Week of June 18, 2021

PIC


A Bike Race On A Gravel Road In Kansas

TOB dropped this story in the draft doc and told me it was up my alley. TOB is a smart dude; I really enjoyed reading about a bike race in Kansas. 

So much of what we post on this digest are stories orbiting sports we are familiar with, or even played. It’s rejuvenating to read about a sport and a race that I know very little about, and Patrick Redford does a great job explaining how this particular bike race is so different from what you might have in your mind. 

If big-time road racing, with its extremely slick facade and army of helpers ensuring that the sport resembles a straight-up fitness contest to the greatest degree possible, is a luxury yacht coasting along at a steady pace, gravel riding is a pirate ship, reveling in its shameless dirtiness. No wonder it’s cycling’s fastest-growing discipline.

So this Unbound race takes place in small town Kansas. It’s a 200+ mile bike race, and it’s all on gravel roads. Ever ridden your 10-speed on a gravel road when they are doing construction? Even for twenty yards, it’s, shall we say, uncomfortable. 

And you might be wondering, “Why do this?” I was. You might be thinking, “Just making something a sufferfest for the point of suffering, does that make it noteworthy or fun or worthwhile?” I was thinking that, but that misses the real draw to this race in the context of road races, especially in the United States. 

Those big-time races, with the “army of helpers,” are exclusive, whereas a race like Unbound brings world-class cyclists (and that caliber do show up to compete) and puts them on a course that makes them “relatable to everyone in the race,” Redford writes. Suffering is more relatable than winning. That’s the draw to these types of competitions. Finishing is the goal. That brings more bikers of varying levels together. That’s the type of vibe that makes a race popular, that grows a fringe sport’s participation. 

I read this story, and thought of those old pictures of the Tour de France, where competitors are drinking and smoking and eating bagets along the way. Those nascent stages of a race always look like a damn good time, and so does Unbound.

Good find, TOB! – PAL 

Source: Unbound Gravel, The Country’s Coolest Bike Race, Is A Beautiful Sufferfest”, Patrick Redford, Defector (06/07/21)


Cole and Bauer – Aces in the Making

Their roles in the sticky stuff debate notwithstanding, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer are two of the best handful of pitchers in baseball right now. But, other than their competitiveness, the similarities pretty much end there. They could not be much more different. And, ten years ago, they were stars on the same UCLA baseball team, destined to be drafted first (Cole) and third (Bauer) in the same draft. They did not exactly get along.

As the baseball bounded into foul territory, tracking toward the left-field corner at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles, the two competitors would bolt from the home dugout. They’d sprint on the dirt track, past the bullpen, and beeline for the ball. They were the top college pitchers in the country, chasing records, chasing greatness, chasing each other. Their parents would watch the footrace from the bleachers and wince.

An injury could cost their sons millions in the MLB draft and doom UCLA’s dreams of a College World Series title. But Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer couldn’t bear losing to the other.

“Those are two very competitive dudes,” says former UCLA pitcher Zack Weiss.

They were just college kids then, all potential and everything still to prove. They were UCLA’s pair of aces. They spit fire. They threw gas. They frustrated and fueled each other. This was before Cole and Bauer were drafted first and third overall in the 2011 Draft, before the big leagues, before the sticky-substances speculation, before they joined the Yankees and Dodgers, before they were the highest-paid pitchers in the game, before they were Cy Young candidates on World Series contenders in baseball’s biggest markets. Back then, they were starting back to back for the Bruins and battling for foul balls, side by side in the tinderbox of college baseball.

I find it fascinating when two (or more) great players are on the same team prior to being professionals. The above anecdote is just one example of how things were between these two. But this article does an excellent job of getting information, both on and off the record, about what went on behind the scenes when two hyper-competitive future aces competed together, and with each other. 

The article theorizes that Cole, a classically trained and natural pitcher, did not like that Bauer trained by his own methods. However, Bauer’s methods seem to work for him and many of those methods have become popular over the last ten years. The article also notes a quote from Bauer before their final year at UCLA, where Bauer says that Cole annoys him:

“It’s interesting: A lot of things (Cole) does —” Bauer pauses again, “— annoy me. We’re two different personalities. He’s very loud, kind of a vocal leader, in a sense. So at practices, he’s the one getting guys fired up — you know, ‘Yeah, great play!’ — that kind of stuff. I’m more of the sit-back, keep-to-myself, quiet, lead-by-example type. So when he’s out there yelling, for me it’s just like, ‘Oh Gerrit, just shut up.’ But I’m sure when I’m sitting there talking to someone about overlaying video and looking at pitch breaks and stuff like that, he’s probably sitting there thinking, ‘Oh Bauer, shut up.’ You know? So I think we have a pretty good relationship, for being two vastly, vastly different personality types.”

Bauer, of course, is notoriously an asshole – or worse, like in 2019 when he harassed a woman on Twitter for hours because she criticized him. Less is known about Bauer, who keeps a very low profile off the field. So this article was an interesting look at how these two became who they are now. Good read.

Source: ‘Why Do Those Two Clash?’ Inside the Legendary Gerrit Cole-Trevor Bauer Rivalry at UCLA,” 


DJ BC RAW 

Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford is having a resurgent year. Resurgent is perhaps not the right word. He’s somehow, at age 34, better than ever. Crawford has had hot streaks before. For example, in June 2018 I wrote the following:

The Giants’ shortshop has been en fuego the last six weeks. He was hitting .190 heading into May, but after going 4-for-4 against the Nats on Sunday, was sitting at .338 for the season, after hitting .412 in May and (thus far) .539 in June. The dude hit .412 for a month and nearly halfway through the next month is hitting more than 125 points better! Uh, holy cow?

Something about this feels different. For one thing, the power is there in a way it never has. In that 2018 season I wrote about, Crawford ended the season with a 100 OPS+ – an exactly league average hitter – and 14 home runs. But this season, he already has 15 home runs. It’s mid-June! He’s only once hit more than 14 – when he hit 21 in 2015. His OPS+ is 139. This continues Crawford’s improvements in the short 2020 season, when he hit 8 home runs in just 54 games.

FanGraphs’ Luke Hooper did a short but excellent breakdown of Crawford’s swing changes since 2020. It’s pretty interesting.

Two big changes should jump out to you: hand placement and a more open stance. In 2019, Crawford was quite upright, almost leaning backward, before starting his swing. Now he seems to be in a more meaningful hitting position from the start. His stance is built with more purpose, with his front leg open, possibly as a way to provide better balance with a more hunched upper body and extended arms, and his hands are far from his body with a much quieter setup overall.

2020, of course, coincides with the new hitting staff under Giants manager Gabe Kapler. That staff has led a resurgence with a host of Giants vets, most notable Crawford, Posey, and Longoria, all of whom looked toast by the end of 2019, and are all somehow as good or better than ever. Don’t worry. I’ll be taking my victory lap on my optimism (cautious as though it might have been) a little later in the season, for now I want to discuss Crawford.

Crawford is a free agent after this year, and if he keeps hitting (and fielding) like this, the Giants will have quite the decision to make in the offseason. CHeading into this season, fans were eyeing the free agent shortstop class – Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Marcus Semien, and until he signed an extension with the Mets, Francisco Lindor. But Crawford is out playing them all – he’s 9th in MLB in both WAR and OPS. In fact, the only shortstop playing better than him is Fernando Tatis, Jr., who may end up the NL MVP.

These decisions are a two-way street, of course. Crawford reportedly lives in Arizona in the offseason these days, which why. But Crawford grew up in the Bay Area, and the Giants were his favorite team.

He recently became the all-time Giants lead in games played at shortstop. He also just hit ten years in the league. And, of course, the Giants were his favorite team growing up – the story is too perfect for him to leave. It will be truly gross if he goes to the Diamondbacks (ugh) for a couple years. I’m not one for sentimentality, but if he’s still good (and he absolutely is), then I think the Giants should do what they need to do to keep him. -TOB

Source: How Brandon Crawford’s New Swing Turned Things Around,” Luke Hooper, Fangraphs (06/07/2021)


Keep the U.S. Open Public…At Least Sometimes

Of course, part of the brilliance in Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore is how both movies make an absolute mockery of country club stereotypes associated with golf. In one, you find yourself pulling for a caddy, and the other, you’re rooting for the enforcer in a Bruins jersey. Beneath all the humor is some feel-good, middle-class vindication. In both of those movies the spirit of the local muni golf course is, at least indirectly, celebrated. 

As the U.S. Open gets rolling this year, it’s important to note that the site, Torey Pines, is a municipal course operated by the city of San Diego. Much like Harding Park in San Francisco, or Bethpage Black in New York, these courses are open and, at least to city residents, relatively affordable to play. 

It’s cool when the United State Open, which is a tournament truly open to anyone who qualifies, is played on courses that are also open to anyone to play. It’s a meaningful symmetry. 

Which is why I was so bummed to read this story from The New York Times. The gist of it, ℅ Paul Sullivan: 

As the U.S. Open moves to more of a fixed rotation of courses — known as a rota — this week’s tournament could be the end of an era when the United States Golf Association experimented with hosting Opens on truly public courses.

Pebble Beach Golf Links in California and Pinehurst in North Carolina are set to host several U.S. Opens in the coming years, but neither could be considered truly public because people pay thousands of dollars a night to stay in their lodges if they want to be able to pay hundreds of dollars to play the course. Of the next six courses that the U.S.G.A. has announced through 2027, none will be truly public.

LAME. 

Why take a good idea—sprinkling in some of the best munis as U.S. Open sites—and replace it with a lame idea (sprinkling in some of the best private courses as U.S. Open sites)? 

Apparently, convenience. 

There are practical, financial reasons for returning to the same venues regularly, but the switch may come at another cost, to the public venues and the geographic diversity that brought the national championship to new markets.

“The wonderful thing about the Open when it was rotating is you got to see so many different places,” said Michael Hurzdan, who designed Erin Hills. “Different horses for different courses. There’s a lot to be said for that. When you go to the rota, something’s going to be lost.”

Amen, Hurzdan!

Bring the U.S. Open back to Munis! – PAL 

Source:At the U.S. Open, Public Courses Are Losing”, Paul Sullivan, The New York Times (06/16/21)
TOB: This feels like the consultification (a word I think I just made up) of golf. The PGA wanted to increase profits so they brought in McKinsey or some other awful consulting firm and said, “How can we increase profits 5%?” So the McKinsey guys looked at the numbers and said, “If you limit the number of places you travel, you can have more of an existing infrastructure, thus saving you some cash.” The shepherds of our sports are failing us.


An Ode to the Diamondbacks, Perhaps the Worst Team of All-Time

That is perhaps an exaggeration. But consider the last two months of Diamondbacks baseball. The team started the season a very respectable 15-13. In that stretch, Madison Bumgarner threw a 7-inning no hitter to bring the team to 11-11. And that game is when the Diamondbacks seemed to light themselves on fire. 

Since Bumgarner’s no-hitter, the Diamondbacks have not won a road game. Not one. That was April 25, almost two full months ago. 23 straight road losses. That, if you’re wondering, is indeed a record. 23 straight road losses! That’s 1/6 of a full season! They set the record on Thursday in San Francisco, a day game I had the joy of attending, as the Giants hitters battered Arizona’s best pitcher (Zac Gallen) and its bullpen all game long, winning 10-3. But the real pain was on Tuesday – the Diamondbacks jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the second inning. The Giants kept chipping away, though, and in the bottom of the 8th Mike Yastrzemski hit a 2-out, 2-strike grand friggin slam into McCovey Cove. It was a great moment for the Giants, but seemed to kill the Diamondbacks’ spirits. 

Now, look, 23-straight road losses is very bad. It’s sorta unbelievable. But what I did not realize until after that game is that the Diamondbacks aren’t winning much at home, either. In fact, in their last 31 games overall, the team is 2-29. TWO wins and TWENTY NINE losses. That is IMPOSSIBLE. 

The worst baseball teams of the modern era are probably either the 1962 Mets (120 losses) or the 2003 Tigers (119 losses). Those Tigers were outscored by 337 runs (591 to 928). They started the season 3-25. Later they had 2 for 23 and 1 for 17 streaks. Their longest losing streak was 11. They were shutout 17 times. They were awful.
But the DBacks are worse! They would kill for 3-25 right now. They are in the middle of a 15-game losing stream, having already ended a previous 14-game losing streak. There is of course plenty of time for the DBacks to turn this around and play respectable baseball again. It’s a team of veterans and I don’t actually think they end up close to 120 losses. But for 1/5 of the season they are on a ten win and 150 loss pace. That’s a big enough sample size to take note. So as I said at the outset – calling them the worst team of all time may be an exaggeration, but they are certainly in one of the worst, if not the worst, two month stretches of all time. We should start paying attention.

-TOB


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Los Dos Carnales – “Mis Raíces”


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Oh, understudies are a very shifty bunch. The substitute teachers of the theater world.

-Cosmo Kramer

Week of June 11, 2021

Tom Ammiano earned this varsity letter in 1958 and received it 50+ years later. Read why it matters so much that he received it here.


