With Some Teams Allowed to Practice Soon, Here’s An NBA Playoff Plan

Just yesterday NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that as states begin to ease restrictions on their “shelter in place” decrees, the league will permit the effected teams to return to their practice facilities if the lifted restrictions allow for it. This means that for instance, there is a chance the Cleveland Cavaliers could return to practice at the Cleveland Clinic Courts as Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is scheduled to announce a pull back of certain restrictions beginning at the turn of the month.

More importantly for the psyche of the country at large, this could be the first small step towards a return to professional sports in the United States. At the very least, its the first time there has been any sort of wind in regards to a return to play and practice in the four major team sports. Still, rather than provide any sort of clarity, confusion and questions abound on what to make of this decision.

Something is curious about Silver’s statement at large. Namely, this is not a planned and organized roll-out of return to business for the NBA and its teams. There are 14 teams in 11 states that are currently under “stay at home” orders that will expire on May 1st or sooner. Certainly, within the states involved there is sure to be differences in what kind of activity will be allowed or disallowed as each governor tries to find his/her way through the gradual process of attempting to return to something resembling normalcy. Of those 14 teams just 8 of them would be considered playoff teams as of today, that’s half of the regular 16 that compete in the first round. The highest seed to begin practicing could be the 3- seeded Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. In the West it could be the 4-seeded Utah Jazz. As much as its good to hear about any activity for the NBA, as much as it can stoke what little optimism that we have, its clear this announcement today is not a fast track to an NBA playoffs. Further, Silver has said as much.

However, I am not here to be negative, rather the opposite. Many an individual to this point has tried taking a crack at describing what a return might look like for the NBA. Many more have lamented how complicated it is and because we are so seemingly far out from a return haven’t even really bothered with dealing with the details.

What better opportunity than now, with our first inkling of any type of sports optimism since Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with COVID-19, to come up with my own plan on how the NBA should proceed forward.

Before I begin, I absolutely recognize that I am simplifying this process. Its very easy to sit here from my desk and play arm chair commissioner and pretend like I know it all. People’s well-beings are at stake here, and like I have mentioned before, some things are more important than sports. I don’t see the harm in speculating though and I do see a lot of fun in it, so here we go.

My plan is admittedly smaller and less encompassing than some may like. There has been a lot of talk of finishing the regular season in either a full or truncated fashion. There has been talk of playing the playoffs in full among all the qualified teams. I have even seen one suggestion floated by The Ringer’s Bill Simmons that the NBA should have a 12-team playoff. My plan is unfortunately smaller than all of these, but for good reason.

The NBA should not only scrap any remaining regular season games, but should also get rid of the first round of the playoffs as well.

That’s right. Go with the top four seeds from each conference only. Why? For a number of reasons.

First, re-starting all thirty franchises is entirely impractical. My proposition is that the remainder of the season will be played within the City of Las Vegas. Vegas, which obviously doesn’t have its own NBA franchise, but is the unofficial home of USA Basketball and the NBA Summer League will easily have the facilities for 8 teams and will also have the built in amenities available to house players, staff and the like for as long as needed considering the dearth of empty hotel rooms the city is currently home to. Naturally, social distancing and even quarantine will still need apply. Players, staff and possibly their families will need to remain among themselves only as much as possible. Its easy for me to say, but its a small price to pay for helping the spirit of our nation (not to mention allowing everyone involved to get paid).

Packing up and sending eight teams to a potential NBA bubble in Las Vegas will be considerably easier than sending thirty teams, or even sixteen. The less teams, the less logistical headache and the less potential risk involved.

Additionally, with a sudden and abrupt end to the NBA season I think cutting the number of NBA teams that qualify for the playoffs is more fair when you consider how a potential playoff race could have altered the lower seeds entering the playoffs. For instance, would any of the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans or Sacramento Kings have caught the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th seed in the West? We will never know. They were all just 3.5 games behind Grizzlies at the time the season suspended, and the Kings in particular were hot, having won 7 of their last 10. The Pelicans were riding the wave of healthy rookie Zion Williamson. In a situation where the bottom seeds of the playoffs are essentially murky, and in a league where there’s probably one too many playoff rounds anyway when you consider that a team with a .462 winning percentage in the East was probably going to make the playoffs, why not eliminate the ambiguity and just go with the cream of the crop?

Yes, a team that exceeded expectations like the Oklahoma City Thunder will not be rewarded. The same can be said for the star-studded Philadelphia 76ers. Its a shame, but if those teams wanted to make the playoffs, they had their opportunity to work themselves to a 4-seed or higher in the 60+ games that were played.

Lastly, only one team ever ranked lower than the 4th seed has ever won the NBA Finals. That was the 1995 Houston Rockets, who were the defending champs. That’s it. The possibility of us missing out on the potential Finals winner by eliminating the bottom four seeds in each conference is extremely low. The benefits here outweigh the drawbacks.

With all this in mind, when May 1st approaches and governors begin to announce their plans, the league should take a comprehensive look at where each state falls. From there, even if your state is beginning to open up, if you aren’t a 4-seed or better in either conference your players and staff can pack it up. We will hopefully see you for training camp in November.

On the bright side, based upon the research I have done, there is the potential for two teams- the Miami Heat and Utah Jazz to begin practice depending on what their respective governors announce on May 1st. Those teams should put together a health and safety plan in order to protect their players and essential employees to be submitted to the league office. In fact, no team has to wait until their governor lifts restrictions to submit this plan. Its actually better to have it in place in advance. Once approved and permitted by law they can begin practice in anticipation of more and more teams coming to the opportunity to resume their operations.

Moving on, a lot has been made about what the quality of play will be when the teams will return. It will be hard for players who have been inactive for months to just jump right into the playoffs, let alone a shortened playoffs that is missing the first round. In this case, I would recommend taking a page out of the book of the Korean Baseball Organization. Teams in the Korean major baseball league played upwards of a month’s worth of inter-squad scrimmages in preparation for the regular season, that is now set to begin on May 5th. A gradual roll-out where teams play inter-squad games against themselves can provide them the opportunity to play themselves back into shape, and if done for a significant length of time, I think it could prove effective. The goal then would be to gradually let these teams play against themselves while they wait for all the remaining teams to become available. From their, the last team(s) allowed to begin operations will be given three weeks in order to get into form.

However, this plan is admittedly not fool-proof. One concern at this point would be California. Home of the two best teams in the Western Conference, Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order is indefinite, unlike many other states. In contrast to Wisconsin, whose order is set to expire as of May 26th, its hard to even speculate on when the Lakers and Clippers would be capable to begin practicing. One other wrench is the Toronto Raptors, who are under the domain of an entirely different country. Lastly, while Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman is pushing to re-open, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak doesn’t think the state is near ready. Knowing when our neutral playoff site will be ready is problematic.

Nevada’s stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire on April 30th. Let’s assume that gets extended one more time to May 31st. Let’s then say they will need two weeks to prepare for the arrival of NBA personnel. We will start slow. Come June 15th, if any combination of the Lakers, Clippers and Raptors (or whoever else for that matter) are unable to begin practice in their home states, they can entire the Las Vegas NBA bubble and begin their three week inter-squad preparation period.

Throughout that three weeks, the other qualifying teams will gradually begin to enter the bubble and get acclimated to their new surroundings. That preparation period will be capped off with each team getting to play one exhibition game against an opponent from the other conference on Tuesday July 7th. On the 9th, the playoffs will begin.

From there, things are a bit simplified. For games only one court will be needed and naturally, there will be no fans allowed. I do think that if there is some way for the home team to control artificial crowd noise, that would do well to help the atmosphere. Perhaps the NBA can contact the New Orleans Saints…

Moving on, since so few teams are being used, games can be played in prime-time each night and as few as two referee teams could be necessary. That first night of July 9th would begin with a 7:30 PM Eastern tip off between the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks, and would be followed by the 10:30 tip off of the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers. The next night the Celtics play the Raptors and the Nuggets play the Clippers in the same time slots. From there, the match-ups can alternate back and forth. There’s no need for travel days and likely no need to have an extra off day to avoid a bad ratings night. When you consider the number of sports-starved eyeballs have consumed The Last Dance and the NFL Draft this week its hard to see how such a set-up for actual games wouldn’t be a huge hit even on the most inopportune of nights.

Factor in an extra day off at the conclusion of each playoff series and you are looking at the Conference Finals beginning on July 24th at the latest. From there, the conferences can just alternate nights and have prime-time to themselves. Perhaps 7 PM and 9:30 PM Eastern time starts would be in order.

By August 7th we would be staring the NBA Finals in the face and would have a champion crowned by August 19th, setting the league calendar back about 2 months, but leading to a reasonable Christmas Day start to the 2020-2021 NBA season.

Allowing for the other thousand variables that could possibly go wrong between now and then, of course…

A Baseball Debate: Do Today’s Pitchers Throw Harder Than They Used To?

One continual debate that I enjoy having with people that love baseball is about the idea of how hard pitchers have thrown throughout history. Recently, I’ve seen a lot of posts online about great baseball documentaries, and this conversation re-inspired a debate in my mind because of the Netflix documentary simply titled Fastball. For those unfamiliar, this film is about the evolution and origins of baseball’s most basic pitch, and even more about how we measure its speed effectively.

The cornerstone of this argument, and one baseball hill that I am absolutely willing to die on, is the question: Would pitchers from previous eras compete from a velocity standpoint with the greats of today?

