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Mpetshi Perricard's serve aced Wimbledon. His best friend – and one opponent – knew how to stop it

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Mpetshi Perricard's serve aced Wimbledon. His best friend – and one opponent – knew how to stop it

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WIMBLEDON — Over the course of seven stunning days, it has become the most lethal shot in tennis. 

It’s a serve which comes off the racket of a French 21-year-old named Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard, and the player waiting for it needs to hit it back over the net.

Or, get, cajole, persuade, will, pray it back over.

It’s a rocket blast that can be hard to see, much less get a racket on, let alone return over a piece of mesh 3ft high from 39ft away.

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As for making a quality return to take control of a point, or doing it enough times to win a game when Mpetshi Perricard is serving? For seven days, that looked like an impossibility for everyone in the draw.

Except, maybe, for the one player left in the draw who already knows how to pick the Mpetshi Perricard service lock. He’s another Frenchman, a year younger than Mpetshi Perricard, who is having the breakout Grand Slam run that so many have been expecting of him for more than a year.

That would be Arthur Fils, Mpetshi Perricard’s best friend since the two were 10-year-old standouts palling around in France’s national tennis training program. But Fils isn’t about to share any of the secrets he has picked up over all those years with the rest of the field.


Some numbers. Mpetshi Perricard, who is 6 ft 8 (203cm), has hit 105 aces in three matches, including 51 in his first-round win over Sebastian Korda, No. 20 seed here at the All England Club and one of the world’s better grass court players.


Mpetshi Perricard starting his motion (Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

He’s winning 85 per cent of his first-serve points. He’s lost three sets but only one that hasn’t gone to a tiebreaker. He’s tied with Ben Shelton for the fastest serve in the tournament at 140mph but even Shelton puts Mpetshi Perricard’s serve in a different class than his, in part because the Frenchman’s second serve can come across the net at 128mph sometimes. 

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“Ridiculous,” is how Shelton describes the Mpetshi Perricard offering.

“He basically hits two first serves.”

The status of the big serve, or flat bomb, or boom boom if you’re Boris Becker, has declined in the last two decades. These are not the days of Pete Sampras and so many like him, who sailed to Grand Slam titles on a diet of unreturned serves and tiebreaks won when they needed to, but more often just got one game on the opponent’s serve and considered their work done until the scoreboard told them that they had to start a new set.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

‘They slow things down in their minds’: How tennis players return 130mph serves

Four men called Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are mostly responsible for that decline. If you serve a ball faster than 135mph and your first sight when you come out of the motion is the ball you just hit arriving very hard and fast at your ankles, seemingly harder and faster, your days of winning tennis matches are likely on the way out.

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In contemporary tennis, the word on people’s lips is “servebot”: an at least mildly derogatory and definitely apathetic term for a player who is essentially unbreakable because their serve is so good, but who is also essentially unlikeable because a hypereffective trebuchet for tennis balls is basically all they have.

Mpetshi Perricard is not that guy. He can move. His volley stings. He has studied videos of the biggest servers, especially John Isner, but watching Ivo Karlovic, who was about seven feet tall, is “a little boring,” he said.


Mpetshi Perricard’s net game, touch and volleying are well-suited to grass (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

For those seven days at Wimbledon, Fils and Mpetshi Perricard were living out a dream together while trying very hard to not dream; to not think past the next match, even the next set, or game or point that each of them will play.

They are constantly texting each other, and they eat dinner together at tournaments just about every night if their schedules allow. Mpetshi Perricard quickly received Fils’ text after the latter beat Roman Safiullin to make the second week of the a Grand Slam for the first time.

Mpetshi Perricard’s coach, Emmanuel Planque, said no one on the planet has spent more time with Mpetshi Perricard on a tennis court than Fils has.

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Fils said Planque was 100 per cent right, which means he has seen and returned more of Mpetshi Perricard’s serves than anyone on the planet.

“He teaches me how to return,” Fils said of Mpetshi Perricard, after a freak knee injury forced No.7 seed Hubert Hurkacz to retire from their second-round match, with Fils holding match point in the fourth set.

“It’s good practice.”

On the eighth day, the reality of professional tennis forced them to wake up. Fils succumbed to Alex de Minaur in the fourth round, a player he beat at the Barcelona Open in April, but on clay, which is the Australian’s least-favorite surface.

De Minaur, the No. 9 seed, loves grass because it allows him to capitalize on his speed and sublime movement while keeping his hard, flat shots nice and low. He used that to full effect on Fils, despite an admirable rally from the Frenchman in the fourth set, winning 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

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Fils’ incredibly impressive performance against Hurkacz got him to the third round (Rob Newell/Camerasport via Getty Images)

Mpetshi Perricard faced Lorenzo Musetti, the rising Italian who has quietly put together a solid grass season.

Musetti was a semifinalist in Stuttgart and a finalist at Queen’s, and this is his first Wimbledon second week. Despite saying he felt lost on the stuff a year ago, Musetti has a higher win-rate on grass and clay than on hard courts, and he has a game that suits the surface too. Not just a knifing backhand slice and a good serve, but an economy of movement when returning serve that takes his complicated forehand and one-handed backhand out of the equation. He chips and carves and blocks the ball back, ready to put his tools to good use in rallies, where they will actually be effective.

“I don’t know, I’m just focused on the next one,” Mpetshi Perricard said when asked how far he could go after beating Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland in four sets on Saturday.

“I already lost to Musetti, so I don’t know.”

Sure, but Mpetshi Perricard already lost at Wimbledon, too. He lost his final match in qualifying to Maxime Janvier, another Frenchman, in four sets — three of which went to a tiebreak. Then, Mpetshi Perricard ended up with one of the “lucky loser” spots that arise when a player withdraws at the last minute. He was in the locker room after a practice session last Saturday when a tournament official called him to ask if he’d like to play in the Wimbledon main draw for the first time.

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Was he nervous? Not at all, he said. A good opportunity, no pressure, a great experience.

Since then, Mpetshi Perricard and his serve have become unstoppable forces with no immovable objects in sight. He hits that first serve like he is smacking a rock with a frying pan, then watches it slash to the corners of the service box. Opponents just let their eyes drop to the grass and move to the other side of the court.


Mpetshi Perricard’s serve was similarly effective at Queen’s, the Wimbledon warm-up event (James Fearn/Getty Images)

Fils doesn’t have a bad serve himself but their bodies and their games are completely different. 

Fils, who grew up near Paris, is an all-court player with a build in in the goldilocks zone of the all-time greats. A little over six-feet tall, a perfectly crafted athlete who desperately wanted to play striker and score goals for Paris Saint-Germain, but wasn’t quite good enough.


Fils is into a Grand Slam second week for the first time (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images)

Mpetshi Perricard, who is from Lyon, is in the mould of the new generation of tennis humans like Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev. Closer to seven feet tall than six, they look a bit out of place on a tennis court, until they start serving, their long arms and spines giving them extra leverage to snap balls down from on high.

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Mpetshi Perricard also played a little soccer, dabbling in basketball and swimming before focusing on tennis, mostly because he was better at it than the other sports and believed he could exploit his strength and size while learning the movement.

