Jan 8, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! 79% of you think Shaq and Kobe would beat LeBron and AD in a game of two-on-two. I assumed they'd win, but 79% seems high!!!

👀 In today's edition: The sign-stealing scandal has expanded; NFL coaching carousel update; the Capitals defenseman putting up historic numbers and much more. All in 1,739 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚾️ MLB sign-stealing scandal broadens

Photo: Adam Glanzman/MLB via Getty Images

With MLB nearing a decision on the Astros front, the sign-stealing controversy has broadened, with anonymous team sources telling The Athletic (subscription) that the Red Sox "cheated" during their 2018 World Series championship season.

How it worked: Players allegedly visited the video replay room — a room near the dugout meant to help managers decide whether to challenge a call — to steal signs and relay them to the dugout. That information was then shared with a baserunner, who would use body movements to communicate with the batter.

  • Context: The Red Sox and Yankees were punished for a similar misuse of the replay room in 2017, but starting in 2018, MLB strictly prohibited the use of the replay room to steal signs.
  • Worth noting: Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who served as the Astros bench coach in 2017, has now been caught in the middle of both sign-stealing scandals this offseason.

What they're saying: "It's cheating," one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox told The Athletic. "Because if you're using a camera to zoom in on the crotch of the catcher, to break down the sign system, and then take that information and give it out to the runner, then he doesn't have to steal it."

The big picture: Baseball's steroids scandal was far uglier than this. There's just something about athletes sneakily sticking syringes in their butts that makes your jaw drop, while teams using illegal cameras and video feeds feels slightly less jarring and easier to swallow.

  • Yes, but: The fallout could look quite similar. "Judgments on players and teams are being reconsidered. The legitimacy of championships is being questioned. The world has become a little more cynical, and what used to be a simple escapist activity feels more complicated," writes LA Times' Dylan Hernandez.

The bottom line: Both the 2017 and 2018 World Series champions may have cheated — a black eye for a league that already has some transparency concerns, and an infuriating development for the Yankees and Dodgers, who were eliminated from the playoffs by both teams (Dodgers in the World Series both times).

2. 🏈 NFL coaching carousel: And then there was one

Joe Judge, Matt Rhule and Mike McCarthy. Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Cleveland Browns are the lone remaining NFL team with a head coaching vacancy following the recent hires of Joe Judge in New York, Matt Rhule in Carolina and Mike McCarthy in Dallas.

  • Browns candidates: Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, Ravens OC Greg Roman and 49ers DC Robert Saleh have already been interviewed, and Eagles DC Jim Schwartz, Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski and Patriots OC Josh McDaniels will be interviewed later this week. Announcement expected by Saturday.
Joe Judge (Giants)

"The Giants hired the Pats' receivers coach the year Pats receivers went to hell," writes The Ringer's Danny Heifetz. "But there are reasons to think Joe Judge — who also led one of the league's best special teams units — could succeed in New York."

  • Age: 38
  • Contract: N/A
  • By the numbers: Judge will be the third-youngest NFL head coach after the Rams' Sean McVay (33) and the Bengals' Zac Taylor (36).
  • Meet Joe: A Philadelphia native, Judge played college football at Mississippi State, was a part of all three Patriots Super Bowl teams in the 2010s and was a special teams assistant on Nick Saban's staff during two of Alabama’s recent national championship seasons (2009, 2011).
Matt Rhule (Panthers)

Rhule had become one of the hottest names in NFL head coaching circles after turning around programs at Temple and Baylor. He's finally been lured away from college football and will take over a franchise facing an uncertain future.

  • Age: 44
  • Contract: Seven years, $60 million
  • By the numbers: This past season, Baylor became the only Power 5 team to ever make a conference championship game two seasons or fewer after going 1-11 or worse (the Bears were 1-11 in 2017).
  • What they're saying: "Matt is a very good people manager. And I think a good people manager is a good people manager, college or pro," said Panthers owner David Tepper. "He's not afraid of constructive confrontation, not afraid to challenge coaches or players. He's a head coach."
Mike McCarthy (Cowboys)

Instead of making a sexy hire (Lincoln Riley, Urban Meyer), the Cowboys made the sensible one, choosing the most experienced coach on the market. One thing's for certain: McCarthy won't get a decade-long leash like Jason Garrett did.

  • Age: 56
  • Contract: Five years, money N/A
  • By the numbers: McCarthy was 125-77-1 in 13 seasons with the Packers, where he won a Super Bowl and became the fourth NFL coach to lead a franchise to at least eight straight playoffs (Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Belichick).
  • Déjà vu: This move is reminiscent of the Chiefs' decision to hire Andy Reid in 2013 after he'd grown stale in Philadelphia despite winning a bunch of games. Reid, who was 55 when he took over in Kansas City, has yet to have a losing season there.
3. 🏒 All hail John Carlson

Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

Capitals defenseman John Carlson is having one of the best offensive seasons for a defenseman in NHL history, notching two more assists in Washington's 6-1 win over Ottawa last night.

By the numbers: With 54 points (13 goals, 41 assists), Carlson not only leads the Capitals in scoring but ranks 10th in the entire NHL, one point behind Sabres center Jack Eichel (55 points) and two points ahead of Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (52 points).

  • Carlson's 1.23 points per game is tracking to be the first season above the 1.2 threshold by a defenseman in 25 years, per FiveThirtyEight.
  • If he keeps this pace, he'll finish the season with 99 points, which would be the most by a defenseman since Brian Leetch had 102 during the 1991-92 season.

