Jun 15, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Happy Monday! MLB negotiations have reached a boiling point, and a 50-game season — once considered a worst-case scenario — now appears inevitable. Owners have a conference call today to discuss next steps. We'll go deeper in tomorrow's newsletter.

  • In less depressing baseball news, we've entered the final three of our all-time MLB roster countdown. Scroll down to see who took bronze.

Today's word count: 1,711 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏀 NBA players divided on resuming season

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The NBA's ambitious plan to resume the season at Walt Disney World hit an impasse over the weekend, with the two crises that have shaken the U.S. — the pandemic and the protests — causing division amongst the ranks.

The state of play: Last week, the NBA's board of governors approved the league's return-to-play plan, followed by the NBA players' association one day later.

  • But a closer look at the NBPA statement shows that the vote was merely an approval of further negotiations and that "various details" still needed to be worked out, notes The Ringer's Paolo Uggetti.
  • Now that we've arrived at those various details, a number of players have begun asking themselves: do we actually want to participate in this?

What they're saying: Players have expressed multiple concerns, ranging from visitor policies to Disney staff protocols to Florida's record levels of new COVID-19 cases. But the main issue for some is that a return to play would distract from the nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism.

  • Kyrie Irving hosted a Zoom meeting on Friday with over 80 players to discuss the matter. "I'm willing to give up everything I have [for social reform]," he reportedly said on the call.
  • "Once we start playing basketball again, the news will turn from systemic racism to 'who did what' in the game last night," one anonymous player told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The other side: While some believe playing basketball would detract from the Black Lives Matter movement, others — including LeBron James — believe it would provide them with a megaphone to promote their message.

  • "[LeBron] wants to keep making his mark off the court. He wants to play basketball. And as has always been the case, he clearly believes he can do both at the same time," writes The Athletic's Sam Amick, citing sources close to James (subscription).
  • "We can do both. We can play and we can help change the way black lives are lived," Rockets guard Austin Rivers wrote on Instagram. "But canceling or boycotting [a] return doesn't do that in my opinion."

The bottom line: Would playing basketball take attention away from the more important issues at hand in this country? Or would it provide some of the world's most popular athletes with a platform to inspire change? The fate of the 2020-21 NBA season may depend on the answer to that question.

My take: Given the unprecedented nature of this plan (the NBA quarantining at Disney World?!?!) and how fast everything is moving with the coronavirus and the protests, of course there's disagreement among players. It would be weird if there wasn't.

2. 🏟 Sports! With actual fans!!
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — New Zealand's Super Rugby league returned without crowd restrictions over the weekend, and 41,000 unmasked fans showed up to watch the Blues beat the Hurricanes, 30-20.

Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Youngsters hung around after the match to meet two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, Beauden Barrett, who made his debut for the Blues after spending the last nine seasons with the Hurricanes.

Photo: Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

BELGRADE, Serbia — World No. 3 Dominic Thiem (third from right) beat No. 32-ranked Filip Krajinović (center) to win the first leg of the Adria Tour charity exhibition, which was hosted by Novak Djokovic and held in front of a full crowd.

3. 🇪🇸 The pandemic could kill bullfighting

A bullfight in Barcelona. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has affected sports across the globe, and in Spain, it could wipe out the age-old sport of bullfighting altogether, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

Why it matters: For years, an increasingly vocal contingent of Spaniards have been pushing for the end of what they see as "torturing animals as a form of spectacle." Now, the economics are such that the bullfighting industry could die out regardless of the opposition.

The backdrop: As countless fights and festivals were canceled, many breeders were forced to sell their bulls for slaughter, which only recoups about 10% of the investment required to rear a fighting bull.

  • With that math failing to add up — a month ago, industry losses were already estimated to be ~$800 million — bullfighting supporters have staged protests across the country to demand government subsidies.
  • "We want them to treat us as they would any other cultural industry," said breeder Victorino Martín, who also heads the Fundación del Toro de Lidia, a group charged with defending the industry.

