Monday Superlatives

If Aaron Boone isn't manager of the year, there's no justice

September 23, 2019
Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees
Jim McIsaac

On Aug. 30, the Yankees earned a dubious distinction: With Gio Urshela assigned to the 10-day DL, the team set a record for the most players sent to the injured list in a single year, with 29. In terms of most "man games" lost to injury, they are absolutely demolishing second place, with 2,246 games lost to 1,653 for the Padres. Nobody else is even close. It's been unbelievable to watch as a fan, and the phrase "recurring nightmare" doesn't begin to cover it. These aren't schlubs, either—the Yanks have lost their best, from Urshela to Giancarlo Stanton to Aaron Judge to Luis Severino to Edwin Encarnacion to Gary Sanchez to...well, everyone. Many of them have been gone for long stints, and some for the entire season. Many key pieces will be missing for the playoffs, and some, like the indispensable Gleyber Torres, are in danger.

And yet, through all of this, the Yankees have somehow won 102 games and stand a good chance to finish with the best record in baseball.

HOW?!

The answer, at least in part, is manager Aaron Boone. Yes, the Yankees have a high payroll—third largest in baseball, this year—but that doesn't really matter when all that money is functionally unusable. (Just ask the Red Sox or Cubs, the two richest teams, if payroll alone is enough to guarantee a playoff berth even without debilitating injuries.) And yes, the front office is really good, and the Yankees have benefited from a superlative farm system filling in the gaps when the big money players go down. The manager can't control whether role players will step up and compete for batting titles, as Urshela did, or whether the GM built a dominant bullpen on the (relative) cheap.

But there are two things a manager can control, and has to be accountable for come feast or famine:

1. How to use the pieces available to him.

2. How to maintain morale in the face of adversity.

Boone has been consistently solid on point one, but it's point two where he's really distinguished himself, and why he's the only logical choice for manager of the year. Rocco Baldelli in Minnesota deserves a tip of the cap, but he hasn't had to deal with the ridiculous litany of setbacks that Boone faced every day. Nobody has. Through it all, he's managed to put a team on the field every night that believes they can win, and hasn't succumbed to the drama or defeatism that plagues many big-money teams when adversity hits.
Here's a good personal indication of how good Boone has been: I'm your typical greedy, annoying, ungrateful Yankee fan, and my honest take on the 2019 season is that I absolutely don't care what happens in the playoffs. It's already been a brilliant year, and watching the resilience of this team has been its own reward. I don't need a World Series. That perspective—which, again, is not normal for me, an obnoxious Yankee fan—exists because of Boone. Give this man Manager of the Year.

The Clutch-but-only-in-a-Very-Specific-Situation Player of the Week: Alexander Zverev

If you know Zverev, you know him as a talented young player who routinely stays inside the top five in the men’s tennis world rankings, and who routinely gags it up in majors. He's only made two slam quarterfinals in his career and never a semi, which is hugely disappointing for someone with his consistency and talent. He's young, but he's getting to the stage where people are wondering if he has the game to take the next step while peers like Daniil Medvedev are proving they already do.

But! Put this man under the bright lights in the Laver Cup—golf's answer to the Ryder Cup, featuring Team Europe vs. Team World—and he's a giant In three years of the competition, he's gone 5-1 in singles, and more importantly has put up a 3-0 record on the crucial Sundays, when victories are worth three points. In 2017, the inaugural year, he clinched the 12th point that guaranteed Team Europe at least a tie. Last year, he came from a set down to survive an absolute slugfest with Kevin Anderson to clinch the Cup for his team, and this year he beat Milos Raonic in a winner-take-all 10-point match tiebreaker to do it again. He was at his most brilliant when the pressure was highest:

I guess this makes him the tennis equivalent of Ian Poulter or Colin Montgomerie: Someone who is highly questionable in the biggest individual events, but thrives in the team setting. He has to be praying that with time and history, the Laver Cup continues to grow in stature.

The "Uh-Oh, This Isn't Just Bad, it's Actually Embarrassing" Team of the Week: Michigan Football

The writing was on the wall two week ago when Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Wolverines barely escaped a home scare against Army in double overtime, but the fan base still had plausible deniability—Army plays hard, everyone has an off day, a win's a win. But heading to Wisconsin this weekend, they couldn't fake it another second: This team is really, really bad. The Badgers throttled them 35-14, and somehow the final score doesn't indicate what a massacre it really was. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor ran roughshod over the defense, racking up 203 yards in 23 carries, but it was the Wolverine offense that really humiliated themselves, to the extent that it was shocking to watch. This tweet basically sums it up:

The really bad news is that this is year five of the Jim Harbaugh experiment in Ann Arbor, which is when a coach is playing with his own recruits and should be hitting his stride. For the team to look this bad raises the ugly question of where the hell this is all going. Throw in the fact that Harbaugh is 0-4 against Ohio State, and will surely be 0-5 after facing them in Columbus this season, and all remaining optimism in the Big House has been popped like an overblown balloon.

The "Just Hook It Into My Veins" Trick Play of the Week:

UCF hadn't lost a regular season game since 2016, but Pitt did the job with this lovely bit of subterfuge on a 4th-and-goal with time running out:

What's better than a successful trick play? It's beauty in motion.

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