Jul 24, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

🎉 Happy Friday! Thursday gifted us 1.6 games of baseball and two very different team names, both representing Washington.

Today's word count: 1,655 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚾️ One day down, 65 to go
Nationals players kneel and hold a black ribbon to show support for social justice during a pregame ceremony. Photo: Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Yankees 4, Nationals 1 (six innings) — The season began with some unusual elements — zero fans, Juan Soto sidelined by COVID-19, players kneeling before the anthem — but the game had plenty of normalcy: a gem from Gerrit Cole, double-digit Ks from Max Scherzer, and a moonshot from Giancarlo Stanton.

  • Game MVP: Stanton's 459-foot bomb was the 51st HR of his career that traveled at least 450 feet. Since Stanton debuted in 2010, no other player has even half that many. He went 2-3 with three RBI before a storm halted play in the sixth.
  • 🎥 Watch: Highlights
Dodgers celebrate the win. Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

Dodgers 8, Giants 1 Mookie Betts went 1-for-5 in his L.A. debut, Dustin May became the first Dodgers rookie to start on Opening Day since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 and baseball's most talented team dominated its in-state rivals as cardboard fans looked on.

  • Game MVP: Dodgers second baseman Kike Hernandez homered and drove in five runs while tying his career high with four hits.
  • 🎥 Watch: Highlights
President Trump throws a baseball on the South Lawn of the White House. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The state of play: The postseason has been expanded from 10 to 16 teams, meaning eight of the 15 teams in each league will make the playoffs when the regular season ends on Sept. 27 (65 days from now).

  • The first-round matchups will be best-of-three series with all three games played in the higher seed's ballpark.
  • Things will proceed from there, with the division round a best-of-five, and the league championship series and World Series both best-of-seven.
2. 🏀 The WNBA tips off this weekend
Data: ESPN; Chart: Axios Visuals

The WNBA season tips off tomorrow at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, which has been turned into the same type of bubble environment that the NBA and MLS have created at Walt Disney World, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

  • Tomorrow's triple-header begins at 12pm ET with Sue Bird (No. 1 pick in 2002) and the Seattle Storm taking on Sabrina Ionescu (No. 1 pick in 2020) and the New York Liberty.
  • Teams will play 22 games (two games against each team), which is down from the typical 34. The regular season ends Sept. 12 and will be followed by an eight-team playoff.

Top 3 teams:

  • Seattle Storm: The 2018 champs took a step back last year when Bird and 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart missed the season with injuries. Both players are healthy now, and they headline a star-studded Storm roster that also features reigning DPOY Natasha Howard and two-time All-Star Jewell Lloyd.
  • Washington Mystics: The reigning champs will be without Elena Delle Donne (reigning MVP) and Tina Charles (2012 MVP), with both opting out for medical reasons. That puts much of the burden on 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, as the Mystics look to repeat.
  • Minnesota Lynx: The best of the WNBA's middle class, Minnesota is one of seven teams projected by ESPN to win 11-12 games. They'll be without Maya Moore for the second straight year, but reigning ROY Napheesa Collier and star center Sylvia Fowles should have the Lynx purring out of the gate.

What to watch: Like the NBA, the WNBA is in the midst of a three-point revolution. Last season, 29.2% of shot attempts were threes, up from 21.2% in 2014.

Go deeper:

3. 📺 This weekend is jam-packed with sports...
Giphy

All times ET.

