Jul 22, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,451 (<6 mins).

1 big thing: ⚾️ Card collecting world rocked by fraud scandal

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The FBI has launched a criminal investigation into the world of baseball card collecting — one that involves an industry-leading appraisal firm, a well-known memorabilia dealer, and an auction house, WashPost reports.

Details: This scandal began after two online collectors tracked hundreds of cards as they were (1) graded by an appraisal firm, (2) obtained by a "card doctor," (3) altered and resubmitted for a higher grade, and then (4) sold through an auction house.

  • Collectors rely on appraisal firms to determine the condition and market price of cards. The higher the grade, the higher the cards' market value.
  • For his part, the alleged "card doctor" told WashPost that he doesn't alter cards, but rather seeks out cards that he believes were "undergraded" and resubmits them in hopes of better value.

The backdrop: Modern baseball card collecting erupted in the 1990s when appraisal firms began grading cards' conditions on a 1 to 10 scale.

  • This offered collectors an objective measurement of a card's condition for the first time and gave hobbyists an easy way to upgrade their collections: simply purchase a higher-graded card.
  • "That encouraged friendly competition ... and some card connoisseurs began treating their collections as financial assets, similar to stocks, bonds or works of fine art," notes WashPost's Jacob Bogage.

The big picture: Forbes will tell you that, if a decade ago you had put your money in trading cards instead of the stock market, your payoff would be more than twice as big.

  • Yes, but: That fact is based on data generated by the auction house at the heart of the FBI's investigation.
  • And the cards they sold were graded by an appraisal firm that charges customers based on the grades they give their cards rather than a flat-fee, thus incentivizing them to give higher, possibly inaccurate grades.

The bottom line: Card collecting is a hobby — and a billion-dollar industry — built entirely on trust, and this scandal threatens to erode that on the eve of the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago.

"This is a crisis. There's just too much upside to being unethical in this industry. ... This is bad. This is really bad."
— Darren Rovell of the Action Network tells Axios
2. 🏈 The plight of the modern NFL running back

Zeke in a photo so beautiful it looks like a painting. Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

In what is becoming a yearly occurrence, elite running backs — this time the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott and the Chargers' Melvin Gordon — believe they are underpaid and are threatening preseason holdouts if they don't get new deals.

What's happening: As rushing becomes less and less important to winning in the NFL, teams are steadily paying less for RBs, with owners preferring to invest in low-priced specialists instead of one three-down bell cow.

  • By the numbers: The share of average team salary allocated to all rostered RBs fell from 6.8% of spending in 2013 to 4.5% in 2019, according to Over the Cap.
  • Nobody's immune: Last year, Le'Veon Bell did the same thing Gordon and Elliott are doing and ended up sitting out the whole season. He expected to make up his lost wages in free agency but ultimately settled for a contract with a lower annual value than what he was initially offered by Pittsburgh.
  • Fun fact: Emmitt Smith made more money in his career than all but one active RB (Adrian Peterson) despite a salary cap that was roughly $100 million lower than it is now.

The bottom line: "In a sport dedicated to making sure that players have no leverage, the running back may have the least by a wide margin," writes The Ringer's Kevin Clark.

  • "The next few years will tell us a lot about how low the RB market will fall. Kamara, Barkley, Gordon, Elliott, and McCaffrey ... will be looking for big deals, and there are a decent chunk of teams that don't want to hand them out."
3. ⛳️ Shane Lowry dominates Open Championship

Lowry holding the Claret Jug. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Irishman Shane Lowry finished six shots clear of Tommy Fleetwood to win the Open Championship at Northern Ireland's Royal Portrush, the first major victory of the 32-year-old self-taught golfer's career.

Why it matters: "The 148th Open Championship was foreshadowed with ample focus on what divides the people of this island — politics, religion — so it was only appropriate that a man who embodies many of the traits that unite them should emerge [victorious]," writes Golfweek's Eamon Lynch.

  • "Only his exquisite command of a golf ball distinguishes Shane Lowry from any Irishman you'd get from central casting. He is a dry wit, fond of a pint, colorful with his language, devoted to his family and a stranger to the gym."
  • "In a place consumed with identity, he is someone fans can simply relate to."

P.S. ... Brooks Koepka, who finished tied for fourth at six-under, has been sounding off on his peers' slow pace of play all season. Yesterday, he snapped and called out playing partner J.B. Holmes by name:

"When it's your turn to hit, your glove is not on ... That's where the problem lies. He doesn't do anything until it's his turn. That's the frustrating part. But he's not the only one that does it out here."
— Brooks Koepka
4. ⚾️ Baseball HOF opens doors to 2019 class

Harold Baines, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera and Brandy Halladay (l to r). Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

A crowd of 55,000 — the second-largest in the history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony — and 53 previous inductees were on hand to see the Class of 2019 enter Cooperstown's hallowed halls.

