May 23, 2019

Axios Sports

👋 Good morning! Today's word count: 1,225 (~5 mins).

  • Pray for Baltimore: The Orioles might want to file a restraining order against Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres, who now has 10 home runs against them this year. It's May 23. 10 home runs. 10!!!
1 big thing: ⚾️ The robo umps are coming

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

An electronic radar system called TrackMan will soon be calling balls and strikes in the Atlantic League, an independent East Coast league that has emerged as MLB's testing ground for new rules and equipment initiatives.

Driving the news: The first step in this adventure began last Thursday at parks in Bridgewater, N.J. (Somerset Patriots) and New Britain, Conn. (New Britain Bees).

  • In a simple test to make sure that TrackMan data could be successfully transmitted and understood, home plate umpires were fitted with earpieces that relayed calls to them one-tenth of a second after the ball crossed the plate.
  • The umpires were told to still call "their" strike zone, leading to some confusion when their call didn't match Trackman's. When this goes live next month, they'll be going with whatever TrackMan says.

The intrigue: Major League Baseball will be watching this experiment closely. A few things they'll be looking for:

  • How will hitters react when a pitch they think is a ball is called a strike by TrackMan? And how will pitchers react when the opposite is true?
  • How easily can the zone can be adjusted so that it's accurate from batter to batter, depending on their height and batting stance?
  • And most importantly, will umpires be invested enough in each pitch to fill the still-important role of calling things like checked swings and managing the flow of the game?

The big picture: In a world of instant replays and booth reviews, it's not hard to imagine MLB eventually going this route. Should that day come, consider its impact on umpires and catchers, in particular:

  • Umpires: On one hand, they might be paid less as a result of their jobs becoming easier. Then again, maybe they wouldn't be — all while never having to be yelled at again.
  • Catchers: "Framing" (getting borderline pitches called for strikes) has become one of baseball's most highly coveted skills. TrackMan would make it a complete non-factor overnight.

Go deeper: Umpires get worse with age

2. 📱 Opendorse helps athletes share content

Courtesy: Opendorse

Sports business spotlight: On Monday, we covered Fanatics. On Tuesday, we covered Nasdaq. Yesterday, we previewed the Sports Business Awards. Today: Opendorse.

Founded by ex-Nebraska football players Blake Lawrence and Adi Kunalic, Opendorse is a platform that helps universities, leagues, teams, agencies and sponsors distribute social media content.

How it works: Let's say Alabama's social team takes photos at a game and wants to send them to players, coaches and alumni to share on their social channels.

  • Instead of distributing the content via email or some unorganized process, they would upload it to Opendorse. Within seconds, everyone receives a message that a social post is ready to approve or edit. One click later, it's posted.
  • This helps Alabama reach a wider audience, while helping the players grow their own brands with very minimal effort required. Everybody wins.
  • You can imagine this same kind of interaction happening between, say, Coca-Cola and an NBA star. Or the NFL Players Association and its members.

The big picture: While college athletes can't be compensated now, they can ensure that they're compensated later by building strong social followings during their time on campus.

  • Baltimore Ravens rookie WR Marquise Brown, for instance, can command exponentially more money from sponsors than his fellow rookies because of the following he built at Oklahoma — one of Opendorse's partners.
3. 🏈 NFL to study weed as pain management tool

Chris Long. Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the NFL finally took its first step toward treating marijuana as a pain management tool, rather than a suspension-worthy drug.

Driving the news: The NFL and the NFL Players Association have formed two committees to review the league's use of prescription pain relievers while also researching marijuana and other "alternative therapies."

What they're saying: Recently retired defensive lineman Chris Long discussed his marijuana use during his NFL career on the "Dan Patrick Show" yesterday.

  • "I certainly enjoyed my fair share on a regular basis through my career. ... If not for [marijuana], I'm not as capable of coping with the stresses of day-to-day NFL life."
  • "We should be headed to a place where we allow players to enjoy what I would not even call a drug. ... We wag our finger when we hear about a guy getting in a fight or getting a DUI. You're never going to read about him sitting on the couch and binge-watching 'Game of Thrones' again."

Go deeper: Where every major sports league stands on weed

4. 🏀 Michigan embraces past, hires Howard

Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Michigan has hired Miami Heat assistant and former Fab Five member Juwan Howard as its next head coach.

  • Why it matters: Ever since the NCAA vacated both Final Four runs due to players receiving loans from a booster, Michigan has distanced itself from its Fab Five era. This hire could help repair those wounds.
  • The bottom line: "Howard ... represents a mind-set that took Michigan 25 years to hit upon: It is OK to acknowledge that the coolest thing ever to happen to Michigan basketball was, in fact, cool," writes The Ringer's Rodger Sherman.

