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Aaron Judge Restores the Feeling

Baseball is a sport of accumulation, a procession of small events that compound into a larger story. Whereas football demands hyper-vigilance, baseball rewards vegging out and focusing on the macro view while the daily micros wash over you. Until the impossibly tense crucible of the postseason, no one game—let alone at-bat, let alone pitch—really matters that much. Aaron Judge has the power to change that. 

Through 147 games, Judge has clobbered 60 home runs, equalling Babe Ruth’s best campaign. By any standard, hitting 60 homers is insanely impressive and cool, but it’s still all been prelude up to this point. Having already matched Ruth, Judge should equal and then surpass Roger Maris’s American League record of 61 homers some time over the next two weeks. At the risk of saying the quiet part out loud, Judge’s eventual total will probably be more than anybody has ever hit without being geared out of their mind. Amongst a certain subsect of fans, Judge will become the new One True Dinger King. 

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But more than his capacity to populate his Baseball Reference page with bolded, italicized numbers, the most remarkable thing about Judge’s season is that he makes baseball barely feel like baseball. Over the last few months, every one of Judge’s at-bats has been an event. When Judge is up, the game assumes a fundamentally different tenor and tone than when, say, Kyle Higashioka is at the plate. For the first time since Barry Bonds, baseball has a truly grand spectacle, the kind of demographic-spanning attraction that compels tens of thousands of Brewers fans to ooh and ahh when a New York Yankee takes their favorite team yard. 

If part of the beauty of baseball is its democracy, the idea that even a team with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani can be butt, Aaron Judge is reimagining the game as an exercise in extreme self-reliance. During the Yankees’ second-half fall from grace, Judge has single-handedly accounted for more than a third of the Yankees’ homers and driven in more than a quarter of their runs. On the year, he’s produced a league-leading 7.3 WPA (win probability added) and 9.7 WAR (wins above replacement). In the most reductive, simplified understanding of how these stats work, Judge is essentially responsible for why the Yankees are winning the AL East rather than scrapping for the final Wild Card.

In this sense, Judge’s legacy won’t be whatever record he ends up setting or if he completes the triple crown or even if the Yankees succeed in the postseason. Instead, it’ll be how he turned sleepy September baseball into something so urgent and immediate. His home run chase is ultimately immaterial—he’s in pursuit of a lesser, lower number because it’s basically impossible to hit 73 homers in one season unless you’re the greatest hitter of all-time who’s also on the Mr. Universe workout/pharmaceutical plan.

But in a sport that’s been so thoroughly colonized by the tyranny and accuracy of analytics, Judge has restored baseball’s connection to the giddy buzz of its romanticized past. To watch Aaron Judge in 2022 is to watch Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 is to watch Roger Maris in 1961 is to watch Babe Ruth in 1927. It’s to hope that he can do it once—or twice or 15 times—more, with feeling. 

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Sports

Give Aaron Judge MVP

In terms of pure baseballing talent, Shohei Ohtani is probably among the half dozen greatest players who have ever lived. After unanimously winning MVP last season, Ohtani has been even better in 2022. He’s simultaneously a top-ten hitter and top-ten pitcher in MLB; his .891 OPS is better than all-world sluggers like Juan Soto, Rafael Devers and Jose Ramirez and he strikes out more batters per nine innings (11.9) than any other starting pitcher. Every single time he steps on the baseball field, Ohtani authors some new marvel. And yet he’s still not the MVP. Because the Aaron Judge MVP campaign is unstoppable.

If Shohei Ohtani is the modern day Babe Ruth in that he can both deftly pitch and hit, Aaron Judge is the modern day Babe Ruth in that he’s way better at hitting home runs than his so-called peers. While his closest competitors haven’t even eclipsed 40 homers, Judge is on the precipice of 60.

Yesterday, Judge socked his 58th and 59th dingers, bringing within two of the American League home run record. Over the last five months, Judge has mashed without interruption, putting together arguably the greatest non-steroidal season of any living slugger. His 210 wRC+ (a catchall offensive metric that measures a player’s performance relative to the rest of the league) is the best mark of any hitter not named Barry Bonds; his .701 slugging percentage is the highest the American League has seen in 26 years; he’s hit 59 home runs—I repeat: FIFTY NINE HOME RUNS—and still has three weeks to add to his total.