Friday
  • ⚾️ MLB: Braves at Mets (4pm, ESPN); Brewers at Cubs (7pm, ESPN); Angels at Athletics (10pm, ESPN). Plus 11 more games.
  • 🏀 NBA scrimmages: Grizzlies vs. 76ers (3:30pm); Thunder vs. Celtics (5pm); Rockets vs. Raptors (7:30pm).
Saturday
  • 🏀 WNBA opening night: Storm vs. Liberty (12pm, ESPN); Sparks vs. Mercury (3pm, ABC); Fever vs. Mystics (5pm, CBSSN).
  • ⚾️ MLB: Brewers at Cubs (1pm, Fox); Giants at Dodgers (4pm, Fox); Yankees at Nationals (7pm, Fox). Plus 12 more games.
  • ⚽️ MLS knockout stage: Orlando City vs. Montreal Impact (8pm, ESPN2); Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution (10:30pm, ESPN2).
  • 🏀 NBA scrimmages: Lakers vs. Magic (12pm); Bucks vs. Kings (12:30pm); Heat vs. Jazz (4pm); Nets vs. Spurs (4:30pm); Clippers vs. Wizards (8pm); Nuggets vs. Pelicans (8:30pm).
  • 🥍 PLL opening day: Redwoods vs. Whipsnakes (4pm, NBC); Chaos vs. Chrome (7:30pm, NBCSN)
Sunday
  • ⚽️ NWSL Challenge Cup Final: Houston Dash vs. Chicago Red Stars (12:30pm, CBS).
  • 🏀 WNBA: Sun vs. Lynx (12pm, ESPN); Sky vs. Aces (3pm, ABC); Wings vs. Dream (5pm, CBSSN).
  • ⚽️ Premier League: Two Champions League berths and two relegation spots will be decided in a two-hour window, when the 10 simultaneous season finales take place (11am).
  • ⚾️ MLB: Yankees at Nationals (1pm, TBS); Braves at Mets (7pm, ESPN); Giants at Dodgers (10pm, ESPN). Plus 12 more games.
  • ⚽️ MLS knockout stage: Toronto vs. NYC FC (8:30pm, FS1); Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (11pm, FS1).
  • 🏀 NBA scrimmages: 76ers vs. Thunder (12pm); Suns vs. Celtics (1:30pm); Pacers vs. Mavericks (4pm); Blazers vs. Raptors (6pm); Rockets vs. Grizzlies (8pm).
  • ⛳️ Final round of 3M Open: Richy Werenski (-8) leads after one round at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota.
  • 🥍 PLL: Waterdogs vs. Atlas (4pm, NBC)
4. 😷 But things are still very weird...

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

🥇 The 2020 Summer Olympics were supposed to start today. Instead, they will start a year from yesterday (July 23, 2021). Maybe.

Screenshot: @WashingtonNFL (Twitter)

🏈 The football team in Washington will play 2020 as the Washington Football Team. Their previous helmet logo will be replaced by the players' numbers in gold.

Mike Tyson in 1989. Photo: Focus on Sport via Getty Images

🥊 54-year-old Mike Tyson will fight 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr. in an eight-round exhibition next month, available on pay-per-view.

5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 8)
Expand chart
Player data: Basketball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

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

8. Miami Heat

They might not have won three, four, five ... championships, but two titles and four straight Finals trips for Miami's Big Three was quite an accomplishment nonetheless. Long live "The Heatles."

  • Year established: 1988
  • All-time record: 1,335-1,224 (.522)
  • NBA Championships: 3
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 2

Starters:

  • Tim Hardaway, G (17.3 pts, 3.2 reb, 7.8 ast, 19.0 PER/44.1 WS)
  • Dwyane Wade, G (22.7 pts, 4.7 reb, 5.6 ast, 24.0 PER/116.1 WS)
  • LeBron James, F (26.9 pts, 7.6 reb, 6.7 ast, 29.6 PER/65.3 WS)
  • Chris Bosh, F (18.0 pts, 7.3 reb, 1.8 ast, 19.5 PER/44.2 WS)
  • Alonzo Mourning*, C (16.0 pts, 8.1 reb, 2.7 blk, 21.7 PER/64.9 WS)

Sixth man: Shaquille O'Neal*, C (19.6 pts, 9.1 reb, 2.1 ast, 23.9 PER/21.1 WS)

Bench:

  • Glen Rice, F (19.3 pts, 4.9 reb, 2.2 ast, 16.2 PER/40.2 WS)
  • Rony Seikaly, C (15.4 pts, 10.4 reb, 1.4 blk, 15.8 PER/25.1 WS)
  • Eddie Jones, G (16.0 pts, 4.5 reb, 3.0 ast, 16.7 PER/44.5 WS)
  • Udonis Haslem, F (7.6 pts, 6.7 reb, 0.9 ast, 13.0 PER/50.7 WS)
  • Grant Long, F (11.6 pts, 7.0 reb, 2.1 ast, 13.8 PER/31.6 WS)
  • Mario Chalmers, G (8.8 pts, 2.4 reb, 3.8 ast, 12.4 PER/28.0 WS)

Notes:

  • Wade's pre-Big Three years had better never get lost to history. From 2003 to 2010, only four players had even one season of 24/5/6 — Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant had one each, Wade had three and LeBron James had six.
  • James averaged at least 25 points on 51% shooting in each of his four seasons with Miami. The rest of the NBA combined for just one such season over that span (Kevin Durant, 2013).

ICYMI ... 30. Grizzlies, 29. Timberwolves, 28. Hornets, 27. Raptors, 26. Pelicans, 25. Pacers, 24. Clippers, 23. Mavericks, 22. Nets, 21. Cavaliers, 20. Bucks, 19. Hawks, 18. Wizards, 17. Suns, 16. Kings, 15. Magic, 14. Nuggets, 13. Trail Blazers, 12. Rockets, 11. Knicks, 10. Thunder, 9. Jazz

Stats, explained: Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a measure of a player's per-minute productivity (20+ is elite); Win Shares (WS) attempts to divvy up individual credit for team success (6 per season is elite).

