Week of April 1, 2022

Yeah, now it will click – eight seasons into his career.

Second Base

TOB sent this one over to me and within a minute I was scrunching my face in disbelief. Second base is where? It’s not 90 feet from first and third? 

No, it isn’t. Hasn’t been where we thought it was for a long time. 

Jayson Stark breaks it down, best captured by the following diagram:

Since 1887, second base has never been positioned quite the same way as the other bases. How can that be, you ask? I asked the same question. Just take a look at this diagram from the official rulebook of baseball. Hopefully, you’ll see that one of these base things is not like the others.

See where first base and third base are located? They’re nestled into their natural corners on each side of the diamond. But now check out second base. It looks lovely, positioned aesthetically in the middle of the infield. Just one problem.

It’s not nestled into its own natural corner of the diamond.

Instead, it’s too deep (geometrically speaking), positioned so that the imaginary corner runs right through the middle of the bag.

Why? How even? I knew you’d ask.

The short explanation is that first base and third base were repositioned to help umpires make fair/foul calls. How? Because once they were moved to their current locales, any ball that hit the bag was obviously fair. Very helpful. Joe West’s thank you note is in the mail.

Odd, sure, but it’s more significant than a historical tidbit, especially now as minor league baseball begins an experiment: its moving second to be in line with first and third, nestled into the geometric corner. That moves the base closer. Add to that change the the fact that minor league baseball will also experiment with larger bases (from 15 inches to 18 inches). The combination of moving second in line and bigger bases means that second base will now be over a foot closer to first third. A foot is a huge distance. Think of all those bang-bang plays in a game. When a player that’s out or safe by a foot, it’s not that close play, many times I’m sure doesn’t even require instant replay.

The hope is that by moving the base closer the game will encourage more aggressive base running. More steals, more attempts to stretch a single into a double, and more runners trying to go from first to third on a single. More excitement. I wouldn’t be surprised if this change has a major positive impact on the game. 

But, the most incredible part of this story remains that second base isn’t 90-feet from first and third. Fun baseball read. – PALSource: Why baseball is moving second base, and what this experiment could mean for the game,”Jayson Stark, The Athletic (03/28/22)

Will Smith Stole The Show

Did you all hear Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars? Of all the words spoken and written about that moment, this story from Christpher Clarey has stuck with me the most. In what should have been a moment to celebrate the Williams sisters’ incredible story – authored in many ways by their father (who Will Smith portrays in the movie) became about Will Smith and just what the hell he would say (why was he still even there?!?) upon receiving an Academy Award for best actor. 

Per Clarey:

But then, as so often happens with the Williamses, things got complicated — and, through no fault of the sisters, an evening that should have affirmed their against-great-odds rise to stardom instead became about Smith slapping the comedian Chris Rock onstage.

When Smith accepted the Oscar, he delivered a tearful, rambling, semi-apologetic speech in which he said that “art imitates life” and “I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams.”

Serena, watching the speech from a front-row box seat, covered her face with her hand.

Clarey then goes on to remind folks of the sisters’ journey to the top of women’s tennis, and just how rare it is that they both made it, that they remain close, that they began a new era in their sport. If it weren’t true, we wouldn’t believe the story of Venus and Serena. Of course, it all came with its fair share of complications along the way, but a night at a movie awards show should not be one of those complications. Smith’s acceptance speech became about him that night instead of what his award-winning performance celebrated. – PAL 

Source: Will Smith Owned the Williams Sisters’ Story Onscreen. Then He Stole Their Moment.” Christopher Clarey, The New York Times (03/28/22)

Pointless Zion Williamson Story

And I’m still thinking about it over a week later.

Zion Williamson was the top NBA draft pick in 2019, and the closest we’ve had to Charles Barkley. At 6’ 6”, he’s a physically dominant player in the league when he’s right, but Zion’s been hurt a lot in his young career, playing in only 85 of the 226 possible games. He’s also looked a bit husky while not playing, which is especially concerning for a very young dude with injury issues, especially foot issues. 

Some wonder if Zion will force his way out of the small market team. He’s reportedly rehabbing in Portland, far away from the Pelicans, until recently. He’s yet to play a game this year. 

Despite the ups and downs, there’s a good chance a team will give him a max contract, be it New Orleans or elsewhere; his talent will overshadow the injury and diet red flags. Not many can do this:

TOB knows a lot more about hoops than I do, so I’ll let him add some insight, but when Zion wants to go to the basket, it sure doesn’t seem like there’s much anyone can do. So strong, and quick. The league is more fun when he’s playing, but this year has been a series of delayed debuts for Zion.  

  • In September, the Pelicans reported Zion had surgery on his right foot in the offseason, and the team said he’d be ready for the regular season (late October).
  • November 26: Zion is cleared to participate in full team activities
  • December 16: Zion is shut down, to be re-evaluated in 4-6 weeks
  • January 5: Pelican’s tell media Zion will continue his rehab away from the team
  • February 10: GM David Griffin says, “Zion continues to progress well anecdotally at least. He feels very good. We hope that towards the end of next week or beginning of the following, we’ll have some imaging done and have a better update.” 

That all sounds like shit is going in the wrong direction for Zion and the Pelicans. Then this video shows up:

Damn, Zion! Looking good! Looking bouncy. Speaking of bouncy…

From Tom Ley:

I honestly do not know what’s going on here. Hardwood courts certainly have some give to them, but turning one into a trampoline should be impossible, even for a human as dense as Williamson. Which means the only conclusion that can be reached here is that shenanigans are afoot! The Pelicans obviously installed a special springy floor at their practice facility for the sole purpose of producing one grainy clip of Williamson performing an allegedly impressive basketball maneuver. 

Does this dunk – legit or not – make any difference to Zion’s future? Not one iota, but what the hell is this? Who thought it was a good idea to post this vid, knowing the internet will sniff out anything fishy. I remain fascinated. – PAL

Source: ZionWatch: Bouncy Floor??Tom Ley, Defector (03/23/22)

Videos of the Week

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No, no, no. I have Vienna sausages, and I have napkins. Let me fix you breakfast.

Meredith Palmer

Week of March 11, 2022

I have to ask: who the hell has time to stand outside a ballpark and protest a stupid lockout? I’m glad it’s over and all, but – dude – surely there is something better to do with your time than stand outside a spring training facility in Palm Beach with an “I miss baseball” sign. Be better than this guy this weekend.

Powder Seeker 

Here’s a bit of nostalgia, courtesy of Drew Magary. In this story, he details his life as a skier growing up, then losing touch with a sport he enjoyed, only to regain a love for it as an older fella. Some of  the turns and runs he could recapture even just a few years back are no longer in him anymore, but there’s still plenty of magic in it for him. Even the non-skiing holds joy for him – the silent chairlift rides over the trees or pulling the boots off after a long day.  

His dad was an avid skier who loved to ski with Magary and his siblings. Now, Drew is a father of three and finds himself in a different role. With TOB just at the beginning of taking his growing crew skiing, I had to share this one. 

I have that annoying parent tic where I desperately want my kids to have the same indelible experiences that I had growing up: going to overnight camp, playing sports, falling in love, and skiing. I would love for them to go up that Powder Seeker, maybe even higher. Because I know what’s up there. I know how long it stays with you.

Worth the full read, especially for all the dads out there. – PAL

Source: Under The Big Sky,” Drew Magary, Defector (03/07/22)

TOB: This is a really good read, and as Phil suggests – it hit home with me. As someone who grew up skiing, lost touch for years, and recently got back into skiing while introducing it to my kids, I identified with so much of what Magary had to say. 

Let’s Make a Deal!

Baseball is back. It never left. In fact, no games will be missed. But! Baseball. Is. Back. 

Last week I wrote about the relatively small amount of money the two sides were haggling over – the subtext – a deal should and would be struck soon. Sure enough, the deal came Thursday. And even though I had not really stressed about the lockout (compared to many others I saw discussing it online) because a lockout in the offseason didn’t really mean much, I still got a big thrill when the news came that the deal was done. 

But the big questions are: what’s in the deal and how will it change the game (or the business of the game)? To find out, read Jayson Stark’s article answering those questions, as he discusses what has changed (CBT, expanded playoffs, the draft lottery, service time manipulation, and young player compensation) – how it will work and whether it will fix the problem it attempts to solve. With player and management sources, Stark does an excellent job explaining what this deal means. -TOB

Source: How Will Baseball’s New Labor Deal Work?Jayson Stark, The Athletic (03/11/2022)

Video of the Week

Nobody does it better than Jomboy

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“You really done well for yourself. You got a couch with a buncha cup holders.”

-Uncle Baby Billy

Week of March 4, 2022

“Hear me out on the helicopter saw idea.”

This Story Has Nothing To Do With Sports

But take the ten minutes to read it. 

Jonathon Tjarks writes for The Ringer. About a year ago he was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer (“a Ewing’s-like sarcoma with a BCOR-CCNB3 rearrangement”). In this story, he ponders his life and what his son’s life will be like after he’s gone. 

This is not Tjarks first experience with this sort of thing. When Tjarks  was six, his dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Although he died when Jonathon was 21, his dad had been a shadow for almost a decade. “He was there, but no longer there” by the time Jonathon turned 12. He remembers how his dad’s friends would show up a lot in the beginning, but it was just nurses by the end. 

My dad kept getting sicker and could no longer do the things that had made them friends in the first place. People moved, or had kids, or got busy at work. Even the Christmas cards stopped coming. By the end, the only people who stopped by the house were nurses and health care workers. 

My dad died when I was 21. There were a bunch of people at his funeral whom I hadn’t seen in years. They all told me how sorry they were and asked whether there was anything they could do. All I could think was I don’t know any of you. I know of you. I’ve heard your names. But I don’t know you.

With those memories, Tjarks thinks of his son, and what the future might hold for Jackson after his dad dies. 

I have already told some of my friends: When I see you in heaven, there’s only one thing I’m going to ask—Were you good to my son and my wife? Were you there for them? Does my son know you? 

I don’t want Jackson to have the same childhood that I did. I want him to wonder why his dad’s friends always come over and shoot hoops with him. Why they always invite him to their houses. Why there are so many of them at his games. I hope that he gets sick of them.

Were you good to my child? Were you good to my wife? What a powerful measurement of friendship. 

Worth the full read. – PAL 

Source: Does My Son Know You?,” Jonathan Tjarks, The Ringer (03/03/22)

1-2-3 Debates???

Watch this play:

First of all, that’s an incredible effort. Full extension, all out effort. Tough as hell. Absolutely no regard for his own health and safety. And that’s all great.

But it is that last part (no regard for his own health), and the message from the Twitter Coach (“Every coach wants a player who wants the baseball this badly”) that I want to discuss. Because I disagree. Trying to make a play like that is simply not worth it. 

First, there is little gain in the big picture. The game is between Fordham and Virginia Tech. The catcher plays for Fordham. The catcher’s team is down 5-0 in the third, (in a game they will go on to lose 12-0, though he doesn’t know that at the time). It’s not a league game, and Fordham has no shot at the NCAA tournament. Fordham’s season does not hang in the balance. 

