Week of May 24, 2019

Come on back to where you belong, Philly.


1-2-3-4-5-6-8

It is always a good sign when a story includes a video link to local news coverage. Let’s just start right there. This one comes from Iowa’s state high school track meet. The 3200 meter distance race is eight laps, with a bell rung after the seventh lap reminding the racers that they are on the final lap. One problem: the lady holding the bell lost count of the laps in the finals and rung the bell a lap too soon.

In a race that distance, competitors are holding back just enough to decide when to kick. Getting the wrong lap count threw everything in the trash compactor, with runners starting their kick too soon and stopping after the seventh lap. Joe Anderson was counting his laps, sniffed out what was happening, and kept running after the seventh lap.

The race officials were in a pickle. Did Will Roder, the leader after seven laps win the race, or did Anderson? Who do you think won? It’s important, because twenty years from now both of these guys are going to be telling someone at the bar that they are a state champ, 3200 meters, and one of them, deep down in the dark part of their belly, will know they are still lying to themselves. – PAL

Source: Horribly Botched High School Track Meet Awards, Strips, Then Awards Top Runner”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (5/22/19)

TOB: Let’s pose a hypothetical. You, Phil, Runner of Marathons, are on the 21st mile of your latest marathon, approximately 80% done. You are constantly checking your time throughout the race, and you’re on your expected pace, hoping to beat out your personal best. As you approach what you expect is the 22-mile mark, though, someone tells you it’s the final mile. You think: The final mile? You check your watch. The final mile?? You’re suddenly 20-minutes ahead of your pace. In that moment do you think, “This is correct,” or do you think, “Someone messed up”? As you complete the 23rd mile, 87.5% of the way through a true marathon, there are people gathered. Do you stop running and celebrate? Or do you continue running? If you stop running, do you ask questions? And if you stopped, when everyone realizes that the course got screwed up because a turn was missed, do you from that point claim your time in this race as your personal best? If you do, you’re Will Roder. There’s no way that guy didn’t know he was way ahead of his pace. He deserves nothing!


Smash the Draftiarchy!

The last decade has seen the four major American sports attempt to reel in the amount of money paid to draft picks by setting max or “slot” values for each draft. MLB takes it a step farther – once players do hit the majors, they are not allowed to hit the market for 7 years. In the first few years of after they make the bigs, they are paid the league minimum, or whatever their team wants to pay them. After that, players have a few years of arbitration, where the player and team argue for what the player’s salary should be, and an arbitrator decides (if they don’t come to an agreement).

Although there is zero reason minor leaguers should not be paid a living wage, compensation for MLB prospects is actually difficult. When an MLB team drafts a player, it’s like buying a lotto ticket. Very few draftees become regular major leaguers, let alone stars. So MLB pays prospects very little, relatively speaking. It’s one reason Kyler Murray chose football over baseball: he chose $30 million guaranteed over $4 million guaranteed and no chance to make bigger money for roughly 7 years. But that doesn’t mean players have to accept this arrangement, and one MLB prospect just said, Nah to the whole process.

Carter Stewart was drafted 8th in the MLB draft last year by the Atlanta Braves. But the Braves offered him just a $2 million signing bonus (well under his slot value of $5 million). So he said, “No thanks,” and went to JUCO for a year. Apparently his stock dropped a bit, and he was projected to be a second round pick with a signing bonus expected to be even less than $2 million.

So Carter again said no thanks, but he’s apparently tired of waiting to get paid – so he signed with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan’s Pacific League for a lot more money. Stewart will  be able to come to MLB when he’s 25-years old, as a free agent. As Jeff Passan points out:

Stewart’s decision makes easy sense financially. Say he stayed in the United States and signed for $2 million. Best case, Stewart would have started with a team’s short-season Class A affiliate. In 2020, he would top out at Double-A and make less than $10,000 for the season. And if Stewart is that good, and moving that quickly, his team probably would keep him at scant wages in the minor leagues for all of 2021 too, and promote him around this time in 2022 to ensure it controls him for 6¾ years before free agency. In 2022, 2023 and 2024, Stewart would make the major league minimum — which, being generous and assuming the new collective bargaining agreement gives it a big bump, could be $750,000.

In a near-optimal scenario, Stewart would receive around $4 million for the next six years — and would not reach free agency until after the 2027 season, when he will be 28. His deal with the Hawks would guarantee Stewart $3 million more and potentially allow him to hit free agency three years earlier.

If he’s good, he’ll be ready to make big bucks. If he’s not, well he made an extra $3 million and got to experience the world. Plus, he doesn’t spend the next few years riding around the country on a bus. Win-win-win! -TOB

Source: How a 19-Year-Old Prospect is Turning the MLB Draft Upside Down”, Jeff Passan, ESPN (05/22/2019)

PAL: That’s just a big kettle of hoppy common sense. The counter, I guess, would be he’d be out of sight and away from a MLB franchise infrastructure and preferred player development approach. As you mention, TOB, that really won’t matter if he performs in Japan. Smart idea. I do wonder why more players in basketball and baseball don’t go overseas instead of college. One would have to navigate the rules for each sport, but they can make a fair wage for their skills, and they can learn to be a bit more of an adult while living abroad in a professional setting.


Wait, What?

Here’s a story about a John Wayne Gacy painting of an oriole autographed by Cal Ripken Jr.

You read that correctly.

Serial murderer John Wayne Gacy liked to paint when he wasn’t sexually assaulting and murdering over thirty people in the 70s and 80s. The painting is being sold this week for a shade under $10K.

That factoid was obviously more than enough for me to read Dave McKenna’s most recent story, but it only gets more strange and interesting from there. I started reading, then I scrolled and found I wasn’t even halfway through the story, and I really didn’t know what direction McKenna was going to take me: the odd niche of murder memorabilia, first lady memorabilia, art auctions, or whether or not Ripken actually signed a John Wayne Gacy painting of an Oriole. Spoiler: apparently Cal signs everything, so probably yes.

The sale of this is an odd talisman and reveals a market obsessed with serial murderers. Scroll the top podcasts or Netflix for any additional proof needed. Not only that, but it’s a reminder of how these psychopaths became celebrities that, for a time, profited off their gruesome acts (before the “Son of Sam” laws were enacted).

And while this is the only Ripken item up for sale, it is not the only John Wayne Gacy art signed by baseball legends:

Legit or not, it turns out Ripken wouldn’t be the only baseball all-timer to have his John Hancock on a John Gacy. A collector named Stephen Koschal is currently selling a 16”x 20” painting of baseball’s Hall of Fame logo, from 1990, that he says he’s gotten signed by 46 Cooperstown enshrinees, including Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio. But not Ripken, oddly enough. (Oh, and noted baseball fan Richard Nixon also signed.) Koschal is asking $27,500 for that definitely one-of-a-kind piece.

Do with that info what you will, but good work by McKenna. I had no goddamn idea where this story was going, and I’m absolutely good with that when he’s writing. – PAL

Source: “Did Cal Ripken Jr. Sign This Painting Of An Oriole By John Wayne Gacy?“, Dave McKenna, Deadpan (05/23/19)


Video(s) of the Week:

Great work, Max:

Brutal:


Tweets of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Perfume Genius – “Slip Away”


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Normally, I find Pam to be a comforting, if unarousing, presence around the office. Like a well-watered fern. But, today, she has tapped into this vengeful, violent side. And I’m like, wow, Pam has kind of a good butt.

-D.K. Schrute

 

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Week of May 17, 2019

 


Bounce, Bounce, Bounce, Bounce.

Every so often you read something so great you think, “Man, I wish I had written this.” Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky is a favorite ‘round here, and for good reason, but this might be my favorite article he’s ever written.

First a little background: You probably know that the Raptors beat the Sixers in Game 7 on Sunday, on one the craziest buzzer beaters you may ever see, by Kawhi Leonard.  Note: It is NOT the greatest series winning buzzer beater (as I detailed a few weeks back, there haven’t been many), as I have seen many argue this week. I still give that to Lillard’s step back 37-footer just last round. It’s not the greatest because the shot was kinda terrible – he shot it short, and really had no business making it. But Lillard’s shot was pure, a straight swish – thus the greater shot. But it was the craziest series winning buzzer beater, hitting the front (relative to Leonard) iron, bouncing practically straight up while picking up a top spin, and then slowly bouncing its way down and into the net, hitting the rim a total of four times along the way.

Here’s another cool ass angle:

A lot was written about the game and the shot, as you can imagine, but Petchesky’s stands out for the way he told the story of the shot as it unfolded, bounce by bounce, weaving in images, video, player quotes.

Bounce.

It wasn’t going in. A basketball, at least in the scheme of sports, is relatively predictable. Not like a baseball, which has seams that, in a pitcher’s hand or when deflecting off some imperfection on the infield dirt, can do some pretty wild stuff; not like a football, which is designed to be aerodynamic but when on the ground will bounce maddeningly at random; certainly not like a puck, which when on edge can get weird. A basketball is straightforward. This doesn’t make it any easier for a player to make it do what he wants it to do, but from decades of playing or watching the sport, you generally know where the ball is going. And all that accumulated life evidence was clear: A ball that hits the front of the rim, with that much velocity, bounces out. History and physics overwhelmingly promise it.

“Ah, it doesn’t look too good,” Danny Green remembered thinking from his vantage point on the bench.

So Raptors-Sixers Game 7 was going to head to overtime, and it would have been a fascinating one. The Sixers offense had stalled— they scored five points and just one field goal in the final 5:47 of the game—and Joel Embiid was visibly gassed. Kawhi Leonard had taken 39 shots, the most any player had ever taken in regulation of a Game 7, and for much of the fourth quarter, he was Toronto’s offense. But in the game’s final minute, he had missed a free throw and now looked like he was going to miss a second contested jumper. Overtime would’ve meant redemption for someone, and it would’ve been the second-most dramatic way to wrap up a close game in a close series. The first-most would have been if Leonard’s shot, an attempt at the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history, would have gone in. But that didn’t look likely.

Except…

Bounce.

It continues from there, and I highly recommend you read the whole thing. -TOB

Source: Kawhi Leonard And A Story Of Four Bounces”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/13/2019)

PAL: It was a sport moment writers drool over (1). All the clichés are on the table (2): time stood still (3), the game hung in the balance (4), a game of inches (5), sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good(6). Petchesky described exactly what happened to the ball, why it’s was so incredible (the way the ball bounced, not the circumstance). He smartly kept it very literal, because he knows enough to know that the one thing he doesn’t need to write was the emotion of the moment or the stakes – it was baked in (7).

TOB: Great point, Phil.


Robberies On The Rise

When I think of an outfielder ‘robbing’ a homerun,  I always see Kirby Puckett first. That was his thing back in the 80s and 90s. The fact that one player – even in my biased memory – represented a type of play says a lot about how uncommon the play has been within my lifetime. Now, Ben Lindbergh explains, home run robberies are increasingly more common.