More NHL:

  • Predators hire Hynes: Just over a month after being fired by the Devils, John Hynes has been hired as the new head coach in Nashville, replacing Peter Laviolette.
  • Power rankings: The 15 best teams in the league, per SI: 1. Capitals, 2. Blues, 3. Maple Leafs, 4. Bruins, 5. Penguins, 6. Lightning, 7. Islanders, 8. Avalanche, 9. Golden Knights, 10. Hurricanes, 11. Stars, 12. Coyotes, 13. Canucks, 14. Jets, 15. Flyers.
  • Good read: After taking over one of the league's worst teams in 2016, 30-year-old GM John Chayka has the Arizona Coyotes in Cup contention. From WSJ: "The team that unintentionally proved tanking can work in the NHL."
4. 🏀 Last night in college hoops
Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

COLLEGE PARK, MD. — Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 20 points and Eric Ayala (above) brought great energy off the bench as No. 12 Maryland knocked off No. 11 Ohio State, 67-55, to move to 3-1 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes fell to 1-3.

Photo: John E. Moore III/Getty Images

LUBBOCK, TEXAS — Freddie Gillespie (above) and No. 4 Baylor took down No. 22 Texas Tech, 57-52, giving the Bears their 11th straight win and snapping the Red Raiders' 15-game home winning streak.

Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

MILWAUKEE — A balanced Providence attack overcame 39 points from the nation's leading scorer, Marquette's Markus Howard, as the Friars edged past the Golden Eagles, 81-80 in overtime. The Big East is ridiculously deep this year.

Elsewhere ... Boston College took down the defending champs; No. 14 Kentucky held off Anthony Edwards (projected No. 1 pick) and Georgia; Rutgers upset No. 21 Penn State to continue their impressive start; Roy Williams called his UNC squad "the least gifted team I've ever coached."

5. 📺 Bloomberg, Trump buy $10M Super Bowl ads

Left photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images; Right photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images.

Michael Bloomberg and President Trump's 2020 campaigns have both secured 60-second advertising spots during next month's Super Bowl at a likely cost of ~$10 million each, Politico reports.

Why it matters: "The dueling ads on the year's biggest night of television are evidence that the two New York billionaires are preparing for a schoolyard brawl on the national airwaves over the coming months," writes NYT's Nick Corasaniti.

  • Super Bowl ads are rarely seen in presidential politics due to the high cost and inefficiencies of paying to reach a national audience rather focusing on key states.
  • The buy highlights Bloomberg's massive spending power, as he continues to pump millions of his own money into his campaign. And is just the start of what's likely to be a huge spending year for Trump.

By the numbers: Bloomberg has already spent $170 million on ads this election cycle, while the Republican National Committee last week announced that it raised $463 million in 2019 and has nearly $200 million cash on hand.

Worth noting: The Super Bowl is just one day before the Iowa caucuses.

6. 📊 By the numbers
Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images

🏀 11-13

The Thunder trailed the Nets by three points after three quarters before coming back to win 111-103 in OT last night. They’re now 11-13 this season in games where they trailed entering the fourth. No other team has won six such games.

🎂 23 years old

There have been 654 instances of an NFL player rushing for 1,000 yards in a season and 126 instances of a player throwing 30 TD passes. Lamar Jackson, who turned 23 yesterday, is the only player to achieve both in the same year.

⚾️ 112,000 population

MLB's controversial plan to contract the minor leagues faces increasingly strong headwinds as local communities — like Lowell, Mass., a city of 112,000 people and home to the Lowell Spinners — are beginning to unify efforts to save their teams. SI's Michael McCann has more.

7. Jan. 8, 2000: 🏈 The Music City Miracle

Kevin Dyson. Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

20 years ago today, the Titans beat the Bills in the "Music City Miracle."

  • How it happened: A field goal gave the Bills a 16-15 lead with 16 seconds left. On the ensuing kickoff, Titans TE Frank Wycheck threw a lateral pass to Kevin Dyson, who ran 75 yards to score the game-winning TD as time expired.
  • Three weeks later, Tennessee nearly pulled off another miracle, but fell one yard short against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.
  • "The Flutie Curse": Bills coach Wade Phillips made the curious decision to start Rob Johnson over Doug Flutie in the loss. It marked the start of a 17-year playoff drought for Buffalo, commonly referred to as "The Flutie Curse."

Go deeper: Oral history (USA Today)

8. The Ocho: 🇩🇪 Meanwhile, in Germany...
Photo: TF-Images/Getty Images

The Biathlon World Cup is currently underway in Oberhof, Germany. Pictured above: Ingrid Tandrevold of Norway during a training session yesterday morning.

History lesson: Biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, has a long military history.

  • Biathlon began as a Norwegian military drill in the early 19th century and grew in popularity as ski warfare tactics spread across Europe during WWI.
  • "In 1924, an event combining skiing and shooting was included at the inaugural winter games in Chamonix, France. It was called 'military patrol' and was included at several Olympics until 1948," writes Vox's Mac Schneider.
  • After WWII ended, "ski troops" brought home a new love for skiing and biathlon, which led to it being officially introduced as an Olympic sport at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif.

Go deeper:

9. 🏀 NBA trivia
Photo: Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Andre Drummond is currently averaging 13+ rebounds per game for the seventh consecutive season (leads the NBA with 16.0 per game).

  • Question: Only two other players have averaged 13+ rebounds per game for seven straight seasons post-merger (1976). Can you name them?
  • Hint: Both suited up for the Spurs.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 👋 Hi, I'm sorry

My apologies for the newsletter arriving late the past two days. Back to our regular 7:30am ET arrival time tomorrow.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Can't think of a good nickname, so here's a good trailer" Baker

Trivia answer: Dennis Rodman and Moses Malone