Jul 30, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning!

In today's edition: A rarely used baseball tactic, the fight for equal pay rages on, photos 'round the world and much, much more. See you at the bottom.

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1 big thing: ⚾️ Switching pitchers mid-at-bat could become the norm

As MLB teams lean further into analytics, they become less bound by precedent and more willing to experiment with new strategies.

  • First, it was the defensive shift, which has fundamentally changed hitting. Then, it was "The Opener," which has fundamentally changed pitching.
  • Just last week, the Tampa Bay Rays really stuck it to traditionalists when they pulled their pitcher … moved him to first base for one at-bat … then put him back on the mound after the guy who replaced him got an out.

What's new: With conventional wisdom thrown out the window, there's no telling where teams go from here. One tactic that could see widespread adoption? The totally legal, yet rarely used, mid-at-bat pitching change.

The backdrop: Former Kentucky baseball coach John Cohen began using mid-at-bat pitching changes in the early 2000s. The strategy has since spread across D-I and is used roughly once every five games, per The Ringer.

"There was always criticism of doing it. The funny thing is, the criticism never had any form of logic behind it. It was always, 'That's not baseball.' Well, what the hell does that mean?"
— John Cohen tells The Ringer

How it works: Mid-at-bat pitching changes put the hitter at such a serious disadvantage that it's honestly a bit surprising that we don't see more of them.

  • Icing effect: Imagine being in the middle of an at-bat and then having to wait as the opposing team calls time, brings a new pitcher in, and has him throw like eight warm-up pitches. How do you stay focused?
  • Can't take first pitch: If a hitter is behind in the count when the change is made, he can't take comfort in knowing that he can watch the new guy's first pitch (to get a sense of speed/release).
  • Think about it ... It's the seventh inning, your pitcher is up 0-2 on the hitter but he's tiring and the game is in the balance. Why not pause that at-bat, bring your best reliever out of the bullpen, and instruct him to throw his best breaking ball three straight times?
2. ⚽️ U.S. Soccer says women's team paid more than men's

Megan Rapinoe (center) and other members of the World Cup-winning U.S. team at a New York ticker tape parade. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Soccer Federation released a letter Monday claiming that it's paid the World Cup champion women's team more than the men's national team in recent years — citing figures disputed by the USWNT, Axios' Rebecca Falconer reports.

Why it matters: The letter's release comes ahead of mediation in the USWNT's pay-equity lawsuit against the governing body, the Wall Street Journal notes.

By the numbers: The letter states that women’s players were paid $34.1 million in salaries and bonuses by the federation from 2010 to 2018, while the men were paid $26.4 million over the same period.

  • It also says that the USWNT generated $101.3 million over the course of 238 games from 2009–2019, whereas the men's team generated $185.7 million over 191 games.

Yes, but: Comparing compensation between the two national teams is tricky because the pay structure is based on different collective bargaining agreements, per AP.

  • The women's side has a base salary, while the men are paid primarily based on matches and performance.

What they're saying: USWNT spokeswoman Molly Levinson said in a statement provided to Axios that the numbers the USSF used are "utterly false," adding...

"This is a sad attempt by the USSF to quell the overwhelming tide of support the USWNT has received from everyone from fans to sponsors to the United States Congress."
"The USSF has repeatedly admitted that it does not pay the women equally and that it does not believe the women even deserve to be paid equally. This is why they use words like 'fair and equitable,' not equal in describing pay."

The big picture: Democratic presidential candidate and New York Mayor Bill De Blasio pledged this month to use executive action to guarantee equal pay for national sports teams if Congress failed to act.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has introduced a bill to deny funding for the 2026 World Cup until the U.S. Soccer guarantees equal pay for the men's and women's teams.
3. 🏈 Heinz expected to drop naming rights at Heinz Field

The Steelers' first-ever game at Heinz Field on Oct. 7, 2001. Photo: Jason Cohn/Getty Images

Heinz is "highly unlikely" to renew its naming rights deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers once their current contract ends in 2021, Sports Business Journal reports (subscription).

Why it matters: The Steelers' current stadium has been called Heinz Field since it opened in 2001, which means one of Pittsburgh's core landmarks could soon go by a different name for the first time in 20 years.

  • Fun fact: The Steelers played their first-ever game at Heinz Field on Oct. 7, 2001, against the Cincinnati Bengals. Pittsburgh won 16-7, with Jerome Bettis and Kordell Stewart leading the way (box score).