Facing Judge, opposing pitchers have no recourse; his dominance is versatile and all-consuming. Against fastballs and sliders, he’s MLB’s best hitter; against sinkers, he’s slacking, only ranking third. His heat map looks like a doppler radar during an Arizona summer. He’s hit at least two homers against 19 teams; for context, the Detroit Tigers as a team have done so against 16.

At this point, pitchers—the smart and cowardly ones, at least—have decided to essentially no longer pitch to Judge. With each passing month, Judge has progressively drawn more walks. Already in September, opponents have intentionally walked him six times in just 14 games. The only way to stop Judge from clobbering another home run is either to hurl the ball into outer space or to bury it in front of the mound like a dogbone. A season this great deserves recognition. The next step is simple: give Aaron Judge MVP. 

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Sports

Three Major MLB Rule Changes Planned for 2023 Season

If baseball is America’s pastime, complaining about how baseball needs to be fixed has become the dominant mode of engaging with it. The game, crow the naysayers, is boring, exsanguinated by the cruel tyranny of three-true-outcomes style baseball. And this is certainly not wrong—in 1990, just about a quarter of all plate appearances ended in a strikeout, walk or home run; this year, over a third of plate appearances do. In other words, the games are longer and less is happening. The solution? MLB rule changes!

Today, baseball’s 11 person competition committee approved the most sweeping set of MLB rule changes in over 50 year in an attempt to goose-up some action—namely, base hits and stolen bases. Before these new rules are implemented before next season, here’s everything you need to know about the game’s upcoming facelift.

Pitch Clock

Starting next season, MLB will introduce a pitch clock, which will keep games chugging along at a steady pace. Under the new pitch clock, pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw the ball when the bases are empty and 20 seconds to do so when a runner is on base. Similarly, all other potential stoppages and delays are strictly regulated. Batters must be ready within eight seconds of the start of the pitch clock and are limited to one timeout per plate appearance; the pitcher can only step off the mound twice (such as to attempt a pickoff) per plate-appearance when a runner is on base; mound visits have a 30 second time limit from when the manager or pitching coach leaves the dugout; all “extended inning events” (think: playing God Bless America or having the grounds crew do the YMCA dance) require the explicit consent of Rob Manfred himself.

Banning the Shift

To a certain kind of baseball fan, the shift is an affront to God. Whereas teams now can arrange their defense in whatever kind of hit-robbing arrangement they see fit, next year teams must have four players positioned within the infield dirt and have two players on each side of second base. By doing so, MLB is hoping to encourage more base hits by decluttering important areas of the field; teams will no longer be able to sardine defenders up the middle and in the second-base hole, which has become standard practice against left-handed batters. As a potential side effect, hitters could tweak their approach in a more contact-friendly direction—since it’ll be easier to get a base hit, there’s less incentive to adopt a homer-or-bust mentality. 

Larger Bases

The bases: they’ll be larger.

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Sports Sports

The 32 Most Valuable Sports Teams In The World

Despite the pandemic, the average value of the top 50 most valuable sports teams on the planet increased by 9.9% from 2020 to 2021, to a whopping $3.4 billion. Today, we’re taking a look at the top half of that list. Due to some ties in value, there are actually 31 teams on the list.

1. Dallas Cowboys, $7.64 billion
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  • Sports league: NFL
  • Owner: Jerry Jones

Within the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys have been the most valuable team since the late 2000s. When you take into consideration every sports team around, Real Madrid were the most valuable until 2016 when the Cowboys took over and they’ve been the most valuable team in the world ever since.

2. New York Yankees, $7.01 billion
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  • Sports league: MLB
  • Owners: Steinbrenner family

You don’t have to know the first thing about baseball to know the New York Yankees and recognize their world-famous logo that is often seen on fitted caps and snapbacks. Their branding alone makes it no surprise that they’re the only MLB team worth over $4 billion, at a whopping $5.25 billion. All this, despite the fact that the team’s last championship was nearly 15 years ago.