Second, there is little to gain in the small picture. There is a man on second. But the ball is in foul territory. We are not talking about a ball in the gap. So, while if he catches the ball the inning is over, if he does not catch the ball, no runs will score, either. At least not right away. The at bat would continue, and the pitcher has another shot to get out of the inning (indeed, the at bat ended with a fly ball to center field).

Third, the catcher has a ton to lose. And so does the team. Again, I want to stress – incredible effort by this kid. But this kid, Andy Semo, is a senior. He hit .287 in fewer than 100 ABs last year while splitting time behind the dish, and probably hopes to be the full-time catcher this year (he has started 3 out 5 games so far this year). And he is damn lucky he did not get hurt on that play. Ignore the most severe injuries that could have occurred (neck, spine, head) by diving face first, blindly, toward the opposing dugout. Maybe he screws up his shoulder. Maybe he screws up his elbow or his knee or his hip. Well, there goes his senior year. And it’s bad for the team, too. He’s the team’s starting catcher, and thus is likely a leader on the team. The whole team is affected for the worse if he goes out with injury. 

And for what? A single out in a mismatched game that his team already trails 5-0? That’s worth the risk of injury?

Now, I don’t coach college baseball. I don’t know what it’s like to have my job on the line, determined on kids or young adults playing a game. But as my kids get older, I will coach them not to try to make plays like that. I’m not saying to never dive. But be smart about it. Don’t dive head first into/toward walls. Unless your season is on the line, no single out is worth an injury. Consider the situation in the game, and the season. Consider your role on the team. Tip your cap to dudes like Andy Semo, but protect yourself and your team, too. -TOB

PAL: You’re a cerebral dude, TOB. We can watch that clip loop on Twitter and consider the situation and circumstances, and you’re probably right. But your thought-process is not something a player can measure while the ball is in the air, so I want dude’s on my team that want to make a great play. 

It’s not even for the one play, it’s about that spirit being contagious, and a few games later you got more guys selling out on plays. That ball in the gap that you mention? That play is determined on whether or not an outfielder really wants to catch that ball – not on the last step before the dive, but on the first step as the ball leaves the bat. 

You can’t put a governor on a competitor.  

How Much Money are MLB and MLBPA Fighting Over?

So, the baseball lockout continued this week. And for the first time over the last three months, I am concerned. That is because the first week of regular games was canceled when there was no agreement by MLB’s self-imposed deadline of 5pm EST on Monday, February 28. 

Let me start this by saying: I am firmly on the player’s side here. But I have been wondering – how much money is at issue in the disputes, at least as they’ve been reported? To answer this question, it’s helpful to understand we got here on two big issues: compensation for young players and the competitive balance tax (“CBT”). Let’s dig in.

Compensation for Young Players.

Pay for young players is a big issue in these negotiations. Generally, teams have control over a player for six years of major league* service time. For the first three years, players make the league minimum, which is presently $570,500. After three years, players become arbitration eligible. Once arbitration eligible, players and teams negotiate their salary to bring them more in line with the open market pay for a player of their skills and production. If they can’t agree, the case is submitted to an arbitrator, who chooses either the player’s demanded number or the team’s offered number, but nothing in between. For whatever reason, arbitration numbers are never in-line with what a player would make on the open market. Finally, after six years, players become free agents. 

*And remember, before they make the big leagues, they are getting paid waaaaaaay less than minimum wage in the minors:

A player earns a year of service time when he is on the major league roster for 172 days of a 186 day season. Teams have taken advantage of this to manipulate service time to earn a seventh year by waiting 15 days into a season before calling up a player. The most famous example was when the Cubs did this to Kris Bryant. Bryant won the Rookie of the Year but did not earn a year of service time, so the Cubs essentially got him for seven years before he became a free agent instead of six.

All of this is problematic and the results proved worse than anyone anticipated. A player usually does not hit free agency until they are 30, which is past most players’ primes. Teams realized it was not smart to hand out long free agent deals for big dollars when they could get almost the same productivity out of players making the league minimum. So, free agent deals became shorter and for less money, outside of the very top of the pyramid. This suppressed wages across the board – more and more players were making league minimum and fewer and fewer players were getting big free agent deals. In fact, in 2019 and 2021 (the last two full seasons), league minimum players accounted for 52% of MLB service time. That’s a huge percentage! And it has mattered – MLB salaries have decreased 6.4% over the course of the previous CBA.

Initially, the players tried to change much of the above – less time to arbitration, less time to free agency, rules prohibiting service time manipulation. The owners told them all of this was a non-starter. So the players and owners zeroed in on a few ways to increase pay for pre-arbitration players. 

The first was a minimum salary increase. As for the minimum salary, MLB’s minimum of $570,500 is very low compared to the other three major American sports: the NFL is $660,000 for first year players and $780,000 for second year; the NBA is $925,258 for first year players and $1.5 million for second year players; heck, even the NHL is even higher – at $750,000. 

Reportedly, the sides are not that far apart. The Athletic’s Evan Drellich reported that MLBPA’s last offer was $725,000 with $20,000 annual increases to the minimum. MLB is at $700,000, going as high as $740,000 over the course of the 5-year deal. In year 1, we are talking about a $25,000 per year difference in minimum salary. Assuming the the league continues to be made up of 50% league minimum players, we are basically talking 13 players per team x $25,000, which amounts to $325,000 per team. This is peanuts to MLB.

Additionally, the sides have negotiated a so-called “pre-arb bonus pool” – a league wide pool of money to be distributed annually to players in years one through three of service time based on their play. MLBPA had been at a pool of $115M but are now asking just $85M, with $5M increases each year. MLB was at $25M and has come up to just $30M. That $55M gap amounts to $1.8M per team. Again, this is peanuts. 

Competitive Balance Tax. 

This is likely the much bigger issue. The Competitive Balance Tax is a de facto salary cap. Teams can and do exceed the number, but they are forced to pay a tax to other teams when they do so. The more they exceed the limit by, the more dollars per dollar exceeded that they must pay. Also, they suffer exponentially worse penalties, including lost draft picks, each year they remain above the limit.

The players are not seeking to eliminate the CBT. Instead, they want to bring the CBT up to a level that is fair given the increased revenues MLB has seen since the CBT was instituted. Over the last few years, here was the limit:

2017: $195 million

2018: $197 million

2019: $206 million

2020: $208 million

2021: $210 million

And here were the last offers:


2022: $238M $220M

2023: $244M $220M

2024: $250M $220M

2025: $256M $224M

2026: $263M $230M

And honestly, the MLBPA’s numbers are beyond reasonable. Because MLB revenues have been soaring, increasing from $8.2 billion in 2015 to over $10.7 billion in 2019.

But what’s crazy here is that the owners are digging in so hard over what is a very small number. In 2021, 13 teams had payrolls under $100M. Five teams spent less than fifty million. Almost half the league isn’t even halfway to the CBT. Only one team went over the $210M threshold (the Dodgers, at $266M). Only two more teams even got close – the Yankees and Mets each surpassed $200M. The CBT threshold is working so effectively that teams aren’t even getting close to approaching it, let alone surpassing it. In fact, only eight teams have surpassed the CBT since it was instituted back in 2002, and only two teams have surpassed it more than four times in those 20 years. 

MLB’s fear is that if the CBT is raised more teams will increase payroll toward it. This, in turn, will make it more difficult for those teams who are paying well under it (half the league or more) to compete. 

So the answer to my initial question? MLB is canceling games over $2M per team in salaries for young players and … a difficult to peg but insignificant amount of money for the few teams who even approach the CBT. Absolutely stupid and greedy by the owners.

What’s most commendable to me is what the players are fighting for. They have fought to increase the playoff field to 12 teams instead of 14 teams, as the owners want (more playoff teams = more playoff games = more money). And the players in MLBPA leadership are largely established stars – guys like Max Scherzer, who will lose out on approximately $250,000 each day missed in the season. Max is sacrificing that money to fight, mostly, for young players – to increase their minimum salary and increase their bonus pool. And for players in their prime, hitting free agency – so that their salaries will get bigger. 

And while the players will not be paid during the lockout, the owners will – it has been reported that MLB owners will still get paid the money from their TV deals (national and regional) until they miss 25 games. In other words, the owners canceled games, refuse to pay players, refuse to pay the thousands and thousands of workers whose income depends on baseball games being players…and they will only lose the revenue from each game.

And this is where this all gets dumber from the owner’s perspective. As I’ve laid out above, they are arguing over a small amount of money per year. But according to some reports, the average MLB game pulls in $4M in revenue. That’s $4M per home game – which means if MLB ends up canceling 25 games and thus 12.5 home games per team, we are talking $50 million in lost revenue per team. Absolutely stupid. 

And let’s also not forget that MLB locked the players out, when they could technically continue to play games without a lockout, claiming that a lockout would jump start negotiations by putting some pressure on. Then MLB didn’t make a single offer until 43 days later, and the two sides met very little until last week.

And top of all that, the Blue Jays’ Ross Stripling reports that in the wee hours on the last full day of negotiations before MLB’s self-imposed and artificial deadline expired, the owners tried to shove a bunch of crap down their throats.

I think what’s most frustrating here is that the players are not asking for a heck of a lot. As Michael Baumann of the Ringer put it:

Rather than trying to abolish the competitive balance tax or revenue sharing, or to take years off the path to free agency—suggestions that would have made the negotiations even more ponderous and acrimonious than they have been already—they sought to tweak the current system: to rebalance the sport’s incentive structure, so teams would be emboldened to invest in the on-field product.

“[The owners] don’t want to play,” Yankees right-hander Jameson Taillon tweeted Monday. “It’s sad that these are the guys who drive the direction and ‘future’ of our amazing sport.”

That’s what this boils down to. This is not an irreconcilable conflict of philosophy, nor a necessary belt-tightening brought on by mysterious economic forces. This is a group of, in Taillon’s words, “guys,” who are willing to shut down a historic corner of American culture until they are able to profit as much as they desire. 

Support the players. They are sacrificing a lot of pay for very little asked in return. -TOB

Video of the Week

I’ve run out of superlatives.

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

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Don’t take glee in it. I’m being blackmailed!

Jesse Gemstone

Week of February 25, 2022

A Lesson in Not Being a Dumbass Coach

Twitter is full of wannabe coaches. Some of them coach at small schools or semi-pro teams and believe that they know more than major league coaches, and are SURE that if they just knew the right person they’d be coaching in the big leagues, too. This week there was a perfect example of such a coach. Here’s the story.

Someone posted a video of Mike Trout’s dad tossing some BP to his son.The caption was a joke: “My friends’ son needs help. Any tips/suggestions?”

The joke, of course, is that the hitter in the video is Mike Trout, one of the most talented baseball players of all-time. But the coach running the Evansville Devils Baseball twitter account did not get the joke and did not know the hitter is Mike Trout.