That part of the game is still a work in progress for Mpetshi Perricard, Planque said. His serve has been his biggest weapon since he and Fils were pre-teens working with Planque and other national coaches at France’s Tennis Federation, along with a few other top players their age, including Arthur Cazaux and Luca Van Assche. They are a bit like the young and coming Italians, led by Jannik Sinner, who pushed each other through their junior years and at regional tournaments on the lower rungs of the sport.


Planque knows that Mpetshi Perricard is always going ride on his serve. 

He doesn’t want to play long rallies,” he said. “The goal is to be aggressive from the first shot.”

He also wants him coming to the net at every chance, even serving and volleying, a dying art that most players only use as a surprise tactic. 

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“I’m an old-style coach,” Planque said.

Old-style too is one of Mpetshi Perricard’s groundstrokes. Like Musetti, he is the rare young player who uses a one-handed backhand — even though he now wishes he didn’t, looking enviously at Isner’s two-hander on those videos. As Musetti learned, making service returns with one hand is a struggle.


Mpetshi Perricard’s booming serve, one-handed backhand and soft net game feel like a throwback (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

And while his first serve is the star, improving his second was one of his main goals coming into this season. He crushes the first ball and if he misses, he tries to do something a little different with the second one, which is averaging 117 mph. Maybe he’ll put a little spin on it or go down the middle or into the body, rather than going out wide, which he so often does with his first ball.

“It works for now,” he said last week after the win over Ruusuvuori. “We’ll see if, against the top player, it’s going to work.”

He did see, and he didn’t like what was in front of his eyes. Musetti won the serve battle, taking 79 per cent of first-serve points to Mpetshi Perricard’s 67, amd 84 per cent of second-serve points to Mpetshi Perricard’s 53.

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He won the return battle too. 32 per cent of first-serve return points to Mpetshi Perricard’s 20 per cent; 33 per cent of second-serve return points to Mpetshi Perricard’s 16 per cent.

After the match, Musetti agreed that facing the serve is like being a goalkeeper in a penalty shootout, and said that his coach had explained that to break, he would need to have the cushion of 0-40, not relying on 30-40 or even 15-40 as a chance, because it could so easily be snatched away. Musetti had to pick his moment of comfort, before the discomfort began again in the next game.

That’s not just for now. Mpetshi Perricard’s serve looks set to be discomfiting top returners for many years to come.

As for Fils, he might be getting some texts from other players soon.

(Top photo: John Walton / PA Images via Getty Images) 

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Culture

MLB midseason awards: MVP and LVP, Cy Young and Cy Yuk, top rookies and more

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MLB midseason awards: MVP and LVP, Cy Young and Cy Yuk, top rookies and more

We interrupt your mid-July search for your favorite tube of sunscreen for this important announcement: Somehow or other, the All-Star break is going to arrive in like 15 minutes.

So yes, it’s that time again — time for me to hand out my coveted midseason awards. Best I can tell, this year’s awards ceremony once again will not be hosted by Hugh Grant, Hugh Jackman, Reggie Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Juan Samuel, Juan Pierre or Pierre Cardin. So I’ll just have to do this myself. Ready? The envelopes, please!


AL MVP of the half-year: Aaron Judge, Yankees


Aaron Judge looks to the dugout after launching another long ball. (John Jones / USA Today)

Gunnar Henderson is a both-sides-of-the-ball game-changer. But he’s not the American League MVP. Bobby Witt Jr. and Juan Soto can play for my team any time. But they’re not the AL MVP, either.

No, the AL MVP is one of those rare humans who feels larger than life, larger than the Empire State Building, larger than the sport he plays. Aaron Judge towers over everyone and everything these days. So I appreciate that he made at least one of these awards soooo easy to pick.

Has it dawned on us yet where Judge is headed over these next few months? And by that I mean: Toward one of the most spectacular offensive seasons of our time, or any time. His current pace is absolutely mind-warping:

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OPS+ HR  AVG OBP SLUG RBI

202

55

.307

.424

.672

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143

(through Wednesday)

Just so you know, only two other men have ever had that year:

PLAYER  AVG OBP SLUG  OPS+ HR  RBI

Babe Ruth, 1921 

.378

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.512

.846

239

59

168

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Babe Ruth, 1927 

.356

.486

.772

225

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60

165

Jimmie Foxx, 1932

.364

.469

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.749

207 

58

169

(Source: Baseball Reference / Stathead)

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Mickey Mantle (1961), Barry Bonds (2001), Mark McGwire (1998) and the 2022 version of Judge himself were near-misses. But you get the picture. And I haven’t even mentioned that Judge is also on pace for 92 extra-base hits, a number that only Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Alfonso Soriano have reached in the history of the Yankees.

But the other reason Aaron Judge is the MVP revolves around what he means to a Yankees lineup that depends on every ounce of superhero magic Judge has in him, especially as his team has unraveled over the past few weeks. Take a look at how Judge’s production compares with what this juggernaut is getting from all other Yankees not named Juan Soto:

JUDGE  OTHERS

AVG

.307  

.235

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OBP 

.424  

.299

SLUG 

.672 

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.370

OPS   

1.096  

.669

With every category, the gap between Judge and his non-Soto-esque teammates gets not just wider, but wilder. A 302-point difference in slugging? A 427-point gap between his OPS and theirs? This isn’t the Oakland A’s lineup we’re talking about. This is the lineup of a $303 million baseball team.

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So with the utmost respect for any other candidate you’d like to make a case for … sorry! Here comes the Judge — again — to collect another prestigious midseason MVP award. Why is anybody throwing this dude a strike?

MY AL MVP TOP FIVE: Judge, Henderson, Witt, Soto, Steven Kwan.

NL MVP of the half-year: Shohei Ohtani, Dodgers 


A third MVP award for Shohei Ohtani? He’s on his way. (Jonathan Hui / USA Today)

Isn’t it funny how Shohei Ohtani MVP debates aren’t like anyone else’s MVP debates? Then again, maybe that’s just how it works on Planet Unicorn. But let’s explain anyway.

The 2021-23 version of this debate went: If he’s going to pitch and hit, you might as well give him this thing every darned year because nobody can compete with that. Only Aaron Judge, the 2022 62-homer edition, was able to power through that logic.

But now, here in 2024, it’s all flipped on Shohei: If he’s not going to pitch and he’s not going to play the field and he’s only a DH, how can he possibly win this award? Isn’t that the question? If David Ortiz never did, if Edgar Martinez never did, then maybe no DH ever will — or should — win an MVP trophy. Right?

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Ehhh, wrong. We should never have unshakeable, illogical rules like that — especially when we’re talking about this man. He’s currently rocking along with a 190 OPS+. And is that good? If he keeps that up, it would merely be the best offensive season any DH has ever had.

The only other DH who even approached that was Edgar, with a 185 OPS+ in 1995. So how’d he fare in that ’95 MVP race? The voters rewarded him with a third-place finish and four first-place votes. And that’s how it seemingly always works for guys who play no position, no matter how prodigiously they’re mashing.