3. New York Knicks, $6.12 billion
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  • Sports league: NBA
  • Owner: Madison Square Garden Sports

The New York Knicks have been the most valuable team in the NBA for the best part of a decade. Through all of their struggles as a team, they remain beloved amongst New Yorkers. They took the spot as the most valuable NBA team from the Lakers when they signed an incredibly lucrative cable deal.

4. Golden State Warriors, $6.03 billion
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  • Sports league: NBA
  • Owners: Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber

From 2016 to 2020, the Golden State Warriors had a growth of 147% in value, one of the highest among the top 50 most valuable sports teams in the world. This is largely due to their championship success in that period and it made them the second most valuable team in the NBA, above even the great brand that is the L.A. Lakers.

Speaking of which…

5. Los Angeles Lakers, $5.91 billion (tied)
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  • Sports league: NBA
  • Owners: Jerry Buss Family Trusts and Phillip Anschutz

Not only is the purple and gold of the L.A. Lakers one of the best sports brands ever, but in 2012, the team signed a $4 billion, 20-year deal with Time Warner. This means that regardless of the trouble that they currently find themselves in, they won’t be losing any value or even growing at a much slower rate anytime soon.

5. Los Angeles Rams, $5.91 billion (tied)
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  • Sports league: NFL
  • Owner: Stanley Kroenke

From 2020 to 2021, the Los Angeles Rams had a whopping 20% increase in their value, which was 6% more than the NFL’s average in that same time period. When you consider that they’ve since won the Super Bowl, it’s safe to assume that that value might shoot up again in the next year.

7. New England Patriots, $5.88 billion
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  • Sports league: NFL
  • Owner: Robert Kraft

The New England Patriots are the second most valuable team in the National Football League and this is still largely because of the Brady-Belichick era, but the franchise history of winning 6 Super Bowls and having arguably the best coach in league history also has a lot to do with it.

8. New York Giants, $5.73 billion
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  • Sports league: NFL
  • Owners: John Mara and Steven Tisch

Although they haven’t had a great run in recent times, the New York Giants’ history and the simple fact that they’re a New York team puts them high up on this list here and 3rd on the list of the most valuable teams in their league.

9. Real Madrid CF, $5.1 billion (tied)
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  • Sports league: La Liga
  • Owners: Club members

Right behind Barcelona is their arch-rivals, Real Madrid, coming in with a valuation of $4.75 billion, just $10 million less than Barca. For those that don’t follow soccer and don’t understand the scope of it, it’s truly hard to fathom how big this Spanish team is. In 2013, 2014, and 2015, this team topped the list of the most valuable sports teams.

9. San Francisco 49ers, $5.1 billion (tied)
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  • Sports league: NFL
  • Owners: Denise DeBartolo York and John York

The 49ers didn’t see as much growth from 2020 to 2021 as many of the other teams in the league did and they have a low operating income, but the San Francisco football team remains one of the most valuable teams in the NFL, and sports in general.

11. Boston Red Sox, $5.07 billion
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  • Sports league: MLB
  • Owners: Fenway Sports Group

Since their establishment in 1901, the Red Sox have won 9 World Series, tied for the third-most in MLB history. Interestingly, they’re owned by the same owners as the aforementioned Liverpool F.C., Fenway Sports Group, whose client base includes LeBron James and Johnny Manziel amongst its clients.

12. FC Barcelona, $5 billion (tied)
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  • Sports league: La Liga
  • Owners: Club members

Not only is Barcelona the fourth most valuable sports team in the world, the most valuable soccer team in the world and one of the few non-American teams on the list, but in terms of revenue, they are the world’s richest club, with an annual turnover of nearly $800 million.

13. Chicago Bears, $5 billion (tied)
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  • Sports league: NFL
  • Owners: McCaskey family

A cool and unbelievable stat about the Chicago Bears when it comes to their value is that just over 100 years ago in 1920, they were purchased by George Halas for $100. No, that’s not a typo. That’s the equivalent of around $1,418, which is around a 249,000,000% increase in value.

