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The return of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest and the peculiar fall of Joey Chestnut

Down goes the king

Down goes the king

Joey Chestnut looked like he had just come from a massage. The mustard yellow belt hung off his shoulder. He stood next to the ESPN reporter for his pre-contest interview and spouted off cliches without a care in the world. Like a President in his final term, he didn’t have to answer to anybody anymore.

That should’ve been the first sign.

It had always been too easy for Chestnut since Kobayashi left. Wins No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 in the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog eating contest came and went without a challenger. Now he was looking for No. 9 and it might as well have been a forgone conclustion. The pre-game coverage showed a graphic of the most consecutive titles in any sport. Chestnut’s No. 9 would tie the record.

He had eaten 61 hot dogs in 10 minutes last year for the title. His next closest competition was Matt “Megatoad” Stonie, who downed 56. This year Stonie’s number was down. He qualified for Nathan’s by eating 48 hot dogs.

It was over before it began.

Then, right before the contest started, ESPN aired another interview clip with Chestnut.

“I’m just hoping I can do it one more time,” an introspective Chestnut said.

That was the first sign.

Chestnut seemed different there. His heart wasn’t in it. I wrote in my notebook: “Does this mean Joey Chestnut is going to retire?”

(Yes I took notes during a hot dog eating contest. This is serious business. I have no regrets.)

Right before the competition began, the ESPN sideline splash zone reporter dropped the bomb. Joey Chestnut had broken up wit his fiancee, the same one who was his eating coach, the same one he proposed to on the Nathan’s Famous stage a year earlier.

According to the New York Post, the two split because of Chestnut’s hectic competition schedule. They called it off weeks before the wedding.

A distracted, nostalgic, coach-less Joey Chestnut returned to the scene of his now ill-fated proposal to try to win his ninth competition in a row.

Like a mafia housewife, we chose to ignore the signs. We ignored Chestnut’s distraction, his overconfidence, his lack of real competitors to push him. We ignored the fact that Matt Stonie is better in the big moments, that he coasted to 48 hot dogs in qualifying against little competition. In the “Down Goes Chestnut” bonanza we even ignored that Chestnut, with all the distractions, still ate 60 hot dogs, that Stonie’s individual effort was one of the greatest we’ve ever seen.

As time ended and you wondered why the announcer wasn’t freaking out like you were when it became clear that Stonie won, Joey Chestnut stood doubled over on the table, in front of the remnants of the 60 hot dogs he had shoved in his mouth.

It might’ve been indigestion, but Chestnut looked shocked and a little bereaved, like he just lost everything and didn’t know what to do with his life. For the last eight years, Chestnut’s identity had been hot dog eating champion. Now he wasn’t.

In his post-contest interview Chestnut, stumbled around, not able to say much.

“I did bad,” Chestnut finally managed. “He deserved to win. Dang.”

Chestnut knows he threw this one away, knows he didn’t train as hard as he should’ve, knows he underestimated Stonie.

The signs were there.

“I’ve been looking for competition for a long time,” Chestnut said in his postgame interview. “Now I have it.”

Now there’s another sign. Let’s not ignore this one. For the first time since Kobayashi left (R.I.P. to his career), the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in intriguing again.

Long live Megatoad.

Other notes from the event:

  • Direct from my notebook: Eric “Badlands” Booker might die in this competition.
  • Best intro: “Three days ago, he broke up with his girlfriend and euthanized his dog so he could create a vast, black void inside that he can fill with hot dogs and buns.”
  • Gideon Oji qualified with 16 hot dogs. He’s a Division II basketball player at Clayton State. Oji averaged 0.9 points per game last year.
  • Oji finished with 19 hot dogs eaten. Clayton State put it on the front page of their athletics website. Their lead photo is very obviously a picture of a television:
  • CaptureShout out to Clayton State
  • Best cross-sport reference from the color guy, in reference to Matt Stonie: “The Jordan Spieth of tubed beef.”
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The Red Wings aren’t better than the Lightning, but that doesn’t mean they can’t win the series

(Photo: Bridget Samuels)

(Photo: Bridget Samuels)

The Red Wings lead the Lightning two games to one. They can lose every remaining road game and still win the series. But if the Red Wings advance, “winning” won’t be the right word.

The Lightning are too fast for the Red Wings. They’re just as deep offensively and have a better-skilled defense corps.

They’ve outshot Detroit in every game thus far. The Red Wings took 37.6 percent of the total shots through the first three games, the lowest amount of any team in any playoff series. Detroit’s Corsi For percentage for the series is 43.3 percent, the lowest of any team in the playoffs.

This wouldn’t be winning. This would be stealing.