The other side: Over 160,000 people have signed a petition aiming to block any subsidies, hoping the pandemic can serve as a form of natural selection for an industry they've tried to squash for decades.

The big picture: Spain officially began reopening bullfighting rings over the weekend, but it remains to be seen what the long-term fallout of the past three months will be.

  • The industry is still furious over the government's lack of financial support, and the restrictions in place as the country tries to responsibly reopen will make it impossible for them to meaningfully recoup what's already been lost.
  • Meanwhile, those who oppose bullfighting see a unique opportunity to rid Spain of something they view as a "national shame" and a "barbaric cruelty."

The bottom line: The centuries-old tradition of bullfighting may need to find a way to evolve with the times, or else it could meet the same fate as the nearly 10,000 bulls each year that die in the ring.

4. 📸 Weekend in photos
Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

FORT WORTH, Texas — Daniel Berger (left) beat Collin Morikawa in a playoff to win the Charles Schwab Challenge. Sunday's final round was his 28th straight round of par or better, the longest active streak on the PGA Tour.

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson became the latest football team to organize a peaceful protest, leading thousands in a two-mile "March For Change" through campus.

Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Denny Hamlin and his pit crew won the rain-delayed Dixie Vodka 400 on Sunday night, as Hamlin became the 20th driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to reach 40 career wins.

5. ⚾️ Ranking MLB's all-time rosters (No. 3)
Expand chart
Player data: Baseball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

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

3. San Francisco Giants

Only 32 players in MLB history have amassed at least 100 WAR across their entire career, and just 15 have done so on a single team. Four of those 15 are below — more than any other team.

  • Year established: 1883 (as the New York Gothams)
  • All-time record: 11,165-9,687 (.535)
  • World Series Championships: 8
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 14

Starting lineup:

  1. SS George Davis* (44.5 bWAR with team)
  2. OF Mel Ott* (110.7)
  3. OF Willie Mays* (154.6)
  4. OF Barry Bonds (112.5)
  5. 1B Willie McCovey* (59.4)
  6. DH Orlando Cepeda* (30.3)
  7. C Buster Posey (41.8)
  8. 2B Jeff Kent (31.6)
  9. 3B Frankie Frisch* (37.6)

On the mound: SP Christy Mathewson* (106.3)

Bench:

  • Infield: 1B Roger Connor* (59), 2B Larry Doyle (42.8), 3B Matt Williams (34.1), SS Travis Jackson* (43.7), C Buck Ewing* (32.2)
  • Outfield: Bobby Bonds (38.1), Mike Tiernan (41.5)
  • Utility: Will Clark (35.8), Amos Rusie* (67.4)
  • Rotation: Carl Hubbell* (68.2), Juan Marichal* (63.5), Madison Bumgarner (36.8), Gaylord Perry* (37)
  • Bullpen: Robb Nen (10.4), Gary Lavelle (18.6), Rod Beck (7.1)

Additional notes:

  • Barry Bonds holds the record for most HR (762), BB (2,558), IBB (688) and MVPs (7).
  • Mays is Barry Bonds' godfather, while Bobby is, of course, Barry's father. Quite the family affair.
  • McCovey's lefty power was so prodigious that when the Giants moved to Pac Bell Park (now Oracle) in 2000, two sportswriters coined the term McCovey Cove for the area of the San Francisco Bay beyond right field, where he surely would have splashed countless homers.

ICYMI ... 30. Rays, 29. Royals, 28. Diamondbacks, 27. Blue Jays, 26. Angels, 25. Padres, 24. Rockies, 23. Brewers; 22. Nationals, 21. Mets, 20. Orioles, 19. Twins, 18. Astros, 17. Marlins, 16. White Sox, 15. Athletics, 14. Phillies, 13. Braves, 12. Pirates, 11. Mariners, 10. Rangers, 9. Cardinals, 8. Dodgers, 7. Indians, 6. Cubs, 5. Reds, 4. Tigers

Huge thanks to Tom Stone, whose book "Now Taking the Field: Baseball's All-Time Dream Teams for All 30 Franchises," provided the inspiration for these rosters.

