Week of October 5, 2018


What if the Steroid Era Wasn’t Really Caused by Steroid Use?

So goes this convincing article from The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh, who argues (1) the Steroid Era, and specifically the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, is over-credited with bringing fans back to baseball after the 1994 strike; (2) steroids are over-credited for the Steroid Era boom.

First, he attacks the “fans returned to baseball theory” and disposes of it with some simple numbers:

Per-game attendance recovered much more in 1996 (+6.5 percent) and 1997 (+4.5 percent) than in 1998 (+2.9 percent). In 1999, with the memory of a thrilling record chase fresh in fans’ minds, it barely budged (+0.3 percent). Per-game attendance actually dropped (as did the economy, which might have more to do with attendance) in 2001, and again in 2002 and 2003. Not until 2006—well into the testing era—did MLB bounce all the way back to its 1994 attendance pace (which probably would have tailed off had the ’94 schedule been completed).

Well, huh. Certainly, attendance isn’t the only measure of fan interest. But that is still pretty compelling, because fans show the most intense interest by spending their time and money going to games.

Next, Lindbergh looks into how much we really know about how steroids even caused the 1990s offensive boom. First, he notes that it wasn’t only hitters taking steroids:

[Nate Silver, now of FiveThirtyEight] also noted [in his 2006 essay, “Baseball Between the Numbers”] that 36 of the 76 pro players suspended for PEDs in 2005—the first year that MLB players were subject to suspensions, and also the year that minor league violators’ names were publicly disclosed—were pitchers, and he tentatively concluded that among hitters, “the average performance improvement from steroid use is detectable but small.”

So what other factors could have caused the offensive surge?

In [] 2012…Jay Jaffe investigated several forces that could have caused or contributed to the so-called steroid era’s home run rates, including the ball, and wrapped up his inquiry by writing, “To suggest that the numbers of the era have been entirely distorted by the use of steroids would appear to be a stretch given the number of other factors in play.”

So why did the Steroid Era become known as the Steroid Era? Simply, steroid use was easy to see and thus easy to blame:

The standard sabermetric line may have hewed to the scientific method, but reserving judgment and downplaying the link between PEDs and dingers was an impossible sell to most fans. Everyone who was watching baseball in the ’90s saw some sluggers get bigger; everyone saw some of those same sluggers post unprecedented stats; and everyone read the revelations about what they were ingesting (or injecting). The availability heuristic did the rest: Steroids were the most scandalous and memorable hallmark of the era, and thus they were held responsible for the sky-high home run rate.

In fact, the current offensive boom is even stronger than 1998:

But recent events should reframe the narrative. In the past three seasons, MLB’s home run rate—expressed as the percentage of balls in play that turn into home runs—has dwarfed its previous peak, which it reached in 2000. Even with home runs on contact down slightly from last season, the 2018 home run rate is about 8 percent higher than it was at any point during the steroid era, and 20 percent higher than it was in 1998.

 

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, home run rates have also skyrocketed the last few seasons, and scientific testing has fairly strongly confirmed that the ball was changed at the 2015 All Star Break. As Lindbergh argues:

Using camera- and radar-derived Statcast data that didn’t exist in all ballparks until 2015, researchers determined that the new balls were flying farther because of decreased drag, although they couldn’t establish with certainty which physical properties of the ball were reducing the drag.

In other words, we know now that a subtle change in the ball is sufficient to explain an even more dramatic rise in home run rate than we witnessed in the ’90s. That doesn’t prove that steroids played no significant role in the previous spike, but it does demonstrate that steroids aren’t necessary to explain the earlier increase. It really could have been the ball.

I find this fascinating. Lindbergh next turns to Eric Walker, one of the people responsible for the Oakland A’s’ late-90s sabermetric revolution. Walker argues that arguing the 1990s boom was due to steroids doesn’t even make sense because, as in the recent boom, the numbers surged practically overnight:

[A] steroid-related explanation for the sudden, dramatic increase in offense of the sort that occurred in ’93 and ’94 would have required a combination of extremely widespread, simultaneous PED adoption and drugs that were capable of producing a probably-implausible per-player improvement. “The crux, the evidence that seems blindingly obvious but which so many people just gloss over like a police inspector in a Sherlock Holmes story, is the suddenness of the change: a large step jump from one stable, self-consistent era to another such over a single season,” Walker says. “There is no other possible explanation than a change in the baseball.” It’s certainly suggestive that the seasons with the largest year-over-year increases in home run rate on contact are, in order, 1977 (when MLB changed ball manufacturers, from Spalding to Rawlings); 1969 (when the mound was lowered and the strike zone shrunk); 2016 (the first full season with the reduced-drag ball); and 1993, followed by 2015 (the season in which the reduced-drag ball made its first appearance).

However, Lindbergh does acknowledge steroids do appear to have contributed to older players remaining productive longer.

Also, today we see fewer extreme outliers at the top:

Compared to the steroid era, today’s home runs are much more evenly distributed. Everyone is hitting more homers, but elite home run hitters haven’t made the greatest gains. Instead, more and more hitters are putting up mid-tier totals, and no one is getting to 60, let alone 70 (or this year, perhaps, even 50).

As Silver wrote in 2006, “There may have been a few players for whom steroids represent a ‘tipping point,’ allowing a relatively minor gain in muscle strength, bat speed, or recovery time to translate into a dramatically improved performance.” Regardless, it’s reductive and likely misleading to say that steroids saved baseball. And if we blame PEDs for retroactively ruining an era, we’re probably giving them too much credit for making it fun in the first place.

This was a great article. Five stars. -TOB

Source: How Much of a Role Did Steroids Play in the Steroid Era?”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (09/28/2018)

PAL: Excellent read. Classic case that more than one idea can be true. Here’s the the most logical line from the story:

We’ll never have the data to determine precisely how the ball behaved two decades ago, or who was taking what, when. We can say, though, that every other home run spike of the magnitude of the one that preceded the 1998 home run race was accompanied by a change in the ball or the mound and strike zone.


Hometown Hero – Assessing Joe Mauer’s Twins Career

Joe Mauer very likely played his last game as a Minnesota Twin this past week. For those of you who don’t know, Mauer is the living embodiment of the childhood dream: he grew up in St. Paul, he was a three-sport star in high school (Gatorade national football player of the year and a Florida State commit), he was drafted number one overall by his hometown Minnesota Twins, and actually lived up to the hype. 6x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove Winner, American League MVP, and – oh, by the way – the only catcher in MLB history to win 3 batting titles (and the only American League catcher ever to win a batting title). Add to all of this, he is by all accounts a model citizen.

I know many of you will laugh at this, but Joe Mauer has more than a little in common with LeBron James (I KNOW, LeBron won a title).

Number 7 will be retired in Minnesota, but ask anyone from from Minnesota and they’ll tell you that Mauer, and his $184MM contract has long been a contentious topic in my home state.

In 2009, Mauer had one of the greatest offensive seasons ever by a catcher: .365, 28 HR, 30 doubles, .444 OBP, 96 RBI. Oh, and he also won a Gold Glove. At that point in time, Mauer was the biggest free agent available. A sure-fire Hall of Fame catcher in his mid-late twenties who had just won his third batting title. If Mauer goes to New York with the short porch in right or Fenway to bounce opposite field flies off the monster, god knows where his career ends up.

Instead, Mauer signed an eight year, $184MM contract with his hometown team. The Twins move into a new stadium with “Baby Jesus” leading all the disciples, and, as SI’s Gabriel Baumgaertner details,  Mauer’s career returns to earth. He never hits more than 11 home runs again, and following a concussion in August 2013, Mauer is never the same hitter for average he was prior to that.

Half of the fans remains loyal to Baby Jesus (including my mom), while the other half felt like he was earning too much dough for the the team to be that bad, for him to get mysterious injuries (bilateral leg weakness), and for him to be a singles hitter.

Mauer brings out the worst in us.

“In Minnesota, we’re hardworking people and don’t like it if you’re being paid and you’re not out there performing,” says former baseball writer Andy Rennecke. Let’s pause to appreciate how stupid this cliche is. You know where else hardworking people live, Andy? Literally everywhere else!

Other critics like to point to that contract as the reason the Twins have had such little success since Mauer signed it. This, of course, is ludicrous. 26 players made over 22MM this year. Aaron Gleeman, Editor-in-Chief of Baseball Prospectus, had this to say:

I think this is true of all sports and all fans in that they will very often side with the billionaires over the millionaires. In Minnesota every dollar is treated as not another player, perception that $23 million has kept them from signing others when the team has not filled their payroll base. The family that owns the Twins are multi-billionaires who own huge businesses around Minnesota. I don’t want them to go nuts, I just want them to spend 51% of their revenue. They don’t do that.

Mauer is an unequivocal success – a story too perfect for even the movies. And yet, he made it hard to fully embrace him as our hero. You gotta win something. You gotta at least make a run, and the Twins simply didn’t, even when Mauer was at his best. The Twins went an astonishing 0-10 in playoff games over Mauer’s tenure (he wasn’t on the 2004 playoff roster), and Mauer had a single playoff RBI.

This a really good read about a hometown hero written from a national writer’s perspective. I think that space and perspective is needed when we’re assessing one of our own. Solid read about a guy we should celebrate, even when his teams didn’t give us much to cheer. – PAL

Source:The $23 Million Question: Why Do Some Twins Fans Despise Hometown Hero Joe Mauer?”, Gabriel Baumgaertner, SI.com (9/25/18)

TOB: Yeesh. 0-10!? I had no idea. I’d love to give Joe Mauer some truth serum and ask him if he regrets re-signing with the Twins. As you note, he would have hit a lot of dingers in New York, and they wanted him. I’m sure he felt a lot of pressure to stay. And maybe he would have felt more pressure in NY. But it’s kind of a Sliding Doors moment; or like Jim Belushi’s character in Mr. Destiny: how is Mauer’s life different if he leaves the Twins in 2009? How is baseball history different? How is Phil’s life different? How is my life different? Consider. The following season, the Yankees lost the ALCS in six games to the Rangers. In that series, Yankees’ catcher Jorge Posada, at the tail end of his career, went 5 for 19 with no homers and 1 RBI. What if that’s peak Mauer instead? Does the series change? Do the Giants beat the Yankees? Who knows. So, thanks Joe, for being loyal to your hometown.

