Week of February 23, 2015

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Who wore it best: Madison Bumgarner or Duane Kuiper?


The NFL Combine is Pro Sports At Its Absurdist Extreme

Whenever Matt Taibbi writes for Grantland, it is a treat. The guy has made a living writing on some of the biggest and most important stories of our time – he is smart, funny, and has a way of drawing out the absurdity of every situation. This time, that task was pretty easy, as we were blessed with Taibbi’s take on the NFL Draft Combine. He absolutely laid waste to this ridiculous spectacle that has somehow become a TV ratings boon for the NFL Network. Every year, millions turn on their TV during the middle of the day (or watch the re-airing that night) and watch college aged kids run, jump, and lift weights. It is absolutely absurd. As Taibbi writes: “As live television, the combine is a marathon effort at extracting something out of not too much of anything. It’s 45 hours of watching guys the casual fan has never heard of run wind sprints. You have to be brain-damaged to love it, but millions, including myself, do.” -TOB

Source: “America’s Second-Greatest Reality Show: A Visit to the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis”, Matt Taibbi, Grantland (02/24/2015)

PAL: I’m trying to understand why so many people watch the combine and the draft. The best I can come up with is this: There are phases of fandom over the course of any sport’s season, but these phases are condensed because football is a short season. Whereas in baseball a team can start off 6-15 and you’re still invested as a fan, you more than likely know the outcome of your football team’s year if they start 0-3. There needs to be time for hope, potential, and futures with franchise quarterbacks. The combine and the draft create that time, venue, and show to feed the ignorant bliss central to fandom. Of course, all of this is ludicrous, which is why Matt Taibbi – a writer way above this story – is the perfect guy to pen this piece.


Jocks vs. Nerds, Exhibit No. 782

Here’s a fresh perspective on the analytics “debate” in sports. On February 10, Charles Barkley (now a part of the media), laid into a NBA General Manager, calling him an “idiot who believes in analytics…it (analytics) is just some crap some people who are really smart made up to try to get in the game because they had no talent.” I hope we can agree applying more specific analysis when it comes to quantifying athletic performance isn’t idiotic. In this article, Bryan Curtis offers up this take on what the debate might actually be about: “This clash doesn’t pit a blogger versus a newspaperman in a debate over the value of PER. It pits media versus athletes in a battle over who gets to tell the story of basketball.” That makes a lot of sense, especially since we have more and more former athletes transitioning into the media. Additionally, this story makes me wonder, as fans, what experience we want with our teams. Do we find comfort in the metaphysical, the data, or some combination of the two? -PAL

Source: “Moneyball II: Charles Barkley, the Sports Media, and the Second Statistical War”, Bryan Curtis, Grantland (02/26/2015)

TOB: Good article, but I don’t agree with the premise that this is “Moneyball II”. The war between athletes and media has been going on for as long as the press has covered sports. Even athletes vs. analytics is nothing new. When I first read Chuck’s comments, it reminded me of Joe Morgan’s stubborn and outspoken opposition to baseball analytics, despite the fact that Joe Morgan, a Hall of Famer, is actually seen as underrated by the analytics community. They love him. Joe didn’t care. Chuck isn’t quite so resolute. During a panel discussion at All-Star weekend, Barkley was presented with a Grantland article that showed how advanced stats love him. From the article: “Barkley got a big smile on his face. Analytics were suddenly OK, even helpful, when they confirmed something Barkley already knew: He was great.” The latest flare-up is just Chuck being Chuck, and this “new” battle between media and athletes has been going on since before “Moneyball I” even began.


The NCAA Can’t Get Out Of Its Own Way

The NCAA imposed recruiting restrictions on LSU this week. Last summer, LSU signed a player to a Financial Aid Agreement (FAA), with the intent to enroll him in January (in the parlance, this is known as a “Greyshirt”, and allows a player to delay the start of his eligibility clock). But come January, the player decided to attend Alabama instead. Here’s where it gets screwy: the rules allow a school unlimited contact with a player once an FAA is signed. But the player is not bound to the school, and if the player changes his mind and decides to attend another school, the school is punished – ostensibly for too much contact with the player. This is absolutely illogical and insane and thus the perfect example of an NCAA rule. -TOB

Source: “Hefty LSU Recruiting Sanctions May Be Related to Alabama Signee”, John Taylor, College Football Talk (02/26/2015)

PAL: Remember when you were a kid playing at the park with the rest of the kids from the neighborhood and you made up some game to pass the time and ultimately said made up game would fall apart because there’s always that one kid who starts making up rules in the middle of the game? The NCAA is like that kid who always messes up an otherwise fun game.


