Jun 12, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Happy Friday! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,848 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🥊 Inside boxing's return to Vegas

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Boxing returned on Tuesday thanks to the herculean efforts by promotion company Top Rank to create a "bubble" at the MGM Grand Convention Center in Las Vegas, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

🎙 Interview: I spoke with Brad Jacobs, Top Rank's COO and the architect of their return-to-play protocol, about the process behind safely and successfully bringing boxing back to Vegas.

Big picture — how'd you get this done?

"First, I dissected our events line item by line item. Then I consulted with an infectious disease specialist and an emergency physician, and I depended a lot on these experts to figure out how to do this 100% properly."
"I'm proud to say we have our first show under our belt, and there really haven't been any hiccups. Some minor things that we've learned along the way, but for the most part, everything has really gone perfect. We're thrilled."
Top Rank's "bubble" inside the MGM Grand Convention Center. Image: Top Rank

How'd you think about setting up the physical space?

"Once we had the location, we basically took over the entire conference center, and that's given us the ability to have a one-stop-shop. Everything from offices to training to eating takes place here, so basically you're either in your room on the 12th floor — reserved for us with a dedicated elevator — or you're in the conference center. That's the bubble."

How does what you've done compare to what leagues like the NBA are trying to do?

"I think it's all very similar, it's just about increasing the numbers. Take our catering hall, which can seat roughly 100 people at a time — they'll need one for at least 1,000 at a time. So a lot of the protocols are the same, just the enormity of the numbers they'll be dealing with is much more vast."

Were you able to accomplish this without financially cutting your legs off?

"It's not cutting our legs off, but it's an expensive proposition. There's obviously no gate receipts, and the medical part of this process alone, for two months, is going to cost us probably half a million dollars."

The bottom line: Top Rank's size and clout gave them the manpower and capital to pull this off. But perhaps Jacobs' confidence helped, too, as he told ESPN, "We're gonna be ready in June to be on the air ... be ready for us." And they were.

Go deeper:

2. 🇳🇿 Rugby is back in New Zealand (with fans!)

A young Highlanders fan. Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images

This weekend, New Zealand's Super Rugby league will become the world's first major sports league to return from the shutdown without crowd restrictions.

  • Some 20,000 fans are expected to be on hand in Dunedin when the Highlanders host the Chiefs, the first Super League game since mid-March.
  • And a record 35,000 could show up on Sunday in Auckland (New Zealand's biggest city) when the Blues host the Highlanders.

The backdrop: There are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, and the country largely opened up its society on Monday, including stores, restaurants and public transportation.

  • Overall, New Zealand has confirmed 1,154 cases and 22 deaths from over 294,800 tests. It has reported no new cases for 21 days.

Meanwhile, in Australia ... Australian rules football also resumes this weekend. Though Australia is not quite ready for full stadiums, 2,000 fans will be in the stands for a game between the Port Adelaide Power and the Adelaide Crows.

3. 📸 Photos 'round the world
Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

FORT WORTH, Tex. — Harold Varner III (left) shot a bogey-free, seven-under-par 63 to grab a share of the lead with Justin Rose in the first round of the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club.

  • By the numbers: 15 players shot 65 or lower on Thursday, setting a new record for any round at Colonial — a history that dates back to the 1941 U.S. Open.
Photo: Fran Santiago/Getty Images

SEVILLE, Spain — Sevilla defeated Real Betis, 2-0, in La Liga's return to action after a nearly three-month hiatus, strengthening the hosts' hold on third place in the standings, while city rivals Betis remain in 12th.

Photo: Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

BELGRADE, Serbia — Novak Djokovic (ranked No. 1 in the world) welcomes Alexander Zverev (ranked No. 7) upon his arrival at the Nikola Tesla airport.

  • Coming up: Djokovic, Zverev and Dominic Thiem (ranked No. 3) will headline the eight-man Adria Tour (organized by Djokovic), which runs from tomorrow to July 5 across Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia.
4. ⚾️ Reliving 1998's epic home run chase

Photo: Stephen Jaffe/AFP via Getty Images

"Long Gone Summer," ESPN's new documentary about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's epic home run chase in 1998, debuts on Sunday (9pm ET), Jeff writes.

  • Mini review: If you're looking for depth and substance, re-watch last week's Bruce Lee documentary, "Be Water." If you're looking for excitement and a heavy dose of nostalgia, then get ready to watch sluggers sock a few dingers.

Timeline: Here's how the 1998 home run chase went down.

  • April: Sosa and McGwire both hit well, but McGwire's power stood out immediately, opening the season with HRs in four straight games. HR chase: McGwire (11), Sosa (6)
  • May: Sosa kept hitting well, but McGwire's power output only increased, putting him way in the lead. This was also the month of Kerry Wood's famous 20-strikeout game. HR chase: McGwire (27), Sosa (13)
  • June: Sosa officially entered the conversation with 20 dingers in June, which is still the most ever hit in a calendar month. HR chase: McGwire (37), Sosa (33)
  • July: For the first time ever, four players went into the All-Star break with 30 HR: McGwire (37), Griffey (35), Sosa (33) and Greg Vaughn (30). HR chase: McGwire (45), Sosa (42)
  • August: Sosa went on a tear in the month's last six games to finally catch McGwire heading into September. HR chase: McGwire (55), Sosa (55)
  • September: In an epic race to the finish — which included a contentious legal battle over possession of Sosa's 62nd home run ball — both sluggers hit HR No. 66 on Sept. 25. But while Sosa went homerless over his final three games, McGwire crushed four more to end with 70.

Final numbers:

  • McGwire: 70 HR, 147 RBI; .299/.470/.752; 7.5 WAR; second in NL MVP
  • Sosa: 66 HR, 158 RBI; .308/.377/.647; 6.5 WAR; won NL MVP

P.S. ... In other documentary news, ESPN has a double feature tonight (7pm ET): "Foosballers" (read our March review), followed by the Oscar-winning "Free Solo."

5. ⚾️ Ranking MLB's all-time rosters (No. 4)
Expand chart
Player data: Baseball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

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

4. Detroit Tigers

They weren't all blessed with light-tower power, but the pure hitting and on-base prowess on this team might just be unmatched. The starting nine averaged a .313 BA and .387 OBP in their Tigers' careers. Remove the No. 8 and 9 hitters, and those jump to .324 and .399.

  • Year established: 1901
  • All-time record: 9,346-9,191 (.504)
  • World Series Championships: 4
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 10

Starting lineup:

  1. OF Ty Cobb* (144.7 bWAR with team)
  2. OF Al Kaline* (92.8)
  3. 3B Miguel Cabrera (51.3)
  4. 1B Hank Greenberg* (53)
  5. 2B Charlie Gehringer* (83.8)
  6. OF Harry Heilmann* (67.6)
  7. DH Sam Crawford* (63.6)
  8. SS Alan Trammell* (70.7)
  9. C Bill Freehan (44.7)

On the mound: SP Hal Newhouser* (61.4)

Bench:

  • Infield: 1B Norm Cash (51.7), 2B Lou Whitaker (75.1), 3B George Kell* (23.2), SS Donie Bush (38.5), C Lance Parrish (30.1)
  • Outfield: Bobby Veach (45.8), Kirk Gibson (27.7)
  • Utility: Mickey Lolich (46.7), Rudy York (29.7)
  • Rotation: Justin Verlander (31.9), Tommy Bridges (50.3), Dizzy Trout (48.9), Jack Morris* (37.7)
  • Bullpen: John Hiller (30.4), Willie Hernández (8.5), Aurelio Lopez (9.6)

Additional notes:

  • Cabrera's Triple Crown in 2012 (44/139/.330) is one of just 18 in baseball history, and the only one since 1967 (Carl Yastrzemski).
  • Cobb's .366 lifetime average is the highest ever, while his 151 WAR ranks sixth.
  • Crawford's 309 triples are the most ever, 14 ahead of second place, Cobb.
  • Greenberg's power numbers were insane. In his five full seasons between 1934 and 1940 (he missed most of 1936 with an injury), he averaged 39 HR and 150 RBI. His 184 RBI in 1937 remain the third-most ever.

ICYMI ... 30. Rays, 29. Royals, 28. Diamondbacks, 27. Blue Jays, 26. Angels, 25. Padres, 24. Rockies, 23. Brewers; 22. Nationals, 21. Mets, 20. Orioles, 19. Twins, 18. Astros, 17. Marlins, 16. White Sox, 15. Athletics, 14. Phillies, 13. Braves, 12. Pirates, 11. Mariners, 10. Rangers, 9. Cardinals, 8. Dodgers, 7. Indians, 6. Cubs, 5. Reds

Huge thanks to Tom Stone, whose book "Now Taking the Field: Baseball's All-Time Dream Teams for All 30 Franchises," provided the inspiration for these rosters.

6. June 12, 2019: 🏒 Blues win the Cup
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

One year ago today, the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup, beating the Boston Bruins, 4-1, in Game 7.

Why it matters: It was the Blues' first Cup in the franchise's 52-year history, and it came on the heels of an epic worst-to-first finish.

How it happened: On Jan. 3, the Blues sat in last place with a 15-18-4 record; three nights later, in Philly to play the Flyers, a few Blues players headed to a bar to watch the infamous "double-doink" NFC Wild Card game.

  • At one point that night, the bar's DJ played Laura Branigan's 1982 hit, "Gloria," and the Blues players couldn't get enough of it, requesting he play it on repeat.
  • The next night, rookie goalie Jordan Binnington made his first career start, earning a shutout win and kicking off a 29-9-5 record to end the regular season in third place, as "Gloria" became the team's theme song.
  • Blues D Joel Edmundson, one of the players out at the bar that fateful January night, said later:
"Whenever we come back in the dressing room [after a win], we're yelling 'play Gloria, play Gloria!' It makes us smile and have a good time. It's working, so we're going to keep it."

🎥 Watch: Game 7 highlights (YouTube)

Bonus ... June 12, 1970: ⚾️ Dock's no-no
Photo: Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images

50 years ago today, Pirates right-hander Dock Ellis tossed a no-hitter ... while tripping on acid.

🎬 Go deeper: Top 50 sports documentaries (Axios)

7. 📚 Good reads

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

🇺🇸 As America wake up to systemic racism, its institutions are losing respect (Felix Salmon, Axios)

"A wave of discontent with institutions that started at the federal level has now metastasized to encompass almost every center of power in the country, from the media to technology to sports, retail, and — most visibly — the police."

🏈 2020 NFL mock expansion draft: Picking players for a 33rd team (Bill Barnwell, ESPN)

"Could London and Mexico City eventually be the 33rd and 34th NFL teams? Let's try to see what one of those teams might look like if the league decided to expand overnight, following most of the rules from the Texans' expansion draft."

🏀 Peyton Watson's crash course in stardom (Joseph Bien-Kahn, B/R)

"The best high school junior 'hooper' in Cali may play in Bronny James' shadow, but this local talent is already being mentored by L.A.'s long line of sports greats to be next to join their ranks."
8. The Ocho: 🏀 "The Swish Machine"
Source: Creezy (YouTube)

"The Swish Machine" is a 70-step Rube Goldberg Machine that travels around an entire backyard and ends in a swish. Not sure what's more impressive — the machine, the filming or the size of the yard.

Enjoy.

9. 🥍 Lacrosse trivia
Screenshot: @PremierLacrosse (Twitter)

The Premier Lacrosse League announced Thursday that Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah will host its three-week, quarantine-style Championship Series, scheduled to run from July 25 to Aug. 9.

  • Question: Eight teams have won at least two NCAA Division I men's national championships. Can you name them?
  • Hint: Two Ivies.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Game 3 of the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals. Photo: Sara Wolfram/Getty Images

Jordan K. (from Walnut Creek, California) writes:

"Game Three. 2007 Western Conference Semifinals. After eliminating the top-seeded Mavericks in the first round, the Warriors had energized the Bay Area, and were now in a must-win game, down 2-0 to the Jazz.
"My dad and I got to Oracle earlier than usual to soak up the rare playoff environment. We'd been loyal Warriors fans my whole life and season ticket holders for years, and this definitely felt different.
"I threw my bright yellow 'We Believe' shirt on over whatever I was wearing, and my dad slung his over his shoulder because it wouldn't comfortably fit his 6'7" frame.
"The game flew by. Late in the fourth quarter, the Warriors were in control and Baron Davis had the ball. Three dribbles down a wide-open lane, he elevated and unleashed a ferocious dunk (see below). What followed was indescribable joy and a deafening roar.
Source: NBA (YouTube)
"I will never forget that high-five and embrace with my dad, as we experienced our first live Warriors playoff win together. Sadly, it would be our last. He unexpectedly passed away that July, about a month after I graduated high school.
"Sports motivated me to work harder. They taught me discipline, and how to be a leader. Sports inspired me to dream. But as I reflect on why sports matter, the clearer it becomes. Sports didn't do those things — my dad did.
"Life moves fast, unexpectedly. So every time I flip on a Warriors game, I slow down to remember my dad — usually for just a second, but long enough to feel his firm handshake or see that look in his eyes when a big man doesn't box out.
"He loved sports, but he loved family first. And I know how much he would've enjoyed tagging along with me, my fiancé, my mom and my brother to see the Warriors take Game 5 in the 2015 NBA Finals (see below).
"Sports matter. I love you dad."
Jordan and his fiance in the front; his mom and brother in the back. Courtesy: Jordan K.

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

Kendall Baker

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Congrats to lacrosse on the trivia debut" Baker

Trivia answer: Syracuse (10 times), Johns Hopkins (9), Virginia (6), Princeton (6), UNC (5), Maryland (3), Duke (3), Cornell (3)