Not that we have many comparable players or seasons. Even if we drop the bar to a 170 OPS+, it’s an exclusive group — and the MVP voters didn’t seem interested in anybody in it.

We won’t include the 60-game pandemic season of 2020. And it’s hard to count Ohtani’s 2023 season, because he also had this side gig where he was busy piling up more strikeouts on the mound than Justin Verlander. So that leaves only three true DHs who had a qualifying season with an OPS+ of 170 or better: Ortiz (171) in 2007, Victor Martinez (172) in 2014 and Travis Hafner (181) in 2006.

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Want to guess how many first-place MVP votes they got? Zero would be a fine guess.

Even Ortiz, who was productive enough to roll up six seasons with a top-six MVP finish, only collected 17 first-place votes in his whole career: 11 in 2005 (when he finished second to Alex Rodriguez), four in 2003 and one each in 2004 and 2016. In fact, over the five seasons from 2003-07, Big Papi had the highest OPS of any hitter in the American League (1.014) while his team was winning two World Series — and got no MVP trophies out of it.

But is that Shohei Ohtani’s problem? No, it is not. Is that our problem as voters, or awards-column authors? Nope. Not our problem, either.

As we speak, Ohtani leads his league in home runs, extra-base hits, OPS, slugging and runs scored (among other things). And how many DHs have ever led their league in all of those categories over a full season? None. Naturally.

But you should know that over the past 70 years, only eight players have done it at any position: Judge (2022), Mickey Mantle (1956), Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Frank Robinson (1966), Albert Pujols (2009), Mike Schmidt (1981), George Foster (1977) and Ryan Braun (2012).

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So as exceptional as Bryce Harper has been in Philly this year, with a bat and glove, it’s still apparently impossible for anyone to compete with the unique greatness of Ohtani — a man unleashing his wrecking ball on everything we ever thought one baseball-playing human was capable of.

MY NL MVP TOP FIVE: Ohtani, Harper, Mookie Betts, Marcell Ozuna, Elly De La Cruz.


AL LVP of the half-year: Bo Bichette, Blue Jays 


What happened to Bo Bichette? (John E. Sokolowski / USA Today)

I can’t believe I’m even typing this. I’ve always thought of Bo Bichette as a star, a natural-born hit machine, a face of his franchise. How he turned into this guy — the Least Valuable Player in the entire American League — is a mystery. Not just to me. To pretty much everyone I asked.

He has spent the past three months playing like a fellow who would rather be somewhere other than Toronto. And the irony there is, if that’s how he actually feels, probably the worst way to inspire somebody to trade for you is to go out and make yourself the odds-on LVP favorite.

Before I recite Bichette’s unsightly numbers, I should remind you that this award is not the same thing as saying someone is the worst player in the league. Javy Báez — a guy with an OPS+ of (gasp) 29 — has that distinction locked up in Detroit for the third straight year. But the LVP isn’t an “honor” I automatically bestow on guys like him.

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No, I look at the Blue Jays as the most disappointing team in the whole sport. So Bichette swoops in here because I’m not sure that would be possible without the massive underachievement of their once-charismatic shortstop.

Check out just a few of Bo Bichette’s inexplicable “achievements” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

He can’t hit! This is a guy who led the league in hits two years in a row, and was headed for three in a row last year until he got derailed by knee and quad issues. Now he’s spitting out a gruesome .222/.275/.321 slash line, with fewer home runs (four) than Ernie Clement (six). But here’s the biggest shocker. There are 68 AL hitters with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title. Who has the worst OPS+? Yup. Bo Bichette (at 70).

He can’t even hit a fastball! Everybody knows you should never, ever throw a first-pitch fastball to Bo. Oh, wait. Check that! Take in the view of his year-by-year average against fastballs (in all counts), according to Statcast:

2019 — .357
2020 — .351
2021 — .310
2022 — .309
2023 — .328
2024 — .226

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One of these years is not like the others.

He can’t hit left-handers! Bo eats left-handers for breakfast. That’s just a fact … um, I mean that used to be a fact.

2019-23 — Hit .321 and slugged .537 versus left-handers.

2024 — Hitting .153 and slugging .196 versus left-handers, with no home runs and only two extra-base hits in three months. Average versus left-handed starters: .106! What the heck.

In other news … He’s hitting .115 in the first inning this season, with no extra-base hits. … He’s hitting only .209 and slugging .254 after he gets ahead in the count. … And in 35 plate appearances in the late innings of close games, he’s gotten only five hits all season (all five of them singles).

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I feel like I’m writing this in some bizarro universe where everything has turned upside-down. But these are the times I need to remind myself there’s a term to describe when something like this happens: L-V-P!

MY AL LVP “TOP THREE”: Bichette, Báez, Gleyber Torres.

NL LVP of the half-year: Tim Anderson, unemployed


It’s been a steep fall for Tim Anderson, whom the Marlins released on July 5. (Sam Navarro / USA Today)

It’s not that hard to remember a time when we used to look at Tim Anderson as … what’s that word again? … Oh, right. Good. An actual good, productive baseball player.

He was an All-Star in 2022 and 2021, a year when he hit a walk-off homer into a corn field. He was a top-seven MVP finisher the year before that. He was a batting champ in 2019. He hit 20 homers and made the stolen base leaderboard in 2018. He was even a productive player for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic as recently as 16 months ago.

So … who the heck shortstop-napped that guy?

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There was some dude wearing Tim Anderson’s uniform for the Marlins this year — for three months, anyway. But I hope you covered your eyes when you watched him, because it reminded me of, well, this.

Except in this case, there was nowhere for Tim Anderson to hide. So as the Marlins’ once-hopeful season descended into a flame pit, they just kept running him out there, until they couldn’t convince themselves to do that anymore. So on July 5, they released him, possibly because of unreal stuff like this:

He was the all-time Zero Hero in June! Have you ever heard of this? A guy who started 21 games in a calendar month and emerged from that month with zero walks and extra-base hits? Yeah, Tim Anderson just had that month. Only one other player in the past 60 years has had a calendar month like that: the legendary Steve Jeltz for the 1988 Phillies (but in a September with 20 fewer plate appearances). So wait. Make that two players!

He played Beat the Streak! But that stretch didn’t just begin in June. Would you believe this guy somehow went two months, and 38 games in a row, without an extra-base hit? And he went 23 games in a row — we’re talking nearly 100 straight plate appearances — without a walk? That. Happened. The 23 consecutive games he started without a walk or an extra-base hit was the longest streak of dueling goose eggs in more than 30 years, since Darren Lewis went walk-less and XBH-free for 27 games in a row for the 1993 Giants.

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He also had more errors than walks! Nine errors, seven walks. Is that good? Or how about this: More errors than extra-base hits and stolen bases combined (9-7). Holy Mario Mendoza! How’d that happen?

But let’s also mention … that Anderson “slugged” .226 and had an OPS+ of 30! … and that he hit .164 with runners in scoring position … and that he went 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position and two outs … and that he went 3-for-32 against the Braves and Phillies.

