Shohei Ohtani, please do this one more thing for us even though we're not worthy of your greatness

September 14, 2021

Like every other baseball fan, I’ve enjoyed watching Shohei Ohtani do Shohei Ohtani things this season. He’s been one of the two or three best power hitters in baseball while also pitching like a No. 2 starter, which makes other MLB players giddy and provides tremendous value to the Los Angeles Angels because, effectively, they get two great players from one roster spot.

However, there’s one more wrinkle to Ohtani’s game that I hope the Angels explore more fully: Playing him in the field.

We pretend 9/11 was a shared experience

September 6, 2021

What I wish more Americans consciously understood about 9/11 is that it was not a shared experience. Most of us acknowledge that people who were in Lower Manhattan and in or near the Pentagon were affected differently than people who were in Cheyenne that day. However, I want to highlight how our full identities — geographical location, age, education, parents’ background, and more — contributed to shaping realities that exploded into kaleidoscopic webs of memories and narratives.

The San Francisco Giants could have torn everything down, but didn't

August 29, 2021

The San Francisco Giants have the best record in Major League Baseball, and though the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays could easily overtake them by the time you read this, the Giants deserve recognition as the latest major pro sports team to rebuild and return to the top of their league without a full-on tank.

Teachers unions, pro athletes unions, and vaccine mandates

August 16, 2021

This week, millions of children are headed back to school in person, and so are the adults who teach and otherwise care for them. While large majorities of teachers appear to be pro-vaccination and actually getting vaccinated, too, teachers unions have, predictably, received waves of vitriol from the usual suspects for deigning to flex their collective muscle to urge the utmost caution in returning to school. A weird thing about this conflict is that a very similar dynamic plays out in professional sports leagues.

Prediction: The worst people are about to start invoking 'mental health'

July 30, 2021

Most of the conversation around Simone Biles’s decision to pull out of Olympic gymnastics competitions has been equal parts supportive and deferential to her stated reasons, at least in my circles. It’s not difficult to recognize that competing in these particular events without full confidence is far more dangerous than, say, trying to play basketball at the highest levels with an extreme aversion to shooting the ball.

However, I’ve come across a few people with different takes, which largely boil down to “she could have done something rather than pull out of the team competition completely, right?” or, in the case of the culture warriors making bad-faith arguments about how Biles’s choices reflect poorly on America more broadly, “she’s weak.”

ESPN's Playmakers: Flawed, but still resonant today

July 19, 2021

may not be remembered as a great television show, particularly when assessed by today’s standards, but the 2003 drama about a fictional pro football team that aired on ESPN(!) has many of the hallmarks of modern prestige TV and holds its own alongside other classic melodramas. Others have ably recapped the show in broad strokes, but I have yet to read any analysis of the character Leon Taylor, and how he was, subtly, as wild as all the other emotional wrecks and arrested development cases on the Cougars.

What it really means to be young

June 27, 2021

Each time I listen to The Linda Lindas — in particular their song, “Missing You” — I’m struck by their youth. Partly, it’s the lyric about doing homework; mostly, it’s the youthful energy in the performance that is somehow different from the energy that much older musicians present, even if otherwise they share more similarities than differences.

Being 30 years old means you can’t sincerely channel the same emotions as a 15-year-old in a rock performance. It just plays different.

Pitchers using sticky substances: What's become collective understanding and what's ephemera?

June 14, 2021

A problem with being Super Online is that when certain issues cross over to the mainstream and trigger fresh waves of “discourse,” it can feel disorienting. In my internet-rotted brain, the controversy about MLB pitchers using sticky stuff to grip the ball was litigated in the middle of the 2010s and ebbed away, so the return of the argument, inflected with newer, Statcast-inflected understandings of the effects of better grip, feels like a sneaker wave.

My brain won't let go of a job I wasn't offered

June 7, 2021

In the summer of 2017, I applied for a communications job with a Silicon Valley startup. After two phone interviews, they invited me to an in-person interview at a co-working space with no signage on the outside.

The two gentlemen conducting my interview met me outside on the sidewalk and guided me to their home office, which occupied one of the co-working space’s sub-warrens. As we headed through the company’s rooms, we passed several young men in shorts and t-shirts working on laptops. One of them had four or five cases of Soylent stacked under his table.

If The Athletic’s head honchos cash out, what was the point?

May 25, 2021

If the New York Times ends up buying The Athletic, as Axios reported is in the works, it could be good for readers. There’s a scenario where the NYT simply absorbs The Athletic as a sort of sports vertical and lets all the local journalists they’ve hired the past few years continue as they have been. There’s also a chance they make a series of cuts in an attempt to “right-size the business” when it becomes part of a public company and is no longer propped up by venture capital, and readers, local news outlets, and journalists are all left out to dry while a few executives and their VC backers make a tidy profit off the NYT’s optimism.

Either way, the primary lesson of The Athletic saga that I think not enough people have learned is how much news ⁠— radio, television, digital ⁠— is built upon the foundation of local general interest newspapers, and that the entire ecosystem goes to hell without that foundation.

Imagine college athletics existed for the benefit of students

May 10, 2021

For more than a decade, I’ve been convinced that big-time college sports and the NCAA are a predatory racket and we’d all be better off if the entire system was dynamited. “Big-time” is doing a lot of work in that statement, since I also believe organized, sponsored sports can serve a valuable purpose for students. The key, of course, is that if a university’s sports programs were truly oriented to serve students then they wouldn’t look like most Division-I schools’.

