Nov 13, 2019

Axios Sports

🐫 Happy Hump Day! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,595 words (6 minutes)

1 big thing: ⚾️ Spygate 2.0

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

The Houston Astros used a camera to help steal signs during their 2017 championship season, pitcher Mike Fiers and three other unnamed former Astros told The Athletic (subscription).

How it worked: "A feed from a camera in center field, fixed on the opposing catcher's signs, was hooked up to a television monitor that was placed … in the tunnel that runs between the dugout and the clubhouse."

  • "Team employees and players would watch the screen during the game and try to decode signs β€” sitting opposite the screen on massage tables in a wide hallway."
  • "When the onlookers believed they had decoded the signs, the expected pitch would be communicated via a loud noise β€” specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel."

Why it matters: While it's not illegal to steal signs, there are rules against using technology for an advantage β€” something the Astros clearly violated if these claims are true.

  • The backdrop: Sign stealing allegations have surrounded the Astros organization for years. In 2018, they were accused of clapping in the dugout to relay stolen signs, and in this year's ALCS, the Yankees said they were whistling to do the same.

What they're saying:

"Regarding the story posted by The Athletic earlier today, the Houston Astros organization has begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball. It would not be appropriate to comment further on this matter at this time."
β€” Astros official statement

The big picture: This is obviously a terrible look for Houston. Unless MLB's investigation proves otherwise, one of the few modern sports dynasties was either (1) the best team in baseball and they cheated, or (2) the best team in baseball because they cheated.

The bigger picture: Between this, the juiced baseballs, past sign-stealing scandals (remember when the Red Sox used an Apple Watch?) and claims of teams colluding to suppress player salaries, MLB's brand feels very… opaque.

The bottom line: Spygate has come to MLB, and the Houston Astros are officially the New England Patriots of baseball.

P.S. … Did the Astros not think this would eventually get out when players left the team…? Did they just not even care? So confused.

2. πŸ€ The Knicks are so bad
Expand chart
Data: Basketball Reference; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Amid the latest "Fire Dolan!" chants at MSG, I was curious just how terrible the Knicks have been this century. The answer: The most terrible (as in, they've won fewer games than any other team).

P.S. ... Speaking of NYC dysfunction, former Turner president David Levy is stepping down as CEO of the Nets less than two months into his tenure, reportedly because he didn't share owner Joe Tsai's vision for the organization.

3. 🏈 CFP rankings: LSU on top, Georgia edges Bama
Screenshot: @espn (Twitter)

Fresh off its victory in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, LSU finds itself atop this week's College Football Playoff rankings, while No. 4 Georgia edged No. 5 Alabama to break into the top four.

  • Rounding out the top 10: No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Utah both moved up one spot, while Minnesota's win over Penn State vaulted them nine spots to No. 8. The loss dropped the Penn State to No. 9, followed by Oklahoma at No. 10.
  • Deepest conference: The Big Ten has six teams in the rankings, more than any other conference (No. 2 Ohio State, No. 8 Minnesota, No. 9 Penn State, No. 14 Wisconsin, No. 15 Michigan, No. 20 Iowa).
  • Coming up: No. 13 Baylor is the lowest-ranked Power 5 team with a 9-0 record or better in the CFP era. They'll have a chance to make a jump on Saturday when they host Oklahoma.
4. πŸ“Έ Yesterday in photos
Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

LEXINGTON, Ky. β€” 25-point underdog Evansville shocked No. 1 Kentucky, 67-64, marking the first time in the John Calipari era that the Wildcats have lost at Rupp Arena to a non-Power 5 team.

  • Fun fact: Over the last 20 seasons, the Missouri Valley Conference (which Evansville is in) is 4-3 vs. AP No. 1 teams β€” the best record by any conference during that span.
  • Elsewhere: No. 14 Oregon held off No. 13 Memphis, 82-74, in the first Phil Knight Invitational.
Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

LONDON β€” Two days after beating Roger Federer, 26-year-old Austrian Dominic Thiem knocked off Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals in an epic match.

  • Quite the season: Thiem more than held his own against the "Big Three" this year, going 3-0 vs. Federer, 2-1 vs. Djokovic and 1-1 vs. Nadal.
Photo: Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

DENVER β€” Trae Young scored a season-high 42 points (13-21 FG, 8-13 3PT), while adding 11 assists and four boards in the Hawks' 125-121 win over the Nuggets.

  • Elite company: This was the 21-year-old Young's second career game with 40 points and 10 assists. The only other players in NBA history with multiple such games before turning 22? LeBron James (4) and Michael Jordan (2).
5. 🏈 The "game of inches" is finally becoming one

Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

In Al Pacino's legendary "Any Given Sunday" speech, he talks about how football, like life, is a game of inches.