The playoffs are the enemy of advanced stats. If Tampa Bay played Detroit in a series to infinity minus one, Tampa Bay would win. But the two teams play just seven games. That’s a long time to us, especially when dragged over two weeks. Put that against infinity minus one, though, and it’s the smallest fraction you can imagine.

Pucks can bounce one way for an entire series. Hell, they don’t even need to do that. All it takes is one bounce in one game. Since this sport is played by humans, negative human emotions like doubt, worry, and nervousness and/or positive human emotions like confidence and belief can take that one bounce and turn it into a series-long moment.

It takes only one to start having irrational feelings of confidence to change the series. The Red Wings might have a guy who can do it. His name is Petr Mrazek.

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Playing the Mock Draft, Round 2: The ‘experts’ still don’t have it together

Lions could saved a lot of trouble if they would've just signed D.J. Humphries out of High School and sent him to Double-A. (Photo: Army Recruiting)

Lions could saved a lot of trouble if they would’ve just signed D.J. Humphries out of High School and sent him to Double-A. (Photo: Army Recruiting)

If you ever needed evidence that Mock Drafts are worthless, I have it.

You don’t need to look at last year, when in all of the three months leading up to the draft exactly one expert had the Lions taking Eric Ebron, and he switched his pick two weeks later. All you need is the time period from March 18 to now.

We’re less than two weeks away from the draft. The picture should be clear. Or at least clearer. There should be a handful of candidates that the Lions could take with the No. 23 pick in the draft and the experts should be in relative agreement about who that group is.


The experts are as split as they were a month ago. The top vote getter from March 18, Florida State DT Eddie Goldman, when from four votes to none. The top vote getter this round has three. A month ago, 15 experts picked nine different players. This time, 15 experts picked nine different players.

Ten of the 15 experts switched votes. (Those staying the same: CBS Sports’ Rob Rang, USA TODAY’s Nate Davis, Optimum Scouting’s Eric Galko, Lance Zierlein and NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah.)

Mock Drafts are fun, but it becomes clearer by the day: the so-called experts have as much insight into who the Lions are going to take you do. Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have little on the random 14-year-old with an internet connection when it comes to predictability.

Here, take a look for yourself:

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Would a first-round playoff loss signify the end of a run for the Red Wings?

(Nicole Yeary)

(Nicole Yeary)

Last year the Red Wings had an excuse. They were injured all year. Success became keeping the playoff streak alive. Everyone knew the Bruins were bigger and better. Fans’ hope for a series win rested solely on reputation: the Red Wings tend to win playoff series. Losing to Boston brought no surprise.

The year before, the Red Wings won a playoff series, then lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Well they choked it away. Up 3-1 in the series, Detroit let Chicago force a Game 7, and then allowed a Brent Seabrook overtime goal to win it. Detroit had a Cup run in them, they just didn’t receive the bounce they needed.

This Red Wings teams rests in-between those two. They aren’t bad enough to leave fans facing the choice between logic and hope, but they aren’t good enough to be considered Cup contenders. The Red Wings can win, but they’ll probably lose. That makes this year is closer to 2012. The No. 5 seed Red Wings lost to the No. 4 Predators in the first round. Mike Babcock sat after Detroit’s 2-1, series-clinching loss in Game 6 and said casually, “To me, five games, that’s not close.” He talked about needed to make a big change in the offseason. People wondered if it was finally the end for the Red Wings as a perennial playoff contender.

The Lightning performed better throughout the year. They didn’t collapse in the second half. They’re better offensively and just as good as Detroit defensively. They have better goaltending. Detroit has no answer for Steven Stamkos. Honestly, this one might not be close.

If it isn’t, the Red Wings foundation could crumble. Mike Babcock could bolt and reappear in Toronto as Ruler of Everything. Jimmy Howard might become damaged beyond repair. Petr Mrazek could go from being the next Jimmy Howard to being, well, the next Jimmy Howard.

The run will finally be over. Babcock’s era will end in disappointment, the Jimmy Howard era will without a Stanley Cup and the questions will turn to how long Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk can last. And just to kick fans while their down, it’ll be a Steve Yzerman team that destroyed the Red Wings run.

Then again, the Red Wings could win. Datsyuk and Zetterberg could prove that playoff experience means something, Detroit’s power play could return to it’s unsustainable form, and the Lightning could do the same thing they did last year. The Jimmy Howard era might still be over in Detroit, but the Red Wings run would continue.

One series, a pendulum swing one way or another depending on the result. This is probably an overreaction. I get that. Two counter points: 1.) Isn’t that what sports are for? 2) What if it’s not?