My answer to this is an emphatic YES, but with one large caveat. I openly admit that the wonders of modern medicine and our improved knowledge of strength training and nutrition allow for more pitchers to throw hard today than ever before. However, I find it very hard to believe fireballers from decades past, like Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax didn’t throw just as hard. Today I am here to enter my plea on why.

We will start with the dubious, which is Johnson. I say he is dubious not because of his own merits, but because of the merits of the technology that was around to track him in his day. Arguably the greatest pitcher ever, the all-time leader in shutouts, a two-time MVP and a 417 game winner through 21 seasons for the lowly Washington Senators, Johnson was once clocked against a motorcycle while wearing street clothes and a mere few warmup pitches. Mathematics suggests that he threw a baseball at 97 mph that day. More anecdotally, Ty Cobb, 2nd all-time in hits, called him “the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park”. Johnson himself spoke to his own velocity, claiming that the later pitching star Bob Feller didn’t quite throw as fast as he. Which I would tend to believe, when you consider Johnson’s own even-handedness when he also claimed one of his contemporaries, Smoky Joe Wood, threw even harder.

Moving forward, we look at Feller. Many know the 18-year Cleveland Indians veteran as one of the best pitchers of baseball’s golden age. A look at his Baseball-Reference page suggests he had an admittedly early peak. Feller was an absolute workhorse early in his career, leading baseball in innings pitched 5 times by the time he was 28, and doing so while also missing three seasons due to military service. By the time the Indians had won their last World Series in 1948 Feller was 29 (the same age as pitchers Mike Clevinger and Alex Wood today, for reference) and had led baseball in strikeouts 8 times.

He did this with an absolutely blazing fastball. Ted Williams had hand-eye coordination not only great enough to be the last man to hit .400, but also be called “one of the best pilots I know” by future astronaut John Glenn. Williams in turn, called Feller “the best and fastest pitcher I ever saw”. In an effort to find out exactly how fast Feller, while still in his prime in 1946, was clocked by the US Army at 98.6 mph. That figure however came from the point that the ball would cross home plate. Today, the radar gun readings taken on television and by Statcast come from the time the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. Computations on how much gravity and wind resistance would slow Feller’s ball down suggest that at the point of release the ball was likely at a velocity anywhere between 101 and 107 mph.

Bob Feller’s fastball being measured by the US Army, 1946. The device pictured, a Lumiline Chronograph measured the speed of the ball at home plate as shown.

I don’t care what year it was. Feller threw straight gas.

Skeptics will call both this and Johnson’s story old wives’ tales. They will point to the lack of reliable equipment used to measure speed or the potential faults in the calculations done by the Army. They will claim that the legend is bigger than the truth and that there’s no way without modern means that either man could possibly throw that hard. They will claim Williams and Cobb didn’t know any better in their day and age than to think these men threw fast. The reason Williams hit .400 was that pitching was so much easier to hit then. Cobb is a relic of the dead-ball era where bunts were more common than bombs. Meanwhile, the number of 95+ mph fastballs thrown nearly doubled between 2007 and 2015.

But let’s move forward, to another Indians fireballer just a couple decades later. In 1965 “Sudden” Sam McDowell led the American League in ERA and made his first All-Star team. This was a decade where the average baseball player was 20 pounds (at least partially of muscle) lighter than today. It was a time where ballplayers still needed winter jobs in order to live and couldn’t focus on training year-round. Specifically, McDowell himself weighed in at 190 lbs and therefore was 17 lbs lighter than today’s average player when he pitched 273 innings that season. For reference, no one in baseball has thrown as many as 250 innings since Justin Verlander did it in 2011. McDowell had all these factors stacked against him, yet struck out 10.7 batters per 9 innings in 1965. That’s essentially equivalent to Yankees’ ace Luis Severino who matched that figure in the much more strikeout-friendly 2017 season. Further, Severino is also considered by many the hardest throwing starting pitcher in baseball. McDowell’s sky high strikeout rate can be attributed to his fastball which was questioned to be just as fast, if not faster, than the great Sandy Koufax, another legendary pitcher with a cannon for a left arm.

Yes, I am once again making inferences. There can be flaws in my reasoning and my evidence isn’t entirely concrete. However, if McDowell wasn’t throwing just as hard as Severino, he sure was throwing just as effectively with the same showcase pitch.

For those doubters that may still be out there, perhaps a more scientific approach is necessary.

I can’t remember if it was a gym teacher, a baseball coach or some other adult of authority during my formative life, but I remember an individual of that stature in my teen years announcing very confidently to a group of young people including myself that “Throwing a baseball overhand is a completely unnatural motion. That’s why baseball pitchers always have arm pain and softball pitchers don’t.’

I cannot speak about softball pitching, but it turns out that the above statement about baseball is completely and utterly factually inaccurate. Not only is throwing overhand a natural action that humans have been performing since the dawn of our existence, but its actually a trait that is identifiably human. There isn’t a living creature known on this planet that is able to throw overhand with the same effectiveness or efficiency that a human being does. Not one. A common chimpanzee is anywhere from three to five times stronger than Aroldis Chapman is, but that chimp’s fastball wouldn’t get ticketed in a school zone.

A 2013 Harvard study concludes this and further reinforces the notion by stating that the human shoulder is specially built with elongated muscles that store energy and release it much in the way a slingshot or a catapult does. For another anatomical comparison, our shoulders are the equivalent of a kangaroo’s legs, that allow them to sour through the air in a way that is immediately identifiable as one of their main traits as a species. Throwing prowess, born possibly out of natural selection and the need to be able to throw a rock or a spear in order to hunt for dinner, is equally an attribute of humanity.

Not only does this mean that if aliens come down and allow us to choose the contest that will determine the future of our planet that we better well choose baseball, but it sets the precedent that humans have been predisposed to being able to throw heat for ages. Yes, modern techniques mean that more guys are reaching their peak velocity than ever before. You are able to build more better baseball pitchers today due to strength training, better mechanics and nutrition, but the premise that Feller, McDowell or Koufax really were firing bullets out there seems reasonable when you consider human anatomy.

Officially, the aforementioned Chapman has been clocked at 105 mph. The Army would claim that Feller was comparable in 1946, but if my premise that modern processes and equipment are helpful then something needs to be reconciled. If Chapman and Feller have the same amount of predisposition for throwing hard, and Chapman has the benefits of modern society while Feller doesn’t, then what gives? Why doesn’t Chapman throw harder?

Well first, he might. If Feller was more on the low end of the 101-107 range, then there’s your answer right there. If not though, then there too might be a precedent already that while humans are the best throwers on the planet, we might have already peaked in terms of our ability regardless of all the additional training that we can do.

Radar guns first came en vogue in the 1970s as they were proliferated into the MLB at the suggestion and encouragement of Michigan State coach Danny Litwhiler. While there reliability has improved over the years, Nolan Ryan‘s 103 mph fastball clocked in the 1978 All-Star Game is a reading to be reckoned with.

In that same year, the World Record for the 100 meter dash was held by American Jim Hines who set the record in 1968 (making him a contemporary of Ryan, Koufax and McDowell) at a time of 9.95 seconds. Today the record is 9.58 seconds, set in 2009 and held by Jamaican Usain Bolt, nearly 4 percent faster than Hines. Chapman’s 105 mph fastball is just 2 percent faster than Ryan by comparison. Human foot speed has improved at a rate double throwing speed, and we are assuming that Ryan just happened to throw his fastest pitch ever at the 1978 All-Star Game (plausible, but maybe not likely). In truth, the precedent is there that the peak of human throwing performance has been set.

If that can be the case for the time between Ryan and Chapman, than what makes that time period different than from Johnson to McDowell? What reason do we have to believe that our human biology alone isn’t enough to be able to bring the cheese?

I suggest we have none. Walter Johnson threw hard. Just like McDowell. Just like Ryan. Just like Chapman. And just like our prehistoric ancestors, throwing four-seamers to knock dinner out of the sky.

One Last (Imperfect) Statistical Analysis: 2020 vs 2009 Naismith HOF Class

Here we are. The final foe. I have tested the players of this year’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame against three classes of greats originating from similar inductions in 1980, 1987 and 2006, and each time this year’s recipients have held up to the challenge. So far, this does truly look like the greatest class of Basketball Hall of Famers ever.

For those of you who haven’t followed, this test has been performed through their collective award resumes, and a statistic I made up for our purposes called Accolades per Player, or APP. As a reminder one last time, here is that award resume for Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Tamika Catchings.

58 All-Star Appearances (Bryant with the most, 18)

51 All-NBA/All-WNBA appearances (Bryant and Duncan tied at 15 total appearances, but Bryant had 11 1st teams to Duncan’s 10)

51 All-Defensive Teams (Duncan with 15, but Bryant and Garnett were first team 9 times, meanwhile the WNBA only has one team, so all 12 of Catchings All-Defense awards are essentially first team)

6 Defensive Player of the Year Awards (Catchings had 5 of these, I don’t care that she’s a woman, she might be the best defender out of this whole group)

6 All-Star MVPs (Bryant had 4)

6 Finals MVPs (Duncan had 3 of these)

5 season MVPs (Duncan had 2)

4 rebounding championships (all Garnett)

1 scoring title (Bryant)

12 Championship rings (5 for Bryant and Duncan each)

Beyond that, I have also aggregated their traditional statistics to compare and contrast against the previous classes in question. I have taken these four legendary NBAers and melded them into one super-player with the following per game career stats:

20.1 Points Per Game

8.6 Rebounds per Game

3.8 Assists Per Game

1.3 Steals Per Game

1.3 Blocks per Game

0.218 Wins Shares Per 48 Minutes

Today we will do the same, but this test is special. Today, they will go up against an incredibly formidable class that includes three greats from the late 80s and 90s, including arguably the best basketball player of all-time.

