watch your child achieve something hard. Something they really had to reach for. Knowing that feeling yourself, and watching them experience it for themself. I’m looking forward to it.  As Streeter says, “Take a bow, Chris Nikic, for holding tight to your dreams, for your patience and hopeful perseverance and guts. We could use a little more of that in this world.” Such a powerful and inspiring story. – PAL 

Source: Chris Nikic, You Are an Ironman. And Your Journey Is Remarkable”, Kurt Streeter, The New York Times (11/16/20) 

TOB: Great story, great read. Incredible what he has achieved. Also, major kudos to the volunteer coach, who put in probably hundreds and hundreds of hours to help make this a reality for Chris. Also, to Chris’ parents. Raising kids is not easy under the best of circumstances. I can only imagine the nights they cried about how difficult things were. But they only showed him love and support, and this is the result.

PAL: Totally, TOB. Daniel Grieb is Chris’ coach who was his partner in the race.


Punting is Not Winning*

Just hours before this week’s NBA Draft, in which the Warriors would pick second overall, some ominous news started circulating on Twitter: Klay Thompson, who missed all of 2019-20 after tearing his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals, suffered a significant lower leg injury during a pickup game. The details were scarce, but from the deepest bowels of the internet came bubbling that ugly word for every athlete: achilles. The Draft had to go on, and the Warriors took James Wiseman, a 7’1 freak of an athlete who has the potential to be very, very good. The choice was necessary – the Warriors are crazy short in the front court, with almost no depth, and their road to a title goes through a gauntlet of the best big men in the game, including Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic. Wiseman will face unfair expectations out of the gate, especially for a player who played all of two games in college before being declared ineligible.

But back to Klay. With the Warriors’ title window rapidly closing as Curry and Draymond get older, they cannot afford to run the ball out there with a lineup of Curry, Draymond, Wiggins, Wiseman and…I have no idea what else. The injuries to Klay and Curry last year gave them the benefit of an extended look at their other options, and for the most part, with the possible exception of Paschall and Looney, they head into the coming season with very little outside of their top 4, now that Klay is out. The problem, of course, is that it would seem difficult for Golden State to improve. They have no assets they can afford to give up that anyone would want in a trade for a star. And they have no cap room. They do have a $17M trade exception, allowing them to take back up to $17M more in trades than they send out. Certainly, this seemed useful – but it seemed they’d need to be willing to take one team’s bad contract in order to get a useful player along with them. 

The problem, even with that plan, is that the Warriors are so far over the cap that such a move would crush them in luxury tax payments. The Warriors are already paying a $66 MILLION tax bill this year, with the roster as is. Every dollar they take on at this point is taxed at 4x. No one would blame owner Joe Lacob for saying, “No, we’ll punt this year.” I feel confident saying every other owner in sports would have done so.

Lacob, for all his flaws, does not punt. Instead of dredging the bottom of the barrel for bodies at the vets minimum, the Warriors went out the day after the draft, just hours after confirming that Klay Thompson indeed tore his achilles and would miss the whole year, and used that trade exception to land Kelly Oubre, Jr. – a talented, productive, young, and expensive player. The Warriors only gave OKC a heavily protected first round pick. But they gave a whole lot more.

Yes, that’s right: Oubre’s $14M salary will cost the Warriors an additional $68 million in luxury taxes, bringing their tax bill (so far!) to ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY FOUR MILLION.

And this in a year where the Warriors will not have fans in attendance, the same week the City of San Francisco blocked Lacob’s attempt to allow a few thousand fans at each game. What’s crazy is that I don’t think this makes the Warriors a title team by any stretch – but it will make them competitive. That’s how much Lacob is willing to pay to ensure that. You may have wondered about the story title here. This is an old Rick Neuheisel reference. One year UCLA’s offense was so bad, Neuheisel started punting on third down. It was a total surrender. When asked about it at halftime, he said, “Punting is winning.” He did not last much longer at UCLA. Like I said, Joe Lacob does not punt. -TOB

PAL: I love a TOB original (notice there’s no link to a story on this one) Man, Lacob and the Warriors were banking on that brand new Chase Center in the Dogpatch to be cash machine, and then everything it was built to host was shut down to fans – sporting events and big concerts, namely. 

It seems to me that Lacob’s ambition is long-term with the Warriors, to build the Death Star Yankees of the NBA, and I wonder how much of that bravado comes from a lightning-in-a-bottle Warriors team from 2015- June 13, 2019 (KD’s achilles injury in the Finals). For a historically bad team, all of a sudden everything broke the right way for the Warriors, and we were asking if it was the greatest team of all-time. This injury to Klay comes at the absolute worst time. Steph Curry will be 33 in March, and Draymond will turn 31. It’s not a given that Klay (31 in February) will be fully healed in a year, and it’s not given that he’ll ever be the same player he was before the injury.

The end is easily visible through the windshield. While Klay and Steph will be able shoot until they die, the movement, the defense (Draymond and Klay), the pace with which the Warriors play is in jeopardy unless they fill some key roles with draft picks. Wiseman needs to hit. 

The Spurs run was so long and impressive because they were able to reload three times through non-lottery draft picks to put around Tim Duncan (1st, 1997) who then turned into hall of famers: Manu Ginobili (57th, 1999), Tony Parker (28th pick 2001), and Kawhi Leonard (15th, 2011). If the Warriors hope to extend their run, then they’re behind on the reload.  With all of that in mind, with their salary cap situation, the injuries, the empty arena, I wonder why they don’t punt this year, as much as it would suuuuuuuck to waste another Steph in his prime year. That is a lot of money for Kelly Oubre, but I wonder if the losing last year was that painful for a franchise that was historically great just two years ago. Maybe Lacob and Bob Myers have something up their sleeve. It better be a doozy. 


Kim Ng’s Journey To Making History This week, the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng as the team’s next General Manager, making Ng the first female to hold the position in any of the major men’s leagues in North America. Many also consider her the most qualified first-time general manager. Tyler Kepner and James Wagner detail her journey in this story. This much is certain  – Kim Ng loves baseball and was determined to become a general manager.  In her 30-year career in Major League Baseball, Ng has worked as an assistant GM for several teams, oversaw scouting and player development, she’s worked in the league office, she’s negotiated contracts, and she was a chief architect on international signing protocols. She’s seen the game through more than a few lenses.  Ng, pictured with her four sisters and mother, is second from the left.  And the person that hired her – Derek Jeter – seems fitting, too. After she was hired, Ng showed her mom and sisters an old video: 

Ng played a video clip from 2000 on her iPad. On the screen, a young Derek Jeter, the star shortstop for the reigning world champion Yankees, presented Ng with an award from an organization for women in the business of sports. She was the Yankees’ assistant general manager at the time, and now, all these years later, the man in the video was giving her a chance at the top job with his own team. 

Of course, it shouldn’t have taken this long for a woman to be hired as a general manager for a major mens sport team, but we still ought to celebrate its happening, especially when the person seems so fitting of such an honor. 

Another story this week about perseverance. – PAL  Source: Kim Ng Has Been Ready for Years”, Tyler Kepner and James Wagner, The New York Times (11/18/20)

TOB: When this news broke, I saw a lot of tweets from Asian Americans, and especially Asian American women, discussing how important it was for someone who looks like them to get a job like this. Representation matters. That is apparently hard for a lot of people, mainly white males, to understand. I was puzzling on why that is, in the shower of course, when it hit me: this should not be difficult for white people to grasp at all:

A great player, yes. But his popularity among white people in the 1980s was due in large part to the fact that for the first time in a long time, one of the best players in the NBA looked like them. This shouldn’t be so hard to understand.


Video of the Week (a year too late for TOB’s wallet): 


Tweet of the Week: 


Song of the Week: Willie Nelson – “The Man With The Blues”


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I think I’m being very clear what I’m asking. Would an average-sized rowboat support her without capsizing? It bothers me that you’re not answering this question.

-Michael Scott

Week of November 13, 2020

Chocolate Thunder shattered his first backboard on November 13, 1979.


Local Knowledge The Masters is a two laptop sporting event – one laptop for work, and one laptop off to the side streaming the tournament. It’s 80% Tiger watch for me. With the tournament upon us, I had to share this story about Tommy Bennett. Bennett, a local Augusta caddie, was on Tiger’s bag for the amateur’s first Masters appearance back in 1995.  There’s a few fascinating storylines to this piece: the history of Black caddies at Augusta National and the courses in the surrounding area, Bennett’s early baptism to Augusta National, the anecdotes about the regular skins games at the local muni between local Black caddies (Bennett’s putting has been slipping, and at 71 carries a 6 handicap), and Augusta National’s heel-dragging commitment to tradition and segregation. Above all, this is about Bennett being on the bag for the young phenom, his retelling and – for a week – his small role in Tiger’s ascension.  The idea of having Bennett on the bag for the Stanford freshman and reigning U.S. Amatuer champ, was local knowledge – something that’s less and less valued these days. Also, wasn’t his choice – he was assigned to the kid by the club. After deciding, as a 63 year-old smoker, he couldn’t carry the bag on the hilly course for his son, Earl Woods had a long walk and talk with Bennett early in the week. He essentially told Bennett that they’d see how it goes early on in the week.  Tiger played a practice round with Nick Faldo. Per Ian O’Connor: 

The oversized galleries couldn’t get close enough for their first look at the phenom, who gave them something to talk about on the 500-yard 15th hole when he blew his drive 70 yards past Faldo’s, hit a 9-iron to 4 feet and made the putt for eagle. “Faldo looked stunned,” Bennett recalls. Woods grabbed lunch, then turned his first day at Augusta National into a 36-hole day. He had beaten Trip Kuehne in the most dramatic U.S. Amateur comeback ever, erasing a six-hole deficit in the final, and now the runner-up wanted another crack at him. They agreed to play a $5 match. Bennett was reading Tiger’s putts, picking his clubs and telling him where to land his approaches. “Damn, you’re good,” Woods told him late in the match, when Tiger, down three, charged past Kuehne again by winning the final four holes.

