Week of September 13, 2019


Siding With the Raiders Is Siding With the Empire

(All analysis here is related only to Antonio Brown’s dispute that led to his release by the Oakland Raiders, and is not in any way related to the civil suit filed this week accusing Brown of sexual assault)

In the wake of the Raiders’ release of Antonio Brown over the weekend, the great weight of public opinion seemed to side with the Raiders: Brown is unprofessional, I read. Brown had it coming, I heard. Brown is a diva and an idiot who cost himself $30M, I saw. And I feel like I’m taking crazy pills because this is almost completely on the Raiders. Let’s recap his brief tenure with the Raiders, starting where the problems began:

Before camp, Brown suffers frostbite on his feet while undergoing cryogenic therapy. This is an admittedly odd injury, but it’s hard to lay blame at his…feet. 

Shortly after, we find out that Brown was told by the NFL that he can no longer wear his helmet. It’s the same helmet, not just the same model but the same helmet, he’s worn his whole career (including college). Brown is not happy about it, because while some helmet models were banned last summer and players were given a one-year grace period, Brown did not receive advanced notice. Some thought this was ridiculous. But a football helmet is sacred to a player – football players have that ingrained in their heads from the first time they take the field as kids. Former NFL player Nate Jackson wrote about why this was so important to Brown:

Each new helmet design foisted upon players has a new shape and a new feel. It doesn’t just change the shape on the outside; it changes the shape within. It changes the placement and feel of the pads that are touching the head. It changes the pressure points on your noggin. It changes the neurological response to a very specific tightness on your head. And because of the different shape, it changes your field of vision, the frame through which you see the field and everyone on it. This all forces you to think when you have no time to think—when thinking will get you hurt.

The Raiders seemed understandably frustrated, but all still seemed fine, and they publicly supported Antonio. So far, so good.

Brown loses the grievance. He tried to find a similar helmet that is approved. He puts out a nationwide call on twitter and actually finds one, but it fails testing. He appeals. He loses. He tried to find one he can use. He does. It fails testing. He files another grievance, and now Raiders rookie GM and career NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock gives his infamous “all in or all out” speech.

When I saw it, I expected fireworks. But Brown actually reported to practice. He picked a new helmet. Things seemed like they’d move forward smoothly. I drafted AB in both of my fantasy leagues, a steal in the third round on each. 

But then, the week of the first game, the Raiders, petty as ever, send Brown a letter letting him know they are fining tens of thousands of dollars for a missed practice and a missed walkthrough during camp way back in mid-August. So… when things were quiet, they turned up the tension with a fine. Why? Brown was understandably not happy. He gets in an argument with Mayock. He calls Mayock a cracker. People expect the Raiders to release him, but they don’t. 

Instead, Brown apologizes – to his teammates and Mayock. He seems pumped to start the season and posts a video voiced over by a phone call between Brown and head coach Jon Gruden, that had me pumped for the NFL season. Seems like everyone is moving forward, right?

Buddy, it’s the Raiders. They will do everything wrong at every opportunity. Saturday morning Brown tweets that the Raiders have voided the $30M guaranteed money on his deal. Brown will be forced to play on a week to week contract, with the Raiders able to cut him and owe him no money whenever they want. This is utter crap. NFL contracts are already crap and weighted heavily toward the teams. And apparently they’re worse than we thought because the teams can walk away from the deal because a player yells at his boss. Brown is understandably pissed. I imagine he would have won a grievance about the voiding of the guaranteed money. But Brown didn’t want to deal with it, and asked to be released. The Raiders obliged.

And people side with the Raiders? Do you root for Goliath? The Soviets at Lake Placid? I mean geeze. At every opportunity they had to move on, they instead escalated. To be clear, I don’t think Antonio was blameless in this, and I don’t think he did everything correctly. But it was the Raiders who escalated at every opportunity they had to de-escalate.

I wrote above early this week, and later in the week read this excellent interview with former 49er Jimmy Farris, who was friends with Terrell Owens during the rocky end of his tenure with the Niners. Farris basically agrees with me, and he makes some great points with his unique insight:

I thought they did a really good job of handling the situation up until they fined him. Other than Mayock coming out and doing that “he’s all-in or he’s all-out” thing, I think that probably got under AB’s skin a little bithe didn’t say anything about it at the time, but I feel like it’s kind of a shot that was unnecessary. Maybe [it was] Mayock kind of trying to prove, Hey, I’m the boss around here, or whatever. It was like a call-out, it was like a public ultimatum to a superstar. [Brown’s] whole thing wasn’t that he was not all-in, or he didn’t want to do it; he was just trying to get the helmet deal figured out.

And, look, people have different opinions about that. Was that even a legitimate thing for him to be taking it to the level that he was? Who knows, but that’s just him, okay? That’s Antonio Brown, and that’s what you’re dealing with. And you know that when you trade for him and you sign him to the big deal. So they publicly supported him. He was missing practices, and he was missing team activities doing that stuff. And you’ve got Gruden and everybody saying, “Hey, man, we support him,” and Gruden’s saying, “Hey, I like the fact that the guy’s standing up for something that he believes in, and when he’s out here, he’s great, and he brings the level of everybody around him up, and he practices his ass off”all this stuff. So you get past all that.

You got the guy in the building, he’s working his ass off, he’s getting ready for Week 1, and then they turn around and fine him for missing some activities that were weeks ago, that when he was missing those activities you said you supported him. So that’s why I said it was petty because you’re telling him while he’s missing those activities, you’re saying, “Hey, man, we get it, just get this thing resolved and get your ass in here as soon as possible and let’s go to work.” So, he thinks, “Hey, they’ve got my back, they’re supporting me.” And then it’s ****ing [five] days before the first game, you do this?

That was my thing. All the drama and the issues and all that kind of stuffyou’d gotten past it. It happened in training camp. It was over. He’s in the building now, he’s here, like, let’s go full-steam ahead. And then, for whatever reason, some procedural reason or some reasonI really don’t know, Mayock felt like they needed to fine him. To set an example or what? I don’t know.

Sure, you’ve got to draw a line somewhere with guys, right? But if the biggest problem you’ve got with the guy so farlet’s not make it more than it is, right? Yes, he’s a quote-unquote diva, or he’s a little eccentric or whatever. But if the biggest problem you’ve got with him so far is that he missed a couple of team activities, that’s not a problem. I asked some guy this on Twitter, just responding to one of the comments: How many team activities did Ezekiel Elliott miss during training camp? The answer is ****ing all of them. He missed all of them. How many has Melvin Gordon missed? All of them. And how much did the Cowboys fine Zeke? They didn’t. They signed him to the richest running back contract in history.

Jason La Canfora’s tweet that I originally responded to was he said he talked to somebody high up in the Steelers organization that said there’s a way to deal with personalities like AB, and that Mayock, being inexperienced, might not understand how to do that. That was my whole point. I agree 100 percent, because if Mayock knew what he was doing, he would know that you don’t fine AB over some bull**** like that, and make an issue out of something that’s not an issue.

[Asked prior to the Raiders cutting Brown] Do you think this is irreparable for AB and the Raiders?]

I had heard apparently what Brown had said to Mayock on the field, and what he’d called him, and what had happened. And so when it gets to that level, I feel like that was, like, some next-level type stuff that is probably irreparable for a personal relationship and maybe even a working relationship.

Here’s the thing, though. Antonio Brown can still be a Raider this year, but it’s going to take the Raiders organization being the bigger person and probably doing some things that’ll cause them to take some hits in the media and around the league from people saying, “How many times are they going to let this guy walk on them, blah blah blah, and this and that.”

All great points. The Raiders blew this. They gave up valuable draft picks to get AB, and because they are a complete clown show they gave him up for nothing, before he played a single snap for the team. Nice job, guys. So don’t support the Raiders. Support the players. As I said last week.

-TOB

Source: Why Good Organizations Know How to Handle Players Like Antonio Brown”, Dom Cosentino, Deadspin (09/09/2019)


Mets Busy Mets-ing?

Every major league team carries two or three catchers. It being the most physically grueling of the positions, even the best catchers need a day off from the squat at least once a week, which means more than one catcher is getting semi-regular playing time. 

In many cases the second and/or third catcher is better defensively than he is as a hitter (if he was a good hitter AND good behind the plate, he’d be a starting catcher). The backup catcher is typically good at framing pitches, blocking balls in the dirt, keeping runners from stealing. The backup catcher’s best contribution to the team is prioritizing the pitcher’s performance ahead of his own. 

This is the case with one of the Mets’ “ace” pitcher Noah Syndergaard (the real ace is reigning Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom). When throwing to either of the two backup catchers – Tomas Nido or Rene Rivera – Syndergaard has a 2.22 ERA in 11 starts. When he pitches to the starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, he has an ERA over 5 in 15 starts. 

Per Tom Ley: 

Over the weekend, Syndergaard went to Mets management and requested that he no longer be forced to pitch to Ramos. The Mets ignored that request, and Ramos was behind the plate on Sunday when Syndergaard gave up four earned runs in five innings; the Mets lost 10-7. According to MLB.com, Syndergaard was in meetings with management throughout Monday afternoon and evening, but wasn’t in the locker room by the time it was opened for the press. Ramos was similarly nowhere to be found. Manager Mickey Callaway and GM Brodie Van Wagenen were around, though, and both made it clear that Syndergaard is just going to have to grin and bear it

Offensively, Ramos is clearly the best of the three catchers. Nido’s OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) is a woeful .571, and Rivera is a career backup catcher with 17 total hits in the last two years. This year, Ramos is hitting .295 with 14 HR, 50 Runs, 72 RBI. 