On a tangent, I went to check out the list of Gatorade National Players of the Year for football. It’s a fascinating list, filled with not just NFL busts but college busts. Over the last fifteen years, guys like Tate Martell, Jacob Eason, Justin Worley, Andrew Brown, Max Browne, Garrett Gilbert, Mitch Mustain, Kyle Wright, Brock Berlin, Chris Lewis, Jeff Byers. All were or are barely passable as college starters. Some never even started consistently, if at all. Some are absolute no names. Some ring vague bells in my brain, and I follow college football. Some were complete busts. Maybe they need someone new in charge of selecting the winner for that award (the guys in the 80s and 90s was killing it: Jeff George, Emmitt Smith, Robert Smith, Peyton Manning, for example). This says nothing of my opinion of Mauer, just something I found interesting.


Burn High-Level Amateur Basketball to the Ground and Start Over

This week saw the beginning of the trial of agent Christian Dawkins, Adidas executive James Gatto, and former Adidas operative Merl Code. The three are accused of committing felony wire fraud as part of the FBI’s larger investigation into corruption in basketball recruiting. On Thursday, Brian Bowen Sr. testified. You may recall us writing about Brian Bowen, Jr. about a year ago when he was ruled ineligible after reportedly receiving $100,000 to commit to play basketball at Louisville.

His father’s testimony was…eventful:

According to Bowen Sr., Dawkins told him that Arizona assistant coach Joe Pasternack offered $50,000; Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans offered $150,000 cash, $8,000 for a car and additional money to buy a house; Texas assistant coach Mike Morrell offered to “help me with housing”; and Creighton assistant coach Preston Murphy offered $100,000 and a “good job, a lucrative job.”

Earlier in the week there was testimony that Washington paid current 76er Markelle Fultz, and that Utah paid current Laker Kyle Kuzma. I thought this stuff was going on, but Creighton? Utah? This is all crazy. As Deadspin’s Chris Thompson points out:

The numbers are illuminating. They’re impressive if imagined as a layer of banded stacks of crisp bills inside a briefcase, but in exchange for a year of work from a highly skilled and widely recruited worker whose services will soon be worth tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed money, they’re not much!

Which is what makes this trial kind of ridiculous. Amateur basketball needs to start over. Players should be paid so that these under the table deals don’t occur. Perhaps the craziest thing  it’s not just at the college level either:

Bowen Sr. told the jury that he received $2,000 per month from Shane Heirman for Bowen II to attend La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Indiana. Heirman was the head coach of La Lumiere at the time, and is now an assistant coach at DePaul.

Bowen II began his high school career playing for Dawkins’ Dorian’s Pride AAU program, but moved to the Michigan Mustangs on the Adidas circuit after Adidas program director T.J. Gassnola offered Bowen Sr. $25,000 for his son to play for the Mustangs.

AAU teams playing players is obvious. But high schools are paying for players, too? Yeah, I don’t know how you fix that one.

Source: “Brian Bowen’s Dad Describes Black Market Payments For Top Recruits At Every Level Of “Amateur” Basketball”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (10/04/2018)

PAL: I hate the idea of paying college players, but I don’t see another solution with the athletic companies so entwined in the sport. But does paying them in college stop the jockeying for position in high school and the AAU circuit? Do we let children sign shoe deals? If he decides to go to college, can he then be contractually obligated to only go to a school that has a deal with his shoe maker? At that point, to what degree would the shoe companies essentially running college programs? How much are they already running college programs right now?

TOB: They already are. At least this would be out in the open. I think allowing players to sign endorsement deals is the easiest fix. In every other sport, this isn’t a problem: golf. skiing. tennis. They all sign sponsorships in order to afford equipment, travel, cost of living. It keeps the colleges out of it, solves a lot of the headaches colleges claim, and keeps things above board.


Video of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week – Mogwai – ‘Helicon 1’


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And I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.

-Michael Scott

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Week of September 28, 2018

Watch out for the A’s in October, folks. Do us all a favor and take the Yankees out, boys.


Da Birth of Da Bears 

How about a light, fun sports story this week, eh? It’s one of the most iconic Saturday Night Live sketches of all-time – “Bill Swerski’s Super Fans”:

Of course it was hilarious, and of course it gave us some vintage Farley moments, but the recurring sketch represented more than a couple laughs. In this enjoyable deep dive, The Ringer’s Aln Siegel goes beyond the heart attacks and gets the origin story of Robert Smigel’s brainchild that took over the nation.

Little did Smigel know that he’d created an archetype. His now 30-year-old characters remain the only-slightly-exaggerated embodiment of America’s obsession with sports. Every depiction of a comically devoted fan over the past three decades owes a debt to Smigel’s portly, mustached diehards.

The inspiration for sketch came not at a Bears game, but at a Cubs game.

It was a surreal Chicago moment, one of many Smigel has experienced since his first game at Wrigley back in the early ’80s. That afternoon, when he heard people in the bleachers shouting, “Left field sucks!” and “Right field sucks” at each other, and watched home run balls being thrown back onto the field, he was smitten. “In Chicago, the best seats in the house are the shitty seats,” he said. It’s a lesson that served him well when he created the Super Fans. The irrationally positive, thick-accented men squeezed into Bears jerseys were funny enough to transcend provincialism. After all, every city has a version of those guys.

As with most any great cultural moment, a bunch of seemingly insignificant and unrelated factors coalesced. Chicago teams were having a moment in the 80s (Cubs, Bears, White Sox to a lesser extent) and that was followed with the Bulls run in the 90s. A writer’s strike in ‘88 gave Smigel and fellow SNL writer Bob Odenkirk some time to try some wackier stuff at a stage revue over the summer (Conan O’Brien’s “In The Year 2000” bit came from this same revue). Lastly, the idea of sport reporters sitting around talking about sports as a TV show was just taking off.

There’s so much more in this story, and it’s a treat to read. Loved it! – PAL

Source: Da Story of Da Bears: How an ‘SNL’ Sketch Defined Sports Fandom”, Alan Siegel, The Ringer (9/27/18)

TOB: Loved this! Nice find, PAL.


Another Way to Consider Tiger’s Comeback

Some of you might be aware that TOB and I made a friendly bet before the Masters this year. I said Tiger would win at least one major before next year’s final major – the British Open (the PGA is moving to April next year). Without Tiger, I might watch the back nine of the US Open and the Masters; with him (and our bet), I’ve been locked in. He makes golf matter to the general public. No one moves the needle in his or her sport like Woods.

He’s obviously played much better this year. I thought I was going to win the bet at the British Open and Brooks Koepka was a beast holding him off at the PGA Championship, too. So I wasn’t surprised that he won this past week, but I should be very surprised. Four back surgeries. Four knee surgeries. Setting aside the rehab and personal issues, I have no friggin’ idea how someone swings a golf club like this after repeated back and knee surgeries:

As Josh Planos writes on fivethirtyeight, there’s a different way of contextualizing Woods’ turnaround: strokes gained. As Planos describes it, strokes gained is “a metric that measures each shot a player takes based on how much it reduces his expected score on a hole relative to the field average.”

In other words, I CANNOT wait to be at Pebble Beach next year (1-2-3 Already got the tickets!) to watch Tiger win the U.S. Open amongst a sea of people going bananas, turning to TOB, and simply holding out my hand. – PAL

Source: How Tiger Woods Finally Put It All Together Again”, Josh Planos, fivethirtyeight (9/24/18)

TOB: When Phil asked me for this bet last December, I felt extremely good about it. I gave him 20-1 odds, but only let him bet $5. I figured it was an easy beer he could buy me. But over the last seven months, I am feeling far less confident. Now, I’d probably go no higher than 5-1.

Hell, at the PGA Championship last month, I was half rooting for Tiger on Sunday, as Phil was whoopin’ it up next to me. This was not a very rational thing for me to do, considering it would have cost me $100. Such is Tiger.


The Truth Behind Nike’s Kaepernick Campaign

As I said a few weeks ago, Nike’s Kaepernick campaign, while powerful and I believe Good (capital G), was also a business decision by a billion dollar corporation. This week, some of the details behind how this ad came to be, and, unsurprisingly, I should have been even more cynical than I was.

The ad is powerful, and Nike drew wide praise (and criticism) for it. But as the New York Times reports, it almost didn’t happen.

In the summer of 2017, a debate raged in Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., over whether to cut loose the controversial, unemployed quarterback — and the company very nearly did.”

Ultimately Nike decided the ad would gain “credibility the company would gain with the young, urban market it has long targeted,” and thus “made good business sense despite the risk of angering the N.F.L.”

Worse yet, the decision to actually run the Kaepernick campaign, more than a year after he last played a snap in the NFL, came only after Kaepernick’s lawyers argued that Nike’s decision to “keep him within its stable of sponsored athletes without using him” left Nike in violation of its contractual obligations.

The play seems to have worked. Nike’s stock closed last week at an all-time high of $85. -TOB

Source: “Nike Nearly Dropped Colin Kaepernick Before Embracing Him”, Julie Creswell, Kevin Draper and Sapna Maheshwari, New York Times (09/26/2018)


Video of the Week:


PAL Song of the Week: Khruangbin – “Lady and Man”


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Alright. Jim, to be fair, the conversation wasn’t about planets. At first we were talking about introducing a line of toilet paper. And what part of the human body does one use toilet paper upon? So you draw a line from there to the other planets… and I think by the end we learned a little bit about how small we are.

-M. Gary Scott

Week of September 21, 2018

Who’s ready for the weekend?


Thank God for Golf Digest

Max Adler had been writing a human interest column for Golf Digest titled “Golf Saved My Life”, when he received a letter from Attica Correctional Facility. It was from Valentino Dixon. Since 1991, he’d been serving a murder sentence.