Through Monday’s games, or almost exactly a quarter of the regular season, outfielders had already robbed 21 home runs. That put them on pace for 84 robberies, which would be by far the most since SIS started tracking the event in 2004. A larger sample may slow that pace, but this isn’t a 2019-only phenomenon: Last year’s 65 robberies broke the previous record of 60, which was set in 2017. The first two years of the current high-homer era, 2015 and 2016, featured 50 and 48 robberies, respectively, which were themselves the highest totals of any season since 2004, a high-homer year at the tail end of the somewhat misleadingly labeled steroid era.

The obvious question is why, right? Lindbergh is one of my favorite baseball writers when it comes to explaining cause in an accessible way. Without ruining the article, which is a hell of a fun read with a bunch of links to robberies (this will lead you down a youtube wormhole), here are a handful of factors:

More home runs = more home run robberies

Ballparks have become more homogeneous in terms of dimensions and fence/wall height.

Outfielders play deeper now. I also wonder about the power of familiarity. Most of these centerfielders (yes, centerfielders account for the the most robberies) have grown up seeing guys reaching over the wall to bring one back. They want want to have one, too. Hell, they believe they can do it, and probably practice it.

OK, so with all of this, Lindbergh has done his job in writing an insightful baseball story that feels fresh, but he doesn’t end on the cause. Instead, with the info he’s shared, he brings it back to why robbing a home run matters on an emotional level. He refers to robberies as a kind of alchemy, taking something and turning it into the opposite at the last possible moment.

That’s pretty good stuff, but I prefer the quote Lindbergh pulled from a Sam Miller 2017 article about the problem with the increase in home runs and applied it to home run robberies.

Baseball is best when it sets up an expectation and subverts it: The nasty slider that jags suddenly out of the strike zone, the shortstop who fields a grounder on a dive and flips it to second base with his glove, the three-run comeback against the dominant closer, and now, the home run that doesn’t happen.

Fantastic read. – PAL

Source: Watcher on the Wall: Welcome to the Golden Age of the Home Run Robbery”,Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (05/14/2019)


Two Bad Qualities For a Coach: Thick Headed and Thin Skinned

If you live in a cave: the Warriors closed out the Rockets in Houston last Friday. After scoring zero points in the first half of Game 6, Curry came back in the second half to score 33, including 23 in a supernova 4th, to ice the game. Then, on Sunday, the Blazers overcame a 17-point second quarter deficit and hung on to beat the Nuggets in Denver, in Game 7.

With just one day’s rest, the Blazers opened the Western Conference Finals in Oakland against the Warriors. Things did not go well for Portland, as Steph Curry continued to cook, hitting nine three-pointers and scoring 38 points in the Warriors 22-point win.

But, for Portland, it didn’t have to be that way. For the better part of 5 ½ games the Rockets made Curry look old, slow, and unconfident by crowding him at every opportunity. He had so few open looks that when he did get one, he still rushed the shot and never got into a rhythm. The second half outburst in Game 6 was vintage Curry, where he created the tiniest slivers of space and was able to get his shot up and in.

So, did Portland follow suit in Game 1? Did they press and crowd Steph and Klay? Um, no. Instead, the Blazers let Curry cook. When the Warriors ran the high pick and roll with Curry and the Warriors center, the Blazers did not switch and didn’t even have their big show on the screen in an attempt to crowd Curry or get him to give up the ball.

I counted: of his nine made threes, seven came off high pick and rolls where the screener’s man, usually Kanter or Collins, sagged off the screen and allowed Steph Curry, the greatest shooter of all time, to step into a wiiiiiiide open three pointer. Here are a few examples (I’ve helpfully circled the screener’s defender and drawn a line between him and Curry at or near the point of release):

I probably don’t need to say this: but this is not ideal for a defense. #analysis

After the third or fourth time the Blazers did this in the first half, I thought maybe Kanter was just being lazy. He’s known as a terrible defender, especially against the pick and roll – perhaps he was tired from the short turnaround after Game 7. Surely they’d make a halftime adjustment! But then it continued in the second half.

Asked about it after the game, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was defiant and, frankly, rude in response to a reasonable question:

WHOA! So, ignoring the fact they held Steph in check for 5 ½ games by being in his pocket, Stotts is basing his suicidal strategy on the fact that Steph scored 33 points in the second half of Game 6 against Houston. BUDDY! He did that because he’s the greatest shooter of all-time, and no defense is going to hold him down forever! If Steph scores 33 points against tight defense the answer is not to go the other way and let him step into wide open 3s!

Maybe Stotts is feeling sheepish and didn’t want to admit he made a mistake. But he also said during that press conference that they were within 6 at the end of the third quarter. Which, fine. Let’s ignore the fact that the small deficit was in large part due to a run the Blazers made in the 3rd quarter when Steph was on the bench. And let’s ignore the fact that the Warriors ended up winning by 22. Let’s give him his six point deficit. Imagine what the score might have been if Curry had shot something like 2 for 9 from 3 instead of 8 for 13 in the first three quarters.

Personally, I doubt they will try this strategy again. Blazers players, like Lillard and McCollum, openly questioned the strategy. Lillard said after the game, “That was very poor execution defensively on our part. Having our bigs back that far…We gotta bring our guys up…they were shooting practice shots.” If they don’t do what Lillard suggests, it’s going to be a short series.

Update: The next day, Stotts apologized for being a jerk to the reporter, and also admitted that they may rethink their strategy:

-TOB

Game 2 Update: Steph got 37. The Blazers did try to run him off the three point line, and he responded by breaking down the defense by giving up the ball quickly and working to get it back in a place he could do damage. Silver lining (I guess) is he shot on 4-14 from three. He did a lot more work at the line last night. This kid just might turn out to be pretty good. -PAL


Hockey Expert Offers Critique of Hockey

There is probably nothing worse in sports than when new fans or non-fans tune into a sport and then immediately offer rule changes that they think would improve the game or make the game more watchable, despite the immense popularity of the sport. This happens every World Cup, when fans complain about and offer “solutions” to things like the offsides rule, despite the fact soccer is the most popular sport in the world and does not need fixing. It’s annoying and arrogant and needs to stop. BUT! I’m slightly caught up in the Sharks’ Stanley Cup playoff run right now. Plus, if you read last week’s blog you are aware that I played roller hockey in high school. I am thus highly qualified to opine on what the NHL does, and I have a beef with how hockey does something, so I’m going to rant about it here.

In hockey, as in most American sports, the clock counts down to 00:00. Hockey has three twenty-minute periods, so each period the clock begins at 20:00 and ticks down. Pretty simple. However, when you look at a box score or other record of the game, they mark events (e.g., goals scored, penalties taken) not by the time showing on the clock, but by the time elapsed in the period. IT’S SO STUPID. Let me illustrate. Here’s the scoring summary from Wednesday’s Sharks/Blues game, as taken from NHL.com.

Any normal person looking at that would think the Sharks scored first when the clock read 13:37. But then you notice that listed after that is a goal by Thornton at 16:58. What you will soon realize is that actually Karlsson’s goal came 13:37 INTO the 1st period, when the clock read 6:23, and that Thornton’s goal came 16:58 INTO the 1st period, when the clock read 3:02. Indeed, you can see it in the play by play side by side on the very same website.

This inconsistency is SO STUPID, I cannot stand it. At all! It must be fixed. Without bothering to research, I am guessing the inconsistency arose because at some point in time they used a watch counting up to keep score, and thus it made sense to record the time of goals as the amount of time into the period. When they changed to counting down, they wanted to be consistent with prior records and didn’t want to go back through old game logs and flip every goal ever scored. Well, I don’t care! This is dumb and must be fixed, hockey!

Please, if you like hockey and like how they do this, offer me a counter argument in the comments. And as the late Charlie Murphy said – make sure your people are around to see it – because you might get embarrassed! -TOB


The Making of a Modern Day Legend  

On Tuesday, The New Orleans Pelicans defied odds and won the NBA Lottery. This is a good year to win the lottery, probably the best year since the Pelicans last won the lottery and selected Anthony Davis with the top pick in 2012. Seven years later, Davis is top 10 player in the NBA (many would say top 5) and is trying to force his way out of New Orleans. A mess for any small market franchize New Orleans; however, there is relief in Zion Williamson.

This story is not about Davis, the draft, or the Pelicans; it’s about the making of a teenage sports legend. In series of short, let’s call them vignettes, various NY Times journalists sit down with the people who were there (or, in LeBron’s case not allowed in) and played a minor role in the his YouTube filmography of highlights.

I’d seen all but one of the videos featured in this story, but to hear the accounts from those on the court or in the gym gives it another layer, because their disbelief is a first-hand account. Two of my favorites:

Zion’s high school teammate, Bishop Richardson, describing the windmill alley-oop that started with a bad lob from Richardson.

On this occasion, Richardson’s toss arrived well below the rim. But that enabled Williamson to do something outrageous: He rose into the air, reached out with two hands to grab the incoming pass at about shoulder height, and — still rising, now high enough to peer inside the rim he was about to shake — used one sweeping, circular motion to bring the ball down to his waist and then back up to the left side of his body before ramming it through the basket with his left hand.

The crowd erupted.

“I remember thinking, ‘Holy cow, I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that, let alone be a part of it,’” Richardson said. “People were falling out of the bleachers.”

The dunk made it onto highlight reels and national sports shows within hours, but Richardson did not see a replay until the next day, when he and teammates sneaked a peek in a study hall.

Check-out the teammate, number 24, at 1:24 of the video below. His reaction pretty much sums it up. 

Zion’s Duke teammate describing when the team measured verticals.

Williamson, who went last, was off the charts. On his first attempt, he casually swatted aside the highest measurement. A staff member adjusted the pole to its highest setting and reset the tabs, and Williamson repeated the feat. They put weights under the contraption to lift it a few more inches into the air. Williamson batted the highest measurements aside again.

We are now well into an era where every play – literally every play – of any prospect of note is captured on video. Legends don’t grown by word of mouth; they grow on YouTube channels and IG accounts created specifically to share highlights of prospects. Basketball fans across the world knew Zion before he played a game at Duke as a freshman.

The story of youth, power, and seemingly limitless athleticism never gets old, because we always do. – PAL

Source: The Legend of Zion”, The New York Times (various contributors) (03/31/2019)

TOB: I think Zion will be very good, but people also need to pump the brakes a bit. Isn’t he just pre-injury Larry Johnson, with more hops? An All-Star but not a Hall of Fame player. Is he really a superstar? Can he go get a bucket when you need it? I’m not sure.


Are the Twins For Real?