"On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch! Because we know, when we add up all those inches, that's gonna make the f*ckin' difference between winning and losing! Between livin' and dyin'!"

Newsflash: The "game of inches" has always been defined by a far less precise measurement: the yard. And up until 2016, the NFL's counting system listed anything between zero yards and two yards as fourth-and-1.

  • Tracking technology is starting to change that, helping teams "distinguish exact distances and measure the value of a single inch," notes WSJ's Andrew Beaton (subscription).
  • By the numbers: When teams were just inches away from the first down in 2017 and 2018, they converted 82% of the time. But in "long" fourth-and-1 situations, that rate dropped to 55%.

The bottom line: As tracking data goes mainstream, learning more about the different types of fourth downs will arm teams with more information β€” and could forever change how coaches call plays.

6. πŸ“Š By the numbers
Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
🏈 1,046 days

Colin Kaepernick, who hasn't seen NFL action since Jan. 1, 2017 (1,046 days ago), will work out for teams in Atlanta on Saturday, though it's unclear how many will show up. "I've been in shape and ready for this for 3 years, can't wait," the QB tweeted.

πŸ’ 4 unanswered goals

The Panthers trailed the Bruins 4-0 entering the third period last night before scoring four unanswered goals and ultimately winning in a shootout to finish off the largest comeback in franchise history. Watch the shootout.

πŸ€ 9 bodies

Following yet another injury, the Warriors have just nine healthy players, and only one (Draymond Green) was on the team last year. The other eight: D'Angelo Russell, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Eric Paschall, Ky Bowman, Jordan Poole, Marquese Chriss, Glenn Robinson III. It's a reset, not a rebuild.

7. Nov. 13, 1964: πŸ€ Pettit is first to 20,000 points
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

55 years ago today, St. Louis Hawks superstar β€” and future Hall of Famer β€” Bob Pettit became the first NBA player to score 20,000 career points.

By the numbers: During his 11-year career, Pettit won Rookie of the Year and two MVPs, never missed an All-Star Game and led the Hawks to the 1958 NBA title, all while compiling an ungodly amount of points and rebounds.

  • He averaged 26.4 ppg, which ranks eighth all-time behind Michael Jordan (30.1), Wilt Chamberlain (30.1), Elgin Baylor (27.4), LeBron James (27.1), Jerry West (27.o), Kevin Durant (27.0) and Allen Iverson (26.7).
  • He averaged 16.2 rpg, which ranks third all-time behind Chamberlain (22.9) and Bill Russell (22.5).

The bottom line: Pettit is often a forgotten name among the greats, perhaps because he was so well-rounded and hard to define. This makes him one of the few Hall of Famers β€” in any sport β€” that most fans would agree is vastly underrated.

Go deeper: Bob Pettit: A will to win (YouTube)

8. The Ocho: πŸ₯ "Frisbee Dad"

Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Occasionally, we feature stories submitted by members of our "Overtime" community (refer 3 friends below to join!). Today's comes from Jake Kyte of Austin, Texas.

Growing up, dads are mysteriously good at everything. So, as a son, there's something special about beating your dad at, well, anything.

  • For my brother and I, we thought we'd found that opportunity in disc golf, which we learned at summer camp. After sharing it with our dad, we relished in our superiority. Little by little though, he got the hang of it.

Fast forward to 2017: We're playing one of the world's highest disc golf courses, atop Aspen Mountain. On the 11th hole, the tee overlooks the distant basket, 435 feet away and 150 feet below on a cliff β€” hence the local name: "Kiss It Goodbye."

  • After some trash talking, my dad released his shot, and instantly I knew β€” it was going in. Seconds later, we were shouting in disbelief as the disc landed safely in the basket. The worst part? We were recording it, and my dad went viral.
  • The three of us still play when we're together, trekking out to the nearest course β€” and hearing about that ace at least once. As the sons of "Frisbee Dad," my brother and I are always trying to measure up to him in some way. We're still working on it.
9. ⚾️ MLB trivia

Rocco Baldelli (Twins) and Mike Shildt (Cardinals) were named the AL and NL Managers of the Year, respectively, last night.

  • Question: Can you name the only two managers who have won this award four times?
  • Hint: One spent the majority of his career in the NL East, while the other won two of his three World Series titles in the NL Central.

Answer at the bottom.

10. πŸ”— Good links
Screenshot: @alex_prewitt (Twitter)

πŸ“Ί Inside the episode: SI's Alex Prewitt went behind the scenes of the classic Simpsons episode, "Lisa on Ice," which aired 25 years ago today.

⚾️ This is wild: Seven years ago, a JV baseball coach in New Jersey named John Suk told his player to slide, which resulted in an injury. Then he got sued.

🚨 Buzzer beater alert: UMass with the full-court heave!!!

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "This song makes me FEEL THINGS" Baker

Trivia answer: Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa