Week of March 1, 2019

The Mirnavator. If you’re looking for some inspiration, ultra-runner Mirna Valerio has got you covered. 


The Woman Behind Free Solo

Full disclosure: I haven’t yet seen Free Solo, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary last week, though I am dying to do so; but I have seen Meru, the 2014 documentary about three climbers’ attempts in 2008 (failed) and 2011 (successful) to climb the previously never ascended Shark Fin spire of Mount Meru in the Himalayas (if you have not seen Meru, it’s on Netflix and it’s fantastic). Both films were shot/produced by wife and husband duo Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (Chin served double duty – as he was one of the trio of climbers ascending Meru, while at the same time filming the team along the way).

Free Solo, if you don’t know, is a documentary about climber Alex Honnold’s incredible rope-free climb up the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Here’s the trailer:

Yeah, he’s incredible and maybe a bit insane. But while Honnold’s achievement cannot possibly be overstated no matter how hard you try, the skill and vision of the filmmakers, Vasarhelyi and Chin, should not be overlooked, either. Vasarhelyi, especially, helps bring emotion to both films.

Chin filmed the 2011 climb of Meru and put together a movie that no one was interested in distributing, as it amounted to what is known as climbing porn. Enter Vasarhelyi. She met Chin and saw so much more in the movie. She rewrote the narrative of the film and reshot interviews to “bring up the emotional quotient.” Vasarhelyi “helped break the mold of the typically bro-heavy genre of climber cinema and extreme-sports flicks in general. (See: the entire oeuvre of Warren Miller.) Meru delves into the fear and support that coexist in the families of these men.”

Meru is a fantastic film, and Vasarhelyi followed a similar pattern in Free Solo. With such a harrowing climb in progress, and the very real threat that the subject could fall to his gruesome and filmed death, the crew had a very thin tightrope to toe:

Maybe the greatest paradox of the film is that it required a monumental operation that remained invisible. Five cameramen had to be ready to be in position on the wall on just a few hours’ notice, and there was a crew of three more on the ground. There was a helicopter for big sweeping shots of the wall and aerial shots of Honnold, a speck in a red T-shirt, shimmying up the white granite. He needed to be able to decide the time of the climb based on his intuition and readiness, not on some production schedule. He needed to feel free to bail. He wanted to be filmed, but he didn’t want to feel filmed.

And how did the film turn out? Well, it won the Oscar. But as Vasarhelyi puts it, the theme of Free Solo

“…is this kid who is so scared of talking to other people that it was easier for him to climb alone, with no ropes, than to ask for a partner. I feel like we all have something in our lives like that. It was really important to see Alex’s eyes before he did it. What did his eyes look like the morning he set off?”

And what did the camera see? Vasarhelyi’s eyes light up. “He was excited.” Long pause. “And very well prepared.”

Oh man. I can’t wait to see this. -TOB

Source: Free Solo’s Director Doesn’t Give a F**k About Climbing”, Lisa Chase, Outside (09/12/2018)

TOB: This is unprecedented, but I’m replying to myself. I wrote the above on Thursday, and Thursday night decided I’d just watch the damn movie. First of all, it’s fantastic. As good as I hoped. During Honnold’s climb at the climax of the movie, I felt like I was going to puke, despite knowing that his climb would be successful.

But I have a bone to pick, now, with an editorial choice in the movie. The beginning of the featured article begins like this:

“Today I was replacing swear words. I had to do it myself. No one else can do it,” documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi says over a nouvelle Indian lunch at bohemian-cool Pondicheri in Manhattan.

In the cut I saw in June, Honnold clocks four fucks in the first eight minutes. But Free Solo was funded by National Geographic—not especially fuck friendly. So before Vasarhelyi can fly out of New York City (where she primarily works and lives, along with the couple’s young son and daughter) to join Chin in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (where he primarily works and lives), she needs to scrub the cursing. “These guys,” she says, meaning climbers, “all swear.”

I don’t hate profanity. Sometimes I think it’s important to convey emotion. But when I read the above Thursday morning, I understood – not everyone agrees with my outlook on the f-word.

But then I watched the movie and there was one spot in Honnold’s final climb that was particularly difficult. As he completed it, he turned to the mounted camera, about 2,000 feet off the Yosemite Valley floor, and smiled. He had completed something that had kept him awake at night. And he let loose his emotion: “Fuck yeah!” Except, I only know he said that because I read his lips. In the movie, they dubbed over him in post-production and he said, “Ah yeah.” It really pissed me off because there is nothing more I dislike about a movie than when something in the movie takes me out of the movie. I’m hoping there’s a director’s cut in the future, where we hear each and every “fuck” Honnold drops as he puts it all on the line to free solo El Cap.

PAL: Great call on bringing the narrative to a genre of extreme sports docs that is pretty bro-ey.

Natalie and I went to the Banff Film Festival last night (go, if you haven’t – here’s a list of dates and cities). One of the features was of a young woman climber breaking barriers. Margo Hayes is the first woman to ever climb a 5.15 grade route. Only a handful of people in the world climb 5.15, so to compare her to an Olympic champion athlete isn’t doing her justice. Interestingly enough, Honnold is featured in Margo’s doc, saying that he doesn’t even know what 5.15 holds feel like. Even for him, her accomplishment sparks amazement. Chew on that for a second and watch Margo kick ass.

Much of Margo’s story is about her single-mindedness. Older climbers openly worry that she can’t “turn it off,” so there is this narrative arc even in her story, too. Yes, the footage of adventure sports is instantly captivating, but the mental component, as well as how these pursuits impact relationships, only add to the power of these films. 


“The Best Game I Ever Covered”

That’s the headline. Do you really need any more convincing? I didn’t. The Athletic put together a collection of short essays from its writers about the most memorable games they covered. The series started with baseball writers. I, of course, drank every drop and loved it. Here are a few of my favorite parts.

Peter Gammons – Red Sox – Red, Game 6 of 1975 World Series

At 12:34 a.m., in the 12th inning, Fisk’s histrionic home run brought a 7-6 end to a game that will be the pride of historians in the year 2525, a game won and lost what seemed like a dozen times, and a game that brings back summertime one more day. For the seventh game of the World Series.

I didn’t know the nugget about the organist breaking into Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”. Absolutely brilliant.

Ken Rosenthal – 2131 – Cal Ripken Jr. breaks the streak.

I can’t believe Rosenthal was just 32 when he was told to write the page 1 story for the Baltimore Sun.  

I wanted to show that I was on their level, or at least close. Unlike today, when one click can take you to any writer you admire — yes, some behind a paywall — most of us rarely saw each other’s work.

As it turned out, the story wrote itself. Ripken took a victory lap around Camden Yards after the game became official, and my column mostly just detailed the beauty of that moment while trying to convey the greater meaning of it all. I am quite sure others could have written better. But it was pretty much my best shot.

I have to chuckle at this last line…from a writer – pretty much my best shot? Kenny, baby! How about your absolute best shot for a moment that was 2,130 games in the making? Were you surprised?

Sidenote: while I understand the greater meaning Ripken’s streak, it’s always hit me not quite right. The more you dig into it, the more I can’t ignore there is at least a part of the streak that’s selfish.

TOB: Call me a natural cynic, but I felt that way as it happened. Ripken was an great player through his truly incredible 1991 season, until 1992, when at age 31 he became an average to below average player. And that’s even accounting for his premium position. It’s not admirable to “show up” every day. It’s admirable to put aside personal glory for the good of the team. Ripken never did that, so I never respected him.

Pedro Gomez – Diamondbacks v Yankees – Game 7 2001 World Series

Pedro Gomez stock just went up a little after reading this. Bold move. Bringing a buddy in case someone roughed him up? Less of a bold move.

I called Curt Schilling a con man. I wrote how he had built himself up to be Captain America because, after insisting to manager Bob Brenly that he wanted to start Games 1, 4 and (if necessary) 7, he suddenly told Brenly that he didn’t think he could do it, putting the Diamondbacks in one hell of a potential predicament and giving himself an out in case he pitched poorly or the opportunity to build himself up if he pitched well.

So before Game 7, I went down to the field and stood in front of the Dbacks dugout as they took batting practice, wanting any player who had anything to say to me to have the availability to do so (clubhouses are never open pregame during the postseason). I was filled with anxiety because I had truly gone out on quite a limb and asked great friend T.J. Quinn, then with the New York Daily News,  if he would mind accompanying me and just standing nearby, kind of as moral support. Thankfully, he said yes. Several players gave me a wink, a head nod or a pat as they passed me on the way to their clubhouse. It was an acknowledgment that what I had written was accurate.

TOB: I am no fan of Curt Schilling, the baseball Alex Jones. HOWEVER. I don’t remember what Schilling said ahead of Game 7, and I never read what Gomez wrote. BUT. Here’s Schilling’s 2001 World Series stat line: 3 starts, 21.1 IP, 4 ER, 1.69 ERA, 12 H, 2 BB, 26 K. That’s 2014 Bumgarner level incredible.

T.J. Quinn – Game 6 NLCS – Cubs v Marlins – The Bartman Game

Just read the entire essay. I’m pasting a good chunk of it here, which picks up after the incident. Still an incredible, chaotic course of events.

This is where my years of experience among Chicagoans, learning their language and their ways, tells me what is coming. Gonzalez will not be blamed; it will all fall on that hapless young man. I turn to a colleague and, I swear, I say, “I’m going to go find the guy. The Cubs are going to lose.” She notes the score: They are still leading 3-1 with five outs to go. “I’m telling you,” I say, “something has changed and they’re going to lose.”

Down the ramps, onto the concourse, into the maelstrom. The lead is gone and the ballpark has turned on the man in the headphones, all eyes on his section as the inning becomes an eight-run catastrophe. I push through a gathering crowd near his section, past frothing, twisted faces, ducking as one beer cup after another is launched our way, feeling the mist spray my face. Sometimes the faces screaming “Fuck you, asshole!” turn and see my notebook and my press credential and I catch a few words, too. As I start down the aisle, a wedge of Cubs security surges toward and past me. I can see someone in the middle with a jacket over his head. “Is that him?” someone next to me screams. “Kill him!” I follow the phalanx up to the concourse, under more screams and more flying beer. I am genuinely afraid for this man. I see security whisk him behind a gate. A cop stops me. I ask him and a nearby security officer if they know who he is. This is a ridiculous question and I am met with ridiculing looks. I go back to find the man in the gray sweatshirt. His name is Pat Looney and he is a firefighter, although I write his name as “Loomey.” I also write down seat 115. It was 114. Many think Looney is the one. “I already got like 50 hate calls,” he says, pointing to his phone. Someone who intends to be heard screams “Asshole!” at him. “See?” Looney says. “It wasn’t me. I didn’t touch the ball.” He says he wishes he’d pushed the other guy out of the way.

I go back to the press box and I write. The man in the black sweatshirt is the story, and he will be part of Cubs history along with the goat and Leon Durham and the black cat. I dub him “the cat in black” and I think this is sufficiently clever. I file and I go meet my friend Mike and his miserable friends. We’re out until about 2 a.m. “That asshole…” they keep saying. But it’s OK. Kerry Wood is pitching tomorrow.

The next morning, I’m in my hotel room. The phone rings at 7 a.m. It is one of my closest friends, a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times. I can hear that she is outdoors, but she is whispering. “I’m in front of his house,” she says. “We got a call last night. His name is Steven Bartman. I have to knock on his door. I feel sick.” Go on and knock, I say. The world is going to find out who he is, anyway.

How eery is that ending?

There are even more excellent essays included: The Dallas Braden Mothers Day perfect game will absolutely make you cry, and Jayson Stark’s summary of the Cardinals/Rangers 2011 Game 6 win comes as close as one can get to describing what every great game creates out of nothing:

“The emotion that fills ballparks in moments like that defines what it is we love about sports. Where else in life do you experience anything like that feeling?”

Loved, loved, loved reading these. – PAL

Source: The Best Game I Ever Covered”, various authors, The Athletic Ink (February, 2019)


The Game’s the Same, Just Got More Fierce

That’s of my favorite quotes from The Wire, uttered by Slim Charles. It popped in my head as I read this interesting article on the Ben Simmons’ future. John Wilmes wonders if Simmons might turn down his max rookie extension and sign a short deal instead to become a free agent after the 2021 season.

Here’s how it works. The NBA’s CBA allows teams to offer an extension to their players entering the final year of their four year rookie contract. As Wilmes summarizes:

No NBA player has ever turned down a maximum extension of a rookie contract offer, for which Simmons will be eligible in July. The league has structured the collective bargaining agreement specifically to give franchises the ability to offer significantly more money to the young stars they drafted. This is meant to create competitive balance and prevent talent from escaping smaller markets, and it has worked that way.

Simmons would thus be eligible this summer for a deal around 5 years for $148M, keeping him with the Sixers through 2025 at just shy of $30M per year. Not bad. But what if he doesn’t want to stay in Philly?

Wilmes reads some tea leaves to suggest this is the case, and theorizes Simmons aims to head to, yes of course, the Lakers. For example, in a documentary filmed during Simmons’ one year in college at LSU, Simmons was filmed watching the broadcast of the draft lottery, where it would be determined who would pick first in the upcoming draft, and therefore take Simmons:

[Simmons] is shown watching the broadcast of the event and miming his hypothetical reactions if either the Sixers or the Lakers got the first pick and the right to sign him. When he imagines the Lakers getting it, he celebrates; when he imagines going to the Sixers, he shrugs wryly. Earlier in the movie, a Lakers blanket is visible in the background of his apartment. Currently, he dates L.A.-based famous person Kendall Jenner. You can decide what this all means

Additionally, Simmons’ agent is Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, the same agent/agency that represents LeBron James and has been trying to orchestrate a trade of another client, Anthony Davis, to the Lakers.

Simmons turning down the max rookie extension would be risky. He would instead have to take an approximately $10 million dollar deal in 2020-21, one-third of what he’d get in a rookie extension. But, then he’d become a free agent the summer of 2021, free to sign where he wants for an even more lucrative deal. For a player like Simmons, the risk may be worth it. As Wilmes says, such a move could set a new precedent for how NBA superstars control their futures. -TOB

Source: Ben Simmons Could Upend The NBA’s Power Structure With One Decision”, John Wilmes, Deadspin (02/26/2019)


Kick the Kid Out!

This week a kid sitting courtside at a Nuggets/Thunder game reached out and swatted at and hit Russell Westbrook.

A lot of the reaction I saw was, “It’s funny how the kid sat down when Russ gave him that look.” But I have a hot take. KICK THE KID AND HIS PARENTS OUT. I don’t care that he appears to be maybe 12 years old. You can’t do that, and a kid who thinks he can, and is sitting friggin courtside, obviously thinks this is ok. If this spoiled rotten kid doesn’t learn his lesson now, he’ll grow up to be an entitled adult. We had a chance here to fix his trajectory! Instead we are left with his rich mom and dad, laughing at the whole thing.

Yuk yuk yuk! Hilarious! …Westbrook was not so chuckle-y after the game:

“He hit me. So I told his dad, you know, just, “Be careful man, you can’t just have have your son hitting random people.” I don’t know him, he don’t know me, so.

[…]

He’s responsible for his kid. Watch the game, sit there, have fun, enjoy. For all the fans though, there’s too much leeway, man, for the fans to be able touch the players and get away with it. And then we can’t react and do the things that we need to do to protect ourselves. It’s important that they understand—kids, whoever it is, dads, moms, that they can say what they want, as long as it’s respectful, but the touching is, to me, off limits.

I agree! The kid should have been kicked out, I say!  -TOB

Source: Russell Westbrook, After Being Shoved By Child: ‘The Touching Is, To Me, Off Limits’”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (02/27/2019)


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week – Sharon Van Etten – “I Told You Everything”


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“I’ll have a vanilla… one of the vanilla bullshit things. You know, whatever you want, some vanilla bullshit latte, cappa thing. Whatever you got – I don’t care.”

-L.D.

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1-2-3 Sports! Week of February 22, 2019

More on this later.


What Happens After A Trade

There’s been lots of talk of players switching teams in the past week. In baseball, Manny Machado finally ended up on a team (and that’s the last we’ll hear from the $300MM man until he no doubt opts out after five years) and free agent Bryce Harper remains teamless. In basketball Anthony Davis tried to force his way to L.A., but that was a no go. Two hall-of-fame Steelers are available, and so is Odell Beckham Jr., apparently.

Trades and acquisitions can satiate us during a slow sports week, but what happens when a guy is traded? Logistically, what happens next? That’s what The Athletic’s Scott Burnside details in his story walking through the logistics of a trade deadline in the NHL.

Sure, operations directors need to alert the staff to make up some new jerseys, but there’s a hell of a lot more to consider.

  • Car service, and – if it’s a particularly tight window before the next game, a police escort from the airport
  • Temporary housing for the athlete and his family
  • Realtors, schools, pets
  • In many cases – extremely expedited work visas, which is made more difficult on holiday weekends or, you know, when the government is shut down
  • What if the couple is expecting a child – what arrangements can the team facilitate in a new city in terms of medical care
  • Flowers. Never forget the flowers for the wife/significant other

Above all, teams seek out any and every way to make players and their families feel comfortable as soon as possible. Reduce stress and anxiety quickly, and the player will likely play better sooner.

Of course, an NHL player moving is a very different scenario than one of us moving, but I’m sure it’s still stressful even with the a team handling 95% of the grunt work. It’s interesting to read about the people who make it happen so smoothly. – PAL

Source: How’s a Traded Player on the Ice For a New Team So Quickly? NHL Travel Coordinators Share Their Secrets”, Scott Burnside, The Athletic (02/21/2019)

TOB: Slight tangent: Nothing is more gross to me than a police escort to get a player to a game. I’ll never forget in 2006 when the Red Sox traded for Doug Mirabelli, who specialized in catching knuckleballs, and the Massachusetts State Police did a high speed escort to get Mirabelli from the airport to Fenway Park in time to start that night’s game, which was being started by knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. It was just so gross, and the sports media hailed it as some great event. Bewildering. I’m happy to say that in 2016, the Massachusetts State Police admitted that the escort “was not an appropriate use of our assets.” Ya think?


Sounds of Spring

The premise borders on being too cute, but I happily read Daniel Brown’s puff piece on baseball players and coaches favorite sounds of spring. Spring training has begun and baseball is on its way back. Growing up in Minnesota, it was the first real indication that spring was actually creeping closer, and it meant it was time to start scoping new cleats and maybe even a new bat.

Some of the responses were pretty obvious (the crack of the bat), but others were specific enough to resonate. The baseball sound A’s first base coach (and former first baseman) Mike Aldrete will never forget Bo Jackson running:

Bo Jackson was on first. So I was holding him on. And as the pitcher delivered, he took off stealing. It sounded like the earth was moving with every one of his steps.

It was almost like out of my right ear I could feel him running and I could feel the earth reacting to him. I’ve never heard anything like that.

I mean, everybody kind of makes some noise. And a lot of times as a first baseman you jump off and you kind of hear whether the guy is going or not. But this was …

(Here, Aldrete paused to imitate the sound of dinosaur footsteps.)

I don’t want to compare Bo Jackson to animals or anything, but it wasn’t human. It was superhuman.

I can’t relate to that, but I definitely agree with Giants reliever Will Smith and his affection for the sound of metal cleats on concrete. It’s not until teenage baseball that you’re allowed to wear the real thing, so I can understand his love for the sound of a real ballplayer.

As an old catcher, the best sound is always the snap of a catchers mitt. It’s the sound of everything coming together flush. It’s the sound of things going right. Fun little read. – PAL

Source: Giants, A’s Sound Off On Baseball’s Greatest Hits: A Bo Jackson Steal, a Nolan Ryan Heater and MadBum’s Bat”, Daniel Brown, The Athletic (02/21/2019)


The Fix Was In

ESPN released a long story this week, the result of a two-year investigation into former referee Tim Donaghy and his gambling ring. It’s really fascinating. Donaghy was busted nearly 12 years ago now, and even served time in prison. But in that time, he has always maintained that while he gambled on NBA games he officiated, he did so on “inside information” and never took any steps to affect the outcome of the game. That’s as stupid and unbelievable now as it’s always been, but many powerful people and organizations had a strong incentive to push that narrative, including the NBA. Back in 2007, the NBA claimed it studied Donaghy’s games during that 2006-2007 season and concluded there was nothing strange going on with Donaghy’s officiating, aside from one game.

But ESPN’s article uncovers that the NBA only studied 17 of his 40+ games that year.  It also revealed that Donaghy had been doing this since approximately 2002. When it began, Donaghy and an old buddy would make the bets, on a relatively small scale. But “connected” people soon realized Donaghy’s buddy was winning at an unheard of clip, and began matching his bets. Eventually, they realized  that Donaghy was reffing all the games he was betting, and they wanted in on the action. By 2006-2007, the Donaghy ring was huge, with hundreds of millions of dollars being moved.

What’s more, Donaghy told the FBI in 2007 that there were other referees also gambling and fixing games. But the NBA had no desire for the public to find out how easy it was for a referee to fix a game, and they had no desire for the public to think this was anything but one bad apple. Not long after the FBI informed the NBA of Donaghy’s scheme, the story leaked to the press and any chance the FBI had of finding more corrupt referees was gone.

ESPN’s investigation was painstaking, as they tracked every call and non-call Donaghy made during that 2007 season. What they found revealed there was “just a 4.1 percent chance that an unbiased ref would have randomly made the calls that Tim Donaghy did during his crooked run.” ESPN’s reporting also revealed that while Donaghy still maintains that he never fixed a game, he has privately told a number of people the opposite over the years, and ESPN got all of them to talk about it on the record.

This was a well reported story and a great read. My biggest takeaway was that, especially with the continued push to legalize sports gambling, the NBA and other sports leagues will have a hard time preventing this from happening in the future. Donaghy told one friend that he liked to call an illegal defense on the team he picked against early in the game, so that they’d play less aggressive defense the rest of the game. When you think how easy it is to throw a pass interference flag, or call a strike zone tighter, or blow your whistle a little earlier, you realize: it’s just too easy. As someone who enjoys and even spends money on sports, that’s a scary thought. -TOB

Source:How Former Ref Tim Donaghy Conspired to Cix NBA Games, Scott Eden, ESPN (02/19/2019)


Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Tom Rush – ‘No Regrets’


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Are we taking this too far? I don’t think we’re taking this far enough…what?

-K. Fillippelli*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I never thought I’d live to see the day when KAREN got a quote on 1-2-3…damn, TOB

1-2-3 Sports! Week of February 15, 2019


Pay no mind to the dude in electric blue shades and sweet goatee; Zion is denting a fully inflated basketball likes it’s a tennis ball.


The Softer Side of Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson died late last week. He’s one of the greatest baseball players of all time, coming just 13 dingers short of the ultra elite 600 Home Run Club (10th all time, 4th when he retired), to go along with a career OPS of .936 (really damn good) and an OPS+ of 155 (meaning he was 55% better than league average), 26th all time. He was also a manager, baseball’s first black manager, though not an exceptional one – his teams only finished over .500 six out of sixteen seasons, though he did win Manager of the Year in 1989.

For most of his career, Frank was not particularly liked. Or, perhaps more accurately, he had a reputation for being cranky. But as a black man growing up in the 50s, Frank did not live an easy life. He was born in 1935 and grew up in Oakland, graduating from McClymonds High School, having been on the same basketball team as the great Bill Russell. He debuted in the big leagues in 1956, at age 20, just a few years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Like many black players of his time, Frank was subject a lot of abuse. But unlike Jackie, Frank refused to take it. He vocally stood up against racial prejudice. In 1987, Dodgers’ GM Al Campanis was asked by Larry King why there were so few black managers and no black general managers in MLB. Campanis said, black people “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager.” Campanis was rightly excoriated for these remarks, and Frank led the charge, stating:

“Baseball has been hiding this ugly prejudice for years — that blacks aren’t smart enough to be managers or third-base coaches or part of the front office. There’s a belief that they’re fine when it comes to the physical part of the game, but if it involves brains they just can’t handle it. Al Campanis made people finally understand what goes on behind closed doors — that there is racism in baseball.”

Frank was often referred to as the most feared man in baseball. I imagine he liked that. But he was not a man without feeling, and that’s why I loved the following article about him. Late in his life, Frank was managing the Washington Nationals. The team was not very good, and they ran into an injury problem at catcher. They were forced to play Matt LeCroy, a journeyman nearing the end of his career, who had knee problems and a shoulder injury preventing him from throwing to second base. In one particular game, the Nats built an early six run lead, but the Astros were mounting a comeback, and it was led in part on challenging LeCroy on the basepaths. LeCroy simply could not make the throw to second, and Frank decided to pull him, mid-inning.

LeCroy understood the move and was not upset. But Frank was. He felt he had embarrassed LeCroy, a player he had grown to respect. After the game, Frank spoke about the decision, and the Most Feared Man in Baseball began to cry.

 LeCroy was surprised to hear about Frank’s reaction:

“I hated that he got emotional, I told him I wasn’t good enough for somebody to cry over,” said LeCroy, who was blown away by the size of the scrum of reporters waiting at his locker when he arrived. “It was a crazy day. I didn’t think much about the situation. Didn’t realize that it was going to be such a big deal. That’s when I said the daddy quote.”

The exact, priceless line from LeCroy was, “If my daddy was managing this team, I’m sure he would have done the same thing.” The snippet circulated the Internet along with the footage of Robinson, tears welled in the corner of his eyes and spilling out onto his cheeks.

“A lot of people didn’t understand Frank,” LeCroy said. “He was thought of as this very stern, stoic guy. He was one of the best to ever play and he had to go through a lot being an African American playing. The biggest thing about that day (that stuck with me) is it showed me Frank really cared about everybody, no matter if you were a superstar or the last man on the bench.

“I think it opened up a lot of people’s eyes that deep down Frank cared about everybody. It meant a lot to me and that made our relationship, which was already pretty good, carry over to the next level.  He thought I was going to blast him (for taking me out) and I really didn’t think nothing about it.”

LeCroy himself would go on to coach, and he’s currently a manager for the Harrisburg Senators, the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate. He says he tries to take that lesson, and more, that Frank Robinson taught him.

This was a really good article – short, but great storytelling. -TOB

Source: A Look Back at the Day Frank Robinson Cried When He Took Catcher Matt LeCroy Out of a Game”, Brittany Ghiroli, The Athletic (02/08/2019)

PAL: One clear take-away from the Robinson stories over the past week is that he was a proud man, and so it makes sense Robinson would not take lightly the idea of having a hand in embarrassing a player.

My opinion on the writing differs from TOB’s: Ghiroli opens the story with an extended, teaser lead. Here’s the opening paragraph:

When​ Matt​ LeCroy​ thinks back to that moment,​ there​ was​ no​ way​ of​ anticipating​ its significance.​ No​ amount of​​ premonition would help LeCroy fathom the magnitude of that fateful Nationals game on May 25, 2006. Yet, here he is, dissecting a day almost 13 years ago, an afternoon contest with the Astros at RFK Stadium that was one of the most memorable managerial moments of Frank Robinson’s career.

The reader doesn’t know what moment ‘that moment’ is, and we won’t find out until the ninth(!) paragraph of the story. This is a technique we’ve read before – hell, I’m sure I’ve used it – and in most cases it reads like a writer trying to show off with melodious prose that almost always comes off a bit forced. It’s familiar, and not in a good way.

TOB: IT SAYS IT RIGHT IN THE HEADLINE!

PAL: well, that’s an interesting point. Still hate the writing….now I have to re-write my response? Thanks for saving me the embarrassment, but at what cost? (Publisher’s note: sharing the the laugh is worth more than whatever else I would have written)


We Were So Lucky To Have Been Raised Amongst Catalogs*

This trip back in time comes to us ℅ soft-tossing lefty, Ryan Nett. The Stearns County legend (see his 2010 stats) texted it to me, and I was in based only on the headline alone:

Like writer Dan Woike, I remember flipping through just about every page of the Eastbay catalog, taking extra time on baseball cleats and gloves in the spring editions. Woike, Nett, and I are not alone; the NBA writer asked a bunch of known sneakerheads in the league about East Bay, and their reactions are fantastic Whether or not they ever made an order, guys like Lance Stephenson and P.J. Tucker absorbed each edition.

It seems funny to say in the Amazon era, but the Eastbay catalog absolutely has a little footnote in my childhood. It was a wormhole before the online wormhole, and – let’s be honest – the best bathroom reading around. I haven’t thought about it for who knows how long until Nett sent this along. It’s so fun when a writer uncovers a bit of forgotten nostalgia. Great find, Nett! – PAL

Source: Eastbay Catalog Memories: It’s Where a Generation Went to Look at Sneakers – and Dream”, Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times (02/14/2019)

*Don’t be a jerk and look it up. Ok, now, name the movie the title of this post references. Hit us up in the comment section for a bottle of excellent homebrew.

TOB: Oh HELL yeah. Eastbay friggin ruled. I don’t know how or why it started coming to my house – but the new arrival was a great day. I’d slowly look at each page and circle any item I might want. I’d think, “Man, if I got those Air Jordan XIs, no one could stop me.” I remember specifically obsessing over basketball shoe weight. “Geeze, I love those, but 13 ounces!? That’s gonna limit my vert. I need something under 12 ounces, for sure.”

I definitely ordered from Eastbay, but I can’t remember what any more. I probably didn’t get to order too much, but I used it to keep informed on the newest shoes and brands. The website is still my go-to for finding new basketball shoes, and I’ve ordered from them a couple times in the last few years. Nice find, Ryan. And congrats on that one dinger.


At the 2019 U.S. Open, I Will Be Booing Matt Kuchar

Pro golfers make a ton of money these days. The 50th highest money maker last year was Brendan Steele (not a porn star!) at $2.3 million. To get there, Steele made the cut 16 out of 22 events, with 3 top 10s and 1 win. That’s $2.3 million to play 67 rounds of golf, with average score right around par (71). Not bad!

Customarily, golfers pay their caddies 10% of their winnings. So Steele’s caddy made $230,000 last year. Also not a bad living! Justin Thomas finished first on the money list at $8.7 million, so his caddy made $870,000. That’s a hell of a lot of money! But, ya know, well earned by both the golfer and the caddy. Good on ‘em.

Matt Kuchar made news this week, though, for ignoring the 10% percent custom when he was forced to hire a local caddy at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Playa Del Carmen Mexico because his normal caddy could not make the trip. Instead of paying the caddy ten percent of his $1.3 million dollar purse ($130,000), Kuchar paid the caddy just $5,000 (five thousand) dollars instead, just one third of one percent – 0.3% – of Kuchar’s winnings.

Kuchar explained that in fact he was being generous, because his pre-tournament agreement with the caddy was to pay him $4,000 for the week, and that extra $1,000 was a bonus for Kuchar’s win. Matt, buddy! Don’t be so loose with your money. Think of your retirement! You’ve only made $3 million dollars this year, and it’s already February!

So how does Kuchar, a guy with career earnings over $43 MILLION dollars justify paying his Let’s let Kuchar, a first class prick, explain:

“For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week.”

GFY, Matt. -TOB

Source: Extremely Rich Golfer Matt Kuchar Defends Stiffing His Caddie”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (02/14/2019)

PAL: Agree on all fronts, but hold your outrage for a moment and consider this: what is the point of the $4,000 fee to begin with if the usual deal dictates 10% of winnings and, I assume, no payment for the caddie if there are no winnings? Clearly, each party agreed to a deal that was out of the ordinary, and – with one of them being a professional golfer and one of them being an experienced caddie – I can’t possibly believe there was a misunderstanding on this point. If Kuchar pockets more than 40K if he finishes in the top 30 or higher, then he got a deal on the caddie. Anything below, and the caddy-for-hire is covered. In a field of 132 competitors, these are not bad odds for the caddie.

Also, is this a story if Kuchar finishes second in the tournament ($777K)?

Of course in the real world the original deal matters when Kuchar wins the damn thing. He received $1.3M! And then he starts talking like an idiot about relative value of $5,000. That’s when no one wants to hear from the unremarkable golfer who’s made an unfathomable amount of money.

TOB: To me, it’s a story about power and wealth. The caddy is a club caddy in Mexico. As Kuchar says, a good day for him is $200. Kuchar gets to the tournament, with no caddy, and offers $4,000 because he knows every single caddy at that club will jump at $4,000. But that doesn’t make it right. He should have offered 10% to begin with. When called out for being a cheapskate, he should have said, “You’re right. I messed up. Here’s your 10%.”

UPDATE: 3:23pm PST, 2/15/19:

Obviously Kuchar is a reader of this blog, and I’m happy to report that he has taken my words to heart:

That’s a solid apology, Matt. The Boo Declaration is officially rescinded.


A Fresh Story on Steph Curry

Stories about about an athlete’s incredible talent are common. Off of the top of my head, recent profiles of Julio Jones. Alex Honnold, and Aaron Donald come to mind. Like those dudes, Steph Curry has made an imprint on his sport. Honnald is the only one in this group that has a case he’s changed the trajectory of his sport more than Curry.

I enjoyed Kevin O’Connor’s story on Curry because it’s not about his freakish talent. This is a story about his progress as a basketball player, how he practiced, and the people that helped him get better.

Jones, Honnald, Donald, Michael Phelps, LeBron James – these guys in no way resemble a “regular” human. The are bigger, stronger, faster, in every way that helps them succeed in their particular sport.

Aaron Donald is not like us. 

Neither is Phelps. 

While Curry’s lack of size is overstated (at 6’3”, 190, he’s an inch shorter than Dwyane Wade), he was a bit late to grow and gain strength as young pup. As result, his now iconic stroke was a long ways away.

His dad, longtime NBA player Dell Curry, knew they needed to fix it. He would be fine in middle school and JV ball, the dad told O’Connor, but that release point wasn’t going to work as the competition got tougher.

So the Currys entered the offseason with a mission: raise Steph’s shooting release to make his shot more difficult to block or alter. That meant repeating the same motion for hours and hours, each day, for three months. “It was the worst summer of my life, basketball-speaking,” Curry told me last month.

Curry said he spent the summer shooting mostly from the paint; he couldn’t shoot from any farther out because he hadn’t developed the requisite strength with his new form. Before the fix, Curry generated the power for his shot from his shoulders. A higher release, with the ball brought to his forehead, would allow him to flow kinetic energy from his legs through the flick of his wrist. “I used to call it the catapult method,” Curry said. “If you look at my shot now, it’s the exact same starting motion as it was when I was young. But I’m not stopping the ball [at my chin]. I just kept on going to where I couldn’t go anymore, and use my wrist a lot more as opposed to my shoulder.”

As he got stronger, Dell and Steph’s mom (a former volleyball player at Va. Tech, NBD) would get right up in his grill so he would get used to shooting over that kind of pressure. I love the image of a mom and dad practicing together with their kid.

So that’s where the stroke comes from – a tough summer and some pretty excellent genetics.

O’Conner’s piece also reveals how lethal the small (by NBA standards) Curry is finishing at the rim.

That list, and the fact that Curry has the same numbers as LeBron, shocked me, but there’s logic to this stat. At every stage of his basketball life, Curry was undersized. His drives would be blocked if he didn’t get good at creative finished.

Curry tried wild, high-arcing shots, acrobatic finishes, and a scoop shot—which he said is his favorite type of layup—to overcome the size differential. It was a necessity, but it also made what is a simple task for most players a difficult one. “I can’t tell you how many times during middle school I’d be on fast break, and I’d jump into the guy in the paint to do a half 360 and float the ball behind my head. I made it probably one time,” Curry said. “Every time I’d do it, I’d look at my mom in the stands and she’s just like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Just do a normal layup.’”

But those finishes didn’t come easy in the NBA. He wasn’t great around the rim his rookie season, and he found unusual help in Brandon Payne, who worked with Curry on “neuromuscular efficiency”. Whada what now?

 Essentially, they are trying to overload the senses to increase dexterity and reduce reaction time. Sure, why not? As O’Connor points out, Curry getting much stronger and improving his handle helped his finishing a lot, too. Nevermind the fact that he has Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson on the court, too. Having two other all-time great shooters waiting for pass might free up the lane a bit.

It becomes harding to find compelling stories about super popular athletes, but O’Connor finds a fresh angle on Curry. Super fun read, and love the giphs and video clips, too. – PAL

Source: It’s More Than Just the Shot”, Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer (02/12/2019)

TOB: I have read or seen video of the story of Curry’s transformed jump shot so many times now, and I don’t care. I devour each and every story about it. He has to be the most remarkable athlete I can remember – what he is doing seems impossible. You look at LeBron and sure, what he does makes absolute sense. But Curry should not be able to do the things he does. He’s changed the sport in a way that no athlete has changed a sport in my lifetime. Curry’s rookie year, the league attempted 3-pointers on 22% of shots. That number is now 35%. I think in lare part that is due to Curry, especially in how many threes he takes off the dribble, as opposed to the more common catch-and-shoot three. Curry changed the way teams think about attacking on offense and forced teams to defend out to 30-feet.

Incredibly, Curry is more accurate from 30-35 feet than he is anywhere else on the floor. This year he’s making fifty-four percent (54%!) of his shots from 30-35 feet, while shooting 43.7% from three overall, and 46.2% on all shots attempted. And it’s not really an anomaly. Since 2014-15, Curry is making 47.9% of his shots from 30-35 feet. What the hell? Anyways, he’s great and I hope he keeps this up another ten years.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – “Better Things”


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Pippity poppity, give me the zoppity. 

-M.G. Scott, C/O Darryl

Week of February 8, 2019


Gatorade Is A Delicious Lie

Who knew a 4300-word story about hydration could be so fascinating?  In this excerpt from Christie Aschwanden’s new book, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, we learn about the real story behind Gatorade, the dangerous hogwash behind Tom Brady’s “drink enough water every day to match half your body weight in ounces”, and the downright bad science experiments used to support marketing claims. Some of the more interesting insights:

  • Michael Jordan and Gatorade is the shining example of what’s called “the illusion of causality”, which is now an entire sub-genre of advertising
  • The word “electrolytes” as we know it is nothing more than a rebranding of a basic term and the body does not need to replenish electrolytes while working out (this happens quite naturally if you eat a meal and drink something after even a long workout)
  • Gatorade and other sports drink companies (the cottage industry obviously exploded) turned to half-baked science as a marketing strategy.
  • Dehydration – the boogeyman brought out to scare all of us to constantly drink during workouts – is far less common than its inverse, hyponatremia, in endurance athletes
  • There are at least five more fascinating facts in this excerpt

Ashwanden’s writing is proof that nearly anything can be made compelling with the right person tapping the keys. I thoroughly enjoyed this read about water and gatorade. – PAL

Source: You Don’t Need Sports Drinks To Stay Hydrated”, Christie Aschwanden, FiveThirtyEight (02/04/2019)


No, the Knicks Crushed the Porzingis Trade

Being a sports fan can be weird. Difficult. Frustrating. I’m a Kings fan, and for the last 15 or so years that has not been easy to say. It’s been barren, man. But as I write this, the Kings sit a game out of the playoffs in the always deep Western Conference, and the team they are looking up at for the last playoff spot (the Clippers) just traded away their best player (Tobias Harris) in a move designed for their future. As a plus, it gives the Kings a significant edge in the playoff race, though there are still roughly 36 hours left for the Lakers (1.5 games behind the Kings) to land Anthony Davis (by the time you are reading this, the trade deadline will have passed and the Lakers will either have or not have the Brow).

Sticking with the Kings through that time, with virtually no hope, was tough. But there was a moment when I almost forsake the team. The Kings had few bright spots from 2006 until 2017, but one of them was DeMarcus Cousins. Despite his mercurial nature, or maybe because of it, I loved Boogie. The team never won squat with him, but he always seemed like a guy you could build a contender around, if the team knew what it was doing. They never seemed to, though, and inevitable the day came when they traded him away. I damn near mourned. How could they do this? Our only hope? And for what, a struggling rookie (Buddy Hield) and a pick (which was dealt for two more picks – one of which turned out to be promising rookie Harry Giles)?

I nearly quit. I wondered: why do I stick with this garbage team when one of the greatest, most well run, and most entertaining teams of all time is moving to damn near my backyard in one year? My head said: just become a Warriors fan. I thought I’d do it, too. But my heart wasn’t there. I love watching the Warriors. Steph Curry may be my favorite player ever. But the minute Buddy Hield started playing well during the stretch run of another lost season, I was back in.

And two years later, the Kings look good! Like I said, the team might make the playoffs! On TNT the other night, someone actually argued they will be a 5-seed in the next two years. Even six months ago that was unthinkable. It hurt to trade Boogie, but we had won nothing with him and it was the right move.

