S1: The following podcast contains explicit language. Hide your children.
S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor. This is Hang Up and Listen for the week of October 19th, 2020. And this week she will be joined by the ringer’s of Ben Lindbergh to discuss the World Series match up between the L.A. Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays. All right. Devil Rays and the pads those teams took to get to the World Series also discussed the potential end of an analytics era with Moneyball legend Billy Beane reportedly leaving the Oakland A’s front office and Daryl Morey leaving his post with the Houston Rockets. Finally, we’ll have a conversation about a piece that ran in the Atlantic on how rich North-Eastern parents are using or trying to use sports like squash to get their kids into Ivy League schools.
S3: I am the author of The Queen, host of Slow Burn Season four. I’m in Washington, D.C., also here in D.C., the author of the book Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic, Stefan Fatsis. Stefan has shaved his haunting beard, which I take to mean that he won the Stanley Cup. So congratulations, Stefan.
S4: Yeah, I mean, Doc Emrick announced his retirement as hockey announcer. So fitting tribute to Doc Emrick, I guess, even though those are completely unrelated events.
S5: With us from Palo Alto, Slate staff writer, host of Slow Burn Season three, John Anderson, still still smarting from Stanford, cutting all of this, those varsity sports. It’s been a it’s been a tough, tough run for you.
S6: Well, you know, those fields are empty. And in a time of a pandemic where you don’t have a lot of public space spaces to get workouts and got to see a lot of opportunities around here, have you actually noticed that?
S7: Well, I mean, yeah. I mean, you know, I go I go run over at that track when I can, even though I was supposed to for a while and I stopped. Wait a minute. I shouldn’t be saying this out loud. Let’s just move on.
S5: All right. Moving on.
S4: The Dodgers beat the Braves four to three in a wacky and exciting game seven of the National League Championship Series on Sunday night. The game was played in Arlington, Texas. 10000 fans were allowed in to braves, were tagged out in the vicinity of third base. On the same play, Mookie Betts made another ridiculous catch. Cody Bellinger popped out his shoulder, celebrating his game winning home run. L.A. will play the Tampa Bay Rays and the World Series starting on Tuesday in Arlington, which means that the pandemic champions of hockey, basketball and baseball will be from those two places. Our baseball friend Ben Lindbergh is here. He’s a staff writer at The Ringer, a host of the podcast Effectively Wild, and the co-author of the books. The only rule is it has to work and the MVP machine. Hey, Ben. Hey, guys. Good to be back. Good to have you back. We’re supposed to stipulate here that baseball playoff results are arbitrary. But as you noted in a story about Sunday night’s game that posted 302 on Monday morning, the Dodgers and Rays had the two best records in the regular season and in fact, have the highest combined winning percentage in a World Series match up ever. So a regular season that was 73 percent shorter than normal and a playoff field that was 60 percent larger than normal has delivered the most non arbitrary result possible. Welcome to 2020.
S8: Yes, so much for all of us who were reading about how random the results were going to be this year. But it could have easily happened some other way. Right, because both the Dodgers and the Rays, I mean, between them, they have been pushed to three elimination games in this postseason and they’ve been tied or trailing in the late innings of those games. So while the best teams did ultimately when it came very close to not being the case and neither of those teams needed to fluke into the postseason like they were going to be here even with 162 game season. And really, if anything, their path to a World Series got harder than it would have been in a normal year because you had the expanded playoffs with 16 teams because you had no home field advantage in these last two rounds that are being played at neutral sites. However, there was one advantage, I think, that the Dodgers and the Rays both had, which is that there have been no off days to this point in the postseason. All of the games have been played day after day after day. That will change in the World Series. But that has been an advantage for these two teams because they’re constructed sort of similarly and they’re both very deep. And in a sense, they just outlasted their opponents who kind of ran out of arms at a certain point.
S5: OK, I have a quick question and then I’m also going to reserve time for a follow up question. So don’t get any ideas off.
S9: My quick question is, so in the NBA finals, we heard that the Lakers had the two best players in the series and maybe Miami had like the best like third through seventh. I don’t know what the exact numbers were, but that was like a common trope. I want to flip that slightly, Ben. The Dodgers have the most famous players in the series. How many dodgers would we have to go through? In terms of fame, to then get to a ray being the next most famous, would it be like 10, 18?
S8: I think Randy Rosarita is pretty famous right now, but he was not on this very thing.
S2: He’s a limited public figure, fleeting October fame.
S8: Perhaps it’s a different sort of fame. But you’re right, the difference with the Dodgers is superstars, right? I mean, they have Clayton Kershaw and they have Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, like former MVP and Cy Young winners and really big names. And the Rays do not. And that’s kind of the Rees-Mogg year after year this year. It’s worked even better than it usually does, but they are always the team that assembles these sort of castoffs and spare parts and finds ways to get more out of them in tandem. And I think while there are similarities in how these teams were constructed and of course, the Dodgers are currently run by president of baseball operations, enter Friedman, who was formerly the race top baseball executive. So there is some shared DNA here and executives who work together. But that’s the big difference, is that the Dodgers have the payroll and the resources or are willing to spend the resources to keep their stars. Whereas the Rays, as soon as someone gets good or starts approaching free agency, they treat them and they have to try to get something good back for them so that they can sustain this low payroll, perpetual motion machine. So the Dodgers can extend Mookie Betts, they can extend Clayton Kershaw, they can keep Turner, they can keep Jansen. And so they have this great career that they can keep through their primes and then supplement, whereas the rays are just constantly turning over their roster. And as a consequence, no one knows who they are between that and the fact that no one goes to their games even in seasons when you’re allowed to go to their games.
S5: I actually changed my mind. I’m going to cede my time because Ben basically answered my question in my response. Yes, you are.
S7: Well, let me ask you a very deeply self-interested question, OK? Sure. Would it have been better for baseball if the Dodgers had been able to play the Astros in the World Series?
S8: That’s a really interesting question.
S9: It’s settle it on the field, baby.
S8: In talking to some Dodgers fans before their opponent was decided here, I got the sense that they did not want to play the Astros or at least the ones I talked to just because the downside was so great, which was, I don’t know, kind of cowardly if. Yes. Like, they should want to beat them on the field. As you said, they should want to get direct payback. But the potential downside of losing to the Astros, again, would be so devastating that I think they wanted to avoid that. So I guess in terms of intrigue and ratings, it probably would be a better narrative to have the Astros and the Dodgers have a rematch here. I don’t know whether Rob Manfred would prefer that is his loyalties must have been torn here because on the one hand, it would make him look bad to have the Astros make the World Series again after he essentially didn’t punish the players in any way. And yet he is always out for an extra dollar and this might have higher ratings. So he was probably pretty conflicted about that.
S4: I mean, the prospect of Manfred handing the trophy to the Astros owner, oh, my God. I mean, this would have been pumping his fist, utterly insufferable two weeks of sport to have to to listen not just to the Astros saying people are mad at us, we’re going to show them, but also having to listen to all of the takes about this. The Astros were fucking under 500 during this short regular season. They have shown no remorse for what they did.
S7: Good riddance. Oh, thank you all so much. Sanctimony, but OK, that’s fine.
S5: I actually I had a question about the Astros because I feel like part of what you’re saying, Ben, with the Dodgers fans, I’m going to play the Astros. It’s fear of the Astros as this franchise that I’m like the Rays. We’ve heard of all of the star players on the Astros and the Masters were much worse than the Rays this year. And we’re actually like in the context of normal baseball, we’re like just legit bad, like even though they made the postseason. Is your thought that the Astros were actually good and it’s just like a small sample of regular season games made them seem worse than they were? Or were they just like not actually a good team this year? And it would have been a better matchup. The Dodgers would have had a better chance of winning because the Rays are just better in twenty twenty.