2009: wing Michael Jordan, center David Robinson, point guard John Stockton

The 2009 HOF Class, all member of the Dream Team.

34 All-Star Appearances (11.3 APP vs 14.5 APP) (Jordan led with 14)

32 All-NBA Appearances (10.7 APP vs. 12.75) (Jordan and Stockton each had 11)

22 All-Defensive Team Appearances (7.3 APP vs. 12.75) (Jordan, 9)

2 Defensive Player of the Year Awards (0.7 APP vs.1.5) (Jordan & Robinson)

4 All-Star MVPs (1.3 APP vs. 1.5) (Jordan, 3)

6 Finals MVPs (2 APP vs. 1.5) (all Jordan)

6 regular season MVPs (2 APP vs. 1.25) (Jordan, 5)

11 scoring championships (3.7 APP vs. 0.5) (Jordan led the league in scoring 10 times! Ten!)

1 rebounding championship (0.3 APP vs. 1) (Robinson)

9 assist championships (3 APP vs. 0) (Stockton had all 9)

5 steals championships (1.7 APP vs. 0) (Jordan, 3)

1 block championship (0.3 APP vs. 0) (Robinson)

This group may finally give the 2020 Hall of Famers a run for their money. Look at that resume! Yes, our newest Hall of Famers take most of the actual trophies, but thanks to Jordan alone the 2009 group have as many Finals MVPs awards to their name as the 2020 inductees, and have done so without the benefit of a fourth player. Six regular season MVPs compared to the Kobe/Duncan/KG/Catchings’ five also gets the better of the newcomers whether or not you take APP into account. In reality, even with all the folklore, its easy to forget how incredible Jordan was. Not only was he the home of all six Finals MVPs himself, as well as five of the regular season ones, but his 10 scoring titles dwarf anything the 2020 Hall of Famers did, and that’s without even counting the token scoring championship that the Admiral won in 1993-1994. Statistical championships at large are really where this group shines as they also brought in nine assist championships (all Stockton), five steal titles (MJ and Stockton combined) and 1 block championship (Robinson). All of these conversely counteract the fact that they only had one rebound title compared to the 2020 groups four. Really, if you wanted to bet on one of these groups being the league leader in something in a given season, you should pick Jordan, Robinson and Stockton. They also, if nothing else, would likely make an incredibly devastatingly good three-on-three squad. That is a post for another day, but I really think I’d take Stockton, Jordan & Robinson in a game of three-on-three with any combination of Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and Catchings.

Moving on though, let’s look at this 2009 group in the statistical aggregate. Jordan, Robinson and Stockton averaged:

20.4 Points Per Game

6.0 Rebounds Per Game

6.6 Assists Per Game

2.0 Steals Per Game

1.2 Blocks Per Game

0.236 Win Shares Per 48 Minutes

For the first time, the pacing statistics of their median season, which is 1994-1995, were nearly the same as 2006-2007. Teams averaged one more possession in ’94-’95 with their PACE figure being 92.9, just a 1% increase over ’06-’07. This change merely bumps their statistics down marginally:

20.2 Points Per Game

5.9 Rebounds Per Game

6.6 Assists Per Game

2.0 Steals Per Game

1.2 Blocks per Game

0.236 Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (not altered)

Naturally, the two big men of the 2020 inductees propelled them to a higher rebound and rate and the 2009 squad is pushed to better assist numbers by Stockton. But with points being essentially the same its stark to realize that the group with 12.75 APP in terms of All-Defense honors didn’t accumulate nearly as many steals as less decorated defensive group from 2009. The less-awarded squad also blocked shots at nearly the same rate as the 2020 group despite having only one big men in their presence. Finally, the cherry on top of this statistical sundae is that the 2009 Hall of Famers average 0.236 WS/48, which bests the 2020 Hall of Famers.

In all, this is darn close. Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and Catchings are more highly decorated in terms of traditional awards like All-Stars, All-NBAs and so on, and a lot of that can be attributed to the great longevity that all four of those players possessed. They won awards in the late stages of their careers, not just their primes. They had to play at a high level throughout. Statistically though, the edge goes to Jordan, Robinson and Stockton. They actually led the league in different stat categories more often. Jordan alone had more scoring titles than the 2020 inductees had of any type of statistical title. Additionally, their per game averages are comparable to the 2020 squad in a lot of ways and I think its most impressive that they generated steals with such frequency. Lastly, the WS/48 analytic would also fall in the 2009 Hall of Famers favor.

Objectively, this is way too close to call and not worthy of splitting the hair. The 2009 Class was more statistically dominant, the 2020 Class was more highly decorated. Both are the best we have ever seen, that much this exercise has made me sure of, but to call one better than the other at some point is just a matter of preference.

My preference then is to side with the 2020 group on the premise of sheer individual talent. Unequivocally, Jordan is better than Bryant, that much can’t be argued against. However, Duncan is probably the best power forward of all-time which leads me to prefer him to Robinson. That resolution leaves me with the strange choice of comparing Stockton to either Garnett or Catchings. In their merits as a total basketball player and in comparison to their own peers, I think I’d pick both Garnett and Catchings. Both scored at a more elite level, won championships and were the best players in the history of a given franchise (Timberwolves for Garnett; Fever for Catchings) teams. Stockton cannot boast any of those things.

Ironically, I spent this entire time on a statistical analysis that led me to an anecdotal answer, but so be it. Ultimately, narrative and opinion does play a factor, particularly when the numbers get so close that you can barely tell the difference. I strongly believe this is our situation. Ultimately, no matter what your preference, each and every one of these Hall of Famers is deserving of a recognition that I desperately hope that they all receive.

Are They the Best Class Ever? An (Imperfect) Statistical Analysis of the 2020 NBA Hall Inductees- Part 2

At the time of my last entry, I spoke to the prowess of the players of the 2020 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class and how quite possibly, this is the prominent class in the history of the institution. To test that theory, I have put together the four classes that I think would be challenge the 2020 class and am testing the group’s against each other in terms of how many awards that had been adorned and their statistical abilities on the court as a collective.

As a reminder, that 2020 class consists of four players that are planned to be inducted this summer: Lakers legendary guard Kobe Bryant, iconic Spurs power forward Tim Duncan, passionate Timberwolves/Celtics/Nets power forward Kevin Garnett, and Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings of the WNBA. Where I had last left off, I had to the conclusion that my first test against the 1980 class of Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas and Jerry West went in favor of the newest entries in to the Hall of Fame. That brings us to their next challenge. You can look back in my original post if you like, but for the lazy, here are the main credentials for Bryant/Duncan/Garnett/Catchings.

58 All-Star Appearances (Bryant with the most, 18)

51 All-NBA/All-WNBA appearances (Bryant and Duncan tied at 15 total appearances, but Bryant had 11 1st teams to Duncan’s 10)

51 All-Defensive Teams (Duncan with 15, but Bryant and Garnett were first team 9 times, meanwhile the WNBA only has one team, so all 12 of Catchings All-Defense awards are essentially first team)

6 Defensive Player of the Year Awards (Catchings had 5 of these, I don’t care that she’s a woman, she might be the best defender out of this whole group)

6 All-Star MVPs (Bryant had 4)

6 Finals MVPs (Duncan had 3 of these)

5 season MVPs (Duncan had 2)

4 rebounding championships (all Garnett)

2 scoring titles (Bryant) (I erroneously credited them with only 1 in my first post)

12 Championship rings (5 for Bryant and Duncan each)

Career Stats Combined/Aggregated Together

20.1 Points Per Game

8.6 Rebounds per Game

3.8 Assists Per Game

1.3 Steals Per Game

1.3 Blocks per Game

0.218 Wins Shares Per 48 Minutes

And now, for our next candidates.

1987: forward Rick Barry, guard Walt Frazier and shooting guard Pete Maravich

24 All-Star Appearances (8 Accolades Per Player vs. 14.5 APP from the 2020 squad) (Barry led with 12)

28 All-League Appearances (6.7 APP vs. 12.75 APP) (Barry led with 10, including times he was named All-ABA)

7 All-Defensive Teams (2.3 APP vs. 12.75) (all Frazier)

0 Defensive Players of the Year

2 All-Star MVPs (.7 APP vs. 1.5) (Barry & Frazier)

1 Finals MVP (0.3 APP vs. 1.5 ) (Barry)

0 regular season MVPs

2 scoring championships (.7 APP vs. 0.5) (Barry & Maravich)

1 steals championship (0.3 APP vs. 0) (Barry)

3 Championship Rings (1 APP vs. 2.75) (Frazier won twice)

The only thing this group has on the 2020 Hall of Famers are statistical titles. They hold 2 scoring championships between Barry (’66-’67) and Pistol Pete (’76-’77) along with Barry also leading the NBA in steals for a single season (’74-’75). This tops Bryant’s two years as the top scorer based on APP and a complete lack of being the best in the league at thievery by any of the four newest members of the Hall of Fame. In every other listed accolade though Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and Catchings best the 1987 group. The easiest way to make a succinct distinction here is that to notice that the 2020 squad had 12.75 APP in terms of All-League awards while the 1987 group has just 6.7 in comparison. That 6.7 also includes Barry’s All-ABA awards from his time in the now long-defunct alternative basketball league where he was easily one of the top stars.

