Jul 28, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,744 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚾️ Opening weekend outbreak

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Four days into the 2020 MLB season, and we already have a coronavirus outbreak.

Driving the news: At least 14 members of the Marlins have tested positive, forcing the postponement of games in Miami and Philadelphia on Monday and kicking off an emergency league meeting.

  • Instead of flying to Miami to play the Orioles, the Marlins stayed in Philadelphia, where they played the Phillies over the weekend.
  • Pending test results, the Marlins are scheduled to play the Orioles in Baltimore tomorrow, while the Phillies are set to host the Yankees today.
"I don't put this in the nightmare category. It's not a positive thing, but I don't see it as a nightmare. ... That's why we have the expanded rosters. That's why we have the pool of additional players."
— Rob Manfred, MLB commissioner

Why it matters: This is a bad sign for baseball. But it's also a bad sign for just about everything in our daily lives — showing that something approaching normal can't simply be willed into existence, writes Axios' Shane Savitsky.

  • Marlins players, aware of the team outbreak, decided via group text to play on Sunday against the Phillies, circumventing MLB's 113-page safety manual, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
  • It's hard to imagine how a normal office is supposed to reopen when MLB players — subject to much more stringent oversight than most workers — can seemingly ignore their league's safety policies.

The state of play: MLB opted not to create a "bubble" environment like other leagues have done, instead allowing teams to crisscross the country. The NFL has a similar plan, so baseball's outbreak raises concerns about the fall.

  • The NBA and MLS, both bubbled in Florida, turned up zero cases in their latest round of tests, and the NWSL executed a successful bubble in Utah.
  • The NHL reported zero cases last week, but the real test starts today, with exhibitions set to begin in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles.
  • Worth noting: One thing working in football's favor is its schedule (one game per week), which allows for more flexibility and time to adjust on the fly than MLB's sprint (60 games in 66 days).

The bottom line: We're about to see MLB's issues play out en masse as colleges reopen and welcome back students from around the world next month.

  • If you can't trust professional athletes to make smart decisions to keep their league running during a pandemic, how do you expect students freed from months of home quarantine to fare?
Bonus: 📉 The market responds

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Shares of DraftKings (DKNG) fell 6.5% on Monday, and there was a huge dip in the morning, right after MLB announced the outbreak and canceled games.

Go deeper:

2. ⚽️ MLS: Six tickets punched, two to go

Chris Wondolowski (R) celebrates with teammates. Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The San Jose Earthquakes and LAFC emerged victorious on Monday night, joining the Philadelphia Union, Sporting KC, Orlando City and NYC FC in the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back tournament.

Scoreboard:

  • Earthquakes 5, Real Salt Lake 2: Chris Wondolowski (MLS' all-time goals leader) scored for the third straight game, although scores from the knockout stages of the tournament are not part of season or career statistics.
  • LAFC 4, Seattle Sounders 1: Diego Rossi scored a pair of goals, and LAFC got some revenge for last year's Western Conference final, when Seattle pulled off a 3-1 upset in L.A. en route to winning the league title.

Coming up: The final two quarterfinal tickets will be punched tonight.

  • 8pm ET (ESPN): Columbus Crew vs. Minnesota United
  • 10:30pm ET (ESPN): Portland Timbers vs. FC Cincinnati
Screenshot: @MLS (Twitter)

In related news ... CONCACAF announces new World Cup qualifying format (ESPN)

3. 🎬 Now streaming: "Last Chance U" (Season 5)
Courtesy: Netflix

The fifth season of "Last Chance U," the award-winning Netflix docuseries about junior college football, premieres today.

  • This will be the last season in its current form before the show switches from football to basketball.
  • After spending two seasons at East Mississippi Community College, then two seasons at Independence Community College (Kansas), the fifth season of "Last Chance U" focuses on Laney College in Oakland, California.

The backdrop: Unlike in Mississippi and Kansas, California JUCOs don't grant scholarships to athletes or offer free food and housing, so the Laney team is mostly made up of players who grew up nearby.

  • While many of the athletes in the show's first four seasons were established D-I players waiting to regain their eligibility, WR Rejzohn Wright is Laney's only sure-fire D-I player.

