Why you should care
Because baseball continues to struggle with American minorities.
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.
Put aside NBA free agency for a moment: It’s time to show one of sports’ great tournaments some love. The University of Michigan is in the eight-team College World Series for the first time since 1984. After barely making the NCAA Tournament, Michigan is a sudden favorite to win it all.
Hail, hail to Midwest baseball.
A football power, the Big Ten struggles to compete in a sport dominated by the South and West Coast. But with five recent MLB draft picks and a diverse roster of former two-sport athletes, Michigan is playing baseball-giant slayer — taking out No. 1 UCLA in the super regionals and upsetting Florida State and Texas Tech in Omaha. The Wolverines face Texas Tech again Friday, one win away from a best-of-three championship series.
But what stands out most is how in a sport where just 4.5 percent of players are Black, seven of 35 Wolverines are African-American — including stars Jordan Brewer and Jordan Nwogu — a welcome, intentional sight in a sport that struggles to attract American minorities. “We think our roster should look like the United States of America,” coach Erik Bakich told ESPN on Monday. He cites school history — Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager who signed Jackie Robinson, coached at Michigan — and the overall health of the game as drivers for diversity.
As you turn your attention to the overlooked amateur ranks of America’s pastime this weekend, look for the group of Michiganders taking Omaha by storm. They’ll be hard to miss.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
United States vs. Trinidad and Tobago, CONCACAF Gold Cup (Saturday at 7:30pm ET on Fox Sports 1)
Looking to build off Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Guyana, the USMNT seeks to avenge the 2017 loss that kept the red, white and blue out of the World Cup.
- USA (-650)
- T&T (+1200)
West Indies vs. New Zealand, Cricket World Cup (Saturday at 8:30am ET on Sky Sports)
After a razor-thin loss (322-321) to Bangladesh, West Indies (1-3) needs a win if they hope to make the semifinals. Good luck against New Zealand. The Black Caps are 4-0, clear favorites in the Cup.
- West Indies (+130)
- New Zealand (-155)
Ones to Watch
Sam Kerr. After splitting its first two matches with Italy and Brazil, Australia needed a win over Jamaica to advance to the knockout round of the Women’s World Cup. Kerr, 25, provided victory and more. The Matildas’ captain scored all four goals in a 4-1 triumph, finally putting on the show that football fans around the world have been expecting from, arguably, the best player on the planet. Only Americans Alex Morgan and Michelle Akers have scored more goals in a single Women’s World Cup game, with five. The decisive win helped the Aussies avoid host France; they’ll instead face Norway in the Round of 16 on Saturday. On the club side, Kerr plays forward for Perth Glory of the Australian W-League and the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL — where she’s the league’s all-time leading scorer.
Darius Garland. Breakout or bust? To most NBA fans, and some scouts, Garland was the ultimate mystery man in Thursday night’s NBA Draft. Last November, the crafty freshman point guard from Nashville looked like one of the best players in college basketball — and Vanderbilt’s potential savior. Then he tore his meniscus and left school to rehabilitate and later turn pro. A 6-foot-2 guard with a refined handle, great bounce and deep shooting range, Garland is picking up comparisons to Portland’s Damian Lillard. Still, evaluation of Garland is coming almost entirely from four full college games and his high school tapes. The uncertainty makes the newest Klutch Sports client one of the most mysterious — and intriguing — talents in the draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers liked what they saw enough to take him with the No. 5 overall pick.
U.S. Women’s Soccer salaries? In its ongoing quest to attain more equitable compensation from U.S. Soccer, the U.S. women’s national team has new data on its side, via the Wall Street Journal. In the three years after winning the 2015 World Cup, the USWNT has generated more ticket sales revenue ($50.8 million) than the U.S. men’s national team ($49.9 million). Now, the U.S. women are once again asking, “Why do we make $100,000 less than the men?” Last month, U.S. Soccer responded to the women’s gender discrimination suit by emphasizing that any pay differential is “based on differences in the aggregate revenue.” Now, ticket sales aren’t the only way teams generate revenue. But U.S. Soccer bundles broadcast rights and sponsorships for the two national teams, which makes it difficult to decipher the exact value brands see in each team — and could make its position tougher to defend in court. What’s the Huddle’s solution? Equal base salaries for the men’s and women’s clubs, plus incentive-based bonuses based on ticket and merchandise sales. For more, listen to Season 5 of OZY’s The Thread podcast, which explores the history behind the explosion of U.S. women’s soccer — up to today’s equal pay fight.
The tackle of consequence. Looking for an offbeat watercooler topic to sound smarter than your friends at work as NFL offseason camps get rolling? Don’t dish on young quarterbacks or the league’s crop of unproven head coaches — start with the tackles. According to NFL lineman turned radio host and analyst Ross Tucker, modern football has reached a point where there’s no longer a distinction between left and right tackles, or even across the whole offensive line. Left-tackle worship peaked in the mid-2000s, with enormous contracts (and Michael Lewis’ book) dedicated to protecting quarterbacks’ “blind side.” Those days are done. With modern offenses getting rid of the ball faster than ever, defenses must apply quick pressure — and the shortest distance to the backfield is up the middle. Thus, a new breed of pass rusher (see: Aaron Donald) is wreaking havoc in the interior, and athletic centers and guards are valued more than ever. Last offseason, the Colts took Quenton Nelson with the No. 6 pick (the highest-drafted guard since 1985) and the Cowboys signed Zack Martin to an $84 million deal (the biggest contract ever given to a guard). For the first time since the forward pass was introduced to football, the offensive line is now one cohesive, malleable unit with the best athletes capable of playing any position.
As a Child, She Fled Violence. Now Her Fists Could Bring Her Stardom, by Tom Taylor in OZY
Raised with her seven siblings in the tangled jungles of Myanmar’s eastern Kayin State, Naw Phaw Law Eh was only 16 when she left her family and moved to Yangon. She arrived in the hectic metropolis with little more than the nickname “Eh Eh” and some judo gear.
The King Maker: Why Rich Paul Will Own the NBA Summer, by S.L. Price in Sports Illustrated
The most polarizing figure in the NBA is not any owner, player, exec or even LeBron James — it’s Rich Paul, the King’s agent and friend, who unleashed havoc on the league this past season when he demanded that New Orleans trade star client Anthony Davis.
Carli Lloyd Is Mentally ‘Stronger Than Ever’ Thanks to Motivational Mentor, by Kevin Baxter in the Los Angeles Times
When Carli Lloyd was in college, she was supremely talented, exceptionally athletic and, her coach remembers, super lazy. “Everything she did as a youth player came pretty easily to her,” said Glenn Crooks, who coached Lloyd at Rutgers.
Androgyny Is Now Fashionable in the WNBA, by Britni de la Cretaz in The New York Times
Earlier this month, the Seattle Storm partnered with TomboyX, a gender-neutral line of undergarments. WNBA teams are changing the way they market to their fans and portray their athletes, ultimately expanding ideas of what female athletes are allowed to look like.
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication. After posting a career year following his public reconciliation with addiction and mental health issues, Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner won the award on Wednesday. Watch his speech.