14. Los Angeles Dodgers, $4.89 billion
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  • Sports league: MLB
  • Owners: Guggenheim Baseball Management

The Los Angeles Dodgers are owned by Guggenheim Baseball Management who even if you haven’t heard of by name, you likely know the people associated with the brand. Of course, this team was originally the Brooklyn Dodgers and they moved to L.A. in the late 1950s. New York and L.A. are good homes for any teams, as the valuation shows.

15. New York Jets, $4.8 billion
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  • Sports league: NFL
  • Owners: Johnson family

New York is a massive media market so in spite of the lack of success that the Jets have seen in recent years, they remain in a top spot with a value of just over $4.8 billion. 

16. Washington Commanders, $4.78 billion
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  • Sports league: NFL
  • Owner: Daniel Snyder

The Washington Commanders don’t have a great reputation as of late but their recent acquisition of Carson Wentz could do something to change that. Their rebuild period could be coming to the end but despite it, from 2016 to 2020, their value increased by 23%.

17. Philadelphia Eagles, $4.7 billion
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  • Sports league: NFL
  • Owner: Jeffrey Lurie

This might be a somewhat surprising entry in the list for people but for the Philadelphia Eagles, their passionate fanbase and their recent Super Bowl win has done a lot for their $3.4 billion valuation. 

18. Denver Broncos, $4.65 billion
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  • Sports league: NFL
  • Owner: Pat Bowlen Trust

The Broncos are looking to be sold this year and there’s still no word on who the new owner could potentially be, but they’ll be paying close to $4 billion for the Denver team. On this list, they’re tied for 25th place with a couple of other teams in different leagues and sports entirely.

19. Houston Texans, $4.63 billion
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  • Sports league: NFL
  • Owner: Janice McNair

Considering the Houston Texans are one of just four NFL teams to have never made it to the Super Bowl, they’re doing a great job here with their valuation of $3.3 billion. They were founded in 1999 and were owned then by Bob McNair who tragically passed away in 2018.

20. Manchester United F.C., $4.6 billion
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  • Sports league: Premier League
  • Owners: Glazer family

Manchester United sat atop the list of the most valuable sports teams in 2010, 2011, and 2012, before they were knocked off the spot by Real Madrid. Even then, it took until 2019 for them to get knocked out of the top 5. Following the Munich air disaster in 1958, Matt Busby is credited with rebuilding the team and setting the foundation for what they have become in the subsequent decades.

21. Liverpool F.C., $4.45 billion
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  • Sports league: Premier League
  • Owners: Fenway Sports Group

Liverpool F.C. are very much a global brand and the team is notorious for having a lot of supporters all around the world. This is a large part of the reason that the team has a valuation of over $4 billion.

22. Chicago Cubs, $4.43 billion
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  • Sports league: MLB
  • Owners: Ricketts family

The Cubbies were established in 1876 and have been an MLB team since 1994 and through their ups and downs, they remain a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the big bucks. In fact, in 2012 when the Cubs had a 61-101, they were the most profitable team in the league.

23. Seattle Seahawks, $4.39 billion
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  • Sports League: NFL
  • Owner: Paul G. Allen Trust

The Seahawks saw a peak in popularity and success in the early 2010’s, going to two Super Bowl’s and winning one. They were headlined by the “Legion of Boom”, the nickname given to their stifling defensive tenacity. Lumen Field where the Seahawks play is known as one of the loudest stadiums in professional sports.

24. FC Bayern Munich, $4.275 billion
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  • Sports league: Bundesliga
  • Owners: Club members

If you’re an American sports fan, then grasping the way that soccer leagues work can be confusing. Luckily, you can read up about it here. Essentially, the Bundesliga is the premier soccer league in Germany and Bayern Munich is not only the most valuable soccer team there but the most valuable sports team in the country as well.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers, $4.26 billion
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
  • Sports League: NFL
  • Owner: Daniel Rooney Trust, Arthur Rooney II

The Pittsburg Steelers are tied with the Patriots for the winningest NFL franchise, with six total Super Bowls. The Rooney family has been the sole owners of the franchise since Art Rooney founded the team in 1933. It cost Rooney only $2,500 to purchase the franchise fee to create the team.