Ay yi yi. The Evansville Devils are a 17U baseball team. The team’s Twitter account is run by its head coach, Ryan Wargel, who is 47 years old and clearly thinks way too highly of his coaching abilities. -TOB

PAL: So funny. Also, Trout has one of the most distinct swings in the league.  The high hands, the super short but upper-cut – it no doubt helps that I knew it was Trout before I clicked the link, but I have to believe the swing would’ve looked familiar enough to take a closer look. 

That Was Not Covered On The Race Website

Imagine you’re a weekend warrior who likes some off-road bike races. You sign up for the Rock Cobbler in Bakersfield, CA. Some beers, some riding, some good times…until you come across a giant pissed-off bull on the course. You try to bike past. Just a dumb cow, you think. Nope. 

I shouldn’t laugh. I shouldn’t. I know; I really shouldn’t laugh, but there’s just something so damn funny about an animal letting the bikers know what he thinks about our little make believe race. – PAL

Source:Big Bull Wreaks Havoc On Bike Race,” Patrick Redford, Defector (02/14/22)

I Love a Good Rabbit Hole

See above. Sometimes, you get a curious itch that you have to scratch. They’re fun, and you often learn something. This week, SI’s Emma Baccellieri had one: while watching the new Sex and the City series, one of the characters was listening to a baseball game. Baccellieri was determined to find out what game it was, or if it was even real. Here’s what she heard:

Announcer 1: With two on and two outs, runners at the corners, Gentry looks in for the sign, and the pitch—and that one is low. Ball two. He missed that one, and Baker had to pull it out of the dirt. 

Announcer 2: He did a great job of blocking the plate so that pitch didn’t get away from him,” replies the color analyst.

Baccellieri began her search, but couldn’t find much. Only four players in MLB history have had the last name “Gentry” and none ever pitched to a catcher named “Baker.” A pitcher named Gentry once played with Dusty Baker, but Dusty never caught. 

Flummoxed, Baccellieri reached out to a production sound mixer from the episode’s credits. The mixer confirmed the game was not real and was added into the background via postproduction. But Baccellieri wanted to know who the actors were who played the announcers. Her search seemed dead, with the audio mixer unable to point her in the right direction. But she noticed a line in the credits for “additional vocal casting” – Dann Fink and Bruce Winant. Baccellieri did some digging, and got her answer – and it’s a fun lesson in how a show or movie gets put together:

Fink and Winant were indeed the voices behind the baseball game. (Fink was the color man, Winant, the play-by-play.) But they weren’t brought in specifically for that: It was just one part of the work involved with doing all of the background sound for the series.

Take, for instance, something like a restaurant scene that occurred earlier in this episode of And Just Like That…. When the cameras are rolling, everyone is quiet except for the principal actors, so their dialogue can be easily heard. There might be other people visible as waiters and hostesses and fellow diners—but they’re silent while shooting is happening. All the background sounds you’ll hear from them when you actually watch the show? The chattering and laughing and silverware clattering? That comes in courtesy of the loopers.

Winant and Fink will receive a cut of the episode and be told how many voice actors their loop group can bring on for the project. (In this case: six.) And they jump into creating the sonic context of the show—recording all the material that will later get layered in to make the background come alive.

“We’ll then put voice to everyone else in the room,” Winant explains, using the restaurant scene as an example. “So we’ll be the waiters. We’ll be that table directly behind the principals ordering dinner. We’ll be the hostess helping them in.”

Multiply that by every scene where there might be some background noise. (Which is to say: Multiply it by almost every scene.) The work has to fit its context; if a show features a scene in a hedge fund, for example, the loop group will make sure the background dialogue it records uses some financial lingo, and the same for a hospital scene and medical jargon. But where it really gets fun is putting together something like a fake sports broadcast.

I particularly liked this detail:

He starts by making note of whatever details the producers want him to include—this ballgame, for instance, had to feature a team from New York. And then he pulls up a game, any one that fits, and uses it as inspiration to think about how he would call it himself.

Nice rabbit hole, Emma! -TOB
Source: How ‘Sex and the City’ Sent Me Down a Fake Baseball Rabbit Hole,” Emma Baccellieri (02/21/2022)

Do We Dare Gu?

Olympic Skier Eileen Gu was born and raised in San Francisco. Her mom is from China. Gu is competing for China in the olympics. She made this decision when she was 15. She told a friend she wants to be an inspiration to girls in China and that there are many female athletes in the U.S. to inspire girls here. 

Gu is wildly famous in China. She is also a model and has secured millions in endorsement deals with brands like Cadillac, Louis Vuitton, and Victoria’s Secret. 

Unlike most countries, China does not recognize dual-citizenship. When asked if she’s given up her American citizenship, Gu and her camp won’t answer, leading many to question, including SI.com, whether she took the money from China in order to be used as a geopolitical pawn. 

Per Ann Killion

Her camp tries to control her message — Yan Gu would not speak to the New York Times unless she could review the article before publication, which was declined — and Gu avoids tough topics in interviews.

That includes answering questions about her citizenship. The IOC requires athletes to hold the passport of their home country, but China does not allow dual citizenship. Whether Gu has given up her American citizenship is unclear.

Gu is straddling a slippery geopolitical slope at high altitude with little room for error. She is golden now in China, but if the San Francisco-born woman runs afoul of Chinese authorities, her world could quickly change. Look no further than the case of tennis star Peng Shuai, who made accusations against a high-ranking party official, then disappeared for a few weeks and is now seen at the Olympics in tightly controlled conditions.

Gu is not the first American to compete for another country. It happens routinely, but usually with athletes who would struggle to make a U.S. team and find a path to the Olympics through their parents’ country. Not with an athlete considered the best in the world at what she does.

Defector’s Laura Wagner had an angle to add to the debate: Regardless of what country she competes for, Eileen Gu is representing a certain kind of American spirit:

Here’s another narrative: Eileen Gu is above all else a rugged individualist who enjoys massive privilege but chafes at any mention of it, while nonetheless championing the belief that all it takes to achieve one’s dream is hard work. Sound familiar? It’s a funny thing: The athlete at the Winter Olympics doing the most to spread the true message of America is the supposed traitor competing for China.

It would be surprising if Gu did in fact give up her United States citizenship, but that would be her right. However, one would think it would be embarrassing if China broke its own rule to attract an American athlete to win medals in Beijing…until you look at the host country’s men’s hockey team. 

Per The New York TImes, several players have descendents from China, but four players had no Chinese ancestry at all: Ryan Sproul, Denis Osipov and Jake Chelios. Chelios is the son of the Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios.

It’s a bit more difficult for the “olympic spirit” to smooth over the problems with the most revered sporting events in history.  – PAL 

Sources: “‘I loved her motivation’: What Eileen Gu told her S.F. circle about picking China,” Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle (02/12/22); “Eileen Gu Is An American,” Laura Wagner, Defector (02/15/22)

Death to “Name a Athlete Who___________. I’ll Start.”

A while back, someone tweeted this:

And that is very true, as evidenced by the 308k likes the post has garnered. Dudes really can just sit around naming sports guys from their youths, and have a great time. We do it often! 

But there’s a growing phenomenon on Twitter that is super annoying. I call it the I’ll Start Guys. A person (or publication) will tweet some variation of the following: “Name an athlete who __________. I’ll start.” Here’s an example:

Playing off the fact dudes like to name former sports dudes, it’s a pure and shameless attempt to go viral. If Klout was still a thing, it would be a cheap Klout booster. The worst offender is Fox Sports’ Ben Verlander.

Here is a sampling of Ben’s I’ll Starts:

And that’s just in the last two weeks. None of these conversations are particularly interesting, especially when just thrown out for the general public. What’s particularly annoying about Ben Verlander’s use of the I’ll Start is that he does it so often – it’s clearly a ploy to get interactions – and that I don’t follow the guy but he always gets put into my timeline with these. And why is Ben a Fox Sports baseball analyst? His qualifications to be a baseball analyst seem to begin and end with the fact that he is the brother of Justin Verlander. The dude never made it out of A-ball. 

But Ben is not the only one. I’ve seen copycats – usually even smaller-time wannabe baseball or basketball guys with, somehow, even worse topics. So, if you see an I’ll Start – I beg of you, do not interact. Do not feed the troll. -TOB

PAL: I have a Verlander-inspired Tweet, thanks to his ’87 Twins take. It goes something like this:

Name one MLB prospect who washed out and rides the coattails of his more successful brother in order to have a job kinda in baseball.

I’ll start: Ben Verlander

Video of the Week

TOB pitching to PAL this weekend

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“I used to eat pizzas for every meal… sometimes even for my desserts”

-Keefe Chambers

Week of February 6, 2022

BFD, Jordan. I’m playing from the wrong side of the red spray paint all the time.


Sometimes I come across a story and marvel at how they made it happen. For this one, someone had to pitch the concept: The New York Times should dig into and try to understand the role fear plays in the minds of the winter olympic athletes. The response: take a video crew, writers, audio engineers, and a designer. Go interview a bunch of athletes about their relationship with fear, show what it looks and feels like, and make this come to life in a way that ignites the senses. God bless whoever pitched this idea, and kudos to the team that brought it to life. 

More so than the Summer games, the winter olympics has a high concentration of very dangerous sports. Sports that go high, go very fast, and can lead to violent impact. Halfpipe snowboard and skiing (23 feet), aerial skiing, luge, bombled, downhill skiing, speedskating, and many more. When things go wrong in these sports, it can be deadly. 

What I love is this mixture of video, audio, and writing to try to capture fear. You read the story, you then hear from athletes, you then see the kind of injuries they are talking about and just what recovery looks like after one of these major injuries. 

Fear, I learned, is a very basic survival instinct. It fires in the most primal portion of the brain – the amygdala, which is why it’s so hard to control. In other words, for thousands of years, fear kept our ancestors alive, and that’s exactly what it’s trying to tel these athletes when the are about to do something really dangerous. 

Of all the quotes from this story, I can’t forget this description of fear from a pair of world-class skiers: 

“There have been times that races have been canceled, and I’ve been relieved, 100 percent,” American ski racer Erik Arvidsson said. “Because I was scared as hell, and I needed another day to gather myself.”

Even the world’s top male skier this season is not immune.

“You get kind of an ache in your legs, your knees, and you feel like you lose control over your body,” Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway said. “You can feel it right away when you’re pushing out at the start. You want to push 100 percent, but then your mind kicks in and holds you back, and you can only push out, like, 85 percent, 90 percent. And then you know something is wrong.”

Every one of these athletes are scared, and everyone one of them can’t deny how great it feels when everything is hitting in there respective sports. 

And then they get to profiles like Millie Knight, a Paralympic skier, on what it’s like to ski with 5% of her vision. She and the New York Times worked together to create a replica of what it looks like to ski with her vision, and it’s pretty incredible.

What a brilliant idea: let’s show people what it’s like to ski with 5% of normal vision. Such a great project. I highly recommend everyone checking it out. – PAL

Source:What Scares the World’s Most Daring Olympians”, The New York Times (02/02/22)

Homage to Outdoor Rinks

The Star Tribune ran a particularly Minnesota story this morning: it’s a collection of some of the coolest homemade outdoor rinks around the state. Of my five siblings, four of their yards feature a rink. Some folks have really taken the rinks to another level. From this largely dad obsession has come a growing cottage industry of home rink supplies like plastic boards, custom size tarps to put under the ice, netting, and so on. It’s easy for me to smile when I look at these rinks, watch the videos, and most of all hear the sounds of outdoor hockey.

