Week of January 17, 2020

Subtle Sano.


The Sign-Stealing Scandal: The Bigger Picture

Much has been written about the sign-stealing scandal in baseball that, so far, has led to year-long suspension for Astros GM and the team’s manager, the “it was mutual” parting of ways between the Red Sox at its manager, Alex Cora, and the Mets asking for a do-over with Carlos Beltran before he ever managed a game with the team. I found Michael Bauman’s article on the subject the most thought-provoking. 

By punishing the general managers and managers (but not players, unless you count Carlos Beltran as a player in this instance), MLB and its teams are getting rid of the story, but not the problem. 

These investigations, and the punishments they’ve inspired, are attempts to fix a problem. If the problem is “the 2017-18 Astros and 2018 Red Sox were using cameras to steal signs,” then consider that problem all but fixed. The principal offenders in the sign-stealing scandal have now been identified and sanctioned.

But what if the problem is that MLB teams are using technology to gain an unfair advantage during gameplay? 

While reading this, I couldn’t help but think of my Twins, owners of the new single-season home run record.  Let’s just be very clear: the Twinkies haven’t been mentioned once in any of these stories. The record is legit!…and so is the team’s 16-game playoff losing streak. 

Tangent complete. Back to Baumann: 

It’s also reasonable to conclude that sign stealing isn’t the problem, but rather merely a symptom of baseball teams’ overreliance on technology. The mere existence of the replay room, which the Red Sox allegedly used to relay signs to hitters, is another example. The manager’s challenge is a pointless complication of replay review anyway, but allowing the manager to wait for a verdict from his own video staff before challenging a call is like giving students the answer to a test beforehand—if a call was so egregiously blown that it needs to be overturned, it should be obvious to the naked eye. But MLB clubs, unwilling to walk the tightrope of replay without a net, have turned around and used those nets to ensnare unwitting opponents.

Amen, man. If we can’t completely remove instant replay from the game, can we at least bypass this completely absurd dance of having teams decide whether or not they want to challenge a call? Get rid of the team challenge, and then we can get rid of these video replay rooms. Clear solution to the immediate problem. 

Bigger picture: baseball’s obsession with technology in a stat-obsessed sport makes for a powerful duo, and not always for the better. It removes “human considerations” as Bauman puts it. And while some will roll their eyes at those crusty old dude bemoaning how technology takes out the “human element”, Baumann convinces me there’s something much more important playing out here. 

Electronic sign stealing is the cause célèbre of the day, but it’s penny-ante shit compared to other behaviors that stem from the same societal disease that views rules, norms, and human beings as obstacles to be navigated around or run over on the way to the goal.

Again, a thought-provoking, extremely well-written story. – PAL 

Source: The Treatment for Sign Stealing Isn’t a Cure for MLB’s Disease”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (01/14/20)

TOB: As I wrote back in November, I didn’t care too much about this scandal, until I heard the trash can banging videos. It was so blatant, and so disturbing as a competitor. You might as well throw BP up there. But there’s also a side of me that friggin loves the drama. It’s…kinda hilarious. The stupidity of it all is just so funny.  On Thursday, as Twitter went wild with accusations of Astos players wearing buzzers during the 2019 playoffs, my co-worker Kevin and I were howling in our offices, sending each other tweets and videos and breaking down video frame by frame. Cheating is bad, yes. But drama is great.

And after such a wild day, I have so many questions and thoughts.

  • How did the Astros not think they’d get caught?
  • The proverbial whistle was blown by a former teammate, Mike Fiers; how was Fiers the first to do so?
  • How did the Astros not consider the fact that a former teammate turned competitor would do so?
  • How did AJ Hinch have the balls to demand anonymous sources “put their name by” the rumors that his team was using video to steal signs, when he knew full well that they were cheating and there were players no longer on the team who could confirm it?

  • Exactly how much better did this make the Astros? Is Altuve actually any good?
  • Watch this video of Bregman, and wonder how big of an idiot he was to be so brazen, and also wonder how everyone missed this:

  • Or this video, of Alex Cora. Cora was the Astros bench coach in 2017 and the reported mastermind of this all, along with former Astro Carlos Beltran; wonder, again, how we missed this. And also wonder, how players around the league who knew what was going on did not speak out sooner:

  • What genius made this masterpiece?

     

If you’re like me and want to revel in more of this absurdity, SI’s Emma Baccellieri did a wonderful job recapping it all here. I’ll leave you with what might be my very favorite:


The Most Important 30 Seconds of Burrow’s Season

 

By now you likely recognize the name Joe Burrow. He was the LSU QB who carved up Clemson to the tune of 463 passing yards, 5 TD passes, and nearly 60 yards rushing. In the process, he capped one of the greatest college football seasons: he lead his team to an undefeated national championship, threw for 60 touchdowns, and had a completion percentage over 76%. LSU smoked Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson. It should come as no surprise that Burrow was the runaway Heisman winner. 

Perhaps one of the most impressive performances from his year didn’t happen on the field. During his Heisman acceptance speech, Burrow made it a point to use that stage and platform of ESPN broadcast to speak to the kids in Athens, Ohio. Specifically, he spoke to kids in his hometown.

Coming from Southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area, and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average. There are so many people there that don’t have a lot, and I’m up for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table. Hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too.

As Billy Witz of The New York Times details in his story, a lot went into those thirty seconds of Burrow’s speech, and perhaps even more came out of it. While Burrow wasn’t one of the kids living in the trailers (his dad is a recently retired college football coach, and his mom is a principal), he wasn’t oblivious to the socioeconomic makeup of Athens. His mom sees it every day at the elementary school. 

Her office is bright and cheery, a welcoming place for “kiddos,” as she calls them, from kindergarten through fourth grade. The office is dotted with photos of her husband, Jimmy, and Joe; there is a bookcase filled with stuffed animal tigers and teddy bears, bracelets and candles; and the accent colors are purple and gold.

Below her desk is a box of macaroni-and-cheese dinners.

How often does she give them out?

“Every day,” she said.

The poverty rate at the school — or those eligible for free or reduced lunch — is 36 percent. Every other Friday, bags of food are sent home with 100 children, about 20 percent of the school’s enrollment. One of Robin Burrow’s biggest concerns is what happens during the two weeks that schools are closed over winter break.

Burrow’s words connected with a lot of people from the area. Will Drabold, who graduated a few years ahead of Burrow, described hearing the speech as “being struck by lightning”.

The next morning, Drabold was determined to do something: He put up a Facebook page asking for donations to the Athens County Food Pantry. The goal was $1,000, which he started with a $50 pledge.

Within 24 hours, the drive had raised $80,000. By Sunday, nearly a month later, it had raised more than $503,000 — more than five times the all-volunteer organization’s annual budget. Similarly, a food pantry in Baton Rouge, La., has raised more than $60,000. 

That’s real money leading to real food, feeding really hungry people. Reading Witz story is a great, positive reminder why athletes should not stick to sports. The full story is well worth the read- PAL 

Source: As Joe Burrow Spoke of Hunger, His Hometown Felt the Lift”, Billy Witz, The New York Times (01/13/20)

TOB: Burrow seems like a good dude, and I’ll say this: I don’t remember the last time I watched a college football game and said, “Oh my god, what a throw,” or some variant thereof, as many times as I did on Monday watching him light up a very good Clemson defense.


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week:


PAL Song of the Week: Bob Seger – ‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man’


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I’ve made some empty promises in my life, but hands down, that was the most generous.

-Michael Scott

Week of January 10, 2020


The History of the Flag in American Sports

This is a story about the United States flag and sports that shouldn’t be impacted by your own political leanings…at least I think so. It details just when we started the tradition of the national anthem, and how far we’ve drifted from the regulations Congress wrote in 1942 with regards to how the flag should be respected. 

The ties between sports and displays of patriotism go back at least a century. Fans first stood to salute the flag while singing the national anthem at the 1918 World Series. In 1942, during World War II, Congress wrote regulations, enshrined in a federal law but without penalties for violations, outlining the significance of the flag and how to properly respect it — regulations that are largely ignored today, especially at sporting events.

According to the code, the flag “should never be carried flat,” “never be used as wearing apparel” and “never be used for advertising.” Additionally, “no part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.”

A quick rundown of those guidelines: 

  • flags are carried flat regularly at football games and many other sporting events
  • it’s absolutely become a part of athletic uniforms from any number of sports 
  • it has absolutely been used for advertising purposes (by our Department of Defense). 

Again, I would think this is an issue for which the staunchest of conservatives and the most dreadlocked of Berkeley hippie would agree that the flag has no place in sports. Either it means too much or shouldn’t mean that much to be woven into our sporting events and the marketing of leagues. 

It’s one thing to take a moment to thank those who have served at a game. I think there should be more of that. It doesn’t need to be part of marketing campaign, but of course we should genuine thanks and ‘salute the troops’. It’s quite another thing for sports industries (leagues, teams, owners, not to mention the ancillary partners like beer companies) to profit off of the flag. I know this happens a lot of ways, and it’s not limited to sports (as my mom just noted, just look to any car dealership), but damn. Whether you think the flag means something sacred, something not so pure, a mixture of both, or – I guess – nothing at all; the flag represents a powerful idea (or loss of) in all of those scenarios. It bothers me that we use this idea to sell baseball caps and uniforms. We are being sold an idea that’s already ours, that we get to define.

I would like to understand why this pimping out of the flag is embraced, while other forms of protest – be it kneeling for the anthem or burning the flag – are so fiercely contested and labeled disrespectful. What am I missing? I am genuinely asking. – PAL 

Source: The N.F.L. Wears Patriotism on Its Sleeve. And Its Head. And Its Feet.,” Brittainy Newman, The New York Times (01/03/2020)


How the VIkings Almost Ended the 49ers Budding Dynasty

The 49ers were the team of the 1980s. They won the Super Bowl after the 1981, 1984, 1988, and 1989 seasons, and made the NFC Championship after 1983. But the mid-80s saw some disappointments. They lost in the Wild Card round after the 1985 season, and the Divisional round after the 1986 season. But they entered the playoffs after the 1987, strike-shortened season as the NFC’s #1 seed, and looked poised to make another deep run. The Niners entered those playoffs as a juggernaut: they ranked No. 1 in total offense, rushing offense, scoring offense, total defense, pass defense and point differential. They had six future Hall of Famers on the field, including Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Dwight Clark, and friggin Steve Young on the bench. They were expected to win their third Super Bowl of the decade. It didn’t happen. 