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Breaking down the Red Wings’ eighth segment: Detroit showing signs of improvement at right time

 (Adam Glanzman)

(Adam Glanzman)

Red Wings fans have panicked for the last two and a half months. They had their reasons. Detroit went from fighting for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs to fighting to get into the playoffs, and all those battles came just months after the Red Wings were one of the top three teams in the league.

The playoffs are here now. Detroit is in. But wide-eyed hope morphed into closed-eyed wincing. The Red Wings haven’t been good for three months. In their last 11 games of the season they posted a 4-4-3 record, good for 11 points. That’s the same pace they were on last year when inched into the playoffs and then lost in the first round.

But look past the record and there’s a fllicker of light. The Red Wings might be out of their second-half woes. Here’s a look at the numbers:

2013-14 Avg Seg 1 Seg 2 Seg 3 Seg 4 Seg 5 Seg 6 Seg 7 Seg 8
GF 27.1 29 30 32 24 35 27 24 30
GA 27.6 22 27 25 22 26 28 31 30
5-on-5 GF 19.1 19 17 19 11 18 15 11 21
5-on-5 GA 18.4 15 18 16 11 13 19 17 17
PPG 6.1 5 12 10 10 9 8 8 6
OPP PPG 5.9 3 5 6 5 11 6 9 9

(*The splits don’t add up to the total because I didn’t include empty-net goals, short-handed goals, 6-on-5 goals, etc. on the chart.)

Their goal differential isn’t negative and their five-on-five goal differential is positive for the first time in three segments.

Detroit spent the middle part of the year as a good team masking itself as a great team due to an unsustainable rate of power play goals. The power play calmed down. The Red Wings showed themselves as the team they always were. But now, with a positive even strength goal differential, Detroit showed right before the playoffs that they might be a little better than above average.

There’s still hope.

Here were the top five Red Wings in terms of Adjusted GRM this segment:

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How the Detroit Tigers were made: A look at how each player on the roster was acquired

(Photo: Jason Mrachina)

(Photo: Jason Mrachina)

On Monday 25 players found themselves wearing the Old English D, standing shoulder to shoulder on the foul line as the national anthem played at Comerica Park.

They came from Virginia and Venezuela, Tennessee and Cuba.

How did this collection of human beings find themselves together?

Some arrived via trade, others came through free agency. Still others were drafted or signed out of their home countries.

Most roster spots opened relatively recently, but others find themselves on the Tigers roster due to a series of events almost 20 years in the making.

Last year Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh introduced the MLB transaction tree, which tracks a player’s roster spot lineage back through a series of trades and/or compensatory or supplemental draft picks to find the original draft pick or free agent signing that caused it all.

I’ve constructed transaction trees for each player on the Tigers’ 25-man roster (and one player on the disabled list).

Click each picture to get a larger version. Players in red are dead branches on the tree and, if applicable, weren’t included in subsequent trades. Direct links begin with earliest descendant by date.

Starters (Furthest back his roster spot goes): 

David Price (2005)

Matt Joyce -> Edwin Jackson -> Austin Jackson -> David Price



Justin Verlander (2004)


Anibal Sanchez (2009)

Jacob Turner -> Anibal Sanchez



Shane Greene (1997)

Fernando Rodney -> Chance Ruffin -> Doug Fister -> Robbie Ray -> Shane Greene



Alfredo Simon (2008)

Eugenio Suarez -> Alfredo Simon



Relievers (Furthest back his roster spot goes): 

Joe Nathan (2012)


Joakim Soria (2012)

Jake Thompson -> Joakim Soria



Bruce Rondon (disabled list) (2007 )


Al Alburquerque (2010)


Joba Chamberlain (2013)



Tom Gorzelanny (2015)



Angel Nesbitt (2009)



Ian Krol (1997)

Fernando Rodney -> Chance Ruffin -> Doug Fister -> Ian Krol


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It’s opening day: Where you can find the James Mungro Memorial Award winners


A week and a half ago we found our next James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending) winner in Angel Nesbitt. Last week we  examined the end for Chris Bootcheck. 

Now, baseball is upon us and we have three active JMMA winners in different places.

Nesbitt made history. Three days ago he got the called to go into the office. As he describes it, he didn’t think anything of it.

“Hey Nessy, congrats, you made the team.”

Nesbitt is the first ever JMMA winner to make an opening day roster.

Since then he’s doing what we would all do in that situation. Instagramming newspapers with him and Miguel Cabrera, pictures with his major league teammates, and his opening day name plate.

Nesbitt doesn’t pretend not be excited so he can look cool. He is doing what most people would do in that situation: freak out. I MADE THE TEAM DO YOU REALIZE I MADE THE TEAM? I DID IT WOOOO!

I’m just glad he has an Instagram to share it with us. This year’s JMMA went to the right person.

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