S8: Yeah, I think the rays are actually a better team and a tougher opponent. I think to some degree the Astros looked worse than they were because of the 60 game season and because of the way that their roster was hit by injuries. And guys who got the coronavirus, like I think sportswriters were kind of confused about how to treat the Astros because they had all the hallmarks of like an underdog team that is fighting against adversity in some ways, in that they lost a lot of players, like half their pitching staff was just sidelined for much of the season because of injuries or because of the coronavirus. And then they sneak into the playoffs with a losing record and then. Suddenly they turn it on and they’re coming back from a three oh deficit in the ALCS, like if this were any other team, I think people would have been writing about the resiliency of the Astros and their character. But, of course, you can’t do that with the team that is dirty. No good sign, Steelers. So I don’t know if sportswriters really knew which narrative to use, but I think fans were pretty clear on hating the Astros and rooting against the Astros.
S7: Sergel Houston against the world. That’s fine.
S5: One thing that I find interesting about the wrist band is the you know, you mentioned that Houston was decimated by injuries to key pitchers. If the Rays had injuries to keep pitchers, they would still have a dozen key pitchers left on their their roster. And in particular, they have this really strong bullpen. And what kind of we’ve come to understand and learned is that there’s a lot of, you know, unpredictability around bullpen arms from year to year. And, you know, a team assembles a great bullpen and they end up having the worst bullpen era ever. I’m thinking of the Mets every season, but is there something about how the Rays have figured out how to handle pitchers or bullpen arms specifically? Or did they just happen to lock in to having a really good year where everything goes right?
S8: Yeah, I don’t think these pitchers are a fluke. Like, if you look at their stuff, they just all throw ninety eight unless they throw ninety nine or hundreds. So that’s something we’ve seen really across teams this postseason. I think the average forseen fastball has been faster than 95 this October, which a control can vary and a straight fastball can get ahead. And yeah, and a lot of these guys are somewhat anonymous. I mean, it’s not like anyone was talking about, I don’t know, Peter Fairbanks a couple of years ago. They just keep finding these guys. And much has been made, I think, of the fact that they all have a different look. They all throw from different arm angles. Maybe you’ve seen that on the broadcast where they show like the arms on a clock and they’re all coming from different directions. And there could be something to that. I haven’t seen compelling evidence that that’s really effective or that’s why they’re good. But I think they have managed to stockpile just an incredible reserve of these pitchers. And they have lost some key guys. I mean, they’ve had a couple of guys have Tommy John surgery. They’ve had some losses. And yet you don’t even notice because they started the season with way more just, you know, competent, reliable arms than any other organization did. So even after attrition, they’re left with more. And I don’t know if there is really an identifiable key or secret source to this. This is what the Rays do and have done for a while now. And it’s kind of a high wire act because they don’t spend and yet they keep finding ways to acquire. Little known players from other organizations are picking up guys who were undrafted, getting talent from all these nontraditional places. And one of the scary things, I think, for their opponents is that they have the best farm system in baseball right now, too. So it’s pretty tough to have the best record in the American League and also the best farm system at the same time. Typically, those things don’t go together and yet they have done that. And really the Dodgers have kind of come close to doing that, too. These are the two teams that had perfected the art of stockpiling prospects and trading them occasionally for really, truly elite talent and then managing the players once the game starts to.
S10: The Rays are particularly notable for using just about everybody on the roster through the course of the series. And how much of that is a function of the need to do it because they don’t have superstars that they’re going to roll out there consistently and anybody would sort of bat an eye and say, oh, you’re not playing this player. And how much of it is just really sort of a philosophical approach to how to manage baseball in the 21st century?
S8: Yeah, I think they’re just sort of the epitome of position baseball. And that can be the case in the field with a platoon or what they sort of mix and match guys, depending on who the opposing starter is. They put in defensive replacements. But it also applies to the pitching staff where I think a lot of teams think pretty rigidly, this is a starting pitcher, this is a reliever, and this reliever pitches in that setting or that inning. The Rays just sort of put all their pitchers in a big sort of stew and they use them when they can. So instead of having some guys who go seven innings and some guys who go when they have a bunch of guys who go two or three or four, and it’s all just sort of a jumble, they use these pitchers based on the matchups when they think they’ll be most effective. And they’ve used, I think, what, twelve different pitchers to get saves in the regular season. They just don’t really have strictly assigned roles. And so they’ll bring in their best bullpen pitchers in the third inning if that turns out to be the highest leverage moment. And I think that’s kind of a concession to the fact that they don’t spend. That’s what they sort of need to do. You know, they’re not going to go and get Garrett. Well, because he’s the best starting pitcher available, so they’ll go get someone who maybe doesn’t really fit that mold and they’ll try to minimize his weaknesses and use his strengths and then they stick to the plan in even the biggest moments. So they have this script where they don’t let starters go more than, say, five, six innings into the game because they don’t want them facing the same hitters multiple times in the same game. And so even if it is ALCS game seven and you have Charlie Morton, who has a history of pitching well in game sevens and he’s dealing that day, they will still walk out there and get him after five and two thirds innings and bring in a fresh reliever, because that’s what they’ve done all year and they’re not going to deviate from it.
S7: Now, you talked about having spoken with some Dodgers fans and other folks that if they’d lost to the Astros, that that would be devastating. But you talked about how the Dodgers have won eight division titles and, you know, they’re one of the most successful teams of all time. So if they get to this World Series and lose witnessed, it’ll be a fairly devastating loss. Or does it not really matter because this is a weird, chaotic year anyway?
S8: No, I think it would be. And I think the fact that they’ve had a tough road to get here in the playoffs, even a harder road than they would have been a normal year makes fans invested in this. And there is sort of this narrative that’s built up about this team that it’s a great regular season team that can’t win in the playoffs or hasn’t won in the playoffs. And of course, Clayton Kershaw is kind of the face of that. He has had worse results in the postseason historically than in the regular season. And Dave Roberts, their manager, gets criticized for some of his pitching moves, particularly in the postseason. So that’s just the way baseball works now. I mean, we can all say it’s a crapshoot and Billy be in and say it’s all randomness, but if you don’t win, you don’t get regarded as a great team. Like, in a sense, what they have done is as much a dynasty as, you know, the Yankees winning every year in some earlier era where it was not nearly as competitive and you only had to win one playoff round to win the World Series. Now, we’re in an era where it’s 10 playoff teams are now 16 playoff teams. And to keep getting back here, that’s the most you can do. Really. They’ve they’ve been in three World Series in the past four. That’s really impressive. I mean, we haven’t had a team repeat as a champion since those Dynasty Yankees. This is really the most sustained run of success that we’ve seen a team had. And there’s no end in sight really either. It’s not like their window is closing. They have this young career, they should be able to continue competing for the foreseeable future. But unless they happen to win a Game seven of the World Series, instead of losing Game seven of the World Series, they just won’t be regarded that way. And that will be sort of a permanent stain on the record. So there’s definitely a lot at stake for them despite their success.
S5: So a lot of times when a great player gets a reputation for not performing in the clutch, it’s fiction. It’s just extrapolation based on limited data or just like completely, you know, like with LeBron, he’s like actually been really clutch. If you look at the the numbers. And it’s it’s just totally not true. It seems like Clayton Kershaw has actually earned his reputation for being not as good in the playoffs. And I always root for players like Kershaw who have this incredible body of work and just get dinged over and over again for not performing. But, you know, it’s not like you can sit here even as a neutral observer, as somebody who, like, you know, I just feel kind of bad for the guy. It’s not like I can sit here and say, like people are defaming Clayton Kershaw because that doesn’t seem like what’s happening.
S8: Yeah, I gave up being a Clayton Kershaw playoff apologist a few years ago. I was one for a while. But I think now he has essentially pitched a full season in the playoffs. I mean, that’s what the sample size is now, because the Dodgers make it year after year after year. And his YAARA in the postseason is almost two runs higher than it has been in the regular season. I mean, he has inarguably pitched worse, I think. And it’s true that the degree of that, I think has been exacerbated by poor bullpen support, by some questionable managerial moves in the way that he’s been handled, by the fact that they have often asked him to pitch on short rest.
S5: And I think they have like the worst era in postseason history after the sixth inning or something like that, like they’re treating him like there is Charlie more like have been taken out in the fifth or sixth inning. But like, he’s one of the greatest pitchers ever. And the you know, what we expect or have expected throughout history of these pitchers is that they’re going to throw into the eighth or ninth inning in playoff games.
