Apr 22, 2020

Axios Sports

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Word count: 1,561 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏈 Gronk is headed to Tompa Bay

Photo: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Future Hall of Fame TE Rob Gronkowski, who left the NFL after the 2018 season but didn't officially retire, has been traded by the Patriots to the Buccaneers, where he will be reunited with longtime QB and close friend Tom Brady.

  • The trade: The Patriots will send Gronkowski and a seventh-round 2020 NFL draft pick (241st overall) to the Buccaneers in exchange for a fourth-round 2020 draft pick (139th overall).
  • The odds: In early February, the Buccaneers had 50-1 odds to win the Super Bowl (22nd-best in the NFL). After signing Brady, those odds skyrocketed to 22-1 (tied for 9th-best). After signing Gronk, they jumped to 14-1 (tied for 5th-best), per Caesars Sportsbook.
  • The tweet: "Gronk didn't retire from football. He retired from Belichick." (@RossTuckerNFL)

The big picture: Gronk's decision to unretire and join Tom in Tampa Bay isn't all that shocking. After all, he quit football at the unusually young age of 29, spent the last year half-teasing at a return and has always said he never wants to play with another QB.

  • That doesn't make it any less weird, though, now that it actually happened. And it will forever change the dynamic between Belichick, Brady and Gronkowski — the three most important players on arguably the greatest dynasty in the history of sports.
  • When Tom left New England, it felt like the end of a chapter in a book and the start of new one. Gronk joining him feels like a bonus chapter that the author threw in purely for the reader's entertainment — assuming, of course, the reader is not from Boston.

Between the lines: Before you start roasting the nearest Patriots fan, understand one thing: this is ultimately a gift.

  • Sure, it's going to be painful having to watch two franchise legends take the field in new Bucs threads, but Gronk was never going to come back to the Patriots, and this was the last year they held his rights (and thus, could get something in return for him).

In other words ... Belichick just turned a wrestler into a fourth-round pick, two days before the Patriots' most important draft in decades. Bill, your thoughts?


Go deeper: The top 10 NFL QB-pass catching duos of the 21st century (The Ringer)

Bonus: 📸 Gronk's last play as a Patriot
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Gronk saved his greatest Patriots moment for last, making six catches for 87 yards in Super Bowl LII against the Rams and hauling in a 29-yard reception in the fourth quarter to set up the go-ahead TD.

2. 🇨🇦 Canada's role in the return of pro sports
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

President Trump has spoken regularly about the return of sports. But in Canada, where large gatherings have been banned through August in much of the country, there's less urgency to bring them back.

Why it matters: Canada is home to 12 franchises that are part of North America's five major sports leagues, all of whom are currently weighing how and when to resume play.

  • NBA (1): Toronto Raptors
  • MLB (1): Toronto Blue Jays
  • MLS (3): Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps
  • NHL (7): Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets

Driving the news: Representatives from all four leagues said they have "open lines of communication" with Canadian officials, but that serious discussions about holding games in Canada have yet to occur, per NYT.

What to watch: Leagues have considered playing games in one centralized location without fans, an idea Anthony Fauci supports and one that would remove any Canadian obstacles.

  • Yes, but: Let's be honest — the "bubble" concept has major holes and is, quite frankly, not even worth taking seriously until a league releases an actual plan for how it would work.
3. ⚾️ Louisville Slugger faces uncertain future
Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Louisville Slugger factory — the oldest bat manufacturer in the world — has temporarily closed due to COVID-19, with 90% of its staff being furloughed and all remaining employees taking a 25% pay cut, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

By the numbers: The factory produces 1.8 million wood bats annually, with pros ordering between 100–120 each season. According to the company, 80% of all batters in the Hall of Fame were under contract with Louisville Slugger.

The origin story: In 1884, 17-year-old Bud Hillerich took a day off work from his father's wood shop to catch a Louisville Eclipse game — the city's major league team.

  • Their star player, Pete Browning, broke his bat in anger amid a slump, so Hillerich asked if he could make a new one to whatever specifications Browning wanted.
  • In his first game with the new bat, Browning knocked three hits and was hooked for life. Browning's nickname? The Louisville Slugger.

The big picture: For decades, just about everyone used Louisville Sluggers. Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter, to name a select and elite few.

  • But these days, though some stars still use them, Louisville Sluggers are hardly the only quality choice.
  • In fact, Louisville Slugger (13.67%) was just the third-most popular bat brand among MLB starters last season, behind Marucci (23.83%) and Victus (18.36%).

The state of play: New contenders often enter an established space to shake things up, and Marucci Sports — which owns both the Marucci and Victus brands — is no different.

  • In 2017, Marucci recognized Victus as a challenger and acquired the upstart brand. Then yesterday, it was announced that Marucci has been acquired for $200 million by a private equity firm.

The bottom line: Louisville Slugger is still the official bat of Major League Baseball, but unlike all uniforms being made by Nike, or all balls being made by Rawlings (which, by the way, MLB owns), players can choose their bat-maker.

  • In the past, that competition played right into Louisville Slugger's hands. But they no longer stand alone at the top of the bat-making industry, and the 135-year-old company now faces its biggest challenge yet.
4. 📸 A world without play

Photos from Mexico City...

Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images
"It's the mathematical potential for a single game to last forever, in a suspended world where no clock rules the day, that aligns baseball as much with the dead as the living."
— Columnist Bill Vaughn
Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images
"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
— Playwright George Bernard Shaw
Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images
"You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy."
— Tennis legend Arthur Ashe
5. 📸 A world without play (cont'd)

More photos from Mexico City because they're just too good...

Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images
"Somewhere behind the athlete you've become, and the hours of practice, and the coaches who have pushed you, is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back. Play for her."
— USWNT star Mia Hamm
Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images
"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct."
— Renowned psychologist Carl Jung
Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images
"Sports do not build character. They reveal it."
— UCLA coach John Wooden
6. April 22, 1906: 🥇 The Intercalated Games
Photo: Getty Images

114 years ago today, the 1906 Intercalated Olympic Games got underway in Athens, Greece.

  • Why it matters: Though 1906 remains the only year the Intercalated Games occurred, their success helped save the struggling modern Olympiad, which had only relaunched 10 years prior.
  • By the numbers: 854 athletes (just six of whom were women!) from 20 countries competed in 12 different sports, including ... tug of war. 236 medals were awarded, with France (40) and Greece (34) leading the way.

Background: The modern Olympics launched in 1896 in Athens, and bolstered by their success, Greece wanted to permanently host the games.

  • IOC founder Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman, rejected this idea (particularly with Paris set to host in 1900), but compromised by allowing Athens to host a separate set of games in the middle of the Olympic cycle, beginning in 1906.
  • The compromise proved fortuitous, as both the 1900 Olympics in Paris and the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis were overshadowed by the respective World's Fairs held concurrently in the same cities.
  • This put even greater importance on the 1906 Games, and their eventual success boosted the rapidly deteriorating public perception of the Olympics.
Photo: Buyenlarge/Getty Images

The big picture: While the IOC no longer recognizes the Intercalated Games as an official Olympics, the events of 1906 live on. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were introduced that year, as was the Olympic Village and the tradition of raising each winner's national flag.

The bottom line: Though Athens wouldn't host again until 2004, if not for these forgotten games of 1906, the Olympics' flame may have extinguished long ago.

The start of the 100 meter sprint at the 1906 Intercalated Games. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

🎥 Travel back in time.

7. 🏈 Top 10 NFL players
Screenshot: @TheHerd (Twitter)

Colin Cowherd named his top 10 NFL players yesterday, and it's a strange list. Probably because it was designed in a lab to stoke debate on Twitter and get that sweet, sweet social media engagement. Anyway, here are our top 10 lists.

  • Disclaimer: Considering Patrick Mahomes (run the offense), Aaron Donald (tackle humans) and George Kittle (block and catch footballs) have entirely different jobs, this is an impossible exercise. But hey, it's fun.

Kendall's top 10 list:

  1. Patrick Mahomes
  2. Aaron Donald
  3. Julio Jones
  4. Michael Thomas
  5. Russell Wilson
  6. Khalil Mack
  7. Lamar Jackson
  8. Christian McCaffrey
  9. George Kittle
  10. Stephon Gilmore

Jeff's top 10 list:

  1. Patrick Mahomes
  2. Aaron Donald
  3. Julio Jones
  4. Lamar Jackson
  5. Christian McCaffrey 
  6. Khalil Mack
  7. Russell Wilson
  8. Aaron Rodgers
  9. DeAndre Hopkins
  10. Michael Thomas
8. The Ocho: 🇲🇽 Lucha Libre face masks
Photo: Armando Marin/Jam Media/Getty Images

Mexican Lucha Libre wrestler, "El Hijo del Soberano" making themed protective face masks in a studio in Torreón, Mexico.

🎥 Watch: "Nacho Libre" trailer (YouTube)

9. ⚾️ MLB trivia


The Mariners — who went 18 years without reaching the playoffs before breaking through in 1995 — are mired in yet another 18-year drought, the longest active streak in the majors.

  • Question: Four other teams have active droughts of at least seven years. Can you name them?
  • Hint: They've all played in at least one World Series since 1995.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Courtesy: Craig S.

Craig S. (New York) writes:

"Any kid growing up in the New York area in 1986 will tell you, there was nothing quite like the '86 Mets. The team captivated the whole area and everyone had their favorite players. Doc, Straw, Gary The Kid, Hojo, the list went on.
"I remember ripping open packs of Topps cards, trying to find as many Mets as I could. I remember playing sandlot ball with my friends and pretending we were Lenny Dykstra and Ray Knight. I remember the joy I felt when my mom bought me a Mets T-shirt with Gary Carter's name and number on the back.
"One day, my uncle called to invite us to a game at Shea Stadium. He was going to be part of a ceremony celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Mets, so he had gotten us tickets. When the day finally arrived, I put on my Carter shirt, my sister put on her pink Mets shirt, and we were off.
"When we arrived at the ballpark, the usher led us lower and lower until I realized my uncle had gotten us front row seats right behind the Mets dugout. I had never seen these larger-than-life legends that close up. I was so excited!
"After the pregame ceremony, my uncle walked over to my sister and I and put his arms out. 'Come on,' he said. We weren't sure what was happening, but the next thing we knew he lifted us both over the railing and onto the field.
"He walked us over to Keith Hernandez who shook our hands and signed our baseballs, and then we were introduced to each player one by one. At that moment, I could not think of anything more exciting that could ever happen to me in my entire life.
"I was never that close with my uncle, who passed away years later, but he gave me and my sister a day we'll never forget. So why are sports important? Sports create memories. And memories are what make life great."

✍️ 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 all month.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Good boy, Leroy" Baker

Trivia answer: Marlins (16), Padres (13), White Sox (11), Phillies (8)