Continuing Education Jam

Before lunch yesterday, I learned two things. The second was that former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, one of the most talented and popular players in MLB history, began his career in San Diego. Smith made his major-league debut with the Padres in 1978 and spent four seasons with them before they traded him to the Cardinals following the strike-shortened 1981 season. (In digging into this news-to-me, I also discovered that the Detroit Tigers were the first team to draft Smith, but he didn’t sign with them after they picked him in the seventh round in 1976. San Diego picked him in the fourth round the following year and he signed.)

The first thing I learned yesterday morning was that Dolly Parton is the author of the Whitney Houston hit “I Will Always Love You.” Parton’s original version is this week’s Jam:

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WTF: Welcome Back Kozma

This may be the deepest into the season I have stated my annual Detroit Tigers diary. With the possible exception of Jeimer Candelario, the team just hasn’t been terribly exciting or interesting to this point, “this point” currently being defined as sitting in the middle of a very mediocre AL Central with a 15-20 record. I didn’t not want to do this series this year; after all, if you write about the good times, I think you have to be disciplined enough to write about the bad times. It’s just that there didn’t seem to be a good excuse to get started. In retrospect, it’s obvious I was waiting on the call-up of Pete Kozma to get things rolling.

Kozma signed on with the Tigers in January as a free agent, and he began the season in Toledo. After a rash of injuries, the team brought him up to the majors this week, and he’s making his Tigers debut right now, in a game against the Texas Rangers.

The St. Louis Cardinals originally drafted Kozma out of high school with the eighteenth overall pick in the 2007 draft, and he broke into the majors with them in 2011. Outside of 2014 (448 PA in 143 games), the utility infielder didn’t play too much for the Cardinals, who granted him free agency after the 2015 season. The Yankees promptly signed him, but he spent all of 2016 riding the AAA rail for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. After playing in just eleven games (ten PA) in the majors for the Yankees in 2017, New York designated him for assignment, and the Rangers claimed him off waivers. Kozma appeared in twenty-eight games for Texas before they too DFA’d him. He cleared waivers and finished the season in AAA Round Rock before becoming a free agent again.

On May 21, 2017, Kozma hit his only home run as a Ranger. The shot came off of Detroit’s Matt Boyd in a 5-2 Texas win at Comerica Park. That would be the last major-league home run for Kozma until today, almost exactly one year later, when he hit one in his first game as a Tiger, coming in a game against the Rangers in Arlington.

As of this writing, the Tigers lead the Rangers 4-3 in the top of the seventh inning. Kozma has reached base in all three of his plate appearances so far.

As a concluding note, the title of this season’s Tigers diary is WTF, which is an acronym for a number of phrases that might describe this particular team. Officially, it stands for When the Tigers broke Free, the title of the song performed in the video above and the notion that the 2018 Tigers have broken from their past trajectory and now are writing the beginning of a new chapter.

It was just before dawn
One miserable morning…
It was dark all around,
There was frost in the ground
When the Tigers broke free

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It’s time to rethink our stance on Jamal Crawford

crawford griffin

I haven’t thought about Jamal Crawford in about eighteen years, since he was a one-and-done for the University of Michigan during Michigan State’s national championship season in 2000. Since then, he’s played in the NBA for Chicago, New York, Golden State, Atlanta, Portland, Los Angeles (Clippers), and Minnesota, his current team. If I’m reading this correctly, Crawford is the active leader in three-point attempts. This morning, Blake Griffin, Crawford’s former teammate in L.A., revealed that Crawford is a BlackBerry user.

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Salty Jam

I really backed into this one, folks. Last week, chasing down a rumor that sprung from an Instagram meme about Bob Weir and the Grateful Dead (because this is 2018, I guess), I found a rabbit hole of a Dead blog that eventually led me to a historical chart of the band’s live performances of its original songs that plots every performance of each such song along a timeline. If there are two uncontested facts about the Dead, they are that they played for a long time and had a voluminous song catalog. One of the data points caught my eye for three reasons: (1) it indicated that the band played the song only once; (2) that performance came in 1995, the final year of the band’s active life; and (3) its title, “Salt Lake City,” was unfamiliar to me. In fact, besides “Unbroken Chain,” a famously un(der)peformed Dead song, “Salt Lake City” was the last original song the band debuted in concert.