What’s missing from this story is the understated, quirky, work-with-what-you-got backyard rinks with a fire pit I remember spending so many hours playing on. Sertich’s rink with the big tree that you could use as a bit of a pick on a defender. Elm’s mini rink in Falcon Heights just big enough for 2-2 – these rinks are just as much a part of the spirit of MN’s outdoor rinks as these crazy setups featured in this story. – PAL

Source: At home on the ice,” Rachel Hutton, photos by Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune (02/05/22)

Video of the Week

Just a reminder of how cool this dunk contest was…

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Week of January 28, 2022

Curt Schilling’s Lopsided Trades

Curt Schilling is a crappy person, but he was a great pitcher and should be in the Hall of Fame. Ok?

Anyways, this is an interesting article, using Schilling having not been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week as jumping off point to discuss an interesting topic: Schilling was traded three times before he was 25, which is very unusual for a player who ends up being as good as Schilling is. In fact, Schilling was the best such player of all-time.

But where this article gets interesting is it dives into each of those three trades: who Schilling was traded with and for, and why the people who made the decision to trade him did so – what they were thinking, using quotes from today and at the time. I particularly liked this passage, with the Astros GM who traded Schilling kicking himself, thirty years later:

Wood authored some of the sport’s most celebrated and ill-advised decisions: He made out like a bandit in the Davis and Andersen deals, but he also traded Schilling for a future reliever/bat thief who never pitched for the Astros, and he failed to draft Derek Jeter with the ’92 no. 1 pick (another byproduct of the team’s premature all-in approach). “I’m also the genius that traded Kenny Lofton,” Wood says, referring to the December ’91 exchange in which he traded Lofton (who was blocked by Finley) to Cleveland for Ed Taubensee to fill a vacancy at catcher created by Craig Biggio’s switch to second base.

“Sometimes there are moves that it takes a lot of years to forget,” Wood says. Thirty-plus years may not be enough. Whenever Wood hears Schilling’s name now, he confesses, “In the back of my mind, I’m saying to myself, ‘Self, you idiot. That’s one guy you should have held on to. Maybe you would have lasted in Houston for five more years than you did.’” Had the mid-’90s Astros had Schilling and Lofton, Wood jokes, “they might have actually beaten the Braves once in a while.”

It’s an interesting look into what goes on in a trade and how a guy like Schilling got moved around so much. As Lindbergh sums up: “Coaching shortcomings, overrated rosters, overvaluing of veterans, underappreciation of prospects, ownership pressure, bad batted-ball luck, and unfortunate timing: All of the above contributed to a late-blooming ace’s itinerant origins.”

Fun article! -TOB

Source: The Uniquely Confounding Career of Curt Schilling,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (01/26/2022)

PAL: Fantastic angle – traded three times that early only to become an all-timer. First off, I had no idea he was on a team before the Phillies, much less three. Also, it’s crazy how long it took him to actually post a bonkers season: 

Schilling was the winningest pitcher on the Phillies’ staff in ’92—which he acknowledged would have seemed laughable before the season—but the path to his peak wasn’t direct. Schilling lost focus for part of ’93, underwent elbow surgery in ’94, and tore his labrum in ’95. It wasn’t until 1997 that he had his first fully healthy, huge year, which his pitching coach that season, Galen Cisco, attributes to his use of video to study hitters, his willingness to pitch inside, and his consistency in spotting unhittable heaters down and away. 

Good find, TOB!

The Bosa Mob Connection

Here’s a pretty nutso story: there’s a real NFL bloodline that stems from a Chicago mob boss. 

The Niner’s Nick Bosa, his brother and Charger Joey, and some wide receiver on the Bills are all great grandkids of Tony Accardo. Accardo was believed to be Al Capone’s chauffeur, bodyguard, and “potentially more.” When Capone went to Alcatraz and other top dogs fell Chicago, Accardo became the top guy. This was someone you would not want to cross. 

Per Katie Dowd: 

Most people were wise enough not to cross him. In 1978, while Accardo was lounging in his Palm Springs vacation home, burglars broke into his Chicago mansion. In the following days, at least seven individuals connected to the robbery were found with their throats slit. “One was castrated and disemboweled, his face removed with a blow torch, a punishment imposed, presumably, because he was Italian and should have known better,” the Chicago Tribune wrote.

Perhaps more insane: the number of people in this family that have played professional football:

While his cohorts died violent deaths, Accardo slipped quietly into retirement. It was during this time that his family’s NFL empire began. His daughter Marie married Palmer Pyle, a guard who was selected in the first round of the 1960 AFL draft by the Houston Oilers. Although the marriage didn’t last, the NFL bloodline did. Marie and Palmer’s son, Eric Kumerow (he took the last name of his mother’s second husband), became a Dolphins linebacker…

Kumerow’s sister, Cheryl, married Dolphins defensive end John Bosa, and together they had Nick and Joey, now both in the NFL. In addition, Kumerow’s son Jake plays wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills. Although none in the current generation knew Accardo personally, his legacy still looms large over the family.

As if we needed more reason not to mess with a Bosa. – PAL 

Source: 49ers star Nick Bosa is the great-grandson of one of history’s most feared mobsters,” Katie Dowd, SF Gate (01/26/22)

It’s Hard to Beat a Team Three Times in One Season. Or is it?

The 49ers, somehow, are in the NFC Championship game, traveling to L.A. to play the Rams (who they have beaten six straight times. Within those six straight, of course, the Niners beat the Rams twice this season, including a do-or-die game in Week 18 in L.A.

All week, just like we hear every time divisional opponents meet in the playoffs and one team swept the season series, I keep reading and hearing that it’s very difficult to beat a team three times in one season. This has been accepted as gospel as long as I’ve been watching the NFL. But…is it true? I decided to Google that question and found this article which answers the question rather emphatically.

Since the 1970 NFL Merger, there have been 21 instances where a team swept a team in the regular season and then had a third battle in the playoffs. The sweeping team has gone 14-7 in those games, which means it must not be that hard to beat a playoff team three times in a season.”

Since the article was written last January, the Saints lost at home to Tampa in last year’s playoffs, after having swept the Bucs in the regular season. Still, it’s 14-8. And this makes sense. Usually a team that sweeps another team in the regular season is simply better. But how often is the sweeping team then the road playoff team, like the Niners are this weekend? Of the 22 third meetings, only 4 have seen the season sweeping team on the road in the playoff rematch. Those teams went 2-2.

The ’84 Seahawks swept the Raiders but finished three games behind them in the standings and lost in the playoff game, the ’92 Chiefs went 10-6 and swept the 11-5 Chargers and lost in San Diego in the postseason. On the other side, the ’99 Jaguars went 14-2, but lost all three games to the 13-3 Titans, the ’04 Seahawks went 9-7 but were swept by the 8-8 Rams in the regular season before beating them at home in the playoffs.

So, I don’t know if the Niners will win or not. But I do know that it’s not hard to beat a team three times in the NFL. -TOB

Source: “How Hard Is It To Beat A Team Three Times In One Season?” Chase Stuart, Football Perspective (01/11/2021)

John Stockton, the Craziest COVID Truther of All

I alllllllways hated John Stockton. He was such a dirty player – routinely voted so by the other players in the league – and yet the media treated him like some sort of hard-nosed, clean-playing-and-living, aw shucks, deity. It always drove me crazy.

So I really relished reading this bat shit crazy interview he gave this week about COVID-19, after his alma mater, Gonzaga, revoked his season tickets for repeated refusals to wear a mask at games. Here’s the highlight:

During the interview, Stockton asserted that more than 100 professional athletes have died of vaccination. He also said tens of thousands of people – perhaps millions – have died from vaccines.

“I think it’s highly recorded now, there’s 150 I believe now, it’s over 100 professional athletes dead – professional athletes – the prime of their life, dropping dead that are vaccinated, right on the pitch, right on the field, right on the court,” Stockton said in the interview.

Such claims are dubious and not backed by science, nor are they deemed credible by medical professionals, according to FactCheck.org, a project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center, and research reported by PolitiFact, which is run by the Poynter Institute.

This is not just dubious – it’s an outright lie. 150 athletes have dropped dead while playing after receiving the vaccine? Those are the words of an insane person completely detached from reality.

In sum: Fuck John Stockon. -TOB

Source: John Stockton’s Defiance of COVID-19 Mask Mandate Forces Gonzaga to Suspend NBA Hall of Famer’s Basketball Season Tickets,” Theo Lawson, Spokesman-Review (01/23/2022)

A Quick Note on Bonds

Like Schilling, Barry Bonds was not elected to the Hall of Fame this year, his last year eligible on the writer’s ballot. Most observers are confident that he will get in this year or soon through the Today’s Game Committee, so I am not too distraught about it. I just wanted to link to a story I wrote about Bonds, back in 2020: In Defense of Barry Bonds.

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

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

Bonds is awesome and he belongs in the Hall of Fame. I can’t wait until it happens. -TOB

PAL: I was ok with this until you write “I can’t wait until it happens.” Really? I mean, really? Is it the hypocrisy finally crumble? Is it the fact that – for what the game was at that time (and that most all of us LOVED) – he was the best combo of skill, smarts, and PEDs?

The Bay Area’s love of Bonds is fascinating, and maybe a bit heartwarming. Yeah, they know he messed up, but he’s still our guy and those seasons when he broke baseball were pretty fun…even though he’s one surly dude.

An Attempt to Empirically Determine Most Amazing Sports Feats of All-Time

Recently, The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson asked his twitter followers to nominate the most impressive athletic feats of all-time. He got lots of submissions, but Thompson decide to try to determine it statistically by looking at records that are severe outliers – far and away better than the next best performance. Here’s Thompson:

I settled on the “50 Percent Club.” That is: What American sports records are at least 50 percent greater than the relevant second-place accomplishment?

For example, Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962 is legendary. But Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game in 2006 means that it would take a 121-point game to pass the 50 Percent Test in the category of points scored in a single game. So Chamberlain doesn’t make it into the club on that metric. But his greatest feat isn’t one game; it’s that he scored 60 points on 32 separate occasions. That’s not just 50 percent more than the second-most on that list (also Bryant). It’s almost 500 percent more. In fact, Chamberlain has more 60-point games than every other basketball player in NBA history combined. That makes Chamberlain a card-carrying member of the 50 Percent Club.

Thompson then lists and discussed some of the greatest feats of all-time. A fun read! -TOB

Source: The Most Amazing Statistical Achievement in U.S. Sports History,” Derek Thompson, The Atlantic (01/21/2022)

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Y’all went down to Disney World, didn’t invite any family to come to your wedding, and you didn’t even get a legacy character to marry you.

Jesse Gemstone

Week of January 21, 2022

On January 21, 1990 John McEnroe was suspended from Australian Open for eating powdered donuts before his match.

