Why Jim Harbaugh Returned to Michigan

Michael Rosenberg for Sports Illustrated, on why Jim Harbaugh went back to Michigan:

Harbaugh said the decision came down to “several reasons, but it’s a decision I made with my heart. I’m very humbled, very honored. And ready to work and do my part. I want to do a good job. I want to be good at it. I want to be good for Michigan. That’s really the things that I really feel …

“I can barely hold a thought, I find I’m so excited.”

Best of luck to him in Ann Arbor, but I'm betting Harbaugh will be back in the NFL to settle unfinished business sooner than later. To me, I think the way he "mutually parted" with the 49ers left a bad taste in his mouth.

On the Bitcoin Bowl

Anthony Ha, writing for TechCrunch:

When I first heard about the Bitcoin Bowl, I assumed it was a joke, or maybe a weird startup publicity stunt. It turns out that yes, the Bitcoin Bowl is promoting BitPay, a bitcoin-processing startup — but it’s also real college football game that’s underway as I write this on Friday evening. [...] This is the first bitcoin-related sponsorship of a televised U.S. sporting event, but as The Wall Street Journal noted when the four-year deal with ESPN Events was announced in June, Dogecoin sponsored a NASCAR event earlier this year.

The college bowls nowadays are utterly ridiculous. The sheer number of games and sponsors prove that these games mean little aside from the big money being pulled in by the NCAA and the sponsors. (Yes, the schools represented in the bowls get a slice of the pie too, but the lion's share goes to the NCAA and the corporate sponsors.)

'Is Baseball a Racket?'

Mike Gold, in a piece for the Daily Worker, published in October 1934:

Like everything else in the country, baseball is not run primarily for the fans, but for the pocketbooks of the stockholders. Communists are often ridiculed for their insistence that everything in the present capitalist system is a “racket.” Hollywood recently caricatured the Communist who shouts on Mother’s Day, “It’s a racket!” Well, it is. It’s a racket for the flower merchants, for the candy manufacturers, for the pulpit. The sickening sentimentality that is deliberately fostered by the manufacturers, the false mother-love decorations that surround the price on the box of flowers, attest to the way the emotions of people are deliberately and viciously exploited by the manufacturer for his own profit. Baseball, too, the love of sport, is deliberately and viciously exploited by the promoters.

[...]

Workers love baseball. But baseball, in its own way, is used as an “opium of the people.” The “bosses” are cashing in on the “heroes” and cashing in on the frustrated love of the people for sports.

On Madison Bumgarner

Michael Powell for the NYT, "OMG, You're So Much More Than Awesome":

Then Kevin pulled out his phone. He had texted Madison after the eighth inning, and he tried to read it to me. He began to choke up and just handed me the phone. “OMG. You’re so much more than awesome,” Kevin had written to his son. “To see you work on the mound reminds me of watching you in high school. You are willing yourself to perfection and dragging the team along with you. I couldn’t be more proud of your baseball accomplishments.”

On the World Series and Apple Pay

Chris Welch, writing for The Verge:

MasterCard and MLB Advanced Media have announced that contactless payments are now supported at Kauffman Stadium and AT&T Park. They're the first professional sports venues to roll out support for Apple Pay, which became widely available to consumers with yesterday's launch of iOS 8.1. [...] Come next season, MasterCard says fans will be able to buy tickets for individual games with Apple Pay when ordering through Tickets.com. MLB is promising Apple Pay support for its own At the Ballpark app, too. I noticed FOX ran a lot of ads for MasterCard-Pay during last night's Game 1. My iPhone 6 is running iOS 8.1 and I have my credit card information saved in Passbook, but I have yet to use Pay myself. I love using my phone to pay at Starbucks, so this should be fun too.

Library of Congress Restores Footage of 1924 World Series

Dan Steinberg, writing for The Washington Post:

When eight cans of nitrate film arrived at the Library of Congress in August, a staffer began a routine inspection to see what sort of physical condition the film was in. Without even watching the footage, she quickly noticed a headline screaming out from one of the newsreels: “SENATORS WIN WORLD SERIES,” it said. “40,000 frantic fans see American Leaguers take 12-inning deciding game, 4 to 3.” And when archivists from the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation watched the reel, they found nearly four minutes of footage from that 1924 World Series, footage that somehow had remained in nearly perfect condition for 90 years. Bucky Harris hitting a home run, Walter Johnson pitching four innings of scoreless relief, Muddy Ruel scoring the winning run, fans storming Griffith Stadium’s field: It was all there, and it was all glorious. df">Shirley Povich, famed sportswriter for The Post and author of the Series clincher story, is Maury's dad.