And on Thursday of the week, when Tiger would debut as a teenager playing THE FRIGGIN’ MASTERS, Bennett still remembers this incredible bit:

Tiger played Wednesday morning with Norman and Nick Price but cut his round short when he felt a spasm in his back on the fifth hole. He got treatment on site, then played the Par 3 Contest with Gary Player before his father made it official and informed Bennett that he had passed the audition. After Woods caught five hours of sleep and went on a Thursday morning run, he met Bennett at the course for his 1:03 p.m. opening-round tee time with defending champ Jose Maria Olazabal. The caddie looked inside Tiger’s black leather bag and found a problem. “You’ve only got three balls,” Bennett told his player. “That’s all I need,” Woods responded. “Man, this is Augusta National,” Tommy told himself. It was a raw, rainy day, and Woods’ heart was racing on the first tee. He crushed his opening drive over the right bunker and then landed his sand-wedge shot safely on the green, 25 feet from the cup. Woods had prepared for Augusta’s lightning-fast greens by putting on Stanford’s hardwood volleyball court, yet when he hit his downhill putt too hard, he watched in horror as his ball spilled off the green and toward the gallery. Bennett had never seen that before at the Masters. He told Tiger, “Listen, we all get nervous. We’ve got a long week here. Just chip it back up there and make the putt.”

I’ve read that anecdote several times now. Still can’t get over Tiger having three balls in his bag. And I love Bennett’s advice after he cooked his putt off the green. Both of those details stick with me. This is a cool story about a relatively anonymous guy working alongside a great. Of course these caddies aren’t executing the shots, but – hey – there’s only one dude out there walking the course alongside the player. They are a team out there – caddies and golfers – and for one week, Bennett was on the same team with the kid who would become the greatest. Definitely worth following the story link and reading the full piece from O’Connor.  – PAL  Source: The journey of Tiger Woods’ first Masters caddie, Tommy Bennett”, Ian O’Connor, ESPN (11/10/20)


Reasons To Run NYC Marathon  I was in the middle of training for the Vancouver Marathon back in March. The race was scheduled for early May, and – it’s laughable now – but I remember checking my email daily wondering if they were going to cancel the race. In October, the Twin Cities Marathon back home is a great reason to return home and run the marathons with some collection of my sisters. Obviously, that didn’t happen either.  I was also hoping to run a race with Natalie this summer in one of the national parks. Nope. Instead, we made a course in Oakland that Natalie ran with our friends, Basma and Chris. I was the course designer, and Natalie made race shirts. The shirts were great, my chalk markings on the course were not, much to the dismay of the (three) racers.  Throughout the pandemic, I’ve seen virtual marathons pop up. You can register, run the distance, get the shirt and fill check that box for the year. As well-intentioned as the idea came off, it wasn’t the real thing in my mind. Far from it.  And then I read this story about this year’s New York City Marathon. It was supposed to be the 50th anniversary, and this was the first time I felt the draw of one of these ‘unofficial’ races.  In 2019, there were over 53,000 runners in the race, each with their reasons to run. And the reasons people ran this year are similar to years past – to prove something to themselves, to process a loss, to meditate, to celebrate the city they love. If anything, for them to run this year is more inspiring without the banners, spectators and streets closed to traffic. I don’t know why this story and this race finally got that point across to me, but it did. These runners had an excuse to skip it this year, and they didn’t take it.  People like Kristina Nungaray:

Kristina Nungaray, who started the race in Brooklyn on Sunday morning, was singularly focused on reaching the finish line in what would be her first marathon. “Running for me in 2020 has been like this primal scream I needed to get out,” Nungaray said last week from her home in Jersey City. “When those unknowns become a little too oppressive, I would get out and run.” Two days after she signed up for the virtual marathon, she received a call from her family in Texas. Her father had Covid-19. During a run, she came to terms with the fact that her father might not survive. And it was after a run through Jersey City that she got a call. A nurse offered to read text messages to her father aloud. “Essentially that is how we said goodbye, via text message,” she said through tears. After going to the funeral and quarantining upon her return, she started running again. “It was one of those things that helped me breathe better,” she said. “And there was something in the back of my mind that reminded me, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re registered for this marathon.’” She has felt a pull to do a marathon in tribute to her father, in recognition of her city, in pursuit of herself. “I signed up for this race to push me out of my comfort zone once upon a time ago,” Nungaray said. “And now I’m doing this race to move forward and reconnect me to my comfort zone.”

I think I’ll have to add the NYC Marathon to my list. – PAL Source:The New York City Marathon Was Cancelled. Runners Ran the Course Anyway.”, Talya Minsberg, The New York Times (11/2/20)


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Warren Zevon – “Keep Me In Your Heart”


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[A] lot of the people here don’t get trophies, very often. Like Meredith or Kevin, I mean, who’s gonna give Kevin an award? Dunkin’ Donuts? Plus, bonus, it’s really, really funny. So I, you know, an employee will go home, and he’ll tell his neighbor, “Hey, did you get an award?” And the neighbor will say, “No man. I mean, I slave all day and nobody notices me.” Next thing you know, employee smells something terrible coming from neighbor’s house. Neighbor’s hanged himself due to lack of recognition.

-Michael Scott

Week of October 30, 2020

46 years ago this week.


Charles Adams is How

Over the past half year, I’ve wondered many times how the hell we turn this around. ‘This’ could be any number of challenges in 2020: the pandemic, the police violence, the looting, embarrassing politics, an environmental crisis, hell – even being productive on another Monday while working from the second bedroom. It’s still a new feeling to me – that haunting notion that – no – everything’s not just going to turn out OK. It doesn’t just happen by way of karma or divine justice. 

For all the good fortune in my life – and there’s more than I could ever rightly ask for – I’ve worried and wondered over and over this year – how the hell do we turn this around?

Of course, the answer isn’t all at once, but part of the answer can be found in this story about a Black Minneapolis police officer and high school football coach: Charles Adams. 

This story comes by way of The New York Times, so I’m trusting my MN readers to set me straight if the local papers have already told Adams’ story. This is a 5-star story from Kurt Streeter, with incredible photography from Tim Gruber. You must read it.  To summarize Adams’ impact, consider this description: “His work is a parable, testimony in troubled times to the power of everyday people who provide steadfast care to struggling communities.”

Adams grew up in North Minneapolis, which is a very tough neighborhood. He attended Minneapolis North, followed the path his dad helped forge as a Black officer in the 60s and 70s, took over coaching his high school football team and had a zero-win team winning the small school state championship within five years.  He was protecting his neighborhood and he was making the local football team a source of extreme pride.

As an officer, he used his smile to disarm many situations. His former squad car partner Todd Kurth described Adams as, “[C]ool as a cucumber in every situation. He could be firm when he needed to, no doubt, but he also had this ability to win people over and defuse tough situations. He had a need to help.”

As a coach, he cares for his players always. Through high and lows – wearing medals or bracelets – he always shows love. That’s the only way he thinks it can be done with kids, many of whom come from very difficult situations.  In the words of a local pastor, Adams is, “one of the rocks of this community.”

And Adams knew everything would change after watching the video of George Floyd being killed by an officer Adams knew. The city would, as Streeter described it, “convulse”.  

With what you know now, picture Adams, suited up in his riot gear, Zooming his players before heading out into the chaos that night.

“I got to see your faces before I go up in here,” he told them. “I have to see you guys.” Coach, you’re going to be OK, they said, voices cracking with emotion. Everything is going to be all right. It was their way of boosting him up, as he had always done for them. “Before I hit the streets, I have to tell you guys something,” Adams replied. “Just know that I care. I’m not sure what is going to happen tonight. I’m not sure if I am going to make it back and see you again.” He needed them that night, more than ever. It made sense. “Along with my family, the kids I help, they give me a higher purpose,” Adams told me. “There’s a way that they help save me, and that night showed it.” They needed him, too. “We just wanted to hear from him,” said Zach Yeager, the team’s quarterback. “He sets the path and gives us so much. When everything was going crazy in this town, it was good to have his back.”

And later:

The fallout from Floyd’s death was immediate in Minneapolis. It hit Adams directly. His day job as North’s in-house police officer had been as important to him as coaching the football team. He was inside the school each day, more counselor and calming uncle than a cop. He ate lunch with the students and didn’t carry his gun. Instead of a uniform, he wore khakis and a polo shirt. In June, the city’s school board voted to end its contract with the Police Department. Adams could remain as the football coach but no longer work inside the school as an officer. The move struck many at North as wrongheaded. Mauri Friestleben, the school’s principal, publicly criticized the ruling. On Facebook, she called Adams a life changer who “stands for what is good within my school, what is good within the Police Department, and what is good within Minneapolis.”

This story has a pretty crazy left turn at the end, but rest assured that Adams is still coaching his high school team. An inspiring read. – PAL 

Source: As a Coach and a Cop in Minneapolis, Where Would He Draw the Line?”, Kurt Streeter, photography by Tim Gruber, The New York Times (10/26/2020)


We’ll Always Have Game 4

The Dodgers won the World Series in this shortened, weird season. I’m mostly annoyed that I can’t make jokes every year like, “The last time the Dodgers won the World Series, I was as old as my son is now: 6.” Or, “The last time the Dodgers won the World Series, I was still asking my parents when the heck Back to the Future II was coming out!” When they won, I had almost the exact same reaction as Grant Brisbee.

So, ya know, like the rest of 2020, that sucked.

But what didn’t suck was one glorious night – World Series, Game 4 – when all was right with the world. The Dodgers were one strike from taking a commanding 3-1 lead. The Rays had two men on, facing Kenly Jansen, the Dodgers’ longtime and though once dominant, now shaky, closer. The runner on second led off the inning with a bloop single that Dodgers’ second baseman Kike Hernandez came about as close to catching as you can without the ball hitting your gloves.  The Rays’ hitter was Brett Phillips, who is probably the last person they would have picked for that at bat (indeed he was the last hitter on the Rays’ bench). Phillips is a career .202 hitter, with a career OPS+ of 69, which is VERY bad. Phillips hadn’t had a plate appearance in 17 days. So of course, on a 1-2 pitch, he does this (starting at 2:34).