To pass the time, Dixon borrowed issues of Golf Digest from a cellmate and use the images of golf courses as references for his artwork. Dixon had never played golf in his life. After a long time of drawing the holes he saw in the magazine, Dixon began reading Adler’s column, and decided to share his version of the “Golf Saved My Life” prompt. Here’s an excerpt, but please do yourself a favor and read the entire letter here.

I’ve never hit a golf ball. I’ve never set foot on a golf course. Everything I draw is from inside a 6-by-10 prison cell. The first course I ever drew was for warden James Conway. He would often stop by my cell to ask how my appeal was going and to see my drawings. Before he retired, the warden brought me a photograph of the 12th hole at Augusta National and asked if I could draw it for him.

I spent 15 hours on it. The warden loved it, and it was gratifying to know my art would hang in his house. Something about the grass and sky was rejuvenating. I’d been getting bored with drawing animals and people and whatever I’d get out of National Geographic. After 19 years in Attica (N.Y.) Correctional Facility, the look of a golf hole spoke to me. It seemed peaceful. I imagine playing it would be a lot like fishing.

Of course, Adler read the submission. And, as an Art major, he also appreciated Dixon’s work. Eventually, he would hear Dixon out. Dixon told him he was innocent (like everyone else), but Dixon was telling the truth.

After spending twenty-seven years in prison for a murder another person confessed to, Dixon finally walked out this week, thanks in large part to a Golf Digest story.

Many folks were instrumental in getting Dixon out, but it’s pretty incredible to think that a submission to Golf Digest got the wheels turning. As Adler tells it, despite the evidence, it takes a tremendous amount of work from a lot of inspired people to get an innocent man out of prison.

It was kind of five years of an abyss. Just, like, nothing happened. I was probably naive [thinking the] presentation of his case would get him out of jail. It just seemed so obvious to me. But of course it didn’t. It required so much.

What I realized yesterday in Buffalo [where the court released Dixon] was that it was such a cumulation of so many different people. Myself. Golf Digest. Golf Channel, who then picked it up. All the other media that then covered his story. The students from Georgetown University Prison Reform Project. Valentino’s attorneys, Donald Thompson and Alan Rosenthal.

It took so much for the bough to finally break. After five years, I kind of gave up hope.

This is the best and worst kind of story. It’s the best when when coincidence leads to what seemed like an impossible conclusion. It’s the worst because I guy who didn’t commit the crime sat in a prison for over a quarter century. – PAL

Source: How Golf Digest Started A Movement To Free A Man Wrongfully Convicted Of Murder”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (09/19/2018)


Real Story or SNL: Red Sox Fans

I love this. I love this story so much. Oh, these two idiots. I can’t even. The hair, the accents, the star tattoo on the elbow. This is so rich.

As Deadspin’s Samer Kalef calls out, the best from the video is:

“We wanna give it back to them because it belongs to them, and it doesn’t belong to us,” Iacuzzi said. “But in reciprocation, we would like, you know, to maybe go to a nice playoff game or—we’re looking for something. We don’t want to just hand it over to them. We need to negotiate here.”

What’s more, these two choir boys are now accused of stealing the banner, which they deny. Also, we’re talking about a 2018 divisional banner. This isn’t Ted William’s cryogenically frozen melon, you know what I’m saying? Funniest story I’ve read this year. – PAL

Source: These Massholes Found The Missing Red Sox Division Banner, And They’re Willing To Negotiate“, Samer Kalef, Deadspin (09/20/2018)

TOB: LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. The ol’ “it fell off a truck” defense. But my favorite part is their threat to show up to Fenway when the duplicate banner is unveiled as if everyone will be shocked when they reveal the real banner. Also:

A top notch internet comment.


Stephen Jackson: Old, Not a Bum; Andrew Wiggins: Young, No Heart

This week, Jimmy Butler, who is awesome and good, asked to be traded from the cold hellscape that is Minnesota (kiddin, y’all!). In an apparent response, the older brother of Jimmy’s teammate Andrew Wiggins, who seems like he should be awesome and good but you can watch an entire Wolves game and barely notice him, said “Hallelujah!” on social media. The obvious interpretation is that Jimmy and Andrew don’t like each other, but the deeper analysis is that they don’t like each other because Jimmy plays hard as hell and Wiggins is soft as Charmin.

It would have probably ended there, but Stephen Jackson weighed in on Wiggins’ brother’s tweet with the following video (note: Captain Jack sadly pulled his videos from his Instagram. Someone did save them and upload them to YouTube, so stop the first video here at 1:07 so as not to spoil the second:

Jackson is funny as hell and I’ve always been a big fan, so I choose not to ask why he is involving himself in this. Instead, I choose to appreciate the beef it has created. In response, Wiggins posted the following on social media (having previously deleted a nearly identical post in order to be clear he was responding to Jackson):

Captain Jack is Captain Jack, though, and he could not let that stand. While conceding he is 40 and thus old, he could not allow Wiggins to call him a “bum ass”, and took some more shots at Wiggins in the process (skip to 1:07):

What’s weird here, other than Jackson inserting himself into this is the first place, is Wiggins’ complete lack of self-awareness. The man is a former #1 overall pick and is as talented as players come, and yet he is a classic good stats/bad team guy who plays zero defense. Jackson played fifteen years in the NBA, won a title as a key player, was once declared by Tim Duncan to be Duncan’s best teammate ever, spurred the We Believe Warriors of 2007, and was heavily involved in one of the most infamous moments in NBA history (the Malice at the Palace). Who’s the bum ass, Wiggins? -TOB

Source: Timberwolves Drama Turns Into Spicy Internet Beef Somehow Featuring Stephen Jackson”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (09/19/2018)

PAL: It’s not a good look for ex-players to be inserting themselves into these middle-school, social media ‘beefs’. That said, I do like Jackson’s instruction to Wiggins the next time they cross paths: “Keep your hands straight.” That’s a cool line.


You’re Going to Pay Me How Much to Do What?

The Clippers made an interesting move recently, hiring Lee Jenkins from Sport Illustrated to be the team’s “executive director of research and identity”…wait, is there an episode on Silicon Valley playing the background? Director of research and identity? Huh?

Jenkins, as many of you know, is famous for his athlete feature writer at SI. He’s best known for his NBA profiles of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant. Players and their people trust Jenkins to tell their story, and the Clippers see value in Jenkins’ talent even if he’s unclear what the the hell he’s supposed to do.

“Let’s all acknowledge the fact of how incredibly talented he is and his ability to tell stories, connect the dots, highlight the personalities of our players, and what it is going to highlight about the Clipper experience,” Frank said.

Jenkins will report to Frank and Michael Winger, the general manager, and will not have any employees under his purview but will be assisted by the entire front office.

“My hope is that I learn a lot early on especially fast, and I figure out where I can help and where I fit in,” Jenkins said.

There’s also the point that his most recent employer, SI, has been taking on water for quite some time.

Jenkins’s departure comes as Sports Illustrated faces stiff financial setbacks. It has had several rounds of layoffs, and reduced the frequency of its publication to 27 issues a year, from a high of 51 as recently as 2015. Its parent company, Time Inc., was acquired by the Meredith Corporation last year, and Sports Illustrated has been on the auction block for the better part of 2018. Time magazine was bought for $190 million over the weekend, and Sports Illustrated could have a new owner in a matter of days.

Jenkins is well known enough to get paid a good chunk of money to write for any number of sites (I wonder if The Athletic made a run at him), so I’d be surprised if SI’s situation was a deciding factor in this. My bet is he wanted to try something different for a year. As Draper points out, 2019 free agency is going to be loaded, and the Clippers have space to sign two superstars. My guess is Jenkins wants to see it from the inside and write a book from inside the war room.  – PAL

Source: The Los Angeles Clippers Signed a Big Star. From Sports Illustrated.”, Kevin Draper, The New York Times (9/18/18)

TOB: That’s a really good point at the end, and I hadn’t considered it. The entire time reading this I was thinking it was a pure money grab by Jenkins. A journalist going in-house makes him just a PR guy, ya know? But if he’s allowed to write a book about this on the back-end, I can see how this makes sense for him.


Video(s) of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Florence + The Machine – “Hunger”


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You know I always wanted to pretend I was an architect. 

-G. Costanza

On the Force or the Tag: Part V

On The Force or the Tag is a 5-part series recounting my season as a volunteer baseball coach in a city league to which I had no prior affiliation. Along the way, I’ll connect my coaching experiences this season to memories from the four best coaches I had growing up. Kent Anderson, Tony Lang (my brother), Jay Rabeni (my brother-in-law), and Jeff Holm continue to influence how I approach my day and my life. They represent the best-case scenario of youth sports, from Little League to college. This is my thank you to them.

The names of the players, coaches, and family members from the team I coached have been changed. Read earlier sections:

The dugout in which the meeting with Calloway happened. 


Memory is Duct tape. It’ll hold together bits of truth well enough for us to get on with the day.  

The season ended abruptly. My fiance and I had scheduled a trip to Denver on what was to be the final weekend of games. It was not a good look for the coach to be absent, but the last weekend of games were cancelled anyway. They couldn’t find any umpires.  

Following the previous game – what become our last – I told the fellas how much I enjoyed coaching them. I encouraged them to call if they ever wanted me to throw batting practice or hit fungos. There were a few thank yous from parents and players in the parking lot, but no one was pretending the season was more than it was. In total, I coached eight games, one practice, and one batting practice session with Zack.

Regardless of the brevity of the season, these are my guys now. That’s how this coaching gig works. My wish for them is that they find a calling, they work very hard to master that calling, and they feel the buzz of success regularly. If they need me, I hope they know I’ll answer the call.

I enjoyed every player on the team – truly – and they seemed to like me enough, too. If fate would have it so, it would be a welcome surprise to bump into any of my guys in five or ten years and get an update on how things are going.

My account of this season and the relationships forged with these players is just that: one account. In truth, there is a high likelihood that at least one player on this team did not like me. Someone felt that I had picked favorites, and he wasn’t one of them, and that I didn’t know squat about baseball. I would bet these were the topics of conversation at that monument of adolescence – the car ride home from a game with a parent.