Lookout! The Twins have the best record in baseball. But are they really good – or are they winning with some smoke and mirrors?

Overall, the Twins rank first in the majors with a 141 OPS+ against sub-.500 teams, but they’re tied for 20th with a 90 OPS+ against teams with a neutral or winning record. That gap is the largest in the majors by a huge margin, and even though it’s still a bit too early to be slicing slivers of batting splits, this detail indicates that Minnesota’s offense might not be as formidable as its surface stats suggest.”

Hmm. Only time will tell! -TOB

Source: “Are the MLB-Leading Minnesota Twins for Real?”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (05/13/2019)

PAL: I hate this goddamn article. I hate the construction of it. Are the Twins for real????? Here are 5,000 stats, some of which indicate the team is for real, and some of which point to the another hot start. Some of the info is good (they have pitchers who can actually strike some dudes out now), and some if it is amusing (they have a catcher off to a Bond-like start at the plate). 

I also hate that it calls attention to the Twins hot start. Everyone be quiet about it! Nothing to see here.

So, if the Twins do surprise folks and win the division about 120 games from now, then this article will be right on. If the Twins come back to earth, finish a respectable .500, then this article will be right.

Most importantly, I hate that TOB is trolling me in our own effin blog. This is the second Twins-related story TOB’s posted in the last three weeks. I know what you’re up to, fella.

TOB:


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: The Velvet Underground – “Oh Sweet Nuthin’


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You cannot learn from books. Replace these pages with life lessons, and then you will have a book that’s worth its weight in gold.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 10, 2019


There’s No Crying in Basketball. Strike That. Reverse It.

I am writing this the night before Game 3 of the Rockets/Warriors second round series. By the time we post this next Friday, the series might be over, in 4 or 5 games. Or the teams could be preparing for a pivotal Game 6, with one of them looking for the closeout. But as things stand today, the Warriors look like the superior team. (Editor’s Note: About that. We’ll get to what really happened over the next three games, too.)

Here’s a recap of the series so far: The Warriors won a tense Game 1, and the Rockets whined and whined about the officiating afterwards. The next day, they leaked an unsolicited report they created after they lost last year’s Western Conference Finals to the Warriors, where they assigned themselves 18.6 points they claim were lost when the referees missed calls. On that basis, they claimed the Finals were stolen from Houston (ignoring the fact that even if they had won Game 7, they still had to play Cleveland). They were roundly mocked for this, justifiably so, and then lost Game 2.

As Brian Phillips says, the leak of the report is sad and embarrassing. When I first read about it I literally LOL’d, and then wondered how the once revered Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM, had done this to himself. As Phillips writes:

After losing to Golden State in three of the past four postseasons, Houston has become so immortally psyched out by Steph Curry and Co. that it would rather poindexter its way into PR humiliation than face the Warriors without a scapegoat. The Rockets apparently thought that penning detailed descriptions of 81 blown calls would create a groundswell of sympathy for their cause and that this groundswell would pressure the league into letting James Harden spend even more time at the free throw line than the 1,000 minutes per game he already spends there. Instead, the internet roasted them for a few days, the NBA shrugged, and the hubbub seemed to fray the team’s already fragile nerves.

The report itself is stupid. As Phillips notes, you can’t take a bad call in a game and say, “That cost us two points, so add two points to our total.” That’s not how basketball works. That’s not how life works. Every action on the court changes the rest of the game. Phillips illustrates:

Say a player travels before a made 3-pointer and the official doesn’t call it. To take three points off the board after the game wouldn’t give you a more accurate result, because if traveling had been called, the rest of the game you saw would never have happened. The next play would have been different. The play after that would have been different. Basketball exists in a state of contingency and flux. You can’t say “a career 66 percent free throw shooter drew an uncalled foul on a 3-pointer, therefore his team should get two points,” because sometimes a career 66 percent free throw shooter makes all three, or misses three in a row, or grabs his own rebound and makes the putback but sprains his ankle on the way down. One thing affects another thing, and statistical tendencies over a very short period of time (a half or a quarter) can’t tell you all that much. For instance, sometimes an excellent shooting team misses 27 3s in a row.

Man, that burn in the end is so good. But as Phillips points out – the Rockets’ crybaby act has, to this point, ruined what should be a great series. We were so excited about this series last year that we wrote up game-by-game reactions. This year? After two games, I didn’t have anything I wanted to say except to laugh at the Rockets. The series feels, to quote Phillips, “weirdly high-strung and legalistic.” Let’s hope it gets better. -TOB

Source: “Only the Rockets Can Save Themselves From Annihilation“, Brian Phillips, The Ringer (05/03/2019)


The Night the Warriors Saved Their Dynasty

Well, for one night at least. Since I wrote the above about the Rockets whining, pulled out Game 3 in overtime, and then won a back and forth Game 4 to even up the series. Game 5, back in Oakland, was going to be pivotal. The Warriors came out on fire, and built a 20-point lead in the second quarter. And then they did what they’ve been doing all year, and instead of stomping on the Rockets’ throats, they let them back in the game. The Rockets cut the lead to 14 at halftime, and kept chipping away in the third quarter.

Late in the third, the Warriors led by just one. Curry was playing like dog crap, again, and I began to seriously wonder if he was just simply on the downside of his career, or if the theories about his deferring to Durant had killed his confidence were correct. I began analyzing his jumper – something seemed off. His release didn’t look the game. He was not getting his legs into it. Was his off-hand getting in the way? He certainly didn’t look confident, and he was missing wide open looks, badly. He was 4 for 14 from the field, 1 for 8 from three, and shooting just 26% from deep for the series.

And then, when things already looked bleak, disaster struck. Kevin Durant hit a jumper to push the lead to three, carrying the team as he had all series. But as he jogged back up court he whipped around, looked at his calf, and then limped off the court. TNT’s crew speculated about a possible achilles tear, and the Warriors dynasty appeared to be up in smoke.

What’s more, suddenly it seemed like Oracle Arena had just 14 minutes to live. If the Warriors lost the game, it seemed unthinkable they could win Game 6 in Houston, meaning this would be the very last Warriors game ever played at Oracle.

Without KD, and with Curry unable to shoot and Klay ice cold since the first, how were the Warriors going to hold off this Rockets team? Players like Kevon Looney was going to need to step up, sure. But the core of Curry, Klay, and Draymond would need to turn back the clock and save their season, their dynasty.

And so it was. Curry suddenly found his confidence and his shot, and hit 5 of his next 6 attempts for 14 points. And then it was Draymond, who after drawing a charge and then picking up a technical, went right down and hit a three to put the Warriors up 5. And then it was Klay, who hit a three to put the team up 8, and then got the layup to seal it after a nice job by Looney to keep the ball alive after Klay nearly threw it away. Others contributed, but the Warriors relied on their old Big 3, and it was fantastic. They hunted for good shots, moved the ball, and took care of it, too, with just one turnover after KD went down.

They recaptured the magic of the pre-KD era, and hung on to win. Oracle lives to see another day, at least. I think Steve Kerr said it best, paraphrasing Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, whose team overcame a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in the Champions League the day before:

For one night, they were indeed. But they’ll need to be fucking giants once more to get by the Rockets. -TOB

PAL: The circumstances in which the Warriors go into Game 6 are damn near poetic. The symmetry in this situation to last year, when Houston’s Chris Paul went down at the end of Game 5 (Durant is clearly much better than Paul, but you get it) and hard to ignore. If the Warriors are going to keep the dynasty going, it will in large part up the core players who started the damn thing – Steph, Klay, Draymond, Iggy.

Kevin Durant makes them a better team, but does the Durant injury give the reigning champs an edge that is almost impossible to manufacture now that they’ve been at the top for so long?  If Durant is indeed on his way out of Golden State, and if his teammates know it, wouldn’t a win in Houston tonight be a nice reminder to KD that they won before he came to town?

Does it force the Warriors to try playing that beautiful style of ball movement and not rely on Durant, as has been the case this playoffs? Yep (Strauss does a great breakdown here).

Also, Kevon Looney’s game 5 performance is why the playoffs – in any sport – rule. Ever heard of him? This is a role player that, because of injuries to Durant and Boogie Cousins, will no doubt play a pivotal role in extending the Warriors dynasty or ending it.

TOB: Agree with Phil on Ethan Strauss’ great article on the Warriors going forward without KD. Here’s a key passage:

I asked a few ex-2016 Warriors whether that pre-KD squad exists within the current one, and the answers were somewhere between, “sort of,” and “not really.” To quote Andrew Bogut, “It’s a completely different bench and roster. Half the roster’s different.” Then he started listing: “Harrison, Mo, Festus, Barbosa, Brandon Rush.”

To many viewers, including Kerr, Wednesday night’s crunch time felt like a time machine ride. It looked like that on the floor, save for Kevon Looney’s presence (more on that later). But to the players who were part of the first two Warriors Finals runs, it’s a different experience. The 2015-16 role players might have seemed like guys who got cameos in a show that was all about Steph, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but that’s not quite how players experienced the journey. Guys who might seem peripheral to the viewer are sometimes huge presences in the locker room, on the bus and on the plane. The principals remain, but some of the guys who gave those old squads their esprit de corps are gone.

And yet, the Warriors may have unlocked something on Wednesday, if only for the brief time they need it. They are obviously better with Durant, but, since signing him, have played a style that does not optimize Curry’s talents. That was the trade-off, and it happened to result in two championships.

Now, we will see what happens when the attack optimizes Steph in the way it once did.

I have Phil as my witness. During their 2014 and 2015 seasons, I always said the key to their success was that the bench would turn a 12 point lead into a 20 point lead. When they signed Durant, I wondered if they would be too thin on the bench to win. They weren’t – but you can’t plan for an injury like this, at a time like this, to a player like this.

Btw, since KD joined the team 3 years ago, the Warriors are 22-1 when Steph plays and Durant does not. Hm.


The Ultimate Trail Run

Not a great story because of the writing, but the ambition is worth sharing. One continuous trail across the United States. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (great name) has been working on connecting a network of existing trails across the country. It seems simple enough at first, but then you think about the amount of research that goes into something at this scale, and the amount of organizations from a local level that have to contribute, and you can see why this is such a beast of a dream. While we are still many years away from being able to bike or run across the country on the trail, there’s enough completed to see it on a map, which is pretty excellent.

And I know it’s corny, but I do think there’s power in something as simple as a trail literally connecting a country, even in some small way. – PL

Source: The 4,000-Mile Trail System That Will One Day Connect Both Coasts Is Closer Than Ever Taylor Dutch, Runner’s World, (05/08/2019)

TOB: Not corny, I think it’s sweet.