'Of Course Jeter Would Be the Last of Them to Go'

John Gruber, "Now Batting for the Yankees, Number 2":

“This is what it used to be like,” I told my son, “every single year. Something crazy always happened. And then someone for the Yankees always stepped up. Jeter was always in the middle of it. Every year. This is what it was like.” Such a terrific eulogy of Jeter's career, and an even better reminder that sports and legacies aren't just about stats.

On Bill Simmons Criticizing Roger Goodell

Jason Snell's take is spot-on (emphasis mine):

What’s really clear is that ESPN’s not concerned with “journalistic standards” of any kind. Let this dispell any remaining doubt that what ESPN does should not be called journalism. ESPN is a house organ for its sports-league partners, and its business would be at serious risk if the NFL were to decide that ESPN was a poor partner and take its business elsewhere. Bill Simmons’s error wasn’t in stating the obvious, that Roger Goodell and other NFL executives were almost certainly lying about the Ray Rice case in the hopes it would blow over. Simmons’s error was in thinking he could get away with going off ESPN’s script, which has been carefully crafted to appear journalistic and serious without jeopardizing the relationship with the source of their highest-rated programming.

On Roger Goodell's Job Security and the Ray Rice Investigation

Mark Maske, reporting for The Washington Post:

An official with another NFL team who had been briefed on the views of the owner of his franchise said of that owner: “He supports the commissioner.” Asked what it would take for that owner’s support of Goodell to be withdrawn, the official said: “If the investigation concludes that the commissioner saw more and knew more than he has said, and he was not truthful about that to the clubs, things would change.” A top executive with a third franchise who had spoken to his team’s owner expressed similar sentiments, saying Goodell’s job would be at risk only if it is found that he personally orchestrated a cover-up. “Certainly he would be [held] accountable for intentionally misleading people and taking actions to cover his tracks,” that executive said. “Certainly that would be grounds for anything from a reprimand to termination. [But] it would take a lot. No one expects it to come to that.” I like football as a sport and the NFL, but I haven't been excited for the start of the new season. I watched barely any preseason games, and through Week 2 (this week) of the regular season, I haven't watched any action. That my interest in the league is waning is sad in ways, but that's where I stand with professional football right now.

Derek Jeter's Goodbye

Roger Angell for The New Yorker, "S'Long, Jeet":

Jeter has just about wound up his Mariano Tour—the all-points ceremonies around home plate in every away park on the Yankees’ schedule, where he accepts gifts, and perhaps a farewell check for his Turn 2 charity, and lifts his cap to the cheering, phone-flashing multitudes. He does this with style and grace—no one is better at it—and without the weepiness of some predecessors. His ease, his daily joy in his work, has lightened the sadness of this farewell, and the cheering everywhere has been sustained and genuine. Just the other day, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon groused about the rare sounds of cheering offered up to Derek by his customarily sleepy attendees. Two years straight, the Yankees are on the brink of losing two of the franchise's best and highly-revered players: Mariano Rivera last year and Jeter this year. Both made their major league debuts in 1995 and both helped the Yankees win the World Series in 1996 --- my freshman year of high school. It's been a long time. (via Daring Fireball)

'This is Cowardice Writ Large'

Dave Zirin for The Nation, "Michael Sam: Out of the Closet, Out of the NFL?":

The very language that Michael Sam is a "distraction" - which Freeman is one of the few to have the courage to call out - is a way to project and justify one's own bigotry. Michael Sam is not a distraction. A "distraction" is when a team invites HBO Hard Knocks into their locker room. A "distraction" is when an owner proudly and loudly defends a racial slur on national television. A "distraction" is when a player commits a crime like spousal abuse and is then aggressively defended by his organization like all he did was chew gum in class. To equate being open about one's sexuality and then just playing football (no Oprah reality shows, no special interviews) with being this kind of "distraction" is to traffic in rank prejudice. Once again, to say otherwise, is to practice public relations.

On the Jets, iPads, and Their Last Super Bowl Win

Brian Costello, reporting for the New York Post:

Like many teams, the Jets have switched to digital playbooks on their iPads. Players must enter a passcode to gain access. The passcode? 1-9-6-9. As in 1969, the last time the Jets won it all. “It’s just something to remember — 1969 is the last time this team was perfect,” defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. “That’s a long time ago.” However motivational, 1-9-6-9 isn't a very secure passcode. They should switch to a longer one.

