Kobe Bryant: 1978-2020

The New Yorker’s Louisa Thomas has the obituary. Since he came into the nation’s consciousness as Charlotte’s first-round pick out of high school in the 1996 NBA draft, Kobe Bryant has been recognized as one of the most driven athletes in sports history. We’ve heard and read stories, including many in the last few hours, that serve as oral and written testaments to Bryant’s commitment to his ambitious focus to follow and surpass the legacy of Michael Jordan as the modern game’s single best player. Even as Bryant disclaimed attention to the comparison, everyone knew that’s what he wanted. In that regard, enjoy a visual testament to Bryant’s hard work and attention to detail.

In her brief but full remembrance, Thomas addresses Bryant’s legacy, explaining that, after retirement, he

didn’t withdraw from the game, either. He mentored other players—women as well as men. In the public imagination, the battle for the best player in history may be between [LeBron] James and Michael Jordan, but Bryant was the one that many players actually idolized. He had four daughters, and he understood that they were part of his legacy, too. Gianna, the second, was a talented basketball player, and . . . Bryant acknowledged that he saw something of himself in her. (She was “insanely, insanely competitive—like, mean,” he said.) They attended several Lakers games this season, and a video of them together at a Nets game went viral. In it, Bryant appears to be intensely explaining something to Gianna, and she, pursing her lips like a typical teen-ager, laughs and takes it in.

Drum Jam

Perhaps the last of the great classic rock drummers, Rush’s Neil Peart died last week after a battle with brain cancer. Peart’s drumming was representative of the band’s overall approach and sound in that it often was complex, extended, highly technical, and loud. In addition to commanding an always-elaborate drum set, Peart also wrote lyrics for the band’s songs. Whenever I hear his name, though, it’s the instrumental YYZ that comes to my mind.

The Pirate Has Landed: Raw footage of Mike Leach’s Starkville arrival portends things

This afternoon, the news broke that Mississippi State had hired Mike Leach away from Washington State, and, this evening, the Bulldogs’ new head football coach had landed in Starkville, where he was greeted with fanfare he greeted with his own reaction.

I’m not sure what I expected, nor am I sure what Leach expected, but this is what everybody got, and it’s difficult– perhaps very difficult for some– to be more excited about the 2020 SEC football season.

Immediately following the announcement of the new hiring, I asked Mississippi State football superfan Stingray Steve for a comment, which invitation he declined.

UPDATE: Alternate angle in extended footage now available here:

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Previously
Washington State’s 2019 football season already a flop
Is it time to worry about Mike Leach’s allegiances in the event of a Planet-of-the-Apes situation?
Mike Leach: Selling Bigfoot, buying aliens
Mike Leach Prefers Solo Cougars
Mike Leach: Prospective time traveler
Mike Leach officially ushers in the 2015 college football season
Cougar dating tips from Mike Leach
Mike Leach Favors Cougars

RKB: An unprecedented offsesaon move?

The 2019 Detroit Tigers struggled on offense. Readers of this website know that the team finished last in the American League in a variety of statistical categories, including home runs and slugging percentage, this past season.

It therefore comes as some surprise today that the team decided to outright Brandon Dixon to Toledo. The surprise arises not because Dixon– a second-year, sub-replacement-level player– is especially good, but because he finished the 2019 season as the Tigers’ leader in home runs (fifteen) and, among qualified batters, slugging percentage (.435). Again, Dixon’s overall performance was unremarkable, and it makes sense for the twenty-seven-year-old to spend more time at Triple-A. But immediate demotions of teams’ home-run leaders cannot be a common occurrence. Indeed, I suspected such an event never before had occurred.

Thankfully, before publishing this post, I checked with BP’s Rob Mains, who reminded me that it had happened once before. In a situation in some ways more extreme than Dixon’s, Chris Carter found himself without a major-league job after a 2016 season in which he paced the National League with forty-one homers as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called the team’s decision to non-tender him “unprecedented.” Carter caught on with the New York Yankees for almost half of the 2017 season, but that was it for him in the bigs. After spending the rest of 2017 and 2018 with three different Triple-A teams, Carter’s 2019 found him hitting the lights out for the Mexican League’s Monclova Acereros (alongside Erick Aybar, obviously).

What does the future hold for Dixon? Carter’s path may be his best hope, and there are plenty of reasons to think that’s a reach.

