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'He Has Baptized 66 Umpires, Calling Them Safe in the Only Way that Matters'

Jon Mooallem meets Pastor Dean, who uses religion to help baseball umpires deal with what can be an emotionally difficult job:

Every day is Judgment Day for an umpire. In the early days of organized baseball, team owners actually encouraged fans to harass umps who made questionable, or just unpopular, calls – throw beer bottles at them, or even the occasional brick. The sadism of Orioles fans was especially well-known, according to the 2008 book Death at the Ballpark. “They broke the spirits of some fine men,” one ump later remembered. By the end of the 1920s, at least 10 umpires had been killed or mortally wounded on the field – in one case, an umpire was punched so hard in the face that a fragment of his jaw ripped through his brain like a spear. In 1911, a semipro player in Georgia got so tired of insisting that the umpire had the score wrong that he walked off the bench with a pistol and shot the man.

PUBLISHED: June 20, 2014
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5120 words)

Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our favorite stories of the week, featuring the Boston Magazine, ESPN Magazine, Washingtonian, Mother Jones, and The New Yorker.
PUBLISHED: March 8, 2014

The Whistleblower's Last Stand

How Joe Paterno's former protégé became the star witness in the Jerry Sandusky trial:

Long before the presentment became public, players, coaches and residents heard rumors -- that McQueary saw Sandusky fondle the boy, or that they were engaged in horseplay. But suddenly the rumors were not only true, they had mushroomed into the biggest college football scandal in history, one that wasn't just about the crimes of one man but about an administration's alleged attempt to cover them up. Most people here were surprised at how the prosecutors quoted McQueary in the presentment. Anal intercourse? This was far more graphic than the rumors had it; more than a few people asked: Why didn't Big Red stop it?

PUBLISHED: March 4, 2014
LENGTH: 27 minutes (6852 words)

The Eagle Has Landed

The behind-the-scenes story of how NFL prospect Michael Sam came out:

The plan was set. The story would break right after the NFL Combine simultaneously on ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports. There might be a couple interviews after that, but otherwise Sam would focus on football.

The timing, however, would quickly change. Even as the plan was being formulated, it was like outrunning an avalanche. Every day it became more apparent that too many people knew what was coming. While Collins had kept his coming out a secret held among just a few trusted confidants, Sam's sexual orientation would soon become the worst-kept secret in the sports media.

PUBLISHED: Feb. 9, 2014
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3583 words)

Longreads Best of 2013 Postscript: New Questions About a Legendary Tennis Match

Don Van Natta Jr. (@DVNJr) is a senior writer for and ESPN The Magazine.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 21, 2013

College Longreads Pick: 'Newtown Youth Sports: A New Normal' by Isabelle Khurshudyan, University of South Carolina

Every week, Syracuse University professor Aileen Gallagher helps Longreads highlight the best of college journalism. This week's pick comes from Isabelle Khurshudyan, a student from the University of South Carolina who wrote this story as an intern for ESPN.
PUBLISHED: Aug. 21, 2013

When 772 Pitches Isn't Enough

Via Travelreads: Chris Jones on the unique culture of Japanese baseball and 16-year-old pitching phenom Tomohiro Anraku, seen as "a real-life Sidd Finch, his story so impossible that he's been spoken about only in whispers or exclamations":

"There has been talk in America that Anraku's arm had been destroyed weeks earlier, in April, stripped of its powers at Koshien -- a high school tournament that happens twice a year in Japan, in spring and in summer. Robert Whiting, author of You Gotta Have Wa and one of the West's principal translators of Japanese culture, has a hard time capturing the meaning of Koshien, first held in 1915. 'It's like the Super Bowl and the World Series rolled into one,' he says. 'It's the closest thing Japan has to a national festival.' In the spring, 32 teams from across the country arrive at Koshien, the name of a beautiful stadium near Kobe but also the de facto title of the tournament that's played there. (In the summer, 49 teams participate, one from each of Japan's 47 diverse prefectures, plus an additional team from Tokyo and Hokkaido.) They meet in a frantic series of single-elimination games until a champion emerges. At any one time, 60% of Japan's TV sets will be tuned in to the drama. More than 45,000 fans will be packed into the stadium, and if the games are especially good, many of those fans will be weeping.

"'It's not just baseball,' says Masato Yoshii, who pitched in two Koshiens long before he joined the New York Mets. 'It's something else. It's something more.'"
PUBLISHED: July 24, 2013
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5986 words)

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our picks this week include The Washington Post, American Prospect, ESPN, Tampa Bay Times, Wired, and a guest pick by Todd Olmstead.
PUBLISHED: June 14, 2013

When The Beautiful Game Turns Ugly

The writer travels to Verona, Italy to examine why racism is so prevalent in soccer:

"It was a little stadium, and Boateng could see their faces. Fifty or so people called him an animal. He locked eyes with them and could see the hate. He pointed to his head, to say, 'You're an idiot.' The chants went on for 20 minutes: Oo -- oo -- oo -- oo.

"Boateng had been abused before and had ignored it. This time, he kicked the ball at the fans, took off his jersey and walked to the locker room. His teammates followed. Something important happened at this moment, which didn't get reported much in the frenzy that followed: Most of the stadium stood and applauded him. Only the small group of fans screamed and whistled. Some laughed."
PUBLISHED: June 5, 2013
LENGTH: 39 minutes (9793 words)