With that info, you’d understand why Syndergaard would rather throw to Nido or Rivera and why management wants Ramos in the game. The Mets are only 2 games back in the NL Wild Card. With 16 games left, every game is pretty much a must-win if the Mets hope to make it to the play-in game.  

Of those 16 games, Syndergaard starts probably 3, maybe 4 games. In those starts, his pitching performance is much more likely to have a larger impact on the outcome of the game than that of the catcher’s offensive performance. 

If we’re just talking about winning, Syndergaard is right and the Mets should have Nido or Rivera start behind the plate in those games. They can be substituted out whenever Syndergaard is pulled from the game, thus giving Ramos 1-2 at bats in the last portion of the game if needed. 

There’s more at play here. I think the Mets are tired of Syndergaard and they’re trying to prove a point to him that he’s got some work to do before he gets the “ace” treatment. He’s having his worst year while deGrom is backing up his Cy Young performance in 2018 with another stellar year. 

And there’s this: if management grants Syndergaard his wish, what’s stopping deGrom from asking for the same (during his Cy Young year, he pitched to a backup catcher)? All of a sudden you have a backup catcher starting 40% of the games. All of a sudden you have an issue with your starting catcher and his playing time. All of a sudden, you’ve got a team-wide mess because an underperforming pitcher doesn’t like pitching to the starting catcher. Syndergaard hasn’t been good enough for that headache. – PAL 

Source: “Noah Syndergaard Is Mad About Catchers And The Mets Don’t Care”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (09/10/19)

TOB: I think the last paragraph is likely what’s at play here, but it’s still short-sighted. Syndergaard is 3 runs better 9 innings when the backups catch for him. Is Ramos creating 3 runs more per game offensively than his backups? I assure you he is not, because he would be the greatest hitter to ever live if he was.


Don’t Get Bogged Down In Semantics: MIke Trout is the AL MVP

This week on his podcast, The Ringer’s Bill Simmons argued that Mike Trout should not win the MVP because his team stinks (67-80 at the moment). Simmons argued the award says “Valuable” and therefore the most valuable player has to come from a good team because otherwise what “value” is the player if he makes a really crappy team into a merely crappy team? Simmons suggested a new award – the Most Outstanding Player award to the best player in the league – while also awarding the MVP to the best player on one of the best teams. This is all so stupid.

First, if you did that, the MOP award would quickly surpass the MVP. No one cares who the best player on the best team is. Everyone wants to be the best player.

But most importantly, his argument is illogical. Let’s say I have $10,000 and you have $1,000. Someone gives us both $100. Is that $100 worth more to you or me? The $100 retains the same inherent value. $100 is $100. But the $100 actually means more to you because it is 10% of your total and just 1% of my total. So either the $100 is equally valuable to us, or it’s more valuable to you.

But Trout isn’t equal to everyone else. He’s better. So let’s say I have $10,000 and you have $1,000 and someone gives you $100 and they give me $50. The $100 is worth more than the $50, inherently, and it’s worth more to you than it’s worth to me. 

And what if, say, we both have $100, but someone gives me $50 four times (the Astros have 4 players in AL’s top 10 in WAR), they give you $100 (Trout leads the AL in WAR, no one else on his team ). Are any one of those $50 worth more to you because you now have $300 than the $100 is to me because I only have $200? NO. It’s a stupid argument, and I wish it would stop. 

Baseball is the most independent of the team sports – a player could hit 100 home runs and be the best center fielder in major league history, but his team could still suck if they didn’t have anyone good hitters to help him and pitchers to prevent runs. In baseball, the MVP is the best player in the league. Period. -TOB

PAL: In team sports (outside of fantasy), winning is the currency, not personal performance…which makes the MVP award such a mucky and fun topic to debate forever and ever.

Your argument is completely logical. I agree; he’s the MVP. His contribution to a win is far more than anyone else, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is part of far fewer wins, which we ultimately value and count. Clearly not his fault, and it doesn’t take much dissection to uncover just how big his contribution is to winning, but that’s the truth.

The most valuable player is associated with far less of the thing I value most. He’s the MVP, and who cares?


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Bon Iver – “Naeem”


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“Our balls are in your court.”

-Michael Scott

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Week of September 6, 2019

 

Be impressive this weekend.


Has Twitter Killed Hard Knocks?

Boy, that was a boring season of Hard Knocks, huh? I didn’t expect to say that – Gruden! Antonio Brown! Mark Davis and his haircuts! Mayock! Carr! Ok, not Carr. I was never excited about Carr. The impending move to Vegas! It had the makings of a classic season. And yet…it didn’t work.

Mostly it didn’t work because the show focused on Antonio Brown and his many sagas this training camp. First his feet, which suffered from frostbite after improper protection during cryogenic therapy. Then his dispute with the NFL of his desire to continue using the same helmet he’s used since college. Fifteen years ago, this would have probably been a great season. We would have gotten all the behind the scenes chatter on those two topics, and we would have said, “Wow, this is great drama. So interesting to get all the behind the scenes details!”

But, in the instant information, Twitter age…by the time the show aired on Tuesday night, we had already seen all of it. We didn’t need to see what Antonio Brown thought because he had already tweeted it out (and it was covered online and on TV endlessly). We didn’t need to know what Mayock said because his post-practice statement telling Brown he needed to be all-in or all-out was posted on Twitter seconds after it ended and retweeted all over the place, and then on TV all day.

On top of all that, the show suffered because the NFL changed the roster cut rules a couple years back. Teams no longer have to periodically make cuts through camp. Those weekly cuts were the center of the show’s drama in previous seasons: get to know the borderline guys, watch them practice and play, see the coaches discuss their strengths and weaknesses in the coaches’ meetings, find out in dramatic fashion whether the player would survive the cut, and watch in agony as a young man’s dream was killed. God damn, that was great TV.

But that’s all gone now, until the final week, anyways – and then 37 guys got cut in one day and the final episode didn’t have the time to show more than a couple. So I’m concerned that a once great show is effectively finished – they may continue to air it, but it will no longer be great TV. They’ll just continue to show us stories we saw days before and lack any real drama.

But I hold a sliver of hope that the producers simply made a grave error in judgment on storylines. I hope they thought the Brown stories were too good to not address. Which is true – they couldn’t leave it unaddressed. But I think they erred by making it the focus of the show. Hopefully they take stock of what went right and wrong this season and don’t make this mistake again. I just hope they figure out a way around the new roster trimming rules, because a lot has been lost there. -TOB

Source: “‘Hard Knocks’ Season Finale Recap: The Raiders Go Out With a Whimper”, Claire McNear, The Ringer (09/04/2019)

PAL:  Agreed on all fronts, but the unintentional comedy is too good to resist. Jon Gruden is doing a bad impression of Frank Caliendo’s impression of Jon Gruden. At no point does he forget that he’s got a mic and a camera on him. David Carr’s brother/franchise QB tries so hard to be liked, to be seen as a leader, and no one – I mean no one – is buying what he’s selling. The corpse of Brent Musburger saying “knock on wood if you’re with me”. Mike Glennon’s freakish neck. Gruden’s hair. The b-roll of the smelly lake I run around. There are plenty of nuggets. 

I also am struck – every time I watch this show – at how professional most every one of the players is. Most of them are the furthest thing from a diva. They know it’s a grind, and they know who’s on the bubble, and they don’t resent the guys that end up taking their spots. 

It’s completely b.s. they don’t show much of the cut conversations this season, and it’s even worse that neither the G.M. nor Gruden even show up on camera for the cuts. 

The show isn’t good, and neither are the Raiders. But the show is so slick that it’ll make you forget that. Plus, I’m a sucker for montages and Liev Schreiber narration. Sue me. 

TOB: Hah, agreed on that last part. And the Autumn Wind opening each week would get me so pumped.


The Case For Memorabilia from Not A Big Memorabilia Guy

“I don’t want to be anywhere else. Put me on a wall, and bring me some prime rib.” – Former Giants Shortstop Rich Aurilia 

An autograph has never done it for me, and I don’t feel anything when someone shows me a selfie with someone famous. The story behind acquiring the autograph or selfie too often reveals itself to be a one sentence explanation. The memory is missing from a lot of memorabilia. 

The memories are what make The Shed in Nashville, Illinois (you read that right) so legendary amongst San Francisco Giants fans. It belongs to Kirk Reuter, the beloved Giants lefty from 1996-2005. Nicknamed “Woody” for what are now pretty obvious reasons, he was the loveable thumber that always seemed to be on the mound when the Giants played well (despite an ERA well over 4), with the team tallying a record of 165-113 in games Rueter started. As writer Grant Brisbee points out, some reasons for such a favorable record include a few excellent players on the roster during that time (“Barry Bonds. And Jeff Kent. And Rich Aurilia. And Barry Bonds. It also has a lot to do with Barry Bonds.”) 

Not only did the team win when Woody was on the mound, but he pitched for a team that finally got out from under the threat moving out of San Francisco. The Giants moved from one of the worst ballparks (Candlestick) to what is undoubtedly one of the best (Oracle Park). Talk of the team leaving San Francisco was replaced with talk of a winning ball club. 