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Previously
RKB: Brief 2019 Recapitulation
RKB: At deadline, Tigers move their best player*

RKB: How does new Detroit Tiger Austin Romine relate to his teammates?

Now that Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila has tipped his hand with respect to his rebuilding strategy, it’s nice to see him following up on his listed priorities of improving every single position on the team. Yesterday, catcher Austin Romine, formerly of the New York Yankees, signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Tigers, who have made their former utilityman‘s younger brother the first notable addition of this offseason’s rolling thunder rebuild revue. How does he relate to the guys already on Detroit’s roster?

Obviously, his relationship with Miguel Cabrera hasn’t been great.

After that fight, in which Gary Sanchez revealed his true nature, Romine denied that he escalated the situation, which he probably should hope is the truth. Regardless, Avila may want to consider rehiring the elder Romine sibling as an assistant bench coach, even if the new guy is saying all the right things for now:

Jawing and brawling aside, where does Austin stand in relation to his new backstop colleagues? The assumption is that he will be the starter ahead of Greyson Greiner and Jake Rogers. The following table highlights some 2019 performance numbers those three posted.

Romine, who actually added value to his Yankees team last year, bests the incumbents across the board with the possible exception of age. The reasonable hope for him is that he can continue to hit at something within dirt-kicking distance of average while adding value on defense, which is what he did in 2018. The coming season is likely to be Romine’s first as a starter. He turned thirty-one last month, so his test in 2020 will be to sustain his offense and rebounding on defense while carrying a heavier load and learning a new staff. Seems easy enough.

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Previously
RKB: Detroit’s long, municipal nightmare is over, as Al Avila has solved the Tigers’ bullpen woes

RKB: Detroit’s long, municipal nightmare is over, as Al Avila has solved the Tigers’ bullpen woes

MLB’s winter meetings, an annual offseason event during which team general managers usually take an opportunity to share some of their preparatory plans for the coming season and commonly make significant player transactions, came to an end yesterday. On Monday, Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila described his current approach for the team’s ondragging rebuild:

Finding a catcher is the Tigers’ No. 1 priority this offseason, according to general manager Al Avila, who also named first base, corner outfield, the rotation and . . . the middle infield as other areas of interest for the rebuilding club . . . .

Talk about burying the lede – the bullpen is cured! The Tigers’ lack of an operational bullpen has been as legendary as the complete absence of defense in Big XII football, but no longer. Avila, in identifying as rebuild focal points literally every single component of a baseball team roster except for the bullpen (and center field; somebody call JaCoby Jones’ agent, I guess?), clearly has telegraphed to the league and fanbase that bullpen at last is rock solid and in need of no further improvement whatsoever.

Later today, an update on how the GM addressed his top offseason priority in fighting fashion. Until then, Avila has indicated that there definitely is no need at all to peek in any form or fashion at who exactly comprises Detroit’s current relief corps.

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Related
Detroit’s Tank is Anything but EmptyBaseball Prospectus

Previously
RKB: Brief 2019 Recapitulation

The People’s Preview of the 2019 College Football Conference Championship Weekend

Don’t call us Bleacher ReportSB NationFansided, but we’ve decided to pick up a little #content buzz around here by completely outsourcing our content for this exciting preview of the 2019 college football conference championship weekend to unpaid labor/digital aggregators. Finally(!), our reader(s) have a chance to find out what the people themselves have to say about these games and no longer must wade through the filtered editorial morass of our (also unpaid) writers’ unavoidable human biases.

A game(s) preview is, at its essence, a telling of whether a game should be good. Here then are the tellings of whether this weekend’s college football games should be good told by the people–free and rational economic actors all–according to the comparative differences between bottom-level ticket prices available on the secondary market as of this morning.

$¢ indeed.

2019 NLDS Braves/Dodgers Spin Zone

bill-o-reilly-the-oreilly-factor-768x432

Last night, both National League Divisional Series went to decisive fifth games, and, in both games, the teams favored to win the series lost in dramatic fashion. For the Atlanta Braves, the drama came very early, while it arrived late for the Los Angeles Dodgers (I assume; I went to sleep when they were up 3-0). Of course, the only question today for both teams is: Whose fault is this?

For the Braves, you might think it had something to do with the disappearance of its star hitter or team’s failure to address sufficiently its lack of pitching depth and experience. For the Dodgers, it would seem to make clear and natural sense to point the accusatory finger at Clayton Kershaw, who totally and perennially stinks in October.