Pulling for Smooth

Earlier this week, Giants play-by-play announcer, Duane Kuiper, released a statement saying he would be missing some games as he undergoes chemotherapy for an unspecified illness. I was surprised by how the news stopped me. Friends and family, people we actually know and love dearly get sick all of the time; why did the play-by-play guy’s illness leave me dazed?

After a moment, it’s obvious, right? These announcers are voices in our lives nearly every day for six months. We do know them. They are in our family rooms most every night, stuck with us in traffic, the background conversation at any true sports bar that will have the audio on with the game. 

Duane Kuiper, a.k.a. ‘Smooth’, and Mike Krukow have been here with me since I moved to San Francisco in the summer of 2004. They are, without question, they best baseball broadcast duo I’ve ever heard. There’s so much I could say about the nuance to the mastery of them calling a game together, but the best compliment I can give is this: My wife loves them and so do I. The two of us watch Giants games very differently, and yet these guys somehow have the perfect tone for a very casual viewer in her and someone that has an in depth understanding of the gamer. They are the very rare combo where both the play-by-play and color commentator are former players.

While it comes as no surprise, I was nodding along as I read Bruce Jenkins’ column, which included a handful of fans trying to summarize why they love Kruk and Kuip so much.

Constance Prodromou, acupuncturist and energy healer at the Marin Health Empowerment Center (of course she is): 

But they’re just the best in baseball with their wit and wisdom, always sharing great stories about the game and explaining things beyond the play-by-play. I feel like I know so much about them from their work. If I ever got to meet them, I could talk to them as longtime friends.

Ann Walsh, a retired schoolteacher/PG&E employee: 

There’s just something about the chemistry between Kruk and Kuip, they cover all of the bases. Even when I’m at the games, I bring my earphones in case there’s something I need explaining. Problem with that is, people around you think you’re the bible (laughs). Like, ‘What did Duane say? Do you agree with him?’

I couldn’t agree more with bartender Nick Shapiro when he says, “That’s one of the great things for me — they are the perfect combination of being homers, yet objective. You know where their heart lies, but they call it straight.”

There’s a massive fanbase sending good vibes Duane Kuiper’s way. Join us! – PAL

Source: “‘I know Duane feels it’: Mike Krukow, Giants community rallying behind Kuiper”, Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle (06/08/21)


The Great Substance Debacle in MLB

Let’s get you up to speed: Pitchers in MLB are using this stuff called Spider Tack to increase the grip and, more importantly, revolutions on the baseball. It makes a huge difference. Imagine a batting glove that allowed a hitter to increase good contact by 25%. That’s pretty much what’s happening with pitchers and spider tack: a 25% improvement.

Pitching is dominating baseball this year. I mean, did you read TOB’s summary about the 6 no-hitters that have already taken place this season, or did you check out that Jayson Stark story I wrote about a few weeks ago detailing how hitters are striking out at a historic rate, and singles and doubles are disappearing from the game?

Offense other than home runs is quickly fading away from the game, and MLB baseball is not a great product these days. Some can blame the prevalence of defensive shifts. Or there’s launch angle for hitters and the general ambivalence they have to striking out? And then there are pitchers throwing damn near unhittable stuff. 

Baseball knows it has a problem, because they are experimenting with all sorts of crazy solutions in the minors (moving the mound back one foot, banning spider tack, regulating shifts to name three experiments taking place). They’ve taken even a step further, attempting to now regulate Spider Tack use in MLB – mid-season. For a couple of baseball junkies, this is a big story, so I wanted to share a few of the more interesting reads on the topic. 

For a general overview of what the actual hell is going on with pitchers using substances (which they’ve done forever), check out this story from Ken Rosenthal and Eno Sarris. It breaks down how Spider Tack is a departure from the usual grip suspects and why it matters so much. It’s a meat & potatoes story on what’s going on and why it’s important. Here’s one nugget:

This revelation has a chance to help baseball navigate this difficult space. For pitchers who are truly just looking to grip the ball and avoid hitting batters, there’s a de facto grip substance that cannot be policed and is readily available. For pitcher looking to increase their spin rate by 500 RPM and their breaking ball stuff by a third, baseball can provide the fines and suspensions it takes to reduce the steady advancing march in league spin rates.

Baseball doesn’t need to do a thing about sunscreen and rosin to arrest this trend, it turns out. Just getting rid of the highly engineered tacky substances might very well be good enough.

And for Spider Tack origin story (spoiler alert: invented by a strongman competitor to help keep a grip on those atlas stones), check out this piece from Stephen Nesbit. Here’s a fun bit:

A little amateur sleuthing leads to a LinkedIn profile, then another, then an address, then a phone number, and then I’m cold-calling a pharmaceuticals lab on the outskirts of Denver. The woman who answers the phone patches me through to the lab’s president and CEO, Mike Caruso. He is willing to talk. He is a retired strongman, once one of the strongest men in America. At 40, he’s still so muscular he looks like he could crush a baseball with his hands.

This is the man who invented Spider Tack.

And he is confused about why I’m calling. When I ask Caruso what he thinks about his tacky — that’s the term among strongmen and strongwomen — becoming the talk of baseball, he answers cautiously.

“This is news to me,” he says. “I had no idea it was popular in baseball.”

Of course, there are other variables at play besides Spider Tack. As Hall of Famer Rod Carew outlines in this podcast summary, hitters are reluctant to strategically respond to the defensive shifts (other than try to hit homers). Yes; Carew sounds a bit old in this approach – because it’s not like teams are playing 3 infielders on the one side of the infield when speedsters like Byron Buxton or Billy Hamilton hit – but the broader point is correct. Hitters do need to counter the defensive strategies of the day, but it has to be said that is one hell of a task.

Hitters react to what the pitcher throws; pitchers and defense dictate the terms of engagement so to speak. Carew talks about too much guessing going on. And he’s probably right, but I have to wonder if that’s because these dudes are all throwing 100 with nasty off-speed that’s moving a third more than usual, thanks to that spider tack.

Carew:

I think the shift is overrated, and I’m disappointed in the players who don’t try to take advantage by making adjustments to go the other way. So many kids in today’s game are guessers. They’re guessing what the pitch is going to be instead of learning how to track the ball and then having an idea of what they want to do with it. I learned how to track the ball by trying to pick the ball up out of a pitcher’s hands and reacting to that instead of trying to guess along.

So there you have it; an abbreviated guide to what’s cooking with this spin rate spider tack story in baseball. – PAL

Sources: How the difference between sunscreen and advanced grip substances could help MLB navigate tricky enforcement landscape”, Ken Rosenthal & Eno Sarris, The Athletic (4/21/21); “Spider Tack is the stickiest stuff in baseball’s foreign-substance controversy. Its inventor had no idea”, Stephen Nesbit, The Athletic (06/07/21); “Rod Carew: Pitchers have always cheated; hitters need new approach”, Michael Rand, Star Tribune (06/09/21)


Pick A Winner

Love the premise of this story from Tyler Kepner: of all the thousands of prospects selected in the Major League Draft, which player turned out the best for his team? 

For the purposes of his story, Kepner uses WAR as his measurement (Wins Above Replacement accounts for hitting, baserunning, defense. It also takes into account position, era, and ballpark). And by that measure, Mike Schmidt (30th pick)was the best selection in the history of the draft (the first amatuer draft was held in 1965, with Rick Monday going to the Cubs).

It helps, of course, that Schmidt played all 18 years with the Phillies while amassing 3 MVPs, 10 Gold Gloves, 500+ home runs and over 1500 RBI (and a lot of strikeouts, but we’ll give him a pass).

Kepner’s story then goes on to share the legend of the scout who discovered Schmidt: Tony Lucadello. 

And while Kepner describes Lucadello as a scout who would’ve  “fit well in the early scenes of ‘Moneyball,’ where graying scouts talk about “the good face” and the sound of the ball off the bat”, he also signed 52 players who would make it to the bigs over his career. At the time, in 1980, that was more than all of the other Phillies’ scouts combined. 

I have no feelings about Mike Schmidt one way or the other. He was just before my time as a baseball nut, but I liked the idea of the story, and the details of how Mike Schmidt was discovered. Good read. – PAL

Source: The Greatest Draft Pick Ever”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (06/06/21)

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Song of the Week: Steve Forbert – “Romeo’s Tune”


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Week of June 4, 2021

Looking for an alternative to a game of only strikeouts or homers? college softball and baseball are pretty great alternative to the MLB game. Unseeded James Madison just pulled off a huge upset over #1 Oklahoma in the College World Series. 


Where Do You Fall On Coach K?

News broke this week that the upcoming college basketball season will be Mike Krzyzewski’s last at Duke. That will be his 47th season coaching college basketball, which means he’s been a sports figure for my entire life and then some. In fact, I remember watching Laettner hit the buzzer beater against Kentucky in the 92’ Elite Eight with my future brother-in-law and all his college friends that road tripped to Minnesota from Omaha for a U2 concert.

We know he’s won more than any other men’s college basketball coach. The 12 Final Four appearances, 97 NCAA tournament wins, 5 national titles, and a winning percentage north of 75% for about a half century makes for an unparalleled resume. 

What’s perhaps equally incredible is how ‘Coach K’ built a wholesome, moral reputation of the student athlete line of crud when, at least for the second half of his career, he’s basically followed the same path less desirable coaches and recruited players who were never going to stay for the full college experience like Laettner and Bobby Hurley (Grant Hill, of course, left early), or even for a full academic year. It was a transactional relationship on the players’ way to the NBA, and that would be fine if he didn’t feel the urge to pontificate about the way things ought to be/the way things were back in his West Point days under the choker Bobby Knight. 

So he was incredibly successful. Iconic in a way only coaches can attain in college sports, and he lectured journalism students about why their questions sucked…that’s why you have these two headlines posted in the days after his announcement: 

From The Ringer: “Coach K Built A Basketball Empire”

And from Defector: “See You Later To The Butthead”

I thought it would be fun to pull two selects from these articles trying to encapsulate the same legend.

Michael Baumann (The Ringer):

In achievement and longevity, Krzyzewski transcends his contemporaries and should be regarded as a figure of world-historical sporting import. He’s in a class with Roy Williams and John Calipari, yes, but also Pat Summitt and John Wooden, and the likes of Bill Belichick and Sir Alex Ferguson. These are epoch-spanning, history-bending figures, viewed in their own corners of sporting history as fathers of empire, like George Washington or Charlemagne.

Albert Burneko (Defector)

He is also, inarguably, the greatest self-promoter in the college game’s history, a thin-skinned and viciousbully, a sanctimonious scold, and petty soreloser who has (mostly) successfully portrayed himself as a humble and principled educator and molder of honorable men over the nearly half a century during which he reaped fortune and acclaim beyond measure off the work of unpaid laborers. 


I’ll leave you with this: I am very skeptical of anyone that announces a retirement before his/her last season, thereby welcoming a farewell tour. It’s such a lame and thirsty move. – PAL


Sources: Coach K Built A Basketball Empire”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (06/02/21); “See You Later To This Butthead”, Albert Burneko, The Ringer (06/03/21)


The Playoffs Are Now LeBron-less

The Suns eliminated the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, and for what seems like the first time in my adult life, LeBron James will not be playing in the NBA Finals. The Lakers weren’t a playoff team in 2018 – the rebuild was still in process for LeBron’s first year. Other than that, LeBron teams have shown up to the Finals every year since 2011. Incredible. 

Last year, he and Anthony Davis, the most talented sidekick LeBron’s ever had, blitzed through the bubble playoffs, but injuries to both Davis and LeBron proved too much this go round, especially . 

At 36, LeBron is 18 seasons into his career. Tack on the equivalent of 3.24 seasons in playoffs games played to that, too. What he’s done to stay as healthy and athletic as he has over that amount of time, wear and tear is far more impressive to me than Tom Brady standing in the pocket playing QB at age 43.

After a first round loss, the first time in his career a LeBron team hasn’t advanced past the first round, folks are dying to write the “Father Time is undefeated” story about LeBron. Few writers are as perfectly equipped as Ray Ratto is to handle such a tired storyline and make it actually stand out as worthy to share. Ratto does a nice little trick here: he writes the father time story, but warns people about being too quick to put LeBron in that category. Smart. He’s saying LeBron’s not there…yet, so he can write about the athlete being passed his prime without saying he’s passed it. 

Ratto starts with the following: “The end of the LeBron James era has been prophesied for years, which is the main reason it has been so remarkable—the sheer number of years that everyone has been wrong.”

LeBron’s was still one of the five best players in the league this year – so smart, so strong, so athletic (still), but in an era when all contenders have multiple all-NBA players, LeBron can no longer get by with anything less that top tier talent sharing the load. Anthony Davis was a force in the playoff run last year, but he’s an injury magnet. He went down with another (aggravated a recent injury) within minutes of this game, and the Suns pounced. 