Some portion of that story occured. How can I be so sure? Everyone who has ever played a sport at any level has had at least one coach who didn’t mesh, whether the coach knew it or not. My coach was Chris Calloway.  

I framed this series as a thank you to the great coaches throughout my baseball life. What I haven’t mentioned is I’ve spent as much time thinking about Calloway (not his real name), as any other coach I ever had.

I end with Calloway because baseball’s ultimate lesson is failure.

***

The high school field at Roseville. They can keep leveling and re-edging that field until the end of time, but it will always be a crap field. In the background you can see the hill and Highway 36 where we’d have to shag foul balls.

Calloway played the part of a coach convincingly. While he was no tactician, he was pigeon-toed and sauntered across the infield like a coach. He’d yell odd phrases from the dugout – Get foul, you communist whore! –  that sounded gruff, coach-like, but he also tried to pass off obvious objectives of the game as wisdom – you gotta throw strikes, hit the ball hard. He’d chew leaf tobacco and work hopelessly on our p.o.s. high school field during the summer while his dog ran along the fence line. His aura dripped baseball coach, but it wasn’t the real thing.

To Calloway, my enthusiasm for the game was a book picked up, thumbed through, and never read. I was another player to him, and that did not work for me. I worked hard to be more than just another player, and every other coach prior to him had encouraged me. Calloway didn’t care how much I cared. I grew to hate him for that, flatout. I resolved to prove him wrong and extract his respect without ever knowing what evidence would be sufficient proof I’d succeeded.

The goal was a D-I college baseball scholarship. I’d mapped out a plan in detail. 200 swings a day on the tee in the basement. Long-toss three times a week throughout the year. Blocking drills, framing, working out in the gym. I quit hockey – in Minnesota! –  to focus on doing everything I could to reach this goal. These were not sacrifices; I enjoyed every bit of it. I was fifteen, and because high school baseball is played during the spring, that meant I would likely need a scholarship offer after the summer season (Legion ball) of my junior year. I had two years. Not much time.

I started out ahead of schedule. Calloway asked me to join the varsity tryouts during my freshman year. In exchange for catching bullpens, I was allowed to practice with the upperclassmen. There was no chance I was going to make the varsity roster as a freshman – I knew that – but with that time I was able to assess the catcher pecking order in the program up close.

Jack Rose was the senior left-handed cleanup hitter with a cannon arm. Quick hands and a big ass. Borderline all-state catcher. Rose was graduating, and he gave me rides to the tryouts in his wagon. He was not my concern. Nico Roll was my concern.

Roll was one year ahead of me. A three-sport athlete with all of the physical ability to be good-to-great in just about any sport. He was a running back, a winger, and a catcher. He could hit, he could throw, and he could run. These are the measurables that show in a tryout. Nico also thought about Wu-Tang Clan far more consistently than he thought about baseball. That was not something that showed in a tryout. If anything, a lack of interest can be easily misread as an ‘even-keel approach’ in the short time frame of a tryout.

The following year, my task was quite plain coming into tryouts. In order to stay on schedule for a D-I scholarship, I had to beat out Roll at catcher. I was more consistent defensively, a left-handed hitter, and cared about nothing but baseball. I’d been working at it every day since the gym tryouts the previous year.

Roll was a more powerful hitter, and I already mentioned the speed. His best was pretty damn good, but he rarely showed it. Catcher is a position that will make a mess out of a guy if his head isn’t in it. The catcher is the captain on the field, the only one that has the entire field in front of him. To put it in Kent Anderson terms – every ball’s coming to me, know what I’m going to do with it – the catcher needs to know what every player on the field is supposed to do in every situation. Simply too much happens all of the time for someone with an occasional interest in baseball to play the position.

It was hard to tell who had the edge, and I waited for Calloway’s announcement. I finally had to ask. We were walking out by the loading docks in the back of the gym. Roll was going to start. Calloway seemed unsure why he even had to say it out loud.

It was the first moment in my life in which I encountered another’s talent that outweighed my desire. All things weren’t equal. Hard work had not paid off on my expectation, and I’d lost to a guy that didn’t care. Worst of all, Roll was a junior, meaning I’d sit behind him for two years. By the time my senior year would come I would miss most any chance to get a scholarship. This was not the plan.

And then, without warning, Roll was caught dipping in class before the season opener. Mandatory two week suspension. There I was, starting a varsity game as a sophomore playing against Cretin at their legendary diamond in St. Paul. I hit the ball hard a couple times that game, and I remember a walk-off hit against Coon Rapids. After the Coon Rapids game Calloway referred to my hit as something along the lines of a ground ball with eyes.

Cretin-Derham Hall. High school field of Joe Mauer and Paul Molitor. 

I don’t remember much else from those two weeks other than being extremely happy and feeling like I was where I was supposed to be. I played well, I think, and it wasn’t crazy to hope that I’d continue catching after Roll’s suspension. Who knows if the stats would prove my memory correct or not. Memory is Duct tape.

Roll served his suspension and was back into the lineup shortly thereafter. I was the designated hitter for a couple games, and then I was on the bench taking my turn shagging foul balls along Highway 36. I hated shagging foul balls at that field. You had to walk behind parents and students to climb over the chainlink fence and search for a baseball in high grass along the highway as cars and semis blew by. Put on an orange vest, and it’d be difficult to distinguish a bench player from a minimum security prisoner doing highway cleanup.

I was certain Calloway had it out for me and was going out of his way to screw me. He was drawn to athletes over ballplayers. In Minnesota, that meant he liked the hockey players that also played baseball. I’d quit hockey to become a ballplayer.

He liked Roll. Calloway once brought Roll a Sport Illustrated article about the Pirates catcher Jason Kendall. The story is about the two sides of Kendall: the surfer bum and the hard-nosed, always dirty, win-at-any-cost ballplayer with a huge wad of tobacco poking out of his cheek. Roll had the laid back portion of Kendall down (and the tobacco*), but he wasn’t hard-nosed. He wasn’t a ballplayer.

Calloway was trying to inspire Roll. In retrospect, I understand Calloway trying to jumpstart a player, but you can’t coach a kid to care. Kent, my Little League coach, could tell that from a game of catch with a ten year old. Still, it hurt to see Calloway try with Roll and wonder why he wouldn’t try with me.

The easy answer would be that I didn’t need it. That I already had the drive. That, of course, is disingenuous bullshit. I was a teenager, not a monk. How about an ‘atta boy’ every now and again?

At one point, I even had a meeting with Calloway to try to figure out what I could do differently. In a moment I’ll always regret, I had my older brother, Matt, join us in the dugout. I cried. I was failing, and I didn’t know how handle it. That moment remains utterly embarrassing and emasculating.

***

In the end – what do you know – it worked out. It took me a long time before it sunk into my teenage brain that I couldn’t control Calloway. What I could do was keep up with the daily 200 swings off of the tee and keep taking one more step back on the long toss.

You win by outlasting them. You care more for longer, and eventually the people between you and what you want quit. It’s not always the cinematic moment, the walk-off hit. In many ways, success is attrition.

I don’t think Roll even finished his senior year of baseball. What’s more telling – I can’t remember.  

I didn’t get that D-I scholarship, but I got some money to play at Augustana College, a D-II school (2018 D-II National Champs!). We played damn good ball for Coach Holm, and the team rode buses across Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska playing baseball in decaying minor league stadiums and through spring time snowstorms. We caravanned across the gray, wet belly of America on a diet of Euchre and orange peanut-butter crackers.

About to ride back from Greeley, Colorado with a NCC conference championship. Left to Right: Bergie, Wally, Kroeger, Schultzy, O-Dog, yours truly in the headphones, Walzy in the background with the looooooong cargo shorts, and Sammy’s chest far right. 

I was lucky to play a bunch all four years, to be captain two of those years, and to help win the first conference championship in the program’s history. My grandpa, my dad, my brothers got to see me play college baseball. Mom, too. She’d sit watch like a sentinel in that Sioux Falls wind galloping across the Dakota plains.  

I also spent my time sending writing samples to authors, drinking beers with teammates who would become lifelong friends, learning to play the guitar, and streaking across the quad. I read Tim O’Brien, John Fowles, and Steinbeck with a pen in hand and slipped terrible love letters into the shadows beneath dorm room doors.

After all those great times, why do I still think of those days with Calloway? Why do I still want to extract that goddamn, worthless respect out of him? Why does a part of me still need him to know I wasn’t a phony?

What bothered me as a teenager and what bothers me now are different points. As a kid, I wanted to play, to be great, and be recognized for it. As I saw it, Calloway wouldn’t allow that to happen, which of course isn’t entirely true. If I was an obvious D-I scholarship player, I would’ve taken Roll’s starting spot at some point.

As an adult, Calloway’s wasted opportunity bothers me as much as anything. He coached with no joy. It offends me that he held that Varsity Baseball Coach job for years, keeping it away from a coach who could’ve been to other players what Kent, Tony, Jay, and Holm were to me. It also bothers me at how quickly I panicked when Roll was given the starting gig. It took me too long to toughen up and deal with the situation by simply controlling what I could control, which was my effort and attitude.

But If I’m going to write about it like this, if I’m going to critique a man twenty years later, then I need to unwrap the Duct tape and examine all of the bits of truth that remain, not just the ones that fit within my emotional truth.

For as uninterested as I remember him to be, Calloway gave me a key to the baseball storage closet so we could get in the old gym and take B.P. anytime we wanted. That was our practice space throughout the winter, during the time the coach couldn’t be working with the players.

He also must have recommended me for a fall wood bat league that ultimately allowed me to catch the attention of my college coach. He spoke well enough about me to have Augustana offer me a scholarship. Without his endorsement, it is highly unlikely that happens. That is a huge detail I’d overlooked until writing this.

And we need to leave room for one other consideration. When we think of coaches, we let the title stand in for the entire person. We don’t think of them sitting at a cubicle the eight hours before they go to the field, and we can’t imagine them in the role of spouse, parent, son, or daughter. We have no idea what people carry on their shoulders on any given day, month, decade, or lifetime.