S8: Right. And, you know, he’s done that on occasion. He has had fantastic clutch playoff starts. But it’s true that he does have this pattern of sort of falling apart in the sixth, the seventh. And so everyone says, well, he shouldn’t have even started that inning or they should have had someone ready and they should have had a better reliever prepared to go after him. And that’s all true to an extent. But also, he’s been so great. He is the best pitcher of his era and he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. And you’d like to see him just get through some of those sixth and seventh innings unscathed, because that is what great pitchers do a lot of the time. So I think it’s fair to criticize him. And, you know, at this point, he is 32 years old. He has had a lot of back issues. He’s lost a lot of velocity. He’s still very effective. But he’s not Pete Kershaw anymore. And I think Roberts has been sort of slow to recognize that. And so he treats him as the prime unhittable Kershaw and he’ll bring him in in these high leverage spots as if he’s that guy and he’s not really that guy anymore. So I don’t think they’ve put him in the best positions to succeed. But also, he hasn’t really held up his end of the bargain. And I think we’ve seen enough to say that that’s the case. But if he wins the World Series, I think a lot of that will be forgiven and forgotten.
S4: Ben Lindbergh writes for the Our Hosts Effectively Wild, the podcast and has written with others two books. The only rule is it has to work and the MVP machine. Ben, thank you as always. My pleasure.
S7: The two men at the forefront of the analytics movement and pro sports are poised to leave the franchises where they made their names and reputations. Daryl Morey announced last week that he was going to step down as general manager of the Houston Rockets after 14 seasons. And longtime Oakland A’s executive Billy Beane seems set to depart the franchise where he first got his start as a player in nineteen eighty nine. Being is reportedly considering an offer from Red Sox owner John Henry to join his Fenway Sports Group. According to a Wall Street Journal report, being would be focused on non baseball ventures in that job, including European soccer. Neither more nor being won championships with their teams sorry rockets. But their influence extends far beyond mere wins and losses. Josh, what do you think their legacy ultimately will be?
S5: It’s interesting to think about how they’re remembered or how they will be remembered, and there could be other chapters for both of them. I think other baseball teams and basketball teams would be very happy to to hire them in the future. But, you know, being was known as the guy from Moneyball who figured out that on base percentage and slugging percentage were important, Daryl Morey was known as the guy with the rockets who figured out the three pointers counted more than the two pointers.
S9: But the thing that’s so fascinating to me is that when those particular advantages were seized upon by the rest of the league being in Mory, their franchises continue to win. They weren’t one trick pony. And even when other front offices got more analytically inclined, brought in more statisticians and not just these, like small first wave of innovations got copied, but other ones did, too, even when the potential to get these advantages got smaller and smaller. These franchises, one and one and one that is, you know, never made it to the World Series. Famously, Billy Beane said if it doesn’t work in the playoffs, Darryl Murray’s Rockets never made it to the finals. But these were the most consistently winning franchises in their sports or close to it, Stefan. And in the case of the A’s franchise, that consistently had major headwinds in terms of payroll that that other franchises didn’t, but they never exceeded the salary cap in the NBA.
S11: And the Oakland Athletics certainly never spent to the levels that their billionaire owners could have afforded to spend. So in some ways, more in being exemplified a system that required them to do things that, you know, they probably shouldn’t have been required to have to do, or at least they should have been able to complement the things that they devised and learned and contributed to their respective sports without being hamstrung. So the ultimate fruition of being a special is innovations were that the biggest and richest teams in baseball adopted his innovations, applied them to franchises that had almost unlimited resources and showed what the ultimate outcome could be for a team that used the system to its fullest, both financially and analytically.
S6: Yeah, I think that that was something maybe I wasn’t quite as aware of until we started going through the obit for more. His time with the rockets and realizing that no actually ownerless Alexander did sort of put these restrictions on him that made a difference. There was there were some constraints that didn’t have to be there that could have enabled the rockets to be a more versatile team. And so then when they ran up against teams that use the same analytic processes as they did but had money to go with it, of course, they were going to be at a disadvantage. And so that’s the thing that I guess that I will appreciate about Darrell Moore is that he did as good as he could with the constraints that were placed on him. And I’ll just always wonder, what did they leave on the table? Because, you know, the rockets had and of course, I’m going to focus on the rockets because I’m a Houstonian. And that’s the pretty much the only team I care about. But you think about that twenty eighteen team of the twenty nineteen team or even this year where you know, a few more moves, being willing to go into the into the luxury tax might have been the difference between them falling short against one of the best teams in NBA history or winning their first championship in almost twenty five years. And like those are windows that just don’t come along a lot. And, you know, maybe they squandered it. And if we’re to believe some of the reporting around with less, Alexander said, that you would be willing to do and what Tilman Fertitta said he wasn’t going to do. So that’s what I’m going to think about that they were really good at their jobs, great at their jobs, pioneers at their jobs, in a way. But it didn’t have to be that way, like their legacy doesn’t have to have that hole in it. And that’s sort of the fault of ownership, right?
S5: Yeah. I mean, and to some degree. I think in a universe in which a single championship can change reputations and and legacies, you know, would we be talking about Maury differently? If Chris Paul doesn’t hurt his hamstring and they beat the Warriors, will we be talking about Billy Beane differently? If by random chance and one of all of the many times they made the playoffs, they had gone on a run like the Rays are going on this year?
S9: I mean, like the Rays have it, like as we as we just discussed, they have an abjectly low payroll and they’ve made it to the World Series and have you know, they’re there and they have a great chance to to win it against the the massively payroll dodgers.
S5: And so I don’t think we should overemphasize the championship failures with with either of these franchises. And I think with Maury, you know, compare him to Sam Hinkie, the kind of quote unquote genius general manager of the Sixers who, you know, had them tank for years, got these really high draft picks.
S9: They got Joel Embiid Ben Simmons Marquel Faults and they’ve won as many championships as the Rockets have and have had fewer chances to win a championship than the rockets have, at least so far. And you know, Maury, I think, you know, never had the Rockets tank. They never I think even fell below five hundred. Joel, even when Tracy McGrady and Yao got hurt.
S7: And I think that’s one thing that’s really interesting about more was working under because his owners would not go into the luxury tax, but they also would not allow him to tanking away. And I mean, the thing about Hinkie is that Hinkie is a Morri guy like Hinkie came up under Daryl Morey. And so it’s conceivable that maybe more he isn’t theoretically opposed to tanking. It’s just that he didn’t have the opportunity, right?
S9: Sure, that’s a good point. But I would also say that Morey gave that franchise a chance after chance to win and was willing to take, like, crazy risks and gambles to do so, like he was willing to risk embarrassment when I think whether it’s coaches, executives, owners or don’t want to fall in their face and embarrass themselves, he was willing to play this style that ultimately didn’t work this year with with the rockets playing so small. But, you know, he took a big risk to try to do something different and maybe catch the league by surprise.
S5: He traded for Russell Westbrook and a trade that either could have worked out great or kind of ended up how it how it ended up with, you know, not getting as far as they did with Chris Paul, but was willing to do weird stuff and like different kinds of weird stuff like like back to what I was saying in the beginning, like, was not somebody who had, like, one move and just, you know, went to it again and again was like willing to change things up and find advantages where other people wouldn’t look for them.
S11: And that’s the, I think, credit to to both of these men, these executives. It’s that they changed their sports by being willing to do things differently. One and two, by bringing in intelligent people who were not considered prototypical executives for baseball or basketball. They made their businesses smarter through their actions. And in Maury’s case, as David Aldridge pointed out, he’s also made sure that the analytics department, which in baseball has been predominantly white and in basketball, too, was not the case that he has, as Aldridge writes in The Athletic, one of the most integrated front offices in basketball. And I think those are both important things to recognize that out of this there’s very early two thousands sort of looking for ages in all aspects of society, you know, being was celebrated for taking this counter road and changing the sport by bringing in the kinds of people that you wouldn’t have normally expected to be running a baseball team. And Morey did the same thing in basketball and has taken a step further so that his front office reflects the game in a better way.