Hey, Uh, Vivek: Players Are Not Guinea Pigs

Since taking over the Kings, Vivek Ranadive has floated some insane basketball strategies. One that has gone largely  unnoticed, though, is that the team’s NBDL affiliate, the Reno Bighorns, hired David Arseneault, Jr. to implement the Grinnell System (to middling success – the Bighorns are just 14-21 on the season). Grinnell has intermittently made headlines, most notably in 2012 when Jack Taylor scored 138 points in a single game. It appears that management is evaluating this as a possible strategy for the NBA squad, despite the fact that it would not work in the NBA.

Grinnell’s system is simple: (1) only shoot threes and layups, and shoot them immediately; (2) full-court press on defense and try for steals at every opportunity; (3) if your man beats you, let him score and get back to the offensive end; and (4) everyone but the shooter tries to get offensive rebounds. To keep players fresh, they make full five-man substitutions every 2 minutes, like in hockey. As a result, the Bighorns are averaging 140 points and 50 three-point attempts per game.

But the most interesting aspect of this story is how the Bighorn players, hoping to impress someone and make an NBA team, are being treated like guinea pigs. In the article, the players openly wonder if teams will take their abilities seriously – especially on the defensive end. This charade only serves to hurt the players the Kings employ, and to damage their own credibility. Thanks to 1-2-3 Sports! reader Brett Morris for this story. -TOB

Source: “140 Points – But are the Reno Bighorns a Basketball Experiment Too Far?”, Les Carpenter, The Guardian (02/20/2015)


NBA Inside Stuff (Sans Ahmad Rashad)

What’s it like to guard Tim Duncan and get beat even when you know exactly what he’s going to do? What differentiates Anthony Davis’ shot-blocking from other bigs in the NBA? Why does Pau Gasol draw more fouls than DeMarcus Cousins? NBA vet Tyson Chandler breaks down a list of players who “do certain things better than anyone else in the world.” Chandler is great on these assessments, providing specific insights that dig deeper than a player’s natural abilities. Chess matches take place all over the court throughout the game. 1-1 battles within a team game. Sounds like a baseball article. In fact, Chandlers’ assessment reminds me a bit of a July post we had on what makes Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright so tough to hit. – PAL

Source: “Elite Bigs 101”, Tyson Chandler, The Players’ Tribune (02/18/2015)


Video of the Week

Bonus:


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“Lou, give me a milk…chocolate.”

George McFly
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Week of January 5, 2015


Ownage: Mickey Morandini > Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz

Who? That’s the point. Second baseman Mickey Morandini hit .352 off of Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz over his career (Smoltz and Pedro were voted into the Hall of Fame this week). I’m not talking about 10 ABs either. He faced these two over 100 times in his career. While a .344 average against Smoltz is impressive, let’s focus on the real feat: the “dandy little gloveman” hit .370 against Pedro. Can you imagine what Smoltz and Pedro must’ve been thinking when this guy walked up to the plate? I’d bet money it included Joe Pesci’s preferred adjective ending in -ing, bookended by “this” and “guy”. This is a fun read that highlights the seemingly illogical nature of 1-on-1 matchups in baseball that’s hard to imagine in other sports. It doesn’t exactly translate, but can you fathom Jared Dudley owning LeBron James 1-on-1? And, yes, Pedro was as good of a pitcher as LeBron James is a basketball player. – PAL

Source: “Aces’ Obstacle on Way to Hall: A Modest Hitter”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (1/5/14)

TOB: As Phil notes, this article reminds me of why baseball is so weird. I checked – here are some other big name pitchers that Morandini killed: Maddux (.361), Andy Benes (.424), Tom Glavine (.293), Dwight Gooden (.359), Roger Clemens (.667 – but just 3 at bats). Wild. I also like wondering how the reporter stumbled upon this story – did someone tip him off to it? Is it some weird bit of trivia he came across years ago, and held onto for this day, when Smoltz and Pedro would be elected to the Hall? Or was he simply perusing baseball-reference.com for hitters who did well against the three electees when he noticed Morandini’s name at the top of two of the lists?


