Friday, July 13, 2018


There is a certain joy in a bad basketball team.  If the Bulls only featured several young players to get unreasonably excited about, Stacey King testing out his groan-inducing catchphrases, Robin Lopez reacting to technical fouls like he has been bombarded by gamma rays, and Cameron Payne, who has styled his hair so it is always going in the opposite direction that his body was comically flailing in some parallel universe Buster Keaton film, it would have been enough for us.

Instead, the Bulls joined with a coterie of miserable chump teams and pursued the strategy that all the basketball experts who know what they're talking about because they use the word "assets" agree is the best way to build a winning basketball team by launching itself straight into the shitter.  By the end of this season, teams trying stay done for Ayton or sleep with the fishes for Luka concocted absurd fake injuries for anyone remotely capable of dribbling a basketball, rested established players, and brought up scrappers from the minor leagues to pretend to play basketball; the Bulls were admonished for ostentatiously benching Robin Lopez, a solid player who excels mainly at elbowing people, and they took on a cast-off player named Sean Kilpatrick who played exactly well enough to help win two games they were desperately trying to lose to the point where internet Bulls fans rechristened him "Sean Kill Draftpick."

There is no point in rehashing all of the NBA Tank Opinions-- anyone reading this is obviously so strung out on the sports internet that they are sniffing the embers of blogspot dot com-- but we have just seen the grotesque spectacle of intentional hideous garbage on the part of the Bulls, an odious parade of ugly losses and league reprimands and extended Cristiano Felicio minutes, result in the seventh pick in the draft.  The pick is not an unmitigated disaster.  For example, it is higher than the eighth pick.  But the Bulls, all but announcing to the fans and the Association and whatever wretched god that Gar Forman worships in his oozing antechambers that they would tank and quit and give minutes to the giant masked guy who ineffectively menaces the Harlem Globetrotters before one of  them gets in one of those subspace balloons and parachutes from the stratosphere in a pressurized suit to dunk on him, did not get the world-altering top three pick that they had promised suffering fans.

Cager the Masked IT Professional

It could have turned out better.  The Bulls won a coin flip against the Kings to secure the sixth-best lottery odds.  Instead, the Kings won the second pick; if the Bulls had lost that flip, they would have the second pick instead.  This is the second time in recent years that the Kings had flummoxed the Bulls.  The Bulls owned the Kings' first round draft pick.  The Kings, though, had wisely engineered protections on the pick.  For years, the Bulls waited for the Kings to cross the threshold from abysmal embarrassment to merely bad, but the Kings stubbornly refused, repeatedly performing disgusting and feeble basketball that kept them picking in the top ten and the pick away from Gar Forman's tentacles.  When the Kings successfully fended off an even mediocre finish for so many years that the pick turned into a second-rounder, it seemed almost spiteful.  The Bulls are the only basketball team ludicrous enough to have an NBA draft lottery rivalry.

The history of the present Kings of Sacramento is a history of repeated 
injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of 
an absolute Tyranny over these Bulls. To prove this, let Facts be submitted 
to a candid world:
THEY HAVE sucked so badly that they prevented the Conveyance of a Lottery Pick
for literally years on end.
THEY HAVE offered $80 million dollars to Zach LaVine

And yet it may turn out well anyway.  I admit that I started writing this post right after the draft lottery when it seemed like the Bulls' tanking would be in vain.  But look!  Wendell Carter has spent the last week terrorizing various scrubs and jabronis in summer league, so perhaps the time that Bobby Portis punched Niko Mirotic so hard that it exploded his face and then Niko came back and the two of them became an unstoppable Double Dragon duo that led the Bulls to eight consecutive wins at the absolute worst possible time for that to happen will turn out to be the best thing to happen to the Bulls.


As the rest of the planet foolishly watched Spain do passing drills at each other for an hour and a half, real international sporting aficionados were tuned into Youtube to stream the exciting finale of the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries between Malta and Norway.  The tournament provided a strange mix of legitimately Small Countries like Malta, Andorra, and host San Marino as well as larger countries like Norway and Ireland where the smallest thing about them is their population's interest in or knowledge of the rules of basketball.  The final, played in what appeared to be a modest high school gym, featured interstitial dance music and a smattering of fans who alternated between honking plastic horns and taking pictures of their children who filled the elementary school dance team proved that the old truism that there are no small tournaments, only small countries.

You are reading about this tournament on a vaguely Northwestern-centered blog, of course, because Malta features the Wildcats' sweet-shooting forward Aaron Falzon.  Falzon played well-- he captured a tournament all-star honor.  But Falzon quickly became overshadowed-- almost literally, if this person was standing directly in the path of the sun-- by his enormous teammate Samuel Deguara.  Deguara is listed at seven feet six inches tall, gargantuan even by basketball standards.  Against a Norway team that featured no one listed as taller than six eight, his work on the court resembled those highlights of big men from the NBA draft who came directly out of high school and all of their highlights are late-90s public access shots of them bearing down on a terrified kid wearing a t-shirt under his jersey.