Gone are the games in LeBron’s career when he can pretty much beat a great opponent by himself. Instead of looking to the future, as Ratto does, this Suns loss has me appreciating even more how incredible it was to watch a 2018 LeBron bully his way to 51 points against the stacked Warriors (Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green), nearly stealing the first game of the series against one of the best teams ever assembled.

Look at that. He’s going schoolyard on the Warriors. Forcing his way to whatever shot he wants. Dominant. 

So while it makes sense to ponder what comes next for LeBron after the Suns loss, I am less interested in that than I am interested in remembering how incredible he’s been. – PAL 


Source: Rome Didn’t Fall In A Day”, Ray Ratto, Defector (06/04/21)


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Song of the Week: Flamin’ Groovies – “Shake Some Action”

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Holly is sweet, and simple. Like a lady baker. I- would not be surprised to find out that she had worked in a bakery before coming here. She has that kind of warmth. I’m pretty sure she’s baked on a professional level.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 28, 2021


The Dumbest Defensive Play in MLB History? Or the Smartest Baserunning in MLB History?

Look, there have been a lot of baseball plays in MLB history. Best I can tell, through Wednesday’s games, there have in fact been 11,372,469 balls in play (plate appearances minus strikeouts, walks, hit by pitch, and intentional walks). 11 million! That’s a lot. So I am going out on a limb when I say that I think Thursday’s Pirates/Cubs game featured the dumbest defensive play in MLB history. I’m open to other suggestions, of course. But the following play is just so incredibly dumb it’s hard to sit here and fathom a dumber play. 

So now let’s break it down. 

The scene: The Cubs are up 1-0 in the third. There’s a runner on second. There are two outs. I repeat: there are TWO outs. This is a very important fact. The Cubs’ Javy Baez, one of the smartest players in MLB, is at bat.

Baez hits a routine grounder to third. Here you can see the Pirates’ third baseman Erik Gonzalez preparing to field the ball, as Cubs catcher Willson Contrerars heads for third. 

Gonzalez fields the ball cleanly and makes the throw to first. Here we see Pirates’ first baseman Will Craig awaiting the throw, as Baez approaches first. As a reminder: there are TWO outs.

Next we see Craig has stepped off the bag to receive the throw, which was just a little up the line toward home. Baez appears to already be thinking about his next move, as he has begun to stop.

Craig at that point has a decision. Reminder: there are two outs. Does he turn around and step on first base? Sure, that would make sense. It would be the third out and the inning would be over. Or does he run Baez down and tag him out? Honestly, that works, too. Even if Contreras comes around to score before Baez is out, the run would not count unless Baez safely makes it to first base at some point during the play. Craig goes with the latter. Sure, why not.

Baez retreats all the way to the plate. This is where Craig makes his first mistake. As you can see, he notices Contreras running from third to home. But remember, that doesn’t matter unless Baez makes it safely to first. Craig forgets this fact and/or panics. Craig takes the ball out of his glove and holds it up like he is throwing home.

The catcher then makes his first mistake. 

He holds up his glove, ready to receive the ball. There is no force at home and the run will not count unless Baez gets to first, from which he is now 85 feet away from, with a player holding the ball in his path. The catcher should be screaming, like the announcers, TAG HIM. He should be refusing the ball in order to knock some sense into Craig. Nope. He puts up his glove. So Craig throws it, an absolutely inexplicable decision.

But all is not lost. The catcher caught the ball! This seems easy enough. Tag Baez or throw to first. But he instead tries to tag Contreras. Ok, I mean, it’s risky, but I guess. Contreras beats the tag. Again, all is not lost! All they need to do is tag Baez or throw to first. Baez, inexplicably, does not break for first but instead turns around to help the umpire with the safe call. 

Baez immediately realizes his mistake and breaks for first. The catcher also finally gets his head on straight and looks to throw to first.

But, folks, there is nobody home. I have no idea where the second baseman is and why he’s not covering the bag. I also have no idea why Craig didn’t retreat to first after he threw to second. Both huge mistakes. Finally, we see Frazier, the second baseman, come into view, coming from all the way across the diamond. Why he was over there is also inexplicable. 

And there we see the problem. Baez might beat Frazier to the bag. In fact he does, in part because the catcher makes a horrendous throw, way too far from the bag and behind Frazier.

The ball in fact skips by Frazier, Baez sprints to second, the Cubs bench goes bananas. Absolutely ape shit. Rizzo might have coughed up a lung.

God dang, man. Let’s watch it together.

Now I ask you – isn’t that the dumbest defensive play in MLB history? There were so many ways to execute that play and at almost every turn the Pirates took the worst and/or riskiest and/or dumbest and/or most complicated route. They forgot one of the most simple concepts in the game – a run can’t score with two outs unless the batter safely reaches first, and then completely blew up. 

For his part, Javy Baez was classic Baez – an absolute pest that made this all happen just by doing something unusual and making every Pirates’ player’s brain go haywire. And for that reason, while the defensive play was incredibly dumb, Javy’s play might also have been the smartest base running I’ve ever seen, too. As always in baseball – put pressure on the defense. They might do something stupid.

Making it even worse – those two runs ended up being pretty important. The Pirates lost 5-3. -TOB


The A’s Are Full of Shit

Pictured: Con Man

The A’s, while still marketing themselves as “Rooted in Oakland,” are very publicly threatening to dig up those roots and move elsewhere. Reportedly meeting recently with officials in Portland, Vegas and perhaps elsewhere, the A’s president Dave Kaval drew a line in the sand last week, stating in an interview with Scott Ostler that for the A’s, they either get a new stadium at the Howard Terminal location or they are leaving Oakland.

“That’s why we’re at a point now where really in Oakland, it’s Howard Terminal or bust.

Prior to that interview, MLB released a statement saying the Coliseum site “is not a viable option.” Kaval explained that modern, successful ballparks are in downtown settings, and agreed that the Coliseum site is not viable. Ostler pressed Kaval on that in the following exchange:

Chronicle: But if your Howard Terminal plans fall through, why would the Coliseum not be viable, considering the public access and other positives that many feel make that spot viable?

Kaval: I think it’s important to recognize that two teams have already left the site, both the Warriors and the Raiders. So it has not shown itself, from a market perspective, to be a location that’s viable for 21st century professional sports. … So you have the teams that have left, (and) you have the fact that the most successful locations are in the downtown urban environment.

But Ostler should have pressed harder because Kaval’s statement is an absolute load of horse shit. The Warriors and Raiders did not leave because the Coliseum site is not a viable option. The Warriors left because they wanted to go to San Francisco. But it had nothing to do with the Coliseum site itself. In fact, the Warriors consistently drew big and raucous crowds, even in down years for the team. Similarly, the Raiders left because they wanted a new stadium…somewhere. The stadium itself is a dump. But the Raiders would have stayed if they got a new stadium at the Coliseum site. As with the Warriors, the Raiders leaving had nothing to do with the Coliseum site. 

Which is why Kaval should be roasted for this. -TOB

Source: Dave Kaval on A’s Future in Oakland: ‘It’s Howard Terminal or Bust,’” Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle (05/21/2021)

PAL: Just trying to figure out the reasons for the delay on the Howard Terminal site takes some work and government decoding of lawsuits from dock worker unions, environmental impact reports, delays on governor approvals for expedited reviews. I can only imagine how frustrating a process like this would be for ownership that wants to build and pay for a new stadium…

Oh, that’s right; the A’s want the taxpayers to pay for the lion’s share of the proposed development. Since the team is asking for money from the taxpayers, then they are subject to all that government red tape. And when the team doesn’t get what it wants, Kaval can make up crap about the need to be in downtown locations (not the case for Texas Rangers or Atlanta Braves). 

With every one of these stadium stories that has come up over the past several years, my appreciation for the Giants ownership grows. They paid for the stadium, and I’ve become more and more convinced that public financing of stadiums is a scam. Owning a sports team is a great investment for people or groups who can afford it. Let super rich people build the stadium and profit off of their investments. Keep it simple. It will really stink to have all of the Oakland-based teams leave within a few years, but a team and ownership shouldn’t hold its city hostage whenever it wants new digs.


No Onions? That’s a Problem: A Good Rant About Condiments

I love a good rant, and this is a really good one by Defector’s Kelsey McKinney. Kelsey attended a Washington Nationals game this week, and she is upset that the Nats removed the traditional hot dog condiment bar for…a robot. Kelsey sets the scene:

I love a hot dog. To me, it is important to consume no fewer than 30 hot dogs or summer never happened. Last year, for example, there was no summer. But this year, I am determined. It is the end of May and I had already eaten eight hot dogs going into last night. And where, I ask you, is a better place to eat a hot dog than in a baseball stadium’s folding chair? Nowhere. The constant distraction makes your dog taste better.

I assure you that Phil read that paragraph and nodded along vigorously.

Next, Kelsey sets up the conflict.

My friend Hannah went with me, and she obtained the first round of hot dogs. Another important belief I have is that hot dogs should be consumed in rounds, as a treat.

When Hannah came back with the hot dogs, she warned me: “There was no relish.” AWFUL! But things became worse. My mustard was all clumped in one spot. This was inconvenient but I am really brave, so I simply used my finger to move my mustard around a little bit. But where was the relish? I like a hot dog to have many things on it. Where were the unevenly diced onions that fall from the mouth of the onion crank too quickly? There were none.

I’m not a big relish guy, but a hot dog definitely needs onions! You need that crunch. And the clump of mustard? What? I’m with Kelsey – this is not good, and it’s about to get worse. Later, Kelsey goes to get the “second round of hot dogs” (LOL) and here’s what she encounters:

In case you have never had a day of fun in your life and are unfamiliar with the condiment island, it is a place that is historically home to giant gallon pumps of condiments. You put your hot dog under the spout and press the lever and the condiment comes out. This makes intuitive sense. Everyone likes it. The condiments are all separate.

But this island had been ruined, redeveloped by people who didn’t understand its culture. The jugs of delicious condiments had been replaced by two shiny machines that looked like espresso makers. 

Oh, this sounds AWFUL. I found a picture online.

The picture doesn’t look terrible but as Kelsey explains, they absolutely are. 

They work like this: You put your hot dog underneath the single spout. Then three hand signals light up. You place your hand (Without touching! No touching!) over the one that you want, and the machine glugs out the condiment. You cannot control when it stops. You cannot control the pace. The condiments were limited to the runny ones: ketchup, bbq sauce, mustard, honey mustard, dijon mustard. No relish. No mayo. No onion crank!!

And here’s the money rant:

This was awful. The condiment island had fallen victim to the dopey hygiene theater that sports teams have been deploying throughout the pandemic, and continue to insist upon even though we all know now that the coronavirus doesn’t do much spreading via surfaces. The gluggy jugs were fine! They were good, even. I liked using them!! This all felt especially ridiculous since the signage at the stadium indicated that people who were vaccinated did not have to wear masks. So many people were walking around without masks and then being forced to use this terrible robot.

Gluggy jugs made me chuckle. So did Kelsey telling a Nats employee, “It seems like these things suck.” Solid rant. -TOB

Source: They Ruined The Damn Condiment Island,” Kelsey McKinney, Defector (05/25/2021)

PAL:

  1. I think I should have a hotdog for lunch. 
  2. A day game with hotdog and beer is heaven
  3. McKinney is right – give me a dog with a lot of condiments on it. Onions, mustard, relish at a minimum. Hell, put some kraut on a dog, too. Load me up.
  4. Do we need a friggin’ automated experience for every goddamn moment of our life? What is wrong with the long, spindle spoon and metal trough of onions and relish? 
  5. I really want a hot dog. 
  6. This was a hilarious story. 

Revisiting Jackass

(Jackass is at least sports-adjacent, right? Well, I say it is and so I’m going to write about it, having read this interesting GQ story about Johnny Knoxville, now 50 (FIFTY!!!!!) years old, and putting the final touches on Jackass 4 (FOUR!), which is set to be released in October.)

Jackass hit MTV in fall 2000, when I was 18. This seems to be about the perfect age to have a show like Jackass come into one’s life. I was old enough that these guys were more or less my peers – most of them are just a few years older than me, but also old enough to not be stupid enough to try to recreate any of their stunts. 

When Jackass first aired, I was ready. The concept was not foreign to me, nor were many of the stars. My friend Hank had ordered the CKY2K VHS out of Big Brother magazine and the tape was passed around our school like wildfire. If you’ve never seen the video, it was part band video, part skate video, part precursor to Jackass. Just a bunch of dudes doing dumb stuff for a laugh. And we LOVED it. The star was Bam Margera, who would soon become part of the Jackass crew, as co-star/second banana to Johnny Knoxville, who had his own crew doing similar things. Here’s the full CKY2K movie, if you have an hour:

Bam’s crew and Johnny’s crew merged and Jackass was formed. It was a huge hit, as Knoxville says now:

“It all happened so fast—I don’t know how,” Knoxville said. “We were on the air, and ratings exploded, and I’m on the cover of Rolling Stone. It just happened in an instant.”