That hit should have tied the game, at best, for the Rays. How does Randy Arozarena get all the way around to score from first on a soft single to right center? A comedy of errors, not all of which are clear on the first broadcast view. First, Dodger centerfielder Chris Taylor absolutely boots an easy play. It seems impossible for a major leaguer to do this. But in the biggest moment of his career, Taylor did. Then, in his haste to make up for his mistake, his throw is off-line. So Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy cut it off and threw home. But his throw was to the wrong side of catcher Will Smith’s body. Smith had to wait for it on his right side and then come back to the other side to try to make a tag. Smith knew he had to hurry. Except, unbeknownst to him, he actually did not. This is because Arozarena stumbled and did a full somersault about 30 feet from home. He tried to get up and get back to third. If the Dodgers had realized he fell, he would have been easily out, and the game would have gone to extra innings.  In fact, let’s get back to Muncy because I can’t stand Muncy, and I think he makes the biggest screw-up on the whole play, even worse than his bad throw. Check out this still frame. This is right after Muncy catches the ball.

Watch this in full (starting at 4:19).

Arozarena is literally on his back, Muncy has the ball, and he turns his head toward home. He probably could have run over and tagged Arozarena himself! But he panicked and made that awful throw. Also, what in the world is Jansen doing standing where he is?

But let’s get back to Smith, who thought he had to hurry, not knowing he had all the time in the world. But he hurried too much, and the ball glanced off his glove, hit the umpire, and rolled away. Arozarena noticed the ball slip by, reversed course back toward home, and made the coolest awkward slide in baseball history, slamming home plate repeatedly for emphasis. Series tied 2-2.

I experienced this amazing moment in a way that is likely familiar to other parents reading: belatedly. I had watched much of what had already been an incredible, back and forth game quietly on my phone while my kids enjoyed a movie night, cuddling with me on the chair. But finally it was time to put them to bed and I had to put the game on pause. As I read Harry Potter (nearing the end of Book 7!) to the boys and they drifted off to sleep, I kept dreading an MLB.com notification about a Dodgers win, or a slew of texts from my buddies all saying more or less, “God damnit.” But the notification didn’t come. The texts didn’t come. I started trying to estimate in my head where the game might be, as I had turned it off around the 7th. At the earliest possible moment I kissed the boys goodnight and dashed downstairs. As I ran down the stairs, I got two texts. I turned on the TV in time to see the following 5 seconds (starting at 5:14):

PURE JOY. Arozarena slamming home. Dave Roberts spitting in disgust. I know it’s good but WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?!?!?! Is it over or tied? I tried to rewind but we are staying at my parents’ house and I had forgotten to record the game on their DVR. AGONY. I start texting.

I finally remembered I can get my YouTube TV on my parents’ TV and I watched the whole inning from the start. I watched and watched and watched – and I howled with laughter. I stayed up way too late, watching every angle, reading funny tweets, and harassing my Dodger fan buddy with a GIF of Roberts spitting. 

I listened to seven different radio calls of the play (for my money, Fox Deportes’ call is the best: “NO HAY NADIE!”).

I also found this amazing video, shot by Giants pitcher Tyler Beede, who was at the game in person. 

LOLLL. “LET’S GO! LET’S GO! SUCK IT!!!” So funny. I may have a new favorite Giant.  So, even though the Dodgers won the World Series, Game 4 was like Cinco de Mayo. A battle was won, though the war was ultimately lost. But that battle was so glorious, so…perfectly baseball. I will remember that feeling and that game forever. For one night, it seemed like the Dodgers were going to get to year 33, and life was good. Baseball Gods willing, it’ll be another 32 years before they win another one. I’ll be 70. Amen. -TOB P.S. Lots of great things were written about Game 4. My favorite was Emma Baccellieri’s story, “How to Write the Perfect Ending to a Baseball Game in Seven Steps,” filed in the middle of the night, just hours after the game ended. I highly recommend it.

PAL: I still can’t believe how many things MLB baseball players do poorly on that play:

  • The boot by Taylor in center is so bad
  • A very offline through by Taylor – from shallow center field – into the cutoff man, Muncy
  • Catcher Will Smith for some moving away from the plate to back up the throw to Muncy, which has him then moving back towards home while trying to receive the relay throw
  • Randy Arozarena falling at the single worst moment he could fall
  • Poor relay throw from Muncy to Smith, from about 40 feet away
  • Smith not catching the relay (while, yes, the throw was up the first base line a bit, and yes, Smith thinks he has a bang-bang play coming…you still need to catch the ball first)

Video of the Week The rare four-banger:


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Sturgill Simpson – ‘All Around You’ (Live from the 59th Grammys)


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I am trying to be more…optimistic in life. I’ve got, what – 20, 30 more years left – and my family history says I have less. Now the old Stanley Hudson would’ve found something to complain about with this actress. But that’s no way to live life! Look at this healthy, sexy, pretty, strong young woman. Come on, people! She…is…hot.

-Stanley Hudson

Week of October 23, 2020

Happy anniversary, Joe Carter.


The Stiff Arm: Presented by Derrick Henry

If you haven’t caught Derrick Henry play football, it’s time you tune in. He’s huge (6’4”, 240lb), he’s fast (4.5 40-yard sprint), and in an era when the NFL is going to the air more and more, Henry’s a bit of a throwback. It works. Last year he carried the Titans to the AFC title game.  One of the most effective moves in his repertoire is the stiff arm, all three versions of it. 

In the words of Ken Belson, “Henry has made regular use of a move so old-fashioned that it is immortalized on the Heisman Trophy — which Henry won for Alabama in 2015.” This gif is from a recent game (look how much bigger he is than pretty much anyone on the field, by the way), but Henry’s been using his long arms keep defenders off of him since he was in ninth grade, breaking all sorts of records along the way. Bobby Ramsey, Henry’s high school coach, noted that Henry actually has three versions of the stiff arm. 

Ramsay, who now coaches at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville, described one of Henry’s stiff arms as a “social distancing” move, where Henry leaves his long arms stretched out in advance of contact, keeping defenders away. Another is the “it’s time to go to bed, son” move where a defender makes the mistake of going for Henry’s waist, only to have Henry push down on the defender’s helmet, like a father patting his son’s head. For the Norman play, Henry employed what Ramsay called the “barroom get the heck away from me” move. It’s a version of the stiff arm reserved for when a defender is already in proximity, and it is not nearly as easy as Henry makes it look. I keep watching that gif above, and I’m also struck by the timing, and placement of the stiff arm. Henry hits the back shoulder, and he drives into the defender right between strides. Force – yes – but there’s a good deal of technique there, too. 

From Ed Smith (the running back actually on the Heisman, which I didn’t know), to John Riggins, to Earl Campbell, and now to Derrick Henry – the stiff arm is in good hands in Henry. Fun article with a lot of good clips, too. – PAL Source: Derrick Henry and the Art of the Stiff Arm”, Ken Belson, The New York Times (10/23/20)


RIP Sid Hartman

Sid Hartman died this week at the age of 100. For our Minnesota readers,  I don’t need to underscore just how much of a Minnesota institution the sports columnist was, but it’s been fun throughout the week to revisit or discover stories that help build that institution. Plus, isn’t our duty to share Hartman’s incredible story with the other readers far and wide?

Hell, the man started working in the newspaper business in 1928. His last column was published the day he died. You read that right.

Patrick Reusse – another longtime sports columnist from MN – wrote the obit, and I’ll put Hartman’s sports resume against most anybody in terms of local impact. Jeff Day, who worked with and helped Hartman for the past 15 years, tells a much more personal story. Between Reusse and Day’s words, we get an incredibly unlikely success story that honestly seems too far fetched for a movie, and we also get of a Hartman’s loyalty to a young guy that so desperately needed it.

There are too many incredible details from Ruesse’s obit to quote here, but here are two details I learned about Hartman that were astounding:

His basic job – selling newspapers – never changed throughout his entire life:

Hartman started selling newspapers as a 9-year-old kid, pedaling his bicycle to Newspaper Alley, where he would buy 100 copies of the Minneapolis Star, the Journal, the Morning Tribune or the Evening Tribune for $1.10, then sell them for two cents apiece.

How about this for a different era: he was the GM of the Minneapolis Lakers while still writing for the paper.

In 1947, Hartman took a $15,000 check from Morris Chalfen to Detroit. He met Morris Winston, the owner of the Detroit Gems, at the airport, gave him the check, and the National Basketball League franchise relocated to Minneapolis as the Lakers.

Chalfen’s partner was Ben Berger. Hartman, then 28, was offered the job as general manager, with the stipulation that he quit his newspaper job. He wouldn’t do that, so Max Winter — a former boxing promoter — became the official GM, with Hartman involved in personnel decisions.

“Involved”’ was not a word Sid would use, by the way. He insisted that he made all of the personnel decisions that turned the Lakers into a dynasty in the early years of pro basketball.

Hartman insisted he also had worked a trade with Boston that would have sent veteran Vern Mikkelsen to Boston and brought a chance to draft Bill Russell, the great University of San Francisco center, to the Lakers. Sid told and wrote that story so often it became part of his legend among Minnesotans, even after Boston’s Red Auerbach denied it.

For sure, Hartman and Winter were able to get the NBL’s rights to George Mikan. When they signed the great center early in the 1947-48 season, after his Chicago team had folded, the Lakers were a powerhouse.

The man sat in on meetings to bring MLB baseball to Minnesota, he scooped Notre Dame resignations, watched the last Gopher football dynasty in the 30s after selling his papers outside the stadium. He was a newspaper man, a columnist, but he’d be the first to tell you he wasn’t a good writer. For him, it was about reporting, getting the info, making contacts. The writing was never his focus.

And Jeff Day knows that as well as anyone. Due to his ability to type fast, his first job out of college quickly turned into transcribing audio tapes from an endless supply of Hartman interviews. After two years, Day was laid off. Life got dark for Day:

I used to chain smoke in the parking garage and think, “I’m going to kill myself.” Whatever the thing is that makes people happy and gives them purpose had left me.

Sid called me a year after I was laid off and said, “I’d like to take you out to Murray’s.”

We had dinner and he told me that the paper had an opening and he wondered if I would take it. He wasn’t asking a question. When I went back to work I was employed by the Star Tribune, but I was there for Sid, and it was intensive. Whatever other work I had to do for the paper did not matter to him.

Day kept looking for meaning outside of the office. He became an addict, had legal trouble, relationships, too. But he kept coming to work. 

But I kept going to work. Every day. I never missed a day of work with Sid.

I remember once leaning over him at his computer — I can see his face right next to me — and him saying, “Have you been drinking?”

I denied it. He said I was lying. He was right and he never said anything about it again.

When he saw my mother he would tell her, “He’s like a son to me.”

When he saw my father he would tell him, “I couldn’t do this without him.”