26. Manchester City, $4.25 billion
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  • Sports league: Premier League
  • Owner: City Football Group

From 2016-2020, Manchester City saw a 108% growth in value, the 6th highest amongst the top 50 highest valued sports teams in the world. City became one of the top six in the 2010s and has since become a powerhouse not just in the Premier League or even soccer, but on the planet.

27. Green Bay Packers, $4.19 billion
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images
  • Sports League: NFL
  • Owner: Shareholders

The Packers are one of the original NFL teams and have one of the strangest ownership structures in professional sports. Fans can buy shares of the Packers when made available every couple of years. Owning a share gives you voting rights and an invitation to their annual corporate meeting.

28. Las Vegas Raiders, $4.08 billion
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
  • Sports League: NFL
  • Owner: Mark Davis

Although the Raiders jumped ship from Oakland to Las Vegas, they still have one of the most active fandoms in all of sports. The Davis family has owned the Raiders since purchasing it in 1966 for $180,000. They have been playing in Las Vegas since 2020.

29. San Francisco Giants, $3.7 billion
(Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
  • Sports League: MLB
  • Owner: Charles Johnson

The 5th highest valued baseball team and 27th overall valued team is the San Francisco Giants. Owner Charles Johnson took over in 1993 and has seen immense success. He has won three world series while owning the franchise.

30. Chicago Bulls, $3.53 billion
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  • Sports league: NBA
  • Owner: Jerry Reinsdorf

A large part of the Chicago Bulls’ success over the years has of course been due to their championships in the mid-1990s and Michael Jordan specifically. When the team was bought in 1985, it was for $16.2 million. By the late 90s after their championship run, they were worth $307 million.

31. Boston Celtics, $3.44 billion
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  • Sports league: NBA
  • Owners: Wycliffe Grousbeck, Irving Grousbeck, Robert Epstein and Stephen Pagliuca

You might be surprised at this valuation and the fact that Boston have the fifth most valuable team in the NBA, but the Celtics have a long history and have consistent success to this day. They were one of the first teams to sign a jersey patch deal.

32. Chelsea F.C., $3.1 billion
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  • Sports league: Premier League
  • Owner: Roman Abramovich

Tied for 25th place with the Boston Celtics and the Denver Broncos are Chelsea F.C., with a valuation of $3.2 billion. They’re the 7th most valuable soccer team in the world and through current controversy with their ownership, they remain the fourth most valuable team in the Premier League.

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Inside Oneil Cruz’s Quest to Become “the Best in the World”

Nearly every night, Oneil Cruz creates new wonders. He hits homers out of the stadium and deposits them in the Allegheny River and throws the ball harder than any other infielder in the history of baseball and runs faster than 99 percent of active MLBers. His very existence as a 6’7 shortstop defies logic. While Cruz has struggled with the same things that every rookie does, he’s such an arresting, immediate talent that it’s hard to stay rational about his potential. At this point, his game defies the traditional and aesthetic vocabulary of the sport. So how would he describe himself?

“The best in the world,” Cruz says in an email.

Beyond his counting stats, Cruz’s true potential crackles under the surface. Although he’s only hitting .222, he’s already produced the two highest exit velocities of any Pirate since the start of the Statcast era in 2014. Most impressive, he’s thrived against elite pitchers, taking Corbin Burnes and Sandy Alcantara deep within the last two weeks. 

More than his generational toolsy-ness or internet-breaking highlights, it’s his easy confidence that makes Oneil Cruz so easy to believe in. No, he’s probably not the best in the world quite yet, but he’s already productive, even as he concedes that he needs to focus on maintaining his focus. Through his first 36 games, he’s hit eight homers, driven in 27 runs and accumulated 1.2 wins above replacement; over a full season, Cruz would be on pace to sock 38 home runs, which would shatter the record for home runs by a rookie shortstop. 

If Cruz’s offense is flashy and inconsistent, his defense has been regularly awesome, parlaying  his athleticism into Gold Glove-caliber play at shortstop. Huger and faster than any player in MLB history, Cruz hoovers up any ball hit in his general direction; his range factor will be by far the best in the league, once he plays enough games to qualify.

