Apr 8, 2020

Axios Sports

­čĹő Good morning! I want to start telling your sport stories. See the bottom for more details.

Today's word count: 1,921 (7 minutes).

1 big thing: ­čąŐ UFC will host fights on tribal land

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In an attempt to skirt federal and state guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, the UFC plans to hold its April 18 pay-per-view event on tribal land in California, per multiple reports.

  • The location: Tachi Palace Casino Resort, which is about 40 miles south of Fresno and sits on land belonging to the Tachi-Yokut tribe.
  • The loophole: By holding UFC 249 on tribal land, the UFC isn't subject to California's stay-at-home order and fights don't need to be sanctioned by the state's athletic commission, which has canceled all bouts through May 31.
  • The headliners: The event will feature 12 fights, headlined by the interim lightweight championship between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, who is replacing Khabib Nurmagomedov (unable to travel from Russia).
  • The island: UFC president Dana White also claims he's secured a private island to stage events with international fighters who can't travel to the U.S.

The backdrop: The Association of Ringside Physicians has urged the suspension of all combat sports, which could impede the UFC's attempt to hire ringside doctors.

"Any combat sport taking place during this global pandemic places the athletes, officials, and anyone else involved in the event under unnecessary risk of infection .... In addition, combat sports athletes often require medical attention after a bout, and we do not wish to see any additional strain on an already overwhelmed medical system."
ÔÇö Association of Ringside Physicians statement

The bottom line: Even as the rest of the sports world hits pause, White has remained adamant that fights must go on, and appears to have settled for a shutdown casino in a state with the fourth-most confirmed cases of COVID-19.

  • That relentlessness could ultimately be a boon for business (UFC 249 will be available on ESPN+), but it also paints him as somewhat of a villain, willing to bend the rules and go to extreme lengths to ensure fighters can keep punching each other on camera and making him money.
2. ÔÜż´ŞĆ Mike Trout, with and without 2020
Data: Historical figures and Trout's 2020 projection from FanGraphs, which the author used to project the rest of Trout's career; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

No matter what happens this year, Mike Trout will go down as one of the greatest players of all time. Still, if there's no season, he could lose his best chance at a career year ÔÇö and it could ultimately keep him from becoming baseball's new home run king, writes Axios' Jeff Tracy.

What they're saying: "[Trout] is at the golden nexus of an athlete's life when accumulated wisdom (from 1,199 career games and 22,652 pitches seen) intersects with physical peak," writes SI's Tom Verducci.

  • A healthy and full 2020 would have been "probably his best chance to make a run at 60 home runs."

By the numbers: Trout's power numbers (HR and slugging percentage) have steadily increased through his career, while his strikeouts and stolen bases have gone down.

  • That's indicative of a player who understands how to age gracefully, and because he's also a hitting savant, you can understand why Verducci thinks he's headed for a HR boom.

The big picture: Trout's numbers are hard to project, because he's not human. But Hank Aaron, who began playing at roughly the same age, provides a great comparison, and his 23-season career offers insight into what Trout's future could hold.

  • Setting a baseline: Aaron hit 253 HR in his first eight seasons; Trout hit 280 (not including the five in his pre-rookie season). In four of those eight seasons, their totals deviated by three or fewer, so they're pretty darn comparable in the power department.
  • Aaron's career: Hank played 15 more seasons after that, mashing 502 additional dingers. The first 12 of those seasons showed no drop-off, as he averaged 38 per year, but in his final three (age 40-42), he averaged just 14.
  • Trout's possible future: Let's assume Trout plays 23 seasons like Hammerin' Hank. If he averages the same 38 HR per year for the next 12 seasons, and the same 14 in his final three, he'd finish with 783 dingers ÔÇö the most all-time.
  • But if we subtract his projected 2020 HR total (46, per Fangraphs), then he's down to 737. Amazing, incredible, and absurd? Yes. New home run king? No.