I’m honestly just scratching the surface of those grisly numbers. Whatever. What I still can’t figure out is what the heck happened.

“Look at his numbers since The Punch,” said a high-ranking decision-maker on one NL team … so I did!

Since José Ramírez flattened Anderson in their fabled boxing match at second base, on Aug. 5, 2023, guess what player has the worst slugging percentage (.257) and OPS (.514) in baseball? Did I just hear thousands of you readers shouting, “Tim Anderson”? Heck, yeah, I did. You’re the best LVP students ever.

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MY NL LVP “TOP THREE”: Anderson, Kris Bryant, Jeff McNeil.


AL Cy Young of the half-year: Tarik Skubal, Tigers


Tarik Skubal gets the nod over Corbin Burnes, Garrett Crochet and Seth Lugo. (Lon Horwedel / USA Today)

That sound you hear, off in the distance, is the thumbs of thousands of Orioles fans, reading this and pounding out story comments that go something to the effect of: If you don’t think Corbin Burnes deserves the Cy Young Award, you know less about baseball than my garden hose.

Well, I’ve never met your garden hose. But I promise I spent more time thinking about this than all the hoses in your neighborhood combined. Now here’s what I think: If this was the Most Pivotal Trade of the Year award, you’d all be right. Because Corbin Burnes has been exactly that.

He has also been as irreplaceable as any great starter on any contender in baseball. Which, come to think of it, is why the Orioles made that trade. But here’s an important thing to remember before we get any further:

That’s not what Cy Young debates are made of!

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This is not the Most Valuable Pitcher award. It’s about performance, period. It’s about who has pitched the best, period. And if that’s the question, Tarik Skubal is the answer.

It seems almost incomprehensible that only three Tigers starters have ever won a Cy Young Award: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Denny McLain. That means Jim Bunning, Jack Morris, Mickey Lolich, Mark Fidrych, David Price, Frank Tanana and Rick Porcello were among the many Tigers aces who never did. But Tarik Skubal? He’s well on his way.

I took a lot of time digging in on the excellent cases for Burnes, Garrett Crochet and Seth Lugo. But if this is just about who has pitched the best, I think I picked the right man. Here’s why:

Skubal versus Burnes: These two guys are so close in ERA (2.43 for Burnes, 2.37 for Skubal), that’s not a factor. But Skubal leads Burnes in WHIP, strikeout rate, opponent OPS, opponent slugging and opponent average. And once Skubal makes his last start before the All-Star break, their workloads will be virtually the same.

Skubal versus Lugo: Lugo is No. 1 in the league in ERA and batters faced. So he’s been tremendous for a Royals team that signed him, dreaming of this. But Skubal has a hefty lead in strikeout rate, FIP, WHIP and opponent OPS. So if Domination Factor is a useful tiebreaker in Cy Young debates, Skubal runs that table.

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Skubal versus Crochet: Crochet ranks in the top three in the AL in both WHIP and strikeout rate, which always rockets a guy to the top of my list. But wait. So does Skubal. And Skubal’s ERA (2.37) is seventh-tenths of a run lower than Crochet’s (3.08). As fantastic as Crochet has been for the White Sox, I don’t see the argument for placing him ahead of Skubal.

And I bet you didn’t know that … Skubal has the third-best strikeout rate in the league plus the best walk rate (1.6 per nine innings). So he’s filling up the strike zone and still not getting hit … Speaking of which: Left-handed and right-handed hitters are batting under .200 against him. … And opposing cleanup hitters are hitting .109/.160/.130 against him (with one extra-base hit). That computes to an OPS+ of minus-18!

Finally, who has a more overpowering pitch mix than Tarik Skubal? This dude throws five pitches — and hitters have a batting average under .200 against four of them. But hold on, because … none of those are even his wipeout pitch, because he also throws a changeup with a 47 percent whiff rate (49 strikeouts, 29 hits against that dastardly invisi-ball).

So Skubal’s manager, A.J. Hinch, tipped his cap to all the other candidates out there, but made the case for his ace this way:

“I love the way Tarik has dominated the strike zone. As the attention grew on him, he has continued to throw strikes, miss bats and keep the ball in the ballpark. He’s been the definition of a Cy Young candidate.”

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And as much as I appreciate everything about Burnes, Crochet and Lugo, I agree!

MY AL CY YOUNG TOP FIVE: Skubal, Burnes, Crochet, Lugo, Logan Gilbert.

NL Cy Young of the half-year: Chris Sale, Braves


At age 35, in his 14th MLB season, is this the year Chris Sale wins a Cy Young? (Dale Zanine / USA Today)

Who’s the best active pitcher who has never won a Cy Young Award? It’s pretty much a dead heat between Zack Wheeler and Chris Sale. Isn’t it? So how perfect is it that that’s almost exactly how I see this NL first-half Cy Young race?

But first, can I mention that, in retrospect, Wheeler should already own one of those awards? Remember 2021? It now seems so clear that Wheeler deserved to win that year. In fact, this spring, another team’s ace — with no connection to either Wheeler or the NL winner in ’21, Corbin Burnes — went on an unprompted rant about it to me.

I don’t think that’s true of Sale, but he has a different claim to fame. He once somehow ripped off six straight top-five Cy Young finishes (2012-17) without ever winning once. Want to guess how many other active starters have done that? None. Obviously.

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These two guys also rank 1-2 in ERA among all active starters with no Cy Young trophies. So it’s time that changed — for one of them. But it’s hard to figure out which one, because of course it is.

I decided the best argument for Wheeler is that he’s emerged as baseball’s most consistent front-of-the-rotation dominator for a Phillies team that wouldn’t have the best record in the sport without him. And, as always, he combines brilliance with volume. He has faced 55 more hitters than Sale has. And yeah, that matters.

But here, I think, is where Sale inches ahead:

He’s crushed it against the best teams. How about this stat: Against teams that are .500 or better, Sale is 5-0, with a 1.27 ERA — the best ERA in baseball against the best teams. (Wheeler in that same category: 3-2, 3.47.)

WHIP and strikeout rate don’t lie. When I do my Cy Young analysis, those two metrics are where I start. So when you find a guy who ranks in the top two in his league in both, as Sale does, that’s telling.

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K/9 IP

Sale — 11.7
Wheeler — 9.7

WHIP

Sale — 0.94
Wheeler — 0.97

FIP happens. I’m always wary of delving too deeply into Fielding Independent Pitching in my Cy Young process for one important reason: FIP tells us more about what should have happened (theoretically) than what actually happened. And Cy Youngs are about performance, not projection. But I do look at FIP as a potential tiebreaker when a race is this tight. And there is such an eye-opening difference between Sale’s FIP and Wheeler’s FIP, it’s hard to ignore.

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2024 FIP

Sale — 2.22
Wheeler — 3.32

For once, let’s not ignore “The Win”: Like virtually all voters in this evolving age we live in, I barely look at “wins” anymore. But Sale has 12 of them. And of his three losses, one was a 1-0 game, another was a 2-1 game, and he has a better strikeout rate, plus more innings per start, in the losses than the 12 wins.