D-E-E-B-O! And Deebo Was His Name-o!

(For the record, I stole that joke from Tom Tolbert)

I have thought long and hard about this and I think I’ve decided that Deebo Samuel is my favorite 49er of all-time. So I really enjoyed this article from The Ringer’s Ben Solak at just what makes Deebo so special. It’s really fun – including multiple angle videos of what makes Deebo so special – his power, speed, intelligence, the way he bails out his noodle-armed quarterback. Deebo is the real friggin deal. 

Solak sums up Deebo like this:

It’s not that he’s so explosive (even though he is) or so physical (even though he is) or so smart (even though he is). It’s not even that he’s a blend of all of those things. It’s that he is superlative in all areas, and somehow able to string all of those elite skills into one amorphous, superstar play style. He’s a phase-shifter, a rule breaker. He’s effortlessly everything all at once.

Crushed it. He’s just great at everything, and cool as hell and fun at the same time. Give me more Deebo, please. -TOB

Source: Deebo Samuel Isn’t a Wide Receiver or a Running Back. He’s a Skeleton Key,” Ben Solak, The Ringer (01/19/2022)

Baseball Mafia

If you’ve known me long enough, I’ve probably implored you to watch Pelotero, the documentary about the very shady world of developing star baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic in the era just before limits were put on how much MLB teams could spend on international free agents (there’s no international draft for MLB). 

I haven’t paid too much attention after the rule change, so I eagerly clicked on this story from Maria Torres and Ken Rosenthal when it came across my feed. 

The current system, which ought to be a top agenda item in the current CBA negotiations, allows teams to have a pool of money for bonuses for international free agents. During the 2012-2016 CBA, wealthy teams just exceeded the cap and paid the fines, which then led to firmer restrictions under the CBA that just ended, leading to the current lockout. 

The system in the D.R. and other baseball-obsessed Latin America countries is that of a trainer working with, providing housing, schooling, and food for kids that could turn out to be a sought after free agent. When one of those prospects signs a free agent contract and receives his bonus, the trainer starts to collect on his investment. 

This per Torres and Rosenthal: 

Corruption in the international market accelerated after the introduction of a hard cap in the most recent collective bargaining agreement, according to those familiar with the market’s workings.

Under the 2012-16 CBA, teams routinely exceeded their bonus pools with little regard to penalties that included taxes and limits on future spending. The league responded by seeking firmer restrictions in the next agreement and the union proposed to cap the pools rather than accept an international draft. The pools increased at the rate of industry revenue, giving clubs a rough idea of how much they could spend in each signing period in the five-year term.

Eager to beat their rivals in the market, teams started reaching deals with players at even younger ages, telling them in essence, “If you don’t agree with us now, the money might be gone by the time you are eligible to sign.” It became the norm for top prospects to commit to teams by the time they were 14, two years prior to becoming eligible to sign. Once the terms were set, the players would disappear from the market, working out only at their trainers’ facility. In some cases, teams are said to have pledged contracts to players even as young as 12.

At this stage, teams often don’t even try to hide their circumvention of the system. At least one director of international scouting who spoke to reporters last weekend said he and his staff had been working for three years to sign many of the players they inked to deals at the start of the current signing period.

Trainers had to adjust their development timelines to the level of demand. It is no longer unusual for trainers — who usually take as much as 50 percent of players’ signing bonuses to help cover years of development and housing — to have 10- and 11-year-olds practicing and staying at their academies. One NL executive with extensive experience in Latin American countries cites competition as the reason clubs are willing to commit to increasingly younger players. Given the prominence of Latin American players in baseball, the executive said, “teams have to win in this environment.”

And later: 

“There is common knowledge throughout the industry that a significant number of team personnel are working for both their MLB team and receiving some form of compensation from trainers,” [Ulises] Cabrera said.

The system, as Cabrera and others with knowledge describe it, works like this: An area scout from a major-league club ventures outside his assigned region to find talented players. The scout, after identifying a prospect he likes, influences the player’s trainer to sell a percentage of the youngster’s future bonus to another buscon from the scout’s own region. The player transfers to the buscon and commits to signing with the scout’s team, often for an inflated bonus. And the scout is compensated by the new buscon, sometimes in the form of cash, other times with housing arrangements, vehicles or other material goods.

“It’s a mafia,” said Chico Faña, a former Phillies minor league hitting coach and catching instructor with more than 20 years experience as an amateur trainer in his town of La Vega. Faña estimated that scouts from nine teams engage in the underhanded activity with a select group of trainers.

So why not just create an international draft? Proponents of an international draft say it would help put an end the under-the-table dealings between teams and trainers, as well as solve the issue of Latin America players receiving smaller signing bonuses than that of their draft-eligible counterparts; but others—including Latin American players in the players union, who represent 20% of the active MLB players—believe a solution exists without a draft that also limits a player’s option: MLB could simply enforce rules prohibiting contact with players before the age of 15. 

There’s so much more to this story. I highly encourage you to read. -PAL 

Source: “A failed system’: A corrupt process exploits Dominican baseball prospects. Is an international draft really the answer?,” Maria Torres & Ken Rosenthall, The Athletic (01/20/22)

Marshawn Lynch: NFL Mentor

Remember that Deebo article up there? And the qualification that he’s my favorite 49er of all-time? Well, that’s because my favorite player of all-time is Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch is retired now. Famously, he never spent his paychecks. He invested it, and lived off his endorsements. And now he is serving as a mentor to young NFL players. He was interviewed by the New York Times and as always it’s great.

But first I have to note this part in the intro, where the writer’s relates that:

“Marshawn Lynch absolutely refuses to code switch. His candor, regardless of the audience, has yielded unforgettable quotations — “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”; “Take care of your chicken, take care of your mental” — that have marked him as a sage of sorts, somebody who is sought out in his retirement by current players in need of mentoring and by brands hoping to make an impression.”

Then, two paragraphs later, before the start of the actual interview, NYT included this note:

“This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and condensed.”

So, I guess Marshawn won’t code switch, but NYT will do it for him.

Regardless, there are more great Marshawnims:

Q: A lot of players have misspoken on Covid-19, racism and other social issues in interviews. How would you advise them about staying informed or speaking on topics they might not necessarily be educated about?

A: Turn the tables. If somebody asked me some [expletive] that I was not informed about, I’m going to ask them to inform me before I make any kind of statement. Most of the time, if you’re being asked something that you’re not informed about, it’s going to make you feel a little uncomfortable. But if you feel that way, then it’s time to use your wittys to get up out that siti, that situation, you feel me? Don’t be afraid to say, “That’s not something I feel comfortable talking about.”

Use your wittys to get up out that siti. Love it, love Marshawn. -TOB

Source: How Marshawn Lynch Became an N.F.L. Mentor,” Julian Kimble, New York Times (01/19/2022)

 A Fascinating Article On Long-Snapping

Seriously. Here’s a great breakdown of just what goes into long-snapping. If all goes well, you never notice these guys, but the Tennessee Titan’s Morgan Cox helps shed a little light on the minutia of long-snapping. 

Per David Flemming: 

No one appreciates long-snappers more than backup long-snappers, though. In 2010, Cox blew out his ACL against the Browns but decided to stay in the game to snap, especially after seeing how petrified Ravens running back Willis McGahee was at the prospect of filling in for him. “After I hurt my knee, he came up to me on the sideline and he was like, ‘Hey man, are you good? Are you good? Are you going to be able to snap?'” says Cox, who tore his other ACL in 2014. “He was freaking out that he might have to go in and snap.” 

The premium on scoring and the shrinking margin of victory in the NFL (this season the Titans outscored opponents by an average of only 3.8 points per game) has made extra points and field goals, and thus, long-snappers, even more like lawyers and umbrellas: no one really appreciates them until they don’t have one.

And later: 

After 12 years in the NFL, Cox has long-snapping down to a science. On field goals he only has 0.7 to 0.75 seconds to get the ball into the holder’s hands. (A human eye blink takes 0.4 seconds.) And when the ball arrives the laces need to be at 12 o’clock, which is long-snapper lingo for straight up in the air so that when the ball is placed on the ground the seams are directly toward the goal posts. (Laces at 6 o’clock, pointing back at the kicker, are “a disaster,” Cox says, because if they catch on a kicker’s foot it drastically changes the direction of the ball.) In all, the field goal unit has between 1.2 and 1.3 seconds to get the kick off. So, to get the ball to the holder on time and in the right position, Cox knows that he must snap it at 35 mph with exactly 3½ rotations and with no target deviation. (Even having to reach a little for the snap can push the timing well past 1.3 seconds.)

Most importantly, all long-snappers need to learn how to do cool tricks with the football. How else will you pass the time between kicks/punts without obsessing about not screwing up. When Cox was at the University of Tennessee, the snapper ahead of him told him he’d never make it as a snapper if he didn’t learn how to spin a football on his finger. He was serious: tricks mean not sitting with your thoughts, and snappers need to stay out of their heads. – PAL 

Source: The upside-down life of the Tennessee Titans’ All-Pro long-snapper,” David Flemming, ESPN (01/20/22)

A Cool Story About Meat Loaf, Who Died This Week

Meat Loaf died this week. The news was met with the usual tributes – to his music (Bat out of Hell is great) and his acting (fantastic in Fight Club, for example). But I really liked this old Deadspin story from Jen Carlson, about when Meat Loaf coached her JV softball team.

In 1991, I was a high school freshman in the small town of Redding, Conn. My brother was a senior, and his prom date was one of our neighbors down the street, a junior, Pearl Aday. Pearl would drive me home from softball practice when her father, our coach, was unable to. I preferred Pearl, as her dad drove a red sports car, pushing it to its capabilities through our small, winding roads … like a bat out of hell. His name was Marvin Lee Aday, but he was better known to the world as Meat Loaf. To the scrappy group of girls he was trying to mold into softball players, he was Coach Meat.

The JV team was orphaned at birth that year. No one wanted to coach us, and it was getting down to the wire when Meat Loaf volunteered, despite being on the verge of filming three movies and being in the midst of recording Bat Out Of Hell II. Coach Meat took the game very seriously. When we prodded him to sing us one of his hits, we were denied. Instead, he taught us a team chant: “What do we wanna do? Kill! What do we need to do? Kill! What are we gonna do? Kill! What do big dogs do? KILL!”

That’s really funny, but I especially love this tidbit:

He broke character only once, after our first win (suck it Abbott Tech). When we loaded on to the bus, he started belting out, “I Will Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” We had never heard the song, and the public wouldn’t hear it for nearly two more years.

Jen’s experience, and that of her teammates, seems wholly unique. How many people can say they were coached in a high school sport by a rock star in his prime? And especially a rock star as singular and unique as Meat Loaf? RIP, Coach Meat. -TOB

Source: “Meat Loaf Was My Softball Coach,” Jen Carlson, Deadspin (07/18/2011)

PAL: 10/10

Vote Tim Lincecum into the Hall of Fame, You Cowards

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TOB and PAL:

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Week of January 14, 2022

What It Actually Takes To Win In College Football

This is a must read for casual college football fans, like me. Before reading  Kevin Clark’s story, I knew there exists a group of college football programs above the rest—I’ve watched Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, play in the 4-team playoff year after year, with a little Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame and even a Cincinatti mixed in this year—but reading this story made is so abundantly clear what it takes to win a national championship in college football, and that nothing short of a miracle is needed for a team like Cincinatti to win a title. 