The show had no story – it was just a collection of bits. I guess you could call it a sketch physical comedy/stunt show. As the article says: “What they assembled was possibly the most efficient show in the history of television: Bits were rarely more than a minute or two long, and some of the strongest topped out at 15 seconds. It was wall-to-wall mayhem.” 

I am sure plenty of women liked the show, but it was immensely popular among basically every guy I knew. Here’s the writer’s experience, which mirrors mine in some ways (though he is younger than me):

I was 11 at the time. I cannot describe how powerfully it reordered my sense of what was funny; nor can I express how rapidly it permeated the fundamental grammar of my friendships. The first stunt that captured my attention, I told Knoxville, was a relatively simple one: Nutball, where participants strip down to their underwear, sit with their legs splayed, and take turns lobbing a racquetball at each other’s crotches. If you flinched, you lost. If you didn’t flinch, you won—but also, you lost.

“Nutball!” he howled, momentarily flooded with nostalgia. “Me and my buddy Kevin Scruggs made that up when we were 10 in my parents’ living room.”

In so many ways, Jackass was nothing more than that: the kind of shit boys do to make each other laugh, stretched into 22 minutes. It was a demolition derby starring human Looney Tunes. Knoxville, naturally, was Bugs Bunny, the stick of dynamite not quite hidden behind his back. His costars were a rowdy band of fuckups: skaters and stunt performers and one enormous guy and one Wee Man and, in Steve-O, one Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College graduate with an easy gag reflex. They appeared to genuinely love one another—but to only be able to show that love through increasingly baroque forms of torture.

The article is very interesting – I learned a lot I didn’t know about Johnny Knoxville (real name: P.J. Clapp) (original aspiration: to be a famous actor). And it was sad, too. Many of the stars have lived hard – Ryan Dunn died in a terrible car accident about ten years ago, for example. Bam Margera is not in Jackass 4 because, reportedly, he could not or would not agree to get clean for filming. The bright spot is Steve-O, who defied all odds in surviving the last twenty years, having gotten clean back in 2008. 

But more than anything else this article was a fun dose of nostalgia. Not just remembering the characters and the show and the stunts and the bits, but remembering that time in my life – 18, 19 years old, sitting in Joe’s den late at night laughing at dumb videos of dudes doing dumb things, with Joe and Danny and Stacy and Jim and Hank and probably more. Man, those were good times. Jackass really captures that time for me, and I’m sure for a lot of people, when I had barely a care in the world, other than having fun with my friends. So this week, after reading the article, I watched Jackass 3. I am not positive I had seen it before. I think by the time it came out, in 2010, I decided I had outgrown the show.

Man, I was wrong! I was so wrong. I was cackling and howling throughout the movie. At one point, my wife popped her head in.

“Are you watching Jackass?” 

“Yes.”

She walked right out without comment. Which is how it should be. -TOB

Source: Johnny Knoxville’s Last Rodeo,” Sam Schube, GQ (05/25/2021)

PAL:

Close enough to sports! This story is so well-written. One of the best things I’ve read in 2021. TOB does a great job highlighting the odd yet powerful nostalgia Jackass retains, especially for guys around our age, and Schube does a great job putting Knoxville and the show into a broader context of how television and entertainment has evolved in the last quarter century. 

Here are some of my favorite lines from Sam Schube’s story:

And stranger still, this once seemingly frivolous spectacle that emerged from the margins of entertainment seemed to predict where a huge chunk of our culture was headed.

It was easy at the time to describe Jackass as lowest-common-denominator entertainment, a feeble nadir in TV’s race to the bottom. With time, though, it became clear that the show was operating at the intersection of a number of ancient American traditions. If you squinted, you could see traces of Buster Keaton and the Three Stooges. Knoxville’s outlaw influences were present too. Spike Jonze told me that he and Tremaine and Knoxville hadn’t discussed how the stunts might be introduced on the show, so Knoxville improvised what would become a signature opening to each segment. “He started saying, ‘Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville and this is the Cup Test,’ or whatever it was,” Jonze wrote in an email. “Only later, I remember listening to Johnny Cash Live, and hearing Johnny Cash say, ‘Hi, I’m Johnny Cash and this is “Folsom Prison Blues,” ’ and a lightbulb went off. I was like, damn…no wonder it’s so iconic.”

They’d managed to film only 24 episodes and a special, but MTV recycled the material endlessly. (“For 10 years,” Knoxville said.) Despite its brevity, the show was able to graze, or even predict, a number of emerging cultural trends. It helped hasten MTV’s shift to reality-based content. Hollywood began to throw money at films—Old School, Step Brothers, The Hangover—about stunted, self-thwarting men. Platforms like YouTube, Vine, and TikTok, which would build billion-dollar businesses atop clips of people doing stupid things, were years away.

He started seeing a therapist. There were limits: He told her he wasn’t interested in exploring the part of him that wanted to do stunts. “I know that needs looking at,” he said. “But I didn’t want to break the machine.”


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Song – Sturgill Simpson – “Hero”


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“Wow, graphs and charts. Somebody’s really been doing their homework. Looks like USA Today.”

Michael Scott

Week of May 21, 2022

A True Arteest’s Rendering of a Very Happy Family.

Congrats, PAL!


Will the No-Hitter Epidemic Force Baseball to Change?

For the past few years, baseball has gotten a lot less active. Strikeouts are up. Hits are down. Yes, home runs are up. But balls in play are way down. There’s just a lot less action to watch. Things have gotten extreme this year, though. In an attempt to curtail the home run surge, MLB changed the ball. But they did so ignoring that if hitters weren’t hitting home runs, they weren’t doing much of anything at all. So take all those other changes I listed and then drastically drop the home run rate and you’ve got very little offense. In fact, teams are averaging just 7.82 hits per game, the second lowest ever behind 1908, and 8.98 strikeouts per game (the most ever).

In very related news, the league is off to a record setting pace for no-hitters. There have already been six, including two this week, and not including Madison Bumgarner’s 7-inning no-hitter that we all agree was absolutely a no-hitter. Look, no-hitters are great. So fun! Unless your team is being no-hit – looking at you Texas, Cleveland, Seattle – each of which has been no-hit twice apiece. But even as fans of other teams, usually a no-hitter is exciting. One of those weird, rare things in baseball that can happen anytime you show up to the park.

So, is the no-hitter surge a canary in a coal mine? Could it in fact push baseball into making changes that might save itself from this dead offense era?

The biggest problem is the lack of contact. Pitchers are too good. Substances they are using are too effective. Ted Williams once said hitting a baseball is the hardest thing in sports. If he wasn’t right then he sure is now. Seemingly every team now has 5 guys throwing 98+ mph with insane late movement. If players can’t put the ball in play, exciting things can’t happen. So how does MLB combat that?

The most obvious thing to do would be to police these substances pitchers use. Jayson Stark covered this topic this week, and there were some interesting quotes from some unnamed players. For example, this NL pitcher:

“You have hitters who are like, ‘How the f— are we supposed to hit this?’ For big-league hitters to admit defeat is rare. But when you have a guy throwing a fastball that rises 4 feet or a slider that looks like a strike and drops off another foot, it’s like video game stuff. You think (hitters) are just complaining, but then you look at the video and it’s like, holy s—, how are they supposed to hit this? I don’t care what your approach is at the plate, you don’t have a chance.”

And this AL pitcher:

“It is getting out of hand,” said an American League pitcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “When you watch some of these guys from the dugout you can almost hear the ball ripping out of their hands. Guys are doing stuff now that you can’t do to a baseball with just your hand. You just can’t.”

Phillies catcher JT Realmuto added:

“I would just crack down on the substances they use on their hands,” Realmuto said. “You see pitchers out there all game long doing this (touching his mitt). They’re not doing anything about it. I think if they cracked down on that, that would honestly help the offense a lot, get the ball in play more often and (result in) less swing and missing.”

I agree – we should start there. I am hopeful it would fix a lot of the problems. If not, then I think MLB does need to take a look at some options I’ve seen thrown around – moving the mound back, shortening the base paths, making the strike zone smaller. Whatever they do, they need to do something. They can’t sit around expecting things to just change. -TOB

Sources: “The Historic No-hitter Pace Is Bad for Fans. But It May Be Just What MLB Needs,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (05/20/2021); What Are We Even Doing Here?’: Around Baseball, Players Raise Concerns About Pitchers’ Use of Foreign Substances,” Jayson Stark, The Athletic (05/21/2021); Why Have There Been So Many No-Hitters in 2021?“, Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times (05/20/2021)


Elderly Man Angry After Man Swings at 3-0 Pitch in Blowout

If you follow sports, you saw this story: the White Sox were blowing out the Twins this week. Late in the game, the Twins brought in infielder Willians “La Tortuga” (Editor Note: LOL) Astudillo to pitch. He proceeded to lob in a few pitches that might as well have been soft pitch softball tosses. White Sox hitter Yermin Mercedes watched three ugly balls go by. In a 3-0 count, he finally got a pitch in or around the strike zone and mashed it all to hell.

This, to me, is the result we should expect. Once you put a position player into pitch, you are throwing up the white flag and saying, “We are basically playing an exhibition game. We just need to get these last few outs so we can go home. Let’s have a little fun and not waste our real pitchers in such an outing.” Well, apparently, not everyone feels that way.

There were rumblings after the game about whether Mercedes should swing up 3-0 with a position player in the game. White Sox manager Tony LaRussa said Mercedes (his own player) “made a mistake” promised it “won’t happen again” and that he was very upset about it. He also said Yermin would face internal consequences. He called him “foolish” and said he doesn’t “got a clue.”

Uh, what. Late in the following game, a Twins reliever very obviously intentionally threw at Mercedes’ legs. And that’s when things got really weird. After that game, White Sox manager Tony LaRussa was asked about Mercedes being targeted and said he agreed with it.

At this point it seems LaRussa may have started a mutiny by not having his guy’s back. After having said Mercedes won’t do it again, Mercedes said he absolutely would.

Mercedes’ teammate Tim Anderson also publicly supported Mercedes, and thus contradicted his manager.


I can’t find the quote, but yet another White Sox player said essentially if you don’t want players to keep playing then either end the game or put a real pitcher in there. I agree. These unwritten rules are so stupid. Just last week, the Dodgers were up 13-0 on the Angels in the 6th. The Angels cut it to 13-4. The Dodgers didn’t stop, scoring another run to make it 14-4, when the Angels put up 7 to make it 14-11 in the 7th. Don’t you think the Dodgers are glad they kept playing?

LaRussa’s reaction reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from The Wire, from Slim Charles: “The thing about the old days, they the old days.”

The heartening thing about this story is that most people seem to agree that Mercedes was right to swing and LaRussa was particularly wrong to not back his player. Baseball is finally starting to get out of its own way on these dumb “rules.” -TOB


Much Ado About Machado

Manny Machado slid and broke up a double play last weekend. That’s not unusual. What is unusual is that the slide occurred about 40 feet from second base. 

Machado has a reputation for being a dirty player who does dangerous things on a baseball field. That reputation is well deserved because of things like this in the 2018 NLCS:

And this:

And this:

And this:

As I said, the reputation is well deserved. So when a guy with a reputation like that does something a little unusual, there’s an immediate and natural reaction to say that it was dirty. 

https://twitter.com/JomboyMedia/status/1394133907860299781?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1394133907860299781%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fdefector.com%2Fmanny-machado-hits-another-middle-infielder-with-a-bizarre-sloppy-slide%2F

Except…I’ve now watched this play a dozen times and I can’t decide if it’s clean or dirty. Machado had nowhere to go and he was trying to avoid the tag and thus the double play. Sure, he could have stopped and gone backwards forcing the second baseman to either commit to the tag or throw to first. But I don’t think this was an unreasonable effort just because there was another option for him. On the other hand, his “slide” was not so much as a slide as it was a leg first dive into the second baseman, and he started the dive extremely late. The more I watch it the more I don’t think you can reasonably argue that he was trying to avoid the tag – he was merely trying to take the fielder out. 

Disagree? -TOB


Video of the Week

Me and the Boys, Last Saturday

Tweet of the Week

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I mean, I had to:


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I think if I was allergic to dairy I’d kill myself.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 15, 2021

They won’t chase her down: Olivia Fehringer (PAL’s niece) gritting her teeth to a district championship in the 800 (2:28:50) and the 1600 (5:39:30). Photo c/o Nate Tenopir

Breaking Rules Pays Out

File this under “Did you know?” While I’m sure some of our esteemed readers understand the rules of betting on a horse race, I did not, so I was fascinated to learn more once the news broke about the Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, testing positive for betamethasone. The results from a second test (taken at the same time) are still pending. Also, horses can have betamethasone (for swelling in joints), just not within 14 days of a race. 

So what happens to all those bets placed on Medina Spirit (12/1 odds) or, more interesting to some, the second place finisher, Mandaloun (27/1 odds) or all the parlays? 

Short answer: once the race is called official at the race, the money starts exchanging at the track and all over the internet. There’s no going back. Regardless of the second test result, according to the betting world, Medina Spirit paid out as the winner. 

