🏒⚾ Does that make me crazy?
The GIST: The COVID-19 pandemic is making the hockey world do some crazy things. San Jose Shark Joe Thornton shaved off his iconic beard. Montreal Canadien Brendan Gallagher is speaking French. And now the league wants to go ahead with the 2020 Draft before the regular season is even over. Weird.
How does the draft normally work?: The NHL Draft, which allows the league’s teams to select from a pool of eligible players to add to their rosters, is usually held in late June, not long after the Stanley Cup is awarded.
- The selection order is based on a combination of regular and postseason records, as well as a draft lottery. So in theory, the 2019–20 season would need to end before the draft order can be set.
But the regular season isn’t over…: Exactly. The NHL suspended the season on March 12th and has yet to decide if it will resume the season this summer (yes, we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but cancelation is still on the table), meaning draft order can’t really be determined yet.
- But in an attempt to “execute a major fan-friendly hockey event during a time where there is likely to be no (or very limited) live sports competition,” the league sent out a memo on Friday to outline how the unusual draft would work, ranking teams by points percentage.
Is this a good idea?: Just like most team general managers, we’re on the fence. While this could really make things wonky, we appreciate the NHL trying to give us the sports fix we so desperately need.
Any other COVID-19 news?: Unfortunately, yes. The Little League World Series, which brings together youth baseball teams from around the world to compete for ultimate glory, has been canceled for the first time in its 73-year history. Guess we’ll just have to watch reruns of Big Al’s dingers to get us through.
⚾ There’s no crying in baseball!
The GIST: If you can believe it, the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season was supposed to start today, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the season has been postponed until mid-May at the earliest. Sad. So to fill your baseball void, we’re here to give a brief
history GISTory lesson on women in baseball. Hell yeah, baby.
The 1800s: It may come as a shock, but organized women’s baseball first got its roots all the way back in 1866 when Vassar College formed two teams. Many other colleges followed suit, but due to backlash from the public saying that playing baseball was “unladylike,” these teams were shut down within a handful of years. *rolls eyes*
- And thanks to those organized teams pushing the boundaries, the first paid professional women’s teams — the “Blondes” and the “Brunettes” (very original) — were formed in 1875 in Springfield, Illinois. But for the same reason mentioned above, these teams were forced to fold relatively quickly too. Bummer.
The 1900s: Let’s fast forward to WWII. With many men away at war, there was space for women to thrive in traditionally male-dominated fields, including — you guessed it — sports. If you’ve watched the classic 1992 film A League of Their Own (and if you haven’t, add it to your isolation watch-list) you’re probably familiar with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) which was founded in 1943.
- Though it was a women’s league, the AAGPBL was founded by former Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley (yes, that Wrigley) and men still owned and managed the teams. As you can imagine, there was no shortage of sexism, as Wrigley was once quoted saying, “Femininity is the keynote of our league; no pants-wearing, tough-talking female softballer will play on any of our four teams.” If only he could see us in our sweats today.
- That said, the league lasted for 12 years and saw over 500 women hit the diamond. And, at the height of its popularity, the league saw almost 1 million (!!!) in attendance. Who said people don’t watch women’s sports? Unfortunately, the end of WWII and the re-establishment of a men’s professional league led to the demise of the AAGPBL.
The 2000s: Although softball is the most popular bat and ball sport for women in North America and there’s no pro baseball league, the women who preceded us paved the way so that we can play, coach and talk about America’s pastime. Some women we bow down to today are:
- Alyssa Nakken: In January she became the first female full-time head coach in the MLB after being hired by the San Francisco Giants.
- Jessica Mendoza: Five years ago, she became the first female MLB analyst and in March 2019 she became the New York Mets senior advisor to the general manager.
- Mo’ne Davis: In 2014 she became the first girl to earn a win and to pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history. She’s currently playing softball at Hampton University.
⚾ It’s (not) handled
Quick, remind me how this started: In January, the Houston Astros were found guilty of illegal sign-stealing — using technology to decipher signals from the opposing team’s catcher, pitcher and coaches to predict the next pitch — during their 2017 championship-winning season. The MLB fined Houston $5 million (which, although it is the largest allowable fine in baseball, it seems like chump change to us), gave one-year bans to the now-fired manager and general manager and revoked a few important draft picks.