S7: Right. And I even think about being this is sort of a field from we’re talking about, but I think about being even taking chances, like drafting calamari with the ninth pick in the draft. Right. That was a pick that everybody knew. Hey, that’s sort of a that’s a gamble. You might not want to do that. And he was willing to do it. And, you know, to me, that’s if you’re a fan of a team, that’s the kind of guy you want. You want somebody that’s willing to take chances if it’s going to help you to win. And you can’t argue with the fact that they put competitive products on the field or the court every year, which is really is a fan. That’s all you can ask for, because any of us that are sports fans know that championships are like lightning strikes, man, like they come around. So if. I guess unless you’re a Lakers fan or, you know, I guess maybe a Yankees fan, Lifetime Yankees fan or Bama fan, I guess, too, but you know you know what I mean, right? It’s the sort of thing like like a championship involves so much more than being good. It involves luck. It involves all these other things. But they were willing to take chances. And like you said, Josh, it potentially embarrass themselves, you know, make themselves the object of ridicule and just fight through that fear to put together the teams that they knew how. And I just think that that’s sort of admirable. But, you know, I don’t remember. Nobody can remember twenty five years ago, but I just don’t remember general managers being famous like this. Do you like it? Oh, I know. Definitely worth the call to the general manager.
S4: And Josh, I was going to I was going to ask you, I mean, your fellow New Orleanian, Michael Lewis, is responsible in some ways for creating this narrative around management and sort of glorifying and sacrificing the the people that together, the teams as opposed to the people that play the games, love it when you say saxophone stuff.
S7: Yeah, I have to say saxophone.
S4: Yeah. I mean, how much do we owe Michael Lewis for, like, creating a narrative around running a baseball team and making it like worthy of a film starring Brad Pitt and the endless attention to the creation of teams?
S5: I mean, I guess the earlier iteration of the baseball executive who kind of law and legend has attached itself to, as Branch Rickey, like the innovator of the farm system, that, you know, that I don’t mean to be glib about this, but like, it’s a pretty big competitive advantage to be like the least racist executive in baseball, given all of the available talent there wasn’t in the in the major leagues.
S7: But that was a strategic advantage as well. To write like not being racist ended up being a competitive advantage, but it didn’t really, really should not have been that great of mind to identify that market inefficiency. But exactly. America.
S1: But, yeah, I mean, I think Michael Lewis and his staling certainly elevated what being was was doing. And and Lewis comes from this tradition of business journalism and sort of writing about writing this book that made what Ben was doing feel applicable to like every person running a business in America sort of made him transcend sports and made him into this, like, cult, you know, kind of guru type figure. I think that was hugely important. But, you know, back to a couple beats ago being and morea both white guys, but being as the next Jack Mouret is really good at ping pong, but he’s like also into like musical theater and there’s like kind of the classic quant nerd guy. And so I think their rise has been and I think accurately so sort of tied to the increasing presence of people like them in front offices. And this idea that, oh, you can’t be a GM unless you went to an Ivy League school and you have an icon degree or something. But like, you know, they’re very different people. And as you pointed out in that David Aldridge piece pointed out, like Morrie has helped cultivate people of color in these positions who are extremely capable of doing this job. And so if you just like, look at these two people are like they’re both white guys and like, that’s got to be the thing that the person that we need to hire for this position, it’s like not accurate and it’s clearly like a failure of imagination. And I don’t think they should they should be blamed for it. It’s the imitators who look at them and their trajectories and say, oh, it’s got to be a person who, you know, looks like this and talks like this.
S4: You know, the interesting thing about their leaving is that it doesn’t feel like that big a deal. You know, it’s not like they’re the only practitioners of what they’ve done. And I think what will be interesting to see where the industry of analytics goes, like, what can the next revolution be? I mean, their departures feel kind of mundane. You know, they succeeded. They changed their businesses. And now, like a lot of people who get into their 50s, they want to do something different.
S1: Well, the ultimate credit to them, I think they feel replaceable that the the changes that they’ve made now are kind of common.
S7: I mean, it does say something about them, too, that they can leave until the job is done and not have a championship. Right. Like I said, something about the kind of how different they are to that. It’s like, all right. Well, I could try something else now.
S1: Yeah. I mean, different than like Theo Epstein, I guess. Right. Who, like, is going from from from Boston to Chicago, winning winning championships. And he feels like his job is done in that way. But My Lai, kind of last big thought here is that, you know, I don’t think we can leave the segment without noting that they’re both blamed in some way for ruining the aesthetics of their sports and the. Being ushered in this era of strikeouts and home runs and walks and kind of no more like kind of bunting and baserunning and fielding being important, and that’s like a vast oversimplification of what happened. But it’s like, you know, baseball has generally moved in that direction. And I think, you know, it’s less fun to watch in some regard and then in basketball with the, like, crazy emphasis on three pointers. And then in latter years of the Rockets on like James Harden style ISO ball, there are a lot of people who say that the NBA it’s like, you know, Joel, Joel, you love a and like the big man is not a part of, you know, a wouldn’t be the MVP anymore. You must be pissed at them and ruining the possibility of future games. But even if you don’t agree, like a lot of people have made that argument and, you know, maybe even though they didn’t win championships, the fact that they kind of value winning over aesthetics is another, you know, part of the conversation about them.
S4: Well, in Beenz case, it was almost an unintended consequence because he viewed his job is trying to do something with nothing to try to find an advantage that he could glean from the failures of the better endowed teams. It just turned out that what he was doing was applicable to everybody.
S7: And in so doing, change the way the game is constructed. I mean, you know, look, I watched baseball when I was a kid, you know what I mean? Like, I watched that Saturday afternoon baseball on NBC or whatever. OK, I mean, how how much more less interesting is baseball really than it was 30 years ago? I mean, you know, baseball fans feel free to write in, tweeted me or whatever. If you think that baseball is that much more interesting now than it was in nineteen eighty six.
S1: But on the Joel Anderson scale, from one to a zero or a one to a point zero.
S7: I mean, I mean it’s still like postseason baseball is still is as intense and as exciting as ever to me. Like every pitch like is, you know, intense and you know, your regular July baseball game, no matter the year, it just kind of seems, you know, whatever. But to your point, kind of closed out here. I mean, sure. Five, you know, people can complain about with the rockets did over the last few years. But I would I would again say that was more in the rockets pushing efficiency to its logical in and also working within the constraints of what they were able to do. I mean, you don’t want Austin Rivers dribbling around, you know, a PJ Tucker trying to create off the dribble. Like that’s like that’s a stupid that is a stupid basketball player in basketball will not be more interesting if Clint Capela is pulling up twenty one feet you know. I mean so that was a smart basketball player and I really I mean that’s just whoop whoop whoop man. They were still scoring points and Duncan and shit like what do you, what do you, what are you complaining about.
S5: All right. All right.
S3: All right, on this week’s bonus segment for Slate plus members, we are going to talk about comments within the last couple of weeks by the famous sports couple, Megan Rapino and Sue Bird. They had interesting thoughts on the relative popularity of women’s soccer and women’s basketball and why there might be more mainstream acceptance of women’s soccer. We’ll discuss their comments and whether we agree with them.
S1: In a piece published in The Atlantic, Ruth Barrett documents a culture of crazy rich white parents pushing their children into squash and fencing and lacrosse and rowing, all with an eye towards getting those kids admitted to so-called elite universities. The piece notes that, and I quote, The Gold Coast of Connecticut pumps more athletic recruits into Ivy League schools than any other region in the nation and documents the private coaching and fancy in-home courts that paved the way to those universities. But it also describes a changing world, one in which schools like Brown and Stanford are dropping sports like fencing and squash. Stefan, what did you make of the piece and the analysis therein?
S4: I think the piece is getting a lot of attention because it comes at a time when we’ve had this varsity blues scandal with rich people trying to make up spots in sports like these to get their kids into colleges. And the anecdotes are super crazy. I mean, this is the elitist of the elite.
S10: This is billionaires who are building squash courts and fencing in their mansions and then hiring like the top ranked squash player in the world and putting them on their staffs in order to try to get these few spots at the Harvard’s and Yael’s of the world. And why the story I think is resonating is because, as you mention it, there is some change occurring here. One is pushback against the notion that schools should be funding sports like these, a general recognition that these sports are affirmative action for rich white kids and the disappearance of the efficiency in training your kid from age seven to be an elite squash player. The more rich families try to game the system by targeting these Olympic sports that are only really within the province of the wealthy, the more competition there is going to be for what amounts to a static number of spots at the elite universities. So the story is, you know, there’s just a lot of crazy quotes and crazy rich people behavior. And, you know, we are attracted to gawking at that.
S7: First of all, I was really fascinated to learn that I live in one of those hubs, Santa Clara County, Palo Alto, California, that this is one of those hub this is sort of the Gold Coast of California for lack of a better term. But reading that story, I was reminded that America is pretty much has the only higher education system among wealthy nations that binds athletics to its core mission like this. And why maybe it seems even more absurd when you read a story like that. Right. And then I just couldn’t help but think that, like, these people need to be taxed more and that it would be better to just let your child do what they want, encourage them to be a good student, and then spend all that tens of thousands of dollars. You were going to put on hundreds of youth sports, just bribe admissions officer or like, you know what I mean? Like, it just seems like there’s so many other easier ways than, like, trying to put them through the squash pipeline, the youth squash pipeline in this country in hopes of getting them into a school.
S4: Like I kept thinking when I was reading the piece, Josh, was that the number of hours that these kids, you know, and they probably love playing their sports to some degree, these are natural athletes. Sure.
S7: When we read about burnout in this story that I mean, you and I.
S10: Well, of course. I mean, burnout goes with every travel level teenage athlete. But like, if you take one tenth of the time that these kids spent training to be elite squash players and actually have them study, they could probably get into a good school because they have all the other advantages, too.
S9: But this is also the tyranny of the quote unquote, good school. And the idea that, you know, to be of the elite in American society, you have to go to one of these few selective institutions. And, you know, there was the quote from one of the unnamed mothers in the piece who was upset that her kid actually liked lacrosse and because they wanted to continue their lacrosse career, went to a school that actually recruited them and lacrosse, as opposed to one of these, you know, elite Northeastern schools that didn’t want their kids to play lacrosse. And so that was, you know, one of the things that you mentioned, Stefan, about how we’re enjoying gawking at these terrible parents. And, you know, they’re they’re terrible decisions and life choices. It was, I think, God and credit to Stefan Fatsis for pointing this out to me that you don’t hear from any of the actual children in the piece. There’s no quote either anonymous or not anonymous about how the kids actually feel about being tracked into these sports and being pressured in this way, which feels like an omission, but the phenomenon. Definitely feels real and there is an interesting kind of question at the end, and it cites a Wall Street Journal piece on this is like, is there a kind of whether it’s already happening or it’s kind of on the verge of happening? Like, is there this, like, fundamental clash here, like where a lot of these, like wealthy white kids from this particular part of the country have been tracked in this particular way, just as the institutions that they are striving to get into have decided? Actually, it doesn’t look very good for us to have a sailing team and a squash team in a lacrosse team that are populated by all of these these white kids. And maybe it’s time for us to move in another direction. Joel, do you have the sense that that’s like an actual tension here or is that kind of overplayed?
S7: I think that’s probably overplayed because, I mean, I couldn’t help but imagine that Harvard and all of these other schools like the idea that they’ve got these rich people scrambling, you know, to get into their schools. And I mean, the dismissive way that these parents we’re talking about schools that I think of is decent, like I mean I mean, Ohio State gets dissed, like, really early in the piece. And then I think maybe somebody one of the parents in the story made reference to the to the fact, well, oh, they’ll just have to go to Georgetown instead or something like that. And I’m like, wow, really?
S4: That’s a coach saying, like, there’s so many kids competing for these slots that you get bumped down from Yale to Georgetown to Trinity to whatever.
S1: And there are also a lot of kids who play the sports. Are these sports are from foreign countries. Yeah. And so the slots for Americans are diminished for that reason as well.
S4: And I wonder whether this pushback is, you know, how long it will take and whether it is genuine. I mean, universities like having these sports because they create the exact kind of alumni that they want, the people that are tracked to go to Wall Street. And there’s a book that was written by a Northwestern professor about this that mentions this specifically that schools like bringing in wealthy children in these sports because they get hired on Wall Street. Wall Street very specifically wants to bring in students who played squash or fancy that they are natural fits in some way for their jobs. So, you know, is Harvard going to go out and cut squash out of Stanford? Did cut squash and fencing as part of 11 varsity programs that were eliminated over the summer. Brown cut women’s fencing and equestrian earlier this year as part of a broad restructuring of their athletic department and then under pressure reinstated those and other sports, too. So this tug of war is going to go on for a while. And, you know, the question that we should be asking is what sports should universities be granting special admission to athletes for on any level? Should it just be basketball and football? Should it be restricted to financial need? I mean, why does Harvard need to have a great squash team?
S1: You know, another thing that stuck out to me is how people that are the most advantaged in life have a way of looking at themselves as being put upon. Mm hmm. And like, oh, it’s so hard for me because I’m from the richest zip code in America. And like, I have to compete with all these other rich people for these limited spots, like woe is me. Like, has anyone ever struggled as much as I had in life to, you know, this this tremendous hardship? And I think, like, you know, rich and white finds a way like if squash is going to get cut, there’s going to be something else, whether it’s a sport or not a sport. We saw this with the varsity blues scandal that, like, not actually playing the sport doesn’t stop people from fronting, like they play the sport. And so I think the status anxiety is real. I think, you know, the methodologies here are real, but the kind of broader anxiety around like, oh, this pathway is being cut off, whatever are we going to do that is not real?
S7: Yeah, I mean, obviously, the system just sets up all these perverse, you know, incentives for people to to cut around the edges. I mean, you in the story they mentioned and I mean, who knows, like how how real this was kid hurting each other in squash games and lacrosse games because that kid may be competing against you for a college spot or trash talking.
S4: Right. Badmouthing kids and their families, badmouthing other children when they find out that they’re being recruited by a certain school, like literally writing letters and sending emails to schools to say, you shouldn’t admit this kid that you’ve made an offer to.
S7: Yeah. And I mean, I just like I don’t understand why so. I’m sorry for making this about race, but, you know, I grew up in a time and still grew up in a I’m still living in a world where, like black kids and parents, a pathologist for like this idea that they steer their kids to basketball and football so they can get out of the hood or, you know, whatever, and they give kids that’s mentioned in the leader of this piece. Yeah, right. That there’s you know, there’s this belief that we issue all these other, like, avenues to getting into college at the exclusion of, like, you know, playing basketball or football. And I just look at this and I’m like, well, you know, this has been going on all the whole damn time. Nobody I was like I had no idea that this was going on the whole time. And it just sort of infuriates me that with all these advantages, everything, you know, it’s not enough to be rich. It’s not enough to live and go to these extra privileged schools, live in these wealthy neighborhoods, have alumni, family that is alumni to go to all these schools. But you had to create all these other different paths into these schools. And it just really, I don’t know, just really unsettled me. And like you said, they’re going to figure out another way. Like, if it’s not going to be this, it’ll be something else. There’ll be some sort of testing mechanism. They’ll get into chess. It’ll be some of the ways these schools are going to stay the way that they are because rich white people are going to keep it that way.
S4: You make a really good point, Joel, which is that the public perception of college sports is that it’s basketball and football. Oh, it’s this way to get black kids couldn’t get into college otherwise a chance to get into college and to view it very dismissively. The reality at this set of schools, some of which have, you know, really good football and basketball teams like Stanford, is that athletes overall tend to come from high income, wealthy, wealthy families. Derrick Thompson did a piece in the Atlantic last year that cited a survey that was done by the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper that found that families of recruited athletes are twice as likely as non recruits to come from families earning more than half a million dollars a year, then from families earning less than eighty thousand dollars a year. So who is Harvard benefiting here? Who are they actually helping?
S1: And the percentage of admitted athletes at schools like that is much higher than the so-called sports factories like Alabama and Ohio State. I mean, I edited this piece by Ben Strauss about football at Wesleyan a few years ago and how the admissions process there and the huge number of people that are playing on a varsity sport, that are playing football, et cetera, et cetera, is described by admissions folks. There is like affirmative action for for white man. And that’s the thing that doesn’t get talked about enough. I think it’s worth mentioning that the woman who wrote the story, Ruth Asperity, is Ruth Scheelite Barrett, who in the 90s so really a long time ago was a kind of young hotshot journalist at the New Republic who, you know, there were documented instances of plagiarism in her work. There were also accusations of her kind of misreporting things and misquoting people, particularly around a piece she wrote about affirmative action efforts at The Washington Post. This was a really long time ago. I’m not saying that there’s anything, you know, there’s any evidence of malfeasance in this piece. I did reach out to the Atlantic to ask if they wanted to comment on the decision to have Shirley Barrett write this story.
S3: And I’ll include that comment at the end of the segment if we get it before we publish your thinking about what you’re saying about the stereotypes about like black parents and black athletes.
S1: It struck me that I’ve never read a story about like a new basketball that didn’t like name all of the kids and didn’t like, probe into their families and put their names and like talk about them. And in this story, it just felt like the kids and the families are like very cosseted and protected. There are some named sources, I believe that all of the unnamed ones, like the Atlantic, has a very robust fact checking operation. Like I believe that all those there are real people and real stories. But it’s still this sense of like we’re going to, like, kind of gawk at them.
S7: Just think about a couple of weeks ago we talked about Benedikte Men and like we know all about those kids, we follow them from leaving home, going to school and all the inner workings behind it. And these kids seem that they have got like as you would expect, they have a layer of protection that black athletes, youth athletes just don’t have. And also say it again, black athletes are pathologies in this way. Well, you know, this is a system of slave. You know, we you know, this is the way they got to get in. And, you know, this is a system that uses them. But like, we we don’t get to know these kids. And this story in particular, what their will what they want to do if they have any free will here. Can they say that I want to play squash? Do I want to play lacrosse? I’d be interested to know how in the hell they get into this stuff because. I mean, it’s not like lacrosse is on TV all the damn time or whatever, like so I would like to know a lot more about the system that provides all these kids where these kids coming from. Do they really want to do this? And who keeps them going from age six to 18 with the payday of going to a hard school? You know what I mean? I would just it would have been nice to have known all of that.
S4: The New York Times actually did profile a family of squash players a couple of years ago. And you do get a sense of that. I mean, this was a family that, you know, kids were willing to talk and the parents were willing to talk about it. And and in that that case, I think the dad was a high level squash player and it was clear that there was some pressure there on the family from him to these children. In this story, though, the only family that I think is identified in the Atlantic story is Linda and Jim Robinson, the CEO of American Express, Jim Robinson, and his wife, who was a prominent public relations executive. And they’re the family that hired Imran Khan, former top 10 pro squash player. There are anecdotes in the story about nannies delivering dinner to training facilities and riding on private jets across the country where Khan was ordered to write up oppo research on the kids next opponents. But all the anonymous ones right there, the ones that are being cosseted here and that we don’t get a sense of of what drives them.
S5: There’s the scene at the junior squash championships where there’s this match between these young squash players named Grace and Emma, who are only identified by their first names. And I like verified that those players were at that junior squash championships. But, you know, if this was no match up between LeBron and Carmelo or even like two unnamed basketball, you know, two players that we have never heard of, like there’s just no way in hell that anyone would ever even think about just identifying them by their first.
S4: There’s no reason to not identify them. Right. He’s playing in a tournament. A reporter has been granted access to the tournament. And just like you figured out who Emma and Grace are, Josh, I was able to identify the family at the beginning of the piece.
S11: The mom identified only by her middle name, Sloane. It wasn’t hard because the lead anecdote describes one kid playing at a national squash tournament while other of her kids were competing at a national fencing tournament at the same time. It didn’t take much Googling. So why were the identities hidden? Because these are wealthy, media savvy and image conscious people acutely aware of their privilege and how they might come off in a story like this one.
S4: Reporters sometimes grant anonymity to get a fuller picture, of course, but it would have helped to have some people on the record. Like I said, the Times profiled a squash family from Connecticut that has a Harvard pedigree a couple of years ago. So the absence here, I think, not only highlights the difference, as you guys said, between inner city basketball and Fairfield County squash, it makes this rarefied world look even worse than it actually is.
S5: As noted earlier in the segment, I sent The Atlantic questions about the magazine’s decision to assign the story to Ruth Scheelite parent and about how the piece was edited and fact checked. Here’s the response I received from Atlantic spokesperson Anna Bross. This feature went through our usual extremely rigorous editing and fact checking process.
S4: And now it is time for after bawls, our friend hang up and listen, Ameridose host Mike Pesca tweeted on Sunday night that I must be me.
S10: I must be very excited about this World Series because each team has a pitcher that wears a single digit uniform number, Blake Snell of Tampa Bay number four and Julio Urías of the Dodgers number seven, NLCS hero. Hero. Yes, they’re all heroes to me. He’s single digit pitchers. Josh? Yes, these are boom times and I haven’t done this after bowl in a while, but these are boom times for single digit pitchers. There were eight this year and two guys that opted out of playing in the season could have had 10 single digit pitchers. My favorite, there were two. All right. So to go down the numbers, there were two zeros. Taiwan Walker of Toronto, Adam, out of, you know, of the Yankees, Blake’s nowhere’s for Yoshihisa Hirono of Seattle, number six, Marco Gonzalez of Seattle Teammate’s number seven, and Harvey Ghara of San Diego for number eight. And then there were these two guys, Marcus Drummond and Mike Leake, who opted out of the season. Could have been ten man. But my favorite of all of the single digit pitchers. Pitches for Toronto, Shuyun Yamaguchi wears number one. I love the fact that there’s a picture where no one Yamaguchi. I looked up a couple of facts here. One he wore during his long career in Japan before he came over to Toronto this season. This was his first season in the majors to the Blue Jays, had a number one pitcher and a number ninety nine. That’s really cool. And three, Shawn Yamaguchi is Father Hisashi Yamaguchi, former champion sumo wrestler.
S9: Oh, wow. All right. That’s a good thing. Yeah.
S7: So what was your uniform number 12, this as a running back? Yeah. Yeah. You wanted people to think you were a quarterback? No. So I wasn’t very fussy. I had one thirty my junior year and I got to pitch it. I don’t know the day that we were picking uniforms. I don’t you know, it just it wasn’t a big deal in the night, you know what I mean? Like, I just I don’t know. There just wasn’t a lot of talk in high school or talk in high school. This is high school. Right. And so I just went in there. I saw number twelve. I liked it. I think back at the time, University of North Carolina had a running back named Leon Johnson. He ended up playing for the Jets and he wore number twelve. And I was like, no, twelve. I can wear that. That’s cool. So and I just went ahead and was number twelve my senior year. But I was like, what were you assigned in college? I wore thirty four. But I mean, like, I wasn’t I think there was a defensive player that wore number thirty four as well too. That’s a good number. That’s a good running back. And Earl Campbell. No that’s great. No. Yeah it wasn’t as sexy but ninety six I think by then like the Garrison Harrison Napoleon Kauffman’s were in single digit numbers by that point too. So yeah I would have preferred single digit numbers back to the single digit.
S4: No way to transition back to the single digit pitchers. Joel Joel S. Yamaguchi.
S7: Yeah well my Shin Yamaguchi. So Derrick Henry is an anomaly in so many ways. It’s six foot three. He’s the tallest running back in the NFL in a game increasingly reliant on the pass. He’s an old school sledgehammer who has limited use as a receiver. And consider that Henry is the only running back in the past decade to win the Heisman Trophy. Indeed, there’s just not a lot of analog for Henry, who didn’t fully blossom as a star with the Tennessee Titans until his fourth season in the NFL last year, Henry led the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, and this year he’s back atop the league in rushing yards. Helped an awful lot by two hundred and twelve and a win over the Houston Texans on Sunday. I have no affinity for the Houston Texans, so don’t think that that hurts me in any way. But do you know what really makes him unique? Derrick Henry is the rare high school running back record breaker to pan out in the NFL. So let me take you back, dear listener, to December 2012, when I was a high school sports reporter at the Tampa Bay Times. I somehow convinced my editor to let me cover the USA Army all-American game in San Antonio, which is pretty convenient since it’s only a three hour drive from Houston. The game is usually a mess, but I really wanted to get a look at Henry, who had just completed a career that left him as the all time leading rusher in high school history. And it might seem absurd in retrospect, but there were doubts about Henry’s potential as a running back at the time that he was too tall and that he would take too much punishment, that he wasn’t fast enough or elusive enough. Several recruiting services predicted that he’d have to move to linebacker. In fact, that’s how Henry ended up in Alabama. Nick Saban had to assure him that he’d get a fair shot at running back. So there in San Antonio, Henry wasn’t the top rated running back. There were more highly regarded runners like Greg Bryant, who was committed to Notre Dame, Michigan recruit Derrick Green and an Ohio State pledge named Ezekiel Elliott. Henry went into the game third on his team’s unofficial depth chart behind Green and Bryant. But when the game got started, everyone finally got a glimpse of how he piled up all those yards. In high school, he finished with the game high fifty three yards a touchdown in a two point conversion. After the game, Henry said he wanted to prove that he could play running back in college. I wanted to show them bad because I have a lot of doubters, he told me. This was published in the Tampa Bay Times. And yet when he signed with Alabama about a month later, he was listed as an athlete. The running backs in that class were a trio of four star recruits, all Tenpenny, Tyran Jones and Alvin Kamara. Obviously, it all worked out for Henry. He emerged as a star in twenty fifteen his junior year setting SEC records for carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in a single season. He won the Heisman and led the Crimson Tide to the national championship. He was drafted in the second round by the Titans. But even getting to the NFL put Henry in rarefied air among the running backs, prolific enough to make the top 100 high school career rushing leaders. So can you please allow me to geek out here for a second as the kind of guy who used to regularly drive two hours across the Bay Area? To watch Najee Harris brutalized poor teenagers. OK, so number two on this list of high school career rushing leaders, Kelvin Taylor, son of former Jacksonville Jaguars, running back Fred Taylor. He never got a single carry an NFL game. Number three was Kenneth Hall from Sugar Land, Texas, right outside of Missouri City, Texas, which some of you may know is special to me. He held the rushing record for almost 60 years before Henry broke it. He didn’t even play in college, but still made it to the NFL, where he rushed for two hundred and twelve yards in his career. That’s the same total Henry finished with on Sunday. Number four, Mike Hart. He actually said the Michigan career rushing record, but the NFL didn’t go nearly as well and he rushed for two hundred and sixty four yards over three seasons. Number five was Kevin Parks, who had a fine career at Virginia but never even got an NFL tryout. So you’ve got to go down a little bit now. So number 15 was Toby Gerhart, who was the Heisman runner up at Stanford and played six years in the league. It’s not until you get to number thirty three that you find a full fledged star among all these runners. That was Emmitt Smith, who ran for eighty eight hundred and four yards over four years. It is going to be a high school in Pensacola, Florida. After that, you don’t find anybody else with the notable NFL career until Rodney Thomas number forty eight, Cedric Benson at number fifty one, Jaquiss Rogers at number fifty six. Should I mention here that all of those guys are from Texas anyway, you’ve also got a Montee Ball at number sixty one. Do you guys remember Munsie Ball. Of course. Yeah. Go Badgers. Tavon Austin number seventy seven and this guy is number eighty seven will be special to you Josh Cecil Collins.
S5: I think he wore number thirty four. Agil did. He wears number thirty four. We don’t want you to. That’s the LSU guy. OK, I’ll leave it to the listeners to do further research.
S7: Google scholars if you have to it the great Lendale White at number ninety two and Jonathan Stewart at number ninety seven. So consider that Henry has already outraced all of these dudes in the NFL, with the exception of Jonathan Stewart, Cedric Benson and obviously Emmitt Smith. If Henry keeps it up, he’ll pass everyone on this list. But Smith in a couple of seasons anyway, the point of this little exercise was supposed to tell us something about the fleeting glory of Friday night lights. High school football legends rarely go on to Saturday’s stardom, let alone Sundays. Obviously we know that. But there’s something about those high school runners who stay with football fans forever. The old movie, Everybody’s all-American, is about a running back. Al Bundy once scored four touchdowns in a single high school football game for Poca. So did I. But Henry, especially the legend who lived up to the hype. Think about it, Derrick Henry might be the most accomplished running back in the history of American football. I’d say that, yes, he showed those doubters bad.
S5: Yes, just a couple notes. No one. I’ll tell you, Tenpenny died in a car accident.
S6: Yes. I didn’t want to bum everybody out.
S5: With all that said, the litany of dead people on those lists, by the way, Cedric Benson, I mean, I will I will bump people at Rodney.
S7: Thomas died of a heart attack when he’s forty one.
S5: I also just wanted to ask you and Stefan, you’re free to participate here if anybody comes to mind. But this is this is Jalen Josh, college football, our four second. Who is the guy that surprised you the most that didn’t make it in the NFL? A running back. And maybe this is a failure of imagination, maybe a failure of imagination on my part, because you’re talking about Obama guy, but like the fact that Trent Richardson took Richardson.
S7: Richardson is the guy he absolutely. I thought he was going to be amazing in the NFL. It’s not so weird. Yeah.
S4: And if Najee Harris isn’t a star, I would be shocked when we go back and talk about Marcus Dupree, who I think with Derrick Henry was probably the most dominant high school running back ever. It’s a good one. Yeah. Subject of John Hawks film. Yeah, he got hurt with him.
S3: It’s understandable because he got hurt. But like Trent Richardson, that dude was always healthy, as far as I know.
S7: Yeah. I mean, he just I thought that he could do it all. He could catch he could run. He had speed. He was, you know, powerful. In fact, one of my friends texted me to remind me he is like, you know, I you the guy that talked up, Derrick Henry Naji Harris. But and so, like now I can believe your running back opinions because you were all in on Trent Richardson and that got into shit. And I was like, well, in all fairness, you’re right.
S2: That is our show for today. Sorry it ended that way. Richardson, our producer, is Melissa Kaplan. Listen to and subscribe or just reach out to Slate dot com slash hang up and you can email us and hang up at Slate dot com for Joel Anderson and Stefan Fatsis, I’m Josh Levine. Remembers all mobility and thanks for listening.
S3: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members, and let’s talk about something that Megan Rapinoe wrote or was published under her name in the Players Tribune. Megan Rapino was in the bubble, the WNBA bubble, to support her partner, Sue Bird, WNBA champion Sue Bird. And in that piece, Rapino said that players for the U.S. women’s national team are thought of as, quote, street cute, unthreatening suburban white girls next door. It’s not actually who we are. The Western tears, racial diversity, though not yet where it needs to be, is improving every year. And, you know, breaking news, I’m gay, but by and large, that’s the perception and it’s certainly how we’re marketed to a lot of people. Sue Bird was then asked about repeat those comments and said that women’s soccer is more mainstream, more popular than women’s basketball because and then quoting Suban now, soccer players generally are cute little white girls. And I think basketball players were all shapes and sizes at 70 to 80 percent black women in the WNBA, a lot of gay women, we’re tall, we’re big.
S5: And I think there’s just maybe this intimidation factor with that. People are quick to talk about it, judge it, put it down in soccer. You just don’t see that just based on how they look.
S3: What do you guys think about those comments and their claim that, you know, that this helps explain the relative popularity of women’s soccer and women’s basketball?