Some historical context from Victor Mather: 

The only other time a Derby winner was disqualified, the result for bettors was different. In 2019, Maximum Security crossed the line first but — importantly, before the results were announced as official — was ruled to have interfered with several other horses.

Normally a race is declared official in a few minutes. Even when the stewards look at a possible infraction it usually takes only five or 10. That year, perhaps because of the importance of the Derby, there was a 22-minute delay while the incidents involving Maximum Security were looked at from every angle. In the end, Maximum Security was disqualified for coming off the rail and impeding the path of the horses chasing him. Country House was declared the winner.

This is an odd one. It makes complete sense why the bet pays out, and yet – the winning horse (a bit of a longshot at 27/1) will very likely not pay out as a winner.

Make to click on the link to read more historical context from Mather.  – PAL


Source: A Derby Winner’s Drug Test Won’t Affect Any Bets. Here’s Why.”, Victor Mather, The New York Times (05/10/21)


Tim Duncan’s Bank Shot

Duncan was inducted into the basketball hall of fame last night, which was no surprise to anyone who’s even had a passing interest in the game in the last 30 years. Duncan was first team All-NBA (top player at his position) 10 times. Add to that 3 Finals MVP awards, 2 league MVP awards, and – oh yeah – 5 NBA titles.

His Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich summed it up more succinctly to The Ringer’s Yaron Weitzman:

“No Duncan, no championships,” Popovich said when asked to summarize Duncan’s career. To this day, he added, he and his coaches kick off team dinners by raising their glass to Duncan. “Thank you, Timmy,” they say.

Duncan’s signature offensive weapon was the bank shot. In short, the shot had fallen out of fashion by the time Duncan came to the league as a prized prospect from Wake Forest. He used it, and he abused defenders with it, starting in training camp with NBA MVP and future hall of famer David Robinson. 

“We really couldn’t believe what we were seeing,” Avery Johnson, the Spurs’ starting point guard at the time, said in a phone interview. “Tim dominated David, who I thought was a pretty good defender.” Johnson chuckled. “It got to the point where Pop had David spend the rest of training camp on Tim’s team.”

That scrimmage against Robinson was the beginning of 18 years of Duncan brilliance, earning admiration from his peers along the way. 

About the bank shot, Al Horford said this:

“You knew he was going to take it, but there was nothing you could do about it,” Horford said. “It was like Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar’s] skyhook.’’ But it was more than just Duncan’s trademark shot—it represented everything that made him great.”

And Brian Scalabrine pointed out another strength of Duncan and his bank shot: it could put a stop to an opposing team going on a run.

“It was different. He’d only score 25 but it would feel like 40. Anytime you’d go on a run, Pop would call for the ball to go to Tim in the post and they’d always get a bucket. It was just impossible to build any momentum against them.”

Weitzman does a really good job mixing the origin story of Timmy’s bank shot with his broader impact on his team with this piece. A fun read about a unique athlete. – PAL 

Source: Take It to the Bank”, Yaron Weitzman, The Ringer (05/13/21)


Further Update: Drew Robinson Goes Deep

Man, I love this story. -TOB


Video of the Week

I love this – Jomboy giving some love to an umpire who had one hell of a game.


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Bob Dylan – “Main Title Theme (Billy)


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I can’t stand your water! I don’t even know what to say. It’s like I a took a straw and put it into a frog’s ass! It makes me sick. I want to barf every time I get near it. I can’t stand the smell, I can’t stand the color, and I cannot stand the taste. I can’t take it anymore!

-Marty ‘Funkman’ Funkhouser

Week of May 7, 2021

Happy 90th Birthday to the greatest ballplayer of all-time!

Update: Drew Robinson, the Baseball Player Who Survived a Suicide Attempt Last Year, Makes the Giants’ AAA Roster

Honestly, this is unbelievable. In February, we wrote about Drew Robinson. On April 16, 2020, Robinson tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. He survived the blast, and then the next 20 hours alone, before finally deciding to call for help. The fact he’s alive is miracle enough, but on some level I believe it – these things do happen. But Robinson lost his right eye as a result, and there is no scenario I could imagine wherein Robinson would ever play professional baseball again. And yet! 

That was the Sacramento Rivercats’ roster in their season debut this week in Las Vegas, Robinson’s hometown. WHAT. I will be honest, when Robinson’s story was published in February and it talked about his comeback attempt, I thought, “Well, that would be cool, but c’mon.” But here’s what his doctor had to say about it:

He no longer needs baseball in an elemental way. This is a test. Of his strength and resolve and willingness to flirt with failure. Hitting major league pitching with two working eyes is extraordinarily difficult. Doing so with one, and the rear eye at that, only increases the degree of difficulty. Only one man has lost an eye and played in the major leagues: Whammy Douglas, who threw 47 innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957.

Myint, the eye surgeon, says that the binocular vision two eyes provide matters for up-close depth perception. But hitters typically decide to swing when the ball is about 45 feet from home plate, where depth-perception issues, Myint says, would not necessarily manifest themselves. And because, as a baseball player, Robinson’s brain has already exhibited a unique ability to track high-speed movement, the aptitude he had been showing in all these batting-practice sessions, Myint says, could be very real.

Obviously, doctors know more than I do. Because Robinson is back. He hit a couple dingers in spring training, including a 450-foot bomb. And now he’s almost back to the major leagues. -TOB

Source: Drew Robinson Makes San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A Roster After Losing Eye in 2020 Suicide Attempt,Jeff Passan, ESPN (05/05/2021)

PAL: To see him in a big league game would be one of the most incredible baseball moments. I mean, can you imaging how powerful it would be for all the people who’ve attempted suicide, had ideations, or know someone who has been impacted by suicide? It already is a remarkable story – for him to make a AAA roster is phenomenal. 


Baseball’s Going In The Wrong Direction

There’s a section in Jayson Stark’s April review of the MLB season that got me texting Rowe and TOB. Something’s going on in baseball that’s pretty alarming, and after reading this, I understand why they are trying a bunch of odd shit in the minors, including moving the mound back a foot and limiting defensive shifts. Per Stark: 

STRIKEOUTS: 6,924

HITS: 5,832

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the single largest strikeouts-to-hits differential in any month ever. And it wasn’t even close.

Largest K/H differentials by month

April 2021: 1,096

Sept. 2019: 705

April 2019: 529

Sept. 2020: 496

What’s more, until May 2018, there had never been a month where there were more strikeouts than hits. Now we have 1000 more strikeouts than hits! 

With this in mind, we can assume pitchers are throwing harder (and with a higher spin rate, causing unhittable movement thanks to the OK to put substances on the fingers), hitters trying to hit bombs and OK with the K’s. With that, singles and doubles are heading for the endangered species list due to higher strikeout rate, smarter infield shifts, less ground balls with launch angle, but the doubles seems a little more complicated. 

I think anyone who semi-regularly watches baseball can agree that the games have become a lot more strikeouts and fly balls. I just didn’t know the rate of change has been so steep. Baseball has a real problem on its hands. Home runs aren’t the highlight they used to be, and neither are strikeouts or seeing 100 on the radar. – PAL 

Source: “What We Learned in April — Offense is at 1968 Levels (or Worse), But Must-Watch Performances are Everywhere”, Jayson Stark, The Athletic (05/03/21)


The Lady Behind The Lady Byng Award

https://admin.defector.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2021/05/Lady_Byng_HS85-10-39387.jpg?resize=1080,1325

This is one of the more oddly engrossing stories we’ve posted about. Every year, the NHL hands out a sportsmanship award. Yep, just like your middle school teams did. The cup-shaped trophy (always a fan of cup-themed trophies) is given to the most effective player who essentially doesn’t get a lot of penalties. Despite some historic players winning it (Gretzky is a five-time winner, Pavel Datsyuk’s won it a bunch, too), I can’t think of an award that people care about less. 

And I couldn’t stop reading this story of Marie Evelyn Byng—the Lady!— from Maitreyi Anantharamn. Byng was this rich lady (I mean, in case you didn’t gather that from the distinction of being a “lady”) from England. Her husband was a general in the army, and the British crown gave him the role of “governor general, the British Crown’s representative to Canada”. If you think it sounds like a gig that comes with a big house in Ottawa, then you’d be right. 

Caption: I mean, look how happy Gretzky looks here! Proud as a peacock! 

With no good theater scene—she described the lack of good plays as “grievous”—and no real art scene, she turned to the sport all of Ottawa was obsessed with: ice hockey. She enjoyed the athleticism, and she could see the artistry in it, but she found the rough-and-tumble parts of the game (and the fans) to be unbecoming. Lady Byng wrote a letter to the NHL president, Frank Calder (who also has a hockey trophy in his name).

Per the Ottawa Citizen from 1925:

Feeling a great desire to help your effort to “clean up hockey” and eliminate the needless rough play that at present is a threat to the national game, and also to leave a tangible record of the enjoyment I personally have had from the game during our sojourn in Canada, I am writing to ask you if you will let me offer a challenge cup for the man on any team in the National Hockey League, who, while being thoroughly effective, is also a thoroughly clean player.

I am convinced that the public desires good sport, not the injuring of players, and if, by donating this challenge cup, I can in any way help towards this end, it will give me a great deal of pleasure.

SIGNED) Evelyn Byng of Vimy

And you can put together the rest. I don’t think this would be nearly as interesting of a read if it wasn’t for the the fact that stiff, rich Lady Byng also appears to have possessed a real love for her adopted home to go with a pretty dry sense of humor. While the full story is definitely worth your click, I’ll leave you with this from from Anantharamn:

For someone best known for prizing gentlemanly conduct, she had a surprisingly arch sense of humor. Maybe that was her way of coping with a lonely childhood or with the upheaval of a life lived through two world wars. This was a woman who heard planes overhead and screaming sirens in Essex during the Blitz, and mused that at her advanced age, “a bomb would have been a good solution.” If the trophy she gifted to NHL president Frank Calder in 1925 to help “clean up hockey” has become a league-wide joke, know that Lady Byng, an original Sens Sicko, would be the first one laughing.

Good read. – PAL 

Source: Who Was Lady Byng, And What Was Her Deal?”, Maitreyi Anantharamn, Defector (05/05/21)


Taking Lessons From John Means’ No-Hitter to Improve My Golf Game

This week, Orioles and Ron Popeils pitcher John Means threw a no-hitter (thank you for the 40-spot, John!). Later in the week, Eno Sarris tweeted an old story he wrote about how Means improved the movements on his pitch by just…thinking about it. Means had been taught to throw his changeup like his fastball, but his changeup was too fast. It didn’t have enough speed differential from his fastball. 

“How I was taught it was to throw it like my fastball, and got behind it, and it was too hard,” Means said. “It looked like my fastball, but it was too close to my fastball. Holt told me to think about pronating more.”

Pronating is basically a move of your wrist and hand toward the thumb near the end of release. Everyone naturally pronates when they throw, possibly as a result of releasing the ball off the dominant fingers, but by focusing on pronating, Means ended up deadening the pitch and removing velocity. Now only six changeups have a bigger velocity gap than Means’ does.

It’s amazing that one little piece of advice could do that, but Means insists there weren’t that many drills, that this was really all there was to it.

As Eno says, it is easy to see the link “between how a player thinks about a pitch and the resulting movement is when the cue is mechanical.” But Eno gives another example, when the connection is more “nebulous.” His example? Whaddayaknow, another Ron Popeil – Walker Buehler.

The Dodgers phenom came into the big leagues with a devastating hammer and great velocity, and has since been searching for the right slider to pull it all together. Last year, he changed the grip on the pitch and found success, but late in the year it started to drop less, and he thought it could have another gear if he reversed the trend. You can guess how he did it.

“Just a thought,” Buehler told me in early June. “I’m trying to throw it so it goes down. The grip and mechanics are the same, just a different cue.”

The difference is obvious in movement and outcomes so far this year.

Timeframe Slider Velo Slider Drop Slider Whiff%

Sept. 18-April 19 87 0.0 16%

June 19 to now 87 -1.5 25%

In his last two starts, Buehler has thrown more sliders in back-to-back starts than he has all year, and as a reward he has 21 strikeouts in his last 14 1/3 innings. All he had to do to improve his slider is to think about the movement he wanted.

Pretty interesting, really. And that brings me to golf. My game is very inconsistent, and I don’t hit it as far as I’d like. So, people, send me your thought tips. I want ‘em all. What should I be thinking in order to hit the ball longer and more consistently. Thank you. -TOB

Source: How to Change a Pitch by Changing Your Mind,” Eno Sarris, the Athletic (08/06/2019)


BP Pitchers Always Get It In

I love a good lede, and this story on MLB bullpen pitchers has one:

Fear not, citizens of Rancho Cucamonga. That paunchy, 61-year-old man you might have seen over the winter, throwing a baseball over and over against the exterior walls of various empty warehouses in your Southern California town—he means no harm. He is Mike Ashman, perfectly innocuous and gainfully employed by the Angels for a skill in which he takes great pride. Ashman is a professional batting practice pitcher. That is, he takes the field two hours before each Angels game to throw 60-mph strikes to Mike Trout and the rest of the lineup, to help them find their groove.