Listen, I have nothing but immense respect for Zack Wheeler and the way he handles the responsibilities of acehood, every minute of every day, from April through Halloween. But remember:

The Cy Young is not the Most Valuable Pitcher award. It’s about who has pitched best. And I think the answer, as of this moment, is Chris Sale. But I also think this is about as tight as Cy Young races get.

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MY NL CY YOUNG TOP FIVE: Sale, Wheeler, Ranger Suárez, Tyler Glasnow, Reynaldo López.


AL Cy Yuk of the half-year: Kenta Maeda, Tigers


Kenta Maeda’s gnarly numbers have Cy Yuk written all over them. (David Butler II / USA Today)

I just wish my friends from STATS Perform could tell me if the same team has ever produced a Cy Young and Cy Yuk in the same season. I’m going to guess no on that. But if things don’t change in the next couple of months, I may have a trip down a Cy Yuk rabbit hole ahead of me.

So stay tuned for that, because Kenta Maeda has charged to the top of the Cy Yuk leaderboard. In fact, he has charged toward the top of the all-time Cy Yuk leaderboard.

Welcome to the 7.00 ERA Club! Sixteen starts into his first season as the Tigers’ highest-paid starter (with a $24 million guarantee over this season and next), Maeda is sitting on a 7.26 ERA. Do you think he wants to know that in the live-ball era, only two qualifying starters have ever finished a full season with an ERA that started with a “7?”

Jack Knott, 1936 Browns —  7.27
Les Sweetland, 1930 Phillies — 7.71

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So the American League “record” is 7.27 — almost exactly matching Maeda’s mark. And call me an alarmist, but I don’t think this is trending well for Kenta. His ERA over his past five starts: 10.13. His ERA over his last three starts: 13.11.

Ah, but his manager, A.J. Hinch, may have just rescued him from the pursuit of Jack Knott, by gonging him from the Tigers’ rotation “for the foreseeable future.” So there’s that.

Central casting! It’s amazing that the Tigers have a winning record against their division, considering they’ve spent the past three months letting Maeda pitch against it. His record in six starts against the Central: 0-2, with an 11.90 ERA!

That’s not right! Almost 90 percent of the world’s population is right-handed. I’m guessing that’s not Maeda’s favorite factoid about the world’s population, considering he has spent this year essentially turning the entire right-handed portion of the sport into 1936 Joe DiMaggio:

HITTER(S) OBP  SLUG OPS

DiMaggio, 1936

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.352

.576

.928

RHHs vs Maeda, 2024

.359

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.578

.936

Don’t tune into this FastCast! Scouts who have seen Maeda talk about his inability to get swings-and-misses on pretty much any pitch. But it all starts with the fastball — and hey, that’s going well.

According to Baseball Savant’s Pitch Arsenal leaderboard, Maeda’s four-seam fastball is basically the fifth most-pummeled pitch in baseball. It’s transforming all hitters who swing at it into Babe Ruth, 1926.

HITTER(S) AVG.  SLUG

Ruth, 1926

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.372

.737   

vs. Maeda fastball, 2024

.375

.732  

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As always, this sport was filled with many deserving Cy Yuk candidates. But it’s hard to beat a guy turning an entire sport into Babe Ruth!

MY AL CY YUK “TOP THREE”: Kenta Maeda, Michael Soroka, Reid Detmers.

NL Cy Yuk of the half-year: Blake Snell, Giants


Blake Snell, from Cy Young to Cy Yuk. (John Hefti / USA Today)

Not all Cy Yuk profiles are created equal. And that explains how Blake Snell wound up in this space.

He’s here, in part, because he’s 0-3, with a 7.85 ERA, after seven starts as a Giant. He has made it through the fifth inning exactly once. He’s averaging more than 20 pitches an inning. And if his miraculous 84 percent rate of stranding base runners last year seemed unsustainable, he’s shown why this year.

BASE RUNNERS*  SCORED

2023

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202

32

2024 

47 

22

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(*hits plus walks plus hit-by-pitches, minus home runs)

But in truth, that isn’t why he’s here in the Cy Yuk winner’s circle. He’s here because we need to consider the context of how he became a Giant, for the bargain price of $32 million a year, plus a $30 million player option he can exercise for next year.

Blake Snell is a Giant because the Giants had designs on contending, and assembling a potentially dominant rotation seemed like a good plan to do so.

But in a related development, Blake Snell is a Giant because Robbie Ray can’t pitch until the second half, because Alex Cobb can’t pitch until the second half and because the Giants couldn’t safely project Jordan Hicks to make it through a whole season as a starter.

So hey, what a lucky break that the incumbent NL Cy Young Award winner was still looking for work in the third week of March. Unless …

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Unless, of course, he wasn’t ready to pitch after missing virtually all of spring training.

Unless, of course, he rushed back into the rotation on April 8 without facing a single minor-league hitter on a rehab start. (His choice.)

Unless, of course, he was so out of whack that he went 0-3, with an 11.57 ERA and 1.97 WHIP, in his first three starts (all blowout losses).

Unless, of course, he then strained a groin and wound up on the injured list for a month.

Unless, of course, he then found himself winless with three days left until the All-Star break.

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So perhaps you might be thinking: Look, stuff happens — to everybody. He didn’t have much of a spring training. It’s not fair to be handing out Cy Yuks to well-meaning folks like this.

All of that is true, except for the fact that missing spring training wasn’t just some happenstance. It was a choice.

Snell and his agent, Scott Boras, had certain expectations. It wasn’t all their fault that nobody wanted to meet those expectations until the Giants came along. But what has happened since was always a potential consequence of holding out all those weeks.

So in the end, Blake Snell got the money, and I’m happy for him. But he also got this midseason Cy Yuk award. Life is complicated like that sometimes.

MY NL CY YUK “TOP THREE”: Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Dakota Hudson.

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Rookies of the Year: Mason Miller, A’s, and Paul Skenes, Pirates

Is it me, or do these Rookie of the Year categories get harder every year? This sport is bursting with so many electrifying young shooting stars, it’s easier to figure out what to order at the Cheesecake Factory than it is to figure out who to pick for Rookie of the Year.

So feel free to fire off your arguments for Shota Imanaga, Luis Gil, Jackson Merrill, Michael Busch, Joey Ortiz, Wyatt Langford, Masyn Winn and a dozen more rookies. There are no wrong answers on this quiz.

I gave up trying to separate them all from one another — and went with my two favorite rocket-launchers.


Paul Skenes. Take a whiff. (Benny Sieu / USA Today)

Paul Skenes! I know he arrived in Pittsburgh for his big-league debut only two months ago. But I’m starting to think he’s pretty good.

Roy Halladay struck out 82 hitters in his entire rookie season (in 149 1/3 innings). Skenes has struck out 89 in two months (in 66 1/3 innings).

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Mariano Rivera, the first unanimous Hall of Famer, gave up 17 runs in the first 15 innings of his career. Skenes has given up 14 runs in two months.

Randy Johnson and Max Scherzer combined for two starts in their entire Hall-worthy careers with zero hits allowed and 11 strikeouts or more. Paul Skenes now has two of those in the first 11 starts of his career.