Instead, in the Niners’ first playoff game that year, the Minnesota Vikings came into Candlestick and put it on ‘em, 36-24. The Vikings made Joe Montana look so bad that Bill Walsh benched him (though it did give the 49ers their first glimpse at what Steve Young could really do. Vikings wide receiver Anthony Carter looked like, well, Jerry Rice, and set a then-NFL record with 227 yards receiving. 

I don’t remember this game. I was only six years old, and my very earliest football memory is the next season, when the Niners beat the Bengals, and Montana solidified his legacy with The Drive. But as the 49ers and Vikings prepare to play in the NFL playoffs this weekend, it’s interesting as hell to consider that game in January 1988, and this oral history of that game is an interesting way to do so. Any 49ers fan around my age (and maybe older) will be shocked to read some of the things in this article. For example:

49ers President Carmen Policy: Bill [Walsh] wasn’t quite right. His coaching wasn’t the best, and so forth. And we were going through this other combination of Steve Young-Joe Montana. And we didn’t have our feet solidly on the ground in terms of how we felt about ourselves and about the team and about the season.

Yes, that is Carmen Policy saying that legendary coach Bill Walsh’s coaching wasn’t the best, and saying that there was a QB controversy between Montana and Young long before I’d ever heard of one. In fact, shortly after halftime, Walsh benched Montana. Joe Montana! Benched! I had no idea. Here’s 49er Randy Cross on the benching:

Cross: With Joe, we’d won a couple Super Bowls. We’d won a bunch of playoff games. We’d won a bunch of games, period, with him. So it was very, very strange. You knew there was a chance, but not until he really did it, did it really hit you and sink in….That whole dynamic was very unique and kind of uncomfortable, to be honest. (Bill’s) pissed. All the coaches are pissed. We’re pissed. We needed a spark. We needed something different to happen. They were just making plays happen like crazy on offense, and we couldn’t get anything going on defense.

Somewhere, in an alternate universe, Sliders-style, that loss ended the 49ers’ budding dynasty. In this universe, it nearly did. Except, that it didn’t. The Vikings lost the next week to the Washington football team. In San Francisco, things turned around. After the loss to Minnesota, the team damn near fired Bill Walsh. As Policy puts it:

“I’ll never forget (team owner) Eddie (DeBartolo) telling Bill that night: ‘Bill, I don’t want you to lose another playoff game. This is the last one you lose with the 49ers.” 

DeBartolo was right. Walsh would coach just one more season, winning the next Super Bowl (and beating the Vikings 34-9 in the playoffs along the way), and then retiring (before returning to Stanford for three deliciously disappointing seasons). Montana held off Young for a few more seasons, winning the Super Bowl in 1988 and 1989, and then losing to the Giants in 1990. Montana missed most of the next two seasons due to injury, as Young took over, and won a Super Bowl in 1994 after Montana left for Kansas City.

A good oral history tells you a lot about a subject you thought you knew well, but upon reding realize you did not. Good read for any 49ers (or Vikings) fan. -TOB

Source: The Day the Vikings Put Joe Montana on the Bench and Bill Walsh on the Hot Seat,” Jon Krawczynski, David Lombardi and Daniel Brown, The Athletic (01/09/2020)

PAL: You sure do learn some stuff. How about Joe Montana and Roger Craig crossing the picket line during the strike?!? I never knew that. 

Also, the Montana benching did exactly what Walsh had hoped it would do. Young absolutely jump started the offense. Two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing) that kept them within distance of a comeback. The problem was the Niner defense couldn’t stop Anthony Carter. 

One last note on the game this weekend. I haven’t really been a Vikings fan since Gary Anderson missed one field goal all season and ruined the Moss, Carter, Cunningham, John Randle  Vikings 1998 season. But then I found myself planning my day last weekend around getting back to watch the Vikings-Saints game. And for all the terrible, terrible problems with football…damn if it’s not enjoyable to watch on TV. Can’t deny it. 

Go Vikes. This Niners team is awfully talented, but not a whole lot of experience in a playoff game. I’m not a Cousins fan, but he finally delivered last week. Jimmy G hasn’t done it yet. Let’s see how the pretty boy handles the pressure.


Kevin Love Confirm He Sucks

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a Kevin Love fan. 

In his one season at UCLA, Love and future NBA teammates Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (seriously how did that team not win a title?), the Bruins beat my favorite Cal team ever on a ludicrous sequence where Love knocked over Ryan Anderson, who was trying to draw the foul to ice the game, and then won on an illegal shot by Josh Shipp that the referees unbelievably allowed to count (I’m still very bitter). 

Then he went to Minnesota and put up big numbers on awful teams.

Then he went to Cleveland, his numbers went down, and he complained about playing in LeBron’s shadow while they won.

But I’ve been mostly alone on this. Love smiles, and seem nice, and people generally like him. So this week has been very vindicating for me. 

After LeBron left Cleveland two years ago, Love was a free agent. He could have left and played for a contender. But Love instead signed a max extension – 4 years, $120M. He got paid. And he did so knowing full well the situation he’d be in – the Cavs were never going to be good post-LeBron.

Last year, he was pretty quiet. The team didn’t win much and his numbers did not return to his Minnesota-levels, suggesting that his numbers didn’t dip in Cleveland because he took a backseat to LeBron; or alternatively suggesting he’d forgotten how to play as the best player on his team; or alternatively suggesting he’d lost a step or two. Whatever the reason, Cleveland’s questionable (IMO) decision to sign him to that extension didn’t look great. But now, it looks awful.

This week, Love threw a couple of on-court tantrums.

What a baby. The quote about having money is obnoxious, but I especially hate how he treats his young teammate in the second video. I’m just very happy that everyone else finally sees what I’ve seen for more than a decade. This guy sucks. -TOB

PAL: Other than the following, I have no feelings about Kevin Love: 

The Beach Boys…meh. 


Videos of the Week


Tweets of the Week

I’m not a huge KD fan but I like Kendrick Perkins far less. So: LOLLLL.


Song of the Week

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – ‘Hey Mama’


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There is a small part of me that is actually very excited about this new company. But 70% of me is water. And the other part, the real part, the part that has feelings, and emotions, and thoughts, and if I can be crass, makes babies, that part thinks that all these changes suck b—.

-Michael Scott

Week of January 3, 2019

RIP, Commish.


One Game Makes All The Difference: Remembering Don Larson 

Readers of this newsletter know I’m a sucker for a sports obit. Don Larsen died this week at the age of 90, and Tyler Kepner of The New York Times centers the obituary on October 8, 1956 when Larson became the only pitcher to ever throw a perfect game in the World Series when he and the Yankee beat the Dodgers 2-0 in game 5. Larson’s perfect game remains a singular achievement in baseball. 

While I’m sure our fathers and uncles know, Larson was an unlikely pitcher to pull off the rarest of feats. In fact, The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ) ran the headline “Clown Prince ascends the throne”. The “midnight kid who doesn’t like to miss many laughs” had a career record of 81-91. He lost a Game 7 the very next year, and became a journeyman pitcher. He was the greatest for one day, and the details of the day make the achievement even more incredible. 

For one, Larsen didn’t exactly get 10 hours of sleep the night before Game 5. His friend told folks how he begged Larsen to take it easy the night before. To raise the degree of difficulty even more, there was an alimony dispute with his estranged wife. Per Kepner: 

Larsen must have had a lot on his mind. The day of the perfect game, his estranged wife, Vivian, asked the State Supreme Court to hold up his World Series winnings in an alimony dispute. A court order over unpaid child support was said to have been in Larsen’s locker as he pitched; newspapers called him a playboy.

But, as Jim Palmer sums up, there’s poetry in the idea that a below average player can be the greatest for a day. In his words, “That’s what baseball’s all about.”

Solid read. – PAL 

Source:Don Larsen Became an Unlikely Legend in 9 Perfect Innings”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (01/02/2020)

TOB: I really love that quote by Palmer. It’s one of my very favorite things about baseball: In one day, an average player can create a legacy. I’ll never forget the all-time leader for RBI in a game is Mark Whiten. He was a quintessential journeyman. But one day in 1993, he hit 12 RBI in a game. Although that one game constituted about 0.1% of his career games, the 12 RBI constituted about 3% of his career RBI.

Or take Brandon Crawford. He’s had his moments and hot streaks at the plate, but he’s known more for his glove. However, in 2016, he had a 7-hit game. In 2019, he had an 8-RBI game. He is the only player in MLB history to do both in his career. How wild is that?


David Stern’s Greatest Act As Commissioner: Compassion  

Former NBA commissioner David Stern died this week after suffering a brain hemorrhage before the holidays. And while he will be remembered as the maestro of growing the NBA into a global sport in a way that no other American sport could dream of, The Athletic’s Bill Oram focused his words on how Stern navigated Magic Johnson’s announcement that he had HIV in 1992. 

I am just old enough to remember how absolutely terrified and uninformed Americans were of and about AIDS and HIV in 1992. And then it comes out that Magic Johnson has HIV. He immediately retires from basketball. When he does want to make a comeback, players are protesting playing on the same court as Johnson. Sponsors threaten to take their business elsewhere. People still think the virus can be contracted by sweat. Throughout all of this, Stern sticks by Johnson. 

Stern admits that he did so to also protect his league. He understood the NBA needed to be about the stardom of its players, and so he stuck by one of the league’s greatest stars. 

“We were in the middle of a complete panic as a nation,” [Stern] said, “and we were losing people left and right. And by just working in a certain way to protect our league, which was (that) we embraced Magic, we didn’t shun him … we changed the debate on AIDS.”

This is another one of those stories I will think about when the familiar chorus, “stick to sports” is barked. In Stern’s words, “the social clout sports can have on important issues” are often the bookmarks we use to return to our history. Good, bad, and all of the above. – PAL

Source ‘Compassion and intelligence’ guided David Stern through aftermath of Magic Johnson’s HIV announcement”, Bill Oram, The Athletic (01/02/20)

TOB: I also liked another write-up on Stern, by the Athletic’s Ethan Strauss. He never met Stern, but they became in recent years, as Strauss puts it, pen-pals. One passage in particular struck a chord with me:

Beyond that reputation, he was frighteningly “high chair famous” to me. People of my generation might know what I mean. The famous people you learned about before you can even remember learning tend to inspire more awe.