First and foremost, it’s about talent. Of course, right? I didn’t know how drastic the disparity is. Georgia had 19 – 19! – 5-star recruits in the title game last week. 

Per Clark: 

There’s a massive gulf between making the College Football Playoff and winning it, and you can measure the distance in talent. Around 60 percent of five-star recruits committed to the same five schools—Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, LSU, and Ohio State—over a five-year period ending in 2021, and that number increased later in that time span, according to the Sporting News. Those schools have combined to make 16 playoff appearances and win every national championship since the 2016 season. Texas A&M, which has the no. 1 class in 2022, has made strides to join that group.

Next is money. A school has to spend gobs and gobs of money, and not have to waste time convincing people to hand it over. Clark tells a story about when Clemson’s Dabo Swinney asked for a bigger staff and facilities upgrade, he was asked why. He responded, “Well, Alabama does it.”

Or how about this anecdote about Kirby Smart and Georgia’s program: 

“Kirby Smart got in there and said, ‘This is exactly what I need to win,’ and Georgia gave it to him,” Bud Elliott, a recruiting expert for 247Sports, told me. This includes a helicopter, which Smart uses to navigate recruiting visits. (“Time spent going slow doesn’t work,” he said, when first asked about the helicopter, which costs tens of thousands of dollars to operate.) The state of Georgia changed a public records law early in Smart’s tenure after he lobbied against it. Everyone was on board.

Plenty of schools with big football programs have money. Money is a prerequisite to be above average, but it doesn’t make a program a contender. Traditions be damned—a program that cycles through a couple bad coach hires (take USC as an example) is like blood in the water for the sharks. 

What’s developed is fairly obvious to see: a handful of schools that conceivably could compete are stuck in the mud, stopping and starting with every new coaching hire, while the select few run up the score. In many instances, those down programs are in recruiting hotbeds, which means the haves can run in to raid their talent, increasing the disparity even more. You should not be surprised when Georgia and Alabama play in the national title game—you should be surprised when they don’t. That’s what we had Monday.

It was a great game watch, and now I know why I should expect a lot more of the same. -PAL

Source: Georgia Is the Exception to Alabama’s Rule,” Kevin Clark, The Ringer (01/11/2022)

The NFL’s “Scheme Wars” Will be Spotlighted This Weekend

This was a fun article by The Ringer’s Steven Ruiz outlining the rise of the spread offense, kickstarted by the 2008 New England Patriots, and the factions in offensive scheme that have formed over the last decade:

Now, 14 years after the Patriots kicked things off, that ubiquitous “NFL Offense” that Brown wrote about is just one of many systems that are permeating the league. Never before have we seen schematic variety like this at the NFL level, as some coaching staffs have fully embraced more modern concepts, while others have adapted them to fit their established philosophies, and still others have been more reluctant to jump on the bandwagon.

Those three factions are the Spread (Chiefs, Bills, Cardinals), the Wide Zone (Rams, 49ers), the “Throwback” (physical running game setting up play-action passing) (Titans, Patriots, Buccaneers). Ruiz does an excellent job explaining each of them, with video examples. As Ruiz argues, 

These varying levels of acceptance have separated the league into schematic factions. And as assistant coaches from winning teams get head-coaching jobs of their own, those new hires will take their offensive systems with them and expand the territory of whatever faction they belong to. We saw this phenomenon play out a few years back when seemingly every coach who had ever crossed paths with Sean McVay became a hot coaching commodity. And after Kyle Shanahan, who belongs to the same coaching tree as McVay, dragged Jimmy Garoppolo to the Super Bowl after the 2019 season, we saw a run on his assistants, too. Now, nearly a third of the league’s offensive play-callers come from that tree. And four of their teams have made the playoffs this season.

If that success continues, we could see the Shanahan/McVay influence over the NFL grow even larger. But the rest of the league won’t go down without a fight. McDaniels (Patriots), Brian Daboll (Bills), and Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs), three offensive coordinators outside of the Shanahan/McVay tree, are headed for another round of head-coaching interviews this offseason, and Byron Leftwich (Buccaneers) has also gotten some requests.

In that way, there is more than a Lombardi Trophy at stake this postseason. With so many different offensive schemes represented in this year’s playoff field, the next month will not only determine a champion—it might dictate the next step in the NFL’s offensive evolution. So let’s take a look at three main factions that will battle it out for schematic supremacy over the next few weeks, starting with the one that launched it all.

It’s a great article if you’re interested in learning a bit more about how your team’s offense works. -TOB

Source: Scheme Wars Have Taken Over the NFL—and Could Decide This Year’s Playoffs,” Steven Ruiz, The Ringer (01/13/2022)

PAL: Good week for The Ringer, eh? Two of its stories made our list this week. The bit of this article that I had to read twice was that, prior to the 2007 Patriots,  a large portion of NFL teams ran essentially the same offense. I couldn’t believe it. But a former journeyman player would know better than anyone.

Donté Stallworth, who joined the Patriots just before the 2007 season, shared a similar viewpoint at the time. The now-retired wide receiver told The Ringer’s Kevin Clark that around half of all NFL teams ran the same playbooks, and the rest were only separated by minor scheme tweaks. He was expecting more of the same when arrived in New England. But Stallworth quickly saw that the offense Josh McDaniels had crafted was something radically different.

A Pet Peeve: Announcers Who Lose Track of the Basic Rules of the Game

Last weekend, the 49ers overcame a seemingly insurmountable 17-3 halftime deficit against the Rams. If they lost, they would have been out of the playoffs. It was such an improbable comeback, that late in the 4th they had an expected chance to win of just 0.4%. 

But they did. In overtime. The Niners won the OT coin flip and elected to receive. They kicked a field goal on the first possession, giving the Rams a drive to either tie and continue OT, or score a touchdown and win. Niners rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas intercepted a deep pass from Matthew Stafford, and the game was over. Everyone seemed to realize that, except 49ers radio play-by-play guy Greg Papa. Here’s Papa’s call of the last play, starting at the 2:00 mark. Listen to that again:

“Intercepted! By Ambry Thomas. Ambry Thomas takes it away. The Rams only have one timeout remaining! The Niners are gonna win the game in L.A. … and they have won the game.”

LOL. The ever important timeout reminder after the game is over! You can hear the moment his spotter punches him in the shoulder to point out the game is over, and he tries to save it. I really don’t know how you lose track of the fact the game was over – Papa should be embarrassed, and I’ve wondered all week if he addressed his blunder on his daily radio show. But it reminded me of the very famous call from Joe Starkey, the longtime Cal Bears announcer (and also a longtime 49er announcer, coincidentally), during The Play. Give it a listen.

There are just a few seconds left. The Stanford kicker squibs it, and Starkey says:

“The ball comes loose and the Bears have to get out of bounds!”

Except, no. It’s a kickoff. The clock stops at the end of the play. The Bears could have kneeled to save a second or two for a Hail Mary. But getting out of bounds there would serve no purpose, except to waste time trying to get there, and possibly losing Cal the game in the process if the time ran out. And it certainly would have deprived the world of the greatest play of all time.

Starkey has long been lauded for his call on the Play. And, yes, his emotion is great. But his failure to understand or remember a very basic rule of the game has always perturbed me.

Announcers: Do better! -TOB

More Women Officials Needed

I knew the majority of basketball referees – at all levels, but especially at the high school level – are men, but I didn’t know just how few women ref until I read this story from Jim Paulsen.

In Minnesota, one organization that represents officials said “18 to 20” of its 250 officials are women. Another told Paulsen that just four of their 200 officials are women. The good ones move up to college pretty quickly, he was told. 

Far more interesting than the disparity, though, is the difference in how a girls game is called when reffed by all-women crews.

Per Paulsen:

Buffalo coach Barb Metcalf said the difference in how the game was officiated was evident from the outset.

“To me, things just seemed more equitable,” Metcalf said. “It felt like there was a better flow to the game, with a lot fewer ticky-tack calls. There weren’t 50, 60, 70 fouls. They let them play.”

Metcalf summed up a common complaint: Male officials let boys play a more physical game than girls.

“There’s an assumption that women cannot be physical and are less athletic,” Eden Prairie coach Ellen Wiese said. “Boys play more physically, and the male referees are used to that. It’s like they’re saying, ‘I’m going to be more lenient because of your gender.’ ”

But ask female refs, and they articulate that it’s not as simple as calling a tighter game for women than men. 

“As officials, we’re taught to allow for a flow to the game,” said Dayna Rethlake, a former player and coach who has been officiating for about a decade. “It’s not so much calling it tighter for the girls as it is defining the skill level and what players can play through.”

Rethlake believes those discrepancies are declining quickly. She cited the improved strength and skill of girls’ players since she helped Midwest Minnesota (now MACCRAY) to a Class 1A championship in the mid-1980s.

I would assume this theory extends to other physical women’s sports – hockey, lacrosse, water polo – as well. I’m calling on my nieces for an update. Will update next week. -PAL 

Source: All-woman crew leads to a question: When the refs are women, is the girls’ basketball better?,” Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune (01/11/22) 

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“Where were you on September 11th?”

-Deangelo Vickers

Week of January 7, 2022

RIP John Madden

My kids know “Madden” the video game, but I am 99% sure they have no idea why the football game they play on my old PS3 is called Madden. So sure, the games are quite the legacy for him (while he didn’t make the game himself, he reportedly helped make the game realistic over the years). Older people remember him as a coach. And sure, he won a Super Bowl. 

But to me Madden will always be an announcer – the best announcer. When you turned on a football game in the 90s and John and his longtime broadcast partner Pat Summerall were on the call, you knew you were in for a treat. Madden’s enthusiasm shown through – he loved football and wanted to share that love. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis relays a great anecdote:

One of the coolest things about John Madden is that he was an academic. It was a brief run, but still. In 1979, after Madden quit as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, he was hired by the University of California, Berkeley, to teach an extension course called “Man to Man Football.” Madden’s students had watched football on TV. Now, they wanted to understand how it worked.

Professor Madden stood in front of a board that was like the Telestrator he later used on TV. Madden drew X’s and O’s and carefully studied his students’ faces. “I wanted to see at what point I lost ’em,” he told me years later. Madden was trying to find the most simple way to explain a complex game. He was converting passive football fans into smart fans. For the next 30 years, Madden performed the same trick on TV every week.

When Madden died Tuesday morning at age 85, obits mentioned his three great careers: football coach, broadcaster, video game czar. In fact, these are all the same career. John Madden was the greatest teacher of football of the 20th century and probably of this one, too.