My wife sat next to him in the Twins press box and all of a sudden, he was the most charming man on earth.

He came to my wedding dressed better than I was.

And he told me, constantly, that he hoped I wouldn’t leave him for another job.

And because Sid kept going to work, I kept going to work. It was the most stable thing in my life. But somewhere in all of those columns, in all of those years, in all of those tapes, I found a thread and started the work of trying to find myself outside of the office.

I never told Sid about any of it.

I didn’t tell him about getting sober or going to years of therapy or regaining some faith in myself.

I just kept going to work.

Of course, I have no idea what kind of guy Hartmas was. To be honest, he was the old guy who’s column I’d skip over as a kid. A lot of “a close personal friend told me” kind of stuff. But reading these two stories are a refresher of his impact. His mark is all over sports in Minnesota – yes – but I can’t help but appreciate his impact on Jeff Day even more. – PAL

Source: “Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman dies at age 100”, Patrick Reusse, Star Tribune (10/22/20), “I helped Sid Hartman keep up his column. He saved my life.”, Jeff Day, Star Tribune (10/22/20)


Video of the Week:


Song of the Week: Menahan Street Band – “Queens Highway”


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SWAG! Stuff we all get. I basically decorated my condo with all of my SWAG.

-Michael Scott

Week of October 16, 2020

Kershahahahahaw. Mr. May does it again!


How Cal Football is Coping With Covid A few weeks ago we wrote about the first installment from the New York Times reports from one football program’s efforts to deal with COVID-19. The second installment hit this week. The football program happens to be Cal, but you do not need to be a Cal fan to enjoy this story.  This week’s story comes as Cal begins camp, fresh off the announcement that the Pac-12 season will begin on November 7. It covers how players, coaches, and staff deal with daily testing; how they manage to get ready for practice without access to the locker room; how they manage position meetings when they can’t be indoors in their normal facilities. I could honestly quote you 75% of this story because it is so well-written. It is concise and compelling, and I cannot recommend it enough.  But if I had to choose one quote to get you to click the link below, it’s this one from Cal’s director of football operations, Andrew McGraw, himself a COVID-19 survivor:

“They’re seeing examples, week in and week out, as you look around the country, of just how fragile this all is,” McGraw said. “It’s unbelievably delicate, this entire situation. It’s as if the whole building is being held together with one screw. This thing could fall apart if just one part gives.”

 

-TOB

Source: At Cal, a Covid Survivor Keeps Watch Over Football’s Return,” John Breech, New York Times (10/14/2020)


Hell of a Debut

We all know this year’s MLB playoffs is unlike any other. Satellite stadium sites, no fans, expanded field, and expanded rosters. If you try not to think about it, you can almost forget the stadiums are (mostly) empty. The games have been fun, but it’s like a good piece of turkey with none of the sides on Thanksgiving.  One cool result of pandemic baseball is MLB debuts taking place in the playoffs. Prior to this year, only two players have made their MLB debut in the postseason; this year, three dudes have made it to the show on the biggest stage: Twins outfielder Alex Kirilloff, Tampa pitcher Shane McClanahan, and San Diego’s Ryan Weathers.  Weathers is big ol’ lefty, just 20 years old, and has never pitched higher than A ball. Unlike previous years, where a player would get the call while playing in some small minor league town and catch a flight to wherever the big league team was heading, this year – with no minor league seasons – all of the prospects are training at a single team site.  His version of “getting the call” is, well, so 2020. Per Joe Lemire: 

…Weathers was standing next to the club’s general manager, A.J. Preller, in the team’s hotel while waiting to grab a swab for the team’s daily Covid-19 tests when Preller posed a question: Which test was for the minor leaguers and which was for the big leaguers? Weathers said he didn’t know there was a difference, to which Preller replied, “Grab one from the big-league side today because you’re on the roster” for the playoffs. Hours later, Weathers appeared in relief during Game 1 of the Padres’ National League division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers…

Weathers held his own against the high-powered Dodgers, and it might have something to do with how teams have prospects from all levels training together at one site, where young guys can go compete against AAA level talent and stay in top form after a usual minor league season would have ended. It also helps there are no off days in the playoffs this year, which can be a big factor for pitchers like Weathers. 

Craziest of all, Weathers and the others will not get service time credit for playoff rosters spots this year. As far as that goes, they haven’t yet made it.  So three guys this year alone, but what about the other two that made their debut in the playoffs? For Adalberto Modesi (Kansas City), and Mark Kiger (A’s), it’s two sides of the coin. 

Although Mondesi has become the Royals’ everyday shortstop, Oakland’s Kiger never played in the big leagues again. Kiger — whose first bit of fame came in the 2003 book “Moneyball,” in which he appeared on a list of eight players that the A’s executive Billy Beane was determined to draft — entered as a defensive replacement in two 2006 A.L.C.S. games. He recorded a putout while playing second base, but never batted. He completed three more minor league seasons, but never returned to the majors.

Damn.  As for this year’s crop, for as cool as it would be to make it to the bigs, and even cooler to debut in a playoffs, it has to be a letdown for that dream-come-true moment to be in an empty stadium. – PAL 

Source: Welcome to the Majors. Your Season Is on the Line.”, Joe Lemire, The New York Times (10/14/2020)

TOB: I’ve thought about that last line a lot this whole season. As badly as you want to make the majors, it must have been a little bittersweet for all the players who made their big league debut this year, but did so to an empty stadium. Not even their parents could watch. That just ain’t right.


The Lakers Won, BUH, But At What Cost?

I love a good lede:

ORLANDO, Fla. —  Lakers guard Danny Green bounced down the hallway that led to the team’s locker room, the start of a long night of partying after the team won the 2020 NBA championship Sunday. “Free. We’re free,” he said, his voice echoing off the walls. “Freedom. I’m f— free.” The NBA leaves the bubble behind, the experience a major success. The league has finished its season, helping satisfy its obligations to television partners. It has finished its season, crowning a champion without losing a single game to a COVID-19 outbreak. And it’s provided players the opportunity to try to better the world by speaking out about injustice. So if the pandemic continues to cause problems, if safety cannot be guaranteed anywhere else, the league could end up back here sometime in the future, right? “No way,” one NBA veteran said. While the NBA hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to a bubble environment for the 2020-21 season, it’s an obvious last resort because of the effects it had on players.

Ok ok, but an unnamed vet and Danny Freaking Green whining is one thing. What about the stars? What about the guy whose legacy was most burnished by the results of these bubble playoffs?

“It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” Lakers star LeBron James said before the NBA Finals. “But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for. I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it’s been extremely tough.”

Dang! And remember – this is a guy who won a title in CLEVELAND, saying this is the most challenging thing he’s ever done. This makes sense of course. I would not choose to be away from my family for two or three months at a time with nothing to do but my job, even if my job was basketball -and this is coming from someone who misses playing basketball so much he goes down to the nearby courts once every two weeks or so just to shoot at rimless backboards! Me, sorta: What I find most interesting about this is how little it was discussed in the moment. At one point, as he struggled, Paul George discussed his mental health struggles in the bubble. But otherwise the story was not covered much. Many of us struggled in the first few months of the pandemic. Trying to balance working from home, some with kids to take care of. But at least most of us had our families. What these people went through is honestly unfathomable to me. Hats off to ‘em. -TOB

Source: Even the Champion Lakers Felt Strains of Life in the NBA Bubble,” Dan Woike, L.A. Times (10/14/2020)


Sabermetrics, Circa 1910

Found this relic on Medium. Pretty interesting read from a story posted in 1910 (!) about the “science of baseball”. Pretty incredible, because – aside from some funny terminology –  this doesn’t sound all that dated. Hugh Fullerton (everybody remembers ol’ Hugh) does a deep dive on the math behind how 9 men can cover so much ground on a baseball diamond, and team adjustments made to tip the odds in your favor. 

“Inside baseball” is merely the art of getting the hits that “he couldn’t have got anyhow.” Now watch this play closely. See whether or not you can discover what is going on. “Pat” Moran stoops behind the batter and hides his right hand back of his mitt. Ed Reulbach, pitcher, shakes his head affirmatively. Johnny Evers stoops, pats his hand in the dust, touches it to his knee and rests it upon his hip. Jimmy Sheckard trots twenty feet across left field angling in toward the diamond. Steinfeldt creeps slowly to his left: Tinker moves toward second base and Evers takes four or five steps back and edges toward Chance, who has backed up five feet. Reulbach pitches a fast ball high and on the out corner of the plate. Mike Mitchell hits it. The crowd yells in sudden apprehension. The ball seems a sure hit — going fast toward right field. Evers runs easily over, stops the ball, tosses it to Chance and Mitchell is out.
You saw all that. The ball was hit in “the groove” directly at the 7–1/2-foot gap the geometrician will say is vacant, yet Evers fielded it. Now this is what happened: When Moran knelt down he put the index finger of his right hand straight down, then held it horizontally on the top of his mitt. Evers saw that Moran had signaled Reulbach to pitch a fast ball high and outside the plate. He rubbed his hand in the dirt, signaling Tinker, who patted his right hand upon his glove, replying he understood. Then Evers rested his hand upon his hip, signaling Sheckard, the outfield captain, what ball was to be pitched. Sheckard crept toward the spot where Mitchell would hit that kind of a ball 95 out of 100 times. While Reulbach was “winding up,” swinging his arm to throw the ball, Evers called sharply to Chance (whose good ear is toward him), and Tinker called to Steinfeldt. While Reulbach’s arm was swinging every man in the team was moving automatically toward right field, in full motion before Mitchell hit the ball. The gaps at first base, between first base and second, over second base and between third and short, were closed hermetically, while the gap between Steinfeldt and the third base line was opened up 22 feet. The ball, if hit on the ground, had no place to go except into some infielder’s hands, unless Reulbach blundered and Mitchell “pulled” the ball down the third base gap. Every man on the team knew if Reulbach pitched high, fast and outside, Mitchell would hit toward right field. The only chance Mitchell had to hit safe was to drive the ball over the head of the outfielders, or hit it on a line over 7 feet and less than 15 feet above the ground. If Reulbach had been ordered to pitch low and over the plate, or low and inside, or a slow ball, the team would have shifted exactly in the opposite way.