This is so true. When you are very young, you don’t realize that famous people – be they athletes, politicians, coaches, media personalities – have not always been around. Sometimes, you find out later, they came to prominence just before you learned about them. But for you, they will always hold a special place. As time passes, for example, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of who the coaches of each team in the four major sports are. At age 9, though, I could have told you all of them, and I figured they’d all been there twenty years.

But they hadn’t. And they moved on. And many have passed away. Still, Stern will always be the NBA Commissioner to me just like Tom Brokaw will always be the face of television news. It’s hard to believe Stern is gone. It just feels…strange.


Colin Kaepernick’s Continued Exile Proves His Point

I highly recommend you read this article about Colin Kaepernick and his continued exile from the NFL. Here’s a great passage that is more or less the thesis:

The demonization of Kaepernick and the distortion of his message have contributed to his NFL exile. It is, as Patterson described, a kind of social death and, in many ways, our shared burden, just as it is Goodell’s and the 32 owners’ who have kept the league’s doors closed to him. The cancer isn’t Colin Kaepernick. It is the scourge of racism in our institutions, and it must be confronted or else the next curious black athlete of another generation will face the same battle: fatigued enough to embrace protest as their weapon of upheaval only to suffer in the same, scripted ways of their predecessors.

Kaepernick protested specifically against police officers not being punished for killing young persons of color. But his exile confirms an even larger point: the system is racist and the system is rigged. Good read. -TOB

Source: “Colin Kaepernick’s NFL Exile Feels Like Forever,” Tyler Tynes, The Ringer (12/23/2019)


Bumgarner Wanted to Leave, So He Left/An Ode to Farhan Zaidi

Madison Bumgarner, who almost single-handedly won a World Series for my favorite baseball team, left that team for a division rival – the Arizona Diamondbacks. A lot of Giants fans are angry – Bumgarner grew up a Giant, helping the team win the World Series in 2010 as a 20-year old rookie. But the anger is directed not at Bumgarner for leaving, but at the team’s front office, led by second-year President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi.

These are the same fans who whined and complained about Farhan constantly shuffling the roster last year; and then when he found a mix that won, those same fans cheered, while giving Farhan little credit.

Farhan’s shuffling found players who were good but underappreciated at their previous stops – guys like Mike Yastremzki and Alex Dickerson. Farhan flipped free agent to be pitchers like Drew Pomeranz and Sam Dyson for young and highly valued prospects who might be part of the next great Giants team, like Mauricio Dubon and Jaylinn Davis.

Back to Bum. He is an above average pitcher, though he never could find the consistency required to be truly great. Still, the Giants rotation next year looks to be a mess, and his innings and leadership would have been welcome for the next few years. In fact, it was reported that the Giants offered him something around 4 years and $75 million, which sounds a bit low until you learn his deal with Arizona was 5 years and $75 million. So, Bumgarner took less money per year and the same money overall to go elsewhere. It’s also been reported other teams offered him deals with much higher money. And what does that tell you?

It tells you Bumgarner did not want to be here. He wanted to be in Arizona. He said at his press conference that Arizona was his preferred destination. I don’t get it, personally; I think Phoenix sucks. And I don’t get why you wouldn’t want to become a legend in a city that reveres its sports heroes. But it’s his choice to make.

So why are fans mad at Farhan when Bumgarner chose to leave? Here are some recent questions to Giants beat writer Alex Pavlovic’s mailbag article:

Do the Giants know how discouraged and worried the fans are? — @romareb

What’s the Giants management reaction to the discontent among their fans? — @woodiewoodf14

Discontent? Worried? Worried about what? First, it’s baseball! Chill out. Second, your team won three World Series titles this decade! Are you kidding me? These fans are spoiled and insufferable. They think there’s no plan because they think the Giants are one big bat away from competing with the Dodgers, who are so deep and so good. But the Giants are so far behind the Dodgers right now, it’s going to take so much more.

Farhan has done and continues to do an incredible job. When he turns this mess around, those fans will probably say they knew all along. But I know. I’m keeping the receipts. -TOB


Baseball in the 2010s

This is a really neat article from Tom Verducci about how baseball changed over the decade. I highly recommend it. -TOB

Source: MLB Changed More Than You Think in the 2010s,” Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated (12/23/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Brittany Howard – Stay High 


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Jim, don’t take this the wrong way. Are you gonna take this the wrong way?

-Michael Scott

Week of December 20, 2019

Tap the brakes, Max. 


The Hole

℅ Jamie Morganstern. Rob Krar is one of the best ultra runners on the planet. Krar also suffers from depression. This is the story of how he thrives in one area of his life, and how he manages the other. There are parallels between ultra races (Krar does a bunch of crazy-difficult 100-miler type races), but those parallels are not exclusively focused on pain and the struggle. The parallels also are about the importance of a supportive community around you. About acceptance. There’s a willingness needed in both. 

Krar’s bio is pretty interesting. Good runner in high school in Canada. Gets a scholarship to Butler. Enters a challenging pharmacy school. Rigors of school collide with the realization that running is no longer a pursuit of joy but a requirement. Moves to Phoenix. Hates the heat, stops running, depression really starts to simmer. Doesn’t help that, as a pharmacist, mistakes can carry pretty grave consequences. Moves to Flagstaff. Mountain climate leads to running again. Starts winning races out of nowhere. Although he hadn’t articulated it at the time,  “the hold” the depression persists. 

Most important, he meets Christina Bauer. She’s the love of his life, a counselor, and – on what sounds like a first date – the first person he tells about his depression. 

Krar’s story, beautifully written by Christine Fennesey, is about the courage it takes to embrace something like depression. In talking openly about it, Krar makes it easier for others to discuss it. He’s also started a camp for endurance runners that has attracted other runners struggling with mental illness. But this isn’t some after-school special piece on depression. For as head-on as he’s tried to address his mental health, Krar admits that it’s getting worse for him. He admits that there’s a magic to the darkness he feels in the final miles of a race, and the relation it has to the darkness he feels from his depression. He’s willing to take medication, but for reasons left unspoken, he will not attend therapy. 

The irony is Krar’s story isn’t about overcoming obstacles; it’s about accepting them. That is the key to how he approaches his depressions, and that’s what sets him apart as a runner. 

“He’s obviously very talented, but there are a lot of very talented people who don’t win Western States,” [Dylan] Bowman says [a fellow top-tier runner]. “You have to have the willingness to go to the deepest, darkest places in order to pull out victories in the most competitive races. Rob has been really open about his depression, so it could be that he’s just not afraid to put himself in a dark place. And when you pair that with a unique talent, you’ve got an absolute world-class athlete.”

Well worth your time. – PAL 

Source:Rob Krar’s Never-Ending Race”, Christine Fennessy, Outside (12/16/19)


You Won The Heisman, But It’s Not Yours

File this under dumb. Since 1999, winners of the Heisman are not allowed to sell their trophy. So let me get this straight: dudes who are generating millions of dollars for their conferences and schools can’t sell something they won, even after they’ve left the NCAA and the world of amateurism? This is so absurd. 

I’m with Tim Brown (1987 winner): “When I own it and it’s mine, I can do whatever I want with it. If the Heisman Trust wants to sue me for doing whatever, then sue me. I don’t think anybody’s going to worry about that.”

I mean, what the hell; they won’t allow the students to make money off of their names while in college. The folks in charge of the Heisman (not the NCAA) think they need to dictate how an adult manages his assets? Get out of here. 

For what it’s worth, Ricky Williams Heisman just sold for over $500K. – PAL 

Source: Congrats on the Heisman Trophy. Now Sign Here and Promise to Not Sell It.”, Billy Witz, The New York Times (12/14/19)


How the Dodgers Lost out on Clemente

Here’s a pretty cool read for older readers or fans of baseball history. It’s hard to imagine Roberto Clemente in anything other than the honey mustard yellow the Pittsburgh Pirates sported in the 60s. Before he became, as actor David Conrad describes him in short MLB bio video, “the gracenote of Pittsburgh”, Clemente was on track to be a Dodger. 

Many folks know that, but it’s during his minor league season in Montreal when the legend and truth about Clemente start to diverge. The legend goes that the Dodgers discovered him in Puerto Rico and essentially tried to hide him in Montreal until the Rule 5 draft. Why did they need to stash him up there? Because he was a bonus baby. 

Stephen Nesbitt explains the rule: 

On Feb. 19, 1954, Melchor Clemente, a foreman on a sugarcane plantation in Santurce, P.R., sent a telegram to the Brooklyn Baseball Club offices in New York informing the Dodgers that his 19-year-old son Roberto had agreed to sign with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ International League affiliate, for a salary of $5,000 and a $10,000 bonus. That sum made Clemente a bona fide Brooklyn Dodger farmhand and — more importantly — a bonus baby.

A bonus rule in place at the time stipulated that teams were required to keep any player who had signed for more than $4,000 on their 25-man active rosters for two full seasons, or risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft. The Dodgers were gunning for a third consecutive National League pennant after losing the previous two World Series. Brooklyn was, as we might say today, in win-now mode. They had already added one bonus baby to the roster — Sandy Koufax — so instead of sticking Clemente on their bench, the Dodgers gambled.

Koufax and Clemente on the same team? These are the little factoids of history that never, ever get old.

So up to Montreal Clemente went, and, if the Dodgers had it their way, soon he would be forgotten. The story goes Clemente was benched, pitch hit for in early innings, and used as the most overqualified pinch runner in history. Anything to keep him off the radar of other scouts. That’s the legend, anyway. 

Funny thing about baseball – the record-keeping has been pretty consistent for quite a long time. So when children’s author Stew Thornley started a bit of research after deciding to write a book about Clemente, it didn’t take long before the montreal legend started to fray.  

Thornley pulled box scores. Yes, Clemente did sit a bunch of games, but he was also hitting around .200 halfway through the year. Not exactly tearing it up. In fact, as to be expected, he was a teenager playing professional baseball, and he was swinging at everything. 

And while some of the legends hold up, many others simply aren’t true. Clemente never hit three triples in a game. He didn’t hit a homer in the first week of the season, only to be benched. He wasn’t benched for the last 25 games of the season. All of these claims are pretty easy to confirm or deny. 

More interesting is the truth: Clemente was a platoon player. He started 37 games that year, and all 37 of them had one thing in common. Give the story a read to find out. – PAL

Source: Hide and seek: The true story of how the Dodgers lost Roberto Clemente”, Stephen Nesbitt, The Athletic (12/17/19)


Video of the Week:


Song of the Week: Booker T. & the M.G.’s – ‘Sunday Sermon’


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Can’t see the line, can you, Russ? 