Woody felt (and looked) like the regular guy on a team of cartoon athletes. So of course it would be him that formed a fast friendship with the clubhouse manager, Mike Murphy . Of course he wouldn’t shy away from asking for autographs from opposing players. Of course Woody would ask Willie friggin’ Mays for the shirt off his back and the shoes off his feet.

“Now that was a good story, too, Estes. Did I ever tell you that? When I took that from Willie?”

The earnestness and absurdity of the sentence breaks up the room. Ah, yes, who among us doesn’t have a story of taking a shirt and boots from Willie Mays?

“He threw out a first pitch. He comes in … he has a silk shirt, a sport coat … and his boots, these zippered-up boots,” Rueter said. “I’m sitting in Murph’s (Mike Murphy, clubhouse manager) office, looking at him and the ‘Say Hey’ on his shirt, and I said, ‘Hey, that’d look good in The Shed.’”

He says that last part with an affected tone, comically devious and cunning, like a charming cat burglar. More laughs around the room.

“He starts unbuttoning, and I go, ‘Heck, you gotta sign it!’ So he signs it, and I’m still looking at him. Then I’m like, ‘Well, crap, those boots … those would look good in The Shed …’”

More laughter, this time with Rueter joining in. He already knew how ridiculous this was, but it’s all coming back to him as he tells the story again.

“So then he walks out, and he’s walking out of our clubhouse. Murph gave him a pair of shower shoes, and then all he has on is a little tank top. That’s all he’s got as he’s walking out of the clubhouse to go to his car, and everybody is like, ‘You just made the best player ever go out of the clubhouse in shower shoes and a tank top!’”

Rueter’s laughter this time is full-body, again, and punctuated with clapping hands. If he were telling a story about taking my dog’s medicine and throwing it in the ocean, it still would have been impossible not to laugh along.

Now that’s some memorabilia with a memory. This is just one of the anecdotes from Brisbee’s story. There are plenty more, which got me thinkin…

My dad has a small collection of autographed baseballs. There are some respectable Hall of Fame guys ones up there on the corner bookshelf: Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Carl Hubbel, and I think he’s got a team ball from 1987 World Series Twins. But there are two signed baseballs he talks about more than any other: Dave Winfield and Bob Feller. I’ll tell you about the Feller story later if you want to hear it. 

Dave Winfield is the greatest athlete to come out of the state of Minnesota. Forget Mauer. Don’t come at me with Kevin McHale or Bronco Nagurski, or even Phil Housely. Winfield is the answer. He was drafted in basketball, baseball, and football (despite never having played college football) – and considered by at least one publication third greatest athlete ever. Debate over. 

So Winfield’s brother, Steve, had a batting cage down on Rice Street, maybe two miles from home. One day, the word around the cage is Winfield, Dave, was going to be at the cage. My memory gets hazy, about how I got home, but I got home quickly and tore through the garage for a baseball. My dad had all the equipment for the little league teams at our house, including each team’s allotment of game balls for the year. It was clear that I was not supposed to tear into any new baseballs – that those were for each of the teams. So instead of bring one of the literally dozens of clean, new baseballs for the future Hall of Famer to sign, instead getting a new baseball at sporting goods store that was on the same street as the batting cage, I found the cleanest, somewhat tattered ball lying around the garage and had Winfield sign it. Later that night, my dad’s dismay was punctuated by booming laughter when I showed the ball I got him for the bookshelf. 

To this day, it remains one of my dad’s favorite stories to tell. Just cracks him up every damn time. 

And that’s what Brisbee is getting at, or at the least the part of his story that spoke to me. That same thing is what makes The Shed most meaningful.  

The Shed exists in its exact permutation because that’s how Rueter navigated his life, with events that both were and weren’t in his control. And that exact permutation happens to help describe why Oracle Park exists and how the Giants could sell it out season after season.

The stories are better than the memorabilia. Let’s say Gale Sayers signed a baseball that ended up in a plastic cube that was displayed at a restaurant. Here’s what that ball would mean to you: Gale Sayers, Hall of Fame running back, at some point in his life, held a baseball and, with his free hand, moved a pen around the ball in a distinctive motion. That’s it. Gale Sayers touched a baseball with a pen.

When it’s in The Shed, it becomes that time Gale Sayers came through town to see Dusty Baker, with an anecdote behind that. Guys like that were always stopping by the clubhouse to see Bake, and Murph would give Rueter a heads up. “Hey, Woody, such and such is coming tomorrow, so make sure you have a football or a basketball,” and this leads into another anecdote.

The Shed is a collection of this. This happened. And it was awesome. It’s an appreciation of just how strange this world is, and it’s curated by an 18th-round pick out of Murray State who couldn’t throw harder than 86 mph, fully aware of how unlikely and fortunate he is. This isn’t something that any ol’ player could collect and show off with the same zeal. It had to be someone who could appreciate it all the proper amount.

I’ve said it quite a few times, but I’ll say it again: that’s the good stuff. Brisbee does a great job capturing the spirit of the game and highlighting why an average pitcher can become a fan favorite. – PAL 

Source: Inside The Shed: Kirk Rueter’s tribute to Giants history has become an indelible part of the lore”, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (09/04/19)


Football Is Chess, And That’s Why I Keep Coming Back

Almost every story I’ve written about football over the 5+ years we’ve been doing this has been negative. I’ve ripped the NFL for the Ray Rice story, concussions, treating players like children, the blackball on Kaepernick, and on and on. I’ve ripped the NCAA for not paying players while coaches and administrators make millions. 

If you didn’t know me you’d be surprised, then, that I like football. Sorta. Well, I hate almost everything surrounding football, but I really enjoy the game. It’s a nasty compromise I have to make with myself: I know how poorly football treats its players, but I can’t help the fact that I like the game. Call me morally soft if you must. But damnit the game is great. This video is a perfect example of what I love about football – former QB Dan Orlovsky breaks down the Oklahoma offense, and how they scheme to beat a defense.

It’s great! I hate myself for liking it, but it’s great. Sigh. -TOB

PAL: That much choreography with that many guys in concert…hell yeah the creativity and strategy makes for a great TV sport. Couple that with the athleticism, and the orchestra that is football is almost as great as it is scary.


Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Ali De Meola – “Mediterranean Sundance”


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I made my money the old fashioned way. I got run over by a Lexus. 

-Jean Ralphio

Week of August 30, 2019


Andrew Luck Is No Ken Dryden (or Barry Sanders or Bjorn Borg)

This is a bit of new type of post. I thought this was an interesting read the first time I read it. I liked that it puts Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement into the context of other athletes that retired while in their peaks. Canadians goalie Ken Dryden, Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson, Bjorn Borg, and another tennis player I’ve never heard of before today. 

Katie Baker lumps them all together with the following: 

All of which is why it was such a shock on Saturday night to learn that Luck, not yet 30 years old, was retiring from football, smack dab in the prime of his life, becoming the latest in an alternately doomed and dazzling group of athletes whose careers ended not with the fireworks of celebration but with an afterburn of a lost star. 

I shared the story with TOB, and then – as we typically do – I re-read it tonight (Thursday) in preparation for a write-up. Guess what? I didn’t like it nearly as much on the second read. In fact, I found the point kind of flawed. The “afterburn of a lost star”? Come on. It’s a bit more nuanced than that. Some of the athletes simply didn’t want to play any more (maybe they never loved their respective sport to begin with?), some got hurt, and some were far more successful than Luck ever was. 

Let’s break it down, shall we? Remember, as far as we know Luck retired because he’s sick of being unhealthy and constantly rehabbing. It’s taken the fun out of the game, and – if I may posit – the experience of pain-rehab-play-pain-rehab-pain was depressing.

Ken Dryden – Goalie for the Canadians retired at 31, after helping the Canadians winning 5 Stanley Cups in a decade. Luck won nothing as a NFL player. Harsh, but it’s true. Dryden was the best on the best team for a decade. Not the same. 

Barry Sanders – running back in the NFL for 10(!) years. By all accounts he was healthy and had good years ahead of him. Enough to likely break every rushing record there was. He retired, via fax, and the consensus is a) he never loved football, and b) was sick of playing for a shitty Lions team. Barry Sanders was an all-time great that retired because he was sick of losing. Also, let’s not forget playing running back in the NFL takes a much greater toll on the body than QB, even if Sanders didn’t retire due to injury. 

Calvin Johnson – wide receiver for the Lions. You can pretty much cut and paste Barry Sanders’ paragraph here. Johnson was on pace to be one of the best receivers ever. He was sick of playing for a losing team and was an extremely talented guy who may have never loved the game. 

Bjorn Borg – retired at 26(!) after 11 Grand Slams. After folks blamed his wife, Borg responded sarcastically, “It can’t be that I don’t enjoy tennis.” 

Andrew Luck retired because he wasn’t healthy, and he was sick of the physical and psychological toll of constantly rehabbing. I get it. And I get that – after already earning millions – there’s no more money that can justify being an unhappy husband and father (to be). Hell, I’m a real piece of work to be around when my plantar fasciitis rears its head, and my livelihood has nothing to do with my feet. 