S10: And it feels like a chicken and egg thing to me a little bit. I mean, women’s soccer has increased sort of in a linear way over the last, you know, 20 plus years in the United States to the point where the twenty nineteen World Cup in France was drawing tens of millions of people on television. I mean, that team was a phenomenon and previous teams going back to nineteen ninety nine also were phenomenal. There’s a penetration level for the sport in the United States that just hasn’t existed for basketball. There is no unifying quadrennial event that has been promoted the way that women’s soccer World Cup has been promoted for boys in basketball has been in the Olympics.
S4: I know it’s been in the Olympics, but I said that has been promoted the way that the Women’s World Cup has been promoted. And that’s, I think, a critical distinction. It’s not like NBC, which has broadcast the Olympics forever, has gone out of its way to turn the women’s basketball tournament into some global huge event. And certainly the feeB Women’s World Basketball Championship hasn’t been that either. So those are the I think the foundational you know, that’s the foundational conflict here. Women’s soccer is just more popular. So the question then becomes why?
S7: Well, yeah. I mean, I think there’s lots of reasons why.
S6: I mean, women’s soccer, the popularity of soccer in America, it finally sort of conforms to what the rest of the world is when it comes to women in this country. Right. Because soccer among our men, at least the professional leagues following all that other stuff, like it takes the seat behind a bunch of other sports here when it comes to men. But with women, America finally has a chance to be a part of the global game. And there’s all this participation and enthusiasm around it. But I still think that to an extent, Megan Rapino makes a really good point, that, yeah, I think that it does matter a lot that the faces of women’s basketball are bigger, blacker, you know, queer than in other sports. So at least that’s the appearance. And I mean, one thing that I would note is that, yeah, I mean, the programming decision to not make women’s basketball could be based in that very that some of that bigotry. Right. That they don’t like. Well, we don’t want to make them the face of the of the Olympics. I mean, because consider what national team is better, a more accomplished in America than our women’s basketball team. They’re more accomplished than our men’s basketball team. Right. So, like I mean, if if America is all about cheering Americans and, you know, the Olympics as a chance to embrace our jingoism and we want we want to root for winners, what team does it better than our women’s basketball team?
S1: All right. Here’s here’s a counterargument. Stephon, who’s the first women’s soccer player in America, there was like a big star, Mia Hamm, and who who are the first women basketball players in America who are big stars.
S4: I know where you’re going with this. It’s the white girls.
S1: Yeah, it’s it’s you know. And where’s Nancy? Nancy Lieberman in.
S7: Oh, OK. You know, I still have Cheryl Miller. Cheryl Miller.
S1: So, yeah, but it’s not just the race thing, but it’s also the basketball players are a generation earlier. So there was an. Opportunity not just to celebrate the excellence of American women and basketball, but if, you know, networks or fans wanted to embrace white stars that were successful in women’s basketball, they had ample opportunity to do so as well. And so I think that there is something I think that the factors of race, gender and sexuality are important and should not be underemphasized. But I think there is something else going on here, which is that men’s basketball casts such a huge shadow over the women’s game in a way that men’s soccer doesn’t cast a shadow over women’s soccer in a way that men’s tennis doesn’t cast a shadow over women’s tennis. And I think part of that is the ways in which the games are played and are structured like they are the way that athleticism is manifest.
S3: And men’s basketball means that it’s fundamentally a different game than women’s basketball. Not that it’s better, but it’s different. And I think that men’s and women’s soccer are not different in that same way. Like Carli Lloyd can score a goal from Haberfield, women can bend the ball. You know, anything that that men can do in terms of skill with dribbling and trapping and women, women can do as well. So I think that that is a factor, that it’s something about the sports themselves that plays a role.
S6: Like, do you think that that’s fair to play, like with anything involving sexual orientation or race? Like, yeah, there’s probably a bunch of factors as to why, like, those are not necessarily the most salient factors and the relative comparison, the comparison of popularity between the two sports. But I just think that it is a factor. But yeah, I mean, you’re right. You know, women’s basketball did have a head start and the people at the forefront, they were white and it didn’t quite catch on and quite the way that, you know, that you would have thought. And it’s taken a while now. You know, the demographics of the game of change have been sort of flipped on their head. So, yes, I think that’s a great point. But I just I don’t know. I still I still think that like that there is some, like, reticent to fully embrace a league full of big black queer women. And, you know, maybe that’s that’s hard to sort of quantify. Like, we just maybe, you know, because stuff different, we’re talking off air. I mean, you know, even women’s basketball players, they have a lot more many more opportunities to monetize the game, like they can play here. And, you know, their leagues, there’s a there’s an infrastructure. It may not be equivalent to the NBA, but they have the infrastructure to get paid and to play professional sports and then they can go overseas and get paid. So I don’t know, man, it’s it’s it’s complicated. And I would like to know I guess I would like to ask I would like to dig down with Meghan and Sue and if they would like to come on our show that be great. But to dig down on that and see like kind of where they’re coming from with that, you know.
S5: Yeah. I think the counterargument to my argument, an example that I think pushes more in the opposite direction of the one I was just pushing is golf, because like women and men playing golf, like if it looks exactly the same to me.
S3: And yet I think there is racism and xenophobia in the fact that, you know, especially with the dominance of a lot of East Asian women on the PGA Tour, that there’s like less interest in and sponsoring them in North America and smaller audiences on television. But women’s golf has always been less popular than than men’s golf to like. I think it’s I think it’s complicated. And I think that, as you’re saying, draw like race and sexuality are always going to be a factor. But I think they’re not the only factor in this case.
S4: Yeah. And I think what what Peno is saying, too, is that women’s soccer is gayer than most fans realize. I mean, that’s one of her points. I mean, the other thing that I think we cannot overlook is that women’s soccer filled an empty space in the American sports culture.
S5: Men’s soccer, you know, had maybe wouldn’t have been empty if women’s basketball had been embraced.
S4: Yeah, all right. Yeah, but that’s just that’s a fact. I mean, that men’s soccer sucked, right? So Major League Soccer started in 1996, an outgrowth of the World Cup in the United States in nineteen ninety four. But the quality level was, to put it mildly, inferior to what true soccer fans were going to be interested in. And that has persisted up until now. Women’s soccer filled a completely vacant blank slate and at the same time, millions of participants joined the sport, creating.
S7: Did it fill the void, though, when do you when do you say that it started to fill the void? Because I don’t remember it becoming a big national phenomenon until like the World Cup in the States and or was it ninety nine? Is that the year that I’m thinking.
S4: Yeah, I mean, that’s what I’m talking about. Yeah. Right. OK, talking about like 20 years in a four year head start on them by that point too by the way, you know. That’s right. No, no, no, that is absolutely right.
S3: So here’s here’s one point there. If you’re a girl growing up in America in the 90s and you’re like, I love soccer and basketball, you’d be you’d say, I want to be like Mia Hamm and I want to be like Michael Jordan, probably because you wouldn’t be like I want to be like Landon Donovan. Right. As Stephane was saying, like if you were playing youth soccer, which a lot of kids do in this country, and you’re looking for somebody that you want to idolize, there was that gap there. There wasn’t a similar gap in basketball. There are plenty of people that you could look to, whether men or women. And and, you know, there’s no reason why a girl wouldn’t be like, I want to be like Mike the same way that a boy would write.
S10: Because I think if you ask Bird, I’m sure she wasn’t saying I want to be like Cheryl Miller when she was growing up.
S7: Well, I mean, but there was Cynthia Cooper right there, you know, I mean and Sheryl Swoopes I mean, Sheryl Swoopes was kind of a big name, you know, throughout the 90s, you know. But again, I mean, all the things that sort of deny her the opportunity denied Sheryl Swoopes opportunity from being Mia Hamm is still sort of there. But for the fact that America, American men’s basketball is such a big phenomenon. And they took, you know, all their all their heroes can be could have been heroes to men and women.
S5: Well, I don’t think we’re going to solve this one, but.
S10: Yeah, come on. Come on. To solve this for us, we would love that.
S3: Slate plus, members, thank you for being here as always. And we’ll be back with more for you next week.