As it turns out, SLC’s origins trace to 1977, when it appeared on Weir’s second solo album, Heaven Help the Fool. Like many Weir songs, John Perry Barlow collaborated on the lyrics, which discuss the Mormon settlement of Salt Lake City and read like a more buttoned-up version of the traditional “New Minglewood Blues” that Weir often sang with the Grateful Dead.

gd slc 95

On February 21, 1995, at Salt Lake City’s Delta Center, the band opened with “Salt Lake City,” the first and last time they ever played it live. The twenty-first was the Dead’s last of three straight nights in SLC. While that stretch wasn’t the Dead’s first appearance in the city, it was their first time back since 1981 (opener: “Alabama Getaway”), which was the only other time they played there since the release of Heaven Help the Fool (unless you count September 4, 1983 and August 20, 1987 in Park City). Perhaps the Dead saw it as a bit of a novelty, or an easy nod to a locale infrequently visited. Reviews of the night carry a generally positive tone, though many qualify or limit encouraging notes to the context of a mid-90s era regarded as low in energy, inspiration, and musical quality. Few reviews remark on the appearance of “Salt Lake City,” most preferring to mention the very good cover of Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” that emerges out of a second-set “Space,” which both surges due to and is pock-marked by the almost cartoonish synthesizer of Vince Welnick, who was celebrating his forty-fourth birthday that day.

Technically, the Dead had played “Salt Lake City” live once prior, at a soundcheck in Atlanta in 1978. What follows and serves as this week’s Jam is the only acknowledged (and possibly the only recorded) performance, however, from 1995, less than five months before the band’s final concert:

Loyola-Chicago’s groundbreaking title overlooked today (via USA Today)

online-shake-3-13-13-4_3They are the champions you might not remember, who lived the extraordinary season you might not have known. But to begin to understand the special journey of the 1963 Loyola of Chicago Ramblers, all that is needed is one picture.

The photo, taken before an NCAA tournament game 50 years ago, shows a black player from Loyola and a white player from Mississippi State shaking hands.

The Loyola player is Jerry Harkness, captain for an upstart team that had not only stormed up the rankings but also flouted the unwritten rules of 1963 by starting four African Americans.

They are the champions you might not remember, who lived the extraordinary season you might not have known. But to begin to understand the special journey of the 1963 Loyola of Chicago Ramblers, all that is needed is one picture.

The photo, taken before an NCAA tournament game 50 years ago, shows a black player from Loyola and a white player from Mississippi State shaking hands.

The Loyola player is Jerry Harkness, captain for an upstart team that had not only stormed up the rankings but also flouted the unwritten rules of 1963 by starting four African Americans. … Read More

(via USA Today)

2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview

detroit-tigers

At last, Opening Day is here, and the 2018 Detroit Tigers season preview you absolutely need now is ready for you. For the fourth consecutive year, Mark Sands, my Banished to the Pen colleague, and I have prepared a Tigers season preview, which is available right now on that site. For the second consecutive year, our preview takes on a slightly less formal format. In light of the significant roster turnover the team has experienced, we thought it would be helpful to tell the story of this team by focusing on some of its new faces, together with some updates on the current roles for the familiar guys.

First pitch is at 1:10 todaytomorrow. Until then, and long after, one assumes, the full preview post is available here.

Can predict baseball? Guesses for the 2018 MLB season

FanGraphs released its staff (likely irresponsibly broadly defined, as you’ll realize very soon) predictions for the 2018 MLB season, to which I contributed, today. This includes aggregated predictions for each division and wild card position, as well as MVP, Cy Young, and ROY winners. In a decision not my own, the post also breaks out each individual’s predictions arranged alphabetically by first name, making my guesses dangerously easy to spot.

If you want to see what the baseball future could but likely will not be, click here, and then come back here and add your own predictions in a comment below.

The U.S. Hockey Goalie Who Stood Up To Hitler At The 1936 Olympics (via WBUR)

walletphotoolympicteam1936Francis Baker attended Hamilton College in upstate New York during the mid-1930s. He studied the German language, among other things, and he was the goalie for the hockey team. Hamilton head coach Albert Prettyman was selected to lead the U.S. Olympic ice hockey team. In early February 1936, on the eve of the Winter Games at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Coach Prettyman had a problem to solve, according to hockey historian Stan Fischler.

“The regular goalie had taken sick before they left to take the boat across to the Continent,” Fischler says. “And when that happened, Prettyman got hold of his backup goalie, Francis Baker.”

Baker agreed to join the team.

“And they arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen only three days before the Winter Games officially began,” Hood says.

Baker practiced with the team as they prepared to compete amid a political climate in which U.S.-German relations were rocky at best.

“Well, they weren’t cordial,” Fischler says. “Certainly by that time, even though the United States under President Roosevelt was still an isolationist country, the dislike for what was going on in Germany was pretty widespread in the States.”

That dislike found its way into the opening ceremonies on Feb. 6, 1936.

Following Hitler’s declaration before a crowd of 40,000 that the 1936 Winter Games were officially open, delegations from 28 nations marched into an open-air stadium. It was a typical display of Olympic pageantry, except for the ubiquitous Nazi flags.

Hitler had told the IOC of his demand to have athletes from all nations salute him in the customary Nazi fashion, with right arms extended and rigid.

“And the American team did not do that,” Hood says. “Their arms were to the sides.”