I have the right to share this story – my story – but I don’t want to be so self-centered as to not even acknowledge that Calloway was more than a coach, and there were parts of his life I didn’t see that impacted our relationship. These are not excuses, but it’s not always about us. Maybe it’s even rarely about us, and we need to leave space to remember that.

So it’s OK if some of the guys I coached this summer didn’t like me, but I hope they believe I care about them. I hope they work hard so they compete and expect to succeed in the moments when real life is at stake, whether that success comes as a cinematic moment or as the invisible victories of persistance. Kent, Tony, Jay, Holm – that’s what they gave me, and that’s about as big of a gift as it gets.

I also hope they know I will throw them B.P. and hit them fungos until it’s too dark to see. I’ll do it because I love to coach, but I’ll also do it because there’s no place I’d rather be than on a baseball field. – PAL

FOOTNOTES:

*I’m realizing now that tobacco is at the root of this chapter. Calloway chewed while working on the field, Roll was suspended for dipping in class. Kendall always and wad in his cheek, and I took up the nasty habit early in college (and have since quit).

A huge thank you to TOB for reading and editing these five chapters. Over the several years we’ve been doing 1-2-3 Sports!, I’ve come to love his writing and trust his opinion immensely. Also, a big thank you to Jay Kurtis for digging up some vintage pics from Little League, and to my mom and dad for digging up old team photos from cardboard boxes in the basement.

 

Week of September 14, 2018


90s College Football Coach Fashion is “In”

This is one of the weirdest and funniest things I’ve ever read. In the 1990s, and still today but especially then, college football coaches had some terrible style. I mean, look at Bobby Bowden here:

The chunky white shoes. The heavily pleated and baggy khakis. The nearly mono-chromatic jacket/pants combo. That is seriously offensive to my eyes.

But, somehow, and until this article unbeknownst to me, the 1990s college football coach’s fashion is now IN. Like, IN-IN. Like, seriously High Fashion in, as illustrated to hilarious length by Jezebel’s Stassa Edwards. Edwards does a masterful job showing photos of college football coaches from the 90s, like Bowden, Steve Spurrier, and Lou Holtz, and recreating their outfits with the latest from top designers, costing thousands of dollars. For example, this pic of Spurrier?

Edwards recreated it for nearly $2,500, including these horrendously ugly sneakers for $895:

There are a few more examples. The story is creative, funny, and kinda mind-blowing. Fashion is friggin’ weird. -TOB

Source: Get The Look: Khaki-Loving 1990s College Football Coach”, Stassa Edwards, Deadspin (09/12/2018)

PAL: Hilarious. Most enjoyable read of the week.


The Incomparable Aaron Rodgers

Look, y’all know me. You know I’m biased. I’ve told the story on this very blog at least a couple times about how I said Aaron Rodgers would win a Heisman the very first time I saw him throw a pass (he didn’t, but multi-time NFL MVP is even better). But I’m sorry, I just can’t help it, and you’re going to have to sit through another gushing story. It’s not my fault. He’s the best quarterback to ever play the game, and that’s just how it goes.

I got home from a day out with the kids Sunday night just in time to see a Bears linebacker land on Rodgers’ leg early in the game. Rodgers was carted off and I dreaded a second straight season in which I couldn’t share his highlights and strut about my prophetic quarterback scouting skills and laugh in the face of any idiot trying to tell me Brady is better because of the rings.

So, I turned the game off. I let the kids watch CoCo or something. They went to bed, and I flipped back just in time to see Rodgers put the capper on a comeback, all the way from a 20-3 fourth quarter deficit to a win. The man limped back out, probably drugged out of his mind, and did stuff like this:

LOOK AT THAT THROW. ON ONE LEG. You can make fun of me all you want, but it’s throws like that which keep be coming back to football despite its problems.

The Ringer’s Robert Mays, himself a Chicago Bears fan, waxed poetic on how insanely good Rodgers is, and in particular on that throw:

The third quarter came and went without much fanfare, but dread began to creep in for Bears fans at the 13:59 mark in the fourth when Rodgers fired a missile directly into the hands of wide receiver Geronimo Allison for a 39-yard score. The strike—which brought the Packers within 10 points—was vintage stuff, a throw that no other quarterback past or present could have made. Standing on the left hash mark near midfield, Rodgers dropped the ball into a window the size of a shoebox, between the outstretched hand of cornerback Kyle Fuller and the back-right corner of the end zone. The play design was nothing special, the separation minimal, and yet none of it mattered.

The Bears’ party may have been spoiled, but it was spoiled by one of the best to ever do it, as Rodgers channeled the height of his power when a franchise and a fan base needed it most. Chicago’s day may come, but for now, the king in the North remains.

Hell yeah. And to be clear, Rodgers really was hurt and might not play this weekend against the Vikings. Speaking of the Vikes, Xavier Rhodes, one of the best corners in the game, published a Player Tribune article this week, and said:

You ever seen that movie Wanted?

The one where they shoot a gun and the bullet curves?

Well, there was this play against the Packers — it was early in my rookie season, the first time I played against Aaron Rodgers. Jordy Nelson was in the back of the end zone. I wasn’t on him, though. Josh Robinson was. I was underneath. When Rodgers threw it to Jordy, it went right over my head. But right when Rodgers let it go, I knew Jordy wasn’t gonna catch it. The trajectory of the ball was off to the right.

Then, as the pass went over my head, I turned around just in time to watch — and, man, I promise you, the ball bent back to the left, barely missed Josh’s helmet, and dropped right into Jordy’s hands.

I was immediately like, It’s over. If THIS is what the NFL is like, I’m never getting any picks!

A lot of guys had told me that Aaron Rodgers was a different breed, but now I’d had a front-row seat for it. This guy was out there throwing curveballs.

It was great coverage. There was nothing Josh could do. Nothing nobody could do. When we got back to the sideline, it was like those Thanksgiving Day games against Stafford. Our coaches weren’t even mad. They saw the replay on the jumbotron, and our DB coach just shrugged his shoulders and was like, “I don’t know what to tell you.”

And if all that wasn’t enough, we get this late in the week:

I AGREE, TOM. BY GOD, I AGREE. To ape a line or two: Aaron Rodgers is the best there is, the best there ever was, and the best there ever will be. Forever and ever amen. -TOB

Source: Aaron Rodgers Hero Ball Is the Bears’ Recurring Nightmare”, Robert Mays, The Ringer (09/10/2018); The 7 Best Players in the NFC North. Period”, Xavier Rhodes, The Players Tribune (09/11/2018)

PAL: Can a person get a restraining order on someone else’s behalf? 


Sisters of the Poor Fat with Cash

I saw the headline and I knew I’d be sharing this story. Early in the college football season, we see a lot of lopsided scores. The big-timers from the power five conferences schedule ass-kickins with smaller schools from conferences we’ve never heard. Every once in a decade, we get a stunner like like Appalachian State beating Michigan, but most every time it’s an ass-kicking.

The smaller schools do it for the money, and the money is better than ever.

It seems like a no-brainer for a school like San Jose State. The players love the opportunity to play in front of 100,000 fans in Austin and potentially catch someone’s attention. The fans love traveling to iconic college football stadiums, and the revenue goes a long way in helping keep the 21 other teams at the school up and running.

The cost of flying a team, coaches, staff, school officials and equipment across the country and paying for hotels and meals can eat up as much as $100,000 from the payout. But even after taking that into consideration, there’s plenty left over.

San Jose State has a $26.5 million annual athletics budget, with which it fields 22 varsity teams, 13 of them for women. A school needs to have 16 overall teams to stay in Division I of the NCAA. Nearly 6 percent of this year’s budget — $1.525 million — will come from the school’s two big revenue games (Oregon $1 million; Washington State $525,000).

The Chronicle’s Tom FitzGerald writes a no-nonsense article clearly explaining something I’ve always wondered about. I can’t ask for anything more from a sports story. – PAL

Source: College Football ‘Revenue Games’: How San Jose State Makes Millions,” Tom FitzGerald, The Chronicle (09/13/2018)

TOB: I’m a bigger college football fan than Phil, so this article was not news to me, but I do want to point out this amazing coachspeak by SJSU’s head coach, when:

“I think you get beat up playing football,” he said. “We got beat up just as much playing Cal Poly last year as we did playing Texas or Utah. Football’s a physical game. Sometimes there’s a certain amount of good fortune in staying healthy.


RIP Jeff Lowe

I didn’t know of Jeff Lowe before reading this story, but his passing really got to me after reading about him. There is something so thrilling and primal to great climbers. To watch them climb is to witness someone truly alive. For a man who climbed routes thought impossible to die from a degenerative disease feels unnecessarily cruel. I mean, how cool is this guy:

There is something incredibly powerful in the simplicity of climbing. Get to the top. I envy people like Jeff Lowe. In a time when I feel I’m acquiring more, I see these people who care about one thing, and shed the rest. From afar, it’s romantic and inspiring. – PAL

Source: “Jeff Lowe, Pathfinder Up the Face of Mountains, Is Dead at 67”, Daniel E. Slotnick, The New York Times (09/11/2018)


Video of the Week


PAL Song of the Week – Elton John – “Son Of Your Father”


Tweet of the Week


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I can do six weeks standing on my head. I’m a sexual camel.

– George Costanza

Week of September 7, 2018

People who have birds for pets. Man, I just don’t know. 


Nike’s Amoral But Important Kaepernick Ad

The biggest story in sports this week was Nike’s powerful ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, which they unveiled on Labor Day:

It was the 30 year anniversary of their first “Just Do It” ad. I, for one, applauded. Nike, as it turns out, has been paying Kaepernick the last two years as the NFL has either colluded to keep him out, or collectively and cowardly refused to hire him for fear of the “distraction”. Nike will also be kicking off a larger ad campaign around Kaepernick, including a Kaepernick line of apparel. Later in the week, they even released a video ad:

They are doing it, and doing it big.