So I’m posting a story I didn’t love. Pretty antithetical to the entire premise of this blog, but I thought I’d share because the story’s definitely kicking around in my brain this week. Good or bad, it resonated, so I wanted to share it with the crew. – PAL 

Source: “Andrew Luck and the Afterburn of Early Retirement”, Katie Baker, The Ringer (08/26/19)


What Luck Went Through

When Luck’s retirement news hit, I was nearing the end of an in-person fantasy football draft. Ten minutes before, in the 12th of 16 rounds, I took Luck. I thought I had a bit of a steal, and I joked about how I never like to take Stanford guys when I made the pick. Then, a phone buzzed. And another. Someone read the news aloud. I thought it was a joke. Reader, it was not!

I couldn’t help but laugh at my misfortune, but I didn’t get angry at Luck. I mean, sure, when I heard a day later that this had been in the works for a couple weeks, and that he may have even told the Colts way back in the Spring that this was what he wanted to do but they tried to talk him out of it, I wished he had said it sooner. But I wasn’t mad at the guy. If anything, it’s a good story. Yes, I’m one of Those Guys, who drafted Luck right before he announced his retirement.

But then I got home and caught a whiff of the inevitable Sports Show talking head takes. And I saw the Colts fans booing him as he left the field after the news broke (more on that in a second)*. And I saw his press conference, and how sad he was. And I realized: the only correct takes on this story are: (1) good for him getting out while he (hopefully) can still live a normal life, and (2) this game is so brutal and we should all feel guilty for enjoying it.

Later in the week I read this depressing story from former NFL player Nate Jackson, who in his retirement has become a periodic contributor to Deadspin. And man. Were those takes ever reinforced. Here’s Jackson giving a glimpse into what he, Luck, and so many other players go through:

The glory was fleeting; the injuries were constant. And everyone I spoke to reminded me that I was living the dream. But it was never my dream to be lying on a training table for four hours a day, hooked up to machines, ice bags strapped to my body, while my teammates went to meetings and practiced. It was never my dream to wake up in the morning and wonder how I’d get through the day, to drive to work in pain and confusion, on the verge of tears, trying to understand how things got to this point. What I had done wrong—because, if I was so unhappy while living the dream, I must have done something wrong, right?

Call it a confluence of perspectives. The body is no longer cooperating. The adrenaline of game-day has subsided. The adulation of the fans no longer excites. Neither does the big check every week. The shine begins to wear off the Shield. You imagine yourself on a beach. On an island. Far from a football field, free from the mental anguish and paranoia you live with every day. Still, you soldier on, because everything in your life has steered you onto that field.

And so you play until they drag your lifeless body from the grass, and it’s all you can do to muster a thumbs-up as they wheel you into the tunnel, knowing that’s how you secure your legacy. Every football player knows how to make that sacrifice. But few know how to walk away. That seems to be changing, and thank god for that.

Ugh. Man. What a brutal game. 

*One thing about those Colts fans booing. They were roundly criticized for it, basically called country bumpkins who still don’t understand that their entertainment is not worth more than a player’s health. But for a second I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. 

As I mentioned above, reports are that this was in the works for months. All that time, the Colts sold season tickets for thousands of dollars to fans on the promise of another season led by Andrew Luck. Maybe some of those fans wouldn’t have paid that had they known? It doesn’t justify booing, but I think I understand the sentiment from that perspective.

One last thing: Eff Doug Gottlieb forever.

Why won’t this clown go away? -TOB

Source: Football Doesn’t Let You Leave”, Nate Jackson, Deadspin (08/28/2019)


Don’t You Dare Make Ohtani Choose

Surprise surprise: we’re sharing another Ben Lindbergh baseball story. Clearly the best baseball writer going these days. 

Remember Shohei Ohtani, the two-way sensation and the biggest story in baseball at the beginning of last year? Yeah, Tommy John surgery has a way of making us forget dudes for awhile, or – to be more precise – for about 12-18 months. Tommy John and playing for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. 

 

Ohtani is playing this year while he recovers from TJ. As a DH, Ohtani is having another solid year at the plate. The dude can hit at an all-star level. His traditional stats, averaged out over 162 games look like this: 

.295 BA, 32 HR, 96 RBI, slugging over .500. 

When he was preparing to make his debut in MLB, most of the concern around his hitting. People wanted him to focus on taking the mound and becoming a dominant starter with a triple-digit arm and a nast splitty to boot. 

Dude has a pretty, pretty swing

Now, as he puts up impressive numbers as a hitter, the chorus has shifted. There is a mathematical argument he is more valuable as a position player only. Or, in the words of Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things. Whole ass one thing.”

As Miller laid out, though, the balance between Ohtani’s hitting and pitching contributions has to be just right for the stats to support continued two-way play. Only if Ohtani is very good to great at both hitting and pitching, or very good at hitting but even better at pitching, does the calculus favor two-way play. Any other combination, and a purely numbers-driven analysis would hew to one-way play. If Ohtani is a better hitter than he is a pitcher, then, the data aligns with the Rymer-Sheehan-Thomas contention that he should pick the position-player lane.

Cool. Except I don’t care what the numbers say. We may never get a chance to see someone be great at both again in our lifetime. I’m not saying Ohtani is going to be a great pitcher or a great hitter, but he’s actually shown the potential for both at the big league level. We owe it to the baseball gods to let this play out. 

Also, the Angels NEED pitching: 

Only the Orioles have received fewer WAR from their starters this season, and even if the Angels’ active innings leader, Griffin Canning, can cross the 100-inning threshold, the Angels will join the 2012 Rockies as the only two teams in the modern era to have just one pitcher reach the century mark. 

I mean, can you imagine – can you freaking imagine the scenario in which he’s pitching and hitting in the middle of the lineup in a World Series game? How awesome would that be? How can you root against that, logically or otherwise?  

New statistics should make us better understand the game, but they lose me when the numbers suggest we take the rarest joyous moments out of the game (pulling a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter, an iconic pitcher intentionally walking an iconic hitter, this nonsense with Ohtani).

Also, god, everytime I read about him I think how much bigger a deal it would be if he played on popular team, especially on the east coast. 

Another interesting nugget – the Angles have (at least earlier this year) allowed more guys to legit try being 2-way players. Pitcher/Position players should become the team’s thing. Become the first team to assemble a lineup with several dual threats. 

I’ll leave the last word for Lindbergh:  

Baseball fans and analysts who believe that the game has grown less spectator-friendly have repeatedly pointed their fingers at numbers nerds for emphasizing efficiency over fun. Going out of our way to say that a fascinating, singular, game-reframing player who could be baseball’s best story should have his attempt at two-way immortality curtailed for at most a modest upgrade would play into that stathead stereotype. 

Amen. – PAL 

Source: “Let Ohtani Play Two-Way”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (08/21/19)


In Praise of the A’s in the Moneyball 3.0 (?) Era

I am an unabashed GIants fan, of course. But I also admire the A’s from across the Bay – often admiring the fact that Billy Beane somehow turned chicken shit into chicken salad yet again, year after year, with just a few blips here and there. The question is: how does he do it? How do they do it? In Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball, written about the 2001 season, Beane was exploiting the fact that teams vastly underrated walks, and by extension on base percentage. But many seemed to think that Beane had “solved” the game and that the edge he had figured out was gone once Lewis’ book was published. 

But Moneyball was misunderstood by many. Beane noticed a market inefficiency – the market overpaid for some skills, and vastly underpaid for other skills, and those underpaid skills were often more important to winning than the ones the other teams valued. So Beane paid less to get more out of those underrated skills. Once the league caught up on on base percentage, Beane moved on.

Rumor has it his next effort was to understand and pay for defense: after all, a run saved is a run earned. But until the last ten years or so, we had almost no way to truly measure defense. Fielding percentage is a garbage stat because a better player can be penalized for not quite gloving a ball that a worse player never would have gotten close to. MLB is now obsessed with quantifying defense.

But MLB is also obsessed with dingers, and Beane is unsurprisingly leading the charge, as laid out by Eno Sarris in his article this week: SInce 2015, the A’s lead the majors in fly ball rate (the percentage of hit balls that are fly balls). And since 2015, the A’s also lead the majors in launch angle (the angle of the ball off the bat) at 15%. What does that lead to: dingers, baby. Lots of dingers. The A’s pitching staff also leads the league in getting pop-outs – almost 5% of balls put into play against them are pop-outs. Beane and the team figured out a better way to play and acquire players who play that way, and coach the players they have to do so, too.

But the A’s don’t stop at hitting dingers and inducing pop outs. In an era where teams hoard prospects and value cheap, controllable talent over all else, Beane has exploited this swing by going the other way: obtaining cheap veterans who play the way he wants his team to play.

Finally, the A’s were ahead of the curve in buying cheap but good bullpen help, and using that bullpen as a weapon by relying on them for more innings. Since 2015, the A’s bullpen ranks in the Top 5.

Other teams pay more to players, but few teams win as consistently, over so many years, as the A’s have under Bllly Beane. The Giants are slipping out of the playoff picture (but gosh are they in better shape than they were one year ago), so the A’s might be my team to root for this postseason. -TOB 

Source: The A’s Prove Their Formula is Working in Big Win Over Yankees”, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (08/20/2019)

PAL: Finding value, that’s Beane’s talent. They find a way to compete while having a payroll in the lowest third of the league (21 of 30 at the start of the season). It’s impressive, and yet, aren’t we all kind of waiting for them to win in the way counts, as in the World Series. Unfair? No doubt! But we’re most captivated by the underdog story when the underdog comes out on top. Near the top doesn’t do it for us. 

