Baseball’s Prince Has Arrived

AFL West All-Star, Vladimir Guerrero Jr #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays bats during the Arizona Fall League All Star Game at Surprise Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Surprise, Arizona.

Source Christian Petersen/Getty

Why you should care

Because Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the star MLB has been looking for.

Our debut newsletter posed this question: “Are baseball megastars a thing of the past?” Which active players, we wondered, would qualify as crossover celebrities? Bryce Harper seems the most obvious candidate — Tuesday’s booing aside — but even he’s a stretch. Well, wonder no more.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., son of his nine-time All-Star namesake, debuted for the Toronto Blue Jays last Friday. In the country of his birth, Vladdy, 20, donned his dad’s throwback Montreal Expos jersey, then smoked a ninth-inning double that set up the game-winning score.

Vladdy’s MLB arrival is as memorable as any there’s been since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989. Similarly, Vladdy was a highly coveted, intensely scrutinized talent by his early teenage years. He signed with Toronto for $3.9 million in 2015, sparking a media circus in every minor league podunk town where he appeared. The best baseball prospects rarely receive coverage like the Zion Williamsons of the hoops world, but Junior is different. It’s not just that his swing is an exact replica of his father’s; it’s that Vladdy possesses far better plate discipline. It’s not that he hit .381 with 20 homers across four levels of minor league ball last year; it’s that he did so carrying Hall of Fame expectations while flashing nothing but his infectious smile around the bases. At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds with long blonde dreadlocks, Vladdy Jr. is part his father, part Harper and part David Ortiz.

In an era that demands a big personality (sorry, Mike Trout), Vladdy is 100 percent superstar, a luminary with the pedigree to command baseball’s respect and the swagger to lead this sport toward brighter days.

What to Watch & Pick ’Em

Boxing: Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Daniel Jacobs (Saturday at 7pm ET on DAZN)

Mexican sensation Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KOs) will spend his Cinco de Mayo weekend defending his middleweight belts against Jacobs (35-2, 29 KOs), whose size advantage, skill and toughness make this one of the year’s most compelling bouts.

  • Alvarez (-500) 
  • Jacobs (+350)

The 145th Running of the Kentucky Derby (Saturday at 6:50pm ET on NBC)

With favorite Omaha Beach scratched owing to an entrapped epiglottis (Google it), this is a wide-open Derby field. But we love the prop bets. So, grab a mint julep and pick whether the last-place horse’s saddlecloth will be an even or odd number.

  • Even (+160) 
  • Odd (-200)
 

Ones to Watch

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Nuggets guard Jamal Murray brings the ball up the floor against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Source  Matthew Stockman/Getty 

Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets. The guard had a forgettable first three playoff games of his career against the San Antonio Spurs, but he has shifted up a gear since then, averaging 20.7 points and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the field. Teammate Nikola Jokic also has been on a historic run, but Murray might be the key to a series now tied at 1-1. While Portland’s emerging superstar guard Damian Lillard is the best player on the floor, Murray is the only Nuggets player capable of matching him at crunch time. After a relatively quiet night (15 points, 7 rebounds) in Denver’s Game 2 loss on Wednesday, Murray will look to bounce back Friday at Portland.

Stéphanie Frappart, soccer referee. A nil-nil draw between Amiens and Strasbourg on Sunday proved historic as Frappart became the first female referee to officiate in France’s top football league, Ligue 1. Scoring was absent, but Frappart booked a total of four players for fouls while drawing praise for maintaining order. Referees are often most effective when operating in the shadows, but as just the second woman official to work in one of Europe’s top leagues — following Germany’s Bibiana Steinhaus in the Bundesliga — Frappart represents a larger movement toward gender equity in global soccer. This June, she’ll serve as the only referee from the host nation to officiate the Women’s World Cup in France.

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French referee Stephanie Frappart gestures during her first Ligue 1 match, between Amiens and Strasbourg at the Licorne Stadium in Amiens.

Source  Francois Lo Presti/Getty

Equal (Ice) Pay. More than 200 women’s hockey players — including Team USA stars Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield — announced today they will not play professionally in a protest against meager salaries and a lack of health insurance. It’s a huge blow for North America’s only remaining women’s hockey league, the NWHL, which can offer nothing close to an enticing product without the world’s most accomplished stars. While the four-year-old league gained some buzz with a record crowd of 6,200 for its all-star game and strong attendance for the Minnesota franchise, it still pays as little as $2,500 per season. The hope for players like Knight, who helped push a boycott of USA Hockey that won big concessions in 2017, is that the NHL will financially support and promote a women’s league in the way that the NBA has done for the WNBA (though WNBA players have their own gripes.) The NHL has said that it will look into the proposal. For now, players will train with their respective national teams ahead of the 2020 World Championships.

College Football Senior Year. According to The Athletic’s Max Olson, a whopping 49 of the record 144 underclassmen who decided to end their college careers early and go pro went undrafted last weekend, leaving them ineligible to return to school and without a developmental league to join while pursuing NFL dreams. Sure, many will sign free-agent NFL contracts, but those deals offer basically an airline ticket to spring camp and no guarantees. The problem is a college football system that forces players to declare for the draft on January 14 —  a week after the national title game — with no option to change course, while their basketball- and baseball-playing peers have more time and flexibility. More than twice as many underclassmen declared for the draft this year, compared to 2011. Perhaps the NCAA should allow undrafted players to return to school (as with baseball). Or, maybe, they’ll finally fund a development league that survives.

Read This

Sports Leagues Bet Big on Winning Gambling Proceeds, by Derek Helling in OZY

MLB and the NBA are paying lobbyists to push for regulated sports betting, purportedly to maintain the integrity of their sports. But in state after state considering legalized gambling, the leagues are making clear their real aim is a cut of the proceeds.

Tim Anderson Is Going to Play the Game His Way, by Stephanie Apstein in Sports Illustrated

One of only 72 Black players in a game that, percentage-wise, was more than twice as Black as recently as 1994, Tim Anderson’s baseball life is a lonely one. So, what’s a 25-year-old flashy shortstop to do? Embrace his game, keep having fun and refuse to back down.

There Could Be a Gray in This Year’s Derby Winner’s Circle. Why Do They Look Like That? by Ben Roberts in The Lexington Herald Leader

Never bet the grays. Or do. Every casual bettor has an opinion on the faintly pigmented ponies, but few know why, exactly, the grays look the way they do. This year, three colts are aiming to become the ninth gray since World War II to finish in the winner’s circle — and the first since 2005.

Liverpool Rising, by Wright Thompson in ESPN

Liverpool is in a white-knuckle race to win its first English Premier League title in almost 30 years amid a run to the Champions League semifinal. Here’s what it means to a working man’s city that has experienced so much joy, hope, despair and tragedy along the way.

Don’t Miss

There’s a new fastest man in the history of high school sports, and his nickname is “The Boogie Man.” Matthew Boling wowed fans with a 9.98-second 100-meter dash at a regional track meet in Texas last weekend. Thanks to a 4.2 mph wind, the 18-year-old sprinter can’t claim the national record, but just 0.17 seconds shy of Usain Bolt’s gold medal-winning 9.81, Boling’s time would have placed seventh at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games. Boling enrolls at the University of Georgia in the fall. Can he catch a football?

OZYThe Huddle

Football, basketball, soccer. Cricket, rugby, the X-games. And anything else you can dream up to make you swe