Every time I read about how these athletic departments are run, it’s clear that they don’t exist for the direct benefit of athletes or other students. Take this recent New York Times article about the athletics program at UC Berkeley. It specifically refers to the NCAA’s “anachronistic notion of amateurism,” which is about as edgy as it gets, but beyond that one reference, once you take in the entire picture there’s a gaping hole that remains unaddressed: Why go to all this trouble?

Giannis and the Bucks have reached 'boring, but good' status

May 2, 2021

Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t win the NBA’s MVP award this year even though his statistics indicate production and impact essentially equal to his past two MVP-winning seasons. That’s because Nikola Jokic has played transcendent basketball, Joel Embiid has also played fantastically when healthy, and Stephen Curry has bounced back to put up tremendous numbers for an otherwise terrible team following a lost season.

But I also suspect another big reason he won’t win the award is that Giannis and the Bucks have become boring to the NBA circles that decide such things, and American sports fans tend to underrate the talent of athletes or teams they deem boring.

'One Man's Trash': A brilliant bit of television

March 7, 2021

Upon recommendation of Film Crit Hulk, I recently watched the episode of The Chris Gethard Show titled “One Man’s Trash”, available in its entirety on YouTube. You don’t need to know anything about Gethard or the show, which, despite airing in the mid 2010s, is a very 90s-MTV-ish zany comedic variety/talk show (I was aware of him, but hadn’t seen much of his material before). You don’t need to know anything about the guests, Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas, though you may recognize them from their extensive bodies of work.

Hulk’s post suggests the episode is a classic because of the sheer energy Gethard, Scheer, Mantzoukas, and other participants bring to the proceedings, which garners big laughs. And it’s true those guys overflow with jokes upon jokes. But I think the genius of the episode is that, confined to a single room, with a live audience and a bunch of callers, it’s a master class in improvisational comedy blended with a dramatic arc.

The state of preparing to compete has no predefined end point

February 25, 2021

Many people have written thoughtfully and righteously about Kevin Mather, the now-former President and CEO of the Seattle Mariners, publicly denigrating players in the organization and openly admitting to service time manipulation. In some respects, it’s amazing he said such racist crap on video, and yet those of us who have paid even scant attention to the business side of Major League Baseball over the past decade shouldn’t have been surprised that someone would slip up and admit the obvious, that these days winning baseball games is still part of MLB teams’ purpose, but it’s nowhere near as important to their existence as it used to be.

There's nothing to understand about MLB's minor league power grab

February 17, 2021

On February 12, Major League Baseball announced its final minor league realignment plans, tweeting out a news release and chart showing the new arrangements of Low-A, High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A clubs in newly-formed minor leagues with generic names (i.e.: available for naming sponsorships). It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the stated logic for the realignment doesn’t make much sense, even when taken on its own terms.

‘Wishful thinking. Most people will never learn the game of basketball…’

February 8, 2021

A brief note before we get to the main topic… I’m launching a new project next week, writing about a fictional NBA expansion team called the Pittsburgh Pierogies. You may have come across something similar before, but I’m planning to take it somewhere very different. Read the introduction, and be sure to subscribe to the mailing list so you don’t miss any entries — it’ll be published exclusively via email.

In 2014, Ken Arneson, a baseball blogger I’ve followed for more than a decade and a half, wrote a piece I’ve pondered ever since. Titled “10 Things I Believe About Baseball Without Evidence”, after I read it, I had a distinct feeling that it expressed thoughts I already had but couldn’t articulate, even to myself.

What the Super Bowl means

January 31, 2021

My earliest Super Bowl memory — one I’m not even sure actually happened — is of going to a party at a family friend’s house in January 1990, for the 49ers-Broncos game. I didn’t care a whit about the game, or the commercials, and I don’t think there were any other kids there other than my toddler brother, so my main memory is of the adults’ mirth growing in proportion to the 49ers’ lead, and that there was a lot of beer.

Protecting my child from my Internet Brain Rot

January 24, 2021

If you have a kindergartener in your home as I do, you’re likely aware of the Ryan’s World YouTube channel. Perhaps you’re also aware of J-House, Tic Tac Toy, or any number of other channels in which a well-groomed, outgoing, loud family with young children films themselves doing “challenges” or opening toys or playing in the backyard of their four-bedroom house or going on vacation, and presents the videos as aspirational lifestyle infotainment for children.

There’s always been garbage on television, and garbage books, and garbage music, all with garbage messages for children, so I’m not about to suggest this stuff is particularly harmful, even if I wish YouTube would do more to promote accountability for stuff people post as children’s entertainment. But the thing I keep thinking whenever I see these parents pointing the camera at their children and prodding them to perform is, “Thank God I was a kid before my parents could be tempted to do that.”

A thought on the future of U.S. national team fandom

January 17, 2021

There’s a video from 2010 I think about a lot that shows a variety of Americans’ reactions to Landon Donovan scoring his last-second goal against Algeria in that year’s World Cup.

I was in an office in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I worked for a sports media company. Perhaps my memory is fogged by time and what I wish it to be, but I remember a bunch of us were gathered around a television, watching the end of the game.

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