Also, TOB. Root for the gd Twins this postseason! What the hell, man? With GTR (Good Times Rowe) is on dad patrol for the first time, who the hell is going to watch these games with me in a dark bar? The correct answer is you, sir.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Roy Orbison – “Candy Man”


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“I hope the war goes on forever and Ryan gets drafted.”

– Dwight K. Schrute

Week of August 23, 2019


Poppy Yaz and Young Yaz

The Giants’ mid-season run to relevance has been fueled in part by a 28-year old rookie (he turns 29 on the day we publish this) with a last name familiar to baseball fans young and old: Mike Yastrzemski. Yes, as I told my Dad the other night, Mike is related to Yaz – Hall of Famer and Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski.

Mike is Carl’s grandson. Mike never caught the break he needed for years in the Orioles system before being traded this year to the Giants. He got his shot, and he has delivered – with 17 home runs and an OPS+ of 131 (very good!). 

The Athletic’s Steve Buckley caught up with Yaz (the original Yaz, or Poppy Yaz, as Mike calls him) to get his thoughts on Mike (or Young Yaz, as I call him), and if this doesn’t warm your heart a degree or two, I don’t know what will.

His voice cracked a little last week, too, when, sitting in that box seat next to the Red Sox dugout after he had completed his Genesis Fund duties, the old ballplayer was asked about his grandson’s ascension to the big leagues as a San Francisco Giant after six seasons in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system.

It was a simple question: Hey, how about that Mike Yastrzemski kid!?

He waited a full eight seconds before answering.

“You know, the main thing is, he’s a great kid,” said Poppy Yaz. “He’s worked hard. He always thought he was going to make it and I’m very, very happy for him.”

“To see him come play at Fenway . . . that’ll be something,” Yaz said. “And me . . . playing here for 23 years, and then see my grandson come in and play here. It’ll be emotional, yes.

“I know how hard he worked, and to see him there, and having them announce the name Yastrzemski, I feel great because of him, how much he wanted it.”

As Buckley points out, Young Yaz’ debut at Fenway will have some bitter with that sweet. Carl’s son, Mike’s dad, was a good baseball player, too, and he got a small taste of the majors in an exhibition game in the mid-80s. But he got injured, never made it, and then passed away in 2004 from complications after hip surgery. He was 43. 

That’s sad, but I really love the proud grandpa side of Yaz:

“I’m losing a lot of sleep. I have the Major League Baseball (package) and those games don’t come on until 10:15 and I always get up 6:30 in the morning. I just always have, I don’t know why. So to watch him play, yeah, that makes for a late night.”

Young Yaz will have a few shots to bang one over the Green Monster his grandpa used to patrol in front of. He’s a lefty, but given his home run spray chart, I think he’s got a shot.

-TOB

Source: The Red Sox’ Lion in Winter: At 80, Carl Yastrzemski Looks to the Field, and Sees Family”, Steve Buckley, The Athletic (08/21/2019)

PAL: My favorite part of the article is when, following Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown season in 2013, Mike looks up his grandpa’s stats – the last guy to hit for the Triple Crown in 1967 before Cabrera.

What jumped out to Yaz the Younger was not the Triple Crown numbers — .326 batting average, 44 home runs, 121 RBI — that were posted by his grandfather during the Summer of Yaz.

It was another number — 23 — at the very bottom of the ledger.

“I’m looking and I see that he played 23 years,” he said. “And I’m 23 years old at the time. It suddenly hit me that every day of my life he showed up at Fenway Park. Every day of my life. And I couldn’t register that. I kept thinking about that. I went to Vanderbilt for four years. I felt like I had this long stay there. I felt like I had accomplished just about everything I needed to accomplish other than getting a national championship.

“I had been to the College World Series, we won a super regional, all this really neat stuff that everyone dreams about when you go to college, and I’m, OK, I’ll start my professional career and move on. But to take that four years and how long it felt and think about 19 more of those, it was, like, whoa, that’s a lot.”


Lee Trevino ‘Never Had Much Use For Caution’

When’s the last time Lee Trevino crossed your mind? I can’t remember either. During what is widely considered a dead time in sports (MLB playoff runs haven’t really heated up, NBA is dead, NFL camps just started, no college football, no NHL, golf majors are done), I read this absolute gem of a story about Lee Trevino’s life. 

Elizabeth Nelson uses the 35th anniversary of Trevino’s last major (he had 6 majors – one more than Mickelson and only one less than Arnold Palmer!) to share stories about the unlikeliest of golf icons. Like Charles Barkley, Mickey Mantle, Trevino one of those athletes that all of his fellow competitors have their favorite story about. 

Bernard Langer’s Trevion story is a doozy:

One day, Floyd, who would go on to win four major championships and have a Hall of Fame career, received an odd overture to play for significant cash down in El Paso. 

“Raymond Floyd drove up with his Cadillac or his limousine, or whatever,” Langer said. “So Raymond gets out of the car and Lee Trevino was the bag boy, and he says, ‘Welcome, Mr. Floyd, let me get your bag for you, and what else can I do for you?’ And Raymond Floyd says, ‘Well, young man, who am I playing against today? Do you know anything about him?’ And [Trevino] says, ‘Well, that would be me, sir.’ And so Floyd looks and says, ‘What? I’m playing against a bag boy?’ And Lee says, ‘Yes, sir, and I’ll see you on the first tee in a little bit.’” 

The obvious postscript to the story—the one in which an irate Floyd leaves the premises with his wallet considerably lighter and his mood commensurately darkened—is less crucial than the irrepressible levity with which Langer, the typically stoic and reserved German, relays it. Trevino was put on this earth to stand up for the little man—and make you laugh in the process.

Strangely enough, people love Trevino for much of the same reasons they love Caddy Shack and Happy Gilmore. He was the high school dropout and Mexican-American sharpie in Dallas who taught himself the game and stuck it to the stodgy country club folks with a grace and wit. He was a hustler, a gambler and – at his prime – a champion who could get a round with the president with one call. In Trevino’s own words, “I Represent the Public Golf Courses, the Working Man, the Blue Collar Worker.”

Other excellent tidbits from the story, which Nelson writes oh so well: 

  • He was struck by lighting…while waiting out a storm beside a green, while eating a hotdog.
  • Tom Watson said, “He always told me, ‘You learn how to play under pressure when you’ve got five dollars in your pocket and you’re playing for 10.’ 
  • Nelson has a few outstanding lines in the story
    • “After a great shot he would waggle his club like a magic wand. It wasn’t done out of disrespect. It was just so exciting to be great.”
    • “The original Dallas Athletic Club was located right in his backyard, and he spent afternoons watching the golfers amble by, alternatively ebullient or cursing the heavens, and wondering what the soap opera was all about. Eventually he’d find lost balls and sell them back for 10 cents a pop.”
    • …he’d never had much use for caution

Loved the stories. Loved the writing. Loved the video clips…and I don’t even really love golf! – PAL 

Source: The Ballad of Lee Buck Trevino, Golf Legend”, Elizabeth Nelson, The RInger (08/19/2019)

TOB: To answer your question: I think of Lee Trevino’s cameo in Happy Gilmore waaaaaaaaaaaay too often.

So, not that long ago.


“The Appropriate Question Is: “When the Hell Are They?’!” – Doc Brown

Lots of sports writing is silly; much of it is unmemorable. But over the years I have found a small little subgenre of sports writing that is silly but highly entertaining and very memorable. The best way I can describe it is: Sportswriter Reveals Observed Quirk About Professional Athletes That Only Someone Who Spends Months of the Year WIth Athletes On a Daily Basis Would Know. The most memorable of the subgenre is Henry Abbott’s story years ago on ESPN about how NBA players loooooooove Cheesecake Factory. Title: “The Cheesecake Factory Did Not Pay Me to Write This.” Opening to the story:

In some ways, I have been working on this post for years, just by listening to things that NBA players say. They talk about a massive spectrum of things, of course, from AAU to Zydrunas Ilgauskas. But sprinkled in there among the things players talk most frequently — you hear it again and again — is the Cheesecake Factory.

Nowadays, if ever someone tells me that they bumped into an NBA player out in public, I like to stop them mid-sentence and guess: “Was it at the Cheesecake Factory?” It can make you look like a freaking genius, because once in a while, you’ll be right. (If that doesn’t work, I ask if it was at P.F. Chang’s. Those two together account for a ridiculous percentage of player sightings nationwide.)

People always want to know what it’s like to be an NBA player. I feel pretty confident that one of the easiest and most accurate things you could do to live just like an NBA player is to eat a meal at the Cheesecake Factory.

He then lists the many examples of the NBA player/Cheesecake Factory thing, and dives deep into why. It’s great, and even though it’s now over 11 years old, you should read it.

This week saw another entry into the Sportswriter Reveals Observed Quirk About Professional Athletes Hall of Fame, this time by the Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty.

Title: MLB Players Never Know What Day of the Week It Is.

I laughed before I even read the story, and when I did read it, boy did it deliver. Some choice quotes:

“Oh, it’s impossible,” Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle said. “Here’s how it goes: Every start of a series is a Monday, no matter what. Every last game of a series is a Wednesday. But there are other wrinkles, too, like how every day game is a Sunday. So, wait, uh …”

Doolittle realizes the problem. By that logic, if it can be called that, a day game that finishes a series is both a Wednesday and a Sunday. Having talked himself into a riddle, further complicating the issue, Doolittle smiled, turned his palms to the clubhouse ceiling and shrugged. That was the blanket reaction when fellow Nationals were asked how to follow the calendar during the season. Nothing we can do about it.

Dougherty then gets into the reality of a major leaguers schedule: 162 games in approximately 180 days, and every 3-4 days you fly to a new city, stay in a new hotel, and the day of the week just simply doesn’t matter. It’s how I imagine it’d be on a cruise ship for a month. The day of the week is of no import; the only thing that matters is what day of the trip it is and where you are headed next. Dougherty then shows how this once affected Dolittle:

So it’s hard to blame Doolittle, way back in May, discussing a pair of rough outings at his locker in Washington. It was a Monday. His most recent appearance had come that past Friday. But he kept referring to that appearance as “Monday” — because it was the first game of the series — and proceeded to do so six times in a 12-minute interview. Like, “I just didn’t have it on Monday.” Or, “Monday didn’t go my way, but if I get out there today [editor’s note: actually Monday], I’m confident these changes will work.” It was trippy.

Dougherty gives some more examples and then the coup de grâce:

A confession: I’m relatively new to the baseball beat, about a year in, and so now I never know what day of the week it is either. I often wake up not knowing what city I just slept in. I first realized this in May, one morning in New York, staring at the ceiling and wondering where I was. So I started asking around the clubhouse — veterans such as Doolittle and Dozier, a younger guy such as Stevenson, Manager Dave Martinez — to see how the pros combat this confusion of time and space.

I love this story. The writer noticed something weird, asked about it, told the story, and now I have a funny little thought in my brain every time I watch a baseball game: these guys have no idea what day it is, and isn’t that weird and funny. A welcome addition to the subgenre, Jesse! -TOB
Source: MLB Players Never Know What Day of the Week It Is”, Jesse Dougherty, Washington Post (08/22/2019)


Baseball’s Wet Guys

Another laugh this week comes courtesy of David Roth. He brings us a story about something we already know, but maybe we haven’t yet articulated: every baseball team now has “the wet guy”. 

Sound gross. It’s not that gross, but a little bit. What’s a wet guy, you ask?

Brandon Crawford:

Clay Buchholz:

This guy on the Rays…or San Diego…who cares: 

You get the idea. From where did this trend come? Who started it? Is there a competitive reason, or are baseball players just kinda dumb when it comes to this stuff? No worries – David Roth breaks it all down. 

Also, since you’re here, this is a perfect time for me to break out my long hair style theory. Likey everything, every decade or so, long hair comes back in fashion. Unlike short hair trends, the long hair (and beard) trends hang on a little longer because, well, it took dudes six month to finally get that shit into a manbun; he ain’t snipping it the first sign of a high-and-tight from the cool guy at the office. No, no, no. 

That’s why you see so many baseball players still rocking the long hair they first grew out five years ago. 

Back to the story about the wet guy on baseball teams. It’s hilarious. Real laugh-out-loud stuff. Get to it. 

Also, this: 

Source: Every Baseball Team Has a ‘Wet Guy’ Now“, David Roth, Deadspin (08/22/2019)

TOB: I mean, I lived it. Hell, I met you like that. But I still just don’t quite believe it happened.


Last Week’s Two 1-2-3 Subjects Collide: Bichette v. Kershaw

Last week, Phil was on The Endless Honeymoon, and I was low on energy, so you got a two story week. It happens, ya know. Those stories were: (1) How awesome Bo Bichette, Baseball Legacy, has been in his short time in the bigs, and (2) Clayton Kershaw whining. This week, those two subjects met. Let’s see how things went:

Bang.

DOUBLE BANG!

Ok, ok. In between those two bangs, Kershaw dropped a hammer so nasty that Bichette had no choice but to laugh and ask his teammate, “Did you see that shit?”

Still. Two dingers? Game: Bo. -TOB

Source: Bo Bichette Vs. Clayton Kershaw Was A Rad Time”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (08/21/2019)


Video of the Week

Move over, Flash. We’ve got a Fridge now. Incredible.


Tweet of the Week

Also:


PAL Song of the Week – Tom Petty – “Honey Bee”


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There was a time when the only people who texted you were the people you wanted to text you – girls. And they’d all say the same thing. “I’m comin’ over, baby.” And I’d text back “B.T.B”. Bring that booty.

-Darryl  Philbin

Week of August 16, 2019

Miss you, Skeeter


Bo (Bichette) Knows…

This is the year of the baseball kids in Toronto, who have called up three sons whose dads were very prominent names in baseball during my childhood: Cavan Bishop (son of Craig), Bo Bichette (son of Dante), and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (you can guess that one). After a slow start, Vladdy is starting to really heat up, but this story focuses on Bo Bichette, who is tearing up the league in his first couple weeks in the bigs (.365 with 4 dingers, and a double in nine straight game, an all-time MLB record, not just for a rookie).

The Ringer wrote a story about him, and I had to share this hilarious anecdote from when Bo was in the low minors:

One day in 2017, Dunedin Blue Jays manager John Schneider was hanging around the cage, watching his new shortstop take batting practice. Bo Bichette, then all of 19 years old, had recently been called up from Toronto’s low-A affiliate in Lansing, Michigan, where he’d hit .384/.448/.623 over 70 games. As Bichette prepared to go against a superior level of pitching, Schneider and Dunedin hitting coach Corey Hart came to him with an idea. With less than two strikes, the 2016 second-round pick liked to rear back with a big leg kick and try to clobber the ball, whereas with two strikes he’d spread out his stance and moderate his swing in an attempt to make contact. Schneider and Hart wanted Bichette to moderate his leg kick early in at-bats too. “His batting average with two strikes was astronomically high that year,” says Schneider, who in November was promoted to a spot on the Blue Jays’ big league coaching staff.

The suggestion should’ve carried serious weight: Schneider had nearly a decade’s worth of minor league coaching experience at that point, while Hart had coached in the minors since 2006. But when the pair told Bichette what they wanted him to do, he looked back at them (up, really—Bichette is an even 6 feet; Schneider is 6-foot-3, 250 pounds) and said, “No.” By way of explanation, Bichette asked his coaches whether they remembered when Tiger Woods was the best golfer in the world.

“We said yeah, but we didn’t really know where he was going with it,” Schneider says. “Bo said, ‘He would get on the tee box and he would just let it rip. He’d crush the ball 360 down the fairway and he didn’t care if he was off in the rough a little bit because he had confidence in his short game to get it on the green in two out of the rough.’

“And he just looked at us and said, ‘My two-strike approach is my short game.’”

Cocky? Sure. But, when you got it, you got it. -TOB

Source: The Growing Legend of Bo Bichette”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (08/09/2019)


Clayton Kershaw Doesn’t Want to Be Exposed as a Fraud, Hates RoboUmps

Jayson Stark wrote a really interesting article about how things are going in the Atlantic League since they started using RoboUmps. The short of it is: there are kinks to work out, but it’s not bad. But I wanted to call attention to the whining by Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who knows RoboUmps will prevent him from getting all the B.S. calls he presently gets – calls that make him a much better pitcher than he really is. Here’s Kershaw:

How would there not be more offense? If they shrink the box and there’s no give at all, it’s going to be crazy. There’ll be more walks. And then the walks are going to slow down the pace of play. And then the games will be longer. And then the pace of game is gone. So it’s, like, what do you want? You want a fast game with more offense but not too many walks? So I mean, that’s embarrassing, honestly.

Think about what he’s saying here: there will be more walks because pitches outside the strike zone that are currently called strikes will no longer be called strikes. Well, if Clayton Kershaw hates it, I love it. Bring on the RoboUmps! -TOB

Source: The Robots are Coming! Examining Big Leaguers’ Biggest Fears About Their Future Electronic Overlords”, Jayson Stark, The Athletic (08/14/2019)


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“This could be perfect! My full time job could be our relationship. I could wear stretch pants and wait for you to come home at 5:15. This could work!”

-Jan Levinson

Week of August 9, 2019


So Long, Joey Baseball

In sports, there are guys whose contributions in big moments far outweigh their lack of performance in others. No, I don’t mean clutch. But sometimes a guy has a couple moments so important to a team and a fanbase, that other fans look at the numbers and don’t understand. When the Giants honored Ryan Vogelsong a couple years back, opposing fans said, “Ryan Vogelsong?” Then they looked at his numbers and said, “Huh?” But they don’t remember the times Vogey stepped up and saved a playoff series. They don’t remember the times it looked like the opposing team was about to hang a big number on the Giants in the postseason, and Vogey got a strikeout and a double play to escape a jam.

Joe Panik is probably another guy like that. His numbers are…fine. 

That’s one very good season (2015, his second in the league), two average ones, and three bad ones. There’s a Gold Glove (we’ll get to that) and an All Star appearance. All in all, a very average six seasons. 

But to Giants fans, he’s beloved. The Giants absolutely do not win the 2014 World Series without him. He was not a highly rated prospect headed into the 2014 season. Hell, they brought in Brandon Hicks (the near-all Brandon infield was kinda cool, though) and Dan Uggla at the start of the year. Those two sucked. Uggla batted .000. Hicks just .162. So they decided to give Joe Panik a shot. He was still in AA when they called him up. He struggled immediately, hitting just .211 heading into the trade deadline. But the Giants didn’t panic (sorry, sorry!), and it paid off: Panik went 2012 Scutaro, hitting .338/.367/.414 over the final two months of the season. They finished six games clear of the third place Wild Card team, sure, but who knows – without Panik’s hot bat and sweet glove, maybe they tailspin and miss the playoffs entirely.

As it was, they made the playoffs and Panik made perhaps the biggest contribution outside of Bumgarner, on the way to the World Series title: The Double Play. Many have called it among the best defensive plays in World Series history, and I’ve never seen anyone argue against that position. Given the stakes, the point in the game, the difficulty of the play…it’s hard to beat.

As Brisbee points out, if Panik doesn’t get to that ball, it’s first and third with out out. In a game where every single base mattered, Panik saved four in one play. Here’s what I wrote about Panik in our World Series recap:

Joe Panik deserves mention. I have been watching the World Series since 1988. That is a total of 27. And while I don’t have total recall, I can’t recall a better and more important defensive play than the double play he turned in the third. It was only the bottom of the third, but until Gordon’s hit in the 9th, it was the last time the Royals would threaten. Cain led off with a single, and the Royals’ best hitter, Eric Hosmer, came up. He ripped a ground ball up the middle, and Panik came out of nowhere to glove it. Cain is fast, and he didn’t have much time, so before he even stopped sliding, Panik flipped the ball directly from his glove to Crawford, and Crawford threw an absolute bullet to get Hosmer at first. If that ball gets through, I think the game does not end well for the Giants.

After Game 5, my mom sent me a very cute and funny e-mail. After talking about how much she and my dad love Hunter Pence, with his “Marty Feldman eyes” and his high socks and pants pushed above his knees, she said, “Of course, Dad also has his other favorite, Panik. He loves him. He thinks he’s Mr. Baseball.” That nickname is official. Joe Panik is Mr. Baseball.

We started to actually call him Joey Baseball, and the nickname fit. The dude just knew how to play. He followed up that 2014 postseason run with an incredible 2015 season, hitting .312 with an OPS+ of 129, and made the All Star team. He continued to make plays like the one in the World Series, and won the Gold Glove in 2016. At age 25, it seemed the Giants had their second baseman for the next 7 years. KNBR’s Derek Jeter even declared him a “mini Wade Boggs.”

But sports are weird, and not always linear. 2016 saw Panik’s batting average drop almost 100 points, to .239 with an OPS+ of just 88. 2017 was better, but 2018 and 2019 were very bad. He’s still only 28, when players should be peaking. But when the Giants traded for two second basemen this trade deadline, the writing was on the wall. Sure enough, Panik was gone in less than a week.

By all accounts, Panik is a good guy and a great teammate. He made one of the most memorable baseball plays I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’m sad to see him go, even while recognizing it had to be done. I highly recommend you check out the Grant Brisbee article below, which chronicles the ten best moments of Panik’s Giants career. It’s awesome. So long, Joe – and thanks! -TOB

Source: The 10 Best Moments of Joe Panik’s Glorious Giants Career”, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (08/07/2019)


Just How Bad Are MLB Umpires?

If you read this blog, you know I am ready for so-called RoboUmps. It’s frustrating to watch a game and see umpires inconsistently call balls and strikes. To see an obvious strike three called a ball, and then see the next pitch hit over the fence (Phil knows that feeling all too well). Or to see a 9th inning rally stopped short by a strike three call on a pitch way out of the zone. Umpiring is hard, and how we do it is imperfect. Have you ever umpired? It’s so hard. When I was umpiring a few years back, I realized I had a blind spot low in the zone. If it’s in the dirt, it’s obvious. But on any pitch close, your eyes are up at the batter’s chest and you are staring down at the ball – you don’t have the perspective to make the call correctly every time. But, I’m just an amateur, umpiring for 12-year olds. Do MLB umpires have the same problems? And just how often do they get calls wrong?

A team of graduate students at the Boston University School of Business decided to answer those questions, and more. To do so, they analyzed data on every single pitch thrown in MLB for 11 seasons – from 2008 through 2018. That’s over 4 million pitches, and they noticed a few trends worth noting.

First, umpires make an incorrect strike call on pitches out of the zone at a far higher rate when there are two strikes in the count (29% of all called strike threes were incorrect) as opposed to when there are less than two strikes in the count (just 15%). This suggests a two-strike bias – umpires loooooove to punch somebody out.

Second, like me, MLB umpires have blind spots – areas where they have trouble making the correct call. Check out this chart – the numbers represents the number of incorrect calls:

I find it fascinating how umpires have improved at calling low pitches, especially with how putrid they were in 2008 (49% incorrect in the lower right zone!!). My guess is MLB recognized this issue and educated umpires on it. Still, pitches in the upper corners remain absurdly incorrect (27%).

Third, umpires, get worse as they age, just like athletes. The ten best umpires from each year 2008-2018 had an average of 2.7 years of experience, and averaged 33 years of age. Those umpires got under 9% of their calls incorrect. None of those umpires had more than 5 years experience or were older than 37. Compare that to the ten worst umpires each year from 2008-2018, who had an average of 20.6 years experience and averaged 56 years of age. Those umpires got 56% more calls incorrect than the ten best umpires, or 13.96% of all their calls.

It’s this last point I find the most intriguing, because it’s very easy to fix. Usually, if you know an umpire’s name, it’s not a good thing. Sure enough, the data shows the big names like Angel Hernandez, Joe West, Mike Winters, and Laz Diaz all stink. Now, it could be that there aren’t better umpires in the minor leagues ready to take their spots. But it seems MLB would be wise to move these guys out from behind the plate once they hit a certain age – vision and reaction times slow as we age, for umpires just as for players, and we could significantly improve umpire performance by culling the herd, so to speak.

The article makes a strong case for allowing the existing radar systems to call balls and strikes. At this point, with MLB testing it in the Atlantic League, it seems inevitable. Thanks to my dad for sending along the article! -TOB

Source: MLB Umpires Missed 34,294 Ball-Strike Calls in 2018. Bring on Robo-Umps?”, Mark T. Williams, BU Today (04/08/2019)


You Didn’t Do Anything Wrong, Twins…

I haven’t been keeping up with sports much on the honeymoon (you have to see the Dolomites if ever possible). Scanning your phone for stories isn’t a good use of time when your day is filled with croissants and cappuccinos, hikes and aperitivos, wine and pasta and strolls around the hamlet. 

But I have been keeping an eye on my Twins. I’m aware that, as of 7:15 AM local time on Friday, the team now clings to a single game lead over the scorching hot Indians after losing the opening game in a big series between the two teams. 

This was destined to happen months ago. It started when I looked up the team’s percent chance of winning the AL Central six weeks ago (it was 93.6% as of 6/1/19, and it’s now 68%). I further tempted fate when I spoke dismissively about another team. I wrote on our wedding website that people interested in joining us for a Wednesday afternoon Giants should have no problem getting tickets cheaply when they arrive because “the Giants aren’t very good this year, so there should be seats aplenty right before the game.”

And so here we are, the Twins double-digit lead on the Indians is down to one game, and sphincters across Minnesota are clinched pretty tight this weekend. Here’s the odd thing: The Twins haven’t cratered as the Indians have made its run over the last month or so. As Michael Baumann points out, since June 2 the Twins have been 4 games over .500 (as of 8/5/19…so now the team is right at .500). In that same time, the Indians have been on a tear. 

So, with all this in mind, you think the Twins would’ve been eager to make a big move at last week’s trade deadline. Their big moves? Two relievers. They simply wouldn’t part with top prospects (or young MLB roster guys) to land a top of the rotation pitcher, and their offense is on pace to break the single-season home run record, so we’re fine offensively. 

Meanwhile, the Indians made bold moves at the deadline. They got creative and, through a three-team trade – moved a top of the rotation pitcher in Trevor Bauer for Yaseil Puig and Franmil Reyes – two power-hitting outfielders. 

The Indians were creative and bold, and the Twins hesitated. It seemed odd. As Baumann points out, just last offseason it was the Twins that had been creative and bold in assembling what is now the most dinger-crazy lineup in baseball history. The team was aggressive in trying to catch the Indians (the presumed division favorite before the season started). Now that Twins have something to lose, they elected the “hold on for dear life” approach. 

Minnesota didn’t do anything that disruptive at the deadline—no other contender did—but adding Dyson and Romo is a finger in the dike, not a counterpunch to Cleveland’s late-July additions. Given the Twins’ head start, and how good their offseason acquisitions have been, that stop gap might be enough. Minnesota closed the gap on Cleveland by being aggressive this offseason, and through their relative inactivity at the deadline, allowed Cleveland to get back on level footing. If Minnesota does cough up its division lead and falls into the bingo cage of the AL wild-card race, the team’s relatively quiet deadline will stick out more than any untimely strikeout or blown save. Inaction carries its own flavor of risk.

No one knows if the Indians gamble will pay off. Bauer is having an off year, but he’s proven to be a top of the rotation pitcher on a good team. Puig is Puig and will no doubt do Puig things, which is to say he’ll have moments of awesome punctuated by bonehead and distracting crap. Franmil Reyes hits a lot of dingers and not much else (his WAR is -0.2). 