Meanwhile, steals and blocks are once again not available for all the seasons that the ’87 Hall of Famers played so those will once again be omitted from our aggregation of their stats. However, their basic averages suggests that this group is formidable, particularly in terms of scoring. They averaged:

22.7 Points Per Game

5.8 Rebounds Per Game

5.4 Assists per Game

0.143 Win Shares Per 48 Minutes

Luckily, their median season is the 1974-1975 NBA season and we are now far enough into history that the PACE statistic is available to describe how many possessions occurred in games relative to today. I will not need to Jerry-rig an answer based on shot attempts like I did for the 1980 Hall of Fame class. To that end, in the 1974-1975 NBA season teams averaged 104.5 possessions per game, compared to just 91.9 in the ’06-’07 median season of the 2020 Hall of Famers. That comes to 14% more possessions in ’74-’75 and with this in mind, if I normalize Barry, Frazier and Maravich’s stats to ’06-’07 standards they average:

20.0 Points Per Game

5.1 Rebounds Per Game

4.7 Assists per Game

I think makes them comparable to our 1980 group, but even the ’80 Hall players top this class when you consider their accolades. For that reason alone, 1987 Hall of Fame class is not one to consider better than this year’s class. We must move along.

2006: forward Charles Barkley, guard Joe Dumars, small forward Dominique Wilkins

26 All-Star Appearances (8.7 APP vs. 14.25) (Barkley led with 11)

21 All-NBA Appearances (7 APP vs. 12.75) (Barkley, also 11)

5 All-Defensive Teams (1.7 APP vs. 12.75) (all Dumars)

1 All-Star MVP (0.3 APP vs. 1.5) (Barkley)

1 Finals MVP (0.3 APP vs. 1.5) (Dumars)

1 regular season MVP (0.3 APP vs. 1.25) (Barkley)

1 scoring championship (0.3 APP vs. 0.5) (Wilkins)

1 rebounding championship (0.3 APP vs. 1) (Barkley)

For all the name recognition, this group just doesn’t compare in terms of accolades to the 2020 Hall of Famers. They just don’t have the ammunition to keep up with the hardware that Kobe/Duncan/KG/Catchings have, point blank.

But not so fast, my friend…

There may be a good reason for that lack of APP. This group of inductees just happened to play in the era of Jordan. As such, His Royal Airness piled up awards and accomplishments as arguably the best player of all-time. In doing this, he took a lot of those awards from some of his also very worthy adversaries. Players like Barkley and ‘Nique likely lost awards in this era much like how teams like the Knicks and SuperSonics missed out on potential championships. With that in mind, we let’s look at the stats. Even better, we also now have steal and block numbers to help complete the picture. This group averages:

21.1 Points Per Game

7.0 Rebounds Per Game

3.6 Assists Per Game

1.2 Steals Per Game

0.5 Blocks Per Game

0.161 Win Shares Per 48 Minutes

Their median season is the 1991-1992 campaign, which would suggest that what I said about living in Jordan’s era is correct. This season was the year of his second of six rings. I won’t take you through all the numbers again, but just know that PACE statistics suggest that the ’91-’92 season was 5% faster than the ’06-’07 season. The Class of 2006 normalized statistics then are:

20.1 Points Per Game

6.7 Rebounds Per Game

3.4 Assists Per Game

1.1 Steals Per Game

0.5 Blocks Per Game

0.161 Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (not altered)

It turns out they are statistically actually pretty darn comparable to the 2020 Hall of Famers. Their shortcomings come from not rebounding or blocking shots as well despite having The Round Mound to propel them in those categories. Taking it one more step analytically though, this group averages 0.161 Win Shares per 48 Minutes, not nearly as good as the 2020 group that clocks in at 0.218 WS/48. That analytic doesn’t make it look nearly as close the the traditional statistics did. Depending on how much you trust new-fangled statistics there could be an argument here, but when you combine their lack of Win Shares with their lack of hardware, I think we need to turn down the idea that the 2006 Hall of Famers match the 2020 class.

But there is one more challenger. What about the aforementioned Jordan, arguably the greatest player of all-time? Better yet, he is paired up with two other greats from his era. Arguments already about about their greatness, but next time we will pair up the great 2009 Hall of Fame class against this one.

Coming soon…

Are They the Best Class Ever? An (Imperfect) Statistical Analysis of the 2020 NBA Hall Inductees- Part 1

I hope that the nine individuals that will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020 will get the fanfare that they deserve. On Saturday the Hall of Fame announced that three men’s and one woman’s player, (Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Tamika Catchings, respectively) along with four coaches (Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton and Rudy Tomjanovich) and one Olympic executive (Patrick Baumann) will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, with the induction ceremony scheduled for August 29th.

Given world events, that feels like an eternity from now. As COVID-19 casts a shadow over everything in its wake, I want to take a moment to appreciate the four players that are planning to be inducted into Springfield this summer.

Naturally, there is one other albatross to mention among this, and this is the untimely death of one of those beloved inductees, Kobe Bryant. So, while this announcement could be considered doubly somber, I’d rather evoke the competitive spirit that was so deeply embedded into Bryant’s game and attitude. Ultimately, basketball and its other professional sport relatives are about entertainment through competition, and while the show can’t go on for real right now, we can always talk about it like it is.

With that being said, this particular group of players is a special one. Of course, all Hall of Fame inductees are the best of their time, but a group that in this case consists of these four is one that could be argued to be one of the best Hall of Fame classes of all-time.

I mean, let’s just look at their combined accolades:

58 All-Star Appearances (Bryant with the most, 18)

51 All-NBA/All-WNBA appearances (Bryant and Duncan tied at 15 total appearances, but Bryant had 11 1st teams to Duncan’s 10)

51 All-Defensive Teams (Duncan with 15, but Bryant and Garnett were first team 9 times, meanwhile the WNBA only has one team, so all 12 of Catchings All-Defense awards are essentially first team)

6 Defensive Player of the Year Awards (Catchings had 5 of these, I don’t care that she’s a woman, she might be the best defender out of this whole group)

6 All-Star MVPs (Bryant had 4)

6 Finals MVPs (Duncan had 3 of these)

5 season MVPs (Duncan had 2)

4 rebounding championships (all Garnett)

2 scoring titles (Bryant)

12 Championship rings (5 for Bryant and Duncan each)

I can’t even imagine how much hardware that is. Beyond this, if you were to mold the four of them into one player and get aggregate statistical averages for them as this one “super-player” their averages would be:

20.1 Points Per Game

8.6 Rebounds Per Game

3.8 Assists Per Game

1.3 Steals Per Game

1.3 Blocks Per Game

0.218 Win Shares Per 48 Minutes

That’s quite the player. Averaging 20/9/4 is quite the feat for any one individual let alone four of them combined over the course of their careers including the high and low points of those careers. In NBA history, 68 players have averaged 20 PPG in their careers, and only five of those players also averaged at least 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists (Chris Webber, Charles Barkley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone & Wilt Chamberlin). Only Webber also averaged 1.3 steals and blocks (and probably Chamberlin, but they didn’t track those stats in his time). This group of 4 is in rarefied company when you also consider that aggregating their numbers against each other should dilute them a little bit. Yet, here they are, setting a standard that was incredibly difficult to replicate.

Initially, I was going to look at playoff stats as well to include in their resume, but in all my time and effort I came to the conclusion that actually, there is very little statistical difference in any of the samples that I have taken between regular season and playoff numbers. For that reason, you will just have to take my word for it, and trust that while certain players do rise to the occasion at times, for this longer analysis of full careers, that distinction just isn’t necessary.

I mention this because, I really wanted to bring some historical context to this Hall of Fame class. Just how good are they? Really, how do they stack up to other classes of their kind?

Looking back through the history of Hall of Fame inductions I only found four classes that I thought might possibly be comparable. Admittedly, this wasn’t very scientific and to be frank, I’m just doing my best. Take everything I write here as the opinion of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable sports fan, do not take it as information from a professional statistician, because I’m not one.

Anyway, I scanned the list of all Naismith Hall of Fame classes and came up with four possible competitors. Remember, I am speaking strictly about players. Its only too obvious that the Dream Team being inducted as a unit is more prominent than the 2020 Hall of Fame class. Further, every group I am going to mention is going to only have 3 players in it, and therefore will be at a disadvantage. For that reason, I will be factoring in a stat I just created called “Accolades Per Player” or APP, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is an average of how many each class had of each award per player.

Let’s get to the first candidate.

Class of 1980: PG Oscar Robertson, PF Jerry Lucas, G Jerry West.

33 All-Star Appearances (11 APP vs. 14.5 APP for 2020 Class) (West led with 14)

28 All-NBA Appearances (9.3 APP vs. 12.75 for 2020) (West, 12)

5 All-Defensive Teams (1.6 APP vs 12.75) (West had all 5)

0 Defensive Players of the Year

5 All-Star MVPs (1.3 APP vs 1.5) (Robertson led with 3)

1 Finals MVP (0.3 APP vs. 1.5) (West)

0 MVPs

1 scoring championship (0.3 APP vs 0.3) (West)

7 assist championships (2.3 APP vs 0) (Robertson, 6)

3 Championship Rings (1 APP vs 2.75) (each had one)

The only thing that this group is actually even close in terms of accolades is All-Star MVPs as they have a total of 5, with the Big O having three of them. Outside of that, they also have 7 assist championships (also mostly Robertson), something the front-court heavy 2020 Hall of Famers didn’t accomplish at all. Lastly, West matches his protege Bryant in terms of having one single scoring championship. Unfortunately, none of their other award totals stack up.