And how about these charts:

 

The article also goes in depth on defensive alignments and how plays like hit & runs widens the slots for low balls to get through the infield. Stuff we knew and was commonplace growing up, but – again – this is from 1910. It’s long, but to read this knowing its from 120 years ago is a pretty cool experience. People have been looking at this game mathematically for a long, long time. – PAL 

Source: “The Inside Game”, Hugh Fullerton, ℅ John Thorn, Our Game MLB Blog (10/13/2020)


In An Otherwise Unremarkable Story, a Lesson on Success

I love baseball, yes. But during a season I almost exclusively only watch Giants games. I am not up till 1am watching the Mariners and Rangers play. I am not sneaking peeks at my phone during a July Rays/Yankees game. Sure, I watch as many playoff games as I can, but that’s different, ya know?

But I did click on this story about former Rays and current Dodgers executive Andrew Friedman’s fingerprints on the 2020 ALCS and NLCS: his current team, the Dodgers, are in the NLCS (down 3-1, ahem), his former team the Rays are in the ALCS (up 3-2), and his former assistants’ Braves and Astros are in the NLCS (up 3-1, AHEM), and the ALCS (down 3-2). NOT BAD. The story was mostly unremarkable, aside from these very cool quotes from former Blue Jays exec and current Braves exec Alex Anthopoplous, who in between those two jobs worked at the Dodgers under Friedman, and (current Giants exec) Farhan Zaidi: 

“I felt like going to L.A. was like going to grad school,” Anthopoulos said, citing the chance to learn from Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, now president of baseball operations for the San Francisco Giants. “When you’re exposed to the best in the industry, you’re going to get better, right?” Anthopoulos said. “It’s like Warren Buffett and a lot of other people say: Surround yourself with people that are better than you are. Andrew and Farhan made me better.” “I think, because both Andrew and Farhan came from small market clubs, they were relentless in trying to make players better,” Anthopoulos said. “My attitude may have been, ‘OK, a guy is scuffling, you may need to find him a new home, make a trade.’ They came from organizations where they just couldn’t do that. You had to make do with what you had. By necessity, it made them better. They brought those characteristics there. “That’s why you’ve seen them have so much success in player development. They will exhaust all avenues, and they will not quit on players. They will work with you and try to find a way to make you better. It’s great for players to know that and see that. That’s why you’ve seen a lot of players discarded by other organizations — and you’re seeing it with the Giants now too. They go there, and they get better. It starts at the top.”

And if you think I did all this simply to give my guy Farhan some props, well, ya got me.

Jul 12, 2018; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi talks on the phone before a game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

#FarhanGuy -TOB

Source: Andrew Friedman’s Handprints Are Evidence on All Four Tems in MLB Playoffs,” Bill Shaikin, L.A. Times (10/10/2020)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week Jason Isbell – “Speed Trap Town”


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“I know that patience and loyalty are good, and virtuous traits. But sometimes I just think you need to grow a pair.”

-Angela Martin

Week of October 9, 2020

Hoping to see a LOT of this next week.


You Don’t Know Earl Campbell’s Story 

This week, I’ve got two stories about revered legends: Udonis Haslem and Earl Campbell. Their journeys couldn’t be much more different, but – man – they are loved.  

Of course I knew of Earl Cambell. He’s before my time, sure, but I’d seen the highlights of him giving more punishment as a running back than he ever took. I didn’t know many details. I just  knew he was a legend, and I knew the game had all but destroyed his body, leaving him as a cautionary tale for today’s players. It’s no wonder when you watch him run: 

 

I was wrong. While I’m sure the game exacted a toll on Campbell, there was something else at play that had caused his deterioration. Even Campbell didn’t know it until long after retirement that he’d had spinal stenosis his entire life – a condition that, in ESPN’s Dave Wilson’s words, “causes a narrowing of the space inside the spine, leading to pressure on nerves, and causes pain, weakness or numbness.” How painful does that sound?

According to his last back surgeon, Dr. Stan Jones, Campbell was lucky to have avoided any “catastrophes” in all those collisions on the field due to the stenosis. What followed the initial diagnosis were several back surgeries that left loose screws in his spine and pain pills for recovery. It wasn’t long before Cambell was self-medicating.

“I never took pills. I never smoked a joint. I never had experience with cocaine,” Campbell said. “Now, I know a little bit about Budweiser and tequila. But this doctor (PAL Note: Not Dr. Jones) started me and I don’t know, hell, it just happened so fast with the surgeries. I mean I’ve gotten cut in my throat. I never dreamed about all this s— about my spine, and cutting bone spurs the size of your thumb off my back. They were giving me pain medication and doctorin’ on me and next thing I know I’m hooked.”

You watch Campbell in those highlights – the almost unbelievable athleticism and power – and then you’ve seen him confined to a wheelchair at the Heisman events, and when you put those details together to draw a conclusion. But you miss a much bigger story. In many ways, a much more common, relatable, and inspiring of a legend humbled.

I also loved hearing the tales about the manchild from a tiny town in Texas who Barry Switzer described as the only high school player that could’ve jumped straight to the NFL. Solid read. – PAL 

Source:Earl Campbell got up: Inside the second act of a Texas Longhorns legend”, Dave Wilson, ESPN (10/8/20)


Ten Years After the Greatest Sports Performance I Ever Saw

Many times over the years, including just two weeks ago, I have mentioned on this blog Tim Lincecum’s performance in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS. 9 innings, 2 hits, 14 Ks. Pure dominance. I was at that game, and it was incredible. God, I loved being there.  Even if we had awful seats. But we didn’t care where we sat. We were at a playoff game in the most beautiful ballpark in the most beautiful setting, and our guy was on the mound, dealing. Those Ks on the right field wall kept piling up, and the tension was palpable as the Giants won 1-0. Grant Brisbee does an excellent job capturing the feeling:

The crowd was bananas throughout. You can keep your Game 1 World Series crowds, when it’s possible to recoup the cost of an entire season by selling the tickets and the seats are filled with people who love exclusive events more than baseball. Give me the first game of a postseason for a team that’s trying to win its first World Series in a half-century. The nerves were frayed after the leadoff double. They were still tingling with each three-ball count in the first and they were raw by the final pitch of a 1-0 game. But every flailing Braves hitter forced the fans to become more and more raucous. There was no other choice. Watch the whole game here on MLB’s global account, which isn’t embeddable for some reason, and you’ll hear what I mean. In the top of the sixth, the crowd gets behind a “POSEY’S BETTER” chant while Jason Heyward is at the plate, the kind of petty, extremely niche jab that makes sense only to people who are a little too into baseball. San Francisco fans got a reputation for being a little quiet and soft in the post-Candlestick years, as if the extra 25,000 people at the ballpark somehow negated the 10,000 to 15,000 who were there the whole time, but this was a crowd that knew what it was doing. They were exhorting one of the most popular athletes the Bay Area had ever seen — will ever see — because he was giving them an entirely new feeling.

Grant is right – the crowd was incredible. And that chat was fantastic. It continued after the game, as we excitedly wound our way down the ramps, high fiving strangers, marveling that we were just 10 wins away from a friggin World Series title. God damn, what a feeling.  It was October 7, 2010 – ten years ago yesterday, as I write this. It’s hard to believe it has been that long. So much has changed, both in my life (I was 28!), and as a Giants fan. Those 10 more wins I was dreaming about? They happened, of course, and the Giants won the World Series. Two more titles followed in short order. But it was that game, that night, that feeling that really sticks out as the best of the bunch. -TOB

Source: Ten Years Ago, Tim Lincecum Dominated the Braves and Started Something Beautiful,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (10/07/2020)

PAL: Great story. This part really landed with me: “Hope is what was wrested from the arms of Giants fans and used to bludgeon them, time and time again. It was a feeling of rational hope that was new. A feeling that maybe this year was different because, well, just look at this guy.”

Well, the first line, anyway. And the second part of this – the idea rational hope – that captures the real power of an absolute ace. 


Udonis Haslem’s Leadership Odyssey 

By the time you read this, the Lakers may have very have eliminated the Heat for the NBA title, so it might feel a bit odd that I’m sharing a profile of an over-the-hill Miami Heat bench player. Yet, here’s the Udonis Haslem story you really should read, whether you think you might be interested or not. I assure you, it’s a great read.  The angle, as described by its author, Andrew Sharp:

The vast majority of sports legends are so successful that their place in history is almost self-explanatory. There are others, though, who resonate for reasons that are harder to articulate. They’re known less for what they did than how they did it. These athletes generally won’t make the Hall of Fame, but they’re remembered forever by anyone who happened to be paying attention. Udonis Haslem is in that second category. 

There are incredible stories about the superstars in sports – from LeBron’s origin story to the tale of a troubled kid from Baltimore named George who went on to ‘build’ Yankee Stadium, but the stories about role players finding a way, fighting their way to make it are just as inspiring, if not moreso.  Haslem, or ‘UD’ to everyone who knows him, was always a very good player on very good teams. His high school team in Liberty City rattled off state titles. His Florida Gators made it to the Final Four. He was a key player on those teams – a leader who would set the tone for the team, but that skill set did not stand out, partially because he was a bit out of shape, and – for a big guy – didn’t do a lot of rebounding.  So, how did that guy turn into what Miami Heat Coach Eric Spoelstra describes as the following:

“Years on from here, when we’ll say, ‘What’s the Miami Heat culture?’ We can describe it and say, ‘Hardest working team, most professional, best conditioned, and so forth.’ Or we can just pull up a picture of Udonis Haslem.”

Not only was Haslem undrafted, he wasn’t even asked to work out for a number of team. His only real option was to play overseas. 

Haslem had spent much of the previous year in Chalon-sur-Saône, a small city in eastern France, where he averaged 16.1 points and 9.4 rebounds playing for a team called Élan Chalon. His season was a success, but that didn’t mean Haslem enjoyed it. “I gave myself one night to feel sorry for myself,” he says. “I had a one-night pity party. I had a bottle of Hennessy and I sat on my back porch. ‘Why am I here? I did everything right.’ Some of the guys that got drafted, I’d done really well against. I really didn’t understand. So I just gave myself one night.” But even that night, his mindset began to change. “Part of my pity party was, ‘What can I do differently?’ It’s so easy to blame the NBA, blame the coaches. It’s easy to say they made a mistake. But in the end, I don’t think that gets you anywhere. So for me, part of that bottle of Hennessy was, ‘What do I need to do?’”