The bottom line: Ted Williams lost five prime-adjacent years to World War II and Korea, leaving countless accolades on the cutting room floor, and Ken Griffey, Jr., battled injuries through his 30s, depriving him of a real shot at the HR record.

  • If baseball doesn't return until 2021, what will Mike Trout lose?
3. ­čô║ Coronavirus breaks the telecom bundle
Reproduced from Park Associates "Broadband Services in the U.S." report; Note: 2019 survey was conducted in Q3, with 10,059 respondents and a ±1% margin of error; Chart: Axios Visuals

Consumers are adopting stand-alone broadband services at a much higher rate than just two years ago, and analysts predict that the economic downturn prompted by COVID-19 will accelerate the trend, Axios' Sara Fischer and Kim Hart write.

Between the lines: While cord-cutting has stabilized during the pandemic, pay TV services are still being replaced by over-the-top streaming apps, which require strong broadband connections.

  • And with live sports canceled for the foreseeable future, consumers may have less incentive to hang onto their expensive pay TV packages.

What to watch: Over a decade ago, telecom providers started to bundle their services together to increase average revenue per user. A "double-play" bundle often included internet and pay TV like cable or satellite, while a "triple-play" bundle typically included internet, TV and phone service.

  • Now, telecom companies are interested in bundling broadband service with over-the-top video services, but will need to offer a compelling value-add to consumers who are now used to buying services a-la-carte.

Go deeper: Streaming spikes during coronavirus (Axios)

4. ­čŹŻ Tiger enjoys Masters Champions Dinner at home
Screenshot: @TigerWoods (Twitter)

You thought a pandemic was going to stop Tiger Woods from donning his green jacket and hosting a Champions Dinner during Masters week? Think again.

  • "Masters Champions Dinner quarantine style. Nothing better than being with family,'' Woods captioned a photo of himself sitting down to eat with his girlfriend, Erica Herman, his daughter, Sam, and his son, Charlie, at his South Florida home (which appears to have its own backyard practice facility).

How it works: The Champions Dinner is a tradition that began at Augusta National in 1952. Only past Masters champions and the club chairman attend.

  • The dinner is hosted by the defending champion, who picks the menu for the evening.
  • Woods had selected the same menu for this year's dinner as he did in 2006, the last time he won the Masters: steak and fajitas, sushi and sashimi, and milkshakes.

More past menus:

  • Patrick Reed, 2019: Rib eye steak, macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach, creamed corn, chicken, salad, seafood.
  • Danny Willett, 2017: Mini cottage pies (shepherd's pie but with beef not lamb), traditional "Sunday roast" (prime rib, roasted potatoes, vegetables, Yorkshire pudding), apple crumble and vanilla custard.
  • Jordan Spieth, 2016: Salad, Texas barbecue, BBQ baked beans, potato salad, saut├ęed green beans, grilled zucchini, chocolate chip cookie with ice cream.
  • Phil Mickelson, 2011: A Spanish-themed menu with seafood paella and filet mignon as the entrees. Ice cream-topped apple empanada for desert.
  • Mike Weir, 2004: Elk, wild boar, Arctic char (that's a fish), Canadian beer.
  • Vijay Singh, 2001: Chicken panang curry, tom kah, scallops with garlic sauce, rack of lamb, sea bass with chili sauce, lychee sorbet.
5. ÔÜż´ŞĆ Taiwanese baseball will use robot fans
Courtesy: CPBL

The Rakuten Monkeys of the Chinese Professional Baseball League (which is Taiwan) will play games in front of 500 robot mannequins dressed up as fans.

­čöÄ Enhance...

Courtesy: CPBL
6. ­čôÜ Good reads
Photo: Brian Bahr/Getty Images

­čĆł Mike Gundy's pandemic plan is ridiculous (Pat Forde, SI)

"He wants to have his [coaching staff] back to work in the Oklahoma State football facility May 1. Then the players after that. ... This may all come as a bit jarring to the simpletons who run ... the state of Oklahoma, the United States of America and the World Health Organization. Among others. But it's not their fault they lack the foresight of ... Noted Expert Mike Gundy."