-Clark Griswold

Week of December 13, 2019

Yankee Gerrit Cole. For $324 million, you can dictate my facial and head hair choices, too


Taking the Temperature of the Gabe Kapler Hire: Snip, Snap! Snip, Snap! Snip!

The Giants’ hire of Gabe Kapler to replace Bruce Bochy as manager was a polarizing choice. No, polarizing isn’t quite right. Some were outraged about his response, when in the Dodgers system, to two incidents involving Dodger minor leaguers and women. Some of those people, and others, were upset that a guy with a 161-163 record in two seasons as manager of a fairly talented Phillies squad was the pick. Others were in the middle…let’s wait and see. I have been one of those people. But no one that I can find was enthusiastic about the hire, which is why I took back my “polarizing” comment.

So, that’s where we are. Now, Kapler seems like a weird dude (google “Gabe Kapler tan” if you’re feeling adventurous). But, like, who is Gabe Kapler? The Athletic’s Daniel Brown tries to answer that question. And, buddy, this article was giving me some wild swings. Let’s walk through it.

The article opens in Kapler’s office, Bochy’s old office. It’s not yet decorated. But Kapler tells Brown decor is on the way! What has Kapler ordered? 

“So, so glad you asked that question,’’ Kapler replied. “You and I are going to feel much different once (it’s decorated). Environment-building is really important. And I think that design touches make all the difference in conversations like this one. This office needs some life and some plants and some art. I don’t want this to feel like a jail cell.”

Kapler said he was awaiting a shipment of black-and-white photos he’s collected over the years. The images are carefully curated, as are most things with Kapler. There are no frivolities with him, no wasted energy. The photos — like his diet, like what he reads, like the stats he embraces, like the words he chooses, like his umpire-mandated ejections — are selected with a specific purpose in mind.

The pictures, upon arrival, will have an immediate job to do. They will send a message to visitors about what Gabe Kapler believes in.

“So, there are some political figures there. There are some sports figures there,’’ he said. “Muhammad Ali is one, Jackie Robinson is one of them.

“Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. They will all have space somewhere in this office. And I’ll find my way to probably choosing a few more.”

I LAUGHED. I CRIED. This guy! What a weird guy! As my buddy Rowe said, “He basically described the ‘smart guy things for meathead jocks’ starter kit.” Black and white photos! Of super famous people! How daring. 

Current Temperature:

Kapler will happily wax on about his about childhood because, at heart, it still defines him. “Everything I am today,’’ he said, “is a result of that upbringing.” His bedroom walls had photos, too. Kapler’s personal décor in those days included images of Ty Cobb, Pete Rose and Charles Barkley.

Beyond the checkered resume, Kapler also comes equipped with a persona that would fit on a poster next to Barkley, Cobb and Rose. One source, who worked with Kapler at a previous stop, declined to comment when reached for this story. “On the record or off?” the source asked. “Because if it’s on the record, I’d have to lie.”

Another former Kapler co-worker also had his reservations: “Kapler is a high-energy guy. And he means well. I think he means well. But he’s not for everybody. The personality isn’t for everybody. He is kind of a my-way-or-the-highway type of guy.”

OHHH NOOOOOOO. This is bad. This is VERY bad. This is SUCH a poor quality for a manager, of any type. A manager should not be polarizing! A manager should adapt to his subordinates to bring out the best in all of them. 

Current temperature:

During the Giants’ interview process, both Bochy and Buster Posey met with Kapler as the team whittled down its finalist list. Both of those mainstays — no-nonsense types with finely honed B.S. detectors — strongly recommended Kapler, according to team sources, which helped solidify the official decision.

Is someone blowing smoke up my ass? Who are your sources, Daniel!? A Bochy endorsement would go a long way with me. It wouldn’t mean Kapler will be great. And it wouldn’t mean Kapler is not weird as hell because he’s definitely weird as hell. But it would mean he’s not a complete asshole, and that’s a start. So I am off panic mode and at very cautiously optimistic.

Current temperature:

“I’m drawn to colorful people,” he said during this interview in his office. “I’m interested in people who are different than me. I loved biographies as a kid. I wasn’t interested in novels. I wasn’t nearly as interested in reading stories. But I loved biographies. I loved digging into people’s psychology — what makes them tick and how they’re motivated.

At first blush, this is cheezy. But I read it a second time and I gotta say – this is a GOOD managerial quality. Assuming this weirdo we have for a manager who is *allegedly* endorsed by Boch and Posey can actually, you know, dig into people’s psychology, this is a really good thing. 

Current temperature: 

Kapler was never more argument-averse than in his first managing gig, for Class-A Greenville (an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox) in 2007, when his team went 58-81.

“I brought a stoicism to the dugout that I don’t think worked very well,’’ he said, looking back. “And it was by design. I would have minor-league players come to me and complain about umpire calls. And I tried to help them put that aside.

“So I’d say something like, ‘How much value is there in you arguing balls and strikes? Like, do you think that there’s ever a strike or ball call changed?’ And I tried to rationalize with our players instead of getting with them on an emotional level.”

Kapler discovered over time that a raw young player who just struck out looking at a borderline slider was rarely of the mind to intellectualize the experience.

When Kapler became a big-league manager with the Phillies in 2018, he figured that his all-calm-and-reasonable act would play better with a mature roster. So he returned to his old ways and went the entirety of his rookie managerial season without getting the heave-ho.

“It was like, ‘I think I can help these players be stronger mentally and not get so spun,’’’ Kapler said. “But it just doesn’t work. They need to see you get upset.”

“I never really lost my cool. I was upset, but I was also under control. I never felt like I couldn’t maintain control of my emotions during that time period,’’ Kapler said.

“But it doesn’t matter, me rationalizing my way through it. What matters is how the players feel and how the staff feels and how the ballpark feels and how the city feels and how the fans feel. And to some degree being responsive to that.”

I don’t exactly agree with his instinct – I think being a jerk about it rarely helps, but pointing out to an umpire that a call was wrong can help your team. However, I really like that Kapler was able  to adjust to his players’ needs. 

Current temperature: 

“And the lesson in all of that is: Sometimes the best strategic advantage — the one that you’ve been thinking about for a really long time — isn’t worth the confidence being stripped away from the dugout, the clubhouse or the player.”

Assuming he can put this into practice: My guy!

Current temperature: 

Mom ran an early childhood center. She is the bulldog of the family, the one who can make life difficult for the airline customer service agent on the wrong end of a disputed charge.

Ugh, his mom is an asshole. Not a good sign!

Current temperature: 

Still, there was a line Gabe and his older brother, Jeremy, could not cross.

“What was a problem was anything derogatory,’’ Kapler said. “And my dad took major issue with it, so much so that if one us brought a joke home from school that was, like, racially charged in any way, homophobic in any way, my dad was like: No.

“And then he would explain why even telling the joke was problematic in society, why even listening to somebody else tell those jokes and not saying ‘That’s not OK with me’ is problematic in society.”

Ooooh. What a good dad! 

Current temperature: 

“[Little League] is the memory of baseball that I cherish the most,’’ he said from his office. “It was the most important part of my upbringing. It’s where I spent my entire day. Saturday mornings were me walking to the park and spending the entire day — no matter what time my game was — at the park, playing over-the-line between the fields and just being a kid.”

Same, buddy!

Current temperature: 

Neander, now the Rays vice president of baseball operations, informed the longtime big-leaguer that he was much more successful against pitches in the bottom of the strike zone. And then Neander handed him all the game-day data that proved it. For the remainder of his career, Kapler took a new approach at the plate, hunting and attacking pitches at the bottom of the strike zone.

“So how analytical is that?” Kapler said. “It’s just reframing my focus as a player. ‘Here’s what you think you did well. It’s not actually true. Here’s what you actually do well. How can we put you in position to attack that pitch going forward?’

“That was the kind of information that I wanted to have.”

This story is representative of Kapler’s belief when it comes to metrics: They are tools that can make a player better. It’s a concept that can be far simpler than some make it out to be. He rejects the notion that there’s been any kind of analytics “revolution” led by nerds with calculators.

“That’s kind of bullshit, right? Analytics are every kids’ baseball card that they grew up with,’’ he said. “If you looked at batting average and home runs and doubles and triples and stolen bases and caught-stealings and all the things that we have on baseball cards as kids, that’s analytics.”

Sure, but baseball cards never had BABIP, FIP or DRC+ on the back.

“It’s only being labeled as different. It’s not different,’’ Kapler said. “We have different numbers, that’s true, but it’s not an ‘analytics revolution’ like we’ve made it out to be. … We just have better tools. We have more information. We have more numbers to use that predict future success.”

Current temperature: 

Though Kapler said he has learned to be better about balancing the stats with feel, his lingering reputation is why one skeptic thinks that Kapler is the perfect cover for a front office that will be a metrics-run operation from the field on up.

“He’s not going to manage the Giants. He’s just going to be the manager. You see what I’m saying?’’ an industry source familiar with Kapler said. “It’s part of the new era. The manager doesn’t make decisions anymore. He is there, really, to keep the personalities together.”

Current temperature:

Not so good, Al.

A woman rose and fearlessly questioned the handling alleged 2015 assaults. She was upset with Kapler, and with Zaidi for hiring him.

“You’re saying character counts, which we’ve always felt has been the heart of this organization. So I need to address this to you: What were you thinking? In the Bay Area, what made you think that this was going to work?” she said. “Because all I’ve heard is PR sound bites. I haven’t heard anything that spoke to character and all the reasons people — women especially — are concerned about the role you’re taking on.”

The room went the kind of silent that’s actually loud.

Zaidi, as he had several times already that evening, talked about the thorough vetting process in hiring Kapler and the personal lessons both of them have learned through the process. Zaidi said he understood the backlash, welcomed the microscope, said the industry needed to be better about this important issue. He pledged that the organization was committed to speaking with actions, not words.

The question was answered, the tension defused. It looked as if the evening had come to a close.

Then Kapler raised his hand asked for a chance to respond, too.

“Can I ask your name please?” he said.

“My name is Pam.”

“Pam, I’m Gabe. Nice to meet you.”

There was some awkward laughter in the crowd.

“Any questions that you want to know about me, if you would give me a chance to prove that I have high character, I would love that opportunity,’’ he continued. “It doesn’t have to happen right now. It can happen whenever you want. But I’d also be more than happy to answer any of your questions without any sound bites — directly from my heart. Give me an opportunity to get to know me a little better.

“And I’ll make that commitment to anybody in this room: You can stay tonight and we’ll have that conversation. Or, if it makes you feel better, another time, I’m totally cool with that. I just want to ask that you give me a chance to prove my character to you before you decide my character.”

The ensuing applause was as loud as it had been all night.

Nailed it.

Current temperature:

(Actually, I’m still really nervous) -TOB

Source: Who is Gabe Kapler, Really? The New Giants Manager Just Wants Everybody to Get to Know Him,” Daniel Brown, The Athletic (12/07/2019)

PAL: In a word, yikes. 

It all comes off like an act. I don’t buy what Gabe’s selling…not at all. Rowe has it right: “smart guy things for meathead jocks”. 

The Giants are going through a transition, and this is the guy they want for this phase (the lose a lot phase) – someone that gets in line with management. Maybe that works, but I’d think young guys developing need as much emotional support from a leader than cold, sterile, logic. Someone who gets ejected – not because his analysis leads him to decide to get tossed – because he wants to win that game, and that moment matters. Be human, dude, and not just on Thanksgiving. 

Most telling nugget from the entire piece: “It’s worth noting here that Kapler, who was born in Hollywood, won a local Shakespeare Festival award for his performance in “The Taming of the Shrew” while in high school.”

On the plus side: coconut oil. 


Her Time

Here are the first three paragraphs of one of the most moving stories I’ve read since we’ve been doing 1-2-3 Sports!: 

DIEST, Belgium — Champagne flutes were hastily unpacked from boxes, filled to their brims and passed around the room. Dozens of people stood around inside Marieke Vervoort’s cramped apartment, unsure of what to say or do. This was a celebration, Vervoort had assured her guests. But it did not feel like one.

Eleven years earlier, Vervoort had obtained the paperwork required to undergo doctor-assisted euthanasia. Since her teenage years she had been battling a degenerative muscle disease that stole away the use of her legs, stripped her of her independence, and caused her agonizing, unrelenting pain. The paperwork had returned some sense of control. Under Belgian law, she was free to end her life anytime she chose.

But instead, she just went on with it — seized it with new vigor, even. Within a few years she reached uncharted heights in her career as a wheelchair sprinter, winning a gold medal at the Paralympics. She became a celebrity at home and abroad, appearing in the pages of international magazines and newspapers, sitting for interviews on television shows. She traveled the world telling her life story, unspooling it as an inspirational narrative.

You must experience this story in full. It’s much more than just Keh’s writing, which is beautiful in its precision. Lynsey Addario’s photography has depth that makes you linger. Again, it’s not just the heavy in the pictures; the everyday photos are just as striking. There are also places in the story where they’ve embedded audio recordings of Vervoort’s interviews. 

Key and Addario met Vervoort after the Rio Paralympics in 2016. For over three years, they recorded her journey to euthenasia, and how that right “allowed her to wrest back some control of her life.” It wasn’t until after she was approved for euthenasia that she became a gold medalist.  

The piece is divided into four sections: The Pain, Taking Control, The Descent, and The End. Every word is worth your time, but there were a couple moments in this story that are looping in my head like a melody. 

The first moment comes in Rio. Her story – that she would someday end her life through euthenasia – got out. The story that funneled down to the tabloids, and soon this incredibly personal contemplation had become bent into headlines like “‘I’ll Go for Gold, Then Kill Myself,’ Says Paralympian Hopeful,”. A moment that should’ve been a triumph of life became about her impending death.

This was her response. Talk about courage and grace: 

 

The next moment comes when Vervoort asks Keh when she can see the finished article. After “more than one attempt” he explained the plan was to see this through to the end of her life. “She would never read what I would write about her life, never see all the photographs Lynsey was taking of her.”

The last moment is when, at the goodbye party with friends and family, the doctor arrives at her apartment for the final time. He’s there to administer the drugs that will end Vervoort’s suffering. 

“When Dr. Distelmans arrived two hours later, most of the guests were gone. Vervoort was sipping cava and munching on Maltesers chocolates, a guilty pleasure. She offered him one.”

There are beautiful, light moments, too. The weight of the story doesn’t crush those, and what resonates most is Vervoort’s passion for life, for the little things like champagne, sophomoric jokes, and chocolates. 

You must read the full story. – PAL 

Source: The Champion Who Picked a Date to Die”, story by Andrew Keh, photographs and additional reporting by Lynsey Addario, The New York Times (12/09/2019)


WAR? What is it good for? Actually, Something.

How’s this for a lede:

Bryce Harper charged a soft line drive on Sept. 5, fielded it cleanly and fired a strong throw home. The baserunner, Michael Lorenzen, who had started the play on second base, held at third. The trailing baserunner, Jose Peraza, who had started on first base, rounded second and went halfway to third, then backtracked. The catcher, J.T. Realmuto, fielded Harper’s throw and snapped a throw to second, where shortstop Jean Segura caught it and dropped a tag on Peraza. Peraza got back to the base before the tag, but his slide took him off the bag. He initially was called safe, but upon video review, the call was overturned, and Peraza was out.

It all took slightly more than nine seconds, at the end of which one thing had changed — two outs had become three, ending the rally. It can be, like every baseball play, recorded as a simple text description:

Single to RF (Line Drive to Short CF-RF); Lorenzen to 3B; Peraza out at 2B

But those nine seconds, like in many baseball plays, comprise a very complicated story, and converting that complicated story into units of credit is one of the permanent challenges of baseball statistics.

Whose WAR (wins above replacement) goes up on the play? Is it Harper’s, because his strong throw home set everything up? Or Realmuto’s, because his throw to second led to the assist? Or Segura’s, because his acrobatic tag finished the out? Or is it even more nuanced than that?

We’re going to break down this play, which is ordinary enough to pass unmentioned but extraordinary enough to watch 30 or 40 times without wringing it all the way dry. And we’re going to eventually try to answer the central question: Who gets credit for what happened and how much?

Buddy, I am IN on this article. It only gets better from there.

First, there is a second by second account of what almost every player (and even the third base coach and home plate umpire) are doing. Then, it dissects how each players’ actions are treated.

On your traditional stats, this play is treated simply: a hit by the batter, an out for the pitcher, and an outfield assist for Harper (which is odd given what occurred here). But so much went into this play that is not recorded, even in calculating a player’s WAR, both good and bad, including:

  • The Phillies base coach who positioned Harper shallower than normal. Had Harper been at normal depth, the runner from second likely scores and the runner from first likely goes to third.
  • The pitcher for holding the runners and making a quick delivery.
  • The catcher, for simply having a strong-arm reputation, thus helping to hold the runners.
  • The first baseman, who didn’t cut off Harper’s throw, even though he should have, when he would have gotten the runner rounding second out easily. Instead, a close play, originally called safe but overturned on replay, occurred.
  • The pitcher for inducing a swing out of the strike zone.
  • The hitter for swinging out of the zone (bad), but also for making contact (good).

Then there are the ways value stats screw this play up. For example:

Peraza made the out at second, but it is the batter, Blandino, whose win probability added takes the hit, because WPA credits the entire play to the hitter. In that recording of events, Blandino cost the Reds 4% of a win by hitting his single and ending the inning. Irvin gets the corresponding credit to his WPA, 4% of a win he earned the Phillies by allowing the single.

That’s…pretty dumb! The batter hit a single but lowered his team’s odds of winning because of it, so his WPA (WIn Probability Added) goes down, while the runner who screwed up a bases loaded situation by overunning second base takes no hit.

So how does WAR calculate this play? In a variety of ways. First, Lorenzen, the runner who held at third, takes a baserunning knock, because 88% of runners score from second on a hit, even though he would almost for have been out here and thus made the right play, despite being exceptionally fast. Sam Miller then breaks down how the different WAR websites calculated this play, and it illustrates how these things vary and why:

At FanGraphs, Harper gets some credit for Lorenzen holding at third base. Keep in mind, Lorenzen had the stop sign before Harper ever threw the ball. It was Harper’s positioning, his fielding of the ball and the threat of his arm that held Lorenzen. It was his reputation, more than the act itself, that altered the play, and for that he gets credit. Harper could have made a limp throw home that bounced six times and carried 30 feet up the third-base line, but if Lorenzen didn’t try to score — on a play where, in the aggregate, nearly 90% of baserunners do — it goes to the right fielder’s credit.

At Baseball Prospectus, Harper gets some credit for the assist, but most of the play escapes the measures of the site’s defensive metric, fielding runs above average, because the out was so unorthodox. The Phillies’ team baserunning defense is credited with 0.6 runs prevented — about the same as Lorenzen is docked — but not all of that gets distributed to the individual fielders involved.

And at Baseball Reference, where human observers (employed by Sports Info Solutions) credit the defenders on each play, Realmuto gets credit for what SIS labels a good fielding play. That’s worth 0.2 runs to his WAR. Harper gets some credit for Lorenzen holding at third, and some for the outfield assist. It’s worth about 0.33 runs to his WAR.

Segura, across the board, doesn’t get credited by anybody. One could argue he made the most important play in the sequence and the most difficult. One could also argue he stood watching the play for far too long, and his late awareness that he was supposed to be covering second base is what ultimately made the play so difficult for him. Maybe he doesn’t deserve any credit!

Irvin’s WAR improved very slightly at FanGraphs (for the out), improved by a little more at Baseball-Reference (for the runs not scoring) and probably took a slight hit at Baseball Prospectus (for the single). Blandino’s WAR improved everywhere but probably least at Baseball Prospectus, because landing singles on weak flares is one of the least stable skills a hitter can have. Harper’s WAR, among the defenders, improved at all three sites.

Miller closes with an excellent summary of the incredible achievement even creating a stat like WAR really is:

There were more than 100,000 batted-ball plays in major league baseball this year, many of them involving half the players on the field in direct or indirect roles. There were, furthermore, three-quarters of a million pitches, scores of thousands of stolen base opportunities, thousands of pitches in the dirt. To give credit on all of them means building statistical systems that can make assumptions that hold true in as many cases as possible — and that don’t require hours (and that don’t rely on personal opinions) for each of them. The act of assigning value for all these possible plays is a titanic act of research and coding that took years of work, trial and error and ever-more-specific tweaks by generations of analysts — all to be reasonably prepared for an oddity like this play.