Whereas most of his teammates toil in relative obscurity, Cruz’s exploits are breathlessly documented on social media. For years, baseball hasn’t been able to produce recognizable stars who could puncture the larger zeitgeist; Cruz could be the antidote. Within the small world of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball, Cruz has already become the team’s closest thing to a rock star

“[Adjusting to fame] is not easy but also not too difficult,” says Cruz. “When you have a lot of fans you can’t go outside and eat something because there are fans waiting for me everywhere. But I love my fans, it’s just about respecting my space”

At times, it feels like everybody is awed by Cruz except for Cruz. When asked about himself, he’s fairly taciturn. 

Which players do you look up to?

“Tony Fernandez”

What do you think when people say you’re too tall to play shortstop?

“I think it is very funny, it makes me smile.”

What do you want to accomplish this year?

“My goals.”

But doesn’t it ever become too much? Do you ever feel the crushing weight of expectations? The hopes of a Pittsburgh fan base desperate for a winner? The pressure of immense promise?

“What is that?” Oneil Cruz says, “I don’t know what pressure means yet— I’m Latin, Latins never have pressure.”

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Nike Will Release Jackie Robinson Dunk Low at MLB All-Star Game

As we’re a week away from this year’s MLB All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium (July 19th), the anticipation for it only rises. And amongst all the noise regarding who made the All-Star teams, the uniforms, etc., nothing will be bigger than Nike honoring the great Jackie Robinson by releasing a sneaker in his honor on game day.

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Donning his Brooklyn Dodgers colors and No. 42, while also being outlined with his famous quote– “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… all I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”– the Jackie Robinson Nike Dunk Low will be released on the day of the All-Star game.

While tributes to Robinson, who was the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in 1947, aren’t unusual, it doesn’t make it less memorable. And this particular tribute is exceptional because it’s been 75 years since the late Hall of Famer’s historic entry into the Majors, which will also be recognized on the shoe with a 75th-anniversary emblem on its tongue.

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Other than Major League Baseball, Nike has made a great effort to honor Robinson. For several years, the sneaker giant has partnered with the Jackie Robinson Foundation and donated millions of dollars to their causes of educating and uplifting disenfranchised communities in the inner cities across the United States.

The Jackie Robinson Nike Dunk Low will be released on July 19th via SNKRS, UNDFTD, and select retailers.

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Tony Romo Wins American Century Championship; Survives A Sudden Death Playoff

While the reality of multi-sport athletes is ordinary, it’s still exciting to watch one-sport athletes switch it up. This weekend (July 8th-10th), the 33rd annual American Century Championship witnessed various athletes step on a surface they’re rarely seen at– the golf course. But when it was over, Tony Romo emerged victorious, surviving a sudden-death playoff against Dallas Wings defenseman Joe Pavelski and former MLB All-Star pitcher Mark Mulder.

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The acclaimed CBS commentator, who’s also a former Pro Bowl quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, is now a three-time winner of this event. And while the rest of the field consisted of other talented part-time golfers– including reigning 4x NBA Champion Stephen Curry, and NFL star quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen– Romo’s consistency and clutch play were unmatched by his peers as he finished with a score of 62.

But more impressively, the 2022 American Century Championship caught some of the attention of sports fans despite it being a jam-packed weekend– men’s and women’s Wimbledon finals, Yankees vs. Red Sox, the NBA Summer League, and WNBA All-Star Weekend. But with highlights like this, how could you turn away from it?

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And what’s an golf outing without Charles Barkley?
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Salute to the American Century Championship for hosting another fun event!

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Oneil Cruz Is the Most Exciting Player in Baseball

Oneil Cruz, the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop of the future, looks like he should play football; in another life, he could’ve been a lethal deep threat wide receiver, out-running and out-jumping cornerbacks like a jumbo-sized Desean Jackson.  Or maybe he could be a 3&D wing in the NBA who can step up to be a small-ball center in the later rounds of the playoffs. If baseball requires a very specific kind of physicality—fast hands, meaty haunches, torque-able hips—Cruz is a truly stupefying athlete by any standard; At 6’7, 220 pounds, he’s the tallest infielder in MLB history; he runs faster than Byron Buxton, throws harder than Max Scherzer and hits the ball harder than Mike Trout. While baseball has largely moved away from body positive kings like David Ortiz or Bartolo Colon, Cruz is built different even amongst his cohort of the differently built. 