­čś× Jesus Christ do I miss sports (Drew Magary, Gen Mag)

"Like most fans, I have circadian rhythms that adhere to the traditional sports calendar. The tourney and the Masters and Opening Day mean spring. The NBA Finals mean June. Football and the World Series mean fall. I need these events to come and go so that my body clock recognizes where the f--k I am in spacetime."

­čÄÖ How sports radio hosts became America's grief counselors (Bryan Curtis, The Ringer)

"Longtime broadcasters like Mike Francesa and Paul Finebaum have shifted their shows to reflect the coronavirus pandemic. And they're making their audiences rethink how they see the world."
7. April 8, 1974: ÔÜż´ŞĆ Hank passes Babe
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

46 years ago today, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth for first on the all-time list.

  • Why it matters: Hammerin' Hank retired two years later with 755, and though Barry Bonds has since passed him (762), many still view Aaron as the rightful leader due to Bonds' PED use.

By the numbers: Legitimate or not, Bonds is indeed the HR king. But the Hammer holds three MLB records regardless.

  • 2,297 RBI: Ruth is in second, with 2,213. Albert Pujols (2,075) actually would have had an outside chance at catching Hank with two years left on his contract, but losing some or all of this season makes that unlikely.
  • 6,856 total bases: Stan Musial is way behind in second, with 6,134. (Pujols is fifth, with 5,863. Pujols is really good!)
  • 25 All-Star appearances: He played 23 seasons, making the team in all but his rookie and final years. But from 1959-62, there were two All-Star Games per season, and he made both squads all four years.

Go deeper:

8. The Ocho: ­čÄ» Darts in the age of coronavirus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Jeff writes: With my weekly darts league on hiatus due to the coronavirus, I bought a board and set it up in my Brooklyn apartment to make sure I don't completely lose my form.

  • But practicing alone, while better than nothing, doesn't come close to approximating the thrill of competition. That's where apps like Dart Connect come into play.

How it works: Most leagues have been using Dart Connect for years as a simple way to keep score digitally. But now it's a lifeline, and it helps make darts one of the only sports we can realistically play in the age of the coronavirus.

  • Simply generate a code, invite a friend to play and enter your scores into the same, online scoreboard. I've even joined an online league using Dart Connect, which just kicked off on Monday.

The big picture: For average Joes like me, a home board and an online scoring system is just a way to keep busy and stay sane while I'm missing my favorite weekly activity. But for pros, it offers something more.

  • In Europe, professional darts players ÔÇö including one former world champion ÔÇö are continuing to compete at home, while filming their shots on a webcam.
  • Their matches can be streamed online and lines are available on some gambling sites, making darts one of the few sports in the world you can currently bet on.
9. ÔÜż´ŞĆ MLB trivia
Photo: Focus on Sport via Getty Images
  • Question: Who was in the on deck circle when Hank Aaron hit his 715th HR to break Babe Ruth's record?
  • Hint: Currently manages an AL team.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ÔŁĄ´ŞĆ Why sports matter
Kelly Smith and her dad, Gary, at Game 1 of the 2016 World Series. Courtesy: Kyle Smith

ÔťŹ´ŞĆ Submit your story: What's your fondest sports memory? Maybe it's a moment you shared with your mom or dad. Maybe you witnessed history. Maybe you finally saw your team win the big game. Could be anything!

  • Reply to this email letting me know and I'll start sharing your stories. If we can't have sports, we can at least try to conjure up the wonderful emotions that they give us.

Today's feature: Reader Kyle Smith took his sister's essay about their dad's love for the Cleveland Indians and turned it into a heartwarming video.

"My dad never saw a World Series brought to Cleveland, but I think the Indians gave him some of his greatest happiness, and some of his greatest bonds with his kids. Dad passed away on June 4th, 2017 and he was buried, of course, with a Tribe hat ÔÇö always their biggest fan."

Watch the video.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Love you, dad" Baker

Trivia answer: Dusty Baker