Madden’s genius was how he taught football. Those booms, that unbuttoned aura of regular guy-dom—all of that was an invitation. It made Madden’s classroom feel like a safe place, where you’d get a little smarter and the professor would never act like he was smarter than you.

He taught us the game, but always at a level we could understand. He was informative, without talking down to us. He was the best.

So I am honoring John Madden in the best way I know how: smiling and laughing at clips of him doing what he did best:


The State of the MLB Lockout

For our 40th birthdays this year, Phil and I (and our friend Rowe) are planning a baseball trip. The current plan, three stadiums in three days (Pittsburgh, D.C., Baltimore in June). When discussing dates, I suggested we avoid April: in part because of cold and an increased incidence of rainouts. But also because of the ongoing lockout. Rowe asked, “Are we really concerned about the lockout?” As luck would have it, Jeff Passan published an article this week addressing this very topic. So, Jeff, how are things?

“The players and league don’t negotiate so much as talk past each other. For all the rhetoric about the animosity between the parties not mattering as much as the substance of the issues they’re discussing, they can’t even get to the substance of the issues because the relationship is so toxic. “We’re in such a place as an industry that it’s kind of like politics,” the man said. “Everyone is so obsessed with winning this narrow game we’ve prescribed for ourselves. There’s no practicality. No moderation.”

Hm. Seems bad.

In its last bargaining session, on December 1, “MLB had said it wanted to talk about core economics, but only on the condition that those discussions not include any changes to the six-year reserve period of free agency, the arbitration system or revenue sharing. The union would not agree to that condition. Seven minutes in, there was nothing left to discuss. MLB left the hotel and did not return.” MLB locked the players out at midnight that night.

The players, for their part, want, “earlier free agency, earlier arbitration, a rejiggered draft system, more money going to younger players, a higher minimum salary, less revenue sharing and a higher luxury tax threshold, among other things.” Rob Manfred said such changes would “threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive,” though as Passan points out, Manfred “provided no evidence to support the idea that players becoming free agents after five years or reaching arbitration after two years would ruin the sport — because no such evidence exists.” 

MLB, meanwhile, wants to expand the playoffs (which is a TV cash cow) and, per Passan, “is most interested in continuing its curtailed spending. Player salaries dipped to $4.05 billion in 2021 — a $200 million drop from the record high in 2017 and the lowest since 2015, when the league still hadn’t crossed the $4 billion mark.” Since 2011, MLB revenues have increased 70%, from $6.3 billion to $10.7 billion, while the league’s soft salary cap number has increased only 15%, from $178 million to $206 million.

Passan spoke to a number of agents, players, and league and team officials, and came up with the following framework for a deal:

1. Raise minimum salaries to around $650,000 — a 14% bump

2. Add a performance bonus pool for pre-arbitration players

3. Implement the universal designated hitter

4. Expand the postseason from 10 to 14 teams

5. Remove indirect draft-pick compensation for free agents

6. Make significant changes to the draft to disincentivize tanking and reward small markets

7. Raise the CBT threshold into the $230 million-plus range and remove other restraints, including nonmonetary and recidivism penalties

This seems reasonable to me. Hopefully, the two sides come up with something soon. Afterall, pitchers and catchers should be reporting in just five weeks. -TOB

Source: Why MLB’s Labor Negotiations Have Gone Nowhere — and Baseball’s Path Back,” Jeff Passan, ESPN (01/05/2022)

The Industry-Changing Beetle 

It would be decades before anyone would know it, but the ash bat – used by almost every major leaguer for over a century – was doomed because some pallets were left outside warehouses in Westland, Michigan. 

The pallets were from far away, and they carried the emerald ash borer beetle. The beetles spread, killing ash trees across North America. 

The emerald ash borer beetle was discovered in 2002. In 2001, Barry Bonds broke the single season home run record with a maple bat ( the maple bat was thanks to Joe Carter). It wasn’t long before big leaguers were switching to maple, and thank god they wanted to change when they did. 

Per Stephen Nesbitt: 

Almost overnight, there was an explosion of interest in this small Canadian maple bat company. Hitters turned from ash to maple in droves. Sporting goods stores wanted to stock maple bats. Holman needed more space, more staff, more bats. He hired the bar manager at the Mayflower Pub to be his production manager. He bought an empty bar in Ottawa and converted it into a bat-making laboratory. It still wasn’t enough to keep up with demand.

Maple was suddenly king, and just in time.

The following year, the first ash borers were discovered in Michigan.

I never imagined I’d read a sports story about a beetle, but the best stories take us to unexpected places. This is a story about environmental anomalies, the science behind the ideal wood density, about grain spacing. It’s also about Joey Votto, the last big leaguer to use ash bats exclusively, and his ultimate trust in the feel of the ash bat…and trying to find an ash tree or two that hasn’t been visited by the emerald borer. 

Such a great read. – PAL 

Source: ‘It’s an epic saga’: An exotic beetle, Barry Bonds, Joey Votto and the end of ash baseball bats,” Stephen J. Nesbitt & C. Trent Rosecrans, The Athletic 

TOB: My favorite part:

Votto wasn’t always an ash apostle. As a high schooler in Toronto, he swung whatever wood bat was available. In the minors, he tried a variety of bats without settling on any. It was Jay Bruce who got him hooked on ash when they were at Triple A together. Votto came to love the sound of a baseball smacking the sweet spot, the way an ash bat hardens and grain grooves deepen over time, and the feedback delivered to his hands when making solid contact. An ash bat, he says, just feels like the best possible tool a hitter can have.

And so when Votto has an ace ash bat, he wants to protect it.

“This might sound crazy,” Votto says, “but there were times I was even a touch more particular about what I was going to swing at because I didn’t want to break the bat.”

It’s not that Votto never gave maple a chance. He uses it every day in batting practice — he’d rather break maple in that setting and save ash for competition. Last year, he took an ash bat for a test run in the batting cage and broke it. That really bothered him. “It’s like that scene from ‘Seinfeld’ where Elaine goes out and gets the sponges, then she’s like, ‘Are you sponge-worthy?’” Votto says, with a laugh. “I was hitting, and I was like, ‘Are you cage-worthy?’ I don’t want to burn them on batting practice.”


The Athletic Submits to its Fate

The Athletic was an ambitious undertaking – restore the sports local sports page! And honestly, for the most part I think they did a pretty good job. At least in the Bay Area, they hired good writers to cover the local teams and they freed those writers from traditional print deadlines, to allow them to write about the team without those restrictions. But there were signs all along that it was not going to work. 

First, the Athletic was not profitable, “hemorraghing $100 million cash” in 2019 and 2020, over revenues of just $73 million. In hiring all these writers away, they had to pay them a lot of money! And in order to lure subscribers, they often offered steep discounts, but it was not enough, as subscriptions stagnated over the last two years – going from 1 million in 2020 to just 1.2 million late last year.

It also suffered from quality issues, in the eyes of this humble blog. The plan to restore the sports page relied on hiring local beat writers. And while the Bay Area writers it hired were generally good, that was not true in other locales, which we often noted after reading articles that we found wholly disappointing. 

Which brings us to this week’s news: The Athletic was sold. To the New York Times. Yes, the news publication that aimed to modernize the sports page and in the words of its co-founder, was going to, “wait out every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” and “suck them dry of their best talent at every moment,” ended up selling out. To a newspaper. Sure, it’s the New York Times. Still, it’s a newspaper. 

It remains to be seen what will become of the Athletic, or the jobs and careers of the writers it peeled off from the local rags. But the Athletic becomes, in the end, a symbol of the modern media landscape:

I suppose it was always going to be this way. It was its fate. -TOB 

Source: The Athletic To Be Swallowed By Industry It Aimed To Kill,” Ray Ratto, Defector (01/06/2021)

PAL: Great writers at The Athletic, but also, in recent years I found a lot of filler stories. A lot of lists and rankings, e.g. Top 100 prospects, Week 17 NFL rankings, fantasy projections. That’s never been my idea of a good read; in fact, these headlines would just make it harder to find something I’d want to read. I have long believed more is almost never better, and The Athletic proved to me that the kid who loved to read every word the Pioneer Press sports page doesn’t live here anymore.

I love Ratto’s take on this, and I also think The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis hit the bullseye with this bit from his story on the acquisition…which kinda read like an obit.

When hiring, Athletic editors would tell writers the site didn’t care about clicks. But the site did care about “conversions”—stories that lead people to subscribe to The Athletic. The site set annual conversion targets for writers, a number that can hang over a reporter’s head. Even happy writers who’d migrated over from newspapers told me it felt like trading one Darwinian struggle for another.

Anti-Vaxxer Suffers Consequences

Anti-vaxxers are awful, especially ones who are rich and (presumably) influential (yes, including Aaron Rodgers). So I really like it when one of them finally suffers the consequences of their willful stupidity. 

Enter: Novak Djokovich, aged 34, currently sits tied atop the career Grand Slam leaderboard, with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, with 20. Federer and Nadal both are seemingly done and Djokovich appears destined to surpass them. But with the Australian Open starting next week, it appears Djokovich will have to wait at least a few more months to do so.

You see, Djokovich is an anti-vaxxer. As this article lays out, he’s long been a proponent of fake medicine and has engaged in risky behavior that put himself and others at risk. 

Like many leagues and events, the Australian Open requires competitors to be vaccinated, or to receive a medical exemption. Djokovich applied for a medical exemption, for an undisclosed reason, and it was granted. Given his past behavior during the pandemic, this put many around him at risk. So Djokovich flew to Australia to begin preparing for his tournament. The only problem: while he got a medical exemption from the tournament, he neglected to inquire whether the Australian government would let him in.


Australia has had very strict visa rules since the pandemic began, and Djokovich was denied a visa, on the grounds his medical exemption was not valid. He is presently awaiting an appeal hearing next week. I am really, really hoping he does not get his way, and it is doubtful he will. Reportedly his exemption “hinges on the argument that he had COVID in the last six months and is therefore immune. The feds rejected that argument once already, and he faces a possible three-year ban from the country if the courts side against him.” 

As his rival Nadal, who has long supported vaccine efforts, said: “In some way I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision.”

Indeed, he does. -TOB
Source: Novak Djokovic and Fellow Star Vaccine Skeptics Are Increasingly Scorned,” by Matthew Futterman, New York Times (01/06/2022); Detained Novak Djokovic Is Jesus And Spartacus All Rolled Into One, According To Novak Djokovic’s Father,” Patrick Redford, Defector (01/06/2022)

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Seems awfully mean. But sometimes the ends justify the mean.

-Michael Scott

Week of December 19, 2021

The Case for Patience with Coaches

As most of you probably know, I am a Cal football fan. Cal is not a blue blood program, though they were a national powerhouse in the 1930s! Since then, there have been random good years and lots and lots of bad ones. Still, I became a Cal fan in the modern golden era – the early Jeff Tedford years. And this requires a bit of history.