Main characters:

  • WR Dior Walker-Scott sleeps in his car.
  • WR R.J. Stern lives in a warm, book-filled house in nearby Berkeley. But nothing there is what it seems.
  • Coach John Beam has been coaching football for 40 years, most of them in Oakland, and is coming off his first state championship.

What they're saying: "Seasons 1 and 2 of 'Last Chance U' hinge on the battle between a mercurial, demanding coach and the academic advisor ... working to protect and nurture players in her own way," For The Win's Chris Korman writes.

  • "Seasons 3 and 4 are built around [head coach Jason Brown's] outsized ambition and personality clashing with a town and school trying to recreate itself.
  • "Season 5, in the most fitting way possible, roars because it is about young men trying to barrel their way into a better place."

🎬 Watch:

4. ⚾️ Trump's first pitch that wasn't

Anthony Fauci after throwing out the first pitch. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

An hour before Anthony Fauci (poorly) threw out the first pitch at Opening Day in Washington, D.C., President Trump told White House reporters that he, too, would be throwing an opening pitch.

  • "Randy Levine is a great friend of mine from the Yankees .... And he asked me to throw out the first pitch, and I think I'm doing that on Aug. 15 at Yankee Stadium," Trump declared Thursday.

"There was one problem," write NYT's Katie Rogers and Noah Weiland: "Mr. Trump had not actually been invited on that day by the Yankees, according to one person with knowledge of Mr. Trump's schedule."

  • "Mr. Trump had been so annoyed by Dr. Fauci's turn in the limelight, an official familiar with his reaction said, that he had directed his aides to call Yankees officials and make good on a longtime standing offer from Mr. Levine to throw out an opening pitch. No date was ever finalized."
  • "After the president's announcement, White House aides scrambled to let the team know that he was actually booked on Aug. 15 ... Over the weekend, Mr. Trump officially canceled."

Keep reading.

In related news: Fauci baseball card sets all-time sales record (Axios)

5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 6)
Expand chart
Player data: Basketball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

We're ranking the all-time rosters for all 30 NBA teams. Note: Rosters and stats based only on time spent with this specific team. Thoughts? Email me at jeff@axios.com.

6. Chicago Bulls

Do I even have to say anything here? If not for one player and one unbelievable decade, they'd legitimately be 15-20 spots lower. But man was that decade something else. Consider this: From December 1990 to June 1998 — save for MJ's baseball stint — the Bulls never lost three straight games.

  • Year established: 1966
  • All-time record: 2,227-2,135 (.511)
  • NBA Championships: 6
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 5

Starters:

  • Derrick Rose, G (19.7 pts, 3.7 reb, 6.2 ast, 18.3 PER/31.4 WS)
  • Michael Jordan*, G (31.5 pts, 6.3 reb, 5.4 ast, 29.1 PER/204.5 WS)
  • Scottie Pippen*, F (17.7 pts, 6.7 reb, 5.3 ast, 19.6 PER/99.7 WS)
  • Dennis Rodman*, F (5.2 pts, 15.3 reb, 2.8 ast, 13.2 PER/20.0 WS)
  • Artis Gilmore*, C (19.3 pts, 11.1 reb, 2.5 ast, 21.7 PER/66.5 WS)

Sixth man: Jimmy Butler, G (15.6 pts, 4.8 reb, 3.1 ast, 19.3 PER/49.3 WS)

Bench:

  • Horace Grant, F (12.6 pts, 8.6 reb, 2.4 ast, 17.2 PER/62.4 WS)
  • Toni Kukoč, F (14.1 pts, 4.8 reb, 4.2 ast, 18.6 PER/41.2 WS)
  • Bob Love, F (21.3 pts, 6.8 reb, 1.7 ast, 15.5 PER/48.2 WS)
  • Jerry Sloan*, G (14.7 pts, 7.7 reb, 2.6 ast, 13.3 PER/48.1 WS)
  • Norm Van Lier, G (12.2 pts, 4.7 reb, 6.9 ast, 14.4 PER/39.1 WS)
  • Luol Deng, F (16.1 pts, 6.4 reb, 2.5 ast, 15.9 PER/58.4 WS)

Notes:

  • Jordan is fifth in total points (32,292) and WS (214.02), second in MVPs (5) and first in points per game (30.12), scoring titles (10), PER (27.91) and Finals MVPs (6).
  • Rodman's seven rebounding titles are second to Wilt Chamberlain (11), but they all came in consecutive years, which is a record.

ICYMI ... 30. Grizzlies, 29. Timberwolves, 28. Hornets, 27. Raptors, 26. Pelicans, 25. Pacers, 24. Clippers, 23. Mavericks, 22. Nets, 21. Cavaliers, 20. Bucks, 19. Hawks, 18. Wizards, 17. Suns, 16. Kings, 15. Magic, 14. Nuggets, 13. Trail Blazers, 12. Rockets, 11. Knicks, 10. Thunder, 9. Jazz, 8. Heat, 7. Pistons

Stats, explained: Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a measure of a player's per-minute productivity (20+ is elite); Win Shares (WS) attempts to divvy up individual credit for team success (6 per season is elite).

6. July 28, 1933: 🏈 NFL divisions are born

Coach Ralph Jones speaks with Bronko Nagurski (No. 3), Red Grange (standing) and other Chicago Bears players in 1932. Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

87 years ago today, the NFL split into two, five-team divisions, setting the stage for a postseason championship game.

The backdrop: In the 13 seasons prior to 1933, the team with the best regular-season record was named champion, and it was often determined by tiebreaker.

  • In 1932, the Chicago Bears and Portsmouth Spartans (now, the Detroit Lions) finished tied atop the standings, but they also tied in both of their meetings, rendering the tiebreaker moot.
  • So the NFL added one more game to determine the champion. The Bears won, 9-0, with the game decided by a controversial TD pass from Hall of Fame fullback Bronko Nagurski to Hall of Fame halfback Red Grange.

The birth of divisions: Due to the popularity of that Bears-Spartans game, the NFL implemented divisional play, thus creating a traditional postseason format.

  • 1950: Expansion turns divisions into conferences. Four teams make the playoffs.
  • 1967: The Super Bowl is born (NFL champions vs. AFL champions).
  • 1970: The AFL merges with the NFL, eliminating the NFL Championship Game and replacing it with an expanded, eight-team playoff.
  • 1978: Each conference adds one Wild Card.
  • 1990: Each conference adds a second Wild Card, giving us the 12-team playoff format that's been used for the past 30 years.

Beginning in 2021, the NFL plans to add two more Wild Cards and expand to a 14-team playoff, with each conference's No. 1 seed getting a first-round bye.

Go deeper: The bizarre history of the NFL's first title game (History)

7. ⛳️ Escape to Sandwich

Life is stressful right now. So please, come take a trip to The Royal St. George's Golf Club in Sandwich, England, site of the 2021 Open Championship.

The par 4, eighth hole, looking back to the tee from the green. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images
The par 4, 18th hole. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images
The approach to the green on the par 4, fifth hole (R) with the par 3, sixth hole (L) and par 5, seventh hole behind. Photo: David Cannon
The par 4, second hole. Photo: David Cannon
8. The Ocho: ⚔️ Knight fighting MMA
Source: M-1 Global World (YouTube)

M-1 Global is a Russian MMA promotion that began in 1997. In 2014, they started including jousting events as filler during their fights, and fans loved it so much it turned into its own venture, called M-1 Medieval.

How it works: Fighters dress in full medieval garb, and "the swords the knights carry must be blunt, of course. Headbutts are not allowed and neither are submission holds," explained M-1 president Vadim Finkelchtein. Safety first!

9. 🥇 Olympics trivia
Carl Lewis during a training session at the Santa Monica Track Club in 1993. Photo: Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty Images

Rank these athletes by number of Olympic gold medals (most to least):

  • Carl Lewis
  • Missy Franklin
  • Simone Biles
  • Usain Bolt

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports

Riverfront Stadium in 2000. Photo: Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Chris H. (Washington, D.C.) writes:

"When I was nine years old, a foul ball came right at me while attending a Cincinnati Reds game. My dad knocked it down before it hit me, and I picked it up, but then the man behind us grabbed it out of my hand.
"While we were on the big screen at Riverfront Stadium (the olden days), my dad yells, 'You better give that bleepin' ball back to my bleepin' kid.' He gave the ball back. I still have it."

✍️ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or a story about sports having a positive impact on your life? To share, simply reply to this email. We'll be telling your stories until they run out.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Always give the baseball to the kid" Baker

Trivia answer: Carl Lewis (9), Usain Bolt (8), Missy Franklin (5), Simone Biles (4)