Which brings me to last week’s trade involving Kristaps Porzingis (and a few other bad contracts). I’ve read (and listened to) way too many Knicks fans decrying that trade as inepitude. Complaining that it was a salary dump. Complaining that the rumors that the Knicks hope to sign both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this summer as a result of the trade are meaningless because they haven’t done it yet. And I can’t believe that is the takeaway.  

Yes, sports teams sell hope too often. But this isn’t the Kings, man. This isn’t the Hawks. Or the Pacers. Or the Bucks. This is the friggin Knicks. They play in the friggin Garden. They play in friggin NYC. No, they haven’t been good for a long, long time. But Kyrie and KD could turn that around immediately. And in selling them on that – you have a pitch no one else has: they will be the kings of New York in their 20s. That sounds pretty great, if you ask me.

So, no, it’s not guaranteed. But you have to give yourself that chance, and the Knicks did that. And Porzingis is a nice player. He’s really good. But he doesn’t play much – he gets injured a lot. In his four seasons in the NBA, he’s played 72, 65, 48 and 0 (yes, zero) games. He’s only 23, which makes that injury history scarier. At 7’3, he seems to have one of those bodies that just can’t take the punishment of an 82 (or more) game season. As I noted above, they also unloaded some bad contracts as the price to give up Porzingis, and as an added bonus get a couple recent lottery picks, including the very intriguing Dennis Smith, Jr., plus increase their odds of landing Zion Williamson in this year’s draft, and get two future first round picks.

When the Kings traded Cousins, I got mad, but it provided a path to days much brighter than Kings fans had seen with him. Similarly, the Knicks just gave themselves the chance to bring a title to the Garden for the first time in nearly 50 years – and that’s just not something Porzingis was ever going to do. -TOB
Source: The Knicks Are Still Looking For a Guy”, Dan Devine, The Ringer (02/05/2019)


Durant…Ugh

About that Porzingis trade… in the days following speculation ramped up about whether the Knicks will be able to land Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency this summer. Somewhat oddly, in what many figured was an attempt to avoid answering those questions, Durant refused to talk to the media, at all, for nine days following the Porzingis trade. Like I said, that’s odd. He didn’t just refuse to talk free agency. He refused to talk, period.

Then, after Wednesday’s Warriors win over the Spurs, Durant finally spoke and called out the media, and in particular The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss by name, for asking him questions about free agency. Here’s the video:

KD! That is not a good look, my dude! I get that it would be annoying. But Durant needs to understand: fans care. They really do. It’s intriguing as hell! And fans pay for that $30M you’re making this year, and the $40M you hope to make next year. And it’s the media that feeds fan hunger – without the media giving fans what they want, less people would tune in and if less people tune in ratings and ticket sales go down. If that revenue drops, so do player salaries.

On top of that, KD was being a jerk. The dude is just trying to do his job. I checked out the Strauss article that had Durant so mad. There was nothing terribly objectionable. Strauss talked about how KD had not spoken to the media in the 8 days since the Porzingis trade; he stated that people on and around the Warriors think Durant is leaving or say they don’t know; it discussed the fact KD will face criticism if he leaves just as he faced criticism for coming to the Warriors in the first place.

I was very curious how Strauss would respond to being so publicly called out. Well, he didn’t take it lying down. Some examples:

“You guys really don’t know shit,” Kevin Durant told reporters attending his February interview session, in response to a question about a rumored exit. He wasn’t happy with the media’s approach.

KD was then asked what stories he would like the media to focus on more.

“To be honest, man, I’m only here talking to y’all because I have to,” he said. “So I really don’t care. Y’all not my friends. You’re going to write what you want to write. You’re going to love us one day and hate us the next. That’s a part of it. So I just learn how to deal with y’all.”

I’m referring, of course, to the time Durant was asked about whether former Thunder coach Scott Brooks would indeed get fired, as many around the league thought he would back in February of 2015. It was, theoretically, a choice KD had input into. Roughly two months later, Brooks would be axed, in a decision KD backed 100 percent.

When it comes to the future, sometimes the media really doesn’t know shit. And sometimes, as the Yiddish saying goes, the greatest libel is the truth. You’d think a man holding all the cards wouldn’t publicly fret like his hands were tied. You’d think.

Ohhh, snap! That was one hell of a rhetorical device. Strauss continued, pointing out that KD’s complaints are not even grounded in reality (a point I saw confirmed by numerous NBA writers after this article was posted):

By the way, as large as his free agency looms over the organization, it’s not like Durant has been grilled about it. In his time here, weeks if not months can pass between examples of a press conference question for KD about free agency. That’s why it’s so confusing when Durant says, “Y’all come in here every day, ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, rile up the fans about it.” It should be noted that KD has more than earned the right to leave the Bay, after winning at least two titles. Demanding an alternate observable reality is another thing.

These presser settings mostly revolve around that night’s game, and how the team is playing. To receive such presser questions, in February, you typically either have to a) Play the Knicks with their attendant media or b) Do something as novel as, say, avoiding a week of contractually obligated media availability concurrent with the Knicks blasting open some serious cap room. The curious absence is why our team at The Athletic started taking the organization’s temperature on this topic. Otherwise, we were as keen as anyone to write “Boogie’s back!” articles and other more positive stories.

And finally Strauss ended by pointing out that KD is his own worst enemy:

And yet, in a 39-point victory, Kevin Durant has amplified the story he theoretically wants smothered. He’s shining a laser pointer at a July calendar page and bemoaning that anyone dares see the bouncing beam. This is what he does, for reasons that mystify beyond the simple fact that he can. A man with all the leverage can keep speaking in contradictions and reliably keep hearing in supplications.

Yet, I would like to oblige him, because who wants to make a person sad? There’s a problem, though. Not only do I write about the NBA here, but I’ve signed on to write a book about the Warriors dynasty. I plan to do it well. In this endeavor, I won’t be taking my marching orders from Kevin Durant. And yet, I suspect I’ll find myself writing about that which he loudly emphasizes.

As I’ve written before, KD strikes me as terribly moody and self-important, and his rant this week only confirmed that opinion. But this was a fantastic response by Strauss. He stood up for himself, and his brethren in the media, without lashing out as the spoiled brat who started it all. -TOB

Source: On Kevin Durant’s Criticisms and the Relevant Questions Surrounding the Warriors’ Enigmatic Superstar”, Ethan Strauss, The Athletic (02/07/2019)

PAL: Good luck with the New York media, Durant. He is uninteresting in every respect. He is no doubt an insane talent, but his game – being super tall and shooting over dudes in iso situations – is way less entertaining than watching the Warriors whip the ball around to find the best shot. His self-importance reminds me of a kid six months out of college telling someone who’s lived in the real world for a couple decades how it is.

TOB: After I wrote the above, Steve Kerr said this:

“All that revenue that generates the salary cap, it doesn’t all come from ticket sales. It comes from media rights and all kinds of financial streams that are based on people’s intense interest in the league. And so you just kind of have to deal with that and go along with that.

As always, Kerr gets it.


A Solution to the Issue of Whether to Pay College Athletes

College athletes should be paid. Period. But how to unravel the thorny system that has been created over the last century or so is admittedly complicated. If you pay players what they’re worth in football and basketball, how do you comply with Title IX? After all, you have to keep the spending relatively equal. And while there’s enough money to pay football and basketball players, the revenue those sports bring in subsidize all the non-revenue generating sports, including nearly all women’s sports, which again becomes a problem with Title IX. Another idea I’ve seen floated is to simply have athletic departments go independent and license the university’s name/logo/trademark. Critics of that idea think it will kill the magic of college sports, which is hard to know – but logistically, do we think the universities are going to hand over the land and the facilities they’ve spent hundred of millions of dollars on for free? I just don’t see how it’s feasible.

But there’s one relatively easy solution that ensures players are paid what they are worth without a dime coming out of the school’s coffers, and it’s being pushed by California State Senator Nancy Skinner, who represents Oakland, Berkeley and the surrounding communities. Skinner plans to introduce a bill that would allow college athletes to be compensated “directly for the use of their name, image, and likeness.”

As Skinner says, “Our universities and the NCAA make huge amounts of money from TV deals and corporate sponsorships of their teams. The state Fair Pay to Play Act, which is my bill, will help level the playing field by allowing college athletes to sign sponsorship deals much like Olympic athletes are now allowed to.”

If you’re wondering, yes, this would be against NCAA rules. But that’s the point. It would force the NCAA to either change their rules or declare that any student athlete in California paid under the proposed law would be ineligible. This seems like a nightmare PR scenario for the NCAA, not to mention how difficult it might be to enforce. If the law passes, it is not hard to envision other states following suit, and I believe the NCAA would be forced to change.

On a base level, the NCAA rule is incredibly archaic and unfair. Why does this rule exist? I suppose it is intended to prevent boosters with big pockets from promising to pay players who attend their school. But as we’ve always known and have gotten a reminder of over the last two years, this already goes on. Besides, shining a light on something generally tends to clean it up. Frankly, I see no downside to this rule. If a player wants to sign an endorsement deal, let him. Free enterprise, and all. And, practically speaking for the NCAA, it potentially solves a major problem heading its way, as the calls to pay players are growing louder and are not going away. Seems like a no-brainer to me. -TOB

Source: New Bill Seeks to Allow California Collegiate Athletes to Get Paid For Use of Their Name, Image, and Likeness”, Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic  (02/04/2019)


Badass of the Week: Unnamed Trail-runner in Colorado

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever done? Got it? Good. Hey, that’s pretty good!

You know what’s tougher? Killing an attacking mountain lion with your bare hands. That happened this week.

Yesterday afternoon, a trail runner was out for a run alone in the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space area outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, when he was attacked by a mountain lion. The runner said he heard something behind him, and as he turned around to look, the lion attacked him from behind, biting his face and wrist. He managed to break free from the cougar’s claws and teeth, and he told investigators from Colorado Parks & Wildlife that he choked the lion to death while defending himself.

A lion bit this dude’s face, and he fought back and choked it out. Then, being on a solo trail run, tough guy had to get back to safety. Think his head was on a swivel while running back to his car? – PAL

Source: Colorado Runner Kills Mountain Lion With Bare Hands After It Attacks Him”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (02/06/19)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Johnny Cash – “Big Iron” (Marty Robbing cover)


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We have a gym at home. It’s called the bedroom. 

-Phyllis  Vance

1-2-3 Sports! Week of February 1, 2019

Two happy hockey parents with the missed high five on the occasion of their son’s first NHL…fight.


The Young Man & the Steelman

This one comes to us c/o Alex Denny, and it is one hell of a tale. A former olympic hopeful cyclist robs twenty-six banks. His get-a-way: a bike. As if that wasn’t enough, the robber’s name is Justice. Tom Justice. The brand of bike he used: Steelman. Too good! Here’s writer Steven Leckart setting up the scene:

The street was empty: no cars, no pedestrians. Suddenly the man spotted a police officer riding a four-wheel ATV. Squeezing the shopping bag, he settled into a relaxed gait. As the ATV approached, the robber smiled and waved hello, as would anyone who had not just knocked over a bank. Returning a stiff nod, the officer kept rolling. And so did the man, descending into a parking garage.

Not 60 seconds later, he emerged, carrying an aluminum bicycle on one shoulder and a messenger bag over the other and wearing a red, white, and blue spandex bodysuit, a silver helmet, sunglasses with yellow lenses, and a pair of cycling shoes. He climbed onto the bike, clicked into the pedals, and began to ride leisurely. It had been less than three minutes since he exited the bank.

There were no sirens or alarms — only the sound of the 11:26 a.m. Metra rumbling into the station three blocks away. By the time the train was gone, so was the thief. Fifteen minutes later, he was coasting south along Sheridan Road. He pedaled into Gillson Park in Wilmette and cruised up to a trashcan. After fishing out two crisp $20 bills and shoving them into the pocket of his bodysuit, he removed the Sports Authority bag and held it upside down over the trashcan. Several bundles of cash — what authorities would later reveal to be $4,009 — tumbled into the garbage with a syncopated thud.

The man returned the empty sack to his messenger bag and pedaled away.

I recently watched Robert Redford’s latest (and supposedly last) movie, The Old Man and The Gun (I liked it!),  and I was struck by the small scale of it all relative to the big bank heists we’ve seen in movies for decades. Redford’s character ambles into small, neighborhood banks, well-dressed with a charming smile. He hands a young teller a note, puts his hand into his jacket, indicating he has a gun, and walks out just as calmly as he walked in.

That’s pretty much the same approach Justice took in his robberies. He was never armed, he handed a note to a teller, folded his hands and waited. They dubbed him The Choirboy – pretty great nickname for a bank robber if you ask me. Once outside the banks, he’d ditch the costume, revealing a spandex bike outfit, hop on his bike, and be gone. In the beginning, he’d justify the act as one of adrenaline rather than greed. He’d toss most of the money. Of course, it didn’t stay that way, but you’ll have to read the story to find out the specifics.

At the heart of Justice’s struggle is a belief that his life was to have more significance, and his inability to create it when his initial plans fell through. He was a borderline Olympic cyclist, but for a few reasons the timing and his health didn’t line up at the right moments. Then he looked for significance in joining the French Foreign Legion (a military outfit that, in exchange for five years of service, grants soldiers French citizenship), but he had a problem with other plebes and superiors.

Justice never found the significance he was looking for, and he filled that void with a collection of dangerous and damaging decisions. I can understand the feeling that drove Justice to rob banks on bike. In passing moments, I have definitely wondered if I’m leading a significant life, as I’m sure is the case for many of you readers. Justice’s reaction to that ennui is extraordinary, but the feeling…a lot of us are familiar with that.

Steven Leckart does a great job balancing the incredible plot of this story with Justice’s search for meaning. When’s this going to be made into a movie? – PAL

Source: The Bicycle Thief”, Steven Leckart, Chicago Magazine (01/29/2019)

TOB: This story is absolutely wild and you should read the whole thing. From the Chicago suburbs to the drug cartels in Tijuana to a cold river in Walnut Creek, if you told me the plot I’d think it was a new movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.


Bummin’ Around.

The defensive coordinator for the NFC Champion Rams is Wade Phillips. Wade has been around the NFL a lonnnng time. He’s been a coach nearly 40 years, and tagged along with his dad, the legendary Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips, before that. The Ringer did an excellent profile on Wade, who has become known as a bit of a defensive mad scientist over the years by turning bad defenses good, and good defenses great, in very short order. But he’s also a character, from a family of them, and I’d like to direct your attention there.

His dad, Bum, may be better known for his famous quotes, or those attributed to him, than for his coaching. For example, on legendary Alabama Coach Bear Bryant:

“He can take his’n and beat your’n, and then he can turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.”

Or in response to Coach Sid Gillman telling him that breaking down football film is better than sex:

“Sid, you must not be doing it right.”

Or on job security:

“There’s two kinds of coaches, them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.”

Or on a sense of self worth:

“I always thought I could coach. I just thought people were poor judges of good coaches.”

Possibly my two favorites concern Earl Campbell, the Hall of Fame running back who played for Bum. During a workout, Campbell was unable to finish a mile run. Reporters asked Bum if he was concerned and he said:

“When it’s first and a mile, I won’t give it to him.”

And when asked if Campbell was a running back in a class by himself, Bum unleashed this gem:

“I don’t know if he’s in a class by himself, but I do know that when that class gets together, it sure don’t take long to call the roll.”

Campbell features rather heavily in the Wade Phillips story – he was a 30 year old assistant with the Oilers when the team drafted Campbell, and the two had similar interests: football, beer, and country music, mostly:

The pair would sit together on the team plane, cranking up country music on the boombox and drinking Budweiser. “I liked Gladys Knight and all that stuff,” Campbell says, “but we listened to Willie Nelson.” Campbell had gotten close to Nelson during his days at UT. The musician was a friend of Royal’s, and on visits to Austin Campbell would go on runs with Nelson in the bayou nearby.

That last anecdote should make you laugh. Earl Campbell was 5’11 and 232 pounds of muscle, possibly the most physical running back of all time. Willie Nelson is reportedly 5’6, 150 pounds. I figured they must have made quite the sight, jogging in the Texas heat, and then I found this pic:

What a picture. What a world. Ok, one more.

Sometimes the best parts of an article are the ones that unwittingly lead you to a place like that. -TOB

Source: The Essential Stories of Wade Phillips“, Robert Mays, The Ringer (01/30/2019)

PAL: Here’s my favorite anecdote from the story:

On May 30, 2009, James (a player Phillips coached), then 28, got married. A reception at the W Hotel in Dallas followed. The first man on the dance floor was Wade Phillips. As Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” blared over the speakers, Wade sang along and swayed to the music with his wife, Laurie. For James, a future that once seemed so remote was finally within reach. “Wade teaches you, regardless of your circumstance, who you are, what’s goin’ on, to enjoy your life,” James says. “That man danced the entire reception. I said, ‘Ya know what? Forget about football. Forget about all this stuff, the glitz and glamour, and what we put value on. How about we value just being a human being and being able to enjoy your life?’”


The Business of Baseball is Fascinating and Not Fun

This is a tough one. Deadspin’s Marc Normandin does a hell of a job explaining Major League Baseball’s cold stove offseason within a historical context, but his story also had me considering what I look for in the game I love.  

If it I see MLB for what it is – a multi-billion dollar business – then I can’t ignore the disputes between the union and the owners. If I only ask the game I love to entertain me, then I am a fool following this offseason as if it were a subplot on a reality show, in part enabling billionaires to fleece millionaire players as well as us fans. What MLB is, and what it is to me…reading this story had me wondering just how close (or far apart) those two points are in my mind.

Back to Normandin’s story. While there is no salary cap in baseball, there is a luxury tax. A luxury tax is essentially a soft salary cap on player payroll. A team that goes over a the ceiling ($219MM in 2019), then pays a tax on the amount over the ceiling.

Get this: the players’ union actually proposed the ideas of a “competitive balance” tax in an effort to squash the idea of a salary cap from any future negotiations. This happened back in 1997, and the initial tax was only applied to the five top-spending teams (that didn’t last). What’s more, the tax didn’t grow proportionally to the revenue earned over the next twenty years.

More important than pointing out the insignificant punishment, though, is that jump from $117 million to $206 million over the course of 16 years. MLB’s revenues grew from $3.58 billion in 2003 to 2018’s record $10.3 billion, a 188 percent jump during that period. The luxury tax ceiling, however, grew by just 68 percent in that stretch. If teams are avoiding going over the luxury tax and luxury tax growth is well below revenue growth, then your luxury cap is, at best, a soft salary cap.

However, a luxury tax is only effective if some teams choose go over the soft cap and pay the tax. If teams like the Yankees and Dodgers – organizations that typically set the market for free agents because they have the most money to spend – are not going over the soft cap, then all the other teams can bid for players at a lower rate.

All of this is to repeat a point TOB has been underscoring several times over the offseason: owners are making so much goddamn money – regardless of whether they have a great team or players – that they are not too eager to drop something in excess of $300MM on a single player. Whether or not it makes the team better – what we all care about – that is a shitty business investment 99 times out of 100, and that’s what the owners care about.

Normandin’s article goes into greater detail on the history of collusion in MLB, free agency, and past collective bargaining negotiations over the years. It’s a pretty fascinating read in which he compiles and references a bunch of other excellent writing on the subject, but it all makes me feel very far away from a day game with a beer in one hand and dog in the other while making dollar bets on mound ball. – PAL

Source: How MLB’s Luxury Tax Became A Salary Cap Because Of Decades Of Failure”, Marc Normandin, Deadspin (01/30/2019)

TOB: Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but following this stuff and understanding the dynamics of what is going on behind the scenes adds to my enjoyment. If I didn’t, I’d be pulling my hair out and screaming, “WHY DON’T THE GIANTS GO GET MACHADO OR HARPER!!!!!?!?!?!?!?” Well, actually, I’m almost there, anyways. But when I see fans on Twitter yelling at the Giants beat writers about how the Giants aren’t doing anything, it’s nice to have an idea of why things are the way they are.


Build Your Baseball Dream Team

These things are dumb but fun.

I’m not even sure who created this, but I like it: Using the list above, create the best team you can, with one player from each position, with a salary cap of $33. Before you continue, please make your list.