Man, what a cool article. -TOB

Source: How is WAR Calculated, Really? Breaking Down a Single Play to Find Out”, Sam Miller, ESPN (12/5/2019)

PAL: This is baseball heaven. The moment-by-moment breakdown of a single play showing the choreography of a play, all which can change when a trailing baserunner watches a throw from right field for a step too long. As Miller describes it, “every actor’s role in the play”. A must read for coaches. 

Some observations: 

  • I have to say, I’ve never noticed how far a third base coach can get down the line in order to read a developing play in the outfield and maximize the amount of time he has to make a decision whether to send a runner home or hold him up at third. 
  • I agree, TOB; the outfield assist to Harper makes no sense in this scenario
  • The credit game is a tough one (as Miller points out); in one sense, we can credit the pitcher for holding the runners on and deliver a psuedo slide step, but maybe he makes a better pitch with a full leg kick than leads to the third out, rendering the baserunners’ secondary leads meaningless
  • This article makes me wonder about qualitative stats. While the centerfielder not backing up the catcher’s throw to second didn’t matter here, we know what would happen if the ball gets past the shortstop: at least one run scores. If the play had gone that way – if the catcher overthrow the shortstop and the centerfielder isn’t there, would that impact the center fielder’s WAR? 
  • Let this stat be written under the bill of every third base coach in youth baseball: “88% of lead baserunners scored from second base on two-out singles to the outfield in 2019.” If that’s the case in MLB, then the answer at lower levers is to just send the runner home on a two-out hit. 
  • Miller says near the end of the article that the trickiest part of this play is deciding who gets credit. I think that answer, on a larger scale, is pretty simple: the team gets credit. This is a team play. Good team plays lead to wins. Yes, baseball is a lot of one-on-one battles within a team games, but plays like this are the moments when the team works in concert with one another. As he mentions later in the story, “There were more than 100,000 batted-ball plays in major league baseball this year, many of them involving half the players on the field in direct or indirect roles.” Those are team plays. A good deal of wins are in those plays.

The NFL Has Always Tried to Get In Its Own Way

There are a lot of bad things about being a football fan. But one of the fun things is attending a game and going absolutely bonkers at a big moment in the game, especially when your team’s defense needs a stop. How less fun would football be if you couldn’t do that? If the referees in fact called delay of game penalties, and charged the home team a timeout, if the fans got louder than the referees thought appropriate? Guess, what. The football powers that be did that in 1970s and 1980s.

 This is a story about the time the people in charge of the league — and those in charge of college football, for that matter — lost their minds and decided fans should not yell, cheer, clap, stomp, roar or do anything else that could make it hard for a visiting team to hear. Basically, the powers that be wanted to turn a football game into a golf tournament.

Or, as 49ers coach George Seifert put it, “Let’s have a football game that doesn’t turn into a rock concert.”

Seifert, you dork!

The NFL adopted the rule, originally started in college in the 70s, in 1989. It did not go well!

With the new rule in place, the NFL tested it out in the preseason. In August of ’89, the Bengals played in New Orleans. When the Bengals had the ball at the Saints’ 2-yard line, the New Orleans crowd went bananas. The refs threw not one, not two, not three but four flags, and the Saints lost all three of their timeouts and were assessed a half-the-distance-to-the-goal penalty. Later, in the third quarter, Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason antagonized the crowd on the sideline by waving his arms. The referee told Bengals coach Sam Wyche to make Esiason stop. Esiason knelt, hid behind a teammate … and still waved his hand behind his back.

Fans, to their credit, did not abide this crap, and just got rowdier.

After the preseason debacle, the NFL realized its mistake and quietly made the rule go away. But, this is a funny, emblematic article about the NFL, and how it has always tried to suck the fun out of its game. -TOB

Source: Remembering the Time the NFL Tried to Silence Its Fans,” Jayson Jenks, The Athletic (12/11/2019)

PAL: I need a name. I need a photo. What old duff in a pinstripe suit the NFL league office thought this was a good idea and had enough juice to get this into a pre-season game. I bet his name was Glen, or Walter, or Jerry. The commish must’ve owed him big for something, and Glen/Walter/Jerry cashed in on this favor for quiet football stadiums.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Vanilla Fudge – “You Keep My Hangin’ On”


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“I want you to rub butter on my foot. I have Country Crock.”

-Michael Scott

Week of December 6, 2019

After a two-week hiatus, we’re back to spike on y’alls’ heads.


What The Hell Happened On Everest? 

This is the story behind a photo that we all saw earlier this year. You know the one: 

We are aware of the general idea: Mount Everest as become a clogged tourist attraction for folks with the funds, ignorance, and arrogance to think they can summit it because the idea is intriguing to them. This idea is nothing new, especially to anyone who read John Krakaur’s Into Thin Air in the last 20+ years. 

What makes this specific story worth your time is the explanation – all of its variables – that led to that photograph. Joshua Hammer describes the image of a snaking line of climbers at 27K+ feet as resembling throngs of folks “queued up for a ski lift in Vail”. It’s not just the blind ambition of inexperienced climbers. It’s the market for guides, especially at a lower rate. It’s complex weather patterns. It’s a real ethical dilemma playing out with the heaviest of consequence. 

Hammer also writes and reports the hell out of this story. What a fantastic opener: 

It was morning and bright, and Reinhard Grubhofer, depleted and dehydrated, hoisted his body over a crest and rose uneasily. There, from the summit of Mount Everest, he could see everything. How the earth curved gorgeously in all direction; how wisps of clouds sailed beneath his boots. The view—out beyond his worries—was beautiful. But closer at hand, he could see trouble taking shape.

It’s obvious, but I have to say it: it continues to shock me how completely inexperienced climbers are allowed on Everest. It’s life and death, and a slew of climbers are held up because a lady is too scared to get on the ladder. As Hammer points out, the same holds true that Krakauer detailed in his book Into Thin Air. This lady on the ladder was yet another “scathing portrait of irresponsible guides catering to wealthy, out-of-their-depth dilettantes…”.

He swiftly identified the problem: a woman in a red climbing suit adorned with the emblems of a Chinese mountaineering group perched just before the drop-off, unwilling to go forward. The woman’s two Sherpa guides were firmly encouraging her to descend the ladder, but she remained paralyzed in apparent fear. For those in the logjam behind her, there was no going around. Everybody was stuck, freezing in the storm. Nearly six miles high in the Himalayas, Grubhofer knew, conditions were unforgiving: Standing still for long periods in the so-called death zone above 26,000 feet dramatically increased the risk of frostbite, heart attack, stroke, pulmonary or cerebral edema—and death. Grubhofer knew that Ernst Landgraf, the member of his climbing party whom he had seen on Everest’s summit, had been exhausted at the top. He could just make out Landgraf—obscured by snowfall, clouds, fog, and people—a few climbers behind him, but Grubhofer didn’t know how the 64-year-old was holding up.

“Move it!” shouted a climber behind Grubhofer.

Oh, shit, Grubhofer thought, this is getting serious.

This Chinese woman, he was sure, had no business being on the mountain. Why hadn’t her guides screened her ahead of time? Thirty minutes crawled by. Forty-five passed. Still she wouldn’t go down the ladder.

That was far from the only example of this. It reads like the mountain is littered with the corpses of nearly 200 bodies left frozen – some are of the most experienced and qualified, and some are folks with no business being on a mountain half the size and danger of Everest –  being stepped over by dozens of people who have no idea what they’re doing, increasing the risk of adding to the growing number of frozen corpses. 

Reading this story, I have the urge to say the very spirit of summiting Everest is gone, replaced by a backdrop for social media posts. Hammer describes it as a “circus-like pageant of stunts and self-promotion” outlining what sounds like a nightmare scene: “In April 2017, DJ Paul Oakenfold outraged mountaineering purists by hosting an EDM concert at the base camp in Nepal”

But the mountaineers are far from the only issue leading to four deaths over 24 hours last May. Year after year, more permits are sold by the Nepalese and Chinese governments. But this past spring, there was also a category 4 cyclone hundreds of miles away that continued to send bad weather up against Everest. This shortened an already tiny window of good weather for summiting down to two days. Everyone had been waiting for weeks for the weather to clear, and when it finally did, well – everyone – all of those customers paying tens of thousands of dollars to stand on top of the world – went for the summit at the same time. 

Hammer writes, “Experienced sherpas knew the mountain had never seen anything like those two days.”

This story is also a good reminder that it’s not as cut-and-dry for the Sherpas either: 

The Sherpa faced a dilemma confronted by many guides on Everest: how to respond to the determination of an apparently ailing or unfit climber. Only rarely, many experts say, will a Sherpa demonstrate the force of will to override a client’s decision to summit; for new recruits trying to make a mark in a competitive business, getting a client to the top often becomes the priority.

More guide agencies are now catering to clients with less money. Less money means less spent on quality sherpas. More people on the mountain, less quality control and less experience – both climbers and guides – and an unwillingness to tell a client no – you can see how disaster can arise as quickly as bad weather. 

In this new adventure theme park, governments need to limit the amount of permits and add some qualifications in order to receive a permit. It will save lives of climbers and guides. It will restore the prestige of Mount Everest. Great read. – PAL 

Source: Chaos at the Top of the World”, Joshua Hammer, GQ (12/04/2019)

TOB: This is an incredible story; so well written. Two points I’d like to make about the main subject, Reinhard Grubhofer.

First, every time I read about Everest I am dumbfounded that anyone takes credit for climbing this thing when they have hired a Sherpa to carry all their gear, including oxygen. Grubhofer’s Sherpa carried three oxygen takes while they climbed, two for himself and one for Grubhofer, while Grubhofer carried only the one he was using.

Second, regarding this passage at the end:

New rules have to be implemented, he says, to weed out the incompetent and the inexperienced, to reduce the crowds, to remove the Disneyland illusion and bring Everest back to something approximating its pristine state. Too many people, he says, have died needlessly because of sliding standards. “Let’s not make it a tourist mountain,” he says. “Let’s not spoil it even more [and] reduce it to dead people and tourists.”

Grubhofer has an incredible amount of nerve to say those things considering the fact (1) a Sherpa saved his life twice, and (2) his experienced climbing partner DID die that day. My man, YOU did not belong up there, either. You want a rule for who can go up there? A Sherpa can be your guide, but if you cannot carry your own gear, including oxygen, you cannot go. This friggin’ guy!


And the Sign Said “Long-Haired Freaky People Need Not Apply”

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign, huh? It’s Hot Effin Stove Season, but if you’re a baseball fan, you’ve probably been reading about signs and how teams steal them for the last few weeks. In particular, the Houston Astros, and how they are pretty obviously using video cameras to steal signs in real-time. Folks, I have a take!