Deguara's reign of terror looks like the seven-foot Canadian twelve-year-old 
playing on eight-foot rims

It is impossible to turn on an NBA broadcast without having to hear about how teams have trouble using traditional big men because the strategy involves switching them onto a nimble guard who torreador-feints them into useless bags of limbs.  The lumbering paint dinosaurs whose primary skill involved being absolute giants and using their size and bulk to hammer people on the boards and, especially during the 1990s, elbow people, we are now told are obsolete.  The draft and its endless run-up featured nothing but questions about whether these players could fit in the Modern NBA (and also how that affects their status as Assets).  So it is refreshing to remember that at other levels of basketball it is still effective to have a player that is just an absolute load, a goliath who cannot be outrebounded or blocked or even really effectively trash-talked without a step ladder, a giant who will send any shot sent from merely tall people into the pits of hell.

Deguara is, according to his Wikipedia page, fourth-tallest player in the world.  He plays for a Thai team somehow, impossibly, called Mono Vampire.  Deguara was completely unstoppable in the championship game and was named tournament MVP as shown in this picture of him next to a FIBA official wearing an unmistakable I can't get over the size of this lad expression.


Last month, The Ringer's Ben Lindbergh unveiled a manifesto against the National's League's archaic practice of allowing pitchers to hit.  The piece, which combines historical records of people complaining about pitchers' embarrassing incompetence at the plate dating to the nineteenth century with statistics showing that pitchers are somehow only getting worse, presents a resoundingly clear case that the practice is silly and pointless as National League pitchers ruin rallies cause lineup headaches.  To this I say: so what?

It is an objective fact that pitchers cannot hit.  But the central assumption that removing pitchers hitting from the game would make for a more enjoyable baseball experience is not.  It's an aesthetic preference.  It might not make a lot of sense to prefer to watch worse hitters hit, but my hot take is that sometimes it is ok to have frivolous and dumb opinions about sports.

Yes, the whole enterprise of pitchers attempting to hit a baseball remains a largely pointless pursuit.  It is endlessly frustrating to see rallies snuffed out by the lurking pitcher spot, especially when a cowardly manager decides to walk the hitter in front of him.  Yet, there's also no way to quantify the enjoyment I get from the mystical aura of the Pitcher Who Can Handle The Bat A Little.  Off the top of my head, I can name a bunch of them: Micah Owings, Carlos Zambrano (one of my all-time favorites), two-way phenom Brooks Kieschnick who very quickly became a no-way phenom.  One of the most satisfying Cubs subplots has been the evolution of Jon Lester from literally the worst hitter in baseball history to a guy who can bunt-- Lester's been an excellent and at times brilliant pitcher for the Cubs, but one of his greatest feats involves a pinch-hit walkoff bunt.

The debates over the designated hitter point to a larger phenomenon in sports and sportswriting that conflates forward-thinking, data-driven empirical facts with aesthetic preferences.  Baseball has moved to a true-outcomes game as the value of walks has increased and the stigma of strikeouts has not.  Teams obsessively track pitch counts and pitcher effectiveness in multiple times through the order, and starters yield more and more innings to the bullpen.  These are all trends backed by numbers, and I'd be wary of supporting a baseball executive who would complain about Joey Votto walking too much or whatever, but it's also a strikingly different type of baseball than a kind that emphasizes putting the ball in play, running around on the basepaths, and sporting a gigantic mustache.  There numbers tell us that early twenty-first-century Adam Dunn and Juan had similar worth, but it is not objectively wrong to prefer your baseball players to lumber to first only via walk or home run trot or to spray the ball around and zoom around the bases while being the only professional baseball player to still wear a hat under a helmet.

This tendency, I believe, remains a lingering effect from the great Blog Wars of the early 2000s, when sabermetrics and statistically-minded writers butted heads with the entrenched Hat Guys and Hawks Harrelson who dismissed basic statistical ideas like baseball players should try not to make outs as the rantings of tedious nerds.  Stats bloggers were besieged in their proverbial mothers' basements, defensively adopting a belligerent, incredulous pose that developed from arguing over and over that RBI and pitcher wins are kind of dumb stats against people whose entire rebuttal consists of just repeating the words Mickey Mantle over and over again.

This is the only known photo of "Mickey Mantle," which, as has been 
reported on this blog numerous times, is a fictional baseball player 
invented by Billy Crystal and Ken Burns in 1987 to fool Baby Boomers

Yes, pitchers cannot hit.  And yes, the affinity that National League fans have for pitchers hitting probably is determined entirely by the fact that the team they like plays in the National League.  It's silly and irrational.  But sports are silly and irrational.  Choosing a team to root for often comes down to something completely arbitrary like where a person is born, sports rules are bizarre and nonsensical, the price of beer at a sporting even is exorbitant; spending time watching sports is itself kind of silly and irrational.  Let no one argue that pitchers can hit more effectively than even the shittiest replacement infielders.  Let no one argue that the DH, in the American League since 1973 and a rule in just about every baseball league except for the Japanese Central League uses it, is unnatural or not a part of baseball.  The DH will certainly come to the National League sooner or later and some people will grumble and then forget about it, but until then please let me enjoy watching a pitcher awkwardly flair one into right and then stand on the basepaths in an ill-fitting satin jacket.

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