So what we’re seeing here isn’t just a Rookie of the Year. It’s history.


Mason Miller likes triple digits. (Paul Rutherford / USA Today)

Mason Miller! There aren’t many reasons to watch the A’s this summer, unless your idea of fun is counting empty seats. But when Mason Miller lopes out of that Oakland bullpen, I highly recommend you stop whatever you’re doing to watch this guy spit lightning bolts.

He’s already thrown 286 pitches this season at 100 mph or faster. I don’t know how to put that in perspective for you, so how about this: That’s more pitches at 100-plus, in three months, than Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, Shohei Ohtani and Spencer Strider have combined in their whole careers (280). And that’s out of nearly 50,000 total pitches for those four.

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Or maybe this will drive my point home: Miller already has fired up five saves this season with at least three strikeouts and no hits allowed. Remember that Mariano Rivera guy? Would you believe he never had more than three saves like that in any season of his career? Believe it.

If you read this section and only come away with the impression that Hey, maybe Mariano Rivera wasn’t that good, that wasn’t the idea here at all. We’re just providing perspective on two rookie pitchers who are already headed to their first All-Star Game … because they’re doing stuff even the legends of yesteryear never did.

MY AL ROOKIE OF THE HALF-YEAR TOP THREE: Miller, Gil, Langford.

MY NL ROOKIE OF THE HALF-YEAR TOP THREE: Skenes, Imanaga, Merrill.


Managers of the half-year: Stephen Vogt, Guardians, and Rob Thomson, Phillies


Stephen Vogt has led the Guardians to the AL’s best record. (David Richard / USA Today)

Here’s another impossible award to pick. I could easily have talked myself into Alex Cora, Matt Quatraro, Pat Murphy or Mike Shildt as the managers of the year — and then spun an eloquently convincing case for why you should pick them, too. But that’s not what I did. Was it? Instead …

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Stephen Vogt: I’ve said many times that Terry Francona was the greatest manager of his generation. So naturally, he retired and turned the Guardians over to a guy who had never managed … and Stephen Vogt then led that team to a better 90-game start than any team Francona ever managed — in Cleveland, Boston or Philadelphia.

I haven’t changed my mind about Francona. But I’m blown away by the magic Vogt and his staff have worked with the Guardians. The youngest team in the league. A team we thought might make fewer home run trots than Aaron Judge. A team that has had almost everything about its vaunted rotation go wrong.

Instead, that team has the best record in the American League. And the manager has his pulse on everything about it. Pretty cool story.

Rob Thomson: I know this isn’t how us savvy baseball writers usually pick a manager of the year. Usually, we look at the standings, find the team we were most wrong about and conclude: Whoa, what a brilliant job that manager is doing, huh?

But that doesn’t describe the Phillies’ manager at all. I don’t know how many of us thought the Phillies would have the best record in baseball right now, or would find themselves 9 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta. But we knew this team would be good, possibly great.

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I just think it’s time to recognize the manager’s big part in that success. Rob Thomson waited a lifetime to do this job. And from day one, he was so good at it. He can run a game and juggle a bullpen as if he’d been doing this as long as Tony La Russa. But that’s not his greatest talent.

The word I keep coming back to is trust. I think about it all the time when I watch him go about his job and listen to him talk. He shows total trust in his players, often without saying a word, and they feel it.

So, in a season in which the Phillies have lost J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Brandon Marsh and Taijuan Walker (among others) to injuries, they’ve gotten unforeseen mileage out of Garrett Stubbs, Rafael Marchán, Kody Clemens, David Dahl, Spencer Turnbull and a bunch of guys who were never supposed to be central figures on the best team in baseball.

The manager makes them all feel like they’re a part of it. He promotes a clubhouse culture where the stars do that. There’s a calm about his team that’s unmistakable. And you can connect every one of those dots to the guy in the manager’s office. Amazing to think he spent three decades working in this sport and almost never got this chance.

MY AL MANAGER OF THE HALF-YEAR TOP THREE: Vogt, Cora, Quatraro.

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MY NL MANAGER OF THE HALF-YEAR TOP THREE: Thomson, Murphy, Shildt.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Baseball Hall of Fame tiers: Which active players are on course for Cooperstown?

(Top image: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic. Photos: Aaron Judge: Stacy Revere / Getty Images; Chris Sale: Rich von Biberstein / Icon Sportswire / Associated Press)

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The PGA Tour is the dream, right? This golfer still feels drawn to his Scotland home

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The PGA Tour is the dream, right? This golfer still feels drawn to his Scotland home

OBAN, Scotland — You are born into a world surrounded by wonder, walking out the back door of the greenskeeper’s house, your home, to look up at the mountainous 12th fairway hoping someday to make that climb. You go into town peering at the horseshoe-shaped Oban Bay protected by the mounds of the island of Kerrera, just shy of the Isle of Mull. Awe is your norm. Beauty is your base. So no matter how far you rise, how much your gift takes you to each corner of the world and provides you with a lavish lifestyle and mind-boggling opportunities, it just doesn’t quite feel right. You crave normal. Your normal.

You win tournaments in Cyprus and Italy. You play in a Ryder Cup. You make the PGA Tour. The great game takes you places, and it feels appropriate to commit to your future by moving to Florida. There comes a point in many lives when you have to choose whether home is who you are or home is what propels you to your potential.

You contend for a PGA Championship. Two weeks later you win your first PGA Tour event. Your life is becoming everything you dreamed.

But you aren’t happy.

You long for the Glencruitten Golf Club clubhouse, the cozy little one-story shack in Oban where a reporter can walk in to find eight men leaning back in a semicircle of chairs, pints in hand at noon on a Tuesday, looking up with a smirk as they’re asked if they know Bob Macintyre.

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“Bob who?” a white-haired man asks with a straight face.

Bob Macintyre. The pride of Scottish golf. The 27-year-old lefty developing into one of the better golfers in the world.

“Who’s he?” the man asks again.

Neil Armour maintains the stare until he pulls up his phone which already has a photo of the boyish, soft-featured Macintyre in a sleek, well-tailored suit sitting in the Royal Box at Wimbledon the day before. They’re passing the phone around chuckling the way dear friends and family really do when humbling a member of the tribe who’s made it big. Yes, they know Macintyre all too well. These are the men who watched Bob, Dougie the greenskeeper’s son, grow up at Glencruitten. They watched him learn the game “as a wee lad” playing Glencruitten’s back four holes on the other side of the road on a constant loop until Dougie felt he was ready for the rest. They saw him hit a hole-in-one by age 12 and win the local junior tournament four years in a row. They drove him to tournaments and some helped out financially when it was necessary. They play shinty with him at Oban Celtic and clamor for his mother Carol’s scones.

“Aye, he’s a great boy,” Neil MacDougall says. “Well grounded. Nice young lad.”