Now, sign stealing in baseball is damn near as old as sign making. Teams have long been accused of trying to steal signs with a runner on second base signaling the pitch selection or location to the hitter. But while that ruffles some feathers, it’s also one of those things that everyone does and no one is sure what benefit it provides, and so it never makes much more than a small ripple.

But over the last few years, the Astros have been accused repeatedly of stealing signs in a much more high tech manner. At one point during the 2019 ALCS, the Yankees accused the Astros of using cameras and a whistle system to signal the pitch to the hitter. At the time, MLB “investigated’ and claimed to find no such evidence. *More on that in a bit.

But last month The Athletic reported that in 2017 the Astros set up an elaborate system with a secret centerfield camera providing a feed to a TV in the private tunnel behind the dugout and leading to the clubhouse. The article said that someone watching that feed would see the sign and immediately signal the pitch selection to the hitter by banging loudly on a trash can. The story was produced largely in part to pitcher Mike Fiers, who was on that Astros team, deciding to speak up about what his former team was up to. 

Now, when I first read this story, it seemed a little preposterous. Would a hitter even hear that? How could they make the signal fast enough to prepare the hitter? So I yawned. It just seemed overblown. And then I saw a series of tweets from our old lip-reading friend Jomboy…and it completely changed my mind. Here’s one, where he shows the whole system at work:

Here’s another, with the Twins facing the Astros. When it’s a fastball, there’s no bang. When it’s an offspeed pitch, there’s a bang.

Once I saw the system at work, I was swayed. As Jomboy says, it’s upsetting. It’s not gamesmanship – it’s cheating. Using technology to steal signs has also been against the rules since at least 2001. And the directive to do so came from the highest levels of the Astros’ front office, as reported by the Athletic.

I thought the Patriots Spygate scandal was overblown because I was skeptical that a team could decode signs and signal them to the team on the field in time in a football game. But watching these videos of the Astros, it’s clear they did have a system, and in hindsight it was stupidly obvious. I would say they deserve to be punished severely, but they beat the Dodgers in the World Series in 2017, and for that I can never be angry at them. Alas. 

One thing I’d like to know, Phil – as a guy who played baseball at a much higher level than I did, how much do you think being told the type of pitch a split second before it arrives actually helps. I’ll take my question off the air, thanks. -TOB

Source: The Astros Stole Signs Electronically in 2017 — Part of a Much Broader Issue For Major League Baseball,” Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, The Athletic (11/12/2019)

PAL: Thanks, Tommy from San Francisco. And a happy holidays to you and yours. Knowing an off-speed or a fastball is coming makes a huge difference. Timing is everything. A batter can adjust to location while the ball is in flight, but knowing there’s a little more time (or less) changes everything. 

TOB: Ok, I lied. Sorta. I’m not gonna take my answer off the air. But this wasn’t a *gotcha* moment. After reading your response, I read this article and want to add it to the conversation.

Sleuthing uncovered that the Astros “bang bang” system seems to have started on May 27, 2017. But after that date, as The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh reports, the team only got marginally better, and well within a normal in-season variation. More importantly, the Astros hit worse at home, both over the full season and after May 27, than they did on the road, which doesn’t make much sense because the system was only in place at home.

Of course, it seems that the Astros didn’t use the system on every at bat. So Lindbergh isolated “high leverage” at bats. He shows the Astros performed worse in high-leverage situations than they did in low leverage situations. That’s normal. But as the table show, the Astros performed more worse (sorry, but it works here; would you have preferred worser?) than in high vs. low leverage situations relative to the rest of the league. So, we are left wondering – did the cheating help?

Well, the playoffs are an interesting comparison. A smaller sample size, yes. But there is evidence the Astros switched the system – they couldn’t be sure the banging would be heard in a noisy playoff game, and also might have been worried about getting caught with the greater scrutiny the playoffs bring. Here’s what former Minnesota Twin Trevor Plouffe claims they did instead:

 

So, did it help in the playoffs? Boy, did it. The Astros hit 230 OPS points higher at home than on the road in the 2017 postseason. 

Still, Lindbergh notes that many great hitters over the years have said they don’t want to know the pitch, and he makes a compelling argument:

Major league hitters don’t have superhuman reflexes. What they have is learned perceptual skills, honed through picking up patterns over thousands and thousands of pitches. Simply telling them which pitch is coming, instead of making their brains work for it, sounds like it would simply allow them to skip a step and be even better. But disrupting their regular process might make them worse.

Thad Meeks, an associate professor of cognitive psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, says, “If a behavior is well-learned, to the point that it is almost automatic, it is very possible that imposing additional thought processes into working memory may interfere with those behaviors. … Thus, it is possible that batters may have more automatized reactions to pitches without knowing what is coming over decades of learning. And it is certainly possible for some that overriding that automatic response with a different approach, even if that approach is on the surface advantageous, may interfere with [their] natural approach.”

Anyways. I’m just glad they beat the Dodgers.


College Football Fans Haven’t Changed, College Football Has

College football attendance continues to drop, and the people in charge do not understand why. Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey 

“I think we have a changing consumer,” Mullens said. “Getting folks to commit to seven college football Saturdays with a season ticket is hard.”

Sankey believes the issue reaches beyond college football. He’s studied professional sports leagues in America and abroad and knows they’re all struggling to attract fans to the stadiums.

When asked why it was becoming harder to sell tickets to college football games Sankey offered, “A sociologist may be a better contributor than me.”

They’re wrong. They are flat out wrong. I spent a little time on a Cal football message board, and I don’t think fans are changing at all. It is college football that is changing.

The issue has many causes but there’s one that comes up again and a again: The conferences gave up control of kickoff times in exchange for more money from the networks. Period. ESPN and FOX in particular control kickoff times for nearly every team in the country. They not only control the kickoff times for the games they air, but they control the kickoff times for the games they don’t select because they want exclusive windows to drive up ratings. This has meant late night games, beginning as late as 8pm. With games that routinely last 4 hours, many fans can’t get home until 1 or 2am. 

To make those late night games worse, they don’t have to announce kick times for until 12 days, and a few times a year until 6 days, before the game. Six days! I have been a college football season ticket holder for 15 years now, and the last few years have been a nightmare trying to plan my Fall Saturdays. My wife will ask if we can go to an event and I have to say, “Uhhh, maybe? There’s a game.” “When will you know?” “Either two weeks or one week before the game.” It’s awful – and I’m local. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people traveling.

Lest you think this is an issue for the the liberal elite coasts, I assure you it is not. The Big Ten posted its lowest average attendance in 25 years (65,376) last season, and this season is going to be lower. Even the SEC was down more than 100,000 in total attendance last year, its third straight season of declining attendance. That picture up top was a ⅓ full Alabama game from 2018. Alabama!

What’s especially galling about all this is that these idiots decided TV money was greater than ticket-buying money, took the big network payday and are now blaming their fans for saying, “I’m fed up with this.” Worse yet, they are killing an entire generation of young fans, jeopardizing the long-term health of the sport for the short-term boost. 

The solution is simple: set game times before the season. If the NFL can do it, so can the NCAA. Maybe late in the season a small number of “flex options” could be made available in order to ensure an unexpectedly blockbuster game gets into primetime. But that’s it. Give gamedays back to the ticket buying fan. -TOB

Source: College Football’s Troubles Will Be Punctuated With More Empty Seats in Pac-12 Title Game,John Canzano, Oregon Live (12/05/2019)


Why NFL Film Analysis Should Be Left to the Pros

As football fans and members of the media, there is so much the average football viewer does not understand about the modern game. We see a long TD on busted coverage, but the vast majority of us have no idea whose responsibility it was to cover the received on that play. We see a QB throw an interception when there’s no receiver in the area, but almost all routes these days have options, wherein the receiver and the QB read the coverage and break differently. As an average fan, we have no idea if it was the receiver or the quarterback who read the defense wrong way. We see a running back get blown up and assume a lineman missed the block, but maybe the running back went the wrong direction. You get the idea.

On Twitter last week I saw the perfect illustration of this from Eliot Shorr-Parks, an Eagles reporter for a Philadelphia radio station. In his Twitter bio, Shorr-Parks states, “A bad take is better than no take at all,” which should give you an idea of what you’re about to read. Shorr-Parks tweeted the following:

When you watch the video, you might think, hm yeah, good point. Wentz missed the receiver completely and that led to the interception. But remember, we don’t know jack. To prove that point, former Cal Bear and Eagle wide receiver Bryce Treggs weighed in:

Boom, roasted. Shorr-Parks is not alone, of course. Plenty of sports “reporters” now consider themselves “experts” or “film-junkies.” But they have no idea what they’re watching. If you’re going to spend any time trying to learn football from a reporter, be sure he knows what the heck he’s talking about first. -TOB


The Mind PED

Interesting topic, albeit terribly written. TOB said it a few weeks ago, and I’ll say it again: we really need to widen our search for good shit with Deadspin gone. I can’t imagine an editor gave this the once over. There’s just no way. 

However, the idea of a PED for the mind is fascinating. I always think of PEDs in terms of the physical – increase in strength, speed, recovery; Anderson’s account underscores the real challenge in baseball – the battle between the ears. With all that time of waiting in a baseball game, punctuated by milliseconds of action, the ability to get out of your own head and think clearly is survival. Former Giant and current loony Aubrey Huff described playing on adderall and feeling “metally invincible”.

Consider the circumstances in which he first tried adderall, and I’ll have a hard time believing more than a few of us wouldn’t have given it a shot, too:

Maybe it was the exhaustion, or the fact that I was 29, five years removed from my last major league appearance, and playing less for the $1,500 a month in a faraway land, but my inner moral reservations about cheating dissolved. It felt more like an experiment.

And then there’s the testing that comes with a player getting a TUE (therapeutic use exemption). For one, these diagnoses are done on an annual basis with an MLB-approved psychiatrist. Once that TUE is given, Anderson describes it as MLB expecting the player to take the medication daily, regardless of how he might be feeling. In order to continue to receive the TUE, then players actually are better off testing positive for adderall whenever they are tested. 

The idea that health professionals employed by teams or the league are making assessments and diagnosis on players is insane. 