'Bad Call'

Fritz Huber for The Paris Review, on TV sports commentators in the US:

After a prolonged TV spectacle like college football’s Bowl Week (whose contests last year included the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and the Taxslayer.com Bowl, the latter being only a slight improvement on the all-time most absurd Galleryfurniture.com Bowl), watching English Premiership matches or Six Nations rugby on BBC feels like a cultural upgrade. There’s less advertising. There’s less analysis of bullshit statistics (“Headed into this matchup, the Kentucky Wildcats are 11-3 in games played within four days of their coach’s annual colonoscopy”). And, on British television, the commentators’ linguistic repertoires don’t feel as inhibited; there’s more room for an occasional flourish. Why can’t we have a color analyst like Ray Hudson, who, in his exuberance, will announce that we’ve just witnessed “a Bernini sculpture of a goal,” or claim that watching Lionel Messi “softens the hard corners of our lives”? A really good piece, as it parallels my thoughts on sports telecasts nowadays. I feel networks (ESPN in particular) and on-air talent bend over backwards to compliment and praise teams/players. Everything is a positive spin; nary a critical word is spoken. It's as though people are afraid to offend by using "bad" or "mediocre" in their analysis, for such language could cost them relationships and future interviews. In short, I think it's bad journalism, because I think it lacks objectivity and honesty: not every player and/or team is a good one. Why not just say so? (via Daring Fireball)

Jack Nicklaus: Tiger Can Still Break My Majors Record

Joe Posnanski, writing for GolfChannel.com:

“I think the guy is just too good,” he said. “I don't know what is happening between his ears right now … somebody said the other day that they think he has the yips with the driver, and I think that is a pretty good assessment. I had never heard of that, but if you get it in your head that you can’t hit a driver in the fairway, you aren't going to hit it in the fairway very much. “Still, I thought that his swing in the first round of the British Open was very good. I thought he came back, and it was much more level, I thought his tempo was much better. … I just think he’s too talented, too focused, to not do it.” There's no doubting Tiger's talent, but I think his best days are behind him. Whatever the cause(s), Tiger just isn't the same golfer he was 5, 10 years ago. At his peak, I thought he could break Nicklaus's record, but not now.

'Michael Sam Focuses On Making the Rams, Not History'

William C. Rhoden, writing for The New York Times;

The reality is that Sam, whether he likes it or not, is a trailblazer. He has made a significant impact — on the league, on fans and on an American sports culture that is not the most progressive — before playing an N.F.L. game. He continues to attract attention and stir debate at training camp, where the Rams will decide whether to keep him. Regardless of what happens, Sam continues to raise awareness and smash stereotypes. “Whether he makes the team or not, this has already been an important moment for our nation and for sports,” said the Rev. Jonathan L. Walton, a professor of Christian morals at Harvard and minister of its Memorial Church. “He defies our stereotypes; he is defying our assumptions,” Walton said. “We’re not supposed to see a defensive end or a linebacker wearing a pink shirt and kissing another man — and yet be scared of him at the same time because he can kick our butt. That’s not supposed to happen.” I'm pulling for him to make the team.

On Timelessness and Time

Mike Plugh, "Baseball: Past American Time":

It’s also important to remember that baseball is a rural game, a game of grass and dirt, of wood and chalk and pine tar. Baseball is a game of wide open spaces. We call the playing space a park, in contrast to courts, rinks, and gridirons. The sport itself also is the essence of timelessness, which fits with its rustic mores. The clock is an urbanizing technology, one of synchronization and uniformity, time being measured precisely to produce regularity in our routines. Baseball is unburdened by that form of precision, or at least it used to be. Nowadays, we flit and dart from second to second through digital environments on our smartphones and wearable technology. Nothing escapes the speed of electricity, and therefore we learn to accept constant change, but baseball is anything but constant change. The game has been compared to chess. Each pitch is crucial and the game frequently hangs in the balance of one red-hot moment that punctuates long minutes of study, plotting and measurement. It’s the intervals between the short spurts of action where the interesting stuff usually takes place. I know many who lament that baseball is "boring" and "slow", but I think these sentiments show a fundamental misunderstanding of what baseball is. It's not a game of non-stop, hard-hitting, wall-to-wall action like, say, hockey is. Baseball is unique unto itself, and its uniqueness is what made the sport "the national pastime" for decades. Here's the box score of the Pirates-Phillies game from 1921 that Plugh mentions.