Ugh. The Maloofs Won’t Go Away
Oh, just die already. -TOB
Source: “Former Sacramento Kings Owners Maloofs Looking to Get Back Into Sports Business”, Dale Kasler, San Jose Mercury-News (12/25/14)

PAL: Owning a stake in a team is a great gig if you can get it. Frank McCourt runs the Dodgers into the ground, the team files for bankruptcy, then he sells the team for $2 billion (according to NBC sports, he walked away with $1.278 billion). Owners threaten to move teams if they don’t get state funding to build stadiums (my all-time WTF in sports, see: the Rams, Twins, Vikings, Saints, Marlins, etc.). So now the Maloofs are getting into the NHL as potential minority owners for a Las Vegas hockey team. Let them. Any team in Las Vegas will see a 2-year spike, then die, just like everything does in Las Vegas.


To Quote George Costanza, “You’re Superman,” Tommy Caldwell
This story has everything. Kidnapping by extremists: check. Saw accident: check. Sleeping in a tent on the face of El Capitan: check. I’m getting old. I’ve become drawn to simplicity in the world of sports. I scarfed down Christopher McDougall’s book, Born To Run, which looks to figure out why a forgotten tribe in Mexico is home to some of the best endurance runners the world’s ever known. I’m captivated by free solo climber Alex Honnold (high walls, no ropes). I’m fascinated by the objective of a pursuit being singular, instantly understood, and yet extremely difficult. Climb the wall. Run from here to there as fast as you can. All of this, topped off with a little nudge from Jamie Morganstern, led me to this story about Tommy Caldwell. He’s currently on El Capitan about to do something no one has ever done – solo climb the whole damn thing (ropes, but only to catch you if you fall). Simple objective, right? His route to this day is anything but simple. He lost the top of his finger in a saw. Oh, and he was taken hostage by extremist while climbing in Kyrgyzstan (he and the other climbers escaped by pushing a captor off of a cliff). This guy is fueled by simple, yet incredibly difficult challenges, and I dig that. – PAL

Source: “Abduction. Lost Finger. Now, a Rock Climber’s Tallest Hurdle.”, John Branch, The New York Times (1/7/15)


Long Live the Rex
A look back at the always entertaining Rex Ryan era, as presented by Matt Taibbi, one of the best writers/journalists of our generation. I am really, really hopeful that the 49ers hire Rex. He’s amazing. I’ll never forget this speech he gave on Hard Knocks in 2010 (language NSFW):

That speech was inspiring, ridiculous, and funny as hell. And that was the night before a PRESEASON game. I remember watching the show – first, I laughed at the “9:00 SNACK” on the whiteboard at the beginning. That still kills me. Then my now-wife and I kept rewinding and re-watching the end over and over again, laughing our heads off. “Let’s go and eat a god damn snack!” Man, I really hope he comes to the Niners. -TOB
Source: “Rex’s Last Stand”, Matt Taibbi, Grantland (01/06/15)

PAL: Taibbi can write a hell of a story – no doubt – but I’m confused. Do you want Ryan to be the 49ers coach because he’s entertaining, because he’s a good coach, or even both? He had two winning seasons during his six years as the Jets’ coach. He’s refreshing, especially in the context of Jim Harbaugh, but isn’t he entertaining from distance where we can separate the comedy from, you know, the lack of wins?

TOB: Both. How many wins can anyone get with Mark Sanchez as your QB? Chip Kelly learned all too well this year.


VIDEOS OF THE WEEK

Moms everywhere – do not throw the baseball cards away:

High School Dunk 1:

High School Dunk 2:


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“I don’t care. Anything. I would rather… I would rather watch “Beautician and the Beast”. I would rather listen to Fran Drescher for eight hours than have to listen to Michael McDonald. Nothing against him, but if I hear “Yah Mo B There” one more time, I’m going to “Yah Mo” burn this place to the ground.”

– David