 

 

Done? Good. Here were our initial lists:

TOB:

SP: Kershaw $1

C: Posey $3

1B: Pujols $5

2B: Cano $2

3B: Arenado $2

SS: A-Rod $5

LF: Bonds $5

CF: Trout $5

RF: Sheffield $1

DH: Edgar $3

CL: Kimbrel $1

Total: $33

PAL:

SP: Pedro $2

C: Posey $3

1B: Pujols $5

2B: Kent $1

3B: Arenado $2

SS: Jeter $3

LF: Manny $3

CF: Griffey $4

RF: Ichiro $5

DH: Edgar $3

CL: Jansen $2

Total: $33

After making my initial list, I wondered what the optimal list would be. From Baseball Reference, I obtained the 7-year peak WAR for each player available. I chose 7-year WAR because, in part, it was pre-totaled for me by Baseball Reference, but also because it seems like a reasonable estimate of a player’s sustained peak – we want the best a player has to offer, while controlling for a single outlier season by taking a larger time span, and controlling for players with lower peaks but more longevity.

I then averaged each player’s 7-year peak WAR by dividing by 7 to obtain their average single season WAR over their 7-year peak. The exceptions here are Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado, who have only played 4 and 5 full seasons, respectively. I divided by 4 and 5 for each of them to make things fair, but I do acknowledge this could potentially inflate the numbers for those two if they tail off the next couple years. But by doing this, I figure I’m creating the single best team possible, given the parameters, for one season of play.

I then totaled the average WAR over their 7-year peak for the teams we selected. My team totaled 78.04 WAR. Phil’s team totaled 68.19 WAR. Sorry, bud. But, a theoretical team of replacement players totaling a WAR of zero are expected to win 52 games in a 162 game season. Thus, the team I created would be expected to win 130 games, and Phil’s team would be expected to win 120 games. A fine showing, indeed!

But, while I had ten more wins than Phil (ahem), it made me wonder – how close to optimal had I come?

To find out, I sorted the players at each position by the average WAR over their 7-year peak. From this, I was easily able to select the best team possible, without the imposed “salary cap” of $33. Those players are: Clemens, Piazza, Pujols, Cano, Boggs, A-Rod, Bonds, Trout, Mookie, Frank Thomas, and Mariano Rivera. Their WAR totaled 87.73 for a single season. But they also went way over the salary cap at a cost of $44. To find the optimal lineup, I had to shave $11 off the cap spend while minimizing the corresponding loss in WAR.

To help, I created a new column showing how much WAR I’d lose by downgrading from the top option at each position. I then set out evaluating the results at that point. Some of the top players at each position were severely undervalued by whoever made the salary cap. For example, Cano was the top producing second baseman, but only cost $2. That was a smart choice by me. Similarly, Mookie Betts was way out ahead of any other right fielder, but only cost $3. My selection of Sheffield was thus bad, as it saved me $2 from Betts but cost me 3.37 WAR. Other players, like Bonds cost a lot at $5, but was 2.16 WAR over the next highest left fielder, Rickey Henderson (and Bonds nearly 5 WAR over the third highest left fielder). Here’s a screenshot of the spreadsheet at that point:

I wish I had the Excel skillz to have typed in some fancy formula to give me the highest in each group without exceeding the salary cap, but I don’t. So instead I studied the table and slowly started making changes that seemed to minimize the hit to my WAR while maximizing the reduction to my cost. Eventually, I came to the following starting lineup, but perhaps you can find a more optimal one:

SP: Pedro

C: Mauer

1B: Bagwell

2B: Cano

3B: Boggs

SS: Ripken

LF: Bonds

CF: Trout

RF: Mookie

DH: Edgar

CL: Kimbrel

Total cost: $33; Total WAR: 81.35 (6.38 lower than the highest possible, and a mere 3.31 WAR above my initial selections.

My initial choices are pretty darn good, all things considered. I originally had good value with low cost picks like Kimbrel and Cano. I didn’t do as well on guys like Posey and Kershaw. And I used my big dollars in good spots, like with Bonds and Trout. The worst picks were anyone other than Bonds (and if you HAD to pick someone other than Bonds, than especially anyone other than Rickey), and anyone at shortstop other than A-Rod and Ripken.

How’d you do? Leave your team in the comments, especially if you found a more optimal lineup than the one I came up with in the end. Like I said, a dumb but fun exercise. -TOB

Source: Tweet by Dallas Braden“, Twitter (01/29/2019)

PAL: My team is awesome and clutch. I think, to understand it, you have to think about the team within a batting order:

  1. Ichiro (9)
  2. Edgar (DH)
  3. Pujols (3)
  4. Junior (8)
  5. Manny (7)
  6. Arenado (5)
  7. Kent (4)
  8. Buster (2)
  9. Jeter (6)

SP: Pedro, Closer: Jansen

OH MY GOD THAT TEAM IS CLUTCH.


A Football Life

Footballs, also known as pigskins, are made of cowhide. Let’s get that out of the way from the jump. The journey from the farm to the Super Bowl has many checkpoints along the way, and the process has been more or less the same for 77 years. MMQB’s Kalyn Kahler tracked the complete process, and it’s a pretty fascinating, insightful story. We’re talking big machines, big animals, some blood and guts, and a lot of manual labor. There’s something some much more interesting in that process than a robot assembly line.

Of course, the first step is turning cows into hide. Farmers refer taking livestock to slaughter simply “moving”.  Then the butchers do their job with the beef. Butchers always refer to livestock as the consumer good. Then the meat is separated from the hide, and then the hide is stacked, salted and cured.

Eventually, the hides end up at a Tannery in Chicago. Every Wilson football has been made here at Horween Leather Co. for 77 years.  

There’s a framed antique photo of his great-grandfather, Isadore, who founded the business in 1905 after emigrating from Ukraine. Isadore is standing next to his wife, Rose, and their two sons, Ralph and Arnold, who would grow up to play football at Harvard and then professionally for the Chicago Cardinals. (Arnold, Skip’s grandfather, was also a player-coach for the Cardinals.) Below the family photo there’s a black-and-white picture of Arnold with Knute Rockne at Harvard’s spring practice in ’29. Pro football was a small fraternity back then, and the Horween brothers were friendly with another Chicago player-coach: George Halas. That relationship is how the family business became the only leather supplier for Wilson, tanning every NFL football for the past 77 seasons. “How important is luck?” Skip says. “We just happened to know a guy.”

Only after all of this can the footballs be inspected and placed into three categories: game use, practice use, or retails. “Game balls” in the stores are the worst of the lot.

Kahler’s football ends up on the Cincinnati Bengals practice ball for kickers. A better fate for the cow than a McDonald’s burger, I suppose.

A fun read. – PAL

Source: From Farm to Field, and Every Point Between: How a Cow Becomes a Football”, Kalyn Kahler, MMQB (01/31/19)


Videos of the Week

Evolutionary Vlade Divac:

Bonus (click through):


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week

Willie Nelson – “Midnight Rider” (Allman Brothers cover)

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXVNwdbBtwKSKDSve4quaUE46FCEm5ib-


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“Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

-Ron Swanson

Week of January 25, 2019

Happy Birthday to our co-founder, Phil: the best friend/blogging partner/brewing buddy/sports debater anyone could ever ask for. One hell of a guy.


Save It, Coach

Locker room speeches are the best part of most every sports movie, so I’m going to add some of the best in here as I share with you Joshua Kloke’s excellent piece about how those locker room speeches are changing in the NHL.

 In my head, I think of locker room speeches as pleas to players emotions – inspirational words that invigorate the meekest of players or tongue-lashings that break the most prideful of the bunch. Turns out, these types of speeches are becoming less and less frequent in NHL lockers rooms. I think of these types of speeches (warning: language, and a lot of it – headphones recommended).

In talking with several current NHL players and coaches, as well as minor league coaches, Kloke has found a growing trend that the intermissions between periods are used more and more for video analysis (now clips from the previous shifts are immediately available), concrete feedback, and positive talk. The younger guys typically respond better to that approach, and the older vets have already heard every clichéd rah-rah speech.

In today’s NHL, players insist coaches cannot waste the little time they are afforded in-game to garner the attention of an entire team. Instead of spouting platitudes, many NHL players believe the best dressing room speeches from coaches should focus on how a team can implement their own tactical adjustments in a game.

Another facet of the game that has changed over the years is the general acceptance that the players are the draw and ultimately hold the power. Talented players no longer “conform” to the coach; in fact, the inverse is now true.

All of this makes perfect sense, but there must still be a place for emotion in these speeches, even at the professional level. Can coaches play that card every game? Of course not, but there are moments where a coach has to reach beyond the X’s and O’s and speak to the soul of a team…which is precisely that kind of emotional crap – the soul of a team – that falls on deaf ears of today’s hockey player. 

Per Kloke’s research, I think Jimmy Dugan’s speech might be best suited for today’s NHL player. Short, specific advice on the bunt, and mostly positive. – PAL

Source: The Evolution of the Dressing Room Speech, From Emotional Outburst to Tactical Adjustments”, Joshua Kloke, The Athletic (01/24/2019)


The Tao of Ratto

Allow me to set the scene: Friday morning. Hot cup of coffee and good breakfast in front of me. Dog’s walked. Apartment is quiet, and I’m looking for one more story for this week’s post. I pull up all of the usual sites to scan the headlines, but I only make it to the first tab when I find The RInger’s Bryan Curtis has a profile on the Bay Areas recently unemployed sports columnist Ray Ratto. If you’re wondering who the hell Ratto is, he’s the mustachioed guy in the background of that Dwight Clark picture.

Or, as Curtis puts it, “Ratto is the kind of big-city sports columnist who used to exist everywhere and now barely exists anywhere.”

I take a sip of the coffee and spend the next few minutes savoring every word of Curtis’ story.

A quick backstory on Ratto. He was born in Oakland and never left. At nineteen he was the copy boy for the SF Examiner and found a mentor in Nick Peters. Copy boy leads to sports columnist, and he’s been covering the Bay Area teams ever since. Also, Ray Ratto is quick with the insults. It’s kind of his thing. Oh, and he wears ugly sweaters. Curtis spends the story trying to figure out the “Tao of Ratto”. There is a deeper, more caring person somewhere underneath the sweater, but he’s not showing his face without a fight (and some wine).  

He’s a bit of a legend amongst his peers. Here are some examples as to why:

  • Young Ratto was interviewing Giants manager Frank Robinson for a story. Robinson blew him off with a couple of short answers. Ratto recalled: “I finally said, ‘Well, look, if you don’t want to do this, let’s just not do it.’ And I got up and walked out. He said, ‘C’mere!’ I said, ‘Yeah?’ He said, ‘What do you want to know?’”
  • Ratto: “When [a sportswriter] comes to games in a suit and tie, you say, ‘Who are you trying to impress? What kind of overstuffed asshole are you?’”
  • Once, the Chronicle sent Ratto to cover a meaningless late-season Oakland A’s game. It was an NFL Sunday, so the story was going to run inside the section. Ratto’s gamer began thusly: “Meanwhile, back here among the tire ads …”

As Curtis says, every town has or used to have the old columnist, and I think that writer played a huge role in how we experience the games. Maybe that’s a bit less now as folks like Ratto don’t have that regular column.