It’s all he does, but as narrow as his job description is, Ashman can’t just show up at spring training and throw 500 pitches a day, every day for nine months straight. He must build toward that workload. So there he is each winter, pelting those poor buildings with “fastballs” every five seconds, replacing the ball every few days once it disintegrates, until he can throw for 20 minutes straight. Only then will he be ready for the gantlet ahead.

Great imagery. The entire article has that – great imagery, romanticizing a mostly anonymous but important role for each baseball team. Some of it, I suppose, is cliche, but it works. Here are a few of my favorite passages:

Batting practice, then, is like therapy, a wordless, two-person conversation intended to build the confidence of the man about to enter the arena.

Forget pitch counts or precautionary shutdowns, Ashman throws at least 500 pitches a day, with a goal of just five sailing outside the strike zone. His performance reviews happen in real time, each thwack of wood on rawhide representing a thumbs-up from his higher-paid coworker.

A good BP pitcher learns where every hitter on the roster likes the ball. Then he puts it there. And nine times out of 10 won’t do. If “throw strikes” is the cardinal rule for real pitchers, it’s the papal rule for BP hurlers, who must possess Greg Maddux–level marksmanship above all else. Balls thrown outside a Group 1 hitter’s sweet spot can earn you a glance of mild annoyance, or the ol’ step-out-of-the-box-lean-back-and-reset move (those sting) or an impatient query about whether you’re all right. Too many will get you a clap on the shoulder and a somber, two-person stroll on the outfield grass that ends with “Best of luck.”

But the story also gets into the wear and tear these guys go through, as you can imagine happens when they throw 600 pitches every day for 6 months, and how the increased technology in pitching machines is creeping in on the job. But pitching machines will never replace a BP pitcher:

It will be more difficult to replace the camaraderie and the well-timed insult or Attaboy! that can help ward off slumps hiding just around the corner. No robot can supplant Ebel’s “four-seam fastballs as straight as you can send ’em, so you can make ’em feel good.” Much less his raspy laugh.

Fun read. -TOB

Source: Meet The Unsung Heroes Who Keep Baseball’s Sluggers in the Zone,” Michael McKnight, Sports Illustrated (05/06/2021)


Video of the Week

Tweets of the Week

Song of the Week

Eddie Vedder – “Rise Up”


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Italians don’t wear pockets.”

-Michael Scott

Week of April 30, 2021


Bumgarner’s No-Hitter is Absolutely a No-Hitter (No, It’s Not) (Yes, It Is) (No, It’s Not) (Yes, It Is)

Premise 1: Madison Bumgarner had many near no-hitters with the Giants. Then he left for Arizona, stunk up the shortened 2020 season, and stunk even worse in his first few starts in 2021. 

Premise 2: In the shortened 2020 season, MLB instituted a rule change to reduce the number of innings from 9 to 7 for doubleheaders. This was one of a number of rule changes ostensibly intended to reduce the risk of on-field COVID-19 transmission, and it also was accounting for the fact that the league was expecting a big uptick in doubleheaders due to COVID-19 related cancellations, and the fear that so many doubleheaders would overly tax players – especially pitching staffs. Then, for some reason, they kept this rule for 2021. 

Those two premises converged on Sunday when, pitching in the second game of a doubleheader, Madison Bumgarner threw a no-hitter in 7 innings. Immediately the takes were hot. Some felt strongly that it doesn’t count. Their argument is that 9 innings is a game, not 7 innings, and 7 innings is not as difficult as 9 innings. I am here to tell you that they are wrong. If you agree with them, you are wrong. 

Consider what happens if a pitcher gives up no hits through 9 innings but the game goes to extra innings, and then the pitcher gives up a hit in the 10th. MLB does not consider that a no-hitter. But why not? The pitcher gave up zero hits over nine innings! Too bad. It’s not a complete game, it’s not a no-hitter. 

By the same token, the game Bumgarner pitched counts in the standings. It’s a real game. It’s a complete game, from start to finish. If it counts in the standings, and it’s a real game, then how does it not count? The man gave up no hits over the course of a full, complete, legal game – he gets his no-hitter.

Now, you’re free to believe that it’s not as impressive of an accomplishment. And you’d be right. No hits in 7 innings is not as impressive as no hits in 9 innings. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t give up no hits in a complete game and thus threw a no-hitter. Congrats, Bum. -TOB

PAL: They should hand out a ticket for 2 free airheads from the concession stand, because this is some Little League crap! You’re right, and—sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeit—I couldn’t care less about a 7-inning game given up zero hits. I can’t refer to it as a no-hitter. Did he give up any hits in the entire game? No. Was it a no-hitter? Nope.  

TOB: I will fight to the death on this one. Blame MLB for the dumb 7-inning double header rule, but a full game is a full game and he gave up not hits in a full game and thus he threw a No-Hitter. 

PAL: Well, then, stack up the the 5-inning no-hitters in the garage behind the Christmas lights. Per MLB.com: 

A game is considered a regulation game — also known as an “official game” — once the visiting team has made 15 outs (five innings) and the home team is leading, or once the home team has made 15 outs regardless of score.

We know what a no-hitter means. Come on.

TOB: There’s a difference here. This game was scheduled for 7 innings. It was not called early for rain.

PAL: Hey, just going by the rules here.


Quarterback Controversy Competition 

Last night, 5 quarterbacks were selected in the first 15 picks round of the NFL draft. We all understand why: an NFL team cannot win without a very good quarterback, and very good quarterbacks near their prime aren’t usually available in free agency (and they are very expensive if they are available, and why is the team they were on giving up on him if the most valuable asset a football team can have is a very good quarterback?)

What’s more, a has to draft its QB AND have him play well on his rookie deal, so they can pay to build a roster around the most valuable player on the team before he’s accounting for $30MM of the salary cap. 

With that in mind, the I share this story from Rodger Sherman. In it, he talks of a growing trend amongst NFL teams to draft a QB in the first round, and then – even after as little as one or two seasons – draft a QB again. As recently as 10 years ago, a team would give a QB some seasons to grow. They would protect him. They would spend high round draft picks to build around the QB. The trend is getting away from that thinking. If you want to win the lottery, then best way to do it is to buy more tickets. 

Within this broader argument, the part of the story I found most interesting comes when Sherman challenges the idea that teams can’t have two quarterbacks competing for the job. We know it’s the most important position to fill, but to have a real competition amongst is seen as a mess:

And using multiple first-round picks on quarterbacks within the span of a few years takes on outsized emotional significance. If a team holds an open competition for the starting right tackle spot, it’s widely referred to as a training camp battle. If there’s a similar competition for the QB spot, it’s called a QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY, and every comment the coach and players have ever made is meticulously dissected. We worry about the psyche of QBs in a way we don’t with players at other positions. Will a team bringing in a competitor cause a young quarterback to lose confidence? Wouldn’t a young quarterback benefit from having a journeyman 38-year-old with a bushy beard and a Harvard degree as his mentor?

And, before you go to the “job preservation” argument – that a GM and head coach will lose their jobs if they admit failure in their initial pick, consider this: 

They may be worried about losing their jobs—but the thing that’s really going to cost a GM a job is never finding the right quarterback. There aren’t many people who seem critical of Cardinals GM Steve Keim’s decision to pick Rosen now, even though it was a total failure. The screwup that cost his team a highly valuable draft pick was wiped out once Murray emerged as a success. Keim would likely be out of a job if he’d doubled down on Rosen.

I’m not a big NFL Draft follower, but I thought this was a damn good read. – PAL 

Source: The Case for the First-Round Quarterback Draft Mulligan”, Rodger Sherman, The Ringer (04/27/21)

TOB: Tangentially related – I am developing a theory on this draft. As Phil notes, we saw five wide receivers drafted, including 4 in the top 10 and 5 in the top 15. That continued an upward trend – until 2018, there were usually two to three QBs taken in the first round. But starting that year, we’ve seen 5, 3, 4, and 5. But we also saw a lot of wide receivers taken this year – 5 in the first round and 3 in the top 10. Again, that continued an upward trend, this time starting just last year, where six wide receivers went in the first round – but none in the top 10. Prior to last year, usually 2-3 were taken in the first round, and usually late.

You might be thinking my theory is that teams are drafting more for the passing game as offenses continue to become pass heavy. And while that’s true, that’s not my theory. Because while teams have been trending that way in the draft, they’ve also been trending that way on the other side of the ball – defensive lineman and defensive backs, both in an effort to disrupt the passing game.

But this year? Just one defensive tackle (where we typically see three to six over the last decade) and four defensive ends with none in the top 15 (where we typically see as many as seven, with at least two in the top 10). Those are foundational positions on defense, and teams usually fall over themselves to get them. But this year there were few taken, and mostly late in the first round.

So my theory is that many of the QBs taken this year might have been second round picks in many years but it was a weak draft pool this year, for whatever reason – be it the shortened 2020 season, or just a natural down year, so we get bum prospects like Mac Jones taken 15th.


Did Tatis Sneak a Peak and is That Ok?

The Padres took 3 of 4 from the Dodgers last weekend, thanks in large part to Fernando Tatis, back from his shoulder injury, who hit two dongs off Kershaw on Friday, two more off Bauer on Saturday, and then a fifth off Dustin May on Sunday. That is quite the weekend. A little controversy arose during that double dong game against Bauer, though. 

After the first one, Tatis turned toward his dugout and covered one eye, in response to Bauer pitching against the Padres during spring training with one eye closed.

That’s an excellent trolling of a troll. For his part, Bauer said he thought it was great and in general stated he wants players to be allowed to be more animated in celebrations without fear of being tagged. But Bauer also complained that before he hit the second home run, Tatis peaked at the sign.

“There’s no real remedy for the catcher and the pitcher to use to counteract someone looking back at the signs,” Bauer said. “So the remedy is if you look back at the signs, that’s fine, there’s no rule that says I can’t stick a fastball in your ribs. And that’s kind of how it’s been handled traditionally in baseball up until this point.

“Now, flip the bat and do all that stuff, fine. If you’re going to look at the signs, not OK, and if you do it again, the team that you’re playing probably ain’t going to take too kindly to it and there might have to be some on-field stuff.

However, as Jomboy breaks down, the sign was already given before Tatis peaked.

At worst, Tatis was checking where the catcher set up. So, I dunno, is that bad? The Athletic talked to three former catchers about this and, to my surprise anyways, they said they have no issue with Tatis doing that:

In Kratz’s view, Tatis might have determined that Bauer wanted the pitch to be outside from looking at Smith’s positioning. Bauer, though, had worked Tatis away almost the entire at-bat, making it easier for Tatis to anticipate the location.

“He threw him like six pitches away the entire at-bat,” said Kratz, who watched Bauer’s video as well as video of the at-bat. “And Bauer is never going to run a ball in 3-2 unless you’ve got a base open or something. He’s going to stay away. I think Bauer overreacted (with his comments)…

Kratz added that it’s fairly easy to combat this:

“You see that (peeking). You’re aware of that,” Kratz said. “Peeking at signs… Eh, signs are tough to get. But there are guys who peek location, for sure. Location is the biggest thing, especially if a guy moves too much. That’s totally on the catcher. I don’t know who else would stop it.

“You’re within their peripheral vision. If they’re looking location, you move early to show it to them, and then you move back. If a guy is a really, really habitual peeker, then you tell your pitcher, ‘I’m going to move early away. And we’re going heater in. So just trust what the sign is.’”

What do you think, Phil? -TOB

Source: Trevor Bauer Accused Fernando Tatis Jr. of Peeking at Signs. Did He? We Asked Three Ex-Catchers to Weigh In,” Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic (04/26/2021)

PAL: I think Jomboy has a great idea in this video – I want pitch sequence somewhere on the TV during an at-bat. That’s my biggest take-away from all of this. 

He didn’t see the pitch, but Tatis did check for location, and Kratz is 100% right that location is a huge piece of info for a hitter. It’s on the catcher, in this case, Will Smith. They are saying he’s shifting to the outside part of the plate, and giving location away too early. I disagree. 

A catcher is a bit on his haunches, with the knees facing forward and up on the balls of his feet, when giving signs. That is done to shield the sign from base coaches and create a bit of a tunnel from where the signs are being given, directly out to the pitcher. Like this:

Look at how Smith is up on his toes, with his knees pointed towards the pitcher.

After the pitch and location are given, the catcher has to get down in his squat – the position he’ll be in to receive the pitch: more on the insteps of his feet, and – with two strikes – ready to block a ball in the dirt. Like this:

Again, ignore the red notations, and notice how Smith is now shifting the weight to the instep and his widened with his butt a little lower.

In order to get from sign position to the receiving position, a catcher will have to rock/shift his weight, so there’s movement before he gets set in the actual location. That’s what I see Smith doing when Tatis sneaks a peak. 