As for the terrible writing, here are some examples: 

  • In his hands, the miracle I needed in the form of a little white pill. In his mouth, a question: “You want an Adderall?”
  • Once the first game started, the effects were immediate. Forget the “Miracle on Ice,” it was time for the “Miracle-on-All-Dirt-Japanese-Infields.”
  • When I stood in the on-deck circle, my old friend Performance Anxiety was conspicuously absent, and I marveled at what it felt like to walk to the plate without giving his bloated ass a piggyback ride, too. He managed to stay on vacation for each at-bat. It was just me and the ball. The fielders didn’t exist, and the pitcher had turned from rottweiler to pug.
  • For real – this guy references WebMD in this story to outline the side effects of adderall

These are from the first ⅓ of the story. You get the point. 

Source: Lars Anderson: To Play ‘Mortal,’ or Not? My Experience Trying Adderall as a PED”, Lars Anderson, The Athletic (12/03/19)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Ikebe Shakedown – “Pepper”


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“I like how guys just know stuff. All the time.”

– Erin Hannon

Week of November 15, 2019

Footage from TOB’s Saturday pickup game.


White Elephant

Baseball is over. Football – college or NFL – doesn’t really matter yet. NBA, NHL, and college basketball are just getting started. All of that is more than enough reason to share a fun history lesson as to why the hell the Oakland A’s have an elephant for its mascot. It all started in 1902 with with an insult from New York Giants manager John McGraw. There’s some history as to why McGraw had a problem with any American League team at the time, and when asked what he thought about the upstart league, he said, among other things, the following: 

The policy of the American League is everything for Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia,” he said. “The remainder of the teams in the organization take what they can get. I’m not saying this because of any prejudice, but because I was told so point-blank by the president of the American League.

The American League is badly in debt. If Johnson wants to deny that, I will tell how much it is in debt and where the money is owed.

The Philadelphia club is not making any money,” the future Hall of Fame manager continued. “It has a big white elephant on its hands … no money was made last year and no money will be made this year.

Philadelphia was home to the Athletics at the time. Connie Mack (the manager who wore a suit, not a jersey) was at the helm of the A’s at the time. He was a polite guy (obviously…the dude wore a suit while managing a baseball team), and didn’t give too much to the press, but even he had to respond to McGraw’s quote. 

“McGraw says that the Athletic club is a white elephant. I will bet McGraw $1,000, and I think that I can get the coin, that the Athletics did make money last year and are making money this year.”

He added in 1952, in an interview with the Palm Beach Post: “When I heard about it I said, ‘We accept McGraw’s name of White Elephants,’ and we have kept that title ever since.”

It was a bold statement — one that easily could’ve backfired — but Mack’s team, which featured future Hall of Famers Eddie Plank and Rube Waddell, backed its skipper’s words. The A’s finished first in the American League, with a record of 83-53-1, and won the pennant (there was no World Series that year).

Over the next 12 seasons, they’d make five World Series appearances, winning three.

And so, over the next 115+ years (on and off) the elephant has been synonymous with the Athletics, be it in Philadelphia, Kansas City, or Oakland. A mascot born out of a beef. 

As a small tangent – and don’t take this, Ryan Nett – I have an idea. If I ever coach high school varsity level baseball or higher, I will wear a suit and tie. It’ll create a little buzz, get the local paper down to do a story on the high school team, and then we’re moving. The uniform on the coach is truly a terrible, terrible look. There’s precedent in not wearing one, one that the silverheads will appreciate the hat tip to Mack. Win-win. 

Tangent aside, this is a really fun article about a legit interesting history of a mascot. Good stuff! – PAL

Source: How the A’s elephant is rooted in an age-old rivalry, and why it has endured for over a century”, Alex Coffey, The Athletic (11/14/19)


Sliding Lawsuit

A JV baseball coach in New Jersey instructed a player to slide into third base. The player wrecked his ankle. The family sued the school district for not properly training the young coach. The facts of the case are every bit as ridiculous as you’re imagining right now, and 2,625 days have passed since the slide and the docket being resolved. The coach and the school district were not found liable or reckless. 

This is one of those ‘how have we gotten here’ stories, and it’s written with a little too much sanctimony for my taste, but it’s an interesting story nonetheless. 

Per, Steven Politi: 

So, yes, I have found the intersection of our overly litigious society and our out-of-control youth sports culture. As Suk sits there, scribbling away, I am consumed with a sickening thought: If this JV baseball coach is found liable for telling a player to slide, there’s nothing to stop the dominoes from falling everywhere around us.

In short: We’re all f—ed.

The full story is worth a read, and I will concede that – while this remains clear that a coach can’t be held responsible for when a kid gets hurt sliding – there are some details that allow me to feel a bit of sympathy for player. 

For one, it sounds like his ankle is permanently jacked up. 

Baseball was the least of his worries. Even after three surgeries, the ankle was not improving — one doctor even presented amputation as a possible outcome. A specialist from the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, Robert Rozbruch, found post-traumatic arthritis and signs of necrosis — evidence the bone was dying.

Mesar needed two more surgeries, including one to inject stem cells into the ankle tissue, and he was fit with an external fixator, a stabilizing frame to keep the bones properly positioned. The injury improved, but Rozbruch told the once-active teenager to avoid high-impact activities. Even jogging.

John Suk, the coach, also never attended any coaching seminars, which I thought was mandatory in order to coach at the high school level. 

Of course, neither of those two details – how messed the ankle was, and the lack of coaching seminars – make Suk or the school district reckless, but I think in some of these seemingly absurd lawsuits aren’t so absurd when you dig into the details a bit. I am reminded of the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit (if you haven’t, then you must watch the doc Hot Coffee)

On a lighter note, it’s hilarious how the poor quality of the opposing team from the game if the injury is ridiculed. Here’s an exchange from the plaintiff’s attorney cross-examining Suk: 

“We have established that the fence is 315 feet, and that this is a JV game at Gill St. Bernard’s,” Sinins says. “And you’ve heard testimony that the Gill St. Bernard’s team stunk. Is that fair?”

“Sir, my opinion of their team has no bearing —” Suk answers.

“You’re telling this jury that the JV left fielder for the Gill St. Bernard’s team reached the ball at the fence and threw a strike to the third baseman?” Sinins asks. “That’s what you’re telling this jury?!”

Give the full story a read, and let us know what you think, especially you coaches out there. – PAL 

Source: “He told a kid to slide. Then he got sued.”, Steve Politi, NJ.com (11/12/19)


I Hope You Enjoyed This Week, Gophers Fans 

Regular followers may have noticed I, a son of Minnesota, poked a little fun at the Gophers football team last week. I laughed at the very notion of the Gophers beating #3 Penn State. Well, the Gophers pulled off an upset, breathing even more life into P.J. Fleck’s con job. 

Following the big win, Philip John, a.k.a. The Used Car Salesman (c/o Matt Lang),  got a new contract. Per Kare 11, starting on November 15, 2019 (TODAY), Philly will have a 7 year, 33MM contract. He will be paid 4M+ a year to not ever come close to competing with the big boys in the Big 10. 

Mark my words, because I’m doubling-down: the Gophers will not only lose to Iowa, but they will get their shit handed to them by Wisconsin, too, and not participate in the Big 10 title game. 

Why am I going after the school of my dad, uncle, cousin, and niece, you might ask? 

  1. I believe in college monogamy: I’m an Augustana Viking, and only an Augustana Viking (the Augustana in Sioux Falls, not in Illinois, people) 
  2. There has always been this long held pipedream for the U of M to be a football school in the Big 10, but they are bottom feeders that simply don’t admit it. Every local columnist drinks the kool-aid once a decade. Jim Wacker, Glen Mason, P.J. Fleck; same bullshit, different coach hoping for Minnesota to be a stop on the way to a more prestigious job. 
  3. The Gophers had an identity with its hockey program, and it got messed up so horribly that it legitimately makes me sad. 
  4. Football is dumb.
  5. Fleck wears coaching cliches like a middle schooler wears cologne. 

Here’s a lil sampling from Philip’s interview on the Dan Patrick Show this week: 

  • Boys are elite. Getting ready to go to the practice field.
  • We are very fortunate. We are very humbled to represent the University of Minnesota, the great state of Minnesota, and all of our fans and alumn…
  • To be honest, I don’t think anything shocks this football team. You know, successful people and successful teams are usually not shocked by the success they have or what other people think of them, because they’ve been preparing for it…
  • This is a one-game championship season against Iowa. 
  • This team is not built for any letdowns. The game of football, that’s why you play, you just never know what’s going to happen.
  • Yesterday’s Tuesday practice was the best Tuesday practice we’ve had, and that’s all I can continue to ask of our players – is keep changing their best

And then this cringe-worthy, made-for-tv speech: 

All of this is an extremely long lede into the actual story I’m posting about Gopher fans getting down to Iowa City for this Hawkeyes game. For one, it’s the laziest kind of sports writing (I emailed a bunch of folks, and here’s a collection of their responses). Also, the idea of the Gophers in the Rose Bowl is unironically brought up in this article. Drugs, watch out for them. 

Talk about a jinx article:

But this season, he said, the Gophers have become “appointment TV,” and their potential for playing in big games later in the year has him checking travel and ticket sites often. He even mentioned the “R” word.

“I’m a football fan, but I’m not traveling to Indianapolis just to see the BIG Title Game of Ohio State, Penn State or a Michigan school take on the West winner. With the Gophers in contention, I am looking into tickets to the game,” Tate said. “I’m also looking at the costs of a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. It’s the one stadium and the one game I’ve always wanted to go to.”

It’s just football, and P.J. Fleck has a national audience right now with the undefeated Gophers, and – what the hell, it’s entertaining, right? Maybe I should give him a break. Maybe, but this guy’s just a little too loud, laying it on a lot too thick. He’s like a bad actor playing a coach on TV. He’s no Coach Taylor, but, man, is he trying so hard to be the real life version of him. 

Also, just for reference, here’s the team’s remaining schedule: 

  • Iowa
  • Northwestern
  • Wisconsin
  • Big 10 Championship (if they make it)

I see 2 loses on that schedule, my friends. P.J. Fleck will not be the head coach the Gophers 14 months from today, new contract be damned. – PAL 

Source:9-0 Gophers changing a lot of travel plans for fans”, Michael Rand, Star Tribune (11/13/19)


Video of the Week: 


Song of the Week: Kendrick Lamar – “I”


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Wiseman’s lawyers from Ballin, Ballin & Fishman and Farese, Farese & Farese released a statement Thursday morning, shortly before Memphis declared him ineligible.

-Jeff Borzello