I love every word of that anecdote. Even in his self-described pity party, he’s asking himself what he needs to do to change his situation. That’s a huge life lesson (or a reminder).  From there, he catches on with the Heat after being so competitive and dominant in workouts that thy shut him down before he hurt somebody. He’s been with his hometown team ever since. He won a title with the Wade-Shaq version of the team, setting the tone by holding Shaq accountable when few others could. Later, when LeBron and Chris Bosh joined Wade to create the super team, it appeared UD’s time was up with the Heat. 

Haslem was a 30-year-old free agent. Both the Mavericks and Nuggets were reportedly offering five-year deals worth about $34 million. Meanwhile, the entire sports world had just watched Miami use all its cap space on three superstars. “Plus,” says Riley, “we made a deal with Mike Miller. In order to get Mike, we had to get rid of Michael Beasley. There wasn’t any more room.” So a few days after that welcome party, Haslem called Wade to tell him that he loved him, but he had to leave. “I hung up,” Haslem says, “and I’m taking the exit to head downtown to meet with Pat to tell him the same thing: ‘Thank you for the opportunity, Coach. Nobody ever gave me a chance but you. I love you guys. But I’m moving on.’” Five minutes later, Haslem’s agent, the late Henry Thomas, told him to wait on a meeting with Riley. Thomas also represented Wade, and the latter was organizing an emergency conference call with his new teammates. Within hours, the Miami superstars agreed to sacrifice portions of their max salary to free up enough room for Haslem. The deal he accepted in Miami—five years, $20 million—was $14 million less than what he’d been offered elsewhere, but that was fine with Haslem. “Dwyane taking less,” he says. “LeBron taking less. Chris taking less. Everybody was sacrificing for a common goal.”

While – yes – the super team would need to fill out the rest of the roster with some player, I do think – as it’s told here – that story a lot about what other guys think of UD. 

Still…$14MM? 

Great success story of a hometown kid done good, both on the court and off. I’ll never tire of these kinds of profiles.- PAL

Source: The Legend of Udonis Haslem”, Andrew Sharp, The Ringer (09/29/20)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week – Florence + The Machine – “Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly cover)


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How do you tell somebody that you care about deeply, “I told you so.” Gently with a rose? In a funny way, like it’s a hilarious joke? Or do you just let it go, because saying it would just make things worse? Probably the funny way.

-Michael Scott

Week of October 2, 2020


17 18 

My Minnesota Twins made the postseason again this year. And again, they lost. Not the series. Every game. My Minnesota Twins have lost 18 playoff games in a row, good for the longest in American sports history (the Blackhawks used to hold the record at 16 games, followed by the Red Sox back in the 80s). Worse, the Twins were swept by the team everyone hates – the Houston Astros. I couldn’t help but chuckle…in between cursing my team out and firing off expletive-laden texts. 

This iteration of the Twins homered their way to 100+ wins last year, and the all-or-nothing approach at the plate carried them into this year’s expanded playoff. But just as was the case last year, the playoffs revealed the Twins to be frauds when it mattered most. A lineup stacked with hitters that put up big power numbers in the regular season go silent in the playoffs (except for Nelson Cruz). A team built to bludgeon opponents found itself in low-scoring games, and was unable to manufacture a run when they needed it most. Errors, base-running blunders, bullpen letdowns…this team doesn’t know how to gut out a win. The Giants World Series’ teams were everything the Twins are not. 

In previous years, the mighty Yankees beat the Twins an incredible 10 straight games in the playoffs, but this year the Twins lost to a sub-.500 team with mediocre pitching at best. 

The streak is at a point where I swear the fan cynicism feeds into it, which is the absolute worst. Every text is an expectation for something bad to happen. I’ve always been a fan that hopes and expects a good thing to happen – blame it on the ‘91 Twins – but this year I found myself waiting for the bad to happen.  

In other words, us Twins fans have officially willingly entered the lowest rung of fandom – we are feeding off of the failure. It’s become a part of our identity, and – man – that really, really sucks. All the proof you need can be found in the comments section of Twins articles: 

Why do we even watch anymore? It’s OUR fault for thinking things could be different this time. 

Tanner W.

Sep 29, 10:40pm

2 likes

So true 

Chris G.

Sep 29, 10:05pm

2 likes

Sounds about right. 

Josh K.

Sep 29, 10:05pm

12 likes

Life is pain 

Will R.

Sep 29, 10:05pm

24 likes

I’m not even sure what to say… no clutch hitting, bad fielding, inconsistent bullpen. I’m just glad that we can at least hang our hat on the longest postseason losing streak! 

Cal K.

Sep 29, 10:11pm

8 likes

Historically good or biblically bad, in that order. 

Christopher H.

The next time Rosario runs a ball out will be the first time Rosario runs a ball out. 

Glen S.

Sep 29, 10:06pm

6 likes

Explain to me how the team with record HR’s can’t hit when it matters? Also, Romo closing? Cmon man! 

Shane K.

Sep 29, 11:00pm

4 likes

Because they only seem to try to hit home runs. It seems like they have no concept of situational hitting. 

Justin B.

Sep 30, 12:02am

2 likes

Sano can only strike out and smash HRs 

Michael T.

Sep 29, 10:07pm

🤣🤣🤣 

Andrew M.

Sep 29, 10:07pm

14 likes

Why Austudillo 

Shane K.

Sep 29, 11:04pm

2 likes

Yes, why???? 

Justin M.

Sep 29, 10:07pm

22 likes

Least surprising and most predictable thing to happen. Guess it’s not the Yankees, huh? Just a crap run by another brutally inept MN sports franchise. Anyone think they won’t make it 18 in a row? This team is punchless & the manager deserves to finally take criticism for awful substitutions and pinch hitting decisions. What an embarrassment. 

Michael C.

Sep 29, 11:31pm

3 likes

@Justin M. Agree with the pinch hitting call. Garver? Are you f’ng kidding me? 

Michael C.

Sep 29, 11:34pm

5 likes

Why call up Kirilloff then? Anyone would have been better than Garver.

And this, from Jim Souhan, longtime MN columnist: 

Do not let the oddities of this short, strange season distract you from the fact that this was the most embarrassing loss of this record-breaking streak.

They did not have to play in Yankee Stadium. They did not have to face a superior team. They did not need to solve an ace.

They managed two runs in 18 innings against a mediocre Houston pitching staff and gave up big hits to a group of hitters who have shrunk before our eyes since they were caught cheating.

In 18 innings, no Twin not named Nelson Cruz produced an extra-base hit or an RBI. Their Home Run Robe became a K Cape.

Time to clean house. Trade everyone not named Cruz and Kenta (especially Rosario and Sano). Rocco has to go, and so does the front office. Start fresh. Power numbers might be the most value, best approach over the long haul of a season, but there has to be a balance to a team, and – caution, old guy take alert – there is something to having some grinders on a team. What I don’t need are a bunch of dudes that act like the spoiled kid on the Little League team at the first sign of trouble.

Rosario didn’t like the 3-1 call, which was close enough to be called a strike. What’s more troubling is his complaining about the 3-1 pitch made him even more useless than normal on the 3-2 pitch. Of course he swings through it, because that’s what Eddie Rosario does in any at-bat of any significance, and then gets tossed for arguing a borderline pitch in a elimination game that’s tied going into the late innings. I don’t want that dude on my team. Don’t care how many meaningless homers he hits in a regular season.

It was terrible, again, but the Twins – the players and fans – all felt it coming. They braced for the streak to continue instead of saying, ‘the hell with that,” and making something happen, starting with some optimism. The real loss is if we allow ourselves to become one of those self-loathing fanbases. They are the worst. Worse than losing 18-straight playoff games. – PAL

Sources: “Twins implode in ninth as playoff losing streak hits 17 games: Discuss”, Zack Pierce, The Athletic (09/30/20); “Rocco Baldelli’s quick hook for starters leads to Twins’ quick exit from playoffs“, Jim Souhan, Star Tribune (10/1/20)

TOB: Eighteen straight playoff losses is unfathomable – it’s more games than the Giants played in any of their three World Series runs – 2014 (17), 2012 (16), and 2010 (15). 

A Gluttonous and Historical Day of Playoff Baseball

Adding insult to the Twins’ 18-game postseason losing streak is that they were relegated to the morning games on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Why does that add insult? Well, this season saw the introduction of best-of-3 series in the first round. With 8 series to play, MLB scheduled the 4 AL series to open Tuesday, and then all 8 games played Wednesday. The Twins playing the early games meant their postseason ended before many teams’ postseasons began. Hell, it was over before October began. 

But Phil’s pain aside (and god it was a painful 18 innings to watch, even as someone who adopted the Twins for the postseason), Wednesday was cool as hell. A record EIGHT playoff games in one day. On Tuesday night I checked the start times and it was staggering. It began at 9am PDT with the Reds/Braves, with subsequent games starting at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 7pm. 

I was working so I was trying to follow along by checking scores periodically and it was insane. It was so much fun! That Reds/Braves game went scoreless into the 13th (the Braves won 1-0)! The Yankees/Indians game was BANANAS, with so many swings of momentum I had to finally put it on in the background to keep up (the Yankees eventually won, 10-9 to eliminate Cleveland).  

As an aside: the Reds set a record by opening (and closing) their postseason with TWENTY TWO scoreless innings. Wild. 

Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri did an excellent job capturing the madness with a running diary. This entry, in the early morning hours, sums it all up well:

12:43 a.m.: The Yankees have loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth, I am bordering on delirium, the world does not exist outside of my television, I love baseball, I want to die.

So of course I had to ask myself: is the expanded playoffs good or bad? Do we want this in the future? And I gotta tell you I am torn. Keeping more teams in “it” until the end of the season is good. But teams with losing records making the playoffs? NOT GREAT!  Especially with a best-of-three series. A 60-game season coming down to a best of three seems fine. A 162 game season coming down to a best of three, though? That seems unfair?

The more we expand the playoffs, the funkier results we will see. Houston could end up in the World Series and finish the year, as in after the World Series, with a losing record! Their two-game “sweep” put them at .500. All it would take is a 3-2 ALDS win, a 4-3 ALCS, win, and then a 4 or 5-game loss in the World Series, and your AL Pennant winner would finish with a losing record. That’s wild.