As far as statistics, the league didn’t start recording steals and blocks until the last year of this group’s careers, so those won’t be available to me, however, their per game averages are still quite interesting. The 1980 class averaged:

23.5 Points Per Game

9.3 Rebounds Per Game

6.7 Assists Per Game

0.189 Win Shares Per 48 Minutes

It seems like that means that they would blow this years class out of the water statistically, especially when you consider that two guards were part of a group that out-rebounded two of the most dominant big men of the recent era. However, the pacing of the game needs to come into play as well. In this 1980 group’s median season, which would have been the 1967-1968 season, there were a total of 137.9 shot attempts per game (field goals and free throws combined). In comparison, in this year’s class’s median season of 2006-2007 there were a total of just 105.8 shots per game. That means that shot attempts, and therefore opportunities to either score, rebound or assist were coming at a rate of about 30% more for the 1980 class (I couldn’t account for the first shot of two free throws on this, so its not exact, but its relatively close). If you then normalize the 1980 class’s stats to those ’06-’07 rates you would get:

18.0 Points Per Game

7.1 Rebounds Per Game

5.1 Assists Per Game

0.189 Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (not altered)

This suggests then that the 2020 Hall of Famers were indeed more statistically gifted, albeit by a small margin.

However, this is just the beginning. Now that I have established my parameters and given an example of how this analysis will work I plan to jump right into the data and details next time. There are yet three more Hall of Fame classes to compare to this newly anointed 2020 class. How will the likes of Maravich, Barkley, Robinson, and the great Michael Jordan stack up?

Stick to this space to find out.

Where to Turn as COVID-19 Takes Our Games Away… Its all Digital These Days

It’s a quiet and bleak time in the world of sports. As all non-essential workers have been asked to step away from their work lives, the universe of professional sports has been put on pause. I’m sad to say that my previous prediction of how the athletic part of our society would react to the outbreak of COVID-19 was incredibly naive. Players, facility workers, fans and so many more await the day when our favorite pastimes will be back, in the name of public health.

In the meantime, distractions are hard to come by. Nearly every headline heard or read is about the pandemic taking hold of our society, physically and mentally. At a time where we could really use a pleasant distraction, a time that I’ve heard compared to World War II, in terms of global efforts, we are missing one of the biggest pleasantries that our civilization provides.

So what is a sports fan to do at a time like this? Where is our refuge?

The obvious solution for the sports fan is the bevy of classic games that sports networks have been showing. Just this past Saturday ESPN hosted “K Day”, a tribute to some of the best strikeout performances in recent ESPN baseball history. That same day NBA TV aired multiple NBA Finals match-ups from the summers of 2013 and 2014 between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. These nostalgic re-watches are great, but not without fault.

The problem, as perfectly described by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller this week at the baseball podcast Effectively Wild, is the predictability of these outcomes. I have a friend who watched Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout performance as part of “K Day”. Naturally, he knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew who was going to win the Finals games before I even made the decision to continue watching them. Sometimes familiarity is great. Statistics show that people genuinely enjoy watching re-runs of television shows, but at some point the monotony of classic games will kick in. They leave something to be desired. I think I may have the answer for that.

In so many ways, even before this global incident, our lives have become digital. That has only become exacerbated now. We are seeing a digital revolution not occur before our eyes, but become reinforced as “work from home” now is now more than just an option for some, but a lifeline. Dine-in delivery is now our way to eat out and support local business at the same time. As so many of us find ourselves away from friends and loved ones, we are now more than ever trying to connect through the web using entities like Skype, Zoom, and social media.

So why can’t the answer to our great sports absence be digital as well? There’s no doubt that sports video games have been a big part of professional sports’ marketing scheme since licensing agreements first became prominent in the 1990s. Personally, I still remember the majority of 1998 MLB rosters due to the countless hours of playing Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey Jr. for Nintendo 64.

Alas, I used to be a more dedicated sports gamer in the past than I am now. Case and point, my most recent version of Sony’s MLB the Show is the 2017 version, but in lieu of any actual live baseball to be watched, I found my own way to watch it. Setting up post-season mode in the game, I am having a replay of the 2017 post-season, to assuage my baseball-tooth, not playing the games, but just letting the computer play them against itself. This gives me the opportunity to make dinner or take care of chores in the living room. Much like what I would have done if the Indians had picked up their schedule this week in real life.

I am far from the only one to come up with this solution though. Not long after it was announced that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had COVID-19, and the NBA season was shut down indefinitely, the Phoenix Suns announced they would be playing the all missed games using the NBA 2k20 video game. True to form, they’ve played every game to date using varying methods. They’ve had a member of their 2K League team play as the Suns, and players like Devin Booker and Frank Kominsky have also taken over the sticks. More recently, that same 2K League player, Antonio Salvidar played host to the game along with a member of the Washington Wizards 2K League team as the game was controlled in full by the CPU. Lastly on this past Friday, the Suns radio play-by-play team called the action as the digital Suns took on and defeated the digital Philadelphia 76ers at the hands of real life small forward Mikal Bridges.

Meanwhile, baseball-reference.com is using the PC game Out of the Park Baseball to simulate this season’s games for its stats pages. Even better, my own home team of the Cleveland Indians can now actually be watched through the miracle this year’s iteration of MLB the Show. A grassroots effort started at the Indians’ Reddit page has produced a digital version of the Indians schedule, fully watchable live or after the fact on Twitch TV. One of the members of the subreddit is producing the season day by day as the schedule should have progressed. Full disclosure, I am watching Game 3 of the season right now as I type this and the Indians find themselves tied with the Tigers in the top of the 4th.

I was able to ask the gentleman behind this effort, an IT Director by day known online as thewarsquirrel about what possessed him to put on the games.

“I guess from my perspective, I’m in the same boat as many of the fans of MLB in general. You spend the whole off-season looking forward to what is to come in the season,” he explained, “and it’s just a really great way to pass the time.”

Not to be outdone, he also mentioned missing the sense of communal experience that comes with being a sports fan among other enthusiasts. He stated, “You miss out on that chance to commiserate or celebrate throughout the season. It’s really the community that does it for me. So my goal with these streams is to bring that anticipation back into play a bit, give us all a way to escape for a short while, and feel that excitement or frustration as the season progresses.”

Lastly, in terms of hopes for this project he is modest, yet ambitious claiming “My biggest goal, is just to get more people gathered around watching it, and hopefully build it into more of a social event, just like if these were real season games…. I think once we have a consistent core of followers who are engaged for the most part, it’ll be easier to expand it.”

The best part is something that Mr. Squirrel eluded to himself. I don’t know how this game I’m watching will end. I don’t know how this season will end. The wind could be completely out of my sails by this time next week if the Indians get off to a slow start, but at least I am watching an impartial game that could have any realistic outcome. As a testament to games like 2K and The Show, they’ve become so realistic, and so true to form, they can be used for this exact purpose. I may be without real life baseball, but I got darn close to the next best thing. They really are simulators at this point.

And then there’s yet another step towards simulation. Last week, NASCAR introduced us to iRacing. NASCAR itself is simulating its racing season using a computer simulator that real-life drivers often use for practice. The debut came last Sunday as Denny Hamlin squeaked past Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a lively finish at Miami-Homestead Speedway. It was the most watched “e-sport” on television ever.

Not only has NASCAR decided to continue the season with its iRacing Invitational, but Fox Sports plans to broadcast the races in full, including today race won not by a regular driver on the physical circuit, but a 674-time winner on this digital one, Timmy Hill. In a time where we don’t get to see many of our most talented athletes perform, this is likely as close as we are going to get with the best of the physical competing with the best of digital. And you know what? For what it is it seems pretty darn good.

For now, we all just need to hold together. Our games will be back for real soon enough, but much like this current public health crisis is changing our lives, it very well could change our sports. Maybe we will see a day where the climate change effects of auto racing lead us to full-time simulators. Maybe the time we are in creates the marriage that entities like sports leagues and video game companies have been looking for between sport and E-Sport. Maybe this is just the best distraction we have right now and we just can’t wait for life to change back to normal, whether or not normal really exists

Only time will tell, but for now, the 7th inning is about to start and its still scoreless. Let’s see if the Indians can rally late.

The Three At-Bat Minimum: A Crazy Idea to Up Interest in Baseball (its different than the three batter minimum)

A lineup card from Game 6 of the 2017 Word Series. It will all make sense in a second.

Watch enough well-pitched baseball games and eventually you will hear something similar to:

“Mike Clevinger was stellar today, pitching a complete game shut out. He allowed just one hit and one walk over 9 innings, but was the benefactor of two double play balls. He faced the minimum.”

“The minimum.” For those that may not already know, the minimum refers to the fact that at the very least a baseball team will bat through its lineup three times during a nine inning game. The context above is when you will currently here about it; when a pitcher completes a game in such a way that he faces no more hitters than may be required, but does not pitch a perfect game. You can also hear that the pitcher faced “x number of hitters more than the minimum”, usually to emphasize he didn’t face that many more.

I have an idea that I think could potentially make baseball a more popular game in America, and it focuses around this idea of “the minimum”.

Before I go any further, I want to be very clear. If baseball were a political spectrum I would likely be considered a baseball moderate. I love that the American League and National League deviate on the designated hitter rule. I enjoy that baseball has unwritten rules that so many find to be antiquated, but at the same time think the game could sometimes afford to get with the times. There’s nothing wrong with some moderate show-boating on a home run, but at the same time, I understand if the pitcher feels a certain type of way about said show-boating.

What I am about to suggest is far from a moderate point of view. I like the rule I am about to propose theoretically, but might feel differently in practice. Its radical, but I think its worthy of suggestion despite the fact that I am still also work-shopping it as a concept. At this point, I want to reveal it even though maybe I’m still not fully confident in it.

As of this season, whenever this season happens to start, we will have a three batter minimum for pitchers. As such, pitchers are required to pitch until they at least face three batters, or the inning ends, except in cases of injury. What I suggest today is the three at bat minimum.

Currently, Rule 6.01 of the MLB rule book reads as follows:

(a) Each player of the offensive team shall bat in the order that his name appears in his team’s batting order.

(b) The first batter in each inning after the first inning shall be the player whose name follows that of the last player who legally completed his time at bat in the preceding inning.

I suggest we change the rule to what is below. The actual changes are in bold.

(a) Each player of the offensive team shall bat in the order that his name appears in his team’s batting order. For a minimum of three trips through the batting order.

(b) The first batter in each inning after the first inning shall be the player whose name follows that of the last player who legally completed his time at bat in the preceding inning for the same three trips, after which the offensive team may create a new batting order for any subsequent inning. This order may be altered on an inning by inning basis.

To put it more clearly, once a team hits through your batting order three times they may change their batting order to whatever they would like at the beginning of any following inning. A new inning means the opportunity for a new batting order.

I will await the vitriol from baseball fans that are more purist than me. How could I possibly suggest such a thing?

Its a rather quite simple equation of excitement and marketability.

Baseball today finds itself often playing third fiddle to both football and basketball in the United States in terms of popularity. One major reason suggested by fans, players, and experts is that MLB needs to do a much better of job marketing its players. This is true. There are many great talented personalities in this game coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. MLB and the players themselves could do well to sell their talent much better than they do today.

I believe though that there is an inherent problem in the game that its more popular brethren don’t contend with. Part of the game itself is its own Achilles heel. A simple comparison will bring it to light.

Game 7 of the 2019 NBA Eastern Conference Semi-finals between the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers may have been the best basketball game of last NBA season. In a winner-take-all match-up neither team led by more than 4 points in the last 4:30 seconds of the game and with the exception of a deep 2-point basket by Philadelphia’s JJ Redick (a prolific shooter from deep) and a missed three pointer by Toronto’s Serge Ibaka each shot attempt in the final stretch was taken by an All-Star level player. Stars controlled the close game late. This culminated in the most memorable moment of the season, then Toronto star Kawhi Leonard’s fall-away from the right baseline that hung on the rim for what seemed like eternity before falling through the net. Toronto won in dramatic fashion, 92-90 and would go on to take the Larry O’Brien trophy.

This is the brunt of my argument. Basketball puts itself in a position where when the game is on the line you know the ball is going to a team’s best player. Michael Jordan was made Michael Jordan in part by “the shot”. In short, if there is the possibility for a memorable moment down the stretch, the fans are going to get their money’s worth. The opportunity to make a difference is going to find its way into the hands of the game’s stars. The same can be said for football. If the Kansas City Chiefs are down four points late, best believe the ball is going to be put into the hands of Patrick Maholmes. For better or for worse, the fans get to see greatness work under pressure at every opportunity.

Now imagine if “the shot” never happened because it wasn’t Jordan’s turn to shoot. What if it was Fred VanVleet’s turn to have the ball in his hands for Toronto with the clock running down? What if the Chiefs were required to run the ball every other play? Think about how many memorable moments we would miss if such rules existed. This is how baseball works.

Going into the top of the 9th of Game 6 of the 2017 World Series the Los Angeles Dodgers faced elimination at the hands of the Houston Astros. The Dodgers led 3-1 that night as the Astros took their last turn at bat from Chavez Ravine with the bottom third of their order, including the pitcher’s spot due up. Rather than have the privilege of being able to bring the eventual World Series MVP (George Springer), a two time All-Star (Alex Bregman) and reigning Most Valuable Player (Jose Altuve) to the plate, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen faced Marwin Gonzalez, a utility-player having a career year, Josh Reddick, a defensive-minded outfielder also having a career year, and Carlos Beltran, a 40 year-old pinch-hitter in the last at-bat of his career.

Game 6 0f the 2017 World Series featured no losing team highlights in the 8th or 9th innings of this highlight reel. Would that be the case with the three at bat minimum?

All of the now apparent Astros cheating aside, think about the lost opportunity for baseball that was this 9th inning. The Dodgers, with one of the best closers in the game on the mound were able to avoid facing some of the best hitters in baseball with the tying run on the on-deck circle. This could have been a magic moment of epic proportions for the game of baseball, or at the very least Houston could have increased the drama of the moment by bringing their best to the plate. Instead, the Astros went down without a whimper, even if they would eventually go on to win the Series.

In short, marketing of stars is inherent in basketball and football. In baseball it isn’t. The three at bat minimum would both use the game to promote its stars and manufacture the type of drama that could bring more interest to both its biggest stages and random evening games in June.

Yes, there is a bit of inherent democracy in the way baseball is currently played, and yes, there is value to that. I am not suggesting this concept is something that should be absolutely abolished and that is the reason why teams would wait until they have hit through their order three times to re-start their lineups. Everyone still gets at least three at bats. This allows us to avoid a ridiculous amount of stat-padding that would entirely throw statistics out of whack in comparison to historical context, and would still cause managers to have to weigh offensive value against defensive prowess for their starting lineup.

In relation to the pitcher’s spot in the National League, I think that while the rule should not require the starting pitcher to hit three times, it would require a pitcher in general to hit three times. This, along with the fact that a team will more often want to save its best relievers for late in games, will encourage managers to have their starting pitchers pitch deeper into games. Not only will this increase the profile of prolific starting pitchers, it will also keep the continual parade of fire-throwing middle relievers from turning the game into a slog, and will increase offense. Further, offense will also be inherently increased by having the games best hitters hit more often. If offense really is tied to fan interest, we will ultimately prove it this way.

Additionally, with relief pitching becoming more prominent over the past five decades, defenses have benefited from specialization. We have seen that advantage continue to increase over time while the rules have continued to restrict offense. Rather than secretly juice the ball or players, what better way to even the playing field and draw more attention to your game than ensure the best players hit with the game on the line? The average MLB game last season saw about 38 plate appearances per team. With 27 being “the minimum” that would suggest that teams could start re-ordering lineups in the 7th inning on most occasions. Good offensive play would provide more opportunities and and poor play lead to less.

Lastly, strategy, which is always worshiped by baseball purists, could also see an increase under this new system.

Its the 8th inning and your team is down by 1 run. Do you send your best three sluggers to the plate and hope just one of them can run into a pitch over the middle of the plate? Do you send your best on base guy to the plate to lead off and try to get him around the bases? Do you have your speedster lead off and try to wreak havoc? What if you are the team nursing that one run lead? Then what strategy do you use for insurance runs? What does the opposing team try to do with their pitching in order to counteract these varying lineups? How important is alternating left handed and right handed batters in these late inning situations? What about bigger deficits? What provides the best opportunity to come back from three runs down? The questions barely have an end!

I understand this is a big change to implement that alters a large part of the spirit of baseball, but a change of this magnitude isn’t unprecedented. Another bat and ball sport, cricket, created a variation of itself, Twenty20, in the face of complaints about its pacing. The changes have made faced much popular fanfare all over the globe. Also, basketball has toyed with the “Elam Ending”, even having this year’s NBA All-Star game not end based on an arbitrary clock, but by playing three timed quarters and then playing the fourth quarter until a predetermined score is exceeded. It received rave reviews.

This could be baseball’s opportunity to modernize itself while still keeping its soul. This is the opportunity for Mike Trout to reach his full potential as an American sports mega-star. This is the opportunity for starting pitchers and closers all around the game to make themselves into some of the biggest names in the league. Interest abounds in this 3 at bat minimum rule.

One hundred years ago in the wake of the Black Sox scandal, Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball by becoming the first player to try to drive the ball in the air and hit home runs. This game has always evolved with the times, and kept itself relevant in the lexicon of American history. Maybe my suggestion is just the nudge it needs to stay there.

Or maybe I’m completely out of my mind.

A Post About NBA’s Schedule Suspension- A Shocked Sports Fan’s Perspective

I am so frustrated right now.

Some of what I am about to say might come off as short-sighted or selfish, I understand that. I want to make it fully known that I totally understand and ultimately accept the decision that the NBA has made tonight.

NBA games are officially suspended following the conclusion of tonight’s play due to the COVID 19 coronavirus outbreak. Utah Jazz Center and Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert has contracted the disease, likely a major impetus for this decision.

Clearly, some things are more important than sports.

Its only been a few months, but I think writing in this space has given me a new appreciation for how enthusiastic I am about these children’s games that are so embedded in our culture: I have watched, followed, read about them, listened to them or about them, and crafted my own thoughts and opinions with new vigor. It really hit me while I was writing my piece on Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, and really, its hitting me again today.

Starting tomorrow, there’s no NBA games to watch. There are totally supposed to be NBA games to watch, but there aren’t. LeBron isn’t coming to town on Friday. Who knows how long this will last? There might not be a Finals this year.

And now that the NBA has come to this decision they may have set a precedent. NCAA March Madness is already planning a spectator-less tournament as well. Will they cancel altogether? Will the MLB and NHL follow suit now and suspend operations? Are we all doomed to be sports-less for the foreseeable future? Am I really not going to have my games and teams to watch on the regular? And I thought my YouTube TV debacle was bad!

Clearly, some things are way more important than sports.

I had already begun to become annoyed by the pervasive media coverage about this disease. Yahoo.com is my homepage on my PC. The first 8 articles on their main page are corona-related.

Allow me to be clear, informing people is of the utmost importance. The news should absolutely be reporting and providing coverage.

Its been everywhere. Its dominated headlines. Its dominated work meetings and idle chatter around the workplace. Its dominated phone calls and conversations with friends and family. Its dominated our ability to go out in public without having to think you might catch a disease.

And now personally, its come for what is easily one of my favorite, pleasant distractions on this Earth, trying to strike a resounding blow against the cultural institution that is American professional athletics. I absolutely can’t stand it. I don’t want it to be the case. I want the show to go on!

Clearly, some things are way, way more important than sports.

I don’t know what else to say. I know its temporary. I know its the right thing to do. I know its for the benefit and safety of the players, staffs, and general public at large for this hiatus to happen. Maybe it would be better if I knew the full plan. If the MLB and NHL just made announcements one way or another on the status of their schedules. that would be great. If NBA Commissioner Adam Silver came out tonight and said the league will start back up next November, at least we would have closure. Unfortunately, diseases labeled pandemics by the World Health Organization don’t work on a schedule and coordinate with their potential victims. They don’t negotiate and they don’t collectively bargain.

Truthfully, maybe what’s so unsettling is that we have absolutely no control over any of this except for our own actions. This whole time I’ve been trying to live my life as normally as possible, not letting the news get me out of my routine. Tonight’s news is routine-changing, whether I like it or not.

Clearly, some things are more important than sports… or our routines.

Everyone out there, wash your hands often and thoroughly. Be smart about the time you spend in public. If you have a fever, don’t leave home unless you are going to a doctor. The vast majority of young people out there that contract COVID are going to be just fine, but please mine your elders, both directly or indirectly. You never know who could catch what you have simply on accident.

Simply put, be mindful of what’s to come, both for yourself and those around you. May the largest tragedy you face in this outbreak be that you can’t sit down after a good day’s work and enjoy TNT’s NBA Thursday night.

After all, some things are more important than sports.

The Roller-Coaster That Is Just Trying to Watch Your Team’s Games in 2020

I breathed a really big sigh of relief Thursday night. After much trepidation caused by the roller-coaster that has become Major League Baseball broadcast rights, I found out yesterday that I will indeed be able to watch my Cleveland Indians play baseball on television this season.

Allow me to explain.

Like many (especially younger) people, I don’t have cable in my household. However, unlike some in my demographic, I still find the value in being able to tap into live television. Its absolutely imperative for the sports fan, of course, but further, I legitimately still enjoy the idea of being able to turn on a device and find something airing that I hadn’t considered in advance. (“Oh, look… reruns of Law and Order are on, I’ll put them on while I make dinner…” you get the idea).

Regardless, I continue my foray as a consumer of traditional television now by holding a subscription to YouTube TV. This is after previously having subscribed to the now defunct Sony platform, PlayStation Vue. Sony pulled the plug on at the end of this past January and also sold rights to YouTube TV to advertise to old Vue subscribers. Sony then put together an app that allows YouTube TV to run from my PlayStation 4. Beyond this, my own research suggested that YouTube TV was the most comparable service on the market to my beloved Vue, and I decided to try it out. Its been quite adequate over the month or so that I have had it, but probably a half of a notch lesser quality than Vue was. Overall, things seemed like smooth sailing. I’ve got all the channels I need and more at a comparable price and my wife is happy with our selection too. All is hunky-dory.

Even more recently however, I found out that Sinclair Broadcast Group, who bought every Fox Regional Sports Network in a transaction with Disney not but 8 months ago, had failed to renew their partnership with YouTube TV. This includes both Fox Sportstime Ohio and Fox Sports Ohio, home of the Indians and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively (and Columbus Blue Jackets and Cincinnati Reds for those in that market). My chances of watching either team suddenly looked dashed. All this time and effort put into figuring out what service to select, based on price point and freedom of choice? Wasted. The deadline date came and went. Some disgruntled users presumably canceled their YouTube TV subscriptions. Or at least threatened to. I decided to assess my options but be patient. These things can work themselves out sometimes after all, and long story short, they did. In the process there was quite the scare for users that included running past the expiration date, figuring out a temporary extension to the current agreement and then finally coming to a new deal Thursday, that admittedly still leaves out 2 Regional channels in New York and Los Angeles. For me at least, all’s well that ends well, but I could’ve done without the drama.

The fact of the matter is, when it comes to these type of television distribution deals, don’t expect the drama to go away anytime soon. Since I was a child I remember seeing running crawls on NFL games about how I need to call my cable company and make sure I don’t miss out on getting to watch my local team. Fans and viewers have always been beholden to the leagues and their distributors and I don’t see that changing. In fact, I see it getting worse. Why? One word: streaming.

Streaming is supposed to be the great game-changer. Netflix, Hulu and the like have changed the world of television. They have given us more high-quality choices for a manageable price and they done it in a way that’s convenient for the viewer. Its an incredible business plan.

For sports, streaming is just one more variable that the leagues can bargain against their other distributors in order to raise their leverage. Most people would welcome the ease of access that could come with a streaming option for their favorite teams. I’m just not so sure its going to work that way. I look at the way that the leagues are currently delving into digital streaming as a perfect example of why.

The NFL is the only remaining American sport that has nearly all of its games on the major local networks. Other than ESPN’s Monday Night Football, and a handful of Thursday Night games on the NFL Network, if you want to see the NFL you can find it with something a simple as an antenna. In return, the NFL is a ratings goldmine for the networks as well. Its the most watched sport in America. It partially keeps CBS propped up as the country’s most watch network. The NFL isn’t leaving TV any time soon. That much is clear.

However, the NFL does stream certain prime-time games through Amazon. The league isn’t convinced that the tech companies are ready for a full slated schedule, but naturally there’s another pot of money to be made in streaming rights, so expect this access to grow, but grow slowly. The fact of the matter is that if you want to stream the NFL you can… as long as its a select game that you may or may not have interest in. You’re better off not wasting your money and just watching on television, hoping that the NFL doesn’t end up making certain games stream-exclusives like MLB has in the past.

Which brings us to MLB. Manfred and co. have actually opened up the ability for the teams themselves to sell their own in-market streaming rights. This is a great step forward for a league that is generally behind the times, however the outlook isn’t entirely rosy. Out of market games will still require an MLB.tv subscription, a great service if you happen to not live within shouting distance of your favorite team, but otherwise usually fairly uninspiring. MLB has instructed teams to treat their streaming rights like they treat their broadcast rights; essentially decentralized. The Indians could decide they want to stream their audio broadcasts through Spotify, while the Athletics could (and actually have) decided to stream their radio broadcasts through their own audio station. The Orioles could decide they want Amazon to stream their video broadcasts. You get the idea.

But what does this all lead to? If I want to just watch the Indians, maybe I will be able to stream them. It would be a subscription of some sort that I can pay for and access at my leisure. But, that’s assuming the Indians decide to stream video. Its also known that teams are going to have to negotiate with their Regional Sports Networks to adjust their respective contracts since the TV networks won’t be getting every single eyeball anymore. Maybe some teams will strike deals with their current RSNs and keep their streaming services behind paywalls still tied to cable (like the Fox Sports Go app). There’s no guarantee we will be able to pay one flat rate for one small subscription to watch our one favorite team. That’s not to mention that watching out of market will still be tied to MLB.tv for hundreds of dollars, or will still require cable (or an additional streaming service) to watch the Saturday Game of the Week or Sunday Night Baseball on Fox or ESPN.

The point I am trying to make here is that the lack of uniformity in the strategy to move to streaming is going to create more trouble than its worth. If I want to watch Netflix’s Stranger Things, I don’t have to tune into CBS to watch episode 1 and Netflix for episodes 2 through 5 and then a regional network that might get taken off my cable package at any moment to see the remaining episodes. I go to just 1 place and all that I could want is there for me, and more.

Music is another perfect example of this. The music streaming industry has been panned for exclusivity deals between artists and services. Its an incredible technology, but it reaches its true peak when there aren’t business restrictions involved. That’s how streaming (and really, the internet) is supposed to work, and that’s how these sports leagues are likely to botch it. This mistake won’t harm themselves though, they are going to make money hand over fist through their new media but for us- their fans, we will suffer.