Hockey Fan Has Great Idea
This had me laughing. Not uncommon for some fans to utilize the brighter of lights of the playoffs to make a statement. Both celebrities and wanna-be celebrities. This week, an ‘influencer’ made her presence known at a Blues-Stars NHL game:

Come on, lady. Really? Look at the meathead and the deep V sitting next to her, too. The best thing to come from it is this moment of pure genius in the following game:

I have nothing more. This was just excellent. – PL

Source: “St. Louis Blues fan has perfect response to Stars fan that went viral for her, well, you know“, Christopher Powers, The Loop (05/8/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘(We’re Not) The Jet Set’ (Bobby Braddock)


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

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“As a former high school roller hockey player…”

-TOB, discussing NHL strategy

Week of May 3, 2019

Cheers to Five More Years

We hatched the plan almost on a whim, sitting at a bar near Phil’s house in San Francisco, and sent the first post just a couple days later, on May 4, 2014. We set a goal to do it every week for six months, which seemed impossible. Five years later, I can count the weeks we’ve missed on one hand.

A lot has changed for us in those five years. Phil started a new job, moved to Oakland, met a girl, and is getting married this July. I couldn’t be happier for him. I insanely took on this project about six weeks before my oldest son was born (special shoutout to my wife, who has allowed me to devote so much time to this vanity project) – and I’ve since had two kids, bought a house, changed jobs, and even started my own law practice. Somehow, 1-2-3 Sports is older than all of those things.

At times it is exhausting and frustrating to do this every week. We put a lot of energy into it. But it’s worth it. In the past five years, Phil has gone from a good but relatively new friend to my best friend, and 1-2-3 Sports is a big part of that.

We’re proud of what we’ve made, and we hope you enjoy it, too. We’re planning a 5 year anniversary whiffle ball game followed by McCovey Cove float day. Stay tuned for details, and thanks for reading. -TOB


An Explanation of Testosterone in Elite Athletes

For years, Olympic champion Caster Semenya has been the face of a heated debate about gender and sports. It’s likely you’ve heard her story.  Semenya has naturally high levels of testosterone for a woman. She represents 1 in 20,000 women whose testosterone levels are similar to that of the male range. This week a court in Switzerland ruled that she and others like her would have to reduce their naturally high testosterone in order to compete in certain races at major competitions.

I don’t need to tell you that this is an emotional debate, but I do need to tell you to read Gina Kolata’s accessible explanation as to the science behind the debate.

Amongst other purposes, testosterone builds muscle. It’s not just another physical advantage like, say, height in a basketball player. It’s directly linked to improved performance.  

In one study, Dr. Levine put sedentary young men and young women through a year of athletic training. At the start, the men and women had similarly sized hearts. A year later, the men’s hearts were much larger, the result of muscle-building directed by the hormone.

The hormone’s effects are amplified among elite athletes, altering the body in ways that can make a huge difference in performance. Male champions in every sport are always much faster and stronger than women who set world records.

The gap can be quite wide. Elite female runners would never win races if they competed against elite men, according to Doriane Coleman, a former middle-distance runner who is now a law professor at Duke University.

Ms. Coleman has reviewed the best performances of three female athletes who were the fastest 400-meter runners in history (and were not injecting testosterone).

In 2017 alone, she found, more than 10,000 men and boys running 400-meter races beat the best times these women ever ran.

This is the science behind the ruling, but it’s also worth noting that the ruling is only for races between 400 meters and one mile, which is based on evidence. As I noted earlier, naturally abnormal testosterone levels can be found in 1 out of every 20,000 women; however:

The rule is consistent with a requirement that it be narrowly tailored to the evidence. Athletes who identify as women but who have testosterone levels in the male range are overrepresented in women’s middle-distance running events, a recent study found…

These athletes won 30 medals in Olympic and world championship races at distances ranging from 400 to 1,500 meters. Their incidence in the general population is just 1 in 20,000, meaning they were overrepresented by about 1,700-fold on the podium, the study concluded.

How gender is defined and gender fluidity is a very real issue of this generation. I believe gender is an extremely complex issue. Of course it’s about more than testosterone levels, but oftentimes the facts can get overlooked on an emotional topic. And, so, when we’re talking about athletes and gender, it’s helpful to start with the science before we shout at one another. – PAL

Source: Does Testosterone Really Give Caster Semenya an Edge on the Track?”, Gina Kolata, The New York Times (05/01/19)

TOB: You’re telling me that a naturally occurring physical trait makes a person more successful as an athlete and so we’re going to not let them compete unless they reduce the effects of that physical trait? I love it. As a 5’10 basketball player, I think anyone over 6 feet should have to have a portion of their shins removed to reduce their height to 6’0 or lower. I’d have made the NBA, for sure!


Somehow, Steph Curry Is Still Underrated

Kevin Durant has been on fire this postseason – averaging 38 points per game over his last 6. His offense is predicated on the fact that he can shoot over the top of just about anyone, and so he’s extremely difficult to defend, especially when he’s on. You can stay in front of him, get a hand in his face, and he just shoots it right over you. Swish. But as I’ve said before, I find his game boring. It’s not graceful, it’s not fun to watch. He’s talented as hell and does things no one else can do, but he’s a ball stopper and seems to be getting as many isos this year as he did when he was in OKC.

By contrast, KD’s teammate Steph Curry has been a little quiet so far this postseason. Over his last 6 games, as KD has heated up, Curry has scored just 19.8 points per game, on 44% FG and 35% 3PT. In many corners of the internet, this has lead to questions about – what’s wrong with Steph? Is Steph hurt? Is Steph on the backside of his career? Is this KD’s team now?

People ask these questions because they still don’t understand how Steph Curry completely changes the game of basketball. Here’s a series of videos from Game 1 against the Rockets, where the threat of Curry’s shooting leads to a dunk for the Warriors (click through to see the videos):

That is six plays in one game where Curry does not look to shoot and doesn’t even get the assist, but the threat of his abilities to pull from anywhere means the defense is stretched and morphed so badly that Curry’s teammates get easy dunks (and assists). Here’s a similar thread from last year’s Finals, created by the same guy (again, click through to see the videos):

Try to find a play where the defense treats KD like that as he backs his way into the mid-post. When defenses stop respecting Curry like that, you can tell me it’s KD’s team. For now? Nah. -TOB – special thanks to Twitter user Bobby Flaiben for the videos


A Banner Year Year’s In WHL Bantam Draft Names

One of my favorite times of the year – the WHL Bantam Draft, where we get to see what dumbass names white parents were giving their kids 14-15 years ago. This year’s highlights:

My thoughts:

  • Carter is fine, but there are NINE of them.
  • What’s with J and K names that make white people go bananas?
    • Jace, Jaeger (yes, like the booze), Jagger, Jakin, Jhett, Joah (like Noah but with a J!), Kalem, Karson, Kassius, Koehn, Kylynn (good lord), Kyren (NO).
  • Merik. Like…’Merica?
  • Mesele. I’m not even sure how that’s pronounced.
  • Ridge.
  • Rieger, Rilen, Rylen.
  • And, my personal favorite…OASIZ. Don’t look back in anger at your parents for naming you that, kid.

I hope even one person enjoys this as much as I do. -TOB

Source: The Best Names Of The WHL Draft”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/02/2019)

PAL: People are so bored. Not a lot of Catholics up in Canada, eh?


The Twins Show How to Make a Killing in Free Agency

The last two baseball offseasons have been interesting. As many teams tank, an opportunity has emerged for teams to get better quickly. Last year, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, who would go on to win the 2018 NL MVP. And a few weeks after getting Yelich, Milwaukee signed Lorenzo Cain for a relatively low amount of money. In a year in which many teams elected to begin a rebuild, the Brewers took advantage and got some good players for cheap, and went on to win the division title.

This year, news during baseball’s offseason was dominated by three themes: Bryce, Manny, and the Slow Free Agent Market. That’s all anyone could talk about. But like the Brewers last year, there was one team that kept popping up on the transaction ticker that made me keep saying, “Oh, solid pick up,” – the Minnesota Twins. The Twins had an even less splashy offseason than the Brewers last year, signing guys like CJ Cron, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and Marwin Gonzalez – solid players, all flawed, some perceived as over the hill. But as Jonah Keri points out, these were really good pickups:

Coming off a 30-homer season in the power-squashing environment of Tropicana Field, C.J. Cron could only manage a one-year, $4.8 million deal, landing in Minnesota. After hitting 53 homers over the previous two seasons — while playing a premium defensive position —  Jonathan Schoop cost the Twins a scant $7.5 million on a one-year contract. No hitter in all of baseball cranked more dingers from 2014 through 2018 than Nelson Cruz … and he too could manage only one year guaranteed, a $14.3 million pact with the Twins.

A funny thing happens when you sign a bunch of guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark — your team hits more home runs. The Twins ranked 23rd in the majors last season in taters. This year, despite playing in one of the least homer-friendly parks in the league, they rank fourth.

But more importantly, the homegrown guys have grown up – with players like Eddie Rosario (11 dingers), Max Kepler (.277, 7 dingers), Jorge Polanco (.327/.393/.606), Mitch Garver (.333/.396/.729 – whoa), and Willins Astudillo (.327/.340/.531) all destroying opposing pitching staffs.

I didn’t realize until last week that things had been going so well for the Twins, when Phil and fellow-St. Paul native/Twins fan/friend of the blog Al both independently remarked to me about how well the team was playing. But until I read this article, I figured it was like the 2017 Twins run to the Wild Card game – a bit of smoke and mirrors, with a lot of luck hiding bad peripheral stats. Not so! The Twins are fourth in the AL in run differential, leading to the second best record in the majors.

The Twins have followed a blueprint that I hope the Giants can take advantage of soon – scout/draft well, build around cheaper, homegrown talent, and look for good value in free agency. -TOB

Source: The Twins Are For Real: How Are They Doing This?”, Jonah Keri, The Athletic (05/02/2019)

PAL: Of course I enjoyed the hell out of this article. The idea that the Twins got power for a bargain is both exciting and nearly foreign to this franchise. Three players in the history of the Minnesota Twins have hit 40 or more home runs in a season. In the last twenty years, their best team (2006) had a middle of the lineup that at least presented a long ball threat: MVP Justin Morneau (34HR), Torii Hunter (31HR), Cuddyer (24HR), and Mauer (13HR).

It’s great to have them off to a good start; but I’m holding my excitement for when they win one postseason game, which hasn’t happened in the team’s last four trips:


A Brief Lesson in Baseball’s Newest Stats

Experiencing Twitter is largely an exercise in a self-selected echo chamber. As such, it is easy for me at times to forget that not all baseball fans like “advanced stats” or even understand what they mean.

For example. ESPN’s Tim Keown, who has been a favorite of mine since his headshot contained a lot less grey, relays this story of the new Giants’ President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi’s first meeting with Giants season ticket holders:

FARHAN ZAIDI’S FIRST face-to-face confrontation as the baseball boss of the San Francisco Giants came from a stranger. Zaidi stood in front of a group of season-ticket holders at a January event and listened to one of his customers ask if he was serious about occasionally using a one-inning opener instead of a conventional starting pitcher. The slightly accusatory tone exposed the questioner’s view on the matter, but Zaidi knew the topic was bound to arise after he had suggested to local reporters during the winter meetings that using an opener was a possibility. 

And so he decided to answer the season-ticket holder’s question with a question of his own:

“If I told you using an opener would definitely improve your chances of winning on a certain day, how many of you would still not want to use it?”

His premise was inarguable, genius: Whatever you think of me, and regardless of who pitches and for how long, who says no to winning? Who among you, men and women who have shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars for ballgames, cannot unite behind the shared joy of victory?

The group was too big to canvass individually, so Zaidi said: “Let me hear you boo.”

And these men and women, the corporate networkers and the lifelong fans alike, cupped their hands around their mouths, aimed them at the smiling man at the front of the room, and booed.

First of all, great writing. Keown set it up perfectly, and it made me LOL. But more importantly it shocked me – there are fans who would rather their teams lose by playing the way they always played over winning by using new tactics? What I forget when I’m in my Twitter bubble is that there are fans who do not care about analytics and in fact resent their existence.

Which is why I really loved Grant Brisbee’s article this week, on how the last three months of the Giants’ offense (August and September 2018, April 2019), were among the seven worst offensive seasons in Giants history, dating back to 1905. WHICH IS INSANE, but can be addressed another day. For the moment I’d like to highlight how Brisbee, understanding he’s speaking in large part to fans like the ones who booed Zaidi, breaks down a couple of advanced stats in a way that is easy to understand. I wanted to share this with those of you who don’t get them or don’t want to get them:

The first stat you’ll need to understand is OPS, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. It’s an imperfect stat, and you really shouldn’t add decimal points like that … but danged if it doesn’t give you an idea of how a team is performing offensively. It takes into account how good a team is at avoiding outs, and it also takes into account how many extra-base hits they’re getting. It’s safe to assume that a team with an .800 OPS is probably hitting the snot out of the ball.

The next stat to understand is OPS+. In 2006, the Giants had an OPS of .746. In 2012, the Giants had an OPS of .724. So that means the 2006 Giants were better, right?

It does not. The National League scored a lot more runs back in 2006, so we need to adjust for that. OPS+ takes this into account, and it also takes the team’s home ballpark into account. Then it crams everything into one number and sets 100 as the league average. So if a team has a 90 OPS+, like the 2006 Giants, that means they were worse than the league average. If a team has a 106 OPS+, like the 2012 Giants, that means they have an above-average offense. The kind that can win the World Series with some strong pitching.

I love OPS+, and I’ll use it a lot. It’s not perfect, but it’s still good, very useful and searchable on Baseball-Reference.com. Which brings us to the last stat you’ll need to know: sOPS+.

What sOPS+ does is look for OPS+ within a particular split. Let’s say that you wanted to find out which team in baseball history was the best at hitting at their home park. Seems like a mess. That would mean comparing the Astrodome to Coors Field and the steroid era to a pitcher-dominated season like 1968. But sOPS+ does all that work for you, and gives us an answer. (It was the Rockies in 2014, even after accounting for park. The Coors effect is real, and it’s scary as heck.)

So when looking for the best or worst offensive months in a team’s history, use sOPS+. That way April isn’t unfairly docked because it’s colder than July, when the ball is likely to travel farther. It also compares Septembers with other Septembers, which are months besotted with rookie call-ups. And most important, sOPS+ takes into account what the rest of the league was doing that month.

Makes sense, right? OPS+ and ERA+ are really good stats to help you put numbers in context, and they’re simple to understand. I wish they were more widely understood and used. -TOB

Source: From a Ph.D. to RBIs: How Farhan Zaidi Left Berkeley and Became a Baseball Pioneer“, Tim Keown, ESPN (05/02/2019); “Here’s a Stat About the Giants Offensive Struggles That Will Melt Your Brain“, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (05/01/2019)


Video(s) of the Week

SVP with all you need to know on the Rockets’ close out “controversy”

I’M NOT CRYING. I WAS CHOPPING ONIONS.


Tweet(s) of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Richard Swift – ‘Lady Luck’


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

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“Webster’s Dictionary defines “wedding” as “the fusing of two metals with a hot torch.”

-Michael Scott

Week of May 3, 2019

Cheers to Five More Years

We hatched the plan almost on a whim, sitting at a bar near Phil’s house in San Francisco, and sent the first post just a couple days later. We set a goal to do it every week for six months, which seemed impossible. Five years later, I can count the weeks we’ve missed on one hand.

A lot has changed for us in those five years. Phil started a new job, moved to Oakland, met a girl, and is getting married this July. I couldn’t be happier for him. I insanely took on this project about six weeks before my oldest son was born (special shoutout to my wife, who has allowed me to devote so much time to this vanity project) – and I’ve since had two kids, bought a house, changed jobs, and even started my own law practice. Somehow, 1-2-3 Sports is older than all of those things.

At times it is exhausting and frustrating to do this every week. We put a lot of energy into it. But it’s worth it. In the past five years, Phil has gone from a good but relatively new friend to my best friend, and 1-2-3 Sports is a big part of that.

We’re proud of what we’ve made, and we hope you enjoy it, too. We’re planning a 5 year anniversary whiffle ball game followed by McCovey Cove float day. Stay tuned for details, and thanks for reading. -TOB


An Explanation of Testosterone in Elite Athletes

For years, Olympic champion Caster Semenya has been the face of a heated debate about gender and sports. It’s likely you’ve heard her story.  Semenya has naturally high levels of testosterone for a woman. She represents 1 in 20,000 women whose testosterone levels are similar to that of the male range. This week a court in Switzerland ruled that she and others like her would have to reduce their naturally high testosterone in order to compete in certain races at major competitions.

I don’t need to tell you that this is an emotional debate, but I do need to tell you to read Gina Kolata’s accessible explanation as to the science behind the debate.

Amongst other purposes, testosterone builds muscle. It’s not just another physical advantage like, say, height in a basketball player. It’s directly linked to improved performance.  

In one study, Dr. Levine put sedentary young men and young women through a year of athletic training. At the start, the men and women had similarly sized hearts. A year later, the men’s hearts were much larger, the result of muscle-building directed by the hormone.

The hormone’s effects are amplified among elite athletes, altering the body in ways that can make a huge difference in performance. Male champions in every sport are always much faster and stronger than women who set world records.

The gap can be quite wide. Elite female runners would never win races if they competed against elite men, according to Doriane Coleman, a former middle-distance runner who is now a law professor at Duke University.

Ms. Coleman has reviewed the best performances of three female athletes who were the fastest 400-meter runners in history (and were not injecting testosterone).

In 2017 alone, she found, more than 10,000 men and boys running 400-meter races beat the best times these women ever ran.

This is the science behind the ruling, but it’s also worth noting that the ruling is only for races between 400 meters and one mile, which is based on evidence. As I noted earlier, naturally abnormal testosterone levels can be found in 1 out of every 20,000 women; however:

The rule is consistent with a requirement that it be narrowly tailored to the evidence. Athletes who identify as women but who have testosterone levels in the male range are overrepresented in women’s middle-distance running events, a recent study found…

These athletes won 30 medals in Olympic and world championship races at distances ranging from 400 to 1,500 meters. Their incidence in the general population is just 1 in 20,000, meaning they were overrepresented by about 1,700-fold on the podium, the study concluded.

How gender is defined and gender fluidity is a very real issue of this generation. I believe gender is an extremely complex issue. Of course it’s about more than testosterone levels, but oftentimes the facts can get overlooked on an emotional topic. And, so, when we’re talking about athletes and gender, it’s helpful to start with the science before we shout at one another. – PAL

Source: Does Testosterone Really Give Caster Semenya an Edge on the Track?”, Gina Kolata, The New York Times (05/01/19)

TOB: You’re telling me that a naturally occurring physical trait makes a person more successful as an athlete and so we’re going to not let them compete unless they reduce the effects of that physical trait? I love it. As a 5’10 basketball player, I think anyone over 6 feet should have to have a portion of their shins removed to reduce their height to 6’0 or lower. I’d have made the NBA, for sure!


Somehow, Steph Curry Is Still Underrated

Kevin Durant has been on fire this postseason – averaging 38 points per game over his last 6. His offense is predicated on the fact that he can shoot over the top of just about anyone, and so he’s extremely difficult to defend, especially when he’s on. You can stay in front of him, get a hand in his face, and he just shoots it right over you. Swish. But as I’ve said before, I find his game boring. It’s not graceful, it’s not fun to watch. He’s talented as hell and does things no one else can do, but he’s a ball stopper and seems to be getting as many isos this year as he did when he was in OKC.

By contrast, KD’s teammate Steph Curry has been a little quiet so far this postseason. Over his last 6 games, as KD has heated up, Curry has scored just 19.8 points per game, on 44% FG and 35% 3PT. In many corners of the internet, this has lead to questions about – what’s wrong with Steph? Is Steph hurt? Is Steph on the backside of his career? Is this KD’s team now?

People ask these questions because they still don’t understand how Steph Curry completely changes the game of basketball. Here’s a series of videos from Game 1 against the Rockets, where the threat of Curry’s shooting leads to a dunk for the Warriors (click through to see the videos):

That is six plays in one game where Curry does not look to shoot and doesn’t even get the assist, but the threat of his abilities to pull from anywhere means the defense is stretched and morphed so badly that Curry’s teammates get easy dunks (and assists). Here’s a similar thread from last year’s Finals, created by the same guy (again, click through to see the videos):

Try to find a play where the defense treats KD like that as he backs his way into the mid-post. When defenses stop respecting Curry like that, you can tell me it’s KD’s team. For now? Nah. -TOB – special thanks to Twitter user Bobby Flaiben for the videos


A Banner Year Year’s In WHL Bantam Draft Names

One of my favorite times of the year – the WHL Bantam Draft, where we get to see what dumbass names white parents were giving their kids 14-15 years ago. This year’s highlights:

My thoughts:

  • Carter is fine, but there are NINE of them.
  • What’s with J and K names that make white people go bananas?
    • Jace, Jaeger (yes, like the booze), Jagger, Jakin, Jhett, Joah (like Noah but with a J!), Kalem, Karson, Kassius, Koehn, Kylynn (good lord), Kyren (NO).
  • Merik. Like…’Merica?
  • Mesele. I’m not even sure how that’s pronounced.
  • Ridge.
  • Rieger, Rilen, Rylen.
  • And, my personal favorite…OASIZ. Don’t look back in anger at your parents for naming you that, kid.

I hope even one person enjoys this as much as I do. -TOB

Source: The Best Names Of The WHL Draft”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/02/2019)

PAL: People are so bored. Not a lot of Catholics up in Canada, eh?


The Twins Show How to Make a Killing in Free Agency

The last two baseball offseasons have been interesting. As many teams tank, an opportunity has emerged for teams to get better quickly. Last year, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, who would go on to win the 2018 NL MVP. And a few weeks after getting Yelich, Milwaukee signed Lorenzo Cain for a relatively low amount of money. In a year in which many teams elected to begin a rebuild, the Brewers took advantage and got some good players for cheap, and went on to win the division title.

This year, news during baseball’s offseason was dominated by three themes: Bryce, Manny, and the Slow Free Agent Market. That’s all anyone could talk about. But like the Brewers last year, there was one team that kept popping up on the transaction ticker that made me keep saying, “Oh, solid pick up,” – the Minnesota Twins. The Twins had an even less splashy offseason than the Brewers last year, signing guys like CJ Cron, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and Marwin Gonzalez – solid players, all flawed, some perceived as over the hill. But as Jonah Keri points out, these were really good pickups:

Coming off a 30-homer season in the power-squashing environment of Tropicana Field, C.J. Cron could only manage a one-year, $4.8 million deal, landing in Minnesota. After hitting 53 homers over the previous two seasons — while playing a premium defensive position —  Jonathan Schoop cost the Twins a scant $7.5 million on a one-year contract. No hitter in all of baseball cranked more dingers from 2014 through 2018 than Nelson Cruz … and he too could manage only one year guaranteed, a $14.3 million pact with the Twins.

A funny thing happens when you sign a bunch of guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark — your team hits more home runs. The Twins ranked 23rd in the majors last season in taters. This year, despite playing in one of the least homer-friendly parks in the league, they rank fourth.

But more importantly, the homegrown guys have grown up – with players like Eddie Rosario (11 dingers), Max Kepler (.277, 7 dingers), Jorge Polanco (.327/.393/.606), Mitch Garver (.333/.396/.729 – whoa), and Willins Astudillo (.327/.340/.531) all destroying opposing pitching staffs.

I didn’t realize until last week that things had been going so well for the Twins, when Phil and fellow-St. Paul native/Twins fan/friend of the blog Al both independently remarked to me about how well the team was playing. But until I read this article, I figured it was like the 2017 Twins run to the Wild Card game – a bit of smoke and mirrors, with a lot of luck hiding bad peripheral stats. Not so! The Twins are fourth in the AL in run differential, leading to the second best record in the majors.

The Twins have followed a blueprint that I hope the Giants can take advantage of soon – scout/draft well, build around cheaper, homegrown talent, and look for good value in free agency. -TOB

Source: The Twins Are For Real: How Are They Doing This?”, Jonah Keri, The Athletic (05/02/2019)

PAL: Of course I enjoyed the hell out of this article. The idea that the Twins got power for a bargain is both exciting and nearly foreign to this franchise. Three players in the history of the Minnesota Twins have hit 40 or more home runs in a season. In the last twenty years, their best team (2006) had a middle of the lineup that at least presented a long ball threat: MVP Justin Morneau (34HR), Torii Hunter (31HR), Cuddyer (24HR), and Mauer (13HR).

It’s great to have them off to a good start; but I’m holding my excitement for when they win one postseason game, which hasn’t happened in the team’s last four trips:


A Brief Lesson in Baseball’s Newest Stats

Experiencing Twitter is largely an exercise in a self-selected echo chamber. As such, it is easy for me at times to forget that not all baseball fans like “advanced stats” or even understand what they mean.

For example. ESPN’s Tim Keown, who has been a favorite of mine since his headshot contained a lot less grey, relays this story of the new Giants’ President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi’s first meeting with Giants season ticket holders:

FARHAN ZAIDI’S FIRST face-to-face confrontation as the baseball boss of the San Francisco Giants came from a stranger. Zaidi stood in front of a group of season-ticket holders at a January event and listened to one of his customers ask if he was serious about occasionally using a one-inning opener instead of a conventional starting pitcher. The slightly accusatory tone exposed the questioner’s view on the matter, but Zaidi knew the topic was bound to arise after he had suggested to local reporters during the winter meetings that using an opener was a possibility. 

And so he decided to answer the season-ticket holder’s question with a question of his own:

“If I told you using an opener would definitely improve your chances of winning on a certain day, how many of you would still not want to use it?”

His premise was inarguable, genius: Whatever you think of me, and regardless of who pitches and for how long, who says no to winning? Who among you, men and women who have shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars for ballgames, cannot unite behind the shared joy of victory?

The group was too big to canvass individually, so Zaidi said: “Let me hear you boo.”

And these men and women, the corporate networkers and the lifelong fans alike, cupped their hands around their mouths, aimed them at the smiling man at the front of the room, and booed.

First of all, great writing. Keown set it up perfectly, and it made me LOL. But more importantly it shocked me – there are fans who would rather their teams lose by playing the way they always played over winning by using new tactics? What I forget when I’m in my Twitter bubble is that there are fans who do not care about analytics and in fact resent their existence.

Which is why I really loved Grant Brisbee’s article this week, on how the last three months of the Giants’ offense (August and September 2018, April 2019), were among the seven worst offensive seasons in Giants history, dating back to 1905. WHICH IS INSANE, but can be addressed another day. For the moment I’d like to highlight how Brisbee, understanding he’s speaking in large part to fans like the ones who booed Zaidi, breaks down a couple of advanced stats in a way that is easy to understand. I wanted to share this with those of you who don’t get them or don’t want to get them:

The first stat you’ll need to understand is OPS, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. It’s an imperfect stat, and you really shouldn’t add decimal points like that … but danged if it doesn’t give you an idea of how a team is performing offensively. It takes into account how good a team is at avoiding outs, and it also takes into account how many extra-base hits they’re getting. It’s safe to assume that a team with an .800 OPS is probably hitting the snot out of the ball.

The next stat to understand is OPS+. In 2006, the Giants had an OPS of .746. In 2012, the Giants had an OPS of .724. So that means the 2006 Giants were better, right?

It does not. The National League scored a lot more runs back in 2006, so we need to adjust for that. OPS+ takes this into account, and it also takes the team’s home ballpark into account. Then it crams everything into one number and sets 100 as the league average. So if a team has a 90 OPS+, like the 2006 Giants, that means they were worse than the league average. If a team has a 106 OPS+, like the 2012 Giants, that means they have an above-average offense. The kind that can win the World Series with some strong pitching.

I love OPS+, and I’ll use it a lot. It’s not perfect, but it’s still good, very useful and searchable on Baseball-Reference.com. Which brings us to the last stat you’ll need to know: sOPS+.

What sOPS+ does is look for OPS+ within a particular split. Let’s say that you wanted to find out which team in baseball history was the best at hitting at their home park. Seems like a mess. That would mean comparing the Astrodome to Coors Field and the steroid era to a pitcher-dominated season like 1968. But sOPS+ does all that work for you, and gives us an answer. (It was the Rockies in 2014, even after accounting for park. The Coors effect is real, and it’s scary as heck.)

So when looking for the best or worst offensive months in a team’s history, use sOPS+. That way April isn’t unfairly docked because it’s colder than July, when the ball is likely to travel farther. It also compares Septembers with other Septembers, which are months besotted with rookie call-ups. And most important, sOPS+ takes into account what the rest of the league was doing that month.

Makes sense, right? OPS+ and ERA+ are really good stats to help you put numbers in context, and they’re simple to understand. I wish they were more widely understood and used. -TOB

Source: From a Ph.D. to RBIs: How Farhan Zaidi Left Berkeley and Became a Baseball Pioneer“, Tim Keown, ESPN (05/02/2019); “Here’s a Stat About the Giants Offensive Struggles That Will Melt Your Brain“, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (05/01/2019)


Video(s) of the Week

SVP with all you need to know on the Rockets’ close out “controversy”

I’M NOT CRYING. I WAS CHOPPING ONIONS.


Tweet(s) of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Richard Swift – ‘Lady Luck’


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Week of April 26, 2019

Pat Tilllman, straight up.


A Very Good Sports Night

Not long before I went to bed Tuesday night, still buzzing from one of the most electric sports nights in memory, I tweeted the following:

In Game 7, the Sharks pulled off the most improbable comeback I’ve ever seen, blew it minutes later, and then won in overtime. Meanwhile, in Portland, the Thunder pulled away from the Blazers in the 4th, leading by as many as 14, blew it, and then Dame Lillard made the most incredible series winning shot, perhaps of all-time. I watched it all live, picture-in-picture, howling every few minutes at the crazy swings. Days later, I still can’t believe it happened, all in the span of approximately 30 minutes.

What follows is a timeline of one incredible night.

8:20pm: First, you must know this about me: I was a hockey fan as a kid, sorta. I watched the Skills Competition every year, I watched the playoffs, especially if a game went into overtime. I played an entire 82-game season of NHL 95 on my Sega Genesis. I even played in a roller hockey league in high school. But as I grew older and my free-time diminished, it was the first sport I cut. I’m not a Sharks fan, by any fair reading of the word “fan”. However, I absolutely want to be a fair-weather Sharks fan, so I always root for them to win so I can finally tune in. Over the previous week and a half or so, I’d rolled my eyes every time I saw the ticker showing the Sharks had lost again, on the way to a 3-1 deficit in their first round series with the Vegas Golden Knights. Same ol’ Sharks, I thought. But then, they won – twice, setting up a Game 7. I might actually tune in for that.

So as I emerged from putting my kids to bed just after 8:00pm, I fixed myself a quick bite to eat and turned on the TV to check the Sharks score. Literally two seconds after I turned my TV to the game, the Knights scored to put themselves up 2-0. Same ol’ Sharks, I thought.

So I flipped the TV to the Blazers/Thunder, Game 5. The Blazers were looking to close out the series, sending Russ and Paul George to another first round loss.

8:34pm: Dame Lillard is going crazy, but the Blazers still trail late in the first half, 52-47. Lillard hits a 3 and I text my brother, a Portland resident, telling him Lillard has 32 points with two minutes left in the first half.

8:34pm: I text my brother again, as Lillard scores again. 34 points in the first half. The Blazers take the lead.

8:37pm: Paul George hits a stepback 3 to tie the game at 60 at the half. I flip back to hockey, which is at intermission. Hockey intermissions always seem endlessly long to me, so I go to the kitchen to clean up.

9:03pm: I get back in front of the TV just a minute or two before the Knights make it 3-0. Same ol’ Sharks. I flip back to the Blazers/Thunder, writing off the Sharks for good.

9:16pm: I see the following tweet:

I knew it was about the Sharks, and check the score on my phone. 3-2. Uhhhhhh what? I flip back to the game, at the spot where I left off. I fast forward and at around 9:13pm, the Knights were called for a 5-minute major penalty. If you don’t follow hockey, most penalties are two minutes, and the power play ends if the team on the advantage scores a goal. But a major is 5 minutes, and the power play does not end even if a goal is scored.

The penalty itself is somewhat controversial. Here’s the play:

The Knights’ Eakin cross checks Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. Pavelski seems to slip, falls into another Knights player, who seems to shove him to the ground, where he slams his head on the ice, and then bleeds from his skull. It’s ugly, but the Knights argued after the game that the refs did not initially call any penalty, and then called a major because of the result, not because of the act itself, which is improper. In fact, the referee crew will not officiate the next round of the playoffs, and the Knights say that the NHL admitted the refs made a mistake.

But! Pavelski’s gruesome injury aside, the call did allow for the excitement that was about to ensue: Just six seconds into the power play, the Sharks’ Logan Couture scores the team’s first goal of the game. “That’s one!” he says to his celebrating teammates.

Video

9:23pm: Just 49 game-seconds later, Tomas Hertl tacks on another for the Sharks. I’m about 5-minutes behind live, and I have no idea what’s about to happen. In the meantime, the Blazers stretched the lead to 9 late in the third, but the Thunder go on a 15-6 run, and the quarter ends with the Thunder leading 90-88.

9:24pm: Phil texts me: “Dude the sharks just scored 4 power play goals on one 5 minute power play.” He has unintentionally spoiled the next three minutes for me, but I do not mind. I tell him I’m five minutes behind because I turned the game off when they went down 3-0, and I’m at 3-2.

9:25pm: I text Phil, “Wow.” The Sharks have tied the game 3-3 on a goal by Logan Couture.

9:28pm: I text Phil, “Holy shit.” The Sharks’ LaBanc scores, and the Sharks take the lead, 4-3. The arena is rocking. Here are all four goals.

It’s incredible and it’s hard to put into words just how improbable it was. 3-0 with 10 minutes to go in Game 7? The Sharks’ season was over, and suddenly they are looking to hold on. As play resumes with 49 seconds remaining on the advantage, the announcer screams, “And they’re STILL on the power play. I have never seen anything like this in my life!” I try to explain it to my wife and mom. I can’t tell if they care, but I think my wife does say, “Wow.”

I asked Phil and then tweeted the following:

I immediately regret tempting the Sports Gods. Phil did not respond.

9:31pm: I am finally live, just in time to see the Sharks get called for a penalty.

9:36pm: The Sharks successfully kill the power play, and they have to hold on for just one minute and forty-seven seconds. Spoiler: They do not.

9:37pm: The Knights go empty net for the man-advantage and it pays off: They tie it up with just 47 seconds left. I text Phil, simply, “Fuck.”

9:40pm: Regulation ends, tied up at 4. I find ot my brother in law, a big Sharks fan, is at the game. I am jealous. With another long intermission in store, I check in on Blazers/Thunder. OKC goes on a 12-0 run to stretch the lead to 15 with 7:45 to go. After his hot first half, Lillard has shot just 2-for-10 in the second half to this point, and this game seems over.

9:55pm: The Blazers have made a little run, trailing by just 8 with 3:28 to go. Meanwhile, hockey’s intermission is over, meaning that game could end at any moment. Which means: PICTURE IN PICTURE TIME. I begin with the Sharks on the big picture and keep my eye on the Blazers in the corner.

9:58pm – 10: 00pm: The Sharks’ goalie is making me queasy, and the early minutes of overtime feel like a Vegas victory, so I swap the PIP as the Blazers continue to cut the lead. It’s 6 points with 3:07 to go. Then 4 points with 1:39 to go. McCollum hits a three to tie it with 57 seconds to go! Paul George retakes the lead with 39.4 to go. Lillard hits a tough layup to tie it again. 32.8 seconds left. I am shouting to no one in particular every possession at this point. My mom, in town for the evening, goes to bed and asks me not to yell as she opens the door to the kids’ room – a sensible request.

10:01pm: Westbrook tries a wild drive and it rolls off the rim with 17 seconds left. Westbrook had a tough 4th – shooting just 2 for 7, including 1 for 3 with two turnovers as the Blazers made their comeback.

10:01pm: The Blazers have a timeout, but elect not to use it. It’s Dame Time, and so Oakland’s own Dame Lillard does this:

I think I actually fell off the couch. I make my wife watch the replay. She seems slightly impressed. I’ve never seen anything like it. An almost 40-foot rainbow buzzer beater, and not a half court prayer heaved out of necessity, but an intentional jump shot.

I love how Lillard waves goodbye to the Thunder, who had talked a lot of crap to him during the series.

I love the way he calmly mugged the camera as he was mobbed by teammates.

I love that Lillard laughed at Paul George on Twitter after George said after the game that Dame took a bad shot.

That shot gave Lillard FIFTY points on the night. A series-winning, damn near half court jumper, for half a hundo, to send home a newly-minted rival? Hell yeah.

10:02pm: I text my brother, “DAME TIME.” Unsure if he’s watching, I find the video on twitter and send it to him a few minutes later. I text Phil, too. He does not respond. But there’s no time to linger on the aftermath – it’s time to do that hockey.

10:03pm: The Sharks’ Joe Thornton looks like he’s skating in sand. I text Phil that he skates like he’s 50. He does not respond.

10:05pm: Things still feel like they will end poorly for the Sharks. Their goalie seems to lack urgency as shots are fired at him, and it seems inevitable one will slip through. I text Phil. He does not respond.

10:06pm-10:22pm: Things turn for the Sharks. Suddenly, they are flying around the ice, getting chances and controlling the puck. I grow optimistic, but it’s hockey and it’s sudden death, so anything can happen.

10:23pm: YESSSSSSSS! The Sharks score. The Sharks win. The improbable comeback that almost wasn’t was. And the winning goal was no fluke.

I immediately feel relieved that while my earlier tweet was punished by the Sports Gods, the Sports Gods are merciful and merely reminded me of their powers without truly bringing their full wrath upon me. I text Phil, “Woo.” He does not respond. Just kidding. This time, he did, saying that he’s on the Sharks bandwagon. I am an honest man and reply that I am a fair-weather Sharks fan, and in fact I tweet the following:

I start to marvel about what I saw over the previous hour and seven minutes, from the time I was alerted to the fact the Sharks had cut their deficit to one goal, until the moment the game winner hit the back of the net. I spend the next hour digesting it all – looking at clips on twitter, watching the analysis of the basketball game on TNT, and the hockey game on ESPN.

I am not shocked but very impressed to hear that there had never been a four goal power play in NHL playoff history, and only two previous instances in the regular season. Thing about that: there have been over 50,000 regular season and over 4,200 playoff games played in 102 NHL seasons, and this happened just twice. And while I suppose it’s conceivable the Sharks could have scored just one (or zero or two) goals in that power play and still tied the game later, it seems extremely unlikely.

I am shocked at the fact that Lillard’s shot is just the fifth series-winning buzzer beater in NBA history. And this is Dame’s second, as he also had one back in 2014. I would have guessed there had been 25, but no – just 5. The others were Ralph Sampson, Michael Jordan, and John Stockton. Jordan’s shot over Ehlo, by the way, was the only one that was do-or-die: if he missed it, the Bulls season was over. But he made it, and the Cavs season was over instead.

Nights like this are why sports are so great, hence my tweet that opened this story. The next morning I read Ray Ratto’s take on Deadspin, and his thoughts were similar (his headline? “Sports Were Good as Hell Last Night”). I especially liked this passage:

And we would have suggested the same of Lillard except that what he did and the way he did it was in its way every bit as stupefying as what the Sharks did. Lillard’s reaction to his deed was as cold-bloodedly silencing as the Sharks’ was uncontrollably hysterical, but the truth is Lillard ended a series with the same level of amazing performance that the Sharks did.

In other words, while these two events would create the usual internet don’t-cross-the-streams pissing contest about which sport’s postseason is better and on and on, they actually combined to remind everyone that this is the thing we’re all in this for—the ridiculously amazing. Otherwise, what’s the point of any of it? You just got handed two of the best games in modern postseason history, one in each of two seemingly diametrically opposed endeavors, at roughly the same time, and to obstinately denigrate one because you’re pot-committed to the other sport is the reason Vladimir Putin first got the idea to fix our elections.

Amen. -TOB

Source: Sports Were Good as Hell Last Night”, Ray Ratto, Deadspin (04/24/2019)

PAL: TOB is the fastest texter of all time, and he texts in waves. How the hell am I supposed to watch this historic Sharks comeback when my phone is buzzing every second? It’s a mandatory silence the phone situation. Live in the moment.

To think I flipped on the Sharks-Knights game as the puck dropped on  face-off to start the 5-minute major. My initial thought, OK, I’ll watch the power play to see if they can put one maybe two in the net. It was HUGE for them to score six seconds into a 5 minute major. At that moment, the pressure shifted to the Knights.

It’s also insane that zero of the four goals were flukey. Hertl’s tip on the second was especially saucy. Oh, to be at venue when something like that happens in a Game 7. You could feel the arena shaking through the TV. In those moments, players look like kids again – the joy highlights all the youthful features and mannerisms that remain. Watch for the celebrations, especially on the bench. Watch it again: 

The urgency of a game 7 hockey game is a hell of a thing to watch.

TOB: One last thing I wanted to shoehorn in about Lillard. The day after the game, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports published an article on Lillard and his beef with Westbrook (and Paul George and Dennis Schroeder) during the series. Here’s the opening paragraph:

PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard invited a few people to his home for dinner on Monday night to watch Game 4 of the first-round series between the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets.

For several minutes, the Portland Trail Blazers’ star guard sat quietly on his sofa, chowing down on fried catfish, red beans and rice, and broccoli. And then suddenly, he spoke: “I’m getting rid of these mother——- tomorrow.”

Amazing. And one more tidbit, a little later:

Lillard showed a social-media clip of him telling Westbrook, “Stop running from this ass whoopin’,” as Lillard grew weary of Westbrook switching off him, while Lillard continued to be Westbrook’s primary defender.

And what came out of Westbrook’s mouth during a few of his post-basket outbursts was the B-word, something most players wouldn’t dismiss without an altercation.

“The way I see it, it’s basketball,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “I know I ain’t no b—–ass mother——; so it doesn’t bother me.

“I’m not out here to prove to these dudes that I’m the hardest mother—— in the league because they cussed at me on the court. But they know where I’m from and what I’m about. This Oakland. But I don’t take s— personal. My goal is to get the win.”