So, while I appreciated the intensity of the Giants’ final weekend (I mean, sorta, it was fun to care again but it also paralyzing and stressful), and while I loved Wednesday’s baseball bonanza, I think this is *too* much. -TOB

Source: A Diary of MLB’s Never-Ending Day of Playoffs,” Emma Baccellieri, Sports Illustrated (10/2/2020)

Landon Donovan Stands Up to Rid Soccer of Bigotry

Former U.S. Soccer star Landon Donovan is now the coach of the San Diego Loyal of the USL. Donovan’s team was winning 3-1 this week when a player on another team used a gay slur to refer to a player on Donovan’s team. That player happens to be openly gay. The player’s teammates stood up for him, and the referee initially sent the player off. But the ref changed his mind, apparently deciding that he was not sure the slur (“bitch boy”) was actually a gay slur. Donovan told the ref if he did not stand by his initial decision, he’d pull his team off the field.

First, that ref is in way over his head. Second, the other coach sucks. But most importantly, I have a lot of respect for Donovan standing up for what’s right, and standing up for his player, in the way he did. We need more of this in sports, and life. Here’s what Donovan said:

“Our guys said we will not stand for this and they were very clear in that moment that we are giving up all hopes of making the play-offs. They are beating one of the best teams in the league but they said it doesn’t matter and there are more things important in life and we have to stick up for what we believe in.

“They made the decision to walk off and I have tremendous pride in this group and I am really proud of this organisation and that I get to be a part of it.”

Good for them. -TOB

Source: San Diego Loyal Manager ‘Proud’ of Walk-off Over Alleged Homophobic Abuse,” the Guardian (10/1/2020)

Video of the Week:


Song the Week: Patsy Cline – “I Fall To Pieces”


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Sometimes you have to take a break from being the kind of boss that’s always trying to teach people things. Sometimes you have to just be the boss of dancing.

-Michael Scott

Week of September 25, 2020

Take my money. Send Bomba Robe.


Nostalgia & Inclusions

Near the beginning of the pandemic (a little over six months ago), Joe Posnanski counted down the 100 greatest baseball players of all-time, complete with an essay about each one. It was a gigantic undertaking, and one that this little digest greatly enjoyed. Posnanki’s back with his follow-up: greatest moments in baseball history. A perfect appetizer to the playoffs, which as of this exact moment, has the Twins facing the Astros, i.e. NOT THE YANKEES, in the first round of the playoffs. 

Posnanki’s number two moment might surprise you (and delight Giants fans): 

Duane Kuiper hits his one and only home run

Aug. 29, 1977

Huh?

Do I really believe that Kuiper hitting a meaningless home run for Cleveland, which was terrible in 1977, is a greater baseball moment than Ruth’s called shot or Puckett’s Game 6 homer?

Of course I do. Because I grew up in Cleveland in the 1970s. If I had grown up in New York in the 1930s, I’d have the Ruth homer on there. If I were Garrison Keillor or Steve Rushin, I’d have the Puckett homer on there. The greatest moment in baseball history is your moment, that instant when — among the thousands of baseball games that happen every year — everything comes together just so and a tiny instant of perfection happens.

Interesting that – in describing what makes a moment great, Posnanski uses my greatest baseball moment  – Puckett’s Game 6 homer in the 11th – within his argument about how great baseball moments have to be personal. Of course Puckett’s home run has more historical significance than Duane Kuiper’s single big league home run, but that didn’t even enter a 10 year-old Posnanski’s mind. It’s worth noting I was about the same age for Puckett’s moment as Posnanski was for Kuip’s ‘bomb’. That age is not coincidence. 

Of course, Posnanski is absolutely right about the weave between sports greatness and each of our biographies. I regularly tell people that Puckett’s moment is the highest purity of joy I’ve felt to date. Before you jump on me – of course my wedding day was a happier moment. I have many moments of greater joy, but an ‘instant of perfection’, to use Posnanski’s phrase, must also be about purity. It must include an absence of flaws. 

As we move on down the line, we accrue more inclusions, to borrow a diamond term. We are the diamond, and the moments are the light shining through us. What we bring to a moment when we’re 10 is likely to be purer than what we bring to a moment when we’re 38, and that impacts how the light of a moment reflects through us. Just as is the case for Posnanski and Kuiper, Puckett’s home run was pure because I was pure. 

What an unending comfort to recall as I go on collecting more inclusions along the way, each one making Puckett bounding around the bases pumping his fist more brilliant by comparison. 

With that in mind, what’s your perfect baseball moment, TOB? – PAL

Source: 60 Moments: No. 2, Duane Kuiper’s singular home run”, Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (09/21/2020)

TOB: The Giants provided a lot of pure joy over the last decade, including Tim Lincecum coming out for the 9th in his and my first playoff game, as he finished off a 14 K, 1-hit, 1-0 complete game shutout; three pennant wins, three World Series wins, and lots of crazy moments in between. But to go back a bit farther, I go back to July 25, 1996.

I was visiting my grandparents in Orange County, and my grandpa took me to an Angels game. The Brewers led most of the way, and tacked on an insurance run in the top of the 9th to make it 4-1. My grandpa was not a huge baseball fan and wanted to go home because the game was basically over and he wanted to beat the traffic. Baseball Reference indeed shows Milwaukee with a 97% chance of winning. In fact, while trying to find video of the game, I found this from a look back at the game: “The Brewers added one in the ninth and down 4-1, we can imagine that some of the 16,000+ in attendance were headed to the exits early.” But I said, “No, they’re going to make a comeback.”

In the bottom of the 9th, future Giants fan favorite J.T. Snow led off with a dinger to make it 4-2. After a couple singles and a couple outs, Angels shortstop Gary Disarcina came to the plate and hit a home run down the left field line that just stayed fair – it was one of only 28 home runs in Disarcina’s nearly 4,000 career at bats. 5-4, Angels won. I gloated to my grandpa all the way home.


Badass Women In Sports: Maya Gabeira 

The NY Times multi-media projects alone are worth the subscription. The full-screen video with text overlay pulls you in from the jump. José Sarmento Matos’ photography makes you pause, and Adam Skolnick’s reporting is multifaceted. Just a cool team effort all around. 

On the surface, this is a story about a woman, Maya Gabeira, recording the biggest wave surfed this year – 73.5 feet – off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal. There’s so much more to unpack than a record ride.

Of her ride, Gaeira said, “I had never been so close to such a powerful explosion. I had never felt that energy and that noise. It felt really terrifying.” 

I bet. 

 

It’s cool that a woman caught the biggest wave this year, and that Gabeira and a few women are charging right along with the men of big wave surfing. Seven years ago, Gabeira barely escaped death on the same break. 

In 2013, Gabeira wiped out on a 50-foot wave and was held underwater for several minutes. She was barely conscious when she grabbed a dangling tow rope, only to be dragged toward shore facedown, getting pulled from the water without a pulse. CPR saved her life, but she had snapped her right fibula and herniated a disk in her lower back.

Her recovery took four years and three back surgeries. She lost all of her sponsors, dealt with an anxiety disorder and panic attacks, and was scolded publicly and warned privately by legends of her sport, including Laird Hamilton, who publicly criticized her after her 2013 accident.

What did Gabeira do? She doubled-down, moved to Nazaré, trained like a beast and got back out there and rode monsters by any measure. I have a hard time imagining the amount of drive it takes to paddle back out there after an experience like that. 

But how do experts look at that wall of water and calculate, down to the half foot, its size?

“It’s an imperfect science,” the big wave surfer Greg Long said, “and when we’re talking world records it’s imperative that you bring in a more scientific and specific means.”

Michal Pieszka, a surf scientist at Kelly Slater’s wave pool, led the study in collaboration with researchers. They examined the tides, light and shadows, which can affect perception and size in a photograph, and the objects in each picture. They analyzed both camera angles and the camera lenses involved in capturing Gabeira’s and Dupont’s waves.

I was just talking to my brother, Matt. Our nephew, Anthony Rabeni, made his varsity golf team as a freshman (way to go, Anthony!). Matt and I were remarking how there’s no gray zone in golf, and what a refreshing that quality is in a sport. Golf and surfing…feels odd to lump them together, but it’s correct. No excuses. No restrictions. Not your age, gender, size, race – either you ride it or you don’t. You count your strokes. Simple as that. Hardly the first time this idea has been made, but one worth repeating every now and again.  

Maya Gabeira: badass lady on display in the word, video, design, and photography of this feature. – PAL 

Source: The Biggest Wave Surfed This Year”, Adam Skolnick, The New York Times (09/22/20) 


Is It Fair to Use Tests to Get College Football Players on the Field?

Yesterday the Pac-12 announced it will play a 7-game season, starting November 6. I mentioned in recent weeks that this was a strong possibility after the conference secured rapid testing for each of the 12 campuses.

The business of college football is troubling and layered and problematic as it is; but conducting that business during a pandemic, when kids can’t go to school and many businesses cannot open, and these players are still not being paid is beyond problematic.

As a fan, I’m excited. I know that many of the players want to play, and I don’t want to try to tell them how they should feel, so I’m also happy for them. But as a society there are questions that must be answered.

First, should college sports be played on campuses where students are not allowed to attend class?

I’ve thought about this a lot. I’m ok with that. I think we should be opening what we can, when we can. We can’t safely let 50,000 people back on the Berkeley campus. But we can let 150. So why not do that?

Second, should the schools be using financial resources to pay for this testing? Again, I say yes. As I noted a few weeks back, the school and the athletic department are basically separate entities. Schools even charge the athletic department tuition for players on athletic scholarship. Especially for athletic departments that are in the black, I see no problem with them using their revenue to pay for testing in order to ensure continued revenue.

But my final question is should the testing resources themselves (not the money, but the testing machines and materials used in the tests) be used to get college football players on the field? Is this taking tests away from other places that need it? I have no idea, but the San Jose Mercury News’ Jon Wilner set out to answer that question after his a wife asked, “Why is the Pac-12 getting those tests? Why aren’t they going to teachers and other essential workers?” So he called the CEO of Quidel, the company the Pac-12 purchased the rapid testing machines from.

During a 30-minute conversation, Quidel CEO Doug Bryant told the Hotline that he “worried a lot about the perception” that his company’s rapid-result antigen tests, which have the potential to change the battle lines with coronavirus, were being deployed to 12 college athletic departments.

“I’ve said all along that our company would do the right thing,’’ he told me.