A consensus top 20 prospect in all of baseball, Cruz is part of a new generation of players who are bringing baseball out of its fuddy-duddy past and into a more dynamic future. Through his first 17 games since being called up to the Pirates, Cruz has been a revelation in hearts, if not minds; Cruz generates more highlights per game than just about any other player. In his debut on June 20th, Cruz drove in four runs and uncorked a 96.7 mile per hour throw from shortstop, the hardest by any infielder in the Statcast era. 

Beyond the exciting, Tik Tokkable moments, he’s already an excellent fielder at shortstop. For years, the knock on Cruz was that he was simply too large to ably and nimbly navigate as a shortstop. Instead, his size is his super power; it’s basically impossible to sneak a hit by a guy this big and this quick. Prorated over the course of a season, Cruz is already among the best defenders at his position—his 25 defensive runs saved per 1200 innings (roughly the length of an average season) and his 5.06 Range Factor per game are both the best of any current regular starting shortstop.  

Offensively, though, Cruz demonstrates that same degree of promise but without the polish. And yet, despite a pedestrian .630 OPS, Cruz is the favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year because the flashes of greatness are so spellbinding. Although he’s still learning the minor procedural aspects that are needed to be a consistently good player, Cruz has been intermittently great. He strikes out more than would be ideal (like many young players, he’s struggled against sliders and curveballs), but he has explosive power when he does make contact.

With an average exit velocity of 92.6 miles per hour, Cruz has more juice than any other Pirates. Similarly, he has barrelled the ball (i.e. hit it with the ideal combination of launch angle and velocity) on more than nine percent of his at-bats, which is also the best on the team. In this sense, the thing that will determine whether Oneil Cruz is a superstar or merely an All-Star is whether he can master the ordinary as well as the extraordinary.

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How the Yankees Built Baseball’s Best Rotation

It’s never been harder to be a MLB hitter. Every team has a stable of guys with such nasty stuff that it would give Babe Ruth an aneurysm. Beyond the fact that average fastball velocity seems to reach new league-wide heights every year, a greater understanding of the physics of baseball pitching has spawned a whole new genre of “pitch design” coaches who engineer offerings that swerve and dart in novel ways. This is the age of the whirlies and splinkers, axis-devouring creations of R&D departments that are dedicated to making batters look as silly as possible. If, somehow, a player puts the ball in play, defenses take advice from computers on the optimal places to stand to steal potential hits. But even amidst all this run-suppression, the New York Yankees stand alone as the most dominant pitching staff in MLB, if not the history of MLB.

While the Yankees’ offense has performed well in its own right (they’ve slugged a league-leading 83 homers and average an AL-best 4.87 runs per game), their historically great 40-15 start can largely be attributed to their pitching.Their statistical dominance alone is boggling: the Yankees lead MLB in ERA (2.77), FIP (3.05), WHIP (1.048), hits allowed per nine innings (7.0), walks allowed per nine innings (2.4), home runs allowed per nine innings (0.7), slugging percentage allowed (.327), and pitching wins above replacement (6.2, nearly double the second place Dodgers). 

Even with star closer Aroldis Chapman unable to stay healthy or get anybody out and key bullpen cogs Jonathan Loaisiga and Chad Green waylaid by injuries, the Yankees have kept chugging because of their elite, load-bearing starting pitching. At a time when starters are being marginalized by a faceless hegemony of flame-throwing relievers, the Yanks are bucking convention by letting their starters go deeper into games—the average outing for a Yankees’ starter lasts 5.65 innings, highest in the American League. In turn, their starters have rewarded that trust with near-weekly flirtations with no-hitters.

Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole are aces in a conventional sense, overpowering batters with high-velocity heaters and sudden breaking balls—Cole ranks in the 89th percentile for fastball velocity and 95th percentile in whiff rate, while Severino is in the 75th and 82nd respectively. 