Smith even rocks back to his left (towards Tatis) before setting up outside. 

That’s a lot of info to say that I agree with the former players analysis—Tatis didn’t see the pitch called, was looking for location, and that’s on the catcher. But I just don’t think Smith gave away the location when Tatis was looking. I think Tatis saw Smith shifting, and then guessed the right location. Bauer was pounding him away the entire at-bat, especially when Tatis already pulled a middle-in slider for a home run earlier in the game.

Most importantly, give us that pitch sequence on the telecast.


Now That’s A Cool Draft Party

Najee Harris, the Alabama RB from the Bay Area, was the first running back selected in the 2021 draft. He was a complete stud playing for the Crimson Tide. Like many first-rounders, Harris had a draft party, but Harris’ was a little different. His party was at the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program. That’s the homeless shelter where he and his family stayed during his middle school years. 

That’s incredibly heartwarming. I hope Harris balls out for the Steelers. – PAL 

Source: Steelers Draft Pick Najee Harris Hosts Draft Party at Homeless Shelter Where He Used to Live”, Madeline Coleman, SI.com (04/30/21)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Kamasi Washington – “Southside V.1”, “Southside V.2.” 


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And Three Times A Week, I Shall Require A Cannoli.

Newman

Week of April 23, 2021

To quote the legendary Duane Kuiper, “Am I hallucinating, or is that a rabbit at the game?”

Peak Steph Curry 

Steph Curry is the first player I ever saw who made me question everything I ever thought about basketball. His ability to create space and splash a three, or do so when he didn’t even have space, was unparalleled and was incomprehensible. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s the player I’ve written about most in the seven years we’ve been writing this blog. 

But the last few weeks Curry took things to another level – determined to get this undermanned squad, which might be the worst in the NBA if he was not on it, into the playoffs has him going full supernova. The numbers are staggering – in one five game stretch he hit ten 3-pointers four times. He’s his ten 3-pointers more times than anyone in history and second place is Klay Thompson, with five. In his career. Curry did it four times in a week!

But as Dan Devine puts it, it’s never about the numbers with Steph. 

It’s in the Houdini-ass ability to escape straitjackets with a live dribble, to squeeze through barely there openings like smoke through a keyhole to create the space to rise up. It’s in the fact that everybody in creation knows what’s coming—that Steph coming off a screen to pull is a certainty—and yet he still keeps getting to that shot.

In May 2018, as the Kevin Durant–era Warriors were on their way to a second straight NBA championship, Jared Wade described the difference between Golden State’s two iconic talents like so: “KD will put 8 points on you every quarter forever in his sleep. Steph, in under five minutes, will have you questioning the reason you ever decided to play basketball.”

I missed that line about KD and Steph but goddamn if it’s not perfect. Steph Curry is a national treasure, and he is, somehow, underappreciated. Nothing in sports is better than Steph Curry on fire. Nothing. -TOB

Source: There’s Nothing Quite Like the Magic of Steph Curry,” Dan Devine, The Ringer (04/20/2021)

PAL: How about this: I am shaping my Friday night around watching a regular season NBA game of a team that has a losing record. Curry is shooting as well as he did when he led the 73-win team. 

He led the league in scoring only once before: in the 2015-16 season, when he propelled Golden State to an NBA-record 73 wins and made history as the first player to unanimously win Most Valuable Player honors. Five years later—at age 33, without Klay riding shotgun, with Draymond Green having lost a step, without the Iguodalas and Livingstons and Barbosas and Boguts who helped make those Warriors go—Steph is producing at nearly that exact same level

He has no real help, he’s shooting more, and there’s a very slim chance the Warriors win if he doesn’t have a big night. And yet, the percentages are damn near the same. 

TOB says there’s nothing better in sports than Curry on fire. I agree, and I love how Devine puts it: 

Nothing else feels like it does when Steph becomes wreathed in flames and just starts experimenting, exploring the studio space to see how far he can push the boundaries of what we understand to be true about how the ball finds the net. It’s what we’re searching for night after night—the moment that makes you leap out of your seat and start speaking in tongues, the fleeting glimpse of forever we hope against hope we might catch every time we tune in.



Patrick Marleau Surpasses Gordie Howe

The previous record of games played in the NHL was held by Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. 1,767 NHL games. This week, the legend was surpassed by Patrick Marleau. Bay Area folks recognize Marleau, a long-time Sharks player, but I’m guessing many of you won’t recognize the name Marleau. 

In this story, Scott Burnside shares quite a collection of tales from former coaches, players, and friends. By all accounts, the quiet kid from rural Saskatchewan is loved and respected by pretty much everyone. Hell, even his wife admits that the kids would say he’s the nicer of the two. 

I liked this story because, while Marleau has been a very good player for over 20 years, he’s never been a star. I know the Ripken comparisons came to mind for me, but Ripken won 2 MVPs, was a 19-time All-Star, has over 3,100 hits and 400 home runs; he was a better baseball player than Marleau is a hockey player. But that’s kind of the draw to this story. I enjoyed reading about a very good player (but not great) surpasses a legend like Howe in some way. 

He first played in the NHL when he was 18 with the Sharks. He lived with Kelly Hrundley and his family. Hrundley was 37 and winding down his career. Marleau became the older brother to Hrundley’s daughters. Hrundley described having the kid in his home and looking out after him as “one the highlights of my last years in the NHL.”

After home games, the two would drive home together and Hrudey’s wife, Donna, would make a late meal of sandwiches or warmed-up leftovers.

“And we might sit up till 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning,” Hrudey said. “We just learned everything about each other.”

That season, Marleau and Hrudey were up on Christmas Eve putting together a Barbie camper, complete with stickers and all the tiny pieces, to make it just so. And a basketball hoop outside. And there was a gift from Marleau to the entire family, a DVD player, under the tree as well.

The Hrudeys weren’t charging Marleau any rent and he wanted to show his appreciation with an appropriate gift, one that included a DVD of a live Fleetwood Mac concert that he knew would be appreciated by Donna and Kelly.

That’s just one of many great anecdotes from Burnside’s piece. It’s a feel-good read for sure. – PAL

Source: ‘I’m just playing. I keep playing’: Understated Patrick Marleau is breaking an unbreakable record”, Scott Burnside, The Athletic (04/19/21)

TOB: Like Donny, I am out of my element here. But I want to push back on your assertion that Marleau was not a star. There is certainly some Bay Area bias here. Well, bias isn’t the right word. But even as a non-hockey fan, I know the name Patrick Marleau very well, by proximity, so I was surprised to read you say he’s not a star. So I put my research pants on and here is what I have to offer:

  • Marleau has the second most goals among active players.
  • Marleau is 23rd all time in goals. 
  • Marleau has the 4th most points among active players.
  • Marleau is 50th all time in points. 

Hockey Dash Reference Dot Com lists his most similar player, by the numbers, as Joe Nieuwendyk. That’s Hall of Famer Joseph Nieuwendyk to you, Phil. Other players on his “Most Similar” list include Hall of Famers Ron Francis, Dave Andreychuk, and Adam Oates. 

Now, I am an admitted Cal Ripken, Jr. Hater. I’m a charter member of that club, in fact. Never liked him. Selfish. Overrated. Cared about his streak more than his team. Spent 2/3 of his career as a league average or worse hitter. Spent almost his entire career as a below to well below average defensive shortstop and refused to move to third. 

With that being said, you can take the two Ripken MVPs and shove ‘em. In 1991, it should have been Frank Thomas. In 1983, it should have been George Brett. Ripken had just THREE seasons in the AL’s OPS top 10. Meanwhile, Marleau had two seasons in the top 10 of goals per game.

So, I think your initial comparison was spot on. Two very good players who enjoyed incredibly lengthy and healthy careers. One of them was and is severely overrated. The other is severely underrated. 

For the record, I would have also accepted a Derek Jeter comparison.

PAL: Marleau has been an All-Star 3 times in a 20+ year career. I’ll concede the stat comparison w/ Ripken wasn’t the right approach – because both dudes are going to collect the stats playing 20+ years – but consider this: the closest Marleau got to winning the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) was 9th.

When we talk about stars, there’s a popularity element to that. A collective recognition of that guy. It’s clear Marleau is revered by players and coaches, but a star he is not. 

TOB: Back to the topic at hand – I had no idea that Marleau was about to pass Howe’s record, or that anyone would ever come close. Congrats, Patrick!


Why the Controversial “Super League” Made Many American Sports Fans Shrug

On Sunday, twelve of the biggest, richest, and most successful soccer teams in Europe announced the formation of the so-called Super League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus. By its name, I assumed they were actually leaving their domestic leagues and forming one big league where the best teams would play each other year round. This didn’t sound altogether terrible to me. When Barcelona plays Manchester City, I might tune in. When Barcelona plays Seville, I’ll find something else to do. However, my assumption was wrong.

Instead, the Super League’s intent was to supplant the Champions League, whereby the top teams from each European league from the previous year play a tournament throughout the course of and on top of their domestic league season. There’s a group stage, followed by a knock out tournament, and at the end the champion of champions is crowned. It’s fun!

What I soon learned, after reading quite a lot, is that the Super League does not improve on the Champions League. Instead it was a cynical power and money grab by the top teams attempting to ensure they remain on top, while minimizing their effort to do so. Here’s Defector’s Billy Haisley explaining:

This format follows the logic of the foundational principle of the soccer pyramids the world over, which is the idea of promotion and relegation. The best teams earn the right to compete with the best teams by beating their competitors, thereby either gaining promotion to the next higher league or maintaining their position in the highest tier, while the worst-performing teams are sent to the next league down to make way for the newly promoted ones. Almost everything in soccer is built around this principle that competition alone determines any given club’s place in the pyramid. The Champions League adheres to this logic by conditioning inclusion in the field with some tangible form of on-the-pitch success; every team in the field must earn its place. This is what makes the tournament so prestigious, so popular, and so lucrative, and it is why the winner can rightfully call itself the best team in Europe.

The Super League’s “qualification” process is much different. “Qualification” for the 20-team Super League won’t be based on on-the-pitch success, won’t be earned every season with blood, sweat, and goals; instead, it will be guaranteed to the 15 signatory clubs that will found it, with five other teams selected by some as-of-yet-unexplained qualification mechanism.

So, basically, the best and richest teams want to guarantee themselves a place in the Champions League instead of having to work for it, and to do so they want to start a new tournament where they write the rules and those rules give them a berth in the tournament, no matter what.

Both Haisley and the Ringer’s Michael Baumann connected the dots fromwhat the Super League was attempting to do to the American sports model, which does not have the promotion/relegation pyramid. Here’s Baumann:

Arsenal and Milan were once near-automatic Champions League participants; now, neither club has qualified since 2016-17, costing tens of millions of dollars per year in prize money, and even more in lost prestige.

That’s not what the American owners of Arsenal, AC Milan, and Manchester United signed up for. Stan Kroenke, the American billionaire owner of the L.A. Rams, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and Colorado Rapids, began a takeover bid of Arsenal in 2007. At that time, the Gunners were at the intellectual vanguard of the sport, three years removed from an undefeated Premier League campaign and just a year and change removed from an appearance in the Champions League final.

Some 14 years later, Arsenal have gone from world power to bougie Newcastle United; Arsenal currently sit ninth in the Premier League table, not only out of reach of Champions League qualification but likely to miss out on the less lucrative Europa League as well. In every American sport, an inferior on-field product isn’t a reason for billionaire owners to make less money—why should soccer be any different?

Haisley argues, however, that the Super League is far worse for competition than even the American sports model.

The Super League is almost like if the Knicks, the Lakers, the Celtics, the 76ers, the Bulls, and the Clippers found it intolerable that they were not guaranteed deep runs in the playoffs every season because other, less historically important teams have done better on the court, and so they were breaking away from the NBA playoffs to form a new postseason, called the Super Finals. The six Super Finals teams promise to still compete in the NBA regular season, but come playoff time, they would be taking themselves, their players, and their fans to the Super Finals, which they claim is now the true determiner of the world’s best basketball team. Also, they are no longer beholden to the NBA’s salary cap, and have first right of refusal to sign the new class of rookies ahead of the NBA Draft. Good luck to the NBA though!

But Baumann doesn’t exactly blame the American owners for bringing the American model to Europe. Instead, he sees the Super League as simply the next step in a 30-year evolution that began with the Champions League, and even the creation of the English Premiere League.

Maybe Europeans are more primed to resist further stratification of sports, but the masterminds of the Super League weren’t completely wrong to think they had a chance at forcing more of it through. They’ve got 30 years’ worth of evidence that European soccer fans will accept it.

The Premier League, as a business entity, came into existence in 1992 so that the richest and most successful clubs can siphon off as much money as possible from broadcast fees—to hell with the rest of the hundreds of clubs in the Football League. UEFA’s club competitions—formerly known as the European Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup—used to pit domestic league and cup champions against each other on equal footing. Starting with the implementation of the Champions League in 1992, however, national federations have been allowed to enter multiple teams, with richer, bigger leagues sending more clubs to the tournament. And over the past 20-odd years, the format has been continuously tweaked to give bigger clubs a greater advantage and greater share of the loot. (Liverpool made the Champions League final four times from 2005 to 2019, winning twice, while simultaneously being champions of absolutely fuck-all at the domestic level.)

