Why you should care
What we learned from All Star week: MLB is in great shape if it can get out of its own way.
This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.
Monday’s Home Run Derby took three hours and, fittingly, felt even longer. Can we run it back? After all, the World Cup is over and Wimbledon airs during work hours. But this year’s derby wasn’t just a stand-in during the July sports doldrums. It was an electric, star-making affair that reminded us how fun baseball can be when we’re not running in circles debating what’s wrong with it.
For the first time ever, two rookies (Pete Alonso and Vlad Guerrero Jr.) made the final. Guerrero hit the most home runs in a single round, twice, but still lost. It was thrilling.
In the All-Star Game, fresh faces like Josh Bell and Ronald Acuña Jr. underscored the emergence of breakout sluggers across the league. And yet conversation quickly pivoted back to that of juiced baseballs, marketing struggles and safety net construction. Only one of these issues is important. (Hint: The one preventing toddlers from suffering seizures.)
All week, Commissioner Rob Manfred talked a lot while saying little, aka “the Roger Goodell.” On the topic of juiced balls, Manfred said that, while MLB owns Rawlings, the league doesn’t control product assembly. On extending the foul nets, he was even less forthcoming.
If Justin Verlander wants fewer home runs, he should continue striking out batters at unprecedented rates. Generation ADHD prefers yabos to soaring K-rates anyway.
Baseball should keep juicing balls, fix the netting and stop talking about its “unmarketable” players. Tell the stories of the dozens of interesting young players without explaining why fewer fans enjoy them.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
Boxing: Shakur Stevenson vs. Alberto Guevara, Saturday at 10:30pm ET on ESPN
In his first main event headliner, featherweight blue-chip prospect Stevenson faces a former world title challenger in Stevenson’s hometown of Newark, New Jersey.
- Stevenson (-5000)
- Guevara (+1400)
Tennis: No. 2 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 3 Roger Federer, Friday at 10:00am ET on ESPN
With 10 Wimbledon titles between them, Rafa and Fed meet in London for the first time since 2008. The pair last met when Nadal beat Federer at the French Open in June.
- Federer (+115)
- Nadal (-140)
Ones to Watch
Lonnie Walker IV. Walker’s torn meniscus looks like it’s healed just fine. After a rookie season that lasted just 17 games due to injury, the former Miami Hurricanes star has been a force of nature in the NBA’s Summer League. As a rookie, Walker flashed explosiveness and a nice jumper while dealing with assertiveness and consistency issues that can plague young scorers. That doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore. Walker is leading Vegas Summer League with 30 points per game on 58 percent shooting through two games. In a sign that they’ve seen enough to know he’s ready, San Antonio sat Walker on Wednesday night rather than risk injury. For the first time in decades, San Antonio is an afterthought in the Western Conference. But with a finally healthy Dejounte Murray, All-Star DeMar DeRozan and Walker in the backcourt, the Spurs could catch a lot of teams sleeping. And while Walker’s smooth mid-range game is nice, this PETA commercial featuring Walker and his dog, Zola, might be better.
Lexi Thompson. Yes, golf is a fickle beast and favorites don’t always win tournaments, but Thompson is a name to know at the Marathon Classic in Ohio this weekend. Ranked No. 4 on the LPGA Tour, Thompson, 24, already has one victory this year and has placed second and third at this event before. A 11-time Tour winner, Thompson has been on the radar of serious golf fans for half her life. At age 12, she was the youngest golfer ever to play in the U.S. Women’s Open. She turned pro at 15 and became the then-youngest winner of a Tour tournament at 16. Now with six top-10 finishes (including 2nd at the U.S. Open in May) this year, Thompson appears to be entering a consistent run of dominance. Thompson is the consensus betting favorite (+700), but has Brooke Henderson, Minjee Lee and So Yeon Ryu all close behind her at +800. Since she’s coming off two weeks of rest, look for Thompson to be sharp.
Life After the World Cup. While the U.S. Women’s National Team is wildly popular, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) — where all 23 members of the national team spend their club seasons — has struggled to gain momentum over seven seasons. In the aftermath of America’s fourth World Cup title, the players, fans and, now, some major sponsors are hoping to change that. The nine-team NWSL just announced an agreement with ESPN to televise 14 games during the season’s second half. Budweiser, in collaboration with U.S. Soccer, struck a multi-year sponsorship deal with the league that includes playoff and MVP trophy-naming rights. The hope is a wider reach plus more money will lead to increased interest and a better product, as competition is getting more fierce. The NWSL boasts the majority of the world’s best players, but as this World Cup showed that the global talent gap is closing, cash cow clubs like Barcelona, Man U and Lyon are investing more into their women’s sides. If the NWSL can’t capitalize on this World Cup momentum, we could soon see the best players in the world heading overseas — just like the men. And that would be a major blow to the growth of the game Stateside.
Russell Westbrook’s usage rate. Just when Stephen A. Smith thought he might have a three-day weekend, Westbrook decides to blow up Twitter with a Thursday evening shocker: In a blockbuster trade, the eight-time NBA All Star is going from Oklahoma City to Houston, in exchange for veteran point guard Chris Paul and future draft picks, ESPN reports. The twist? Westbrook reunites with James Harden, his former OKC teammate back when Westbrook rocked a fade and Harden’s beard didn’t have its own personality. This time they might need to play with two basketballs at once. NBA suits everywhere must be smiling as the league once again hijacks the news cycle from Wimbledon and the Women’s World Cup. But as the NBA landscape shifts from super teams to several contenders driven by “dynamic duos” across major markets, what happens to the teams left behind? In this era of player empowerment, smaller market clubs must become the savviest operators, succeeding via analytics, shrewd business tactics and quality drafting (until those players decide to leave). If they weren’t already there, OKC now firmly belongs in that lower tier.
Will Inland Parks Become the World’s Best Surf Spots? by Carly Stern in OZY
A growing number of newly designed surf parks that harness artificial-wave technology have emerged worldwide, transforming surfing into a sport that can be attempted effectively anywhere. But what makes a great surf, and what’s being lost?
He Was a High School Football Star. A Grisly Car Crash Changed His Life Forever. His Love of the Game Pushes Him On. by Dan Wiederer in the Chicago Tribune
In 2009, a car wreck left Mike DeStefano with a traumatic brain injury and an unimaginable fight. Football remains his greatest passion, even stronger now than when he was playing, and the driving force as he struggles to find his place in life.
The Tour de France Is Up for Grabs for the First Time in Years, by Patrick Redford in Deadspin
Chris Froome casts a long shadow over the Tour de France. Or he did, until he crashed last month and turned this 2019 Tour into the most open edition of the race in a decade. Here’s everything you need to know about the Tour, which enters Stage 7 of 21 on Friday.
The Rise of the Snowplow Sports Parents, by Kalyn Kahler in Sports Illustrated
By clearing out every obstacle on their kids’ road to stardom, hyper-involved/helicopter moms and dads threaten to deprive young athletes of critical life experiences. And they’re driving coaches and agents nuts.
After more than 1,000 games in the minor leagues (and eight in the bigs), the active career leader in minor-league home runs stepped to the plate for the Reno Aces in the bottom of the ninth trailing by one run with a runner on first. Cody Decker knew it was the final at-bat of his baseball career and, damn, did he send himself off in fashion. That’s one way to retire.
DECKER DOES IT!!!
Reno finest, Cody Decker ends the game with one GINORMOUS blast.
— Reno Aces (@Aces) July 6, 2019