Got it. Then what?: Last week, an exposé revealed that the scheme began with one of the MLB’s most famous and now-retired players, Carlos Beltrán — the so-called “Godfather” of sign-stealing — when he joined the Astros in 2017. We also learned that the Astros’ executives not only knew about the sign-stealing, but also had an intern (c’mon guys) create an Excel spreadsheet called “Codebreaker” (double c’mon guys) to help keep track of everything.
Woah. So, what’s the latest?: League commissioner Rob Manfred has, of course, come under intense scrutiny for how he chose to handle (or not handle) the crisis. Manfred didn’t penalize any players involved, didn’t revoke Houston’s 2017 World Series title and didn’t take away second baseman José Altuve’s 2017 American League (AL) MVP Award.
- On top of all that, things got worse on Monday when Manfred referred to the World Series trophy as “a piece of metal”...yeah that actually happened.
Jeez. What are people saying about this mess?: You better believe that athletes (even those in other sports) and fans are not happy about it. And, boy, have people let Manfred know how they feel.
- Even the usually soft-spoken New York Yankee outfielder Aaron Judge made it known that he felt “sick to his stomach” about the Astros’ actions and specifically Altuve, who narrowly edged him out for the AL MVP Award that year. NBA star LeBron James also sounded off, taking to Twitter to express his disgust. Yeah, you and us both.
What’s The GIST’s take?: Like a lot of people, we feel cheated. It’s not just scandals that create trust issues with baseball, it’s also the messy, and arguably unfair, way they’re handled that ruins the integrity of the sport — a sport that’s been so widely loved for more than a century. If this off-season is any indication of what this regular season will be like, hang on to your hats, because it will definitely be a rollercoaster.
⚾ Save the drama for your mama
The GIST: Just when you thought you’d seen the end of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) sign-stealing saga, they come out and hit you with more. After originally placing most of the blame on their coach A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, it turns out the Houston Astros front office has some ’splainin to do.
Wait. Remind me how it started?: In January, the Astros were found guilty of illegal sign-stealing — using technology to record and decipher the hand and body signals of the opposing team’s catcher, pitcher and coaches to predict the next pitch — during their championship winning season in 2017.
- As a result, the MLB fined the ’Stros a measly $5 million, gave one-year bans to Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch (who were subsequently fired) and revoked a few important draft picks.
So now what’s happened?: A couple of new details have emerged. First, apparently the sign-stealing scheme started with one of the MLB’s most famous players: the now-retired Carlos Beltrán. According to anonymous teammates, when Beltrán signed with the Astros for the 2017 season, he came with a plan and was the so-called “Godfather” of sign-stealing. We guess he made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. He’d previously been with the New York Yankees, who were also accused of sign-stealing in 2015. Coincidence? We think not.
- Second, it’s also come out that the Astros’ front office executives not only knew about the sign-stealing but also had an intern create an Excel algorithm they called “Codebreaker” (real subtle, guys) to help decipher signs more efficiently. This is a big deal because the MLB previously told the public that the sign-stealing scheme was not planned or directed by the front office. SMDH.
And what will the MLB do about it?: That remains to be seen. Spring training (aka preseason) starts in less than two weeks so the pressure is on for the MLB to discipline the ’Stros before then. In the meantime, some players who previously played against the Astros are taking it upon themselves to right the wrongs...
- Yankees pitching legend CC Sabathia is calling for the Astros’ World Series to be revoked, while former relief pitcher Mike Bolsinger is suing the team for $31 million, alleging the Astros interfered with and harmed his career. Following a bad game in 2017 in which he gave up four runs against the Astros, the Toronto Blue Jays terminated Bolsinger’s contract and he hasn't played in the MLB since. Not good.
What’s The GIST’s take?: We said it once and we’ll say it again: as fans, we feel cheated. Between steroid use, sign-stealing and everything in between, we have serious trust issues with baseball.
⚾ Guide to Baseball
Baseball is America’s national pastime. Why? Well, it quite literally passes time. The average length of a baseball game is just over three hours of continuous fun.
Baseball is played on a field shaped like a diamond (its other name) with a base on each corner. A team scores a point (referred to as runs) when one of their players is able to make it all the way around the diamond and back to home plate. The team with the most runs at the end of the game, wins!
Rather than periods or quarters, baseball is divided into nine innings, each with a top and a bottom half. At the beginning of an inning, the visiting team goes up to bat while the home team sends nine players into the field to play defence. Then the teams switch to play the bottom of that inning. It’s an advantage to be the last team up to bat because you have the last chance for a comeback win!
An inning is over after three outs (e.g., when a player strikes out on pitches, is thrown out at a base or their ball is caught in the air). And if the game is tied after nine innings, the game goes into extra innings until a winner can be decided.
But our fave part of baseball? It’s got to be the seventh inning stretch.
How is baseball organized?
Baseball is played all over the world; however, the most popular league in the world is Major League Baseball (MLB) located in North America. There are 30 teams in the MLB, but just one Canadian team, the Toronto Blue Jays (shout out!). The league is divided into the National (NL) League and the American League (AL) which are further divided into three divisions: Central, East, and West.
Here’s where things get a little confusing (but that’s what you’ve got us for!). The AL and NL each have a slightly different set of rules they follow. For instance, in the NL, pitchers also come up to the plate to bat, but they don’t in the AL. Instead, the AL has a “designated hitter”, or DH, that comes up to bat.
There are 162 regular season games (that’s not a typo… the MLB by far has the longest season in major league sports), followed by the playoffs. Ten teams, five from the NL and five from the AL, make it into the postseason where all of the players’ blood, sweat, tears and bat flips go into winning the World Series (the MLB championship). More on the playoff structure here.
Who’s the current champ?
The Washington Nationals won the World Series in 2019, defeating the Houston Astros in a wild seven-game series where the home team didn’t win a single game! That’s right, the Nats took the championship by winning all four of their games in Houston. This was Washington’s first World Series win in franchise history and they were big underdogs going into the final. Talk about a Cinderella story.
Looking at 2020…
This season, keep your eye on Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies right field), Mike Trout (LA Angels centrefield and the highest paid athlete in baseball), Manny Machado (San Diego Padres third baseman and shortstop) and Clayton Kershaw (LA Dodgers pitcher).
And expect big things from the New York Yankees and LA Dodgers this year.
What about the Jays?
The Toronto Blue Jays were founded in 1977 (but didn’t serve beer until 1982) and have won two World Series championships, back-to-back in ‘92 and ‘93, but haven’t had much luck since. Their best recent efforts came in 2015 and 2016, winning the AL East title in both seasons, but posted losing records every season since.
The rebuild — when a team trade away their older talent and starts to build again with young up-and-comers — is officially in full swing. Keep your eye on 21-year-old shortstop Bo Bichette and 20-year-old third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., affectionately known as '“Vladdy Jr”, who you might recognize thanks to his superstar father (same name) who played the majority of his MLB career with the Montreal Expos (when Montreal used to have a team). Rebuilds can take time, but we have high hopes for the future of this squad.
Women who bat
For whatever reason, women do not have a pro league for “hardball” (another name for baseball). Instead, women play softball professionally — a similar game but with a bigger ball where pitchers throw underhand.
Women DO play baseball at the amateur level. It’s an Olympic sport (including at Tokyo 2020!) and is played at the Pan Am Games (for North, South and Central America).
Fun fact: Canadian hockey superstar and Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Hayley Wickenheiser, ALSO played for the Canadian softball team in the Olympics. What can’t this woman do? Hint: the answer is nothing.
Channel your inner fan!
Here are some fun stats to break out at your next office ball game outing:
- The lifespan of an MLB baseball is only five-to-seven pitches, meaning about 70 baseballs are used during a game. Just wild.
- The New York Yankees have the most World Series titles, winning 27 in their 116 (!!!) year history. And they’re not even the oldest MLB team.
- Unfortunately, no woman has ever played in an MLB game. BUT sports executive Effa Louise Manley (1897–1981) is the first and only woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. ‘Atta be, Effa!