Given that recent history, Baumann was not surprised the world’s soccer powers attempted to pull this off. He is surprised, however, that it failed. Fans across the world, even those of the twelve charter Super League members, came out in numbers to fight the Super League and it worked almost immediately.

By mid-week, the Super League was dead. That’s pretty cool and very European – where protests still work to effect change. -TOB

Source: Why The European Super League Is Evil,” Billy Haisley, Defector (04/19/2021); “The European Super League Never Stood a Chance,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (04/21/2021)


Who Can You Beat One-on-One, and When: A Fourth Dimensional Discussion

If you’re reading this, you likely know about my now almost 20-year old belief that I could then and could now score one bucket in ten tries on Mike Bibby (remember: Bibby is playing defense just as hard as he did in the NBA, and not extra hard to avoid the embarrassment of me scoring on him – this is an important factor).

Of course, I’m not the only person who thinks I can score on an NBA player – but importantly, I don’t think I can beat Mike Bibby. I just think I can score on him one time in ten. This tells you more about my confidence in both his indifference on defense and my pull up midrange jumper (I got references, just ask), than it does anything else. But the prevalence of cell phones and social media now lets us see that plenty of weekend warriors run into former NBA players at the gym and get their ass handed to them on a regular basis. See, e.g., this viral video involving a high school player getting smoked 11-0 by Brian Scalabrine.

That video inspired a fun NYT article on this phenomenon and you should read it. It explains how hard a scrub like Scalabrine had to work to stay in the NBA so long, and why that means you can’t beat him. As Scalabrine relayed, “Joakim Noah said it best,” ‘Scal, you look like you suck, but you don’t suck.’”

That’s true. He doesn’t suck at basketball. Although I gotta say, while 11-0 is 11-0, Scal basically pulled some ugly bully ball on the guy. He never once made the kid look foolish; he mostly banged his large body into a high schooler and then flipped up an ugly finish. I give Scal a 2 out of 10 for style points. 

So, ok, regular guys can’t beat former NBA guys. I likely can or maybe cannot score on Bibby. But the much more interesting question is this: when does that stop? When is Scalabrine so old that you, at your age right now, could beat him one on one? Before I answer this question I must say that I have adapted it from Lauren Thiesen’s tweet about LeBron, which I saw close in time with this NYT article:

I hemmed and hawed over that one and finally landed on 65-75, with 72 or so being the real over/under. 

But back to Scal. Scal is 43 at present. For the purpose of this question I’m going to assume my back is feeling great. I have watched that video above a few times. Studied it. Watched his moves. Considered his skill. Considered his size. Imagined the toll an NBA career will have on his body as he ages. Imagined the toll his size will have on his body as he ages. Thought about taller, bigger, older players I’ve played against. Finally, I landed on 57. It would be close. 57-year old Scal would score on 39-year old me with some ease, but I also think I would be running circles around him and his creaky knees. 


Source: Why the Worst N.B.A. Player Is (Probably) Still Better Than You,” Sopan Deb, New York Times (04/19/2021)

PAL: Favorite Scal quote from Deb’s story: 

“People don’t understand how a little bit nuts you have to be to sustain an N.B.A. career,” Scalabrine said. “Especially when you’re not that talented. You have to be ready. You have to be up for the fight. You have to be like that every day. And if you’re not, you lose your livelihood.”

For the record, in all the years we’ve had the Bibby debate, I don’t recall the qualification that limited Bibby’s defensive effort. 


Where Do NBA Fines Go?

You could ask that question about every sport. But this article happens to be about the NBA, and it’s a good read. Before we go into where they go, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the oft-fined Draymond Green, one of my favorite players, who had this to say about the mystery of where his fine money goes:

“For years we’ve all been told, ‘Yeah, the fine money goes to charity,’ but we don’t hear anything about these charities, we don’t have any say so about these charities. Nor do you ever hear, ‘Oh your fine money went to said charity.’ Maybe that is an opportunity to build a relationship with said charity?

I felt like Wee Bey when I read that. 


Dray is right. This is a real missed opportunity for the NBA to send the money somewhere and say, “This $50,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago’s South Side is courtesy of Draymond Green, who kicked Steven Adams in the balls.” Draymond arises to applause, steps up to the mic and doubles his own fine. All the people stand and cheer. It’s a really nice scene. 

That daydream aside, though, really – where does it go? 

The Athletic sought to find out. After a player is fined, where does the money actually go, beyond the blanket word, “charity?” Who is helped? Are there children fed, and clothed, or homes rebuilt? Are scholarships awarded?

Through dozens of interviews and data-driven reporting, The Athletic found numerous, flesh-and-blood examples of people who are a little better off because the NBA docked a player’s pay. But when it came down to answering Green’s question — where, exactly, did his money go? — the system is set up specifically to prevent any tracing of an individual fine all the way to an individual charity.

NO. Read the article – the concerns are dumb and Draymond’s idea is smart, IMO. But the answer to the ultimate answer is that the charities are varied and widespread and honestly that’s all that matters. Keep kicking dudes in the balls, Dray. -TOB

Source: ‘I Would Have Never Been in College’: NBA Fines, from Kyrie Irving to Draymond Green, Have a Story to Tell,” Joe Vardon, the Athletic (04/22/2021)

PAL: What a great idea for a story. I never considered where the money went. Never entered my mind until I read the opening. Might I suggest a donation to The Human Fund?


Got Seven Minutes? Treat Yourself and Read This Oral History of Rob Gronkowski’s Time in College

That should be all I have to tell you, but let me add this:

You know how hot it is in Arizona in August. We didn’t have an indoor facility, and it’s 120 every day and this big, huge kid is just like a lap dog. He’d go run these routes and come back panting, his tongue hanging out. We’d shoot a little water in his mouth and he’d line up and do it all over again.

Gronk is basically a golden retriever, and how can you not love a golden retriever? Especially one that turns his apartment into a beer/soap fueled slip and slide and shows his position coach…actually, I’ll stop there. Just read the article. -TOB

Source: “The ‘Monster’ From Club G: An Oral History of Rob Gronkowski’s Arizona Years,” Doug Haller, The Athletic (04/22/2021)


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“I want a decent sock that’s comfortable and will stay on my foot!”

-Justin Pitts

Week of April 16, 2021

Happy Birthday, TOB!


Another Side of Jackie Robinson Breaking the Color Barrier

After reading this story, the look on Branch Rickey’s (left) face seems fitting.

Thursday was Jackie Robinson Day in MLB, and alongside all of the tributes is this fantastic story from Andrea Williams that shows another side of Robinson breaking the color barrier. I can’t recommend this story enough. 

Many of us know the story of Robinson on the Dodgers, but I had no idea that Rickey’s approach to signing Robinson laid the groundwork for the toppling of the Negro Leagues. 

Per Williams:

As it was, Negro league owners, including Thomas Baird and J.L. Wilkinson of the Monarchs, learned about their player’s signing like the rest of the world: from breathless radio broadcasts and blaring newspaper headlines. There had been no negotiations with Rickey; years later, Baird would remark that the Dodgers’ boss never responded to the letters he wrote to discuss the matter.

Still, there could be no recourse. In the name of advancement, there would be no lawsuits or outright condemnation of Rickey’s tactics. Together, the Negro league owners agreed to take one for the proverbial Black team in hopes that future transactions would be more favorable.

They didn’t know it then, but Rickey had no plans of letting up.

After WWII, Rickey and other executives could see that integration would be coming. It had been discussed since the 30s, and the idea that Black men could fight in WWII but not play ball in the Major Leagues wouldn’t stand much longer. So Rickey began looking for players, and he didn’t care with what team the players had contracts. 

A surprising white owner came to the defense of the Negro League owners: Clark Griffith. The owner of the Washington Senators called bullshit on Rickey. One might think a white owner holding a fellow MLB executive accountable would’ve helped, but it was not the case. Tap the link below to read why Griffith’s words carried such little weight. – PAL

Source:Jackie Robinson’s Signing Caused a Financial Dispute”, Andrea Williams, The New York Times (4/14/21)


You’re a Weird Guy, Moppo. Weird Guy.

One of my favorite moments in Ace Ventura is near the end, as the rush to the Super Bowl, having saved Dan Marino and Snowflake. Marino asks Ace if he has any more gum. Ace says, “That’s none of your damn business and I’ll thank you to stay out of my personal affairs.” Marino responds, “You’re a weird guy, Ace. Weird guy.”

That line has always stuck with me. Dan says it earnestly and appreciatively. Really, it’s a decent piece of acting. And that line kept popping into my head while reading this article, which can only and bizarrely be described as an oral history of Joey Votto. 

The article paints Votto as part baseball player, part Renaissance Man, part odd duck. I recommend you read the whole thing – it’s a quick and fun read. But this part made me laugh the most:

Dickerson: Joey Votto loves to mop, he loves to mop his house so much to the point where we tried to convince him to make him create an Instagram account called Joey Moppo and it would just be Joey mopping the floor.

Guevara: He’ll send a random video of music and there’s nobody on the screen and I’m like, “What the hell is this?”

Dickerson: He’ll send me random videos of him mopping the house while he’s listening to Kendrick Lamar.

Guevara: And then here he comes across, doing a little dance and mopping. Then he goes off the screen. It’s just that. That’s all I get.

Man, that’s not funny-for-a-baseball-player funny, that’s straight up funny. A very good bit. I also loved him pulling a Michael Scott, singing James Blunt’s “Goodbye My Lover” to a departing teammate. Derivative? Yes. Do I care? No. Again, a good bit among many others. Good baseball guy, good read. -TOB

Source: Joey Votto is Playing Chess, and the Rest of Us are Playing Checkers,” C. Trent Rosecrans, Rustin Dodd and Jayson Jenks, the Athletic (04/13/2021)


Another Way to Find an Ace

The premise of this Michael Baumann story hooked me right away. It’s one of those ideas that just sounds like plain common sense once you think about it a second, and he sets it up perfectly:

The scouting and development of pitchers is a multimillion-dollar industry. The amount of computers, cameras, and sensors employed by MLB franchises, college teams, youth clubs, private tutors, and coaches to track and assist pitchers would’ve been sufficient to run an aerospace company a generation ago. Other sports—and other positions within baseball—utilize high-speed cameras and tracking data in scouting and coaching. But no position is scrutinized to the millimeter-precise level that pitchers are.

On a very basic level, though, it’s not worth anywhere near that type of fuss.

All that money, all that technology, all that scouting – none of it was needed to see Gerrit Cole had ‘ace’ potential. Dude threw high 90s with electric stuff. They knew the same about Kershaw and Verlander, too. That kind of raw ability is pretty easy to spot. Don’t need much more than a radar gun and two eyes. The same can be said for international studs, too.

Future aces get into the American professional baseball pyramid primarily through one of two avenues: the first round of the draft, or seven- or eight-figure international free agent deals. Most of them don’t pan out…The survivors of that system don’t generally surprise anyone.

There is a different path to the front end of a rotation. It’s the path of Jacob deGrom and Shane Bieber. While they have 3 Cy Young awards between them, neither of them were highly touted prospects out of high school. 

We’re learning that the very traits that make Gerrit Cole a first round draft pick twice (28th overall out of high school, first overall out of college) – velocity and stuff – can in fact be learned. What’s harder to pickup in a couple years of minor league ball is pinpoint accuracy, especially in high-stakes situations. 

A guy that throws gas in high school or has a wicked breaking ball doesn’t have to learn how to paint the corners until he gets to AA and all of a sudden 95 isn’t anything new. For Bieber, he never threw extremely hard, so he had to throw strikes from an early age in order to succeed. He never walked anyone, and that didn’t change once he added 5 MPH to his fastball through some mechanical tweaks to his motion. All of a sudden the pitcher from the Big West is pumping low-to-mid 90s and can place it wherever he wants. And then learns how to throw a “hellacious core-of-a-spinning-gas-giant curve” and there’s a Cy Young winner never highly recruited out of high school. 

Raw pitchers with good stuff can learn how to pitch in the low minors, where they get regular innings in situations where the results matter less than the process. But pitchers who already learned the craft and can hit their spots consistently enter pro ball with far less to learn, regardless of what the radar gun says.

Same goes for the offspeed. A guy with an electric arm is far less eager to tweak his mechanics or try something new: what he has already works…until the hitters catch up. Guys that aren’t christened high draft picks by junior high are more open to trying different pitches, messing around with a cutter or tweaking the grip on a slider. 

There is so much more compelling stuff in here. A great deep dive into pitching. Baumann is an excellent baseball writer with fresh ideas. – PAL

Source: Which Pitcher Will Be the Next Shane Bieber—and Where Will They Come From?”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (04/15/21)

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