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This is why Bob Macintyre isn’t happy. He’s living in Orlando. He’s a member at the prestigious Isleworth Golf and Country Club. He’s made $3 million the last seven months alone. But it’s just different. It’s less communal. In America, the pros travel in teams with their swing coach, physiotherapist, psychologist, manager and so on. It’s a business. Whereas coming up in Europe they’d travel with other pros spending evenings learning about each other’s lives most nights over lunch in the clubhouse or dinner and drinks. He admits he and his girlfriend, Shannon, feel lonely.


A scene in Oban, a town of 8,000 people. (Brody Miller / The Athletic)

He goes back home whenever he can, spending three weeks back in Oban before his breakthrough win at the Canadian Open in June. Instead of taking that victory into the signature event, the Memorial, he flew right back home the next week for a party.

This week, Macintyre plays the Scottish Open in North Berwick before heading to Royal Troon for an Open Championship in Scotland. So as Macintyre finds himself torn between the two parallel paths of who he truly is — as he tries to decide where he wants to spend his life —  I felt compelled to drive from Edinburgh to this little fishing town on the western coast of Scotland to find out why this 8,000-person town has such a hold on the man. We learned something about home.

“I just find I get brought back down-to-earth …,” Macintyre says. “When I go back to Oban, I get treated as Bob, one of the boys, not Robert Macintyre, the golfer. I think that’s the way it should be.”


The moment has gone viral now — you’ve surely seen it — but watch it again, specifically the minute before the microphone goes to Dougie Macintyre. He hovered a few feet away from his son, slowly scanning his head around the scene in Hamilton, Ontario. He had a look of awe, taking in his son’s first PGA Tour victory while carrying his clubs. Macintyre needed a caddie for just the Canadian Open. Most caddies didn’t want a one-week gig, so he called his father up in Oban. Dougie hopped on a flight to Ottawa. Five days later they were victors. Together.

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As CBS reporter Amanda Balionis motioned toward Dougie to ask him a question, he seemed to slightly back away. He’s not a talker. But Dougie was, whether he liked it or not, the story of the week. Maybe even more than his son. She went to the other side and cornered him. He could hardly get the words out.

“Unbelievable. I’m a grass-cutter,” Dougie said, pausing to turn and hold back tears with Bob lovingly patting his head. “Not a caddie. Not a caddie. Honestly, it’s unbelievable.”

Back home, they were packed into the clubhouse watching and cheering. They knew how surreal this was for Dougie, who is more than a grass-cutter. They knew how special. Dougie was an athlete, a great shinty player but good at soccer and golf too. He didn’t have the finances to chase it. He became a greenskeeper at Glencruitten and raised four kids in the house by the 12th hole and brought in foster kids too. Bob’s two older sisters were skilled horse riders, and they also made sacrifices to give Bob the opportunity. Bob was the one with the opportunity to do more, and Dougie coached him.

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“He was the only one,” Armour said. “You’ll hear other people say they coached Bob but they didn’t. Bob’s dad coached him.”

On this Tuesday, Dougie was on the mower cutting the grass on an ugly day of Scottish weather. The course is a beast, a short but absurdly hilly 18 holes of steep inclines and tight fairways. “You can see how Bob got so good,” club captain Kenny Devine said. They only have three mowers and the equipment is in need of updating. Dougie doesn’t complain. He hopped off the mower as he saw a stranger approaching. He’s used to reporters being here by now, but he’s not used to it.

He turned red only to smile and say in the sweetest way possible, “No, no, I don’t do interviews. Feel free to talk to anyone. I just don’t… yeah …  I’m sorry.”

Dougie and Carol raised their kids to be humble. Macintyre wasn’t able to play much junior golf because they couldn’t afford it. Members took turns driving him to the events he could play and some carried his bag. Raising a golfer was a communal endeavor, but it meant they were all part of it.

James Forgrieve was a great golfer here in his own right and a prominent figure in the area. When asked what a young Macintyre was like, he dryly quipped, “Oh, a cheeky —” before laughing and correcting himself. “No no, always a very quiet lad.”

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“James was really supportive to Bob and all the juniors,” his nephew Duncan Forgrieve said. “When Bob was coming through and maybe things weren’t so good, a lot of people helped him in various ways and James is in that category.”

It’s not the norm for a golfer to take this much pride in their home. They might get announced by the starter as from their town or speak fondly of it, but they all tend to live in Florida or Arizona now. Few feel as intertwined with home as Macintyre. It’s at the core of his identity — Bob from Oban — and it works both ways. Macintyre has helped put the place on the map. It’s a little resort town, a stop for tourists on their way to the isles to the northwest. It has a strong fishing industry and beautiful sites like McCaig’s Tower, which is made of Bonawe granite and overlooks the city and bay. Suddenly it boasts itself as “The Home of Robert Macintyre,” with signs throughout the town. People come to Glencruitten just to play his home course. Scotland is known for golf, but at its core Oban is more of a shinty town. It’s a physical, intense game. Duncan described it as “hockey without the rules,” and Macintyre still plays for Oban Celtic. He learned not to keep jewelry on a few years ago when it got caught and nearly took off his finger.

“Aye, very good. Very good,” Duncan said. “He’s strong and determined. Resourceful.”

“And hot tempered!” another man shouted across the bar.

These are Macintyre’s people. When he earned the final automatic qualifying spot for the 2023 Ryder Cup, he flew 15-20 of them to Rome and set them up in a villa. Instead of flying back privately like most of his peers would, he switched to a commercial flight and flew home with the crew. When they returned, Macintyre went from school to school in the area with the cup to speak and show the kids. That night, they had a party “busting at the seams” at Glencruitten with a band playing and everybody posing for pictures, Macintyre happily smiling the whole night.

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“It was a good west coast cèilidh,” Duncan said.

But as Macintyre left Oban this year to play full time on the PGA Tour in America for the first time, the homesickness didn’t go away. He went back and forth as much as he could. He clarified he wasn’t having severe mental health issues, but “I just didn’t have my mojo.” It always took returning to Oban to spark his game. One couldn’t help but wonder if it was sustainable.

“He still has wee spells,” James said. “If he hasn’t got the girlfriend there or something, he’s a bit of a loner. He’s a social guy, but he’s a loner at times. The thing he looks forward to is getting home.”


Here he is, back in Scotland at his national open, sitting down in an argyle hat to represent a local foundation and ready to speak to a bunch of reporters. He sees a collection of veteran Scottish reporters in the front row. “There he is,” he says to one with a smile. He’s comfortable here.

He talks about going back home again recently, how when he’s home he doesn’t pick up a club and doesn’t go out much at all. He just sinks into the normalcy of home, eating some of Carol’s baking (after one of his first wins he bought his mother a new kitchen) and having lunch with the guys at Glencruitten.

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But he’s asked about Florida. About how he balances trying to make Florida a new home while staying connected to the place that made him.

“My rent is up I think about the end of August, and I don’t think I’ll be getting it renewed to be honest,” Macintyre says. “Scotland is my home, and yeah, I’ve joined Isleworth. That will always be a place I go and practice in the wintertime but there’s nothing like home. Scotland, this is where I want to be.”


Glencruitten Golf Club in Oban, Scotland. (Brody Miller / The Athletic)

He’s staying on the PGA Tour. His move back won’t change his professional career. He’ll maybe rent a house in Florida during winter months so he can practice more but deep down, it’s not home and he doesn’t think it ever will be.