6. July 24, 1983: ⚾️ The Pine Tar Incident
Photo: Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images

37 years ago today, George Brett unleashed one of baseball's most memorable tirades after being ruled out for having too much pine tar on his bat.

What happened: The Royals were trailing the Yankees, 4-3, with two outs in the ninth inning when Brett came to the plate and hit a two-run HR off fellow future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, giving Kansas City a 5-4 lead. Or so it seemed.

  • After examining the bat, home-plate umpire Tim McClelland ruled that Brett used excessive pine tar and called him out, overturning the home run and ending the game.
"We kid about it all the time. In my 30 years of umpiring, George Brett has been the best player toward umpires. ... I tell people at roasts that I'm 6' 6" and 250 pounds, wearing protective gear and holding a bat. How stupid was he to come out after me? Now George uses that line in his talks. I should collect royalties."
— McClelland

The aftermath: The Royals protested the game, and it became one of just 15 successful protests in MLB history. On Aug. 25, play resumed from the point of Brett's HR, and the Yankees went quietly in the bottom of the ninth, losing 5-4.

Go deeper: An oral history of the most controversial home run ever hit (SI)

7. 📚 Good reads

Illustration: Martio Paulis/Sportico

🖥 An oral history of Quokka, the company that (almost) shook up sports (Jacob Feldman, Sportico)

"Dick Ebersol pulled me aside. He said, 'You know, your vision is correct, but my job is to make sure it doesn't happen until I retire.' As I learned more about the industry and the billions of dollars that flow through it, I understood that you just don't mess with the cash."

⚽️ Liverpool's unrelenting dominance leads to a new challenge: Reinvention (Musa Okwonga, The Ringer)

"Jürgen Klopp succeeded in crafting Liverpool into a European and Premier League champion. Now he faces the challenge of maintaining that position."

🥇 At the Olympics in bombed-out London, she forever changed women's sports (Jeré Longman, NYT)

"The 1948 Summer Games, the first held after the war, were a celebration of improvisation, renewal and change, embodied in a Dutch track star named Fanny Blankers-Koen."
8. The Ocho: 💨 Wingsuit flying in Utah
Source: GoPro (YouTube)

Insane.

9. 🏒 Team name trivia
Source: @NHLSeattle_ (Twitter)

The NHL's Seattle Kraken will be the 10th franchise in the major four American sports leagues (NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB) whose name doesn't end in "S."

  • Question: Can you name the other nine?
  • Hint: One league doesn't have any.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
The opening ceremony for the 1984 Olympics at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Photo: Tony Duffy/Allsport/Getty Images

Brent C. (Princeton, N.J.) writes:

"In 1984, when I was eight years old, the Olympics came to America. And even though a continent separated me from the City of Angels, I was lucky to take in a slice of the action.
"Through an odd bit of logistical necessity, opening rounds of the Olympic soccer tournament are often held outside the host city, with towns across the country serving as mini-Olympic satellites.
"In 1984, one of those locations was Annapolis, Maryland, just up the road from where we lived. And thanks to my Dad, and a couple other soccer parents, I got to attend a match between Chile and Qatar.
Brent's Chile vs. Qatar game ticket. Photo: Brent C.
"My memory of that day is still so vivid. I remember there was a little Olympic flame, and that we stood for both national anthems. I remember the Olympic rings on the ticket, which I still have.
"I remember the adults arguing over how to pronounce Qatar. I remember most of the kids were my older brother's age, and that I tried to act cool around them. I remember getting hot dogs.
"I also remember, for the first time, seeing grown men compete in the game I loved to play on Saturday mornings.
"It's hard to believe now, but this was decades before international matches were consistently on cable. The U.S. was still six years away from qualifying for Italy '90, and MLS wasn't even a glint in someone's eye.
American fan at the 1984 Olympics. Photo: David Cannon/Allsport//Getty Images
"In the decades since, I've been blessed to see some amazing athletic events and moments — ones that rank way higher in the world of sports than an international soccer game from 1984 that didn't even involve my country.
"But I love the memories of that game. It showed me that soccer wasn't just for kids, that it could be a spectator sport, too — a revelation that hooked me on the game. And it cemented my life-long love of the Olympics.
"That meaningless soccer match has cast a far longer shadow on my life than any World Series game or March Madness nail-biter. And I'm grateful for the special place it holds in my heart."

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

Kendall Baker

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "I missed looking at baseball box scores" Baker

Trivia answer: Avalanche, Lightning, Wild, Heat, Jazz, Magic, Thunder, Red Sox, White Sox