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Pete Alonso, of the New York Mets, celebrates winning the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby, Monday, July 8, 2019, in Cleveland. The MLB baseball All-Star Game will be played Tuesday. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Big fly highlights

ESPN SportsCenter opened this morning with 12 consecutive minutes on the Home Run Derby.

Seriously.

Yes, it was the best Home Run Derby ever, with young dudes from all over the majors hitting shots into the stands. Heck if tonight's All-Star Game is half as exciting as the semifinal derby between Joc Pederson and Vlad Guerrero Jr., well it would be the most exciting All-Star Game ever.

(Guffaw if you must Spy, but the slugfest between Joc and Young Vlad the Impaler went into overtime and then needed two swing-offs to be decided. And yes, a Swing-Off sounds like decisive round at recess for kindergarteners. So there's that.)

But the avalanche of homers Monday night was the two-plus-hour clip of the entire first half of this baseball season.

Justin Verlander, the A.L. starter tonight, has allowed a league-worst 26 homers this season. Part of it is Verlander throws very hard.

But a large part of it is the differences in the baseball. Differences that MLB has acknowledge.

Verlander's rant, while not safe for Sunday School sharing, is straight to the point, as told to ESPN baseball ace Jeff Passan: ""It's a (bleeping) joke. Major League Baseball's turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you've got Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill. They own the (bleeping) company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it's not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened. Manfred the first time he came in, what'd he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It's not coincidence. We're not idiots."

Wait Justin, do not use logic when trying to figure out baseball leadership decisions. That's simply not allowed.

Whether Verlander is right or not, his points have merit. And ripple-effect questions:

MLB has blackballed some of the main dudes who juiced for more power, but the game is going to juice the ball for more power numbers? Hmmmmmm.

And the changes are certainly producing mind-bending projections for a slew of records to be toppled. Most homers in a season. Most consecutive games with a homer by a team. Double-digit franchises on pace to set team records and four teams on pace to set the MLB single-season mark.

But it is better baseball. The numbers of actual live-ball action — the ball in play with defensive and base-runner movement — is at all-time low even if the offensive numbers are not declining similar rates.

With the incentive of the juice ball matching the trends of swing hard, take pitches, miss pitches and most ABs ending with a trot after a big fly, a walk back to the dugout after a whiff or a walk to first after a base on balls.

More scoring but less action. Better or worse.

 

Where's Russ headed?

Oklahoma City has to move Russell Westbrook now. Has to.

It is the way of the modern sports franchise to be honest. They rolled the dice with Westbrook as the alpha dog. He won the 2017 MVP and it did not result in a playoff series win.

They added an All-NBA sidekick in Paul George in 2018, and it did not result in a playoff series win.

So it was fast ticket to the spin cycle of finishing as the 7 seed in the West, needing to hit a first-round home run with a pick in the late teens or early 20s, and trying to convince any free agents to play in the smallest market in the NBA. (Good luck with that.)

It makes sense considering the Oklahoma City Thunder has an impressive draft history. And now they will continue adding picks and capital. 

So where can Westbrook go and what is he really worth?

Miami has been mentioned, but a potential hurdle there is that OKC already owns Miami's first-rounders in 2021 and 2023, and sending Westbrook to the Heat would devalue those picks.

The Rockets have been mentioned too, but how would adding a third ball-dominant guard to go along with James Harden and Chris Paul work?

Dallas has been mentioned too, but would that detract from the Mavs' building efforts with Kristaps Porzingus and Luca Doncic?

The two I could see happening are Detroit and the Knicks.

The Knicks need a star and Westbrook is certainly that. It's a far cry from the Knicks' May dream of adding Zion, KD and Kyrie this summer — a dream that became the nightmare of R.J. Barrett, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis — but Westbrook moves the needle.

As for the Pistons, a Big 3 of Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and Westbrook has promise in a wide open East.   

 

Soccer discrepancies

OK, the ripples from the U.S. women winning the World Cup continue to grow. And continue to reach.

The team arrived home yesterday and a couple of familiar names appeared on Good Morning America this morning. They will also be celebrated at the ESPYs on Wednesday night too.

Going to be a fun week of celebrating in style.

This morning the conversation got back to the 'equal pay' discussion because the U.S. men get more money than the U.S. women despite being vastly less successful by comparison.

In the U.S. — and from the U.S. soccer governing bodies — that needs to be rectified on simple sports-related baselines that are universal on scoreboard as well as spread sheets.

The women win more. Way more. The revenue generated is comparable. The TV ratings for men's games and women's games are similar. 

The biggest difference according to reports comes from the global governing body and all-around wholesome organization known as FIFA. In FIFA's defense — a side that no one wants to take simply on principle — the men generate exponentially more revenue in World Cup events and international matches than the women's game.

That's the pay structure and the business model. The U.S. is the outlier in the global game that our women generate as much interested and 10 times more success than the men. 

But FIFA paying way more to the men is not unlike the business model in which NBA players make way more money than WNBA players.

And while we are here — and again, I believe the U.S. women deserve to be paid at least as much, if not more than the U.S. men considering the results and the interest — the springboard of success our great and strong female athletes are grabbing around the world in a multitude of sports is because of Title IX.

And one of the unintended and unfortunate consequences of Title IX — the federal law demanding that colleges and universities that receive state or federal funding spend equal funds on female sports as they do male sports — has been the death of several male sports programs at the college levels.

One of those that has been scrubbed most often? Men's soccer.

 

This and that

— Pete Alonso, the Mets rookie slugger beat Vlad Jr. in the finals of the Home Run Derby. Coolest part of that was Alonso made almost twice as much last night ($1 million) as he will for his rookie season ($550,000).

— Rinse. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Duke landed a five-star basketball player last week. Jalen Johnson, the No. 4 player in the 2020 class, picked Duke because they made him a priority and he liked their vision about his potential. Good for that kid for not dropping the canned "dreamed of going to school there" or "continue my academic and athletic career" lines.

— So Urban Meyer is co-hosting a podcast. You remember THE former coach of THE Ohio State, right? Well, the gist of his Focus 3 Podcast is, and we quote here because we want make sure we get this right, "how to build elite leadership, culture and behavior in teams and organizations." Hmmmm, I am really excited for the session about doing whatever it takes — scruples, morales and standards be danged — to recruit players and coaches with a ton of baggage — including future murders and known wife-beaters — to maximize your talent. And part II, of how to handle the fallout by either saying you need a break to spend more time with family or just walk away after professing your apologies to Tom Rinaldi. Awesome. 

— OK, we have moved into the discussions of PC and overly PC and the morality mob who needs to get bent out of shape on social media about just about anything. We're not sure among those categories this story falls, but there has to be some place in the dialog about common sense right? This Pennsylvania quartet played in a golf tournament with U.S. Border Patrol on their shirts and gear. OK. Whatever. Silly but hardly controversial. Well. now know that they dressed their 'caddie' up as an illegal immigrant. Freedom maybe the baseline of a democracy, but shouldn't decency be the backbone of our society. 

 

Today's questions

True or false. It's Tuesday. (True.)

True or false, the Home Run Derby is the best ancillary part of all the major sports all-star festivities.

True or false, Russell Westbrook is a top-10 NBA player.

True or false, you will listen to at least some of Urban Meyer's podcast.

As for today, July 9, well, Tom Hanks and O.J. Simpson are celebrating birthdays.

A Hanks movie Rushmore would be nearly impossible to come to a consensus. And O.J., well, as Adam Sandler sang, "Not a jew."

Also on this day, in 2001, the original The Office premiered in the UK.

Rushmore of post-2000 sit-coms. Go.

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