A lot of words were written about this story, but I thought the best came from The Ringer’s Michael Baumann. His story succinctly summarized the events leading up to this, and then provided a quick explanation of Nike’s motivations; they are a billion dollar corporation after all. But Baumann closes with this explanation of why, though, Nike’s business decision is still important:

Nike betting on Kaepernick is encouraging for those of us who find his message not only inoffensive but worthy. A major corporation has put a financial stake in the idea that the people who either oppose Kaepernick’s message or choose to misunderstand it are a small minority whose arguments can be ignored. Amoral though it may be, Nike apparently believes that people who believe in racial equality are more numerous, and more passionate, than those who oppose it. It’s comforting to know that someone does.

Amen. -TOB

Source: Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (09/04/2018)

PAL: Wieden + Kennedy, Nike’s creative agency, knows exactly what it’s doing. They show the extraordinary sports stories in all shapes and colors – they’ve been doing it for decades – from sports icons like LeBron to “regular” folk living inspired lives. I know I’m inspired by the athletes captured in this ad. Yep, they are good at making a commercial that makes me want to get off my ass and go for a run. But don’t confuse Nike as anything other that a business first.  

Nike might now be a social justice warrior in the pejorative online shorthand but is practically antithetical to the concept in any other context. Nike is a for-profit company, worth tens of billions of dollars. You can’t build a multi-billion-dollar company from scratch in 54 years if social justice is anything approaching a primary concern. Companies like Nike are by nature aggressively amoral.

So people can burn their Nike stuff and rip the company to shreds in the name of patriotism, but know that a multi-billion dollar business with a market research division the likes of which is hard to imagine, has made a bet that most of us understand why Kaepernick went to a knee. He isn’t as bad for business as the people who speak out against him are. Those folks shouldn’t take it personally; it’s just business.


Minor League Angel Investor

Michael Schwimer, 32,  didn’t have much of a career as a big league baseball player, but his company, Big League Advance, could make a tremendous impact on the lives of many minor leaguers living on less than minimum wage.

As Jack Dickey summarizes in his SI column, Schwimer’s company, Big League Advance, proposing a solution to a problem for many minor league players:

[T]he company offers baseball players lump-sum payments now in exchange for an agreed-upon share of any future MLB salary. Players pick the percentage of their MLB paychecks to sign away—the model spits out only a nonnegotiable price per percentage point. To date the company has signed 123 players with an average payment in the neighborhood of $350,000, and it plans to sign hundreds more.

A little bit of math brings you to the conclusion that Schwimer and his team of analysts are looking for a minority of players that actually make to a big league contract in order to generate the majority of the revenue needed to turn a profit. The business model also offers a compelling financial option to the minor leaguers who continue to be classified as season apprentices, which means many of them make less than $1,000 per month.

…Similar models have long existed in golf and boxing and other non-team sports. Wealthy benefactors stake a young pro as he works his way up; in exchange, once he advances, the athlete kicks a predetermined share of his winnings back to his investors. If there are no winnings, the investor is out of luck. Baseball wouldn’t at first seem to need such a model: Boxers and golfers are independent contractors, responsible for all their own travel and training expenses, while baseball players are employees, who travel on team buses and receive instruction from the team’s coaches at the team’s own facility.

But that’s where the sorry state of minor-league pay comes into play. Players without large signing bonuses to spend simply aren’t able to afford healthy food and offseason training; with BLA’s cash they can.

If BLA is in the futures game, then it needs to be able to see value before everyone else, and in the era of sabermetrics, that’s not as easy as understanding that wins for a pitcher or batting average for a hitter aren’t the most telling of stats. Not only does the model have to see value sooner, it likely has to value different data points. All of this is used to set a non-negotiable price per percentage point of future earnings.

Turns out that model, if it produces results, is valuable to more than just setting a value between BLA and a minor leaguer. In fact, there’s easier money, with nowhere near the upfront cost, in selling the data directly to the teams.

The company is two years old and it’s already raised $150MM and some real sports data big-timers have joined the team. I am no financial wiz, so I am naturally intrigued by this concept. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the next big thing in baseball, and I wouldn’t be shocked if this turns out to be some white collar crime. Either way, it’s an intriguing idea. – PAL

Source: Future Considerations: Why Ex-MLB Pitcher Michael Schwimer Is Investing in Minor League Longshots”, Jack Dickey, SI.com (09/04/2018)

TOB: I think this sort of thing has been going on a while – as I recall, some company did or does this with student loans. I find it rather parasitic, but I do see how it helps minor league players in the short-term. Maybe if MLB paid them a livable wage they wouldn’t have to give away future earnings.


Football as Told By a Non-Fan

God, this killed me. A writer who doesn’t watch football but has seen some games at various places in her life explained the rules of football as she understands them. A sample:

The teams flip a coin to determine who gets to go first. The team that goes first holds the ball and throws it to each other. The quarterback does the throwing. Usually the point of the first throw, and every first throw after a team gets the ball during the game, is to trick the other team into thinking that they are going to throw it somewhere else. After that, the other players throw the ball around while trying to get closer to the finish line or end zone. When a player loses control of the ball because he’s tackled or drops it and someone on the other team picks it up, the game reverses direction. It goes on like this for a long time.

She gets some right, some wrong. But her ending nails it:

At the stadium, the chicken fingers are great. At home, it’s all about the dips.

It’s true! No one denies this! -TOB

Source: The Rules of Football As I Understand Them”, Katie McDonough, Deadspin (09/06/2018)

PAL: Chicken fingers are the worst.

TOB: You’re REALLY going to enjoy what we’re doing this weekend, that everyone will read about next week.


Yeah, Sure, Shorten Men’s Tennis Grand Slam Matches to Three Sets

Tennis is a sport that I somehow spend 10x more time reading (or writing) about than actually watching the sport. Basically if Federer is in a Grand Slam Final, I drag myself out of bed to watch because I think it’s cool that he’s still winning at his age. But other than that, my tennis exposure is limited to Sportscenter highlights and articles that I read. Which is why, while reading this article, I found out something rather fundamental to the sport: previously I thought all men’s matches were best-of-five sets and all women’s matches are best-of-three sets. But as it turns out most men’s matches are also best-of-three sets, and only the Grand Slam events are best-of-five. Well, I’ll be damned.

As I don’t watch tennis, generally, this doesn’t affect me in the slightest, but I have to say this makes sense: why change the rules for the Grand Slams? Why have any sporting event take six hours, as many men’s best-of-five set matches take? Andy Murray may have put it best:

“As a player, I really like best-of-five; it’s been good to me,” he said. “I feel like it rewards the training and everything you put into that. But then, when I sat and watched the match — that Nadal-del Potro match in the commentary booth — it was an amazing match, it was a brilliant match, but it was really, really long to sit there as a spectator for the first time.”

The match, which lasted 4 hours 48 minutes — long, but well shorter than either of the subsequent men’s semifinals — disrupted Murray’s day.

“That evening I had a meeting planned, and I missed my dinner,” he said. “People that are sitting there during the week watching that all, I don’t think you can plan to do that. A lot of people are going to be getting up and leaving the matches and not actually watching the whole thing. The people while in the stadium loved it, but I don’t think it — as well, what happened in the semifinals — is good for tennis.”

So, sure. Makes sense. Cut it to three. Many agree, but as you can imagine, many don’t. The article delves into the competing arguments. -TOB

Source: Men Should Play Best Of Three Sets, And Anyone Who Says Otherwise Is A Weenie Like ESPN’s Brad Gilbert”, Laura Wagner, Deadspin (09/05/2018)

PAL: That’s so odd that the majors have different rules than the rest of the tournaments. I don’t care how many sets they play, but I found this rationale for 3 sets confusing:

In today’s professional tennis, racquets are more technologically advanced than ever before, players hit harder than ever before, conditioning is better than ever before, and as a result, the rallies last way longer than ever before.

I don’t understand how better racquets and hitting the ball harder work in concert with better conditioning to make rallies last longer. Wouldn’t hitting the ball harder with a better racquet make rallies shorter, which is countered by better conditioned players?

TOB: Yeah, I think it’d make sense if they left out the “players hit harder” part, and left it at the racquet technology, which makes shots more accurate. Either way, it seems the results are the same: the matches have gotten way longer.


OHTANI WATCH

It’s been a while, let’s see what our hero Sho has been up to…

OH NOOOOO! On Wednesday morning the Angels announced Shohei needs Tommy John surgery. This is terrible news for baseball fans everywhere, as we’ll not see Ohtani smashin’ dingers and throwin smoke until, likely, the 2020 season.

Sorry, I’m getting word of some new developments. I see. Ok. Well, despite needing TJ surgery on his pitching elbow, Ohtani went ahead and DH’d that night. He hit a dinger.

Ah, yes, I’m being told he hit another.

Mmhm, ok. Yes, I’m being told he went 4-for-4 with those 2 dingers and a walk. With an elbow that is barely connected. He’s not human! I sure hope we see him back sooner than 2020. He finishes his pitching season an ERA of 3.31 and he struck out 11 batters per 9 innings. Thus far, he’s hit 18 dingers in just 249 ABs, and an OPS of .946. He’s real good. -TOB

Source: Shohei Ohtani, Who Needs Tommy John Surgery, Is Still Out Here Smashing Dingers”, Laura Theisen, Deadspin (09/05/2018)

PAL: Ohtani will pitch less than 300 innings in his major league career. I wish it weren’t so, but that’s the way I’m seeing it.


Video of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Khruangbin – “Maria Tambien”


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I found the best tentist on the east coast. He personally tented Giuliani’s first and third weddings. And I got him. I got him!

-Nard Dog

1-2-3 Sports! Week of August 31, 2018

2018 Little League World Series Champs: Hawaii


Why Is Tennis So Concerned About Women’s Wardrobes?

The U.S. Open started this week, and the early round matches were overshadowed by two stories of men trying to control women’s bodies, and the clothes they wear on those bodies while they play tennis.

First, before the tournament began, the head of the French Federation, in charge of the French Open, which took place, uh, back in May and June, announced that the cat suit that Serena wore during the French Open this year would be banned in the future. Let’s set aside why the hell this announcement was made now (seriously, I can’t figure out why), and consider why it was made at all. Here’s a picture of Serena at this year’s French Open in the cat suit.