'LeBron's Mighty Mind'

Brian Windhorst, writing for ESPN.com:

He is 6-foot-8 or so, and 260 pounds or so. He has striking athleticism even while in a crowd of some of the greatest athletes on the planet. He has a strong work ethic that manifests itself in expansive summer programs that are at the heart of the steady development of his game over the years. He is ambidextrous, playing right-handed but doing most other things in his life left-handed, a trait that has helped him become one of the great scorers in league history. He has an expansive interest in the history of the game, which he uses both as a teaching resource and to generate motivation in a time where he has very few true contemporaries. There is all of that. But there is also one other quality, one that James himself has somehow managed to keep hidden for the past decade, despite our seemingly insatiable desire to uncover -- and wring dry -- most everything about the man: the memory. It is perhaps one of James' greatest gifts. And while those who watch James are typically impressed with how he uses his speed and skill to generate highlight plays, those who know James or spend a lot of time with him are more frequently blown away by the almost curious power of his mind. The memory. It can inform him. It can engage him. It can turn on him. It can attack him. It can, he says, hinder him in ways that are far harder to treat than a sprained ankle. And learning to control it has been a fight as great as any other in his career.

On Levi's Stadium

Ryan Lawler, writing for TechCrunch:

Levi’s Stadium, which had its ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday, is a beautiful arena. It comfortably seats 68,500 fans and can add additional seating to hold 75,000 for events like the Super Bowl. There are two giant screens on either side of the field, with a viewing area of 19,200 square feet between them. But that’s the kind of thing that we’ve come to expect from new modern arenas. What’s really cool about Levi’s Stadium is the technology that has been built into it. Fans will be treated to arena-wide WiFi, with more than 1,000 access points scattered throughout the stadium. It will have 40 Gbps of connectivity coming in, which is about 40 times the capacity of even the most connected stadiums out there. The stadium will have an app that will allow fans to instantly watch replays from their mobile devices in the stadium, choosing from a variety of different camera angles. That app will also feature paperless ticketing and the ability to order food and drinks directly from your seat. I never saw a game at Candlestick --- neither for the 49ers nor the Giants --- but I'd really like to see a game at Levi's. (Never mind that the new stadium is in Santa Clara, while the team is still called San Francisco. Santa Clara is about 45 miles south of SF.) Be sure to watch the video that accompanies the story.

On Going Home Again

Dave Zirin for The Nation, on what it means that LeBron is going back to Cleveland:

[F]or me, the idea that James would return to Cleveland, no matter how much of a train wreck of a franchise it had become, seemed preordained, even obvious, to anyone paying attention to his off-court persona. First of all, LeBron James is the most "meta", self-aware, consciously cinematic athlete we have ever seen. If Michael Jordan was the superstar of his own blockbuster movie, LeBron has always aspired to be actor, producer, and director. Every step he takes has one eye on posterity. "The Decision" of 2010, when LeBron "took [his] talents to South Beach", which brought him the rings that he craved but left hurt feelings and bad vibes in its wake, did not fit the script that LeBron James had already written in his own mind. If LeBron sees himself as Martin Scorsese, The Decision was his Bringing Out the Dead. By coming home to possibly bring a sports championship to the city of Cleveland for the first time since 1964, LeBron James can make Goodfellas. He can produce and direct his own magnum opus even -perhaps especially - if it means an ending where he's eating egg noodles and ketchup. Securing a title for Cleveland would establish a legend far greater than winning multiple championships in Miami. Dragging a snake-bitten city to the heights of the sports world and smashing on all of the Modellian ill-karma in his path, would establish a narrative singularly his own. Choosing to return to Cleveland, a city that has lost almost a fifth of its population over the last two decades, makes him a prospective folk hero. [...] By going back to Cleveland, LeBron is embracing his power as someone transformative, someone who could be, without cliché or Nike branding, more than an athlete. By making all the haters, from Dan Gilbert to the fans who burned his jersey, to the vicious media voices, sob in gratitude over his return, he is making this about more than just his own redemption, but theirs as well. Even by insisting on maximum money and not succumbing to the owner-friendly media-driven narrative that stars should accept less "for the good of the team", he is doing right by young players currently getting hosed by a boss-friendly collective bargaining agreement. It may take some time to make it all work in Cleveland, but by shouldering the burden of a city's collective damaged psyche and demonstrating the power to rebuild the most burned of bridges, LeBron is going for folk-hero status. He is attempting to produce the ultimate movie of his athletic life. Succeed or fail, it will be a collective thrill to see him try to write the final act. In other words, he's already won. See also: Bill Simmons's splendid piece for Grantland on LeBron-to-the-Cavs.