P.S. ... Speaking of 1990s NBA All-Stars returning to coach their alma maters, Penny Hardaway has built the country's next freshmen superteam at Memphis.

  • 2019 class: James Wiseman (No. 1 overall recruit), Precious Achiuwa (No. 14), Rejean Ellis (No. 37), D.J. Jeffries (N0. 48), Lester Quinones (No. 56), Malcolm Dandridge (No. 98), Damion Baugh (No. 108).
5. ⚽️ TIME cover out today
Courtesy: TIME

Ahead of next month’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, TIME's Sean Gregory interviews American star Alex Morgan:

"Morgan is the sport's most marketable American star since Mia Hamm and the linchpin of Team USA's bid to clinch a second consecutive World Cup title this summer. ... But the team's success highlights glaring inequities. Despite the popularity of the women's team, the men are positioned to make substantially more money."
6. 🏔 May 23, 2001: Snowboarder descends Everest

Photo: Godon/UIG via Getty Images

18 years ago today, France's Marco Siffredi became the first person to snowboard down Mount Everest via the Norton Couloir — the steep gorge on the mountain's north face.

  • Details: Siffredi's initial plan was to descend down the Hornbein Couloir, but there wasn't enough snow. As a backup plan, he boarded nearly 8,000 vertical feet down the Norton Couloir on a 45-degree slope.
  • Tragically, a year later Siffredi disappeared on the mountain after attempting a second descent on the Hornbein Couloir and was pronounced dead.

Go deeper: The disappearance of Marco Siffredi

7. 🏆 Championship trivia

The Texas Longhorns just captured their first men's tennis title (months after their coach was arrested in the admissions scandal), giving the school 47 championships across all men's and women's team sports.

  • Question: Only five Division I schools have won more than that. Can you name all five?
  • Hint: Three are in the Pac-12, one is in the Big 12 and one is in the Big Ten.

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: 🤾‍♂️ Tchoukball


Tchoukball is a team sport developed in the 1970s by a Swiss biologist that combines handball with ... mini trampolines.

  • How to play: At each end of the court, there is a "frame" (basically a tiny trampoline) with a D-shaped forbidden zone around it. To score a point, the ball must be thrown off the frame and bounce outside the "D" without being caught by the opposing team.
  • Rules: Teams (consisting of seven players each) can score on both ends, physical contact is prohibited, players must get rid of the ball after taking three steps or holding it for three seconds and teams are limited to three passes before shooting.

🎥 Watch: European Cup highlights

9. Reader spotlight: Nick Mastas

Want the chance to be featured in the newsletter? Invite one friend to Axios Sports by using your unique referral link.

  • Name: Nick Mastas
  • City: Washington, D.C.
  • Job: Marketing Coordinator at Monumental Sports & Entertainment
  • Favorite team: Washington Capitals
  • Favorite athlete: Kevin Garnett
  • Favorite sports movie: "The Fighter"
  • Favorite sports social media follow: @BarstoolBigCat
  • Favorite song: "Going Bad" by Meek Mill
  • Favorite sports memory: The Capitals winning the Stanley Cup last year. Ovi's parade speech was legendary.
  • Where/when do you read Axios Sports? First thing in the morning when I get to the office.
10. 🎰 Make your picks!

Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Axios Pick 3 is powered by The Action Network, your one-stop shop for all things sports betting. Check out their betting guide for Bucks vs. Raptors.

  • Question 1: 🏀 Will the Bucks (-7) cover the spread at home against the Raptors?
  • Question 2: 🏀 Will Bucks-Raptors go over or under 217 points?
  • Question 3: 🏀 How many points will Kawhi Leonard score?

🎰 Play now: Make your picks (cutoff time: 8:30pm ET)

Yesterday's results: 43% said the Mets would beat the Nationals … 66% said Gerrit Cole would record under 9.5 strikeouts (he had 7) … 19% said the Yankees and Red Sox would combine for 12-13 runs.

  • 14 players nailed all three: Laura Coburn (Summit, N.J.); Mike McDonald (Charlotte, N.C.); Michael Kanick (Silver Spring, Md.); Josh Huddleston (New Orleans); Colton Jenkins (Valdosta, Ga.); Joe Brunk (Raleigh, N.C.); Brian McKellar (West Chester, Pa.); Dan G. (Jersey City, N.J.); Patrick Jones (Chicago); Khalil Saliba (Lewes, Del.); Tyler B. (Phoenix); Dan Froehlich (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Matt K. (Long Island, N.Y.); Tim Skinner (Arcadia, Calif.)
  • Winning streak: Mr. Skinner is on a two-day winning streak. Tim, email me! Got something for you, legend.

See you tomorrow,

Kendall "TEN HOME RUNS" Baker

Trivia answer: Stanford (122), UCLA (117), USC (107), Oklahoma State (52), Penn State (51) ... Full list