It’s tight, sure, but she’s covered from neck to ankle. Compare this to most women’s players, who play in tank tops and skirts or tight shorts. So, what’s the big deal? Why the ban on the cat suit? This reeks of a racist double standard, if you ask me. Serena previously said the outfit is functional, as she’s been dealing with blood clots and the tight outfit promotes circulation. She also said it makes her “feel like a warring.” To her credit, though, she shined this idiot on, saying that she’d never wear the same outfit twice, anyways. I also liked the response of her sponsor, Nike:

Damn right.

If all that wasn’t enough, during the early rounds of the U.S. Open, French player Alize Cornet (damn, what a cool name), was penalized for “changing her clothes” on the court. Here’s the video:

Cornet had previously been wearing a dress, but because it was so damn hot that they’ve instituted special heat breaks during the tournament, she changed (off court) during a break into this shirt/skirt combo. When she got on the court, she realized the shirt was on backwards and *gasp* quickly flipped it around, revealing *gasp* a sports bra! The match umpire penalized her pursuant to a rule prohibiting “players” from changing clothes on the court.

First, if I were her lawyer, I’d be jumping up and down about this because while she did briefly remove her shirt, she did not change her clothes. Same clothes, bro. Where’s the change?

Second, and please sit down because this is going to shock you, but this rule about changing clothes on the court does not apply to the men, who often change shirts on the court without issue. No, I know. It’s crazy. Come on. Didn’t we get over this nearly twenty years ago when Brandi Chastain won the World Cup and tore off her jersey to reveal her sports bra? Are we really going to roll back all this progress?

It would be nice, as Billy Jean King said, and my mom echoed, this week, if men would stop policing women’s bodies. -TOB

Source: The French Open’s Banning of Serena Williams’s Catsuit Defies Explanation”, Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated (08/26/2018); U.S. Open Umpire Hits Alize Cornet With A Bizarre Code Violation Because She Briefly Took Off Her Shirt”, Laura Wagner, Deadspin (08/28/2018)

PAL: First and foremost, no one gets to tell Serena Williams anything. You could make the case that she’s a top-5 athlete of all-time.

Yeah, I watched the HBO docuseries Being Serena, and you should, too. While it’s a bit of a puff piece, it also shows what an absolute badass, smart, thoughtful, super athlete she is. The French Federation needs Serena a hell of a lot more than she needs the French Open. What’s more, the argument made no sense. She’s had a history of life-threatening blood clots. The outfits promote circulation. Full stop.

As for the Cornet story: the umpire sucked that day. I don’t want to go as far as to call him a coward, but he really sucked that day. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the guy that memorized the rule book and stopped thinking for himself before he could buy a beer. He saw Cornet doing something completely normal – shit, I put my shirt on backwards – and his first thought was (in a computer voice) “Is this an infraction? I am told yes. Must punish pursuant to the rule book.”

I will give the US Open credit for setting the record straight, and doing so in plain English:

TOB: Kudos to the US Open. Thanks for pointing that out. Also, a question for you, bud, that came up after a fantasy football draft this week: Is Serena the greatest athlete of our generation (we went with anyone born beginning January 1, 1980)? I said LeBron edges her out. Like Serena, he’s arguably the greatest to ever play his sport, but I give him the nod because being great in a team sport is tougher than a solo sport, in my opinion. I am splitting hairs here, but Serena only has to worry about Serena. LeBron has to win with guys who do things like forget the score of the game in the closing seconds. Another possibility: Pujols, who made the cut by 16 days.

PAL: The team wrinkle is a good point, TOB, but giving birth seems like a pretty big hurdle for an athlete. Other athletes that come to mind:

  • Simone Biles – she might be the strongest candidate of the bunch. Seems to be considered the greatest ever in her sport.
  • Shaun White – Revolutionized one sport (snowboarding), became one of the best in another sport (skateboarding) – icon of the alternative sport generation.
  • Usain Bolt – I know he was just running, but he expanded the spectrum of human capability. To watch him run at his peak was otherworldly.
  • Michael Phelps – without a doubt the best swimmer ever. However, this is ostensibly an individual sport with an inordinate amount of medals up for grabs.
  • Too soon, but Mike Trout career is on an unprecedented trajectory. Needs to win something.
  • Messi & Cristiano Rinaldo…but neither of them have won a world cup.

Harbaugh’s Gotta Win Now

On February 3, 2013 Jim Harbaugh was coaching against his brother in the Super Bowl. On December 30, 2014, Harbaugh was introduced as the head football coach at Michigan. That does not happen. Young NFL coaches who bring a team to the Super Bowl don’t find themselves back in college within 2 years.

I can say I’d never seen up close anything like Harbaugh’s rise from Stanford to the Niners, and then to Michigan. This was a guy who could turn around a football program very quickly and compete with the very best. And he seemed to do it by willing it to be so. The more he won, the more his oddities shown through, which was charming and fun because he was winning.

I find the Harbaugh sideshow compelling, but The Ringer’s Roger Sherman writes the hell out of this story in explaining why Harbaugh and his antics just might be at a crossroads this season. Why is that? Because 8-5, Michigan’s record last year, makes Harbaugh’s hot milk takes and recruiting antics a little less charming. Because a Harbaugh team has zero wins against Ohio State and is 1-2 against Michigan State. A Michigan Man he might be, but the Wolverine honeymoon is officially over.

One of the major differences between his previous stops and Michigan comes down to the quarterback position:

At each of these stops, Harbaugh’s strength was coaching quarterbacks. In San Diego he coached Josh Johnson, who was named a finalist for the 2007 Walter Payton Award—the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy—and became the first Toreros quarterback to reach the NFL. At Stanford, Harbaugh coached Andrew Luck, who was the runner-up for the actual Heisman in 2010 and 2011, got drafted no. 1 overall in 2012, and now appears in stock brokerage ads in between injuries. Harbaugh coached Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers, and Kap emerged as one of the most dynamic playmakers in recent memory. Now, he donates a lot of money to charity while being called the antichrist by about 40 percent of the country.

You’ll notice none of those QB success stories come from Michigan. In his three years there, Harbaugh hasn’t yet found one that’s been good. The opportunity appears to be presenting itself this year:

Now Michigan has Shea Patterson, a transfer from Ole Miss and the top quarterback recruit in the class of 2015. Patterson, ostensibly, is the block of raw quarterbacking talent Harbaugh has been waiting to sculpt.

The major difference between Michigan and every other job Harbaugh’s had is this: it’s not a stepping stone. Returning to Michigan was the “coming home” move. While he surely could go back to the NFL, he’s entering his fourth season at Michigan, which equals his longest tenure at University of San Diego, Stanford, and the 49ers. He was able to turn it around quickly at each of those stops. Maybe it’s just taking Harbaugh a little bit longer at Michigan, but he’s getting paid too much money (north of $7MM per year) for much more patience.

 

Sherman puts it this way: “This is the year for Harbaugh to prove there’s a method to his madness. Because if not, he’s just a weirdo getting paid extravagantly to produce mediocrity for a program used to excellence.”

Solid read. Great writing. – PAL

Source: The Fading Novelty of Jim Harbaugh”, Roger Sherman, The Ringer (8/29/18)

TOB: I have more than a couple thoughts on this. First, Harbaugh’s turnaround at Stanford was absolutely miraculous. That team was so bad, it’s hard to believe now. They got destroyed by everyone. Hell, they lost to FCS teams. Before Harbaugh, they hadn’t been to a bowl game in 8 years, under Ty Willingham. In the previous 5 years, they went 16-40.

But what people don’t remember is that the turnaround did not happen overnight. In his first 3 seasons, Harbaugh went 4-8, 5-7, and 8-5, before exploding in 2010 at 10-1, capped off by a win in the Orange Bowl. It took Harbaugh a few years to recruit the guys he wanted – big, tough, smart. He recruited so many tight ends, it became a joke. But he converted those kids, cleanly or not, into defensive lineman and offensive lineman. And suddenly he had a fast and athletic but strong team. They manhandled their opponents. The turnaround in San Francisco was more immediate, but looking back the Niners had a similar squad.

It must be noted that while Michigan was not as bad before Harbaugh as Stanford was before Harbaugh, the previous two Michigan coaches, Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, combined to go 46-42. Harbaugh stepped in and went 10-3, 10-3, 8-5.

Yes, he’s struggled to develop a quarterback at Michigan. But I disagree with Sherman’s assertion that his previous turnarounds were all because Harbaugh developed a QB. At Stanford, his first two seasons he did not have any notable QB. In fact, Stanford fans were mad that Harbaugh let Luck redshirt his freshman year instead of getting him in there. As I said above, Harbaugh’s Stanford teams (and his 49er teams) were built on very good offensive and defensive lines. That takes time to develop in college – you have to change the culture and recruit.

Besides, on quarterback issue, as Sherman notes, Harbaugh will have Shea Patterson this year. Shea is the real deal. I mean, yes, Cal got a pick six against him last year to seal a Golden Bear win, but the dude can drop dimes.

Point is: I’m not in the business of doubting Jim Harbaugh. He’s proved too many people wrong too many times. Also, give me 28 wins over 3 years PLEASE.


Barry Bonds + Beetle = End of Ash Baseball Bats

When I think of a wooden baseball bat, I see a Louisville Slugger. I wouldn’t know it before reading this article, but I actually see an ash bat. For much of the 20th Century, ash bats were the standard in the hands of big leaguers, but the same cannot be said for the 21st Century. We are now in the days of maple bats. Vince Guerrieri’s story is a exploration of why maple has become the wood of choice of over 70 percent MLB players.

Reason number one: Barry Bonds.

Bonds hit his first 400 or so home runs using Louisville Slugger ash bats, but he had switched to maple by the time he hit the two big milestone homers of his career: No. 73 in 2001 and no. 756 six years later. When Albert Pujols knocked in 130 runs for a National League rookie record in 2001, he did so with a maple bat, as did Miguel Cabrera in 2012 when he became baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years.