6. June 15, 1938: ⚾️ Back-to-back no-hitters
Johnny Vander Meer. Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

82 years ago today, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer tossed his second consecutive no-hitter in the first-ever night game at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.

  • On June 11, Vander Meer spun his first career no-hitter in a 3-0 win at home against the Boston Bees (now the Atlanta Braves).
  • Just four days later, under the lights in Brooklyn, he did it again, striking out seven Dodgers — and walking eight! — in a 6-0 victory for the record books.

Why it matters: Vander Meer remains the only pitcher to throw consecutive no-hitters. He was also the first to throw two in the same season — something only five others have accomplished since: Allie Reynolds (1951), Virgil Trucks (1952), Nolan Ryan (1973), Roy Halladay (2010) and Max Scherzer (2015).

The backdrop: To maximize excitement for Brooklyn's first night game, Dodgers president Larry MacPhail arranged for 1936 Olympic hero Jesse Owens to race players on the field before the game and announced that Babe Ruth, in attendance, had signed a contract to become their first base coach.

Go deeper: Bright night in Brooklyn (SI Vault)

7. 📚 Good reads

Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images

🏀 Maya Moore gave up more to fight for social justice than almost any athlete (Chris Herring and Neil Paine, FiveThirtyEight)

"If you throw out players who burned brightly but retired prematurely due to injury, the list of Moore-like comparisons is quite short. Even shorter is the list of truly great players who left a career behind because they believed in something bigger than the sport."

🎓 Inside the sophisticated campaign to save men's running at Brown (Alan Blinder and Talya Minsberg, NYT)

"Men's cross-country and track and field were demoted at one of America's most prestigious universities, until they weren't. But this is no blueprint for other canceled teams."

⚾️ Proof 'buried treasures still exist': The amazing baseball card collection of 'Uncle Jimmy' (Alden Gonzalez, ESPN)

"Shortly after his death, his nieces and nephews ventured into Micioni's attic and found binders separated by decade and packed with autographs, including six Ruth cards [which are] worth up to $1 million."
8. The Ocho: ❄️ Snow kayaking
Source: KayakSessionTV (YouTube)

Snow kayaking has been around officially since 2002, when the first race took place in Lienz, Austria.

  • Though it hasn't joined the mainstream, Lienz hosted the first "world championship" in 2007, and Red Bull has also run events elsewhere in Europe.

🎥 Go deeper: Turns out, if you have a kayak, all you need is a little imagination to use it anywhere but the water.

9. 🏀 NBA trivia

Photo: Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

When the NBA season hit pause, LeBron James was the league leader in assists per game with 10.6.

  • Question: Who was second with 9.3?
  • Hint: Eastern Conference.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Josh watching his home run. Courtesy: Kathleen C.

Kathleen C. (Syracuse, N.Y.) writes:

"With the airing of 'Long Gone Summer,' many spent the weekend remembering the 1998 home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire. But I spent it remembering how my three-year-old son Josh surpassed them both.
"Early that summer, my husband set up bases in our backyard, with home plate facing a fence about 20 feet away. Sometimes he'd pitch to Josh, and other times Josh would set up his Wiffle ball on a tee and hit by himself.
"He would get so excited when he got a hit and could run to first base, so you can imagine his excitement when he learned that if he hit it over the fence, he could run around all the bases back to home!
"By June, Sosa and McGuire's battle had caught our attention, and Josh decided he would join the race. So we began keeping count of his home runs over that backyard fence.
"Each morning when he got up, he would ask 'how many home runs did Sammy and Mark hit?' before heading outside to regain his lead over them.
"The record books will remember McGuire's total of 70, along with Sosa's 66. But we will always remember the summer of 1998 as the time Josh hit 78 over that backyard fence and ran the bases with unbounded joy each and every time."
Josh celebrating his home run. Courtesy: Kathleen C.

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

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Josh is what sports is all about" Baker

Trivia answer: Trae Young