By the numbers: Kraft Heinz signed a 20-year, $57 million naming rights deal in 2001 (the 57 number being a reference to the "Heinz 57" slogan). That means they pay roughly $2.85 million per year — well below market value.

  • Private lender SoFi is expected to pay roughly $400 million over 20 years to put its name on the new stadium that the Rams and Chargers will share in Inglewood, California.
  • Insurance company MetLife pays a similar annual price for the Giants and Jets' shared stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
  • Teams in similar markets to Pittsburgh are also bringing in far more money than the Steelers per year: Buffalo (New Era, $5 million), Cleveland (First Energy, $6 million), Nashville (Nissan, $6.5 million), Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz, $12 million).

The bottom line: Amidst skyrocketing naming rights fees, Kraft Heinz has reportedly decided to throw in the terrible towel.

4. 🏛 New bill calls for more oversight of Olympic sports

Sens. Jerry Moran (left) and Richard Blumenthal. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

An 18-month Senate investigation has found that the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and USA Gymnastics "knowingly concealed" the sexual abuse of gymnasts by a team doctor, NYT reports.

  • "The investigation described 'alarming and dysfunctional systems' that allowed emotional, physical and sexual abuse to persist in sports like gymnastics, swimming, figure skating and taekwondo."

Driving the news: As a result of the investigation, a bipartisan bill known as the Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2019 will be introduced today by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

If passed, the bill would...

  • Create accountability. The USOPC and the national governing bodies of Olympics-related sports would be held to "more stringent legal accountability for failing to protect athletes."
  • Establish procedures. The USOPC would be required to provide more oversight of governing bodies, while also establishing clear procedures to report abuse.
  • Increase congressional oversight. The bill gives Congress authority to dissolve the board of the USOPC and decertify national governing bodies should they fail to protect athletes.
  • Fund nonprofit work. The USOPC currently pays $3.1 million per year to SafeSport, a nonprofit that investigates sexual misconduct in Olympic sports. This bill would require them to pay $20 million annually, instead.

The big picture: Blumenthal called the bill a "moment of reckoning" and believes it demonstrates Congress' willingness to create a "seismic cultural shift" in the protection of athletes from abuse, per NYT.

5. 📸 Photos 'round the world
Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Ironman

WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Athletes of all different ages and backgrounds competed in the Ironman Canada in Whistler, British Columbia, an outdoor paradise just north of Vancouver.

Max Verstappen. Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY — 21-year-old Formula 1 driver Max Verstappen overcame the elements to win a chaotic German Grand Prix on Sunday. Credit to his crew for setting a new record for fastest F1 pit stop ever (1.88 seconds).

Opening ceremony. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

LIMA, PERU — The 2019 Pan American Games began on Friday, and the U.S. has already seized control of the medal count with 18 gold and 45 total, as of this morning.

6. July 30, 2005: 🏀 NBA adds one-and-done rule

Billy Hunter (left) and David Stern. Photo: Brian Bahr/Getty Images

14 years ago today, the NBA officially barred players from entering the league straight out of high school.

  • Fun fact: This made Amir Johnson, the No. 56 pick in 2005, the last high school player to be selected in the NBA draft ... until Indian-born Satnam Singh in 2015 (good Netflix documentary about him).
  • Fast-forward: NBA commissioner Adam Silver has made it clear that the one-and-done rule is on borrowed time and recently said that prep players could be able to turn pro as early as the 2022 draft.

Go deeper: "Boys Among Men" (book by Jonathan Abrams)

7. 🏈 NFL trivia

Since Sean McVay took over in 2017, the Los Angeles Rams have gone 24-8 — tied with two other teams for the best record in the NFL.

  • Question: Who are the two other teams?
  • Hint: One AFC, one NFC

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: 👍 Thumb Wrestling Championship
Source: YouTube/Giphy

The 11th annual World Thumb Wrestling Championship was held this past weekend at a pub in eastern England.

  • Men's: Paul "Under the Thumb" Browse held off "The Thumbertaker" to win for the fourth year in a row.
  • Women's: Janet Coleman aka "Nanny Thumb" won the women's title. Plot twist: Janet is Paul's mother-in-law! A family of thumb war champions! Can't make this stuff up.

Please enjoy.

Kendall Baker

See you tomorrow,

Kendall "This is the best" Baker

Trivia answer: New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints