Week of May 8, 2020

TOB’s j is all over the Chronicle sports page! Pretty clogged in the lane there. That one guy in the black pants just looks like he’s out for a walk.


Baseball is Back in South Korea, But We Are Not South Korea

Baseball is back! In South Korea. But it’s on ESPN! Late at night. Still, the other night I tuned into the KBO’s opening day, at around 10pm PDT. There was a rain delay, but then the games started. And for about two innings, it was lovely. I scrolled twitter while hearing Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez (shoutout to Eduardo, who we sat next to at breakfast at CWS last year!) discuss baseball. As The Ringer’s Michael Baumann wrote:

It was then that I thought of something I’d heard long ago from a therapist: Sometimes, when we go a long time without something we need, we learn to convince ourselves that we never needed it in the first place. By the time Baek toed the rubber in Daegu on Tuesday morning, I’d gone 52 days without watching a live sporting event, and breaking that streak brought an unexpected yet physically palpable sense of relief. Baseball, even if it featured unfamiliar participants in profoundly weird circumstances at a time when I would much rather have been asleep, had lost none of its emotional potency.

But after a couple innings, I lost interest. I think the majority of that is the same reason I don’t usually watch, say, a Mets/Marlins game on Sunday Night Baseball. I only have so many hours a week, and if I’m going to watch baseball, it’s going to be my team, the team I care about. But The Ringer’s Michael Baumann touched on something else that I was also feeling:

But somewhere around the segment with Passan, the feeling of creeping dread came back. It would be ridiculous to watch baseball returning to South Korea and not expect MLB to poke its head around the corner relatively soon, and the substance of Passan’s appearance focused on when and how that might happen.

As Baumann notes, unlike in the U.S., South Korea’s COVID-19 outbreak was strangled from the outset. We are not in the same position as they are, and it’s not close. Baumann then lays out how the powers that be – from agent Scott Boras and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred all the way to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are all laying the groundwork for the return of sports in the U.S. It’s almost as if ESPN airing the KBO in an effort to put it in our heads: Hey, sports can return. Sports should return! As Baumann puts they are trying to give us “…the overwhelming belief that baseball is important, and if it’s being played anywhere it must be played here also.” 

We don’t know what the next month will look like; we don’t know what the next six months will look like. But resist the urge to look at South Korea playing baseball and think, “We should do that, too.” -TOB

Source: The Joy and Anxiety of Watching KBO’s Return,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (05/06/2020)


On The Line: The Disturbing Diets of the Offensive Linemen 

Some have a hard time maintaining weight, while others are skipping meals and taking saunas to make weight (and avoid team fines), but the life of NFL linemen seems to be centered on food. John Gonzalez’ story reveals the extremes of what it takes to make a living in the trenches, and how the media and fans adore the beer-drinking, beer-belly uggos fighting over inches. 

Gonzalez highlights o-linemen from both ends of careers: from guys just drafted to guys who’ve recently retired. Every dude profiled – from fourth round draft pick Ben Bartch to future HOFs Joe Thomas and Allan Faneca – lives a day scheduled around food. It’s disturbing to read them walk through a ‘typical’ day. If that’s not enough, the during football and after football pics are incredible. You see just how much they ask of their bodies, and then you see how relatively small these dudes are meant to be: 

Joe Thomas:

John Sullivan: 

Alan Faneca: 

As Thomas puts it: “It’s totally an unhealthy relationship with food as an offensive lineman. I don’t know many people who are normally just 300 pounds.”

However, a small light shines through this story. New guys like Bartch and Jon Runyan are looking for ways to do this healthy. Beers and ice cream are being replaced with sweet potatoes, steamed rice, and – as Runyan puts it, “a truckload of chicken breast or tenderloin.” These young guys are food prepping for the week, because it’s pretty hard to eat healthy on a college campus, especially when you need to eat every two hours. Runyan, whose dad played in the NFL, knows the goal is to put on the weight in a way that limits the damage to the body after a NFL career.

A fascinating, albeit disturbing story about the offensive line. Excellent read. – PAL 

Source: ‘It’s Totally an Unhealthy Relationship With Food”’, John Gonzalez, The Ringer (05/05/20)

TOB: This article was just so sad. I’ve heard others suggest a weight limit in the NFL, but I thought it was silly – why keep someone out if they are naturally large? That’s still true for me, but I had no idea so many players have to work so hard to get and stay big. The stories from guys like Joe Thomas on how he much he had to force himself to eat in order to maintain his playing weight are disturbing. Maybe a weight limit is something to consider – even 300 lbs.


Was Trump Good at Baseball?

h/t TOB’s mom for sending this along

Donald Trump has long claimed he was a very good baseball player in high school. In fact, he claimed pro teams scouted him, and that he could have played professional baseball, if he had wanted to. So, writer Leander Schaerlaeckens went to incredible lengths to investigate these claims. He interviewed Trump’s former teammates and coaches; he contacted the MLB teams who supposedly scouted him; he talked to modern day scouts; he found old magazine interviews with Trump and others; he scoured small town newspaper clippings and box scores. Honestly, you have to respect this hustle. 

The conclusion? Trump was probably an average to above-average high school athlete, but no more. Most of his teammates agreed he was a pretty good defensive first baseman, but there was disagreement about his abilities as a hitter. However, Schaerlaeckens was able to find approximately nine box scores; that’s a small sample, but Trump’s team played only 30-40 baseball games over the three years he was on the team, so we’re talking about one-third to one-fourth of Trump’s games. In those games, Trump hit just .138. That is NOT GOOD! Certainly not at the level that would get anyone scouted in Trump’s small, northeast military academy league. 

But the article is interesting as yet another view into how Trump and his people have for decades tried to craft the Trump myth. One of a few examples comes in a piece Trump wrote for Fox News dope Brian Kilmeade’s book about how future politicians were shaped by sports. Here’s Trump in the book:

“I will never forget […] the first time I saw my name in the newspaper,” he continued. “It was when I got the winning home run in a game between our academy and Cornwall High School. It was in 1964 and it was in a little local paper. It simply said, TRUMP HOMERS TO WIN THE GAME. I just loved it and I will never forget it. It was better than actually hitting the home run.”

Schaerlaeckens scoured the local papers of the time and found no such headline, or anything like it. It doesn’t mean it didn’t occur, but it seems doubtful. In fact, according to a former teammate, Trump may have won a game once, but despite Trump’s claims, it was not on a home run:

We were walking together near the baseball field where, he reminded me, he’d played exceptionally well. He demanded that I tell him the story of one of his greatest games.

“The bases were loaded,” I told him. “We were losing by three. You hit the ball just over the third baseman’s head. Neither the third baseman nor the left fielder could get to the ball in time. All four of our runs came in; we won the game.”

“No,” he [Trump] said. “That’s not the way it happened. I want you to remember this: I hit the ball out of the ballpark! Remember that. I hit it out of the ballpark!”

Ballpark? I thought. We were talking about a high school practice field. There was no park to hit a ball out of. And anyway, his hit was a blooper the fielders misplayed.

That sounds like our guy. 

But one Trump boast in particular made me chuckle. In the same article Trump wrote for Kilmeade Trump made a claim that is demonstrably false. Here’s Schaerlaeckens:

Trump, who played first base, wrote that “being a pro was in the equation” until he attended a tryout with “another young kid named Willie McCovey.” Apparently, the sight of the future Hall of Famer in action convinced him to give up baseball for good.

As for Willie McCovey, he was eight years older than Trump. When Trump was a senior in high school, McCovey was in his fifth year in the major leagues and already an All-Star.

Whoops, Donald. Maybe in the future, he could change the story from McCovey to Reggie Jackson, who made his debut in 1967. The math works a little better. -TOB

Source: Was Donald Trump Good at Baseball,” Leander Schaerlaeckens, Slate (05/05/2020)

PAL: Major kudos to Mrs. O’Brien and Schaerlaeckens. This is some real investigative work to confirm something that – on the surface – doesn’t matter to most. I urge folks to read the full story. Two quotes from the story speak volumes to me: 

From the man himself (ellipses from Schaerlaeckens, underline is mine):

I will never forget […] the first time I saw my name in the newspaper. It was when I got the winning home run in a game between our academy and Cornwall High School. It was in 1964 and it was in a little local paper. It simply said, TRUMP HOMERS TO WIN THE GAME. I just loved it and I will never forget it. It was better than actually hitting the home run.

(PAL note: nevermind the fact that no such headline exists, and they never played Cornwall in ‘64, or ‘63, but that’s not the point.)

And this:  “If he had hit the ball to right, he could’ve had a home run because no one was there,” a classmate told the Post. “But he always wanted to hit the ball through people. He wanted to overpower them.” 


The Jordan Rules

As we continue to watch The Last Dance, here’s an excerpt from a 2017 article by Bryan Curtis of the Ringer on former Bulls beat writer Sam Smith’s 1992 book, “The Jordan Rules.” The book dished the dirt on Jordan and the Bulls from inside the locker room as they marched to their first title in 1991:

Or take former Bulls coach Doug Collins, now a commentator on ESPN. In December 1988, the Bulls played so unevenly in Charlotte that Collins called for the team to fly back to Chicago for a Christmas Eve practice. Jordan didn’t appear for the team bus — he was returning to North Carolina for the holidays, anyway, and didn’t want to bother with a round trip to Chicago. Collins — who was, in theory, the coach — was humiliated. But what could he do? He sent word that if Jordan would just meet the team at the airport, Collins would “spontaneously” cancel practice, thus caving to Jordan while (or this was Collins’s idea) preserving a shred of his own authority.

Which is what happened, Smith reported. Except when Jordan showed up at the airport, the guard John Paxson saw he wasn’t wearing socks. No one went to Chicago in winter without socks. The Bulls realized the whole scene was a sham.

I laughed so hard when I read this. Collins reminds me of Michael Scott in “The Dinner Party” episode of The Office.

“This is b.s., this is b.s.! Why are we here? I am going to call Krause. Enough is enough, I’m, god, I’m so mad! This is Doug Collins, Chicago. Well, we don’t want to practice. No, we don’t. It’s not fair to these people! These people are my friends and I care about them! We’re not gonna do it! …Everybody, I just got off the horn with Krause. And basically, I told them where they can stick their Christmas Eve practice. Go enjoy your Christmas!”

Curtis also sees the book as a workplace drama, not unlike The Office. 

The Jordan Rules is a story of coworkers, maybe the best office drama in the history of sportswriting.

In one fascinating sequence, Smith shows how even a small personnel move can reverberate across the roster. Phil Jackson wants to put Stacey King, who’s rotting on the bench, into the starting lineup to get him going. But Jackson realizes such a move will be seen by Horace Grant, who’s angling for a new contract, as management’s scheme to limit his minutes and gain an upper hand in the negotiations. It’s only after Grant’s extension is signed that Jackson makes King a starter. But even that is interpreted by several Bulls players as a power move by David Falk, the agent to both King and Jordan.

The battle was joined by Jackson too. The Jordan Rules allows you to appreciate the now checked-out Knicks boss in his Sith lord prime. Once, Smith reported, Jackson stopped keeping score in a team scrimmage because he knew such a decision would piss off the competitive Jordan. When Jordan tomahawk dunked and then stared down his coach, Jackson knew he’d succeeded. Yes, feel the hate flow through you!

I want to read this book. One more:

But in 1991, the idea that Jordan was an exciting but somehow deficient basketball player was every bit as powerful as the idea that Russell Westbrook is one today. As David Robinson says in the book: “Michael is more of a non-basketball-fan type of player. He always looks great out there hanging, jumping, dribbling around. But if you know a lot about the game, you appreciate what I do more.” 

HAHAHAHA. Oh man, David Robinson putting a spin on the old adage that it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to talk and remove all doubt. But in Robinson’s case, he never said anything controversial and people incorrectly assumed he was wise. Nope. -TOB

Source: ‘The Jordan Rules’ Was the Mother of All Woj Bombs,” Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (06/09/2017)

PAL: Just going to put this right here…


Video of the Week

The 80s were so goddamn funny.


Tweet of the Week

I am not going to embed this, but if you haven’t seen the documentary on former Niners’ QB Alex Smith’s return from a broken leg that resulted in a bacterial infection that almost cost him his leg and his life, and you’re wondering what that might have looked like, then click this link for what his leg looked like four days after the injury. If you’re squeamish, you have been warned.


Song of the Week – El Michels Affair – “Life of Pablo”


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You are a thief of joy. 

-Michael Scott

Week of May 1, 2020

50th Anniversary of Hunter S. Thompson’s Kentucky Derby story and the birth of Gonzo 

To a fat whack of our generation, Hunter S. Thompson is the guy Johnny Depp portrays in a movie. Thompson was a very real guy, and – in a way – he invented the style of journalism that is the grandfather of blogs everywhere. Don’t let the drugs, then guns, and the celebrities fool you; Thompson is a literary giant when it comes to journalism. By accident or otherwise, and his story about the Kentucky Derby was the beginning of ‘gonzo’ as we’ve come to know it.  

If you were looking for a story on the actual race, well this ain’t it, boys and girls. Thos ain’t about the results; this is a story about everything surrounding the race, which is to say everything that actually matters at a sporting event. 

Per Bill Shea: 

A sample: “… the clubhouse bars on Derby Day are a very special kind of scene. Along with the politicians, society belles and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything at all within five hundred miles of Louisville will show up there to get strutting drunk and slap a lot of backs and generally make himself obvious.”