Curtis’ work has been featured on 1-2-3 Sports! several times. Dude can write a sports story. I like the idea that, while writing this story, he and Ratto had four glasses of red wine at some Oakland cafe. They ordered three, but then the bartender gave them a round on the house. A fan of Ratto.

Ratto responded, “Give it time. That’ll blow over.”

What a fun read. – PAL

Source: The World According to Ray Ratto”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (01/25/2019)

TOB: Nice write up, Phil. Ratto’s not wrong, though – he doesn’t have many fans. There may be a heart in there, but he’s cantankerous, to put it nicely. I will also say it’s impressive how long he stayed in one place, with his style, because when he felt appropriate he took aim and fired at each and every sports team or person in the Bay Area. As I was thinking about Ratto, and that last sentence, I wondered if my memory of his writing over the years was overly harsh. But if Ratto has a tao, to borrow the bit, he says it right in the first few lines of Curtis’ article:

“I think when you want to say something nice about somebody, it should be private. When you want to say something shitty, everybody should see it.”

I fully believe there’s a softer side to Ratto, and as his friend and fellow sportswriter Tim Keown put it, Ratto uses the insults as defense mechanisms. I’ve seen it a few times, especially on TV. And it’s right there in the quote above – he can be warm, he just does it privately.

One of my favorite Ratto moments was his response to A’s owner Steve Schott’s defense of the Mark Mulder trade (Ratto responses in parentheses):

We’re a small-market team (which the A’s absolutely are not), and we have to make hard choices (which are different in many ways from suicidally stupid ones) and we really regret having to trade Mark (which they absolutely do not regret at all) but those are the conditions that prevail (yeah, when you’re squeezing those quarters so hard that George Washington wishes Cornwallis had shown a little more gumption).

It’s sardonic and pitch perfect. (Although, in hindsight, the A’s were correct to trade Mulder, who had one more pretty good season (ERA+ 116, 2.6 WAR), and then fell off a cliff (ERA+ 58, -2.7 WAR – WOOF!) before falling out of the league at age 30. In return, the A’s got three players who created about 20 WAR over the next three seasons. Not a bad trade).

But the best part of this story, in my opinion, is Ratto’s warning to sports columnists of today and tomorrow:

Ratto insists he’ll be OK if he doesn’t get another column. “Only because the nature of the business is changing,” he said, “so there are fewer and fewer jobs that you can feel good about. More and more jobs are connected to companies that have interest in teams or leagues. Now, all of a sudden, you have to figure out, Well, how much of a whore are they going to ask me to be?”

“I can’t all of a sudden become a shill,” Ratto said.


Video of the Week:


PAL Song of the WeekFrancoise Hardy – “Le temps de l’amour”


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You’re just a babbling brook of bullshit.

-Larry David

Best of 2018, Part 3: The Industry

Nailed it. 


We are trying something a little different this year for our year-in-review. Instead of packing our 5-10 favorite stories from the year into one post, we are going to feature a few each day for the next week for some mini posts. We’ll mix in some of our favorite pics/videos/giphs as bookends, and PAL will share some of his favorite music finds as well. We’ll wrap up the best of with a Funniest of 2018 post. If you haven’t clicked through to read the stories we write about throughout the year, then these are the best of the best. Read them!

In Part 3, we have stories about the business of sports. Michael MacCambridge examines what could be the last gasps of Sports Illustrated, while Bryan Curtis dissects how Fox built a television empire on a foundation of of NFL football.

Best of 2018: The People 

Best of 2018: The Games 


How Sports Illustrated Stopped Mattering

To those of us over 30, Sports Illustrated is an institution. When I found out a fellow grad student at USF was a writer for SI, I felt cooler by association. As Michael MacCambridge writes for The Ringer, SI made a case that the realm of sports was not a juvenile triviality but instead an important part of the culture, worthy of attention and understanding.”

And for writers, like my fellow USF alumnus, SI was not a stop along the way. It was the mountaintop. As Lee Jenkins told a former boss, “I hate to leave you guys, but, you know–the Yankees just called.”

SI is about to be sold for the second time in a year. It also recently became a biweekly publication…not that many folks noticed. The end of the print version of the magazine feels imminent, even when – get this – the magazine was profitable last year.

The magnitude of the biweekly decision hasn’t even been felt yet, but it will be:

[I]f Tiger Woods had managed to win the Masters this year, it would’ve been perhaps the biggest sports story of 2018, but it would have been old news by the time the next issue of SI came out 10 days later. The same goes for this summer’s World Cup, the final of which will come during an off-week in SI’s publishing schedule. And we haven’t even gotten to football season yet.

This story is not just about the death of print journalism at the hands of the digital revolution. It’s also about the missteps made along the way that put SI and its parent company, Time, in its current predicament. At some point cost-cutting means quality cutting, and then – worst of all – people stop noticing.

As MacCambridge writes, at its best,

SI’s news stories were never about telling you who won, it was about telling you why and how they won, the subtle differences that separated one world-class athlete or team from another, and the endless ways that people revealed their character through competition. Furthermore, what the magazine learned, again and again in the coming decades, was that a sports event being televised only increased interest in those stories. The more people saw of a sport, the more they wanted to read about it. And SI was there, to provide the best story, the deepest understanding, the telling picture, the last word.

You can tell MacCambridge cares deeply about SI. It was a touchstone of his youth, and that passion is needed to make this story resonate with us. I know I’m not the only one of us to tear photos of my favorite players from of the magazine and line my bedroom walls. Best read so far this year. – PAL

Source: Who Can Explain the Athletic Heart?”, Michael MacCambridge, The Ringer (04/12/2018)

TOB: This was great, but sad to read. In many ways, Sports Illustrated changed my life. Or rather, it shaped who I am. That sounds dramatic, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. As a kid, from about age 8 until 15, sports were my life. I lived and breathed it. I watched SportsCenter every night; I watched the NBA, college basketball, college football, MLB, and the NFL, every single day. I even watched a lot of hockey back then. I’d watch until I got the itch to run outside and play the game myself. And every single week I’d get Sports Illustrated in the mail, excitedly take it upstairs, and I’d lie on my bed, and read that damn thing cover to cover. I’ll never forget my first issue was Jennifer Capriati, who made the finals of the Virginia Slims tournament at the age of 13.

I have an uncommon amount of sports knowledge in my brain from reading SI, and not just the ones I got weekly. Each time I would visit my grandparents, we’d stay in my uncle’s old room. And each night at bedtime, I’d go into his old closet and sift through the giants stack of Sports Illustrateds from the 70s and 80s, when he was a kid. The magazines were 10, to 20 years old at that point, but I didn’t care.

I think the spirit of Sports Illustrated lives, for Phil and me, in this website. In the article, MacCambridge correctly notes that a perceived problem for Sports Illustrated is that, by the time it hits your mailbox, it seems like last week’s news. When a major story hits, by the time you can read it in SI, many fans have digested all they needed to – on Twitter, or Yahoo, or ESPN.com – three or four or more days prior.

But isn’t that actually the beauty of SI? When we started this website, almost four years ago, our philosophy was to publish once a week because the time allows us a little perspective to digest what has happened, or what we’ve read. Twenty years after I last regularly read SI, life’s realities have reduced my ability to watch hours and hours of sports every day. Getting to sit down for a couple hours and watch a baseball game is a treat. I certainly don’t sit down for two hours a week to read Sports Illustrated. But I think I’m going to start. I hope it’s still good. If so, I’ll be sure to keep the old ones in a basket in the garage, so my kids can stumble on them like I did.


Fox Was Built On Football

December marks the 25th anniversary of FOX obtaining NFL rights, and the article below is an oral history of how that happened. I don’t knowingly care about what networks are airing what games, but this story reveals so much about the time, the role sports played on the three major networks (a promotional vehicle for other programs), and a new breed of sports franchise owners were starkly different than the old guard.

At the core of this story are two sides looking at the same thing and seeing something the opposite: CBS, NBC, and ABC saw an annual renewal of rights with old owner friends, while Rupert Murdoch and Fox saw NFL – specifically NFC football, with teams in large markets like New York, Chicago, Philly, and San Francisco – as a way to build a television network for decades to come. While many thought Murdoch overbid for the football rights, he saw the as a cheaper alternative to buying one of the old networks outright.

Added to the mix was a tough economy at the time, which led to each of the three networks being run by bottom line CEOs who spent their time watching the stock prices ebb and flow. At one point CBS as actually trying to convince the NFL to take a paycut! Murdoch was not as short sighted.

The finance people and the salespeople at the network got together and said, “OK, how much can we pay for these rights?” They did an analysis of what kind of advertising they could sell and came up with the maximum break-even number. Then Mr. Murdoch came bounding into the room and said, “What do we have to bid?” We told him. He said, “That’s not enough. The NFL doesn’t really want their games on our network. They’re just using us to bid up CBS. I’ve got to bid CBS away from the table.”

When he does a deal, Rupert’s thinking about, “What’s this going to look like 10 years out, 20 years out? Will this help me build a network?” The other guys are trying to manage financials for the next quarterly financial report.

Fox bought 4 years of NFC rights, plus one Super Bowl, for $395MM per year, which was $100MM more than CBS was willing to offer. Five years later, under new management, CBS bid $500MM for the weaker AFC package.

It’s a long read, but perhaps the best oral history I’ve read. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis does an excellent job weaving all of the voices into this story.  – PAL

Source: The Great NFL Heist: How Fox Paid for and Changed Football Forever”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (12/13/18)

TOB: This was great. The thing it was missing that I was wondering about – how much did they have to invest in infrastructure? How did they know what they needed? Did they just hire all the technicians from CBS, too? I care way less about how they hired Matt Millen than how they figured out how to make it work.


Video of the Week


PAL Songs of 2018: Khruangbin – “Lady and Man”


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I have plenty of female friends. My mom, Pam’s mom, my aunt, although she just blocked me on IM. 

-Michael Gary Scott