  • The 2019 class: Harold Baines, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera and the late Roy Halladay.

What they said: Brandy Halladay spoke for just seven minutes about her late husband, Roy. It was the shortest speech of the day but maybe the most impactful...

"I think that Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect. That we are all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. But with hard work, humility and dedication, imperfect people can still have perfect moments."
5. 🏀 Checking in on the BIG3

Corey Maggette shoots over Joe Johnson. Photo: Jamie Squire/BIG3/Getty Images

When it launched in 2017, the BIG3 seemed like a cute sideshow offering former pros the chance to play in glorified pick-up games.

  • Three years later, the league is still going strong and has carved out a nice little niche thanks to high-quality basketball and former all-world hoopers who genuinely want to win.

How it works: BIG3 basketball is three-on-three hoops played on a half court. Like pickup, if the defense gets a rebound, they must take the ball back behind the three-point line.

  • Each game is played to 50 points, with a win-by-two rule. There are three spots on the floor where shots are worth four points. When a player is fouled, he gets one free throw, worth the number of points that was attempted.
  • Season format: All 12 BIG3 teams (unless they're on a bye week) travel to a new city each weekend. Remaining stops: Salt Lake City, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, New Orleans and Los Angeles.

Standings: Following Power's win over the previously undefeated Triplets on Saturday, there's a three-way tie atop the league:

  • Power (4-1): Corey Maggette, Cuttino Mobley, Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Quentin Richardson, Chris "Birdman" Andersen, Julian Wright, Mychel Thompson (Klay's brother), Ryan Gomes … Coach: Nancy Lieberman
  • Triplets (4-1): Joe Johnson, Al Jefferson, Alan Anderson, Jannero Pargo, Sergerio Gipson, Chris Johnson … Coach: Lisa Leslie
  • Killer 3's (4-1): Stephen Jackson, Eddy Curry, C.J. Watson, Josh Powell, Donte Greene, Franklin Session … Coach: Charles Oakley

More BIG3:

  • MVP: Joe Johnson has dominated, leading the league in points and assists, and ranking second in rebounding. Last year's MVP Corey Maggette and Amare Stoudemire have been balling out, too.
  • High standards: The league recently deactivated big-name players like Lamar Odom, Baron Davis and Jermaine O'Neal for lack of effort/not being healthy.
6. July 22, 1994: 📺 O.J. pleads "100% not guilty"

O.J. Simpson. Photo: Pool/AFP via Getty Images

25 years ago today, O.J. Simpson pleaded "absolutely, 100% not guilty" to the murder of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

  • Details: What followed was one of the most infamous trials in U.S. history. It lasted from Nov. 9, 1994, to Oct. 3, 1995, when Simpson was found not guilty.
  • The big picture: O.J. was, however, found liable for the murders in a civil suit two years later and ordered to pay the survivors $33.5 million. 25 years later, the families have collected less than 1% of that.

Watch: O.J. "Made in America" 30 for 30 series

7. 🥊 Boxing trivia

With his victory over Keith Thurman on Saturday, 40-year-old Manny Pacquiao became the fifth-oldest male boxer to win a world title.

  • Question: Who is the oldest male boxer to win a world title?
  • Hint: It happened in 2011.

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: 🚲 Jumping over the Tour de France

It's happened again — another daredevil mountain biker has jumped over the Tour de France peloton and produced a breathtaking video of it.

Check out: Tour de France standings.

9. 🎥 Highlight zone
Source: NBC Sports/Giphy
  • Best pass: The Premier Lacrosse League held its inaugural All-Star weekend in Los Angeles and league co-founder Paul Rabil capped off the action with an epic pass in last night's All-Star game. Check out the PLL's Twitter page for more highlights.
  • Best goal: Tottenham's Harry Kane scored from the midfield line … in stoppage time … to win the game. Is that good?
  • Best pitch: Rays pitcher Oliver Drake somehow threw a left-handed slider … with his right hand. Physics-defying stuff.
10. 🎬 Now streaming: "All or Nothing," Season 4
Source: Amazon Prime Video

The latest season of "All or Nothing," which takes you inside the Carolina Panthers' 2018–19 campaign, is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

  • 5 second-review: I watched the entire thing yesterday afternoon and regret nothing. Unbelievably good. Big fan of Ron Rivera now.
Kendall Baker

See you tomorrow,

Kendall "Iso Joe's still got it" Baker

Trivia answer: Bernard Hopkins