Conversely, Jordan Montgomery and Jameson Taillon are expert junkballers, relying on inducing ground balls rather than strikeouts. Whereas Severino and Cole are flashy, Pitching Ninja-friendly hurlers, Montgomery and Taillon work quickly and finessefully. Neither punches out many batters, but they rarely issue walks (both rank above the 92nd percentile for walk rate) or allow hard contact (both are above the 70th percentile in hard hit rate). 

More than Cole or Severino or Taillon or Montgomery, though, Nestor Cortes has been the secret sauce for the Yankees’ rotation. He’s the best pitcher in baseball right now with a 1.50 ERA and the ancillary stats to prove that he’s now fluke. Despite throwing softer than a precocious high school sophomore, Cortes has utterly befuddled hitters. His 91 mile per hour fastball somehow has as much vertical rise as Cole’s, even though it travels nearly 6 miles per hour slower; his cutter, which comprises a plurality of his pitches, dances across the strike zone, squeaking away from left-handed batters and getting in on the hands of righties. After bouncing around the minors for the better part of a decade, Cortes has emerged as a stalwart member of the Yankees’ staff, getting the results of a Gerrit Cole while appropriating  the aesthetics of a Jordan Montgomery. 


As such, the Yankees have thrived because of their diversity on the bump. Led by pitching analytics maverick Matt Blake, the Yankees have equipped their newly-established stars with the tools to be the best versions of themselves. 

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Sports

Camden Yards Has the Best Left-Field

Everybody is mad—something beautiful has been ruined; the sacred is now the propane. This is a “travesty:” the left field at Camden Yards is totally borked. Just look at it! 

Once a neat parabola, the outfield fence now has the uneven pith of a preschooler’s first attempt at collaging. Over the off-season, the Baltimore Orioles pushed their left field fence back by about 30 feet and pumped its height up to 12 feet as a counter-measure to giving up a league-leading 155 long balls at home last season. So far, the Orioles have gotten the results they were looking for—there are just 1.3 homers per game this year at Camden Yards, compared to a MLB-high 3.4 per game last season.

And while teams have tinkered with their ballpark dimensions for years, no one has ever done so as hamfistedly as the Orioles. This is very silly and a little sad: the Orioles were so desperate to stop Gleyber Torres from launching mighty taters against them that they made left-field the same size and jagged shape of a post-Yugoslavia Balkan nation. 

“I feel like it ruins the park,” said Aaron Judge, the Yankees slugger who lost a homer to the gaping maw of left field, “It was quite a beautiful park the way it was.”

Conversely, this big, stupid renovation has made Camden Yards one of the best stadiums in the league, a monument to baseball’s inherent silliness. 

Beyond simply being the only sport that people play while wearing a belt, baseball is unique in that each stadium can be as weird as it wants to be. And yet, every team now seems to be trending towards luxury-box-friendly sameness. In the 21st century, 16 teams have built new stadiums, but can you remember a single notable thing about any of them? All the rough edges have been smoothed out. Houston tamped down their cool little hill in center field; the Marlins dismantled their South Beach-kitsch dinger sculpture; the Rockies store their balls in a humidifier to make their games less Mario Super Sluggers-y.  Whereas the sports century-old cathedrals (Wrigley Field, Fenway Park) have some differentiating weirdness like live vegetation or a giant green wall, the prevailing movement in modern ballparks is a drift towards an anodyne equilibrium.
In this sense, the reconfiguration of Camden Yards represents a return to more romantic version of baseball, one before the bloodless private-equitization of the game. Crucially, it gives the stadium A Thing, a quality that you can’t find anywhere else in sports. Although Camden Yards has been widely regarded as one of the nicest stadiums in baseball for the last 20 years, its niceness in turn spawned a wave of similarly faux-retro imitators in 11 other ballparks. Now, it has a defining feature so nonsensical that no other team would ever try to replicate it. A big empty space was chomped out of the stands in left-field because the Orioles felt like it. 

If second base can be in the wrong place for over 100 years, why can’t left field have a severe right angle in the wall? I mean, the Orioles couldn’t stop the other team from scoring—what else were they supposed to do? Get better pitchers?