Who knows how it will play out, but one thing’s for certain: I find it difficult to be stressed about it as we set off for Lago Maggiore to continue the trip:

-PAL 

Source: Minnesota’s Historic Season Still Might Not Be Enough to Best Cleveland”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (08/05/19)


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PAL Song of the Week

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “American Girl”


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“If this is about what happened in the bathroom, there was no place to cuddle…”

– Michael Scott

Week of July 26, 2019

It’s a TOB Only Week: Exactly one year after this amazing photo was taken, these two lovebirds are tying the knot this weekend. Congrats PAL and NML!


Why Are We Still Discussing This? MLB Needs to Mandate Immediate Extension of Protective Netting to the Foul Poles

Last weekend, a 3-year old was struck by a foul line drive off the bat of Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians. At this time, the extent of the child’s injuries are unknown, but he was seen rushed up from the stands in the arms of an adult, presumably his father. This incident came on the heels of a similar incident in May, where the Chicago Cubs’ Albert Almora, Jr. fouled a ball off that struck a toddler in the head. That child, we now know, suffered a fractured skull, subdural bleeding, brain contusions, and brain edema. The child was lucky to survive. After these incidents, Lindor and Almora were each visibly upset. After their respective incidents, Almora and Lindor joined the growing chorus of people calling for MLB to expand protective netting all the way to the foul pole. 

Last season, MLB mandated protective netting to the ends of the dugouts. It was a good move, but it was not enough. Since then, injuries have continued to occur. In a story that did not get much press, a woman was killed after she was struck in the head by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium last year. Countless others have been injured, some severely.

The hesitancy doesn’t even make sense to me. Why? Is it because MLB is worried that high paying customers will object? It would appear so. In June, after the Almora incident, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said:

“We do have fans that are vocal about the fact that they don’t want to sit behind nets. I think that we have struck the balance in favor of fan safety so far, and I think we will continue to do that going forward.”

But that doesn’t fly when they already have protective netting for the highest paying customers. And has anyone heard fans raising a stink about the extension of netting to the ends of the dugouts? No. Have fans stopped paying for seats there? No. Why? Because if you’ve ever sat behind home plate, you know that you don’t notice the netting after just a few seconds in your seat. 

In defense of his defenseless inaction, Manfred also blamed “structural issues”:

“It’s very difficult given how far the clubs have gone with the netting to make changes during the year because they really are structural issues.”

Whatever that means. This year, season, two teams made the decision and completed and then completed installation of netting to the foul poles, so we know it’s not impossible. One of those teams is the Chicago White Sox, and White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito applauded the move:

“I think it’s great. I see the counter-arguments like, ‘Don’t sit there’ or ‘Just pay attention to the game.’ Dude, no matter how much you’re paying attention to the game, if that thing’s coming in 115 miles an hour with tail, no matter if you have a glove this big, it could hit you right in the forehead.

Well put, Lucas. I recently sat in the lower bowl behind the dugout at a Giants game, solo-parenting with my two boys, ages 5 and 2. We were behind the netting, but high enough that foul balls can loop over the net. I can tell you that while I paid attention to the game, and I was on very high alert for foul balls, throughout the game there were many times where the boys were distracting me and my eyes were not on the field; and there were two instances where that occurred when a ball was hit in our general vicinity. That split second when I could sense (by crowd reaction) that a ball was on its way toward us but couldn’t locate it was terrifying. In those instances, I jumped out of my seat to block the kids, having no idea where the ball was. Does that sound like fun?

So I ask: WHY ARE WE STILL DISCUSSING THIS? Extend the netting! -TOB


Does a Purpose Pitch Serve Its Purpose?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Eno Sarris has quickly become one of my very favorite sportswriters. In addition to answering my emails asking for fantasy baseball advice (seriously) his writing blends analytics with scouting to explore some of the most previously opaque concepts in baseball. This week, he tackled the “purpose pitch”.

His jump-off was about a recent spat between the Pirates and Cubs. Cubs manager Joe Maddon got angry when a Pirates pitcher threw a ball high and inside to Cubs’ star Javier Baez:

“[W]hen your guys keep getting thrown at their head, that’s another thing, too. It’s not just us. It’s an industry-wide concept that we know that they’re into, and I have it from really good sources.”

What is this industry-wide concept? The purpose pitch. And what is it and why does everyone know the Pirates are “into” it? Here’s an explanation from Travis Sawchick’s 2015 book, Big Data Baseball:

“[P]rior to the 2013 season [the Pirates] found that pitching inside would indeed have a psychological effect on batters that would create even more ground balls and further enhance the plan. The numbers showed that opponents were more likely to pull outside pitches on the ground after being pitched inside earlier. … After being pitched inside, players were less willing to aggressively lunge at outside pitches. Now the coaching staff had the data they needed to get their pitchers to pitch inside, but would the pitchers execute the plan?”

So Eno sets out to answer the question of whether pitching high and inside is worth it. First, he isolates every pitch thrown by the Pirates that was 6″ above the strike zone and 6″ inside. The Pirates threw 3,409 such pitches since 2015 – 1,113 hit the batter, 106 were ball four, and on seven the batter struck out. Of the 2,000 or so pitches left, Eno analyzed what happened on the next pitch: swings and misses were up. But he wasn’t satisfied, because a lot of that was due to the fact that slider-usage was also way up, a pitch that induces more swings and more misses. So he kept going, and he found that the purpose pitch set up weak contact:

Now you’re seeing that Pirates effect. Slugging percentage goes way down. On-base percentage goes up, of course, since you gave away a ball and got closer to a walk, and it’s even understated by this OBP since a third of these pitches resulted in walks — but it does look like players don’t slug very well once a pitcher throws them a purpose pitch high and tight.

But then Eno talked to players, and they told him that it’s not likely a purpose pitch if the pitcher is behind in the count – they can’t waste that pitch.

Aha! The purpose pitch does work! But, Eno astutely points out that if you add back in the 687 hit by pitches, the OBP soars to .511, and the OPS also rises to above league average. In other words: the purpose pitch doesn’t work unless you are sure you won’t hit the batter. Good stuff, Eno! -TOB

Source: Do ‘Purpose Pitches’ Actually Work?“, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (07/23/2019)


Why Team USA Will Not Be Sending Its Best to the Basketball World Cup

The FIBA World Cup is this summer, and the U.S. team should dominate – in theory. But in reality, we may lose. We may lose badly. Why? We aren’t sending our best players. In recent weeks, every elite American NBA player has dropped out. From last year’s All NBA teams, only Kemba Walker remains; Harden, LeBron, Paul George, Curry, Durant, Kawhi, Lillard, Irving, Blake Griffin, and Russell Westbrook have all dropped out. Invites have been extended to guys like PJ Tucker and Marcus Smart. Woof! So why is this happening: 

First, the NBA season is long, and competing in the Olympics/World Cup removes a large portion of a player’s rest and recovery time each year. Plus, superstars are now paid over $40M a year, and if you’re looking at an upcoming deal in that range, do you want to risk it by playing for free? By winning the Olympics/World Cup, you receive a sense of pride, sure. But how much is that pride worth? Historically, NBA players have seemed to value an Olympic Gold enough to take these risks, but do not value the World Cup in the same way. And why is that?

For whatever reason, as a country we place more value on Olympic basketball than the basketball World Cup (this is not true in many other countries around the world). Compared to the Olympics, there is less media coverage of the World Cup, and thus less praise and less glory for the players. The games are a Sportscenter footnote if you win, and you are ridiculed if you lose. There’s no upside, and a lot of downside. Historically, it has thus been difficult for USA Basketball to convince our best players to attend. To illustrate: 

Team USA has lost five Olympic basketball games in history. The 1972 Gold Medal game, the 1988 Semifinals, and the 2004 team, which lost three times en route to a Bronze medal. They have won 15 of the 16 other Olympic Gold Medals (the lone missing Gold due to the 1980 boycott). In contrast, Team USA’s results at the FIBA World Cup (nee World Championships) are much more spotty: 5 gold, 3 silver, 4 bronze, and five times they did not medal, finishing as low as 6th in 2002.

But in his article this week, The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman sounds an alarm for next summer’s Olympics. Sherman notes a pattern we see in Team USA Basketball: (1) A starless Team USA loses in the Olympics; (2) Every superstar comes out the next Olympics and dominates the world en route to Gold; (3) A few superstars stay home in the following Olympics, having already won a Gold previously, but the team still wins Gold, though less impressively; (4) Team USA’s talent level is way down, but they eek out the Gold; (5) A starless Team USA loses in the Olympics. Repeat.

So where on that cycle will we be in 2020? At this point, it appears either 4 or 5. If we sent this year’s World Cup roster to the 2020 Olympics, we will be lucky to medal. It will be up to Team USA to convince the NBA’s top stars, almost all of whom have won one or two or even three Gold Medals to come back out in 2020. Given what’s at stake for the players, though, it will not be an easy sell. -TOB

Source: The Life Cycle of Team USA Basketball”, Rodger Sherman, The Ringer (07/24/2019)


Video of the Week

-Tour de France rider signs his autobiography for a fan. Haaah


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“I’m not going for bulk, I’m going for tone.”

-Michael Scott