The deal with the Pac-12, he added, will help Quidel do exactly that.

“How so?” I asked.

“It was bit of a perfect storm,’’ he said. “Larry and the universities needed our tests, and we needed their data.”

Quidel had been providing testing to first responders and nursing homes since May, and they were collecting data that they say will help fight COVID-19, especially as to asymptomatic cases. But they wanted to expand to a younger population.

In order to provide the most effective antigen test for all age groups, Bryant explained, Quidel needs data points. Hundreds of thousands of data points.

All the shipments to nursing homes and first responders have enable the company to refine the tests for adults and symptomatic cases.

But it needs more data … cardiac data … serological data … on children and young adults. Specifically, Bryant said, it needs data on asymptomatic young adults.

“For a greater understanding of performance,” Bryant said, “we have to figure out the right algorithms.

“We wanted a generation of asymptomatic data to give the public confidence that it worked.

Now, keep in mind this is the CEO, and part of his job is to spin the PR on what his company has just done. But I believe him when he says this will help. Of course, want to believe it, too. But these are all hard questions without easy answers, and we all do our best to answer them. -TOB

Source: “Quidel’s Antigen Tests Saved Pac-12 Football: A Deep Dive Into the Origin of Their Relationship,” Jon Wilner, San Jose Mercury News (09/23/2020)


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week


Song the Week: Little Willie John – “You Hurt Me”


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Well, you know what, Jim, it is not my fault that you bought a house to impress Pam. That is why carnations exist.

-M.G.S.

Week of September 18, 2020


Dodgers Giveth, Whine Like Little Babies When They Take

I am on the record that I love when baseball players talk trash, pimp home runs, scream when they strike a guy out, etc.. What I don’t like is hypocrites who are happy to do those things when they do something well, but whine and cry when someone does those things to them (ahem, MadBum).

Which brings me to the Dodgers. They are in a (surprisingly) tight race for the NL West with the Padres (who look like they’re going to be a headache for the next decade). In a close game this week, the Padres’ Trent Grisham crushed a dong off Clayton Kershaw. When he hit it, he turned to his bench and yelled, “Let’s go!” Although you can’t hear it, I think someone on the Dodgers then yelled at him because he suddenly turns toward either Kershaw or the Dodger bench and smirks. He then gets very animated as he rounds the bases. Let’s let 1-2-3 favorite Jomboy break it all down:

I’m not even mad about the Dodgers yelling, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” That’s hilarious. What really bugs me are the comments after the game by Dave Roberts and other Dodgers, because they are such friggin hypocrites. Do I need to remind you of the time when Max Muncy hit a bomb off Bumgarner, told Bumgarner to go get it out of the ocean (again, we’ll ignore Muncy’s misunderstanding of simple geography), and then half the Dodgers team made and wore “Get It Out of the Ocean” shirts!? Including Muncy himself:

And honestly I thought that was all REALLY funny. But tell me, Dave, why was that ok and what Grisham did not? Take your team’s advice: STFU. -TOB

PAL: I dig the young, talented, cocky Padres leaning into this role.


I’ve Discovered TOB’s Second Career: Spotter

We’ve all had that moment watching a game when we make an observation, only to have the color commentary echo the statement the next second. It will impress the significant other on the couch, and – let’s all cop to it – it’s a nice little moment of validation, that we’re seeing what the expert sees, at least that’s what I thought until reading this story from Bryan Curtis. 

For decades, TV has peddled a vision of the booth as a pair of announcers gazing over the field. This is pure illusion. “It’s a working kitchen at a diner back there,” said Joe Buck. Every announcer in Fox’s “A” booth—Buck, Aikman, even Mike Pereira—has an extra football brain within arm’s reach. Additionally, Buck has a spotter, Bill Garrity, and a statistician, Ed Sfida, stationed at his left; a stage manager, a camera operator, and a makeup artist stand behind the announcers. All told, there are usually 11 people in the Fox booth. NBC’s Sunday Night Football booth has more than 20.

When it’s laid out like that, I’m not shocked, but I just never really thought about it. And now when I do think about it, of course these analysts aren’t processing and articulating every nugget in real time. Enter  David Moulton – the guy behind the guy, just off camera. 

Moulton in action:

 

Before the pandemic and need for social distancing in relatively small booths at the stadiums, Moulton would be right next to the analyst (Troy Aikman for NFL, Gary Danielson SEC), in the ear piece, writing nuggets on notecards, a real-time “spell check” of sorts as Joe Buck puts it. 

Some of Moulton’s value is practical. At the two-minute warning, he reminds Buck and Aikman how many timeouts each team has. But the spotter’s job has an emotional component, too. Danielson said that being an announcer can feel like a comedian telling jokes to an empty room. Danielson can look at Moulton and see a fist pump or a shake of the head. “It’s someone having an audience,” he said.

Another key distinction is that Moulton has to think like his guy. While he compares his role to that of caddieing for a world-class golfer –  “You know that the golfer is going to be Top 3 in the world without you” – he has to see the game and offer notes to his guy in a way that resonates with Aikman’s voice. It’s not enough for something to be interesting to Moulton; rather, he has to think about what’s compelling to the audience as told by Aikman.  In that way, his role reminds of a joke writer more than a caddie: he needs to understand his analysts voice and sensibilities. 

Excellent read on a topic that’s completely fresh to me. Also, I genuinely believe TOB could be a guy-behind-the-guy for basketball and college football. – PAL 

Source: Meet the Man Who Makes Your Favorite Announcer Sound Smarter”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (09/14/2

TOB: Haaaaaaa. I’m not going to argue – I would love this. You nailed that moment of validation when your partner is impressed when you say something right before the announcers. And let me tell you – it’s now happening with the kids and their minds are BLOWN.

Also, I did know this job existed. I’ve definitely heard a few announcers mention their spotter by name, and in either Little Big League or Major League there is someone handing the announcer funny and obscure stats. 


College Football TV $ Is More Important Than My Niece’s College Education 

Up until recently, I was a (wavering) holdout wanting to believe in the idea of a student-athlete. I clung to theidea that a free education is absolutely worth something. But the recent reversal from the Big 10 is the last bit. It’s time to officially call it: college football and basketball players are not student athletes; rather, they are an unpaid workforce. 

The other day, the Big 10 unanimously voted to play the fall football season, just six weeks after voting 11-3 not to hold a fall sports season. Nothing has really changed in that time in terms of treatment or scientific breakthroughs. What’s changed is a handful of extremely rich and powerful football programs saw that the SEC, Big 12, and ACC were not going to follow suit and delay/cancel the season, and money was going to be left on the table. 

Per Berry Svrluga of The Washington Post:

‘The coronavirus pandemic has completely laid bare the contemptible nature of college athletics. The Big Ten’s decision to reverse course and try to stage a football season made it as crisp and clear as a Saturday afternoon in the fall: Athletic departments do not exist to afford opportunities to compete for thousands of “student-athletes.”’

Think about the disparity here. The conference, at its expense, will provide coronavirus tests every single day to a junior economics major if he happens to play football and a sophomore sociology major who excels at soccer and not to the kids who sit alongside them in class — virtually or in person — but don’t play sports.

That pisses me right off. These institutions of higher learning – these schools that are collecting FULL tuition from tens of thousands of students/parents for remote learning in many cases, these nostalgia receptacles that love to wax poetic on code, honor, and values are prioritizing money over the wellbeing of its non-athlete students and staff. 

Put simply, physics majors don’t generate money for their schools. Quarterbacks do. But more than that: The schools that make up the Big Ten are institutions of higher learning. The Big Ten itself is a massive business that stages athletic competitions and creates content for its media partners. The objectives of those two entities don’t always align.

Nevermind the irony we all know – that it’s the goddamn physics major who will bail us all out one day, not the all-conference QB. 

And while I’m rolling, it’s absurd that the football team will receive daily tests while the rest of the student population is signing into a 500th Zoom. Unconscionable. And it’s absurd that one goddamn cent is being dedicated to something other than first figuring out a safe way (including rapid response testing, like the ones the almighty football team receives) to get young kids back in elementary and middle school. And it’s infuriating that people will prioritize exercising  their personal freedoms to not wear a mask over getting kids and teachers back in schools in the safest possible environment (which, really, are you fucking kidding me? Is a mask such an intolerable inconvenience)? But – hey – let’s make sure Big 10 football has games. 

What is going on?

The amateurism argument is officially settled. 

And a general memo: stop referring to college students as ‘kids’ when you need something from them and ‘young adults’ when you want to blame them for something.

Hold steady, Pac 12. If you really think it’s dangerous, then lead and don’t play until  every student has access to the same testing as the football team. Stick to your convictions. – PAL 

Source: The Big Ten might save its football season, but the myth of college sports has been shattered”, Barry Svrluga, The Washington Post (09/17/20)

TOB: I have bad news for you regarding the Pac-12…news broke this week that they are expected to start as soon as late October.

In the bigger picture, though, while you are correct to see that the “student-athlete” concept, as applied to college football and men’s basketball, is a myth, you’ve got to take it a step further. The money being spent by these colleges to test football players is NOT money being taken away from the education of the general student population, like your niece. Major college football programs make money for their schools. The football (and to a lesser extent men’s basketball) money goes to pay for the other sports that take a loss. In fact, the athletic departments pay the school the tuition for each athlete on scholarship. A college athletic department is, essentially, an outside business licensing a college’s trademarks. When you look at it like that, to me, the effort to put college football on the field while other students are remote looks less ridiculous. 

Last point: I don’t believe the daily tests for football players is taking away resources from general populations. The testing machines, as I understand it, will be on each campus, paid for by the conference/the schools. It’s not like the early days of baseball’s return where they were mailing tests to a lab in Utah and utilizing that lab’s resources.

Which is all to say – I’m happy you’re on the side that recognizes that major college football and basketball players are not “student athletes” – but I’m also ok with those teams deciding to play this Fall.


Video of the Week:

I think we all had a George Kittle on a team growing up. 

Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Wynton Marsalis (feat. Joe Farnsworth, Russell Hall, Isaiah J. Thompson & Jerry Weldon) (Jazz Arrangement) – “Daily Battles”


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What is it like being single? I like it! I like starting each day with a sense of possibility. And I’m optimistic, because everyday I get a little more desperate. And desperate situations yield the quickest results.

-Michael Scott