Tedford had been the offensive coordinator at Oregon when they first became nationally relevant. Prior to that, he coached at Fresno State. He coached four first round pick quarterbacks in a short span: Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Akili Smith, and Joey Harrington. Then he took over a 1-10 Cal team and turned Kyle Boller into a top 10 pick, while turning the team around to 7-5. Then they went 8-6, led by JUCO transfer Aaron Rodgers, with that season peaking with a win over eventual national champion USC, and culminating in a bowl win over a very good Virginia Tech team. 

The following year they had a little buzz and I said I thought they could go undefeated. I was close. They went 11-1, with the lone loss being a close loss at #1 (and again eventual champion) USC – a game they outgained and outplayed the defending national champs, but lost after four straight failed plays with goal to go. 

The next five years were uneven. Some good years, some very disappointing years. Then, because of Tedford’s early success, the school was able to build a new training facility and renovate the stadium. But Tedford only lasted one year in the new stadium – he opened with an awful loss to Nevada, and the season did not go up from there. The team seemed to quit late in the season, and to top it off the team’s academics were so bad Cal was close to a bowl ban. After that 2004 season, Tedford’s teams went 8-4, 10-3, 7-6, 9-4, 8-5, 5-7, 7-6, 3-9. There’s an obvious downward trend there. I was sad, but even I agreed Tedford had to go.

But the interesting thing about Tedford is he didn’t stop coaching, despite serious and recurring health problems. Most notably, he returned to his alma mater, Fresno State, and turned a moribund Bulldog program around. The 2016 Bulldogs went 1-11. Tedford arrived after that season and they went 10-4. The next year, 12-2. In his third year, they went 4-8 and he retired due to those same health issues. Interestingly, he just returned to Fresno. We’ll see how it goes.

But what I find most interesting about Tedford’s return to Fresno in the last half of that last decade is the question it begs about his coaching ability and what happened at Cal. Why did he struggle so badly in the last part of his Cal tenure? He obviously didn’t forget how to coach: he proved that at Fresno. There are lot of theories among Cal fans, but I am not here to settle that debate today.

Instead I am here to wonder what might have happened had Cal been more patient with Tedford. What if they had allowed him time to right the ship, both athletically and academically?  No one can say for sure, but I can’t help but wonder if he would have been like Kirk Ferentz, who has been the Iowa coach for over twenty years now. First, Iowa and Cal have similar histories. The programs are, if not equal, close. The similarities between Ferentz and Tedford are even more interesting.

Ferentz and Tedford are similarly aged and were similarly successful early on in their careers, though Ferentz a bit more, perhaps. Ferentz is five years older than Tedford and started at Iowa three years before Tedford started at Cal. Ferentz didn’t start as hot as Tedford, going 1-10 and 3-9 in his first two years. But then he went 7-5, 11-2 (with an Orange Bowl appearance), 10-3, and 10-2. But then, like Tedford, Ferentz hit a lull. From 2005-2007, where he went a combined 19-18, and then particularly from 2010 to 2014, where he went 8-5, 7-6, 4-8, 8-5, 7-6. Since then, he’s 63 wins and 23 losses in 7 years, including two conference championship appearances. Could Tedford have done the same? I don’t know. But I do know this: there are lots of Cal fans unhappy with the current head coach, Justin Wilcox. 

Wilcox took over a program in dire straits – a terrible defense for the entirety of the Sonny Dykes era, Cal football had become, for me, unwatchable. Even the good wins (Texas, twice) were exasperating. Wilcox turned things around immediately – what had been an historically bad defense was suddenly tops in the conference. Wilcox’s early teams struggled on offense. But heading into the 2020 season, Cal fans expected big things: almost every starter from a pretty good team was back, including quarterback Chase Garbers who suddenly looked like a very good QB. 

And then COVID hit and things fell apart. Cal got only 4 games in 2020. Many Cal fans wrote off the 1-3 record to the pandemic – Cal had multiple games canceled; they even had to travel to UCLA on 24 hours’ notice after ASU had a COVID outbreak, before getting stomped. But they beat a very good Oregon team and fans were cautiously optimistic – especially because the NCAA declared 2020 a non season for player eligibility. And then Cal started 2021 1-5 and many fans jumped off the bandwagon. Many wanted him fired. Most wanted him to take the UW job or the Oregon job (Wilcox’s alma mater) when those opened up.

But Cal is not USC. It is not Alabama. It is not Texas. Cal is Iowa. And Cal needs to be patient with a good coach, learning on the job, who wants to be there. Oh, yeah – that’s an important part here: Wilcox was offered the Oregon job last week, and he turned it down. Oregon made a second run at him, he slept on it, and he turned it down. When asked why he turned down his alma mater he said he likes it at Cal and has unfinished business there.

Yes, Cal has instiutional barriers that make it harder to win at than many other schools. So Cal needs a coach who doesn’t shy away from that; who embraces it. Wilcox is that guy, without a doubt. Now, can he be Cal’s Kirk Ferentz?  Can he be another Jeff Tedford? I don’t know – but I think Cal needs to be patient and find out, and not make the possible mistake they made in firing Tedford. -TOB

Counterpoint: Urban Meyer Deserved to Get Fired After 13 Games

Urban Meyer was fired this week, just 13 games into his NFL coaching career. Defector’s Samer Kalaf gives a great run down of Meyer’s horrific tenure:

Though the team hadn’t played since Sunday—a 20-0 loss to the Titans—the midweek firing seems to have been prompted by Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times report in which former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo said Meyer kicked him at a practice during the preseason and called him a “dipshit.” When Lambo told him never to kick him again, Meyer allegedly said, “I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f–k I want,” and later told his kicker not to complain about it in front of the other players.

Kicking an employee was possibly the most actionable thing Meyer did as Jaguars head coach, but he packed a lot of mortifying behavior within his incomplete season. An NFL Network report Sunday morning uncovered a handful of terrible decisions: Meyer treated his players like children and pissed off receiver Marvin Jones Jr., a guy who’s difficult to piss off; he called his assistant coaches “losers” in a staff meeting; and he benched running back James Robinson, then pushed the blame onto his RBs coach. That was one report. There were so many more.

Urban Meyer hired, then fired a racist strength coach. He brought in Tim Tebow, presumably so that at least one person respected him in the locker room. He called for an onside kick, and the opposing team returned it for a touchdown. He lost a Thursday night game in Cincinnati, stayed in Ohio while the team flew back to Jacksonville, and showed up in his own steakhouse with his hand in a woman who wasn’t his wife. He looked like the biggest fucking sadsack in the subsequent presser, and basically every presser after that.

The Lambo kicking incident should be required reading for any NFL owner considering hiring a college coach:

“It certainly wasn’t as hard as he could’ve done it, but it certainly wasn’t a love tap,” Lambo said. “Truthfully, I’d register it as a five (out of 10). Which in the workplace, I don’t care if it’s football or not, the boss can’t strike an employee. And for a second, I couldn’t believe it actually happened. Pardon my vulgarity, I said, ‘Don’t you ever f–king kick me again!’ And his response was, ‘I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f–k I want.’”

When reached by Stroud, Meyer denied the kick and said Lambo’s characterization of the incident was “completely inaccurate.” Lambo said Meyer “cornered” him the next day in the practice facility and told him to smile, which Lambo said he would do if his coach stopped kicking him. Then Meyer allegedly threatened to cut Lambo if he ever talked back to him again. “You’re the first player I’ve ever let speak to me that way in my career, and if you do it again, you’re gone,” Meyer said, according to Lambo.

That is the kind of thing you can get away with as a sleazeball college coach, when dealing with young, unpaid players. But when dealing with grown men who make lots of money? It’s not going to fly.

My favorite part of Urbant’s NFL career was…well, ok, it was the pictures of him out at a club in Ohio. But my second favorite part was this press conference, about the above mentioned reports about how awful he is:

Incredible. Who does this guy think he is? A military general? I think he really does. The worst part about his firing is that he’ll probably go back to a high paying gig at ESPN which will mean I’ll have to look at his dumb, lying face way more often. Dang. -TOB

Source: Jaguars Give Urban Meyer The Boot,” Samer Kalaf, Defector (11/16/2021)

PAL: That kick might be the most expensive kick in history. If that helps the Jags fire him for cause, then they don’t need to pay him the remaining (gulp) $50MM on his contract, and it sounds like the team doesn’t intend to pay him (but the two sides will likely negotiate a middle ground).

The Cal-Iowa comp is right on, TOB. Dead-on. There are, what 10 schools that can look in the mirror and say they have a legit chance to make a national championship run at least once a decade? There are a lot of programs who foolishly think they are on that list. Add the University of Minnesota to likes of Cal and Iowa. As least Iowa recognizes what it is, and what it’s not. I feel like deep down, amongst those KFAN listeners in MN, folks still think the Gophers could compete with Ohio State if they just found the right guy. Or maybe I’ve been wrong about used car salesman P.J. Fleck. Maybe he wants to be a cheesier version of Ferentz for the Gophers.

14 Peaks Review

“Giving up is not in the blood, sir. It’s not in the blood.”

There are 14 mountains in the world over 8k meters. The fastest to summit all 14 was seven years. Nimsdai Pursa and his team of Nepali climbers set out to do it in seven months. A must-watch documentary.

The advent of the drone and super high quality small cameras has captured the magnitude of some of these incredible outdoor documentaries (Alone On The Wall, 100 Foot Wave, The Dawn Wall), but the most compelling parts remain the personal stories. Why does Alex Honnold want to climb El Cap without a rope? What compels Garrett McNamara, on the wrong end of 50, to tow into a monster wave and let go of the rope? The exploration of these questions, coupled with the sweaty-palmed beauty of the footage, is what makes for an exhilarating viewing.

At the center of 14 Peaks is one of the biggest, most positive bad-asses to come across my TV. Before becoming a superstar of the mountaineering world, Nimsdai Purja,  was a special ops for 16 years, first as a Gurka, and then as the first Gurkha ever to join the UK Special Ops. 

There’s a part in the doc when Nims gets hooked up to some sort of oxygen thinner machine in a lab in what I think is London. They have him get on the stationary bike to measure his endurance and decision-making skills as he pushes harder and harder while the oxygen thins. Nims has a pot belly. You can tell the guy is strong, but he’s not “ripped”. He proceeds to flabbergast the scientist with his decision-making while charging on a bike with little oxygen. He goes for 3 minutes, while world-class triathletes tap out in under 1 minute. 

His military comes into play on more than one occasion when ‘Nims’ and his team come across other climbers in serious trouble on the mountain. This dude is breaking records and saving lives at the same time.

Of course, ‘Nims’ can’t do this alone, and he has a team made up exclusively of Nepali climbers. In sport where historically Nepali climbers are helping clients up the summit, it was cool to see them pursue the crowning achievement for their people. 

Nims charges so hard, but he also seems so happy to be alive. There’s a real joy pursuing such an audacious goal. Whereas someone like Alex Honnold’s achievement and skill inspire me, I feel so far away from whoever he is as a person. With Nims, the dude’s spirit is so goddamn infectious. I really loved watching him and his team risk their lives one day, and celebrate life (with a bit of booze) the next, then climb again the day after that. – PAL 

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I don’t need you to tell me what I don’t want, you stupid hipster doofus.

Elaine Benes