Later, Thompson on how the style came to be: 

“It was one of those horrible deadline scrambles and I ran out of time. I was desperate. Ralph Steadman had done the illustrations, the cover was printed and there was this horrible hole in the magazine. I was convinced I was finished, I’d blown my mind, couldn’t work. So finally I just started jerking pages out of my notebook and numbering them and sending them to the printer. I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody,” Thompson said. “Then when it came out, there were massive numbers of letters, phone calls, congratulations, people calling it a ‘great breakthrough in journalism.’ And I thought, ‘Holy shit, if I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying to write like the New York Times?’ It was like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”

And that’s what the profile became: An indictment of sports celebrity endorsement culture, blending whatever insight Thompson could glean from this young French cipher with his own observations. The reader gets a feel for Thompson’s frustrations in trying to interview, report and write a traditional narrative feature profile.

As it pertains to Thompson, the man. I mean, how in the actual hell did he become the voice of a counterculture, pretenders and otherwise: 

Other than a few classes, the auto-didactic Thompson didn’t attend college. A short stint in jail at the end of high school led to a brief Air Force enlistment, where he ended up as sports editor of a base newspaper in Florida. He taught himself newspaper journalism’s basics from library books.

“When he was stuck in the Air Force and miserable that they weren’t going to make him a pilot, he gravitated to the newspaper job. This would be as close as he could be to being a civilian and still be in the military,” McKeen said. “He learned the jargon from a book.”

Thompson also moonlighted as a civilian sports columnist and a pro wrestling promoter while writing for the Air Force (which included an expose on current or future NFL stars such as Bart Starr getting preferential treatment while on military service teams).

After that, he held a series of jobs at small newspapers, ending up in Puerto Rico to write about bowling alleys at one point, where he started a novel that wouldn’t be published for almost 40 years. Thompson spent about a year in South America writing about local politics and culture for the since-defunct National Observer, a gig that earned him praise within the industry and a wider audience.

And, if you really want a treat, then go ahead and read Thompson’s original Derby story here. – PAL 

Source: “An Inside Look at How Sports Shaped Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Gonzo’ Journalism”, Bill Shea, The Athletic (04/29/20)

TOB: I read Thompson’s original Kentucky Derby when Grantland (RIP!) published it in full back in 2013. I can’t wait to read it again.


What It’s Like: Caddieing a PGA Tour Event

I could do that! There aren’t many roles in professional sports that us regulars watch and can honestly think, I could do that, but caddieing a professional golf tournament seems like it would be near the top of the list. And what an odd role. Part navigator, part assistant. A one-man entourage. Guitar tech of the sports world. Such a strange way to make a life. 

I could do that. Maybe. Daniel Rapaport did it, and his story is a great Saturday AM read and a fun break from the 24/7 pandemic news cycle. Rapaport met PGA Tour player Matthew Fitzgerald in 2013. They were both freshmen at Northwestern. Rapaport was hoping he’d claim a spot on the golf team as a walk-on. Fitzgerald, U.S. Amatuer champ, left school after one semester to prepare for The Masters. Since then, Rapaport earned his stripes as a sportswriter while Fitzgerald slowly made his way up the various tours until earning his PGA card in 2018. They grew closer, especially when Fitzgerald would crash at Rapaport’s parent’s place in L.A. when he was in the area for tournaments. 

Rapaport had floated the idea of caddieing long ago, and – after a couple near misses – he got his chance at the legendary Pebble Beach Pro Am. That’s when this story starts to get really interesting. The amount of data that each player and caddie have to process in each shot is pretty incredible. Let’s just say the scorecard clipped to your cart and the books these dudes get aren’t very similar. The practice rounds (which sound like absolute heaven on a golf course) weren’t just for ‘Fitzy’ – Rapaport needed some reps, too. 

My first order of business was figuring out how we’d calculate yardages. There’s a surprising amount of math involved. It’s not difficult math, but there’s a lot of it, and it needs to be done quickly and correctly. The process starts with the tee shot. The tour yardage book gives you a number to every sprinkler head, as well as how many yards uphill or downhill it is. But the yardage is given from the back of whatever tee the person who made the book thinks will be used, so you have to pace off how far the markers are from the back of the box. If they’re using another tee box, that’s another layer.

The more crucial calculations come with the approach shot. The book will list every sprinkler head out there, and the sprinkler heads show a number to the middle of the green. But pros aren’t concerned with this yardage. So you find the nearest sprinkler—say, in this case, it reads 140—and check the book. The book tells you that from the 140 sprinkler, it’s 124 yards to the front, and it will also list the slope. Say it’s six yards uphill—it’s playing 130 to the front edge. You then consult the daily pin sheet, which tells you how many paces on the green the flag is. Say it’s 14 paces on. Now we’re at 144 to the flag. But we’re not trying to land it at the flag. Say we want the ball to pitch four paces short. Now we’re back to 140. On to the wind. Say it’s a bit into the fan. Matt thinks it’s playing five yards more. Now we’re at our number: 145. Last calculation: a start line and a finish line. Then, finally, it’s go time. All that in less than 30 seconds.

I thought I had the hang of it all until we reached the ninth hole, an uphill par 4 that turns slightly right. Matt hit his drive in the middle of the fairway—it’s hard to overstate just how straight Fitzy hits it—and asks me, and me alone, to get the yardage. A test! I ran through the numbers quickly and confidently. I communicated to him that it was playing 158 with a hair of wind in the face, a perfect 8-iron. After he struck the approach, it was clear the ball needed to sit—quickly. Get. Down. Now.It didn’t, and it pitched on the back edge of the green, a solid 15 yards past the pin. He then gave me The Look. Every caddie knows The Look. It’s when your player stares at you piercingly, and you both know that you have just screwed up massively, and someone better just say something already. I looked back down at the pin sheet, and sure as hell, I was looking at the eighth hole, not the ninth.

Love the payoff there. The other big take-away Rapaport left with (aside from eating italian every night because, well, the boss likes italian food), was the mental exhaustion. These caddies aren’t hitting the shots, but they are living and dying on every shot. While their cut isn’t nearly as big as the players, they are winning and losing a lot of money with every shot to which they inform. 

Players always talk about how “mentally tired” they are after a tournament, but I never understood what they meant. I do now. This was the most emotionally invested I’ve been in anything since high school sports. I was nervous as hell on the first tee every morning. I lived and died with every birdie putt. I cringed as he prepared to play a tricky flop shot, and my eyes got huge as I saw an approach fly directly at the flag. I buzzed as we started making birdies, and cursed as we started making bogeys. I was the happiest guy in the world after our Saturday back-nine flourish and virtually inconsolable (just ask my girlfriend) after a bitterly disappointing Sunday.

The story is a bit fat in the front, but a fun read that leaves you with a bit more appreciation for the guy walking next to The Guy. – PAL

Source: I Caddied for a Top-25 Player in the World at a PGA Tour Event. Here’s What It Was Like”, Daniel Rapaport, Yahoo (04/27/20)

TOB: I’m sure Rapaport knows a lot more about golf than I do, but all this told me is that caddying (shouldn’t it be caddying and not caddieing?) is the easiest, most luuuuuux gig there is. It takes very little actual skill – nothing you can’t pick up in 15 minutes. And the reward? The top 50 golfers last year averaged $4.6M in winnings. Rapaport says caddies take 8% (though 10% if it’s a major) – which equates to the average full-time caddy making $368,000 and change. There are 40 weeks a year with a PGA event. I doubt most players play them all. So a caddy makes all that money for 30 or so weeks’ work. Nice gig!

Also, I could not stop laughing at how much he used “we” – “We played the first eight of the final round in even par, which had us creeping up the board on a brutally windy day..when you’re six over for the day through 12 holes, the mind wanders to what could have been done differently: We could have hit 9-iron on 9 instead of wedge, I could have said something different on 10 tee, we could have started that tee shot on 12 more right.” LOLLLLLLLL.


Jordan : Athlete :: King Arthur : Political Leader

Loved this Brian Phillips’ piece on The Last Dance. Thought I’d share it, since I’m pretty sure most of us are watching. Let’s be honest – the Rodman ep was meh, but the stories about the Pistons were so good. 

I love this story because I’d never heard the connection we have to our childhood heroes explained in this way, and as soon as I read it, I thought, Damn; that’s exactly it r

As kids, Phillips’ sister would say that she controlled MJ on the court. Emily wasn’t even a basketball fan, but nonetheless she would tell Brian, “Michael Jordan and I just have a…kind of connection.” It became a bit of a family joke, with their father praising Emily after Jordan made yet another spectacular play (sidenote: my god, the highlights of a young Jordan. I know we’ve seen them before, but his speed, power, grace remain awe-inspiring.)

Phillips explores the truth in their telekinetic joke: 

My sister’s joke about moving MJ around with her mind was only a somewhat exaggerated version of how hordes of basketball fans (and non-basketball fans, and probably fruit flies, though they couldn’t buy Nikes) watched his games in the ’90s. It’s only a somewhat exaggerated version of how we watch great athletes in general—not literally guiding their movements, that is, but somehow participating, hitching an imaginary ride in their bodies. We feel a kind of sympathetic echo of their actions, as if, on some shadow-cellular level, they’re our actions, too.

That lands. I was with Puckett when he tracked Ron Gant’s deep fly in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. I jumped when he jumped, and it all mixes together to the point in which it’s difficult to separate my experience from his. The echo on a cellular level…ain’t that the truth. (And – yep – I know you Giants fans are so beyond over hearing about Puckett, Game 6. Too bad.) 

Phillips goes on to also explain the power of Jordan is the simplicity of his narrative, which is the template of the modern sports narrative (after being ‘cut’ from his high school team, he exceeds every expectation, hits ‘every’ clutch shot, and becomes a billionaire). What’s more, he represents the closest to the ideal that we’ve witnessed.

Like any competitive pursuit, sports have always trafficked in the ideal. Here’s the perfect body; sculpt it. Here’s the perfect victory; write a poem about it in Greek. For the most part, though, the ideal remains an abstract concept. People chase perfection but don’t reach it, as a rule. In America in the 1980s and ’90s, though, we decided that we were going to get to see the ideal—the real thing, the source itself, in the flesh. You could write a thesis, probably, on the historical factors that went into constructing that determination. The point is, Michael Jordan gave it to us. He came so close to actually embodying the ideal athlete—he really did hit the buzzer-beaters, he really did seem to move in a different and more beautiful way than other players, he really did seem to hang for an impossible extra beat in the air—that we were able to believe the ideal athlete existed. He was here. He was ours. He was the perfect fusion of capitalism and destiny. He was a living person, but the way we experienced him, he was a basketball player in approximately the same way as King Arthur was a political leader.

That’s some big thinking. An idea that will stick with you for a weekend. And so, as is the case with many examples of great writing, this story is a long path towards a question: is The Last Dance a refresher of the ideal or an unearthing of the humanity in Mike Jordan? – PAL 

Source: Michael Jordan the Story Versus Michael Jordan the Man”, Brian Phillips, The Ringer (04/27/20)


How One Trade Got Done

From the public standpoint, there are generally two types of blockbuster trade. The first is the long-rumored, makes so much sense trade that gets discussed for weeks or months before it finally gets done. The second is the one that shows up as breaking news, out of nowhere, on the ESPN ticker.

But either version, a trade usually doesn’t come together quickly. There is a lot of negotiation back and forth. I’ve always wondered how it happens, though I’m sure it’s always different. So I really enjoyed this story on the 2013 trade that sent James Shields from the Rays to the Royals for a package of prospects, including the then #1 rated prospect, Wil Myers. Executives from both sides go on the record, 7 years later, and it’s a really interesting read. They discuss how they valued the different players involved, the emotional investment for each, knowing when is the time to push your chips in the middle, and even the exact moment the trigger was pulled. 

Inside Moore’s suite was a dry-erase board covered in ink. Moore had written the names of Kansas City’s top prospects. He made his case to his assistants. He crossed off Myers’ name. He crossed off Odorizzi. He crossed off Montgomery and Leonard. Moore pointed to the unsullied names on the board.

“Do we still have a good system?” he asked. Heads nodded. “If we’re going to compete,” Moore said, “we have to make this deal. I don’t know about you guys. But I’m tired of losing.”

Friedman and Moore reconnected. “The tenor of the conversation changed dramatically,” Friedman said. They were speaking the same language.

The two teams left Nashville without a deal done. Moore still needed to convince his owners to take on the contracts for Shields and Davis. He wanted to escape the bubble of the Winter Meetings and reflect. He wanted to gather himself before taking the plunge.

A couple days later, Moore went to a Christmas party with Picollo and scouting director Lonnie Goldberg. During a lull in conversation, Moore made up his mind. He pulled out his phone.

“Guys, I’m just going to go do this,” he said. “I’m going to call Andrew right now.”

It’s also interesting to read, 7 years later, because I don’t think this deal gets done now. Myers was the #1 rated prospect. Now, he’s a goddamn Giants-killer, but overall he was disappointing for the Rays, and has been just ok for the Padres. But he was The Next Big Thing, and he was traded for a 31-year old pitcher, with a lot of innings on his arm, with exactly one All Star Appearance and one season in which he received Cy Young votes, and only two years of team control. He was basically Joe Blanton. Prospects are simply valued much higher now, and there is no way a guy like Shields is enough to get not only the #1 prospect, but a few other highly rated guys, too. Still, a very fun read. -TOB

Source: ‘It Was Time to Win’: Inside the Royals’ Trade for James Shields and Wade Davis,” Andy McCullough, The Athletic (04/22/2020)


Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Pink Floyd – ‘Wish You Were Here’


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Stanley’s dedication is no doubt one of the hallmarks of the foundation of the business we’re hoping to build our basis on.

-Michael Scott

Week of April 24, 2020

TOB is Klay at every pickup game.


The Silver Lining to Shelter-in-Place

The last month has been difficult. Fifty thousand people have died in this country. That’s a nearly-full football stadium, just wiped away. For the loved ones they left behind, it’s been devastating; life-altering. 

For others, like us, it’s been merely an adjustment, and thankfully nothing more. But I miss so many things: the periodic visits from my parents; weekend trips to get coffee and donuts with the boys; hours-long brew days and chats with Phil; daily strategy sessions and shop-talk with my buddy Kevin at work; pickup basketball in my neighborhood on Sunday mornings.

But more than all of that, I try to ignore what my kids are missing out on. My oldest, who wants nothing more than to play sports, got to play exactly one spring soccer game and zero baseball games. It was his first baseball season, and he sure seems snakebit. Last season, I got him onto a team and after the first few practices were rained out, we showed up to the first game, ready to play, and he was turned away for being too young. This year, he went to opening ceremonies, then had his first game rained out, and the rest of the season canceled. My youngest, who for two years was desperate to attend school, had his first year of preschool cut in half. He talks about all of his friends daily – giving us random stories about something one of them did to him, or said to him, or how he handled it. And he begged me Thursday to “go to class” via Zoom with his teacher again, which he did the day before and absolutely loved.

Because even with all of that going on, I’ve tried to be very conscious of how unbelievably lucky my wife and I are. We have our health, as do our friends and family. We have our jobs. We have incredible childcare help that allows us to do and keep those jobs.

But more than that, we are so lucky because after a few weeks’ adjustment period, things are … kinda great. My wife and I work a lot, and now I get to spend so much time with her, and our kids, because we no longer have a 40-min trip each way to the office  The kids, especially, probably hope the shelter-in-place never gets lifted. I enjoy the lazy mornings, listening to the funny things they say to each other as they play. I enjoy the walk upstairs at lunch, knowing they’re about to scream, “Daddyyyyyyy!” with glee when they hear the door open. I enjoy the hours of board games and chess and baking. And, of course, the baseball out front. With the lessened traffic, I now let them just hit directly into the street, after which I chase the ball down the hill. Sometimes, my wife even pitches and I stand in the street playing outfield. 

I try to be mindful of all of this, even as things around us are so difficult. And I thought a lot about it as I read this wonderful article by Dwayne Bray, about how he and his 17-year old son, who long ago gave up baseball to focus on basketball, which he plays at a prep school far from home, have used the shelter-in-place to rediscover the simple joy of throwing some batting practice to each other:

I began by tossing Nick some balls that he could hit into the fence above the backstop. That was always how we started things, back in the day. Next, he walked through the crabgrass and out to the mound. I crouched behind the plate and caught about 25 fastballs — some high, some wide and some down the middle. Years earlier, I’d let him send 50 pitches my way, but bending down to catch 50 pitches isn’t in the cards anymore.

We moved to short toss and, once our arms were loose, we tossed the ball long. I hit him some infield grounders and he fielded most of the balls cleanly, given that he was working with uneven turf and tricky hops. Then we got to our main activity, which was dad hitting long fly balls to son, who would roam center field and shag them. We only had two baseballs and that was plenty.

“Hit it farther,” Nick yelled after my first few flies were more shallow than he wanted. “Make me run.”

After about 10 minutes in the outfield, Nick sprinted in and said, “Let’s switch up. You go to the outfield and I’ll do the hitting.” After about another 10 minutes we switched back.

After about an hour, I was spent. I knew we had one more thing to do. I pitched Nick a fastball and he jacked a screamer into deep left-center. I ran as fast as I could after it. By the time I reached the ball, he’d already crossed the plate. He didn’t slow down to give me a chance. He just wanted to crush the old man. We laughed.

If it weren’t for the isolated world of coronavirus that we live in, I doubt that Nick and I would have ever revived our baseball ritual. This was about dad and son and a game that we both love.

“I had forgot how much fun baseball is,” Nick said to me as we packed up our equipment. “When I have kids, I’m going to make sure I play baseball with them.”

“And when MLB comes back, I’m going to watch more of it,” he said.

As I headed off to my car, and he to his, he had one more thing to say.

“Dad, as long as things are shut down, let’s keep doing baseball, OK?”

Three days later, we were out there again.

The world is a weird and scary place right now, but it’s still a beautiful place, too. -TOB

Source: Under the Coronavirus Lockdown, a Father and Son Rediscover Their Love for Baseball,” Dwayne Bray, The Undefeated (04/21/2020)

PAL: We’re closing in on Week 7 of shutdown mode. Week 7! Sheesh. While our families and friends have avoided the worst of the health scare so far – thank god – the wake of this thing is so wide, and it’s no doubt being felt by loved ones in painful ways. It rolls over everything. Each day feels fragile. Everything must balance: some news (but not too much), a work out (but not at lunchtime or 5pm when everyone’s out), get through a to-do list for work (step 1: make to-do list), cook a good dinner (but let’s be aware of how often we’re going to the grocery store, and let’s make sure to get takeout from our favorite local spots), driveway visits (but let’s keep it 15 feet apart just to be safe), not watching 3 hours of television.

And I wonder about when I can safely visit my parents in Minnesota. I want to give my mom a hug.

So with all of that in mind, this story and TOB’s write-up got my day off to a good start. I think it will do the same for you. I’ve seen TOB in action during the shelter (from a safe distance). My pop-a-shot record at the O’Brien’s house has been bested (most notably by TOB’s 6 year-old), and the security cam videos of the family playing baseball in the driveway are a highlight, too. There is a lot of playing going on over there. A lot. Wish like hell I could join in!


Mike Jordan

On Sunday, the first two of ten episodes of “The Last Dance,” a documentary chronicling the final season of the Jordan-era Bulls’ dynasty in 1998. I didn’t think there was anything groundbreaking, but it was an entertaining and quick two hours that left me wanting more. We’ll likely be writing about it a few times over the next few weeks, because a lot has been written about it so far. 

Before he was Michael Jordan, or Air Jordan, or His Airness…he was Mike Jordan. One of my favorite parts of The Last Dance’s first two episodes was seeing clips of the sheepish and young, the confident but quiet, Mike Jordan. Before the commercials and the Beatles-treatment everywhere he went, he was a kid from North Carolina.

My earliest memory of Michael Jordan was watching him and the Bulls lose to the Pistons in the 1990 playoffs. I remember being so mad. I was eight. By that time, he was all-caps MICHAEL JORDAN, even though he wouldn’t win his first championship until the following year. So I really loved the footage of young Mike, in college and in his first couple years in the pros, before he found his voice, before he was sure of his place atop the game.

One of the many articles written about the first two episodes was by Sam Smith, the former Bulls beat writer who in 1992 wrote “The Jordan Rules,” an inside look at the Bulls under Jordan that was not exactly flattering. Smith’s article touches on much of what I liked about the first two episodes, as he waxed on young Jordan, before he became too famous to function:

As I’ve related at times, I had a good relationship with Jordan writing about the Bulls for The Chicago Tribune in the 1980s. He was great fun to be around, the so called man’s man with whom every moment was a test, a contest, an action, an event.

As unlikely as it seems now, back then hardly anyone believed you could win a title with Jordan on your team. He’s just a scorer! the columnists instructed. You need to make others better like Larry and Magic did.

Hey, I’m being asked to make Mike Smrek, Gene Banks and Steve Colter better, Jordan would lament. But there may not have been a better interview, few players more welcoming, cordial, engaging and relentlessly interesting. Jordan loved the media give and take. He didn’t like shooting before the games because crowds would gather like with the Curry dribbling shows. He preferred to verbally engage, challenge, get that last word.

Obviously the documentary is about the 1998 season, long after Jordan could no longer be that guy. So I doubt we will get much more of that era, but I really enjoyed that aspect of the first two episodes.

Also: in the article, Smith gives context to one of Jordan’s most infamous quotes (“Hey, Republicans buy sneakers, too.”). Jordan said it to Smith, and as Smith notes, people have bashed Jordan over it for decades, arguing he’s a corporate tool. But Smith disagrees. It was just a joke. He should know; after all, Jordan said it to Smith. And, as Smith notes:

After his career I do know he was seriously involved with Barack Obama’s campaigns and has supported more social causes than most. Mostly quietly or anonymously.

I didn’t know that, and I appreciated it. -TOB

Source:The Story Behind One of Michael Jordan’s Most Misunderstood Quotes,” Sam Smith, NBA.com (04/15/2020)


Always Watch The Credits (more on The Last Dance)

I will say, it’s always a red flag when the subject of the doc is the one putting it out. Hey – I know I’ll enjoy the hell out of this documentary series, but it is worth noting that, (A) nothing went into this doc without Jordan’s approval, and (B) Jordan’s production company is a partner in this thing. 

What’s more:

Commissioner Adam Silver, who in the 1990s was the head of NBA Entertainment, told ESPN that a condition of allowing the film crew to follow the Bulls around during the 1997-98 season was that none of the footage could be used without Jordan’s permission. Optically, very little of this is unvarnished.

I’ve heard multiple times from Dan Patrick and Bill Simmons (both former ESPN talent) that everyone had know about the tapes for years. No one thought this thing would ever get done, because Jordan would never approve it. 

Well, in 2016, Jordan finally gave the thumbs up. He did so on the same day Lebron James and his Cavelier teammates were having their championship parade. Hmmmmm. 

And later:

“I am reminded of that viral clip of Jordan and Tom Brady playing pickup basketball with other unidentified players from 2015 in the Bahamas.

“Hey, man, you guys still have YouTube?” Jordan, in his early 50s, says to one of his defenders after making a flawless jumper over him. “You better put on Michael Jordan for real.”

“That’s what “The Last Dance” is: Jordan reminding us who he is, or was, as James’s legacy emerges. Not just as a basketball player, but culturally. Would a documentary about James’s career attract multiple former presidents and A-list celebrities?”

To be fair, I should wait until I’ve watched the entire series before teeing up this stuff. But also, to be fair, THERE ARE NO OTHER SPORTS GOING ON! – PAL 

Source: Is Michael Jordan Playing Defense in ‘The Last Dance’?”, Sopan Deb, The New York Times (04/20/20)


I MISS KRUK AND KUIP

I miss ‘em! And I’m not alone. The Athletic’s Steve Berman (nee the Bay Area Sports Guy) wrote up a nice story on Kruk and Kuip, and how they are staying busy, and in touch, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a nice read, with lots of Kruk and Kuip being Kruk and Kuip. I recommend it.

But I especially liked this anecdote about how they got their start together, broadcasting games:

Their other connection, of course — one which started as players on road trips when the dugouts were spacious enough to stay out of trouble — is broadcasting.

Krukow and Kuiper loved calling games together as teammates, but they had to pick their spots. First, only certain locations made it even feasible without getting reprimanded by a cranky manager.

“It was the real broadcast,” Krukow said. “There was lots of profanity and lots of cutting-edge observations on our opponents, many of whom we weren’t that fond of. Same thing, we would have cutting remarks about our own teammates, which would entertain our teammates sitting close to us. So we had fun with it.”

“Language that at times we wish we could use (today),” Kuiper said. “Certainly not appropriate for people watching in their living room. But that’s dugout language. That’s not language I used in catechism. It was a language that I used in the dugout. So it kind of fit perfectly for where we were sitting.”

There was a problem — one which has suited Krukow and Kuiper quite well since they retired: Sometimes, they were a little too entertaining.

“We would actually get (teammates) that would come over,” said Kuiper. “And it was kind of odd, because Frank [Robinson, the manager] would look down the bench and he had nobody sitting around him, but there would be like eight guys sitting next to Mike and I. And then we had to break up that group because then it was pretty obvious something was going on down there that was a lot more fun than what was going on behind Frank.

I would pay $100 per season to hear them call a game like that.

Source: From the Dugout to Zoom: The Friendship of Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper Endures,” Steve Berman, The Athletic (04/12/2020)

PAL: $100? $100 is not enough. Show some damn respect. I love how they could only do it at stadiums with long dugouts. Philly? Nope. Pittsburgh? Not a chance. Montreal? Long dugouts. They could have some fun for an inning or two in Montreal. Outstanding.

TOB: LOL. I almost said a dollar a game, but that seemed low – it’s worth more than that. Then I thought $200. But that’s more than MLB’s league pass. So even though $100 for 162 games is than $1 per game, I  don’t sit down and watch from start to finish 100 games per year. These days I often have to flip through after the kids go to bed. So $100 for the season to pop-in and hear them talk some shit sounded right.


Is NCAA Basketball About to Get Knocked Out?

A year and a half ago, the NBA announced a new option for elite high school seniors not yet eligible for the NBA Draft: the G League (formerly the NBDL) (*If you’re rightfully wondering why the NBA won’t just lift its rule preventing players from entering the draft until one year after they finish high school, it’s because the NBA wants to protect its teams from investing millions in players who they’ve only seen play against high school competition.) The money was far less than for an NBA rookie, but at a then-announced $150,000 per year contract, it was about even with what players get to play at a school like Arizona ( ;), Casey).

It was certainly newsworthy, but many were rightfully skeptical – it takes a lot to turn a tanker, and the NCAA is one of the biggest. Decades of history, and endless TV exposure that the NCAA provides, were seen as too difficult to pass up. Sure, a few players have gone to Europe or Australia in recent years, but the G League has a bit of a stigma, and its games are rarely on TV, or covered at all. It would take a true star to turn this ship, and this week, the G League got it. 

Jalen Green is that dude. Green is the top-rated prospect in the 2020 high school class. Originally from Fresno, California and playing his senior year at Prolific Prep in Napa, Green is a 6’5 combo guard who many believe would be the #1 pick in this year’s draft, if he was eligible. But he’s not. So instead of having to clandestinely take $100,000 or ply his trade in exchange for a useless half-year of education in college, and instead of traveling across the globe, far from family and friends, Green took the G League up on its offer. 

His contract is reportedly worth upwards of $1,000,000. Other prospects who join the program will apparently make at least $500,000.00. And instead of having to fake their way through classes for one semester and be limited in the time they can work on their craft, they will be instead placed in a program designed to develop them, as they play a select few exhibition games. This is great for Green.

It’s not great for the NCAA. If this becomes commonplace, the already depleted talent-level in college will get so much worse. While watching the Jordan documentary, I was struck by the talent in the 1982 NCAA championship, when Jordan hit the game winning shot. You’ve got Jordan, the greatest ever. But you’ve also got Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing and James Worthy, plus Sam Perkins and Sleepy Floyd. You just don’t see that kind of talent in college anymore, because the best players leave before they develop. I often think of guys in their third year in the league (like Jason Taytum this year), and just imagine him as a senior this year at Duke. LOLLLLLL. He’d be DESTROYING everyone. Of course, there’d be lots of other older players, too: De’Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball, Bam Adebayo? Seniors. Bagley, Ayton, Trae Young, and Gilgeous-Alexander? Juniors

The talent level has already been so poor for two decades now, but it’s about to get worse if all those players don’t even play a single year. You can argue that it will create better basketball because there will be more continuity. But you don’t see anyone clamoring to watch D-II basketball, do you? Or even the Ivy League? 

The NCAA is like an aging fighter who just got a cut above its eye in the fourth round. Are they going to get pummeled for the next few rounds before collapsing a bloody heap in the tenth? Or are they going to throw a haymaker that wins them the belt? In this case, the haymaker the NCAA needs is to agree to pay players. They are now in direct competition with the NBA for the dozen or so very best players each year. If they don’t do something drastic, to not only get the best players into college but also keep them for a few years, they’re going to stagger around the ring for a few years before the ref stops the bout. -TOB

PAL: It’s far from perfect, but something along the lines of the baseball draft seems like a decent solution. Here are the simplified rules for first year players in U.S. and Canada (some dudes get drafted multiple times): 

  • High school graduates who haven’t enrolled at a college are eligible
  • Junior college players are eligible 
  • College players, over 21 (odd speculation to me), who have completed their junior or senior year

For basketball, maybe they adjust to something like: 

  • High school graduates who haven’t enrolled at a college are eligible (or they can play in the G-league or wherever they want)
  • Junior college players are eligible (seems like a far rarer scenario, but – hey – we JUST wrote about Shawn Kemp, who was a juco guy)
  • College players who have completed their sophomore year 

In other words, either you go after high school, or you have to play 2 years in college. The best 5-10 don’t play college ball: either they get drafted or join a professional league, but there’s some continuity to college teams with players staying for two seasons. You miss out on the phenoms, but some very good players and teams can sprout in two years together. 

Maybe the best 50 prep players eventually chose routes alternative to college. You make an interesting point about Ivy Leagues and D-II ball not getting a lot of attention. I would argue, at least partially, that’s due to it being an inferior form of college basketball. At least for the foreseeable future, people will watch the best college basketball available, because watching college ball is also about nostalgia to some extent. It’s a reminder of our college days. And people love reminders of the glory days. 


Video of the Week


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Song of the Week: Pure Prairie League – “Amie”


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“Here’s to good friends…mmm…sort of an oaky afterbirth.”

-Michael Scott

Week of April 17, 2020

Happy Birthday, TOB. Now stop dunking and help your dad wash the suburban.


No. 1, Willie Mays

It’s a name that really sings, doesn’t it? Willie Mays. Say it out loud, but say it quickly. Willie Mays. For 70 years, that name has echoed on streets and playgrounds, ball fields and school yards. Willie Mays. Imagine little kids across the country in 1951, when Willie debuted with the New York Giants, hearing that name dance out of their radio. Willie Mays. Imagine it rolling off their dad’s tongue in 1954, as he read aloud the story of The Catch from the morning sports page. Willie Mays. 

That name continues to dazzle, though it’s been almost 50 years since Willie Mays last played in the major leagues. When my sons and I play baseball, they argue over who gets to “be” Willie Mays. And if you think I’m exaggerating, this was Tuesday:

He’s just three (and it’s fitting because I tried to name him Willie Mays, though my wife would not give in). He has never seen Willie Mays play, of course. He can tell you he was on the Giants. I think he could tell you his jersey number, but that’s about it. There’s something about that name that sparks the imagination, though.

Last Friday, shortly after we posted our weekly digest, Posnanski published the next in line in his Top 100 series: No. 2, Babe Ruth. I think I gasped. I had long assumed Ruth would be #1. I predicted Joe would have Willie Mays #3. But #1? I read through the Ruth story, and it was fine, but I waited all weekend to read his story on Mays, and it did not disappoint. Here’s how it begins:

Think for a moment about the first vivid baseball memory you have.

Perhaps you have a hollow plastic bat in your hands and a Wiffle Ball floats toward you. How old are you? 3? 5? Older? All you want to do is hit the ball. Where does that hunger come from? Who taught you that? Nobody. It is an instinct. You stand rigidly with your legs spread apart and the bat resting on your shoulder — maybe your parents set you up that way like an action figure. The ball dangles in midair like a disco ball. You swing the bat the way you imagine it should be swung, and you connect, perfect contact.

The ball takes off like a leaf caught in the wind, and you begin to run and stumble toward invisible bases that hide in the grass. You run a tight circle around the pitcher — is it your dad? Your mom? Your grandpa? Your best friend? — until you make it all the way around.

And when you get back where you started, you tumble over in the best version of a slide that you can muster. Who taught you how to slide? No one. You just knew.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Or maybe it is this: You and a friend throw a rubber ball (a tennis ball?) against the stairs that climb up to your front door. The sun is so big and warm that it seems to color the cloudless sky yellow. If you throw a ball against those stairs just right — so that the ball hits the upper corner flush — it will take off like a toy rocket. And that’s what your friend does. The ball erupts off the stair and goes soaring toward the street, and you turn your back and sprint after it. You can’t catch it, but you run just the same because … well, just because. And then to your surprise, you find that you start gaining on the ball. You can see it coming down, and you can see that if you reach out, stretch out, thrust out your arm as far as it can possibly go …

And maybe you catch it. How did you catch it? You don’t know but you feel electricity buzzing throughout your body and you shout out to your friend, “DID YOU SEE THAT?” And your friend jumps up and down excitedly — or, wait, maybe you are the friend — and the two of you spend the rest of the afternoon reliving the catch.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Maybe your memory is of buying a new pack of baseball cards. This might be in the days when baseball cards come with a rectangle of rock-hard chewing gum that tastes like cardboard and rubs your tongue raw like sandpapers … or maybe this is years later, when there was no gum, when instead there would be specialty cards inside, maybe an autographed card or one that has a little piece of fabric worn by a major leaguer.

Either way, you pull off the plastic wrapper slowly because you want to savor it all, make the experience last for as long you can. And you slide down the top card just a little so that it reveals only a tiny portion of what card is next. Hmm. Look here. The next player is on your favorite team. Could it be? You don’t dare to hope yet. You slide the card down a little more. Yes, it might be. A little more. Yes! The next card is your favorite player, you already know that this next card is now the most valuable thing you own, and you might sleep with it under your pillow or you might put it in one of those baseball card cases for protection. Whatever you do, your life is just a little bit different and better than it was before.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Perhaps you are at a ballpark. Everything looks so green. You’d seen games on television. You’ve looked at boxscores and imagined. But you never believed it could be so green.

The smells overwhelm you — what is that? Beer? Hot dogs? Funnel cakes? Sweat? Yes. All of it. Baseball smells like an amusement park and a backyard barbecue and an afternoon at a movie theater and recess at the playground all at once. Then you hear the sounds, cheers and chatter, boos and a vendor selling peanuts, claps and stomps and groans and hopeful screams that either rise into happy symphonies or trail off into disheartened sighs, all while an organist plays “Hava Nagila” and a Mexican Hat Dance and a cavalry charge and that nameless song that plays a duet with your rapid heartbeat.

Here we go (YOUR TEAM), here we go (CLAP CLAP).

Maybe you even keep score. You’d have to be a certain age for that to ring true, probably. To keep score, you mark (with your blunt pencil that barely leaves a mark) a 6-3 for a grounder to short or a 9 for a fly ball to right field or you trace that pencil all around the bases and draw a diamond for a home run.

And then a ball is hit deep and the center fielder chases after it, but there is no chance the ball can be caught, the geometry teacher in your head tells you so. Then you see the ball and the man converge, and at the last possible instant the center fielder takes flight and pulls it in, and all at once, all together, people lose their bleeping minds.

“Put a star next to that one,” someone tells you, and you do, you put a little star next to the “8.”

That memory, most of all, is Willie Mays.

Chills. Seriously, I’ve read that four times now, and it gives me chills every time. Posnanski absolutely nails it: Willie Mays deserves to be #1 because he was great, yes, but more than that he was and is everything great about baseball: he loved to play. Loved it. In all the clips I’ve ever seen, the joy he played with oozed from his pores. Look at the video of The Catch.

It’s INCREDIBLE on every level – the read, the speed, the athleticism, the determination, and the sheer difficulty – the impossible angle (straight back, which is just so hard to do), and then of course the way the ball sails right over his head and lands softly in his glove. Then there’s the awareness to immediately get the ball back into the infield, which saved the game, as the runner tagging from second had to stop at third (remember this is deep center at the Polo Grounds, so around 460 feet). But the thing that always tickles me about that catch is the panache – the way his hat flies off, the way he whirls around as he throws like he’s tossing a discus. He’s having an absolute ball, and it’s impossible not to love.

It doesn’t hurt, as a Giants fan, that he’s “ours.” Last season, we were driving on the freeway on the way to the ballpark when I came upon a license plate I had seen once before: 1SAYHEY. I said: “Oh my god. I think we’re about to drive past Willie Mays.” I sped up a little, then slowed down next to him. And sure enough, there he was, the Say Hey Kid, in the passenger seat. I waved. I don’t remember if he noticed. But I said to the kids, “Do you see that guy? That is Willie! Mays! FROM THE STATUE!” He was headed to the game, too. 

It’s those days you show up to the ballpark and Willie shows up, too, that are really special. You feel like a little kid. And you get to point and say to your kids, “That, right there, is Willie Mays, the best baseball player there ever was.” No other fanbase gets that.

Willie turns 89 next month. And every time I see him I think, “Is this the last time?” But instead of getting sad, it makes me appreciate the experience more, and I cheer louder. Because I know he appreciates it. I hope someone read him Posnanski’s story – I know he’d appreciate that, too, because it’s great.

Posnanski sums up Willie Mays, and why he continues to resonate with so many, including two young boys in San Francisco, all these years later:

But even to the end, he sparked joy. What do you love most about baseball? Mays did that. To watch him play, to read the stories about how he played, to look at his glorious statistics, to hear what people say about him is to be reminded why we love this odd and ancient game in the first place.

Yes, Willie Mays has always made kids feel like grown-ups and grown-ups feel like kids.

In the end, isn’t that the whole point of baseball?

Consuming sports was different when Willie played. Not every game was on television. There was no national highlight show giving you the best plays of the night, every night. There are relatively few clips of Willie Mays actually playing baseball available even today. But my three-year old consumes sports the same way kids in the 1950s did: in brief clips that are fuzzy in their brains, in stories their parents tell them, and in the joy of saying a name like Willie Mays. -TOB

Source: The Baseball 100: No. 1, Willie Mays,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/08/2020)

PAL: I am ashamed that I didn’t know Willie Mays played minor league ball in Minneapolis! 

In a collection of stories that read like folk tales of athleticism, youthful exuberance, and “divine moments”, the parallels and juxtaposition between Mays and Mantle, and their respective fathers, really sticks out. 

And this is a great point on May’s iconic, over-the-shoulder catch: 

Nobody knows for sure where the throw went: The enduring film only shows him making the throw. But we know that it made Larry Doby stop at third. Doby would not score. The Giants would win the game in extra innings and then sweep the series.

But maybe my favorite line from the entire story comes from Giants manager Leo Durocher: “If he could cook I’d marry him.”

The entire series is one hell of a collection from Posnanski. Damn, man.


Shawn Kemp: Kentucky Wildcat (That’s Right)

How about this for teaser from Kyle Tucker: 

“Does Christian Laettner get off that stunning buzzer-beater in overtime to deny Kentucky its triumphant return to the Final Four if Kemp is on the court?”

Say what now?

A little while back we did favorite athletes by decade. Since then, Bill Simmons has started reviewing previous drafts and re-drafting, which has been jogging my basketball memories. Everyone’s looking to the past for their sports fix, and in the process, I’m realizing how many athletes I overlooked in our little exercise. Basketball-wise: I had an affinity for Steve Blake from that Maryland team. I like Andre Miller and that Utah team a lot. Give me some Andrew DeClerq while we’re at it. There may have been a short Reggie Miller period as well. 

So all of these NBA names are spinning around in my brain, especially as I listen to Simmon review these old drafts, when I see this Shawn Kemp story about his time at Kentucky being stopped before it began. 

People over 35 know that Shawn Kemp was a very big deal for a few years. The dunks were ferocious. The Sonics were cool, and they made a Finals against Jordan. 

But I had no idea about his journey to the Sonics. No idea that he was from Indiana, that he passed on Bobby Knight and the Hoosiers, and went to Kentucky. I had no idea he never played a game for the Wildcats, and I had no idea why. In my mind, Shawn Kemp’s existence began in those slick Sonic jerseys doing this: 

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his arrival at Kentucky and how stupidly it ended for pawning some stolen jewelry. And just like that, he was gone before playing a simple game for Kentucky. 

Two details stick out to me from the story. 

The jewelry was Sean Sutton’s. His dad, Eddie, was the coach. Sean filed a police report about the stolen jewelry, which led the local authorities to alert local pawn shops. Kemp was found selling the jewelry to one of those pawn shops for $700. 

Over thirty years later, Sean Sutton had this to say (for the first time, at least to the press): 

“I’ve never talked about this,” Sean Sutton told The Athletic recently. “In the past, I just said, ‘That’s not something I care to revisit.’ But I think everybody probably deserves to know the real truth. I want Kentucky fans to realize that Shawn Kemp was a good guy. It got so out of control, became such a big story, and it’s really, really unfortunate how it all played out. He was gone before any of us really understood what was happening. If I could go back 32 years, I’d probably do things differently.

“Because in my mind, and I would know as well as anybody, he didn’t take that stuff.”

Sean, dude, couldn’t you have maybe found the guts to say that before now? While – yes – the jewelry was stolen, and Kemp was selling it, that doesn’t necessarily mean he stole it (as Sutton now insists he thinks whoever took the jewelry lied to Kemp about where it came from and likely gave it to Kemp to pawn for some cash.) Someone could have just given the jewelry to Kemp and told him to pawn it in order to make some easy cash, no questions. For a super-duper star athlete in a big program, that seems completely understandable to me.

Also, if Sutton just doesn’t file the report, this all can take place without people knowing. Kemp stays and joins a stacked Kentucky roster, and maybe a few years later Kemp (completely normal for superstars to stay 3-4 years in college at that time) is playing with Mashburn against Duke, and the 6’11” Kemp (I had no idea he was that tall) swats Laettner. I know, I know; it’s not a fill in the blank, but isn’t it fun to imagine? 

The other detail from this story that really stuck out was how much of a manchild Kemp was. So he gets to Lexington in the summer and is playing pickup games with current and former Kentucky players. We’re talking NBA guys and top college players. Kemp, a teenager, is dunking on all of them – including Kenny ‘Sky’ Walker. 

“Shawn dunked right over Kenny and looked right at him and said, ‘Take that shit!’ Or maybe something worse,” Sutton says. “Everybody was stunned. What did he just say to Kenny? I don’t think Shawn was doing it to be disrespectful. He just got caught up in a competitive moment. That’s just how he was wired, trying to destroy people.”

Lest anyone think Walker was offended, it was quite the opposite. Kemp was headhunting every player in the gym that day, including former UK stars Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin, the No. 2 and 6 overall picks in 1984, and the alums loved it.

“He was a man-child,” Walker says. “Most guys playing a bunch of established NBA players would be trying to feel their way around, might be a little timid, but he was trying to dunk everything on everybody. I usually had the advantage over everybody, but here I am going against a guy two inches taller than I am, stronger than I am, just as aggressive as I am, and maybe a little meaner than I am. Until LeBron James came along, I couldn’t remember a guy right out of high school so physically put together and with so much spring.”

Perhaps many of you knew the Kemp Kentucky stuff, but I had no idea, which made this a solid read from Kyle Tucker. – PAL 

Source:‘It Got So Out of Control’: Shawn Kemp’s Kentucky Career Ended Before it Began, Kyle Tucker, The Athletic (4/16/2020)

TOB: Interesting stuff. This week I stumbled on another good Kemp tidbit: In 1994, while Jordan was playing baseball, the Sonics almost traded Kemp to the Bulls for Scottie Pippen. The deal fell through when the story leaked and the Sonics’ owner grew concerned about fans being upset over losing the beloved Kemp. But the most fascinating part is that the Sonics’ coach, George Karl, called up Jordan (they are both Carolina guys), and Karl claims Jordan said: “Do it,” he said. “Scottie can make your other players better. Kemp can’t.”

Huh. Given Jordan’s comment: does he even come back in 1996 if Pippen is gone? That’s a crazy what-if.


Joey Votto Tries to Slow the Coming of the End

Joey Votto is an interesting guy, especially as baseball players go. I really enjoyed this article on the Reds’ star, as he tries to fight Father Time. Here’s the open:

Last April, on a gorgeously sunny, relatively cool afternoon at Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, the Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto popped out to first base. Ahead in the count, he’d lunged at the ball, sending it high into foul territory, before it landed in the mitt of the first baseman. Infield flies are the lamest thing a batter can do apart from striking out, but the crowd went wild—or rather, the baseball commentators and Twitter masses did. (“This has to be a sign of the zombie apocalypse.” “The world is ending.”) Because, over the course of his 13-year Major League career, in 6,827 trips to the plate, Votto had never popped out to first. Think of a veteran opera singer who never hit a wrong note onstage, or an actor who never flubbed a line. Equally astounding, Votto had flied out to the infield—right, left, or center—only seven times since 2010, while any other Major Leaguer with the same number of trips to the plate would have done so 137 times.

That’s an incredible stat, and the story just gets better from there.

Source:The Brainiest Hitter: Can Joey Votto Outsmart Age?” Sridhar Paddu, The Atlantic (May 2020)

PAL: Loved this article. Definitely keeping an eye out for future stories from Sridhar Paddu. I knew nothing about Joey Votto, and so this was a real treat. I’ve read a few sports profiles, and his candor stands out. Fascinating approach to his game. The idea that, in his prime, he felt his skills slipping ever so slightly, and the idea that – before 30 – he chose to accept that and rebuild his swing…two years after winning the National League M.V.P.

My favorite part of the entire piece comes near the end, before the season was cancelled and Votto was about to lock in to his very regimented baseball schedule and mode:

The day before we met in person, Votto decided to have a coffee at Starbucks, his last one, he figured at the time, for months. Then, while at Whole Foods in the afternoon, he went even further. He stopped at the bar set amid overpriced produce and organic beauty supplies to have a beer. A single beer at a grocery store to revel in the task in front of him: the comeback season. “Let’s celebrate,” he recalled thinking. “Let’s get ready for a great year. Let’s go to Whole Foods and get a beer at 3 o’clock!”

Many of us have walked by that Whole Foods bar and thought about a quick beer. I love that he did it, and I love that he was celebrating getting ready for a great year.

Great find, TOB.


Video(s) of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Tom Waits – “Old Shoes (And Picture Postcards)”


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And this is more a ying-yang thing. The ‘Michael’ all cursive, the ‘Scott’ all caps. Left brain, right brain. Or, duality of man.

-Michael Scott

Lockdown Dailies #13: Strangest Field You Ever Played On, MN Town Ball Edition

Strangest Baseball Field You Ever Played On – MN Town Ball Edition:

On Monday, we shared some thoughts on the strangest baseball fields around – both in the history of the game (Polo Grounds) and fields we played on. We got a lot of great comments on that post, but Ryan Nett – LHP, college roomie, and future Stearns County H.O.F. – sent a number of gems from the Minnesota town ball scene. We had to share more broadly.

Nett: A few come to mind from my townball years. St. Wendel was 240 down the left field line, but had a 45 ft chicken wire fence almost to CF.

Pearl Lake has a field with a 4 way stop in in CF. No fences, the road is the fence. About 270 down the lines, about 400 to center. Ball rolls on the road, double, clearly hits on the road or over, it’s a homer.

There was a legend of a field in Bowlus where a road to get to about 4 houses went from behind 3rd to rf power alley. Houses front porch faced the field and were in play. 3rd pole on a house down the rf line was the foul pole, old lady who lived there let them paint it yellow.

TOB: I watched the PBS Townball series about Minnesota Townball over the weekend, streaming on Amazon Prime. I recall the field in Farming was featured, but I don’t recall them discussing the dropoff. Hilarious and dangerous.

Netter: yes, both Pearl Lake and Farming were featured. Farming has since put in about 500k into their field, lights, sprinklers, redid the whole playing surface. Went from the outhouse to the penthouse in terms of fields.
Pearl Lake is stuck due to regulations with structures close to the road like a fence.

Last field that I played at and Phil saw, Farming. From home to Rf line was about 315, but from about 1st base to the line was a 6ft drop off. I bet I saw 30 1st baseman fall over chasing a ball just blooped over their heads that normally would have been caught standing. Then to left field you hit up hill. From 3rd to left it rose about 3 ft. From Lf foul pole to Rf foul pile was a 10 ft drop, we had the field surveyed.

TOB: I just looked up Pearl Lake’s field:

Look at that…wouldn’t it make a ton of sense to turn that field around? Place home plate near the 4-way stop?

Regardless, Springer Park (Cold Springs) field looks freakin fantastic in this shot (PAL note: Nett wanted it known that he’s hit two bombs at Springer Park):

I would NOT complain about playing there!


Original Post:

One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every field is different. Perhaps most famously is the Polo Grounds. 

Dimensions: Left Field: 279 ft, Left-Center: 450 ft, Center Field: 483 ft, Right-Center: 449 ft, Right Field: 258 ft.

LOL. I’ve seen those dimensions before but it is always so funny. The shortest home run in today’s game is 310 down the right field line at Fenway, which is FIFTY TWO FEET longer than the right field pole was at the Polo Grounds.

I bring this up because last week, 1-2-3 favorite Jomboy (real name: James O’BRIEN) asked Twitter followers for the funniest/dumbest local baseball fields. This one was my absolute favorite:

Center field is just opens up, with no fence, into a football field. Amazing. Like all great, quirky ball parks, they made the best with the space they had and created something so ridiculous, you can’t help but love it.

Looking at the Polo Grounds reminded me that Phil and I used to play softball at a field in SF (James P. LANG Field!) that has two softball fields at opposite corners of what is ostensibly a soccer or football field. 

It’s difficult to tell there how lopsided this field is, but I utilized Google Maps’ measuring tool and the dimensions are 385 to left, and 200 (yes, 200) to right. Given those dimensions, most teams stuck their worst defender in right, and shaded everyone toward center and left, because a ball getting by the outfielders in center and left would roll and roll, but a ball to right would hit that relatively short fence. 

Confession: I have never in my life hit a true home run. So, for two seasons, I eyed that short porch in right and decided to make a run at it, wanting to experience a home run trot. One night, I hit the ball so hard, I thought for sure it was gone off the bat. I watched that beauty fly and felt pure joy.

One thing you can’t tell from the overhead shot is that the right field wall is very tall. Here’s the best pic I could find. 

As you can kind of see in the top left of the photo, as you approach the fence, the grass heads steeply uphill. I’d say 6-7 feet (you can see in the photo the grass line is taller than a person standing out there). Then the fence is probably 12 feet high from there, so we are talking almost 20 feet.

As you probably guessed, I hit the ball high, I hit the ball deep…but I did not hit the ball high enough. The ball hit the goddamn very top of the wall. It was maybe a couple feet short of clearing it. I was crushed. And because I had been pimpin’ it, I had to scramble to eek out a double. Embarrassing.

What’s worse is this: (correct me if I’m wrong here, Phil), Phil had not yet hit a dinger at that field either, despite being a lefty (something I had given him some ribbing about). Well, Phil was the next hitter up. And as I stood at second base, I got an absolutely spectacular view as Phil crushed a home run over that same wall I had barely failed to clear. Phil was cackling at me during his entire slow trot around the bases. Insult to injury. 

I never did get that dinger. I might need to get back into that league. I’ve got Dad-strength now, ya know. -TOB

PAL: That is correct, TOB. I had yet to hit a home run, despite the fact that we played ALL of our games on those two fields, and both favored the lefties big time. This is because I kinda suck at hitting softballs.

I’ve played on a lot of odd fields in my day, and – I agree with JOMBOY – it makes for a far more interesting game. That overhead shot of the Polo Grounds is crazy point of view. I also don’t think Pesky Pole down the right field line is anywhere near 310 feet from home. My brother-in-law, lifelong Red Sox fan and Mass. resident, can back me up on this: right field might not be even 300 feet. However, it juts almost straight back from there, so only a very small portion of right field is a short porch at Fenway.

For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the field, but I seem to remember playing a legion baseball game (16-18) where a ball over the right field fence was just a ground rule double because the fence was so short. Cretin’s field in St. Paul is perfectly manicured, but the left field fence is maybe 265, a fact few people seemed to remember when looking at season stats (OH MY GOD, so-and-so from Cretin has 12 home runs!)

The worst playing field I can remember was my freshman year in college. It was about 6 degrees out and we were trying like hell to get a conference game in before or after another snow storm in March. Somewhere in Sioux City, IA. I swear we played a college game on a Babe Ruth field that, in the most perfect conditions looked like the location of a meth deal from Breaking Bad. On the day we played there, it was unthawed with the snow shoveled off of it. It smelled like sulfur (because that entire town does). It was like playing on concrete in a howling wind. Miserable.

So, that’s my story of the strangest field I ever played on. How about you?


Video of the Day

We haven’t really been doing videos of the day on our dailies, but I loved this and wanted to share: Mike Yastrzemski mic’d up.


More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience
  11. Remove these songs from the sports canon

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Lockdown Dailies #12: Strangest Field You Ever Played On

Strangest Baseball Field You Ever Played On

One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every field is different. Perhaps most famously is the Polo Grounds. 

Dimensions: Left Field: 279 ft, Left-Center: 450 ft, Center Field: 483 ft, Right-Center: 449 ft, Right Field: 258 ft.

LOL. I’ve seen those dimensions before but it is always so funny. The shortest home run in today’s game is 310 down the right field line at Fenway, which is FIFTY TWO FEET longer than the right field pole was at the Polo Grounds.

I bring this up because last week, 1-2-3 favorite Jomboy (real name: James O’BRIEN) asked Twitter followers for the funniest/dumbest local baseball fields. This one was my absolute favorite:

Center field is just opens up, with no fence, into a football field. Amazing. Like all great, quirky ball parks, they made the best with the space they had and created something so ridiculous, you can’t help but love it.

Looking at the Polo Grounds reminded me that Phil and I used to play softball at a field in SF (James P. LANG Field!) that has two softball fields at opposite corners of what is ostensibly a soccer or football field. 

It’s difficult to tell there how lopsided this field is, but I utilized Google Maps’ measuring tool and the dimensions are 385 to left, and 200 (yes, 200) to right. Given those dimensions, most teams stuck their worst defender in right, and shaded everyone toward center and left, because a ball getting by the outfielders in center and left would roll and roll, but a ball to right would hit that relatively short fence. 

Confession: I have never in my life hit a true home run. So, for two seasons, I eyed that short porch in right and decided to make a run at it, wanting to experience a home run trot. One night, I hit the ball so hard, I thought for sure it was gone off the bat. I watched that beauty fly and felt pure joy.

One thing you can’t tell from the overhead shot is that the right field wall is very tall. Here’s the best pic I could find. 

As you can kind of see in the top left of the photo, as you approach the fence, the grass heads steeply uphill. I’d say 6-7 feet (you can see in the photo the grass line is taller than a person standing out there). Then the fence is probably 12 feet high from there, so we are talking almost 20 feet.

As you probably guessed, I hit the ball high, I hit the ball deep…but I did not hit the ball high enough. The ball hit the goddamn very top of the wall. It was maybe a couple feet short of clearing it. I was crushed. And because I had been pimpin’ it, I had to scramble to eek out a double. Embarrassing.

What’s worse is this: (correct me if I’m wrong here, Phil), Phil had not yet hit a dinger at that field either, despite being a lefty (something I had given him some ribbing about). Well, Phil was the next hitter up. And as I stood at second base, I got an absolutely spectacular view as Phil crushed a home run over that same wall I had barely failed to clear. Phil was cackling at me during his entire slow trot around the bases. Insult to injury. 

I never did get that dinger. I might need to get back into that league. I’ve got Dad-strength now, ya know. -TOB

PAL: That is correct, TOB. I had yet to hit a home run, despite the fact that we played ALL of our games on those two fields, and both favored the lefties big time. This is because I kinda suck at hitting softballs.

I’ve played on a lot of odd fields in my day, and – I agree with JOMBOY – it makes for a far more interesting game. That overhead shot of the Polo Grounds is crazy point of view. I also don’t think Pesky Pole down the right field line is anywhere near 310 feet from home. My brother-in-law, lifelong Red Sox fan and Mass. resident, can back me up on this: right field might not be even 300 feet. However, it juts almost straight back from there, so only a very small portion of right field is a short porch at Fenway.

For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the field, but I seem to remember playing a legion baseball game (16-18) where a ball over the right field fence was just a ground rule double because the fence was so short. Cretin’s field in St. Paul is perfectly manicured, but the left field fence is maybe 265, a fact few people seemed to remember when looking at season stats (OH MY GOD, so-and-so from Cretin has 12 home runs!)

The worst playing field I can remember was my freshman year in college. It was about 6 degrees out and we were trying like hell to get a conference game in before or after another snow storm in March. Somewhere in Sioux City, IA. I swear we played a college game on a Babe Ruth field that, in the most perfect conditions looked like the location of a meth deal from Breaking Bad. On the day we played there, it was unthawed with the snow shoveled off of it. It smelled like sulfur (because that entire town does). It was like playing on concrete in a howling wind. Miserable.

So, that’s my story of the strangest field I ever played on. How about you?


Video of the Day

We haven’t really been doing videos of the day on our dailies, but I loved this and wanted to share: Mike Yastrzemski mic’d up.


More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience
  11. Remove these songs from the sports canon

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Week of April 10, 2020

COVID-19 Hair.


This Week’s Best from Posnanski’s Top 100: No. 3, Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds could be an asshole, yes. But, like all of us, he is not monochromatic. He is complicated. When discussing Bonds’ reputation for being a jerk in the locker room, Posnanski writes the following:

*This personal thing must be said here: Barry Bonds was always nice to me. There was no apparent reason for it. He didn’t know me. He hadn’t read me. I feel sure he couldn’t have come up with my name if he was spotted all the letters except the “J.” But every time I needed to talk to him, probably a half-dozen times before 1998, a few times after, he was always accommodating, thoughtful — and could this be? — friendly. It was the strangest thing. It was like I reminded him of a childhood friend or something.

When I told other writers and people around baseball about this, they shook their heads and promptly told me their own Bonds horror stories. I kept waiting for mine. It hasn’t come yet. Maybe it will. But it would not be right or fair for me to discuss Bonds’ well-known media hatred without saying that he could be, when he wanted, an engaging, insightful and pleasant interview. He has a lot of charm. He dispenses it sparingly.

There are certainly times that all of us acted in a way we wouldn’t want written about; there are times we’ve been rude or mean or lashed out because we were hurt, and it doesn’t get played on loop, or written about 25 years later in an article discussing what a jerk you were when you were barely an adult. But from everything I’ve read about Bonds, he was not only a jerk. He was not a movie villain, hell-bent on ruining the day of everyone around him, every single day. As Posnanski says, he in fact could be polite and charming. That doesn’t excuse the times he was rude, or a jerk, or an asshole – but it must be said.

I think what makes me sad about Barry Bonds is that the people who do not like him dismiss that he seems to clearly suffer from deep insecurities stemming from a childhood and a life spent chasing the affection of a father who would not show it. As Posnanski puts it, Bonds wanted to be the greatest baseball player who ever lived. What Posnanski leaves unsaid is that Bonds felt that becoming the greatest baseball player who ever lived was the way to receive the love and admiration of his father, and of everyone else. And he never got it. He was deeply sensitive as a result. As his college coach put it:

“He wanted to be liked, tried so damn hard to have people like him,” Brock told Sports Illustrated. “Tried too hard. But then he’d say things he didn’t mean, wild statements. I tried to tell him that these guys, 20 years from now, would be electricians and plumbers, but he’d be making millions. … Still he’d be hurt. People don’t realize that he can be hurt — and is, fairly often.”

The tragedy of Bonds is that he was an incredible baseball player before steroids, and for some his numbers after 1998 are tainted. For some, his numbers before 1998 are tainted, because the steroids taint his integrity. I think that’s deeply unfair. It’s been written before, but Posnanski puts Bonds’ steroid use into the proper context of the time:

Then came 1998. Barry Bonds had an incredible year in 1998. I mean, no, it wasn’t incredible for him, but it was still so remarkable. He hit .303/.438/.609 with 44 doubles, seven triples, 37 homers, 120 runs scored and 122 RBIs. He won his eighth Gold Glove. He led the league in WAR for the seventh time. It was his seventh straight season with a 1.000 OPS.

And that year, he became the first player in baseball history to hit 400 home runs and steal 400 bases in a career. He was the player of his generation.

It should have been the year of Barry, one celebrated by all. It was, to say the least, not the year of Barry. No, 1998 was the year that people marveled at how far Mark McGwire could hit a baseball. No, 1998 was the year that people pounded their chests along with Sammy Sosa as he rounded the bases an astounding 66 times. No, 1998 was the year that Ken Griffey Jr. — so much more lovable — cracked 56 home runs and drove in 146 and won a Gold Glove (in center field!) and stretched the imagination.

And Bonds? Who? He was just this problematic outfielder who played for an also-ran Giants team and couldn’t hit in the playoffs. Yes, all his career, Bonds told people again and again that he didn’t care, he didn’t care, he didn’t care.

But 1998 was the year Barry Bonds discovered he did care very much.

Barry Bonds broke the game. That’s how good he was after 1998. The theory goes that Bonds saw how people celebrated McGwire and Sosa and others, and he knew they were using steroids, and he decided that it was time to go all in.

You can imagine Jack Nicholson’s line from “Batman” playing in his head: “Wait ‘til they get a load of me.”

There was no testing in baseball then. There was no outcry in baseball then. It was quite the opposite: The game was thriving! The home run was king! Nike reminded everybody that chicks dig the long ball! MLB even put out a comic book of baseball players with enormous muscles. Muscles were in!

So Barry Bonds got muscles. And he tilted baseball.

Remember: we knew. We all knew! In August 1998, a writer saw a bottle of androstenedione (which was banned in the NFL and the Olympics at the time, but not baseball) in McGwire’s locker and wrote about it. McGwire and Sosa looked like bodybuilders. No one cared. MORE DINGERS! MORE DINGERS! 

I don’t understand what an athlete in Bonds’ situation was realistically supposed to do. So many players were using steroids; certainly, not all of them. But so many. It was not being tested for; it was not against the rules. Most importantly, the players using steroids were being celebrated. What kind of message did that send to Barry, and the rest of baseball? Barry Bonds wanted nothing more than to be loved, and his incredible season was ignored because McGwire and Sosa and others were juiced and bashing baseballs out of the stadium at rates never before seen. He was supposed to just shrug his shoulders? That is deeply unfair.

I don’t understand the people who dislike him because he “broke the game.” Posanski touches on this, but it needs to be said: Bonds did not ruin baseball. He was not the first to take steroids. He was not the last. But even if he was, steroids didn’t ruin baseball. In fact, McGwire and Sosa’s 1998 season helped rescue baseball from the post-1994 strike doldrums. So many people made money because players used steroids. The game is more popular than ever, with attendance well above what it was before the 1990s. What gets lost is that baseball is entertainment. There’s no “sanctity of the game.” Bonds was entertaining, both before and after 1998. That’s what we pay money to see. If steroids helped him entertain more and entertain longer, so what?

But the thing I do not understand the most about Bonds, are the Bonds haters who take delight in his pain:

The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly caught up with Barry Bonds. He found a sad and haunted man. “I feel like a ghost,” Bonds said. “A ghost in a big empty house, just rattling around.”

How you feel about that quote probably says everything about how you feel about him. Are you thrilled that he’s getting what he had coming? Do you feel sad that Bonds, who did so many incredible things, cannot find peace?

Or do you feel a little of both?

From his earliest memories, all Barry Bonds ever wanted was to become the greatest baseball player who ever lived. He paid every price. He ignored every doubt. He raged over every hurdle. He cut every corner. He shut himself off from everything else. He brushed aside every other concern. He made more enemies than friends.

And he became the greatest baseball player who ever lived.

And what was waiting for him at the end? Remember what he said way back at the start of his career: “If I’m supposed to wait for you guys to applaud me, I could be waiting a lifetime.”

Here’s what waited for him at the end: Silence.

He’s not a cartoon character. He’s a human being. Yes, Bonds made lots of money (career earnings: $188,245,322). But money isn’t everything. And what else does he have? He doesn’t even have adulation. He’s cheered in San Francisco, but that’s about it. How can someone read the stories about his father, not connect the dots to the person he was as a young man, and then think, “I don’t care, fuck that asshole.” I’m not saying he should be completely absolved of his sins. But if you can’t find it in your heart to feel for someone who was so obviously hurting, I don’t understand you. If you can’t find it in your heart to forgive someone for mistakes made 20 or 30 years ago, I don’t understand you. 

Bonds does not deserve your love, but he does deserve your understanding. -TOB

Source: The Baseball 100: No. 3, Barry Bonds,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/08/2020)

PAL: As if we needed another reminder to be a good parent, eh? Bobby Bonds sounds like a real piece of work. 

Posnanski’s approach (two essays – one for Bonds fans and one for Bonds critics) was a cool tweak in this series. A lot in here, so I think I’ll just add my two cents to points TOB brings up. 

His greatness, especially at the plate, was something to see. And whether or not he has a bust in the Hall of Fame, I will tell my kids that I saw Barry Bonds play. It’s hard to even imagine someone being better than Bonds at his peak. It would have to be something entirely different, like Ohtani being a dominant starting pitcher for 5 years and putting up monster offensive numbers. 

I will measure the best players from future generations against Bonds. What higher compliment could there be?

I sat behind home plate, in line with the right field foul line, and saw him send a pitch into McCovey Cove. And whether or not you rooted for him, everyone was in awe. A home run every 6 at bats. I mean, what the hell? Posnanksi said it – Bonds broke the game. 

History will be very kind to Bonds. Whether or not he is elected into the Hall of Fame, his statistics will outlive the circumstances under which they came. The stats are too absurd. The highlights will live on. In twenty years, generations of fans will neither know nor care that Bonds was an asshole, just like we don’t care that Ty Cobb was an asshole. 

My biggest takeaway from this story is actually a reminder of a lesson I had to learn from Kirby Puckett, my boyhood hero. We don’t know these guys. We love one small, insignificant part of them. We choose when we care. Kirby Puckett was the short, keg of ballplayer that brought two titles to Minnesota. He did it all with a giggle and smile. Everyone’s hero. Turns out he was far from a hero when not in the public eye. By several accounts, he could be pretty gross and mean in ways that are far more important than being rude to a reporter. 

And yet, history has already been kind to Puckett, and he wasn’t half the player Bonds was. It might take a little longer, but the same is coming for Bonds. So Bonds was a selfish prick. Do you care what kind of friend Picasso was? Do you not appreciate For Whom The Bell Tolls because Hemingway was jerk drunk? There are pricks at every office, and some of them are very good at their jobs. Bonds’ personality had zero impact on my enjoyment when I watched him hit. Sure, he was annoying, and I think he always wanted it both ways (leave me alone, but appreciate how great I am), but if you think any of that came into play for anyone in a San Francisco bar during a real Bonds at-bat (not an intentional walk), you’re crazy. We were amazed, all of us.


Sports Need to Stay Shut Down

The sports world quickly shut down last month, after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 just before the start of a game in Oklahoma City. Everyone applauded how quickly they put their health of the players, employees, and fans. Hurrah, the billionaires did the right thing!

Yeah, that lasted all of, oh, three weeks. What began as low rumbles almost immediately started gaining steam last week: leagues are exploring ways to finish or hold their season. Over last weekend, the reports about MLB, in particular, seemed to be gaining enough steam with reporters who are typically in-the-know that it seemed inevitable: MLB wants to host their season with all teams being housed in Arizona, playing games in empty stadiums, with players sitting spaced out in the bleachers instead of in the dugout.

This is so incredibly stupid. 

It’s stupid logistically. What about the staff? How do you keep players from infecting themselves on the field? A player could easily infect another player on a slide into second, or even touching a baseball touched by an infected player. Even if you put all players in hotels, how do you ensure they stay locked down? How do the players feel being away from their families that long? Same with the staff, including medical staff and other employees that make game days happen? I could go on and on.

It’s stupid on a moral level. This would require THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of tests – there are approximately 800 players on major league rosters every season. Add to that coaches and staff and we’re talking at least 1,200 people who would require regularly testing to ensure they are healthy and able to play. Even if you only tested them once a week, that’s approximately 30,000 tests in a 6-month season, at a time when testing is still scarce, and resources for processing tests are stretched thin with major back logs. How can they justify those testing resources going to baseball?

It’s stupid on an entertainment level. Make no mistake: they do not want to do this to lift the nation’s collective spirit. This is about money, pure and simple. I love baseball, and if you read this blog you probably know I miss it dearly. But I have serious doubts that I’d be tuning in to watch this. Baseball with no crowd? Buddy, that is batting practice. Are people really going to care? And if not, why are we risking people’s health and utilizing precious resources and subjecting players and staff to this insane plan? 

This plan is absolutely madness. And it has to stop. -TOB


Mike Gundy, a Complete Moron, Gets Torn to Shreds

You may remember Mike Gundy, the longtime football coach at Oklahoma State. He went viral in the 2000s for his, “I’m a man! I’m 40!” speech. His teams have been middling, and so he’s made a name for himself again by sporting a ridiculous mullet.

But this week, perhaps taking a cue from our Commander-in-Chief, Gundy offered some insanely idiotic, dangerous, self-important arguments about how Oklahoma State Football should not be shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Longtime college football writer Pat Forde was not having it. Here’s the lede:

I would like stock tips from Noted Expert Mike Gundy. Also, some cooking recipes. Could he offer best practices to our educators? How about weighing in on the Middle East?

I’m dying to be enlightened. Really.

Clearly, Noted Expert Mike Gundy knows far more than just football. Not that he’s been great in that regard lately—his Oklahoma State teams were 15–11 the past two seasons, 8–10 in the Big 12—especially given his $5 million a year salary. But it is now abundantly obvious that labeling him a mere football coach is too limiting. He is a Renaissance man, a visionary capable of seeing solutions where others see problems, a savant so cleverly disguised as a mullet-haired meathead.

Take, for example, the wisdom Noted Expert Mike Gundy dispensed upon the masses Tuesday in a media teleconference. When the only topic that matters in today’s world came up—the global COVID-19 pandemic—he flexed his intellectual prowess. He showcased his grasp of public health, economics, the workings of higher education, college athletics in general and other topics.

“The NCAA, the presidents of the universities, the Power 5 conference commissioners, the athletic directors need to be meeting right now and we need to start coming up with answers,” Noted Expert Mike Gundy said. “In my opinion, if we have to bring our players back, test them. They’re all in good shape. They’re all 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22-year-olds. They’re healthy. A lot of them can fight it off with their natural body, the antibodies and the build that they have. There’s some people that are asymptomatic. If that’s true, then we sequester them. And people say that’s crazy. No, it’s not crazy because we need to continue and budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”

Noted Expert Mike Gundy isn’t just talking the talk here. He is an omniscient observer with a plan. He wants to have his staff and support personnel, roughly 100 people, back to work in the Oklahoma State football facility May 1. Then the players after that.

Ooooh, fire. Forde was just getting started, though, and I highly recommend you read it. -TOB

Source: Mike Gundy’s Pandemic Plan Is Ridiculous,” Pat Forde, Sports Illustrated (04/07/2020)

PAL: Dan Patrick also lit into Gundy on this during his radio show. My favorite point: pro athletes, those who get paid to play, aren’t coming back, but let’s talk about bringing the student-athletes back. There are few things higher on the unintentional comedy scale than self-important college football coaches. 


The Spark

This morning, The Athletic posted a complete breakdown of the night when the Utah Jazz – Oklahoma City Thunder game was cancelled just minutes before tip-off when it was realized Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19 the night of Wednesday, March 11. That positive test led to the suspension of the NBA season. NCAA, MLB, NHL were all to follow within 48-hours. Travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines were put in place for folks coming back from anywhere in the E.U., amongst other parts of the world. Shelter in place was issued for 6 Bay Area counties beginning the following Monday. In my mind, that positive test for Gobert was the spark that lit the fuse (even when there were some very alarming details coming out of the Seattle area before March 11.

A lot of us have felt the absence of sports over the past four weeks. Of course, it’s not that important, but I realized how many moments of my daily routine intersects with sports. Coffee, breakfast, check the scores. Lunch was a time scanning a handful of sports sites for interesting stories to write about for Fridays. Having the Twins game streaming audio while I go for a run. Having the Giants game on in the background while making dinner. Again, not that sports is anywhere close to a top priority, but the absence can’t be ignored. And that’s what happened on a very large scale when this Jazz-Thunder game was cancelled just minutes before tip: as a country, we couldn’t ignore the pandemic. I don’t think many of us could wrap our heads around how scary it was going to get over the next month, but we couldn’t ignore it because it came with the absence of sports, pretty much overnight. 

 

This story tracks the Jazz in the days and weeks leading up to the positive test. It’s an interesting look at how an organization handles crisis management. This story makes it seem like the team was actually a bit ahead of the curve in terms of educating employees and players about COVID-19. Some of that had to do with coach Quin Synder growing up 12 miles from the nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, where the first epicenter of the U.S. outbreak took place, and his brother running a market in Pike’s Place. Snyder’s brother, Matt, is also friends with the Seattle-based band, Pearl Jam, which cancelled its world tour two days before the Jazz-Thunder game. So Snyder was following the story extremely closely and asking all sorts of questions early on. 

Another nugget from this story: Thunder’s Chris Paul being a good guy. Never liked Paul, but this was a nice gesture for the Jazz as they waited for next steps after the game in OKC was cancelled: 

Thanks to a generous and well-timed assist from Chris Paul, their moods were lifted approximately an hour after the game had been called when sources say a delivery of beer and wine arrived. Paul, the Thunder point guard who also serves as the president of the National Basketball Players Association, arranged for his longtime security guard Gene Escamilla to deliver the drinks as a way of helping them all pass the anxiety-ridden time.

Other crazy details from the story: 

  • The Jazz had a difficult time finding a hotel in OKC that would take the team after the positive test. 
  • Regardless of how wealthy one might be, it’s not easy to find a flight for someone who has COVID-19 – Charter flights aren’t safe. It had to be private, with additional precautions. 
  • It sounds like this ordeal has driven a wedge between Utah’s two best players (Mitchell and Gobert) – Mitchell is still upset about this, even though he’s been told that no one knows whether he gave it to Gobert or Gobert gave it to him.

A worthwhile read, but I get it if you need a break from pandemic news. – PAL 

Source: Behind the scenes with the Utah Jazz during the days that changed everything”, Shams Charania, Sam Amick and Tony Jones, The Athletic (4/10/20)


Video(s) of the Week

-These always crack me up.

Behind the scenes footage of Miller’s call as Ishikawa wins the 2014 NL pennant.

Bill Murray perfectly capturing the power of John Prine.


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘Jesus, The Missing Years’

R.I.P., John Prine. While Dylan spoke loudest to me in my teens and twenties, Prine’s music resonates in me now more than ever. Every day, his stories get funnier, sadder, more caring, and more true.


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You couldn’t handle my undivided attention. 

-Dwight K. Schrute

Lockdown Dailies #11: Remove these songs from the sports canon

These songs, oftentimes played at sporting events, need to be removed from stadium/arena playlists when we go back to games.

  1. ‘Sweet Caroline’ – Neil Diamond. So over it. Every over-served person in America loves singing this song. Only became a Red Sox tradition in late 90s, and then this push for it to become ‘tradition’ across several teams is so lame. Also, there are so many better Diamond songs! ‘America’, “Forever In Blue Jeans’, ‘Kentucky Woman’ to name a few.
  2. ‘Centerfield’ – John Fogerty. Every pre-game mixtape, at every field, at every baseball game from Little League through college. That upbeat, bouncy melody is chiseled into my brain. I. Can’t. Stand. This. Song. No mas. 
  3. ‘All Star’ – Smash Mouth. I would think many of these songs on this list don’t actually need an explanation, and this would be one of them.
  4. ‘Let’s Get It Started’ – Black Eyed Peas. 
  5. ‘When The Lights Go Down’ – Journey.  SF’s answer to Sweet Caroline…and just as manufactured and forced. 
  6. ‘Cotton Eye Joe’. When did annoying = fun? 
  7. ‘Glory Days’ – Springsteen. He’s been given a pass on this. No one calls a fastball a speedball (as many have pointed out). Super catchy guitar riff, and a good concept for a song, but that line unforgivable. It’s actually a real flex on his part. You’re telling me NONE of his friends had the seeds to say, “Hey, Bruce. We need to talk. Dude, you can’t say speedball. You sound like an idiot.” Also, ‘fastball’ has the same amount of syllables and works within the rhythm of the lyric exactly the same as speedball.
  8. ‘Y.M.C.A.’ – Village People. I don’t want to do the wave, and I don’t want to do the YMCA. Next.
  9. ‘I Gotta A Feeling’ – B.E.P. The only group in this list twice…just sayin.
  10. ‘The Greatest’ – Kenny Rogers. A one-listen song. Once you hear the punch line, it’s done. No disrespect to the recently departed.

PAL

How about you? What songs got to go? What songs am I absolutely wrong about? 

More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Lockdown Dailies #10: Ultimate Sports Experience

For the sake of entertainment, let’s assume the world was like it was a couple months ago and all sporting events were as they were before the pandemic.

The scenario: by some stroke of luck, good fortune, or mistake you fall into a large sum of money. Enough money so that all the real important things – the house, college for the kids, buying something real nice for your parents – are taken care of, but not enough money where you’re buying a professional sports franchise or building a family compound for you and all your siblings’ families in Monterey or something. Whatever that sum of money is, there’s enough for you to live out your ultimate sports experience. I’d call it bucket list, but this seems even a bit more out of reach than bucket list stuff. As an example, my sports bucket list includes maintaining a youth baseball field at some point in my life.

I think about my ultimate sports experience every time I drive west on the Bay Bridge, where Oracle (the SF Giants Stadium…so hard to keep up with stadium names these days) is just down and to the left. I can see most of the field from that vantage point, and every single time I drive by, and have the same thought: wouldn’t it be cool to rent out the stadium for a night and have 10 buddies out there hitting, taking grounders, turning double-plays, shagging fly balls? A cooler of beer on both baselines. A bucket of seeds. Hundreds of new pearls (rubbed up, of course). Good music* playing over the loudspeakers. 

That is my ultimate sports experience. And since we’re dreaming, I think this would have to take place at Fenway. Yes, Fenway over Wrigley, because the Monster is right there for righties, and it would be super fun to try to play balls off the wall. Plus, for us lefies, Pesky pole is less than 300-feet away. 

Maybe the night starts in the evening when the sun is still out, but we have the park for six hours, that way you get both the day and night feel. 

That’s my ultimate sport experience. What about you, TOB?

*New topic: songs that need to be removed from the ballpark canon. A teaser: “Centerfield” by John Fogerty needs to go away forever.

TOB: I like the Fenway idea. But I want Centerfield playing ON LOOP all night. That song is beyond reproach. How dare you.

How about you? What’s your ultimate sports experience? Floor seats at the NBA Finals? A college football road trip to all the rivalry games? Playing a round with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus? Think big. 

More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Week of April 3, 2020

Sigh.


Make Amatriciana Again 

Wright Thompson is my favorite sports writer going, and it’s not close. I know this because I can’t wait to tell everyone whenever I read something from him. After reading this story, I told co-workers, siblings, friends, my mom. Natalie probably overheard me summarize the story 5 times this, our third week of shelter in place. 

He writes about the ritual of sport so well, and how both the best and worst of sport is strengthened through ritual. His story about the Cubs winning the world series had nothing to do with what happened in the game; it’s a feature on some fans going through their usual rituals in an incredibly unusual time. It’s Ted Williams ritualistic obsession with hitting and fishing, and how it terribly impacted his ability as a father (and how his mother’s rituals in San Diego made him feel ignored). The Ole Miss rituals (football and otherwise) and their role in race riots in the 60s. 

With that theme in mind – ritual – it’s no wonder he wrote a story on ESPN about food and sports in Italy. 

Before I go any further, I insist you read this story. Please, just click through to it now, because it will articulate that heavy weight hovering in that gap left now that we aren’t sharing space with one another in our cities and neighborhoods, and it will give you a recipe to feel really good for a few hours. 

Thompson’s story was published on 3/28. I mention that, because the world now seems to change drastically in days for a great deal more people than was the case a month ago. On 3/28, many people were starting to understand and see images of the nightmare playing out in Italy. Many years ago, Thompson lived in Florence, and as he learned of what was happening, he thought of his time there, what he loved about Florence: the Fiorentina soccer team and a restaurant in Rome called Matricianella.

“In Italy, as in many parts of the United States, sports and food are perhaps the two most important ways to celebrate your home.”

And later, Thompson writes:  “As an employee of ESPN, I am acutely aware of the lack of sports right now, which is especially worrisome to me mostly because sports provide one of the few acres of common ground in a country where we too often give in to what divides us.”

Sports and restaurants: they bring us together to be joyous. To celebrate. This country sure felt divided before the pandemic. And while I absolutely feel connected to our neighbors as we hunker down here, fear has sparked this recent sense of community. 

Thompson, missing sports and the ritual of eating a great meal at one of his three favorite restaurants in the world, looked up and made a traditional Roman dish with a bottle of nice red wine, a bottle “that normally would be saved for a special occasion–although I’d argue that imagining the world before the virus and being hopeful about the return of that world is as special an occasion as there is right now.”

And while the restaurant in Rome is closed until…God knows when, and while Gianni–Thompson’s waiter of choice–is home alone in Rome with a silence to it like “the silence before a snowfall,” we can still celebrate. Maybe we have to a little bit. 

At the end of an article for sports website, Wright Thompson shares the amatricianna recipe from Matricianella and encouraged folks to put on an old favorite game. 

I think I’ll make Amatriciana again. Instead of using the internet recipe, I got the genuine article from the owners of Matricianella in Rome. It’s printed below, so you can make it too. Maybe I’ll find some classic old Serie A game to watch once the pasta is done. I’m thinking Fiorentina-Inter, 1997, Batistuta versus Ronaldo. Maybe if you read this, and make the recipe, and find your own game to watch, this shared ritual will briefly connect us. 

I did my best. I had to substitute uncured bacon in for the pork jowl. I paired it with what turned to be a delicious pinot noir, and I watched Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. 

It was the most enjoyable night I’ve had since this covid-19 nightmare started. I urge you to do this same. You will feel connected, and you will feel more like yourself than you have in weeks. 

Wright Thompson is the man. – PAL

Source: A Letter From the Coronavirus Quarantine: Missing Serie A, Pasta and Friendship”, Wright Thompson, ESPN (03/28/20)


Today Should Have Been Giants Opening Day, and That Sucks. But…

Leave it to Kruk to make you smile, anyways. -TOB


This Week’s Best from Posnanski’s Top 100:

No. 5, Oscar Charleston:

Oscar Charleston former Negro league star with bat.

This seems impossible, because I had heard plenty about every other Negro League legend that Posnanski had listed here: Satchell Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and others. But before this week I had never, to my memory, heard the name Oscar Charleston. And Charleston is ranked No. 5 by Posnanski. He even says:

I want you to feel the fury of this ranking, feel it down deep. I want you to think, “Look, I’m sure he was terrific, but there’s no possible way that Oscar Charleston, who played in a struggling league 100 years ago, could possibly be the fifth greatest player of all time.”

Or I want you to think, “Fifth greatest? That’s ridiculous. He should be No. 1!”

Or I want you to think, “This is pure romanticism. We have almost no stats on Charleston. We have only a handful of quotes about him. You can’t rank someone this high on the list based on a few crusty legends and myths.”

Or I want you to think, “It’s such an infuriating tragedy that we as an entire nation never got to see the greatest player in the history of baseball.”

Or I want you to think, “How is it that I’ve never even heard of this guy?”

Or I want you to think some of those thoughts together, or even all of them at the same time. This ranking, unlike the rest, is a statement and, even more, it’s a challenge. Oscar Charleston is the fifth greatest player in baseball history? It is meant to make you think about what you think.

So, I was very interested in reading this one. And boy, does Posnanski knock the intro out of the park, about a recent visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with Buck O’Neil and Willie Mays:

There isn’t much in the little room. There are a few charts showing Negro Leagues migration, a couple of photos and a statue of Buck O’Neil. The highlight is that it overlooks the Field of Legends, a baseball diamond in the middle of the museum. Beyond the chicken wire, which separates the room and the field, there are 10 bronze statues standing at their baseball positions. The names of the players are familiar to some and, even now, mysterious to others.

Let me say something else about the chicken wire, which represents the segregation black fans endured at stadiums across the country. If you unfocus your eyes a bit and look through the chicken wire just so, with your imagination taking the lead, the statues seem to come to life.

Anyway, that’s what I thought the day Buck O’Neil and Negro Leagues president Bob Kendrick and I stayed back there with Willie Mays.

“I knew these guys,” Mays said as we all looked through the chicken wire and imagined the players as they once were. “Like that guy at third base, Ray Dandridge. I played with him in Minneapolis. He helped me become the ballplayer I became.”

Everybody else in our group had gone ahead into the museum. We had stayed behind because of Willie Mays’ eyes. Those eyes, which had once been able to differentiate between a fastball and slider simply because of the way the baseball’s laces moved, had grown terribly sensitive to light. Glaucoma. Even in that dark room, Mays wore sunglasses.

He also wore a thick San Francisco Giants coat, even though it was stuffy. He seemed to be sweating and shivering at once. He was in pain. He seemed exhausted … or perhaps more precisely, evaporated. Buck tried to get him to tell some stories, but Mays was not in the mood for stories. He just looked out on the field quietly.

“Willie,” Buck said in an effort to break through, “I saw the catch on television the other day.”

“You saw that?” Mays said. He smiled a little.

“Only one other guy I ever saw could have made that catch,” Buck said.

Seven days after Mays made that catch, the only other man — the statue standing in center field on the Field of Legends — died in a Philadelphia hospital. He was not quite 58 years old and he was almost entirely unknown. His obituary did not appear in the local newspapers.

“Oscar Charleston,” Mays said as he looked out on the field.

“He was you before you,” O’Neil said.

If that doesn’t make you want to read about Charleston, nothing I say will.

No. 6, Ted Williams:

Williams was famously given the option to sit that last day and let his batting average round up to .400. As you undoubtedly know, he didn’t take that option, something that has been celebrated throughout the years.

That part has been over-celebrated, to be honest. Of course he played. He wasn’t hitting .400. He was hitting .3995. Sure, it’s easy to say that rounds up now but nobody saw it that way then. After he went 1-for-4 the day before, headlines like “Ted Williams Drops Below .400 Level” and “Ted Williams Down To .399” and “Williams Slumps Below Magic Mark” appeared all over the country.

Now, he definitely could have sat down after cracking a single off Dick Fowler in the second inning, which pushed the average up to .4008, or .401 on the back of a baseball card. He was given the option to skip out at that point, but he felt great, and he knew that even if he failed to get a hit his next time up, he’d still be hitting .400. Well, the next time up he homered off Fowler to make the average a solid .402, and then he singled again, this time off Porter Vaughan.

And then he singled again off Vaughan, 4-for-4, and his average was .405. At that point, he knew that he could go zero for his next five and still be above the .400 line. So he stayed, even played the second game, and ended up 6-for-8 on the day with that magical .406 average — the last time anyone hit .400.

He famously didn’t win the MVP that year, despite hitting .400 and leading the league in homers, runs, slugging, on-base percentage and walks. That was the season DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games and the writers gave the award to DiMag. The writers always thought Joe was the better all-around player and leader.

DiMaggio during the streak: .408/.463/.717, 1.180 OPS.

Williams all of 1941: .406/.553/.735, 1.288 OPS.

In 1999, Ted Williams rode to home plate in a golf cart for the All-Star Game at Fenway Park. He had suffered two strokes and a broken hip in the previous months, but still he stood. The greatest living players — from Henry Aaron to Willie Mays, Bob Feller to Stan Musial, Ken Griffey to Cal Ripken and all the All-Stars of the day — surrounded him and hugged him. He tipped his cap, and the crowd cheered as loudly as they ever had, and as the papers said, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

 

“Hey McGwire,” Williams shouted out to Mark McGwire, the most prodigious slugger in the world then. “You ever smell the wood when you foul one off real hard? You ever notice how it smells like burning wood?”

 

“I’ve smelled it,” McGwire said. Maybe he had or maybe he was just saying so, but Ted Williams smiled and nodded and said it was the best bleeping smell in the whole world.

-TOB

Source: No. 5, Oscar Charleston,” “No. 6, Ted Williams,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/01/2020);

PAL:  I had bumped Williams all the way up to number 3 when predicting Posnanski’s top 7. The Kid came in at 6. As I mentioned above, I read Wright Thompson’s essay on Williams a few months back. That story focuses on the batshit crazy last few years of Williams’ life with his adult children, as well as how he was, well, not a great husband or father. In Thompson’s words, summarizing to Claudia Williams, “[M]ost people didn’t understand that the two famous acts of his life–ballplayer and fisherman–occurred only because he was hiding from the third and final act of his life: fatherhood…He hid in the hyperfocus required by baseball and fishing.”

One lesson I slowly learn as I grow older is that greatness in one aspect of life is very rare and is commonly to the detriment of every other aspect of life, including happiness. The rarest of all is someone who is both good and great. 

Williams was great at seemingly three things: hitting a baseball, flying a fighter jet, and fishing. We’ll leave the flying and fishing aside for this. 

Posnanski quotes, of all people, Teller of Penn and Teller, in describing Williams hitting: “Sometimes magic is just spending more time on something than anyone might reasonably expect.” 

The M.V.P. stuff TOB mentions above is astounding. Man, he sure must’ve hated the writers, eh? His season stats are better than DiMaggio’s during the streak, and Joe wins it. Then Williams wins two – TWO – triple crowns and doesn’t win the M.V.P. 

TOB: One last thing. In the Charleston essay, Posnanski comes clean about his rankings, and it’s very funny to me:

We are now close to the end of the Baseball 100, and all along I have made certain to almost never mention the rankings. There’s is a specific reason for this: the rankings are just a device. Someone once asked Orson Welles if Mr. Thompson, the man who goes in search of Rosebud in “Citizen Kane,” learned anything or grew at all throughout the movie. “He’s not a person,” Welles raged. “He’s a piece of machinery to lead you through.”

That’s what the rankings are … they are here to give this project shape and to spark a few feelings. Yes, they’re in the basic order of a formula I used, one based on five things in no particular order:

  1. Wins Above Replacement
  2. Peak Wins Above Replacement
  3. How multi-dimensional they were as players
  4. The era when they played
  5. Bonus value — This might include postseason performances, leadership, sportsmanship, impact on the game as a whole, if they lost prime years to the war and numerous other possibilities.

But I have no illusions about the formula. It is as flawed as anything so, whenever possible, I attached the player and a number that fits. So, for instance, Mariano Rivera is 91 for Psalm 91, the Psalm of Protection. Gary Carter is 86 for his role on the 1986 Mets. Joe DiMaggio is 56 for the hitting streak. Grover Cleveland Alexander is 26 because that was his magical year, 1926.

Bob GibsonTom SeaverJimmie FoxxGreg MadduxMike TroutJackie RobinsonFrank Robinson and Mike Schmidt, among others, were all given a ranking based on their uniform numbers. I would say at least two-thirds of the numbers have some sort of connection to the ballplayer.

I even skipped No. 19 because of the ’19 Black Sox, the biggest single-year scandal in baseball history.

That’s not to say that I couldn’t defend the individual rankings. I’m sure I could. But to do so would be to say negative things about various players’ talent, which goes against the very essence of this project. And anyway, fighting over the questions — Ted Williams over Ty CobbSteve Carlton over Sandy KoufaxCarl Yastrzemski over Ken Griffey? — is a big part of the fun.

I noticed the DiMaggio 56 thing. I knew that couldn’t be a coincidence. But none of the rest – not even that there wasn’t a 19.


Video of the Week:


Tweets of the Week:


Song of the Week: John Prine – “Flashback Blues”

Hang in there, John!


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