The only chance we have (well, 2… the XFL is crazy enough that they might get this right too) is the NBA. They’ve already delved into streaming in some minor, but significant ways. USA Basketball’s run through the 2019 FIBA World Championships was hosted on two web services: ESPN+ and Twitch.tv. Twitch has hosted G-League games as well and is the home of the NBA’s 2K E-Sport league. For those particular products, there’s been no splitting of distribution through completely different services or mediums. Further, the NBA recently signed on with DAZN for its Spanish broadcast rights, leaving a 25-year partnership with Telefonica , a Spanish telecommunications group, in the process. They have immersed themselves face first in a streaming service, and while it wasn’t in America, everyone knows the NBA takes its international footprint very seriously.

The icing on the cake is Commissioner Adam Silver speaking to podcaster and writer Bill Simmons at the 2019 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and talking directly about a direct to consumer streaming option for the league’s future (the entire interview is below and really worth a listen, streaming information is around 1:01:00 mark). Silver directly mentions the idea of being able to log online and buy particular games, or even particular quarters or waning minutes of games for a flat rate. If you want to watch Cavs vs. Bucks in full, go for it! You’ll probably be able to subscribe to it. If you get done with that contest and you notice Pacers-Bulls is a close game down the stretch, the final 5 minutes can be accessed for say, $1.99. Maybe you can buy a bigger subscription package with access to more games as well. The potential is there, and Silver is publicly talking about the opportunities at his disposal. This is promising, but will take time. The NBA’s television deal with Turner and ESPN doesn’t end until 2023, and the NBA has local television rights taken care of by the team themselves, who knows if they will balk the idea of losing their deals.

Lastly, the NHL will be the first proving ground here, but they likely won’t be a very good one. Their television deal ends with NBC in 2021, but they have yet to really delve into digital streaming at all. Their first step is probably to take a page out of the NFL’s book and start streaming some prime-time affairs. Beyond that, there isn’t much movement.

The NFL will come quickly after them though, and that will be the first true test of how the era of new media will really fair in sports. If any of these leagues can nail it by simplifying and creating convenience for their consumer they stand to make a huge impression on fans old and especially new. Its not a surprise the most popular league with young people is positioned best to take the reigns, but still I’m not sure any of these leagues can look past that next big pay day enough to do what’s best for their fans as well as themselves.

Until then, at least I know I can watch my Tribe and Cavs for now, but not everyone else is that lucky.

Historical Context: Sports, the Coronavirus and What Looms Next

The year is 1918.

At this point in our history, World War I has waged on in Europe for four years.

Individuals destined for myriad versions of fame, such as actress Rita Hayworth, businessman and founder of Wal-Mart Sam Walton, and historical and inspirational leader Nelson Mandela are born.

The now world-famous Cleveland Orchestra is established and the dollar paid to see them perform was worth 17 times more than it is today.

And on March 4th of this very year the influenza epidemic that would go on to kill between 40 and 50 million people recorded its first American victim in Kansas. Just a week later the virus had been diagnosed in Queens, New York. Its spread was undeniable.

And yet, on April 15th , 1918 Babe Ruth climbed on top of the mound at Fenway Park and pitched the Boston Red Sox to a 1-0 Complete Game Shut Out Victory over the Philadelphia Athletics. That contest took less than 2 hours to play and was witnessed by 7,180 fans. It was the first game of the 1918 baseball season.

Ruth would lead Boston in WAR that year, and it would be the last time for 86 years that the World Series Championship would belong to the Red Sox.

In between Opening Day and the Red Sox ascension as champions, both the war and the rampant disease took a toll on the sport. An agreement was made to shorten the regular season by 14 games, and the World Series was slated to run from September 5th thru 14th , well before both Germany’s formal surrender (November 11, 1918) and the first spike of American deaths from the Spanish flu in October and November. While the importance of the sacrifice made by the world’s armed forces should never be forgotten, our focus from hereon will be on the impact of the Spanish flu.

Baseball lost many former minor and major leaguers to the epidemic while it ran its brutal course, among other individuals of significance. The pastime’s biggest loss from the Spanish flu would come just after its first fatal peak. Umpire Silk O’Laughlin, a veteran of 5 World Series and crew chief for the 1917 Series between the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants would pass away on December 20th. He had worked the regular season just three months previous.

Meanwhile, just one day later a little, 3-team hockey operation now known as the National Hockey League would open up their second season of operation on December 21st despite the passing of Ottawa defense-man Hamby Shore in October. He had been the NHL’s first loss to the disease.

The NHL played 18 games per team that season despite having planned to play 20. This however, was one twist of fate that had nothing to do with the matters of life and death that had been occurring around the globe. Rather, the instability of the Toronto Arenas franchise led to their own inability to complete the season. The cease of their operations shortened their schedule as well as the schedules of the league’s other 2 teams to 18 games.

Still, the show would go on and NHL Champion Montreal would take on the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Seattle Metropolitans for the Stanley Cup in late March of 1919. The “first to three wins” series was a fascinating one that was hosted entirely in Seattle and showcased the different rules of both leagues during the contests. Oddly, Seattle led the series 2-1 after 4 games after Game 4 ended in a tie. Game 5 was played on March 30th and despite the fact the Canadiens tied the series at 2 games a piece, it would be the last game of an undecided series.

Game 6 was canceled as the epidemic had taken hold of members of both teams, the news coming literally hours before puck-drop. In the end, Montreal defense-man Joe Hall would surrender to the flu he caught during the series. He passed away on April 5, 1919 just 5 days after both diagnosis and preparing himself for Game 6. Sadly their would be one more casualty from the 1919 Stanley Cup, Canadiens manager Joe Kennedy would also pass two years later from complications of the disease that never subsisted.

Credit to “The Hockey Guy” on Youtube

Despite all this, the 1919 baseball season went on, and is best known not for the epidemic that ravaged the country, but for being the year of the Black Sox scandal. Over time, the Spanish Flu came to pass and now is another era in history, but the people of the time, and the lessons that can be learned from them should not be forgotten.

This is all very relevant today. On just Saturday, Washington State officials announced the first confirmed American death from the Wuhan Corona-virus. To date, there are just over 3000 deaths worldwide from the disease (and counting), which is a far cry from the unabashed potency of Spanish Influenza, but regardless, questions arise. There is an absolute public health risk potentially right at our doorstep. Certain decisions, and possibly sacrifices, may need to be made for the utility of all people.

For this reason, Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan’s major baseball league, has announced that it plans to play their remainder of its preseason games sans-spectators. This comes after both Japan Rugby Football has announced the cancellation of league games and J League soccer is halting its schedule until at least March 15th. The Olympic Games, expected to be hosted in Tokyo this summer, are now also in question of being canceled.

Naturally, Japan is a lot closer to the origin of this new disease with origins in China, and its people currently have a lot more to lose. However, if this infection is spreading as may be suggested then there are real, genuine questions about the necessity, practicality and safety of continuing professional sports in the United States.

The late 1910s flu epidemic is the closest parallel that I could draw. Yes, all four major American sports have seen their schedules halted since a century ago. The most common causes are due to natural disasters (eg: hurricanes and earthquakes), terrorist attacks (Boston Marathon bombing), or power outages (Game 4 1988 Stanley Cup Finals, see around the 10 minute mark of the video). The difference is that these examples are usually localized postponements. The only time full, nation-wide league schedules have been halted in American sports have been when the NBA temporarily ceased games after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the September 11th terrorist attacks paused both the MLB and NFL schedules, and when any of the four leagues have had their own labor disputes. Baseball, and less famously hockey, even continued during World War II.

All of this context brings us here to today. And to be fair, I’m not sure what the answer is. Baseball was a much beloved distraction during four of the hardest years in this country’s history. There is genuine value in that and its important that people continue to live their lives as best as they can when times get hard. That’s one of the benefits of living in a free society. All four American sports would provide a much needed sense of business as usual, and a dependable coping mechanism in a situation where this disease really becomes a threat.

However, the world is smaller today than its ever been. Cross-continental flights are a regularity. NBA players play back-to-back games in 2 different cities routinely. The 7000+ fans that saw Opening Day at Fenway Park in 1918 were less than 4 times fewer than the number that came to the ball-yard on an average night in 2019. They also likely didn’t travel from as far away as they would today. Further and most importantly, players and officials did indeed lose their lives over 100 years ago. Perhaps the times allowed for that to be a little more acceptable then. Today it absolutely wouldn’t be. Blood would be on the hands of the league officials and ownership that decided the game should go on.

A third option would be to play games without spectators. This would keep the general public safe and allow for the number of people needing to be checked limited. Modern technology allows for better sports viewing from the comfort of your own home than from the field or arena anyway. Not much outside of the all-mighty dollar, would be lost from this set up.

Ultimately, it is for the leagues to decide, and they will have quite the decision on their hands. I don’t want to see any games go away more than anyone else, and I wonder what the prospective Players’ Unions will have to say about having their players potentially put at risk. You would have to figure, is Chris Paul any more likely to pick up the corona-virus in a mostly empty arena than he is to pick it up along with his dry-cleaning?

I’m leaning towards the third option, something Italian soccer league Serie A is already trying. Let the players play, with the understanding that every effort will be made to enhance their safety. If they balk at this premise though, I would totally understand and accept that. At that point, this whole scenario will have to be reconsidered.

Mostly though, let’s just hope that this is nothing more than unnecessary speculation that will never have to come to pass. The history will hopefully remain the only reminder we have of a different time. A time where at least one game was played with medical masks in use.

Richmond Newspaper Article about Minor League Baseball game played in medical masks

Hopefully, for the memories of those like O’Laughlin, Shore, Hall and Kennedy among countless others, never again.