In this decision, Macintyre found the path in between. Home can be the place that holds you back. Comfort builds confidence, but comfort can also stop you from expanding into who you’re meant to be. Macintyre took the risk. He left home and tried to take the leap into becoming an elite golfer. In reality, home was never holding Macintyre back. Oban, Glencruitten and all the people in between? They were the ones who got him here. They’re the ones pushing him forward.

So before I made the drive back to Edinburgh, I walked the course that made Bob Macintyre. It was grueling but beautiful, a green canvas filled with daunting hills and challenging approach shots. Two Oban men were walking up the 12th fairway that feels like it’s on a 100-yard incline. “This is the hole Bob learned to play golf on!” Declan Curran said. They explained how it’s a course of choices, with risks and rewards based on figuring out how to play the wind and the elevation.

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Bob Macintyre grew up learning how to make the choices in order to become a great golfer. This time, he chose Oban.

(Top photo: Andrew Redington / Getty Images)

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How Uruguay vs Colombia descended into chaos – and the questions raised by the ugly scenes

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How Uruguay vs Colombia descended into chaos – and the questions raised by the ugly scenes

What should have been a showpiece game in the semi-final of the Copa America in Charlotte on Wednesday night descended into something more akin to a bar-room brawl as several Uruguay players, including Darwin Nunez and the captain Jose Maria Gimenez, clashed with Colombia supporters in the stands after the final whistle.

It was an ugly, chaotic and extraordinary scene that overshadowed a compelling match, raising serious questions about the security arrangements in place at the Bank of America Stadium as well as CONMEBOL’s decision to stage a game of this magnitude at a venue that was being used for the first time in the tournament.

Another match is taking place at the same stadium on Saturday, when Uruguay return for a third-place play-off against Canada, and there will surely need to be an investigation between now and then to establish the full chain of events that led to the unsavoury scenes that were circulating on social media in the aftermath of Colombia’s 1-0 victory.

Nunez was visibly upset after becoming embroiled in an incident in which punches were traded and objects were thrown in one of the blocks in the lower tier where the families and friends of the Uruguay players were located close to Colombia fans.


Darwin Nunez went into the stand after the match (Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There was a mixture of anger and frustration in the voices of the Uruguay players afterwards.

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“It’s a total disaster,” Gimenez, the Uruguay captain, said. “There wasn’t a single police officer. They showed up half an hour later. A disaster. And we were there, standing up for ourselves, for our loved ones.

“Hopefully, organisers take a little more precautions with our families, with the people and those around the stadiums. Because this happens every game. Our families are suffering because of some people who have a few drinks and don’t know how to drink, who act like children.”

The Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) has said it will analyse all the footage before deciding whether to make an official complaint. But it is clear the AUF believes it was an oversight to put the players’ friends and families in the same area as Colombia supporters without any sort of partition.

“I think there should’ve been some kind of barrier, especially because it was known practically from the beginning of the tournament that the Colombian fans were going to purchase 95 per cent of the tickets and that area (of the stadium) could get complicated,” Ignacio Alonso, the AUF president, said.

As for the actions of Nunez, Gimenez and others, Alonso maintained what they did was only to be expected in the circumstances. “The Uruguayan players reacted instinctively to what is natural: which is to defend and protect the children that were in that part of the stand, the women who were being assaulted, the wives, fathers, children and brothers who were there. It’s an instinctive response of a father,” he added.

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The backdrop to all of this is that emotions had been running high at the stadium all night — Colombia played the entire second half with 10 men after Daniel Munoz was shown a red card just before the interval — but it was the final whistle, after seven minutes of stoppage time, that brought the first of two flashpoints.

Initially, there was a melee in the centre circle, where more than 40 players and staff congregated immediately after the game. Some Colombia and Uruguay players embraced one another while others — Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Colombia’s Miguel Borja among them — became involved in an altercation. There was a lot of pushing and shoving elsewhere but, on the face of it, nothing more sinister than that.

Moments later, though, some of the Uruguay players started to sprint towards the touchline, in an area just to the right of their dugout. At first, it was unclear what was going on, other than that some children wearing Uruguay shirts were being carried out of the lower tier and onto the pitch.

The videos that emerged later provided a fuller picture and showed Nunez, along with Gimenez and the Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo, climbing up into the stand and angrily confronting Colombia supporters. As everything got more heated, Nunez appeared to be struck by one fan. The Liverpool striker also appeared to throw a punch back.

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“’Some of the players had wives, small children, their parents, older relatives… They went to see how they were doing,” Suarez said. “Then those things started to happen, the images that you’ve seen. They (Nunez, Gimenez and others) were trying to protect their families. From what I saw, there were a lot of relatives and children affected. You’re left powerless in that situation.”

Contrary to what Gimenez thought, police officers were present at the scene, albeit they took some time — more than 60 seconds — to get the situation under control and needed the help of security personnel.

Prior to that, it had threatened to turn into a free-for-all as other Uruguay players and staff got involved, clambering over seats. Video footage appears to show Rodrigo Bentancur throwing an object of some sort into that area.

As for Nunez, he was clearly still irate and deeply upset by everything that had happened when he got down from the stand. The forward picked up a chair, ran towards an area where Colombia fans were goading him, and threw it into the wall below, prompting some of the Uruguay substitutes to drag him away.

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Nunez looked extremely emotional at that point. He was consoled by one of the Uruguay backroom staff on the pitch and also by Suarez and Luis Diaz, the Colombia forward who plays alongside him for Liverpool.

As the dust started to settle and the fans spilt out of the stadium, there were Uruguay players still on the pitch holding their children. Matias Vina had a baby in his hands at one stage, Nicolas de la Cruz sat with his daughter on his knee on the floor, and Nunez was later pictured with a child on his shoulder.

The Uruguay players looked like they were in a state of shock as much as anything. “It was an ugly moment,” Sergio Rochet, the Uruguay goalkeeper, said. “It’s not nice to see these problems, especially when your family is only two metres away. We are sad to go out of the tournament and now we have to deal with this situation.

“From what I saw, they (the supporters) started throwing things. You try to stay away from that, but when you see that it’s your family, small children, it’s difficult. I was surprised by the lack of empathy from the Colombia players. I think they should have come to calm the waters.”

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Like a lot of people in the stadium, the Uruguay manager Marcelo Bielsa had no idea what was going on at first. He said he initially thought his players “were going to thank the Uruguayan fans for the support. But then I learned that there were other kinds of unfortunate difficulties.”

As for CONMEBOL, South American football’s governing body issued a statement that made no reference whatsoever to any issues around a lack of organisation at the stadium — something that was evident in so many ways on Wednesday night — or safety problems.

“CONMEBOL strongly condemns any act of violence that affects football,” it said. “Our work is based on the conviction that soccer connects and unites us through its positive values. There is no place for intolerance and violence on and off the field. We invite everyone in the remaining days to pour all their passion into cheering on their national teams and having an unforgettable party.”

(Top photo: Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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