Obviously, those thoughts, which involve the teams’ players, coaches, and front-office management, are wrong thoughts. That’s because the blame actually lies at the feet of MLB itself and Commissioner Rob Manfred.

The Braves and Dodgers are successful teams built to succeed in the sport’s current era, the defining factor of which is the baseball itself. Changes to the baseball have driven massive increases in home runs, and the two NL favorites heretofore thrived in this extreme offensive environment.

What, then, to make of a report out this morning that the baseballs used during postseason play are radically different than those used during the regular season such that the playoff baseballs effectively suppress home runs to a significant degree? In light of that news, can it be a coincidence that the NL playoff teams that were the most homer-reliant during the regular season were the losers last night?

NLDS guillen # 2019

Commissioner Manfred, whatever you have against the cities of Atlanta and Los Angeles (to say nothing of poor Milwaukee), you are reminded that it is not a crime to ask questions.

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Previously
The 2018 All-Star Game was one for the Age

 

Brief Atlanta Braves 2019 NLDS Update: Your Eyes and Ears do Not Deceive You

Yesterday afternoon, the St. Louis Cardinals forced a decisive fifth NLDS game against the Braves, which will occur tomorrow evening back in Atlanta. Each of the Cardinals’ two wins came by a single run, while the Braves have claimed their wins in low-scoring 3-1 and 3-0 affairs. All of the games have been full of the sort of tension-built excitement that makes October baseball so much fun.

Atlanta was and remains the favored team and has home-field “advantage” for game five, but it’s clear that they’re going to need more from the full depth of their lineup if they’re going to top this plucky Cardinals team. If the Braves’ roster has looked (and sounded– local radio coverage > TBS national telecast coverage) consistently inconsistent this series, your sensory receptors aren’t deceiving you. Take a look at the current status of the 2019 postseason cWPA leaderboard:

playoff cwpa 10-8-19

Atlanta fans probably have been saying to each other, “Wow, Dansby Swanson and Adam Duvall and Ronald Acuña and Mike Foltynewicz have been huge for the Braves this series, and, moreover, Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis have been completely useless, and Mark Melancon and Julio Teheran have been killing us!” As cWPA confirms, the analysis by those Atlanta fans has been spot on!

As good as the good guys have been, it’s difficult to imagine the Braves advancing without getting something– anything, at this point– from Freeman, whose .535 OPS in this series indicates he’s been worse at the plate than any qualified hitter in the 2019 regular season. (Even 2018 Chris Davis had an OPS of .539! Since 1988, only two qualified hitters ever have posted a regular-season OPS below .535: Matt Walbeck (.530 in 1994) and MLB Network’s own Billy Ripken (.518 in 1988).) Sure, it’s only been four games, but Freeman’s been practically invisible– just two hits, one walk, and one run scored across eighteen plate appearances in which he struck out five times in a key spot in Atlanta’s lineup– at times when the Braves really need him to shine. This isn’t necessarily news, as he entered the postseason on a cold streak, but he’s going to have to snap out of it quickly.

Game five starts tomorrow in Atlanta at 5:02 pm. Indications are that Foltynewicz, winner in game two, will start for the Braves, and Jack Flaherty, owner of a dominant second half leading into these playoffs, will start for the Cardinals.

Friend of the Jam

Dark star crashes, pouring its light into ashes.
Reason tatters, the forces tear loose from the axis.
Searchlight casting for faults in the clouds of delusion.
Shall we go, you and I while we can

through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?

Last week, Robert Hunter– longtime Jerry Garcia collaborator, Grateful Dead lyricist, and early MKUltra test subject– flashed permanently to the linguistic plane in which, one assumes, terrestrial linguistics and DMT have no further use. He was seventy-eight and previously had written the lyrics for basically every Dead song not written by John Perry Barlow, which is to say the majority of them. Like Barlow, who was dispatched last year, Hunter embraced the nascent internet, through which one still may locate many of his uploaded journals that, unsurprisingly, reveal an active and introspective mind.

In the time since his passing, many writers have made reference to “Black Peter,” a song obviously about death, even as one recognized that the song bore meaning as a communication to or about Hunter’s partner, Garcia.

For purposes of this post, I suggest instead we turn to the band’s great suite, “Terrapin Station,” for words more self-referential:

Let my inspiration flow
in token lines suggesting rhythm
that will not forsake me
till my tale is told and done

The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
his job is to shed light
and not to master

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Previously
Ashes Jam