DEADLINE DWELLING: WHAT IT'S LIKE TO LIVE ON THE TRADE BLOCK
By Jon Tayler
For a few hours on the afternoon of July 31, 2016, Brandon Nimmo was stuck in limbo.
Sitting in a room at The Westin in midtown Manhattan, the then-Mets prospect was sure he was going to be a Cincinnati Red. His name had been reported as the return in a trade for All-Star outfielder Jay Bruce, first on Twitter, then on TV. “Everyone was like, 'It’s a done deal,’” Nimmo recalls. He was so convinced of his fate that he asked his family—with him in New York to watch him play, as he’d been called up to the majors that week—whether they wanted to return home to Wyoming or meet him in Ohio.
But as the 4 p.m. ET deadline drew closer, he heard nothing from either team. Finally, the trade came together, but with Nimmo no longer part of it. He would remain—and still is—a Met.
“It was a great lesson for me not to count your chickens before they’re hatched,” he says. “Don’t believe anything until you actually get that call.”
For players around the league, the days leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline can be nerve-wracking. Rumors fly as deals are negotiated. And for those who do get traded, it’s an immediate and sometimes jarring shift. “You look back on all the relationships you built,” says Padres reliever Matt Strahm, who went from Kansas City to San Diego this time last year. “To pick up and leave isn’t easy.”
The news can come suddenly, even if it’s expected. Mets reliever Anthony Swarzak, who started 2017 with the White Sox, remembers talking to pitching coach Don Cooper after the team jettisoned David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier in mid-July. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re next,” Cooper told him. One week later, while picking up pizzas with his wife at Eataly in downtown Chicago, Swarzak got a call from general manager Rick Hahn. Earlier that day, he’d recorded his first career save. Now, he was headed to Milwaukee.
Midseason trades can be a logistical pain. Righthander Drew Smith was sent from the Rays to the Mets last summer. The path to his next home was twisted: On the road with the Double A Montgomery Biscuits in Tennessee, he had to return to Alabama, pack his stuff, grab his truck and drive to his new team in Binghamton, N.Y.—18 hours away. Mentally, at least, he had a sliver of familiarity with the situation. The trade was his second in two months. “But the second time was a lot easier than the first,” he says. “I didn’t have to say goodbye to close friends.”
But for all the stress a trade can create, the players involved know it’s a part of life as a ballplayer. “This game prepares you for those moments, because you know you can be traded, released, optioned, whatever at any given moment,” Swarzak says. Besides, getting moved can lead to bigger roles on better teams. As Strahm told former teammate Adam Cimber when he was dealt to the Indians last week, “It’s a good thing, a team wants you, go do your thing.”
Still, wondering if you’ll stay or go can be tough. As Mets starter Zack Wheeler, the subject of regular rumors of late, put it to reporters on Tuesday night when asked whether he thought he’d just made his last start in New York: “It crossed my mind.” Like everyone else, all he can do is wait for that call.
• Take a peek into Jimmy Garoppolo’sunlikely rise to stardom and how he escaped the shadow of the G.O.A.T. (By Jenny Vrentas)
• How a storage room in the Supreme Court building became the Highest Court in the Land. (By Stanley Kay)
• Baseball’s best player registers the same popularity as … Kenneth Faried? MLB has a marketing problem. (By Jack Dickey)
• One of One: How NBA agent Debbie Spander became a titan in the sports industry. (By Jake Fischer)
A LEGEND FROM THE HIGHEST COURT IN THE LAND
By Stanley Kay
There’s a sign on the wall of the Highest Court in the Land, the basketball gym on the top floor of the Supreme Court, that declares: PLAYING BASKETBALL AND WEIGHT LIFTING ARE PROHIBITED WHILE THE COURT IS IN SESSION.
The great fear, of course, is that some idiot is going to be practicing jump shots during oral arguments, which take place directly below the basketball court, in the building’s other court. The sound of the ball bouncing is supposedly audible from the main courtroom.
Who would ever do such a thing? Legend has it that an unlikely baller was guilty: Justice Byron White. I heard this story repeatedly while reporting my “Highest Court in the Land” story, usually accompanied by the rather significant caveat that it might not be true. One variation takes place during October Term 1946, when White clerked for Chief Justice Fred Vinson. In this telling, White decided to play basketball during oral arguments and drew Vinson’s ire after those in the courtroom could hear the sound of dribbling coming from above. In another version, White is a justice—he served from 1962 to '93—and he’s recused from the case at hand.
It’s possible that one or both of these stories are true. But the Supreme Court is full of apocryphal tales, and the Highest Court in the Land is no exception. Largely shrouded in secrecy, the Supreme Court’s inner workings are a constant source of intrigue, particularly as justices consider landmark cases. That the building also contains a basketball court only adds to the mystery and wonder of the nation’s highest court.
BEST OF THE REST
Editor's note: Below are some of our favorite stories of the week not published by SI. This week's list was curated by Molly Geary.
• The last days of Blockbuster have long been upon us. The Ringer's Justin Heckert unearthed what it was like for the last two stores in Alaska to shut their doors.
• An all-African American team won the Washington D.C. Little League championship for the first time, writes Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post, and MLB should be paying attention.
• Stephanie Yang of Once a Metro shines a light on the "untenable" conditions with NWSL’s Sky Blue FC, the club team of Carli Lloyd and one that is part-owned by the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy.
• Billy Joel dishes on when he’ll know it’s time to stop touring, why he hasn’t made an album since 1993, his feelings on the state of the country and more in an entertaining interview with Vulture’s David Marchese.
• This highly detailed map created by the New York Times showing a county-by-county, precinct-by-precinct look at how America voted in the 2016 election is must-see.
• For Deadspin, Catherine LeClair wrote about the struggles of being a woman in a co-ed sports league and why a system intended to include women too often does anything but.
FROM THE VAULT: REMEMBERING THE LATE, GREAT BILL WALSH
Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh will be remembered for plenty of things in his Hall of Fame career: three Super Bowl rings, overseeing the rise of Joe Montana and a dynastic franchise and more. What's likely to be overlooked? His legendary 1986 draft. This Monday, July 30, marks 11 years since Walsh passed away.
Peter King peeled back the curtain in this 1990 piece on "The Genius at Work," who plucked five eventual starters and three reserves for his team in that one draft.
Enjoy the excerpt below and find the entire piece here.
Ten picks into the first round, Walsh asked area scout Mike Lombardi, who is now pro personnel director of the Cleveland Browns, to go to the blackboard behind him and write down the names of the three players the 49ers would like to choose from for their first pick. Lombardi wrote in chalk:
JOHN L. WILLIAMS, FB, FLORIDA
RONNIE HARMON, RB, IOWA
GERALD ROBINSON, DE, AUBURN
All three players were still available as the Minnesota Vikings prepared to make the 14th pick of the first round; it seemed likely that Walsh would get at least one of them. Minnesota took Robinson. The next team up, the Seattle Seahawks, chose Williams. The Buffalo Bills made it a clean sweep, taking Harmon with the 16th pick.
"We were like an NBA team late in a game, up by 15, confident we'd win," says Lombardi. "Then they get 10 unanswered points in a minute and it's a game again."