Bonds was turned on to maple bats by way of Joe Carter. Carter, who had spent the prime of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, was given a maple bat after a local carpenter, Sam Holman,  had been tinkering with different types of wood. Earlier, he’d had a conversation with a lifer baseball scout who was complaining about how easily ash bats were breaking.

Carter loved the feel, the sound, i.e., the intangibles of the bat. He brought his passion for maple to San Francisco (and to Bonds) when he was traded near the end of his career

So Bonds is jacked up and hitting a homerun every 6.52 at bats (still an absolutely staggering stat, regardless of what he was on) with a maple bat. That same year (2001) Albert Pujols was setting records with a maple bat as well. His 130 RBI in his rookie season remains an NL record. If I’m a player in 2001, I wouldn’t need to see any data. I’d just say, “Give me whatever bat Pujols and Bonds are using.”

One year later, scientists discover another problem for ash bats:

In 2002, scientists discovered the emerald ash borer, an insect native to northeastern Asia, in southeastern Michigan. The beetle eats the tree’s leaves, but the females lay their eggs inside the tree—and the larvae tunnel through the tree, feeding off it and ultimately killing it within one to three years. By 2016, the emerald ash borer could be found in 25 different states—including New York and Pennsylvania, home to most of the ash trees used for baseball bats—killing an estimated 50 million ash trees in the United States. Maple bats, all other things being equal, are more expensive than ash, but the emerald ash borer is making ash scarcer, to a point where, Rathwell said, ash might become as expensive as maple.

As interesting as the beetle subplot is, it doesn’t have any impact on MLB player’s preference. If they want an ash bat, then there’s still plenty of ash to provide baseball bats for what I’m guessing +/- 1,000 players to hit in a major league baseball game over the course of a season*.

The real question is whether or not maple outperforms ash, and the answer is no.

The rise of maple bats has come as baseball has seen an increase in strikeouts and home runs, but again, relation does not imply causation. Jim Sherwood of the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, said the conclusion of a 2005 study was that the ball goes just as far off maple as it does off ash. Lloyd V. Smith, an engineering professor at Washington State University, went even further, telling the Washington Post, “If Barry Bonds had not been swinging maple when he broke that record, I don’t think anybody would even be talking about maple right now.”

I encourage you to click-through to the article to find some really great anecdotes about the history of the baseball bat. It’s legitimately fascinating. -PAL

* Napkin math that gets me to around 1,000 players to hit in a MLB game – Multiple the following by 30 (number of MLB teams):

  • 25-man roster for much of the season MINUS AL pitchers
  • Mid-season call-ups PLUS additional 15 players on the expanded rosters
    • A good chunk of 40-man roster is made up of pitchers
    • AL pitchers don’t hit
    • NL relief pitchers rarely hit

Source: How Maple Bats Kicked Ash And Conquered Baseball”, Vince Guerrieri, Deadspin (8/28/18)


An Insight into Baseball Prospect Rankings

This year, 19-year old rookie Nationals’ outfielder Juan Soto exploded onto the scene, doing things at 19 that no one has ever done.

Before the season, his average ranking was 42nd across Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, FanGraphs, and ESPN – the four major rankings services. He was called up on May 20, and immediately started destroying major league pitching, with an OPS of .998. No one saw this coming, except for former Nats’ GM and current contributor to The Athletic, Jim Bowden, had Soto as his 7th best prospect before this season.

So, how does a player that good slip, relatively speaking, under the radar? Two simple answers: lack of minor league at bats. Soto suffered a couple of injuries the last two years, and as a result had only gotten 147 at bats above rookie ball. And in those at bats, he only hit three dingers. Still, he must have been passing the eye test – how else to explain a prospect even being ranked Top 50 with so few at bats? So, I’m giving the scouting services a break on this one. Even if his low ranking did cause me to pass on him in early May in my prospect keeper league. Grr. Anyways, click the link. Lots of interesting stuff on how scouting works. -TOB

Source: How Did Juan Soto Surprise So Many of Us?”, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (08/28/2018)


Ode to Manu

Upon his retirement, I’d just like to take a moment to say thank you to Manu Ginobili, one of the best, most entertaining, and most innovative players of his generation. Manu popularized (if not invented) the so-called Eurostep (though he’s not European).

He played with a joy that was infectious, which made him impossible to hate, even when he was crushing your team in the biggest moments of the game. Spurs fan Shea Serrano writes lovingly about Manu, and what he meant to that team and that city. It’s a good read, and a solid tribute to a guy who deserves it:

He is, in all ways and in every way, beloved in San Antonio: an untouchable, unimpeachable, unassailable cultural figure. Nobody who has ever worn a Spurs jersey has ever been more beloved than Manu Ginobili. (Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were also both supremely beloved, but Tim, a savant so gifted that he always existed above the fray, was a basketball god we worshipped from afar, and Tony, the little brother of the trio, always seemed just out of reach.) Even in Manu’s extra-worst moment, and even after having been deemed the reason his team lost the most coveted thing in professional basketball, the idea of trading him was simply too outlandish, too dumb, too inconceivable to tolerate for even one second. That’s Manu in San Antonio. That’s San Antonio with Manu.

There’s also a great anecdote that says so much about what it means to be a fan, which brings both so much good and so much bad, after Manu played horribly in the 2013 NBA Finals, which the Spurs lost to the Heat in 7 games:

But so everyone was fussing about Manu and saying this and saying that and pointing out how bad he looked and yelling about how much he hurt the team (“DANNY GREEN WAS PLAYING LIKE AN MVP AND MANU COULDN’T MAKE A LAYUP?!”) and blah blah blah. And it was all very bad and very negative. And so finally, after what felt like six hours of talking but was probably somewhere nearer to 10 minutes, one of the younger cousins asked, “Do you think the Spurs can get anything good for him when they try to trade him this summer?” And the first uncle, the very vocal leader of the Anti-Manu Coalition that had formed in the backyard, looked at him. He looked as dead at him as anyone has ever looked dead at someone. And he said — and I will never forget this — he said: “You can’t fucking trade Manu Ginobili. He’s Manu Ginobili!” Then he took a big breath. Then he yelled, “HE’S MANU GINOBILI!”

I’m not a Spurs fan, but my favorite Manu moment is this one, against the Sacramento Kings, on Halloween night in 2009.

Yes, a bat interrupted the game, and as crew members struggled to catch it, Manu sized it up and then just swatted it out of midair. He swatted a BAT out of the sky! On Halloween night, of course. Then he picked up the bat, like it was NBD, and handed it off to someone to get rid of. What a boss. We’ll miss you, Manu! -TOB

Source: Manu Forever: Reflecting on the Retirement of a Legend”, Greg Wiss, Sactown Royalty (08/27/2018)


Post-Concussion Symptoms, as Told by a Loved One

Giants outfielder Mac Williamson started the year on fire. He crushed AAA pitching so severely, that he forced the Giants to call him up to the bigs. And for four glorious games, he continued his hot streak in the majors. But in the fifth inning of a game against the Nationals on April 24th, while tracking down a pop fly in left field, Mac stumbled on the bullpen mound and crashed into the wall.

It was scary, but Mac seemed ok. In fact, he stayed in the lineup and in the bottom half of the inning he crushed a dinger, his 3rd in 5 games for the Giants. But soon after, he was pulled from the game, and was later diagnosed with a concussion. Mac, the team, and the fans, hoped he’d miss a short time and then return to lockdown the left field spot, giving the Giants their first home run hitting threat there since Bonds retired over a decade ago.

Things did not go as hoped. As told on her blog by Mac’s girlfriend, Kaitlyn Watts, Mac has suffered from post-concussion symptoms for over four months, unable to concentrate, needing extreme amounts of sleep in order to function, among other things. It’s sad and scary.

But what’s crazy to me, reading this, is to not only read how badly this affected him, but how long it has done so and compare it to how concussions keep football players only a week or two, at most. Similarly, the Yankees Clint Frazier has missed basically the entire season because of a concussion. Brandon Belt has missed large parts of two seasons to concussions. And football players get knocked out cold and come back the next week? Football is in trouble.

As for Mac, Kaitlyn reports that he is finally doing better, after recently shutting down baseball activities for the year. Hopefully Mac returns next year, and picks up where he left off – crushing dingers. -TOB

Source: Dealing with Mac’s Concussion”, Kaitlyn Watts, The Lymey Gypsy (08/27/2018)

PAL: What’s crazy to me is that someone other than the Cleveland Cavs owner still chooses to type Comic Sans.

Williamson’s story is no-doubt scary. And I agree – the length of time during which he’s simply not himself reinforces something we all need to understand – that not all concussions are the same and they affect people differently.

Having said that, reading Watts is like reading a homecoming queen’s diary.

TOB: COLD. BLOODED.


Newsflash: A Player Being Disoriented is Not Funny

Miami Dolphins’ linebacker Kiko Alonso made a tackle in a game last week that caused him to be so disoriented he ran to the wrong sideline. It looked to me like he was so disoriented that even as coaches from the other team were telling him he was on the wrong sideline, he seemed to be completely bewildered by what they were saying for a few seconds.

his was not funny. This was scary. Why, then, are the idiot announcers chuckling along at this? Is it the 1980s? Don’t we know better by now? Geeze. I hope Alonso was given tests for a concussion before he re-entered the game. -TOB

PAL: I think you need see the video that includes the hit for folks to get an idea that, yep, he definitely smacked his head on that play.

It seems like an otherwise light moment in a pre-season game, but these are the clips are kids will watch in fifteen years when we know even more about concussions. They’ll look at us incredulously, and ask, “People thought it was funny?”


VIDEO OF THE WEEK

South Tahoe High School’s “It’s Never Over Till It’s Over.” God, it’s even better than I remember from when I was a kid. Incredible shot.


PAL Song of the Week – R.E.M. – “Strange Currencies”


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You give me a gift? Bam! Thank You note. You invite me somewhere? Pow! RSVP. You do me a favor? Wham! Favor returned. Do not test my politeness.

– Drew Bernard