“They didn’t acknowledge the ‘Führer,’ ” Fischler says. “And the ‘Führer’ responded by being furious. So we had a furious ‘Führer.’ ”

“And that’s what triggered Hitler to come down into the locker room,” Hood says. … Read More

(via WBUR)

Did somebody just out-XFL the XFL?

xfl fans orlando

Baseball may be the de jure national pastime and the NFL may be the de facto national pastime, but, heretofore, the official sport of ALDLAND always has been the XFL. Almost twenty years ago, the brash and innovative XFL upended the stogy NFL with a fan-first (or certainly not player-first) approach that, while not long-lasting in its then-current form, lives on through a variety of changes it forced the NFL to make to stay current with its most ardent fans.

Almost two decades after the XFL folded, however, the NFL under Roger Goodell is as stiff and outdated as it’s ever appeared, which made initial reports that Vince McMahon was bringing the XFL back welcome news indeed in many quarters, including this virtual one. The NFL once again is ripe for upheaval, and a revived XFL seemed like just the vehicle for the job once again. Unfortunately, further revelations from McMahon have made clear that the new XFL, which is planned to resume play in 2020, has a mission devoid of the brash, raw, boundary-pushing, potentially/probably dangerous approach the league took in 2001:

On January 25, 2018, Alpha Entertainment announced a new incarnation of the XFL, which would begin with a 10-week inaugural season beginning in January or February 2020. In a press conference, McMahon stated that the new XFL would be dissimilar to its previous incarnation, stating that “There’s only so many things that have ‘FL’ on the end of them and those are already taken. But we aren’t going to have much of what the original XFL had, including the cheerleaders, who aren’t really part of the game anymore. The audience wants entertainment with football, and that’s what we are going to give them.” McMahon stated that the league would feature eight teams as a single entity owned by Alpha (the previous XFL was also a single-entity league), which will be revealed in 2019. Alpha Entertainment was established in order to keep the league’s management and operations separate from that of WWE.

The XFL will discourage political gestures by players during games (such as, for example, taking a knee in protest), and will forbid any player with a criminal record from participating. He justified this by stating that the XFL would be “evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are”, and that “people don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained”. He suggested that players who wish to express political opinions should do so on their personal time.

He’s had a lot of success, but here, McMahon’s being too big of an idiot in too many ways. The second coming of the XFL wasn’t going to be a cookie-cutter version of the first edition, of course, but its organizing principle, by McMahon’s own admission, has nothing to do with football. Nobody ever thought the XFL would offer a better on-field product than the NFL because the best players always play for the most money, but you’re lying if you said you thought the XFL would return to play the role of a more conservative NFL. (And not to get too deep into the water here, but does anyone think he could’ve saved a lot of words by just saying he only wants white players?) What a waste.

Thankfully, somebody else saw an opening here. That somebody is Charlie Ebersol, the son of Dick Ebersol, the longstanding NBC executive who, along with McMahon, formed the original XFL. Charlie, who directed the recent 30 for 30 movie about the XFL, plans to scoop his father’s former partner by debuting his new league, the Alliance of American Football, a year earlier than XFL 2.0:

The league plans to kick off on February 9th, 2019, one week after the Super Bowl, with 50-man rosters and a ten-week season.

The news just gets worse and worse for the XFL, as Ebersol’s league has already recruited some heavy hitters from the NFL world. Ebersol has brought in retired Indianapolis Colts General Manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian to help oversee the league, with former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu doing the same for the player side of the new venture and former USC star J.K. McKay for the team side. Adding to the league’s growing star power are Hines Ward, Justin Tuck and Dick Ebersol, who are all league advisors.

The league’s financial backing comes from a variety of sources, including former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Jared Allen, Billionaire Peter Thiel and the Chernin Group. This stands in contrast to McMahon, who is financing his new XFL through personal wealth. That creates more upside for him personally, but Ebersol is taking a longer view of his new league saying “I think where businesses like this fail is that they expect to have ludicrous and unrealistic ticket and media deal projections in Year 1. Our investors here understand that it’s a 7-10-year plan.”

Significantly, AAF already has a television broadcast deal with CBS, and it claims it also will offer live streaming on a free mobile app. Plus, according to an ESPN report, there will be no TV timeouts, substantially fewer commercials, and mandatory two-point-conversion attempts after every touchdown.

The younger Ebersol hasn’t said much about the AAF’s broader mission beyond a general goal to provide fans and players with a quality on-field performance which, while vague, is better than the position McMahon’s staked out. It’s tough to read the tea leaves on the league’s backers and advisors– Polian presents as an NFL-stooge type; Thiel funded the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that mortally wounded Gawker Media Group; Chernin owns a majority of Barstool Sports and recently upped its stake; and Polamalu, Ward, Tuck, and Allen all seem like fun, personable characters in the former-player role.

The XFL of 2001 may never (and arguably shouldn’t) return, but, sitting here today, I have far greater hope in what the AAF can offer the world of football than I do in McMahon’s soft retread effort.

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