The Story Behind That Photo of Pat Tillman, On a Light Tower Above Sun Devil Stadium

Pat Tillman has  to be one of the most interesting people of my lifetime. His story has been told many times over. But one story seldom told is the story behind that photograph of him on a light tower, 200-feet above Sun Devil Stadium, when he was a senior at ASU. The photo appeared in a feature on Tillman that ran in Sports Illustrated that season. Tillman received a call from the photographer, Paul Gero.

Gero was excited; shooting for Sports Illustrated long had been a dream and this was his first assignment for the magazine. He told Tillman he had ideas that he hoped would reflect both the academic and athletic sides of him. After hearing them, Tillman wasn’t enthused.

“Uh, that doesn’t really sound like me,” he said.

Gero asked the linebacker if he had ideas.

“Well,” Tillman said, “sometimes I climb up the light towers and I just sit up there and think.”

Gero jumped on it. But when the issue ran, Tillman’s coach, Bruce Snyder, was less than pleased:

Three​ weeks before the 1997​ Sun​ Bowl,​ Arizona State coach​ Bruce Snyder​ rushed into the​ sixth-floor​ office of​ defensive​ coordinator​​ Phil Snow and threw a magazine on his desk.

It was the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, dated Dec. 8. The magazine cover — which showed four short-haired basketball players — asked: “What Ever Happened to the White Athlete?” But that didn’t concern Snyder. It was the double-truck photo of the ASU football player on pages 86 and 87.

“Snow, what the hell is this?” Snyder asked.

Snow looked at the photo. He recognized Pat Tillman, recently honored as the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year and as an Academic All-American. The senior linebacker was casually dressed in jeans, a beige buttondown and flip flops. His feet rested on a rusted railing as he looked west, the football field far below him in the background.

“Well, Coach, it’s Pat sitting,” Snow said. “What’s he sitting on?”

Snyder walked to the window. From here, he could see all of Sun Devil Stadium. The green grass. The gray bleachers. In his sixth season in Tempe, Snyder pointed to a light tower above the stadium press box, 200 feet from the ground.

“Pat’s sitting on that light standard,” Snyder said.

Tillman started climbing the tower early in his time at ASU, and eventually invited teammates, like Frank Ugenti, who was from San Jose, just like Tillman.

The first time Ugenti reached the top of the light tower he didn’t say much because he didn’t want to ruin the moment. The view was incredible. From 200 feet, sitting on an 8-by-15-foot metal platform, Tillman and his friends could see the entire ASU campus and all of metro Phoenix lit up in the desert night. The airplanes, about to land at nearby Sky Harbor Airport, flew by with such force the light tower seemed to shake.

Tillman never really shared what he liked about the light tower, at least not to Ugenti, but sitting up there, high above the football field, it became obvious. We are out of society. We are out of community. We’re above the noise. Above the distractions. No hierarchy. Everyone’s equal. A group of guys from the same hometown. Just hanging out. Just living life. True friendship.

-TOB

Source: “Above the Noise: The Story of Pat Tillman’s Light-Tower Climbing at Arizona State”, Doug Haller, The Athletic (04/25/2019)

PAL: I’ll only add this. A reminder:

 


Good, Great, Grand, Wonderful!

Here’s a fun story about the losers. That’s right; the world has an unending supply of stories about those who triumph, persevere, reach the mountain top, break through, get the monkey off their back, and so on and so forth. BORING. This one’s about the unprepared, the injured, the foolish, the delusional, and all of the above. This is a story about the shag bus.

While in some running races participants can theoretically stay on the course as long as it takes to complete (Boston Marathon), there are certain running races that take place in locations where road closures cannot go on all day and there isn’t a safe sidewalk alternative once cars are allowed back in the course. The Big Sur Marathon takes place on the Pacific Coast Highway. While quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, I’ve run that highway and even with minimal traffic it can put the fear of god in you. So Big Sur’s got a shag bus. Another race with a shag bus, the race featured in Sarah Lyall’s NY Times piece, is The Seven Mile Bridge Run in Marathon Florida. It should be obvious why a run that takes place on a seven mile bridge would need a shag bus.

From bus driver to the sheriff that steps off the creeping bus with a nice little joke about how we never would’ve made it this far and – really, it’s time to get your dragging ass on the bus, everyone plays a role. The role of the racers dressed in all shades of moisture wicking humiliation on the bus is oftentimes excuse-makers:

  • “I went on a cruise, and then I got sick, and then I pulled a groin muscle.”
  • “I’m more of a golfer, although I’ve been trying to run about five miles once a week, roughly.”
  • “I never made it more that five miles.”

Just a point of clarification: the race is called The SEVEN Mile Bridge Run.

But no doubt the best part of this story comes near the end, as the bus nears the end of the race as well.

The bus stopped for the last few unfortunates, and Westerband (the Sheriff) cajoled them through the door, even as they tried to remonstrate with him. The end was so close, within reach.

Taking advantage of the distraction, a runner who had been quietly sulking at the front of the bus suddenly got up and sprinted for the door, slipping past Westerband. He proceeded to jog unimpeded all the way to the finish line, where he was greeted with applause from runners who had managed to complete the course without riding the bus.

There was a moment of stunned silence on the shag bus, as the passengers contemplated the unethical nature of the man’s action and wondered why they had not thought of it first.

I finished reading this story, and I had an epiphany: these shag bus riders are the very people who stand still on a moving walkway at the airport. SMH. – PAL

Source: A Bitter Finish for Slow Runners: Get on the Bus”, Sarah Lyall, The New York Times (04/23/19)

TOB: I get that this is a short run, and I get why they need to do this. But what I don’t get is why they start the shag bus just forty minutes after a 90-minute race begins. Seems early!


Ollie From Last Chance U Gets Another

If you watched the first season of Netflix’s Last Chance U, you remember Ollie. A big guy with a warm smile and a loud laugh.

He came from an extremely poor small town in Mississippi, and he had a terrible childhood – his father killed his mother, and Ollie discovered her body. Ollie’s dad later killed himself. He later bounced around with relatives. He found solace in football, but he never applied himself. At Eastern Mississippi Community College, Ollie found some purpose, and on Last Chance U, he found a modicum of stardom and a scholarship to FCS Nicholls State. But Ollie didn’t apply himself at Nicholls, either, and soon found that he had squandered that last chance.

Except that he got another last chance. In fact, he gave himself that second last chance. If you’re interested in reading about Ollie – where he’s at now and how he got there, check this story out. -TOB

Source: Ronald Ollie’s Last Chance”, Greg Bishop, Sports Illustrated (04/25/2019)


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Oh, if they were Sean Jean sweatpants it would be no problem, but because they were Costco brand, it'sthe worst thing I could do.

- Peter Bretter 




Week of April 19, 2019

Did not give up popcorn for Lent.


Reminder: Tiger Woods Won The Masters

It’s not even a week old, but Tiger’s unlikely Masters win, his fifteenth major victory, feels like such old news. We’ll get into why people care about this so much in a moment, but the sleazeball actually made it all the way back after his life and his body fell apart. Say what you want about the type of person he is, or has been (I don’t know; is he a ‘good guy’ now?), but it’s undeniably incredible that he came back to win another major after over a decade of setbacks – injuries, surgeries, infidelities, arrests, and just bad golf. Through it all, people held out hope to see this performance. We just kept waiting, long after we should have, and then it finally happened.

Tiger Woods is undeniably bland and boring and captivating and unique. The regular sports fan cares about Tiger playing golf; the regular sports fan doesn’t care about golf. I haven’t experienced an athlete with that much gravity in his or her sport. I’m guessing Ali was like that and maybe Babe Ruth. Whoever’s on that list, it’s a short list.

Needless to say, there was a few columns written about Tiger’s win at Augusta. I found this Drew Magary paragraph in particular to be the most resonant:

Athletes are measuring sticks. You measure their ability against yours and you measure their ability to handle pressure against your own, naturally. But you also measure their lives against your own. Their history is your history. They’re personal markers, just as certain movies and songs and pictures evoke moments from your youth that have grown warmer and fonder and perhaps more unattainable over time. I was rooting for Tiger yesterday, but to be more accurate: I was selfishly rooting to relive my own past. I was still in college and away on a semester abroad when Tiger Woods won his first Masters, back in 1997. I read all about his win in a hard copy of USA Today I got from a newsstand in England, because reading news online wasn’t a thing most people did back then. He was already the biggest name in golf even before he won that first title, and he has remained the biggest name in the sport—perhaps all of sports—as he’s toiled for the past 11 years and change to assume his throne once more.

Magary’s onto something here. I was absolutely pulling for Tiger, and afterwards I wondered why. I really wanted him to win, and it just might be because no other golfer serves as personal marker on my life. I also just want to witness historic moments in sports. There are very few events when you know something historic is taking place in the moment. – PAL

Source: Un-Fucking-Real”, Drew Magary, Deadspin (4/14/19)


Pesky Morality

We’ve posted a lot of stories about CTE over the years. Heartbreaking personal stories, medical stories, political stories; this issue flows into so many facets of culture and very well could be the defining sports story of our generation.

This week, Michael Powell wrote about another scenario in which CTE cannot be ignored. When a college wants to hire a coach, that needs to be approved by a board of regents, as was the case at the University of Colorado recently. Mel Tucker’s five-year, $14.75MM contract went to the board for a vote. That vote comes with some culpability.

The nation’s universities face a more ticklish problem known as morality. These institutions were founded with the purpose of developing and educating young minds. It is difficult to square that mission with the fate of those like running back  Rashaan Salaam, who ran so beautifully for the University of Colorado and then as a pro, and like Drew Wahlroos, a fearless, rampaging Colorado linebacker. Both men suffered emotional and cognitive problems that friends and family and even university officials related to thousands of hits taken over the course of their careers. Each killed himself.

In what I’m sure would be seen as high comedy on the campuses of Ohio State, Clemson, or Alabama, two regents at Colorado voted against the hiring. It wasn’t as much about Tucker as it was about their belief that football is an unsafe game.

Regent Linda Shoemaker: “I really thought at first that we could play football safely with better rules and better equipment; I drank the Kool-Aid. I can’t go there anymore. I don’t believe it can be played safely anymore. I want these young men to leave C.U. with minds that have been strengthened, not damaged.”

Wherever you come down on CTE and football (or any sport connected to CTE), what this story highlights is the fact that this issue touches all of us. It’s not just isolated to locker rooms and athletic departments; we vote and pay taxes that go schools that field football teams. Those institutions, and the student body, are our responsibility, and that – man, that really hit home reading this story. – PAL

Source: At Colorado, a Breach in Football’s Wall”, Michael Powell, The New York Times (4/18/19)


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With all due respect, Officer Berg, you are not bald. You’ve chosen to shave your hair and that’s a look you’re cultivating in order to look fashionable, but we don’t really consider you part of the bald community…with all due respect.

-L.D.