These Duke doctors are working with NFL, Big 12 to mitigate coronavirus spread among teams

In the more than two months since the suspension of all NBA activities ushered in an unprecedented era without sports, professional leagues and the NCAA have turned from preventative health measures to evaluating when, where and under what conditions teams could safely return to normal activities without increasing the possibility of an outbreak of the coronavirus strain.

The question is uniquely pressing for teams in the NFL, which may have had the luxury of thus far avoiding any major, coronavirus-caused disruptions to the league's annual schedule — the April draft was held with teams working remotely — but must now create guidelines for juggling larger rosters and the physicality of practice along with the renewed daily interaction between players, coaches, trainers and support staffers.

To help steer the response to COVID-19 and provide recommendations for transitioning back into traditional team activities, the NFL has turned to Infection Control Education for Major Sports, or ICS,an independent organization run by two Duke University infectious-disease doctors, Deverick Anderson and Christopher Hostler.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, left and shown in 2019, may be able to hold a practice with Kyler Murray and other players in the coming weeks. (Photo: Matt York, AP)

As teams begin to ease into drastically altered preparations for the upcoming season, ICS has been the league's go-to source for how to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus through testing, disinfection and environmental distancing.

"Sports teams and leagues have an acute need at this moment, and that is specifically related to COVID and how to reopen," Anderson told USA TODAY Sports. "We believe that these teams can benefit from this type of systematic implementation of best practices moving forward."

The NFL faced a similar situation seven years ago, when a series of potentially fatal staph infections, known as MRSA, spread through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room. One of the players infected, kicker Lawrence Tynes, cited unsanitary conditions in later suing the franchise, and settled for an undisclosed sum.

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To help steer the league's response to MRSA, the NFL leaned on the expertise of the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network, or DICON, which had been providing the league with educational newsletters related to stemming the spread of infectious diseases. After pitching the NFL on installing systemic, league-wide guidelines, DICON entered into a contract as the league's infection-prevention experts.

Anderson and Hostler, who consulted extensively with the NFL as part of DICON's team of experts, formed ICS  when the coronavirus started to spread in the U.S. as a separate and distinct entity as inquiries from major sports leagues increased with the rise of COVID-19.

The company is under contract with the NFL and the Big 12 Conference, and has held conversations with at least eight other professional or college leagues, including Major League Baseball, which is considering a shortened regular season beginning in July.

"They have been part of committees and working groups that are looking really at every aspect of our operation and our response to COVID, from advising us on how we conducted the draft to how we were able to reopen clubs’ facilities to now helping us think about player safety," said Allen Sills, the NFL's Chief Medical Officer.

Through conference calls with NFL owners and with three-ring binders distributed to every team, ICS has provided "really basic but really important infection-prevention strategies," Anderson said. "In some ways, a lot of these broad strokes are applicable in other parts of society as well."

At about 360 pages, the binder includes checklists, sample policies and an appendix of additional resource materials, including posters and specific documents from the Centers for Disease Control. Anderson called the more global advice provided by ICS the "Swiss-cheese model," in that no suggestion is perfect; all have holes. If you put them together, however, the holes may match up — much like stacked slices of Swiss cheese.

The steps include constant handwashing teamed with barrier precautions as a way to provide safe separation inside locker rooms and broader football facilities. NFL teams should maximize the use of face masks even as there may be times when masks may not be feasible, such as during aerobic exercise. ICS has also provided the NFL with recommendations on environmental disinfection.

"There’s effort that has to go into changing the way that we interact with people," Anderson said. "Social-distancing, redoing a lot of the environmental spacing. That’s certainly going to be true on the training side. Again, not different from other parts of society but certainly an area of emphasis in an athletic setting."

One risk that NFL teams must confront is maintaining those distancing efforts at practice, during typical moments as mundane as huddling or route running. At some point, teams will need to perform an act that has been nearly eliminated from everyday life: passing an object from one person to another — in this case, a football — without the interception of a disinfecting wipe.

Splitting players into smaller groups at practice, likely by position, and then layering on additional activities is a way to ease into traditional team events, Anderson said.

"It is clear and I think it is appropriate that most groups we’re engaged with are really trying to move in small, short steps," said Anderson. "I think that methodical approach, where you then have some time to see how things are going, is definitely a good way to do it. If you employ that strategy, it’s true that you can’t speed up the process. You have to take it one step at a time."

The biggest step will be in formulating a testing model for identifying individuals with COVID-19 and minimizing the downstream impact of a positive test. Testing has been a primary topic of conversation between ICS and the Big 12, with the conference quizzing ICS on who, when and how frequently to test athletes set to arrive back on campus early next month.

"We had a long list of questions we presented to ICS — and they’ve been going through providing us answers," said Big 12 executive associate commissioner Ed Stewart. "It’s an evolving list. I think they would probably like for us to stop reaching out to them so they can answer the questions we’ve already given them. But we keep coming up with new questions for them."

As of now, testing for the coronavirus is "imperfect," Anderson said, and ICS and others are trying to find tests that eliminate the sort of sensitivity that could lead to false negatives. Under optimal testing conditions, ICS has advised to test frequently to find the person on the verge of having symptoms before they subsequently expose teammates or coaches to COVID-19. Even then, it's unlikely that casting such a net  would catch everyone that comes through.

"A key message we relay just about any time we get the opportunity to is, listen, there is no such thing as a zero-risk scenario. We’re going to do our best, but infections with this virus are going to happen whether or not sports occur," said Anderson. "So if we all kind of accept that’s the baseline that we’re living in, we then have to say it certainly has to be recognized that sports activities by their very nature will increase that risk."

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NFL teams receive list of proposed rule changes

  • ESPN.com national NFL writer
  • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
  • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

The NFL is making plans to experiment in the 2020 preseason with new officiating positions that would be similar to a sky judge.

The experiment would mirror proposals put forth by the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers to create a booth umpire and a senior technology advisor. Each official would have access to video and the ability either to make officiating calls or communicate to the referee based on what they see.

NFL clubs received a list of potential rules changes on Thursday, and team owners will be asked to vote on the proposals during a virtual meeting on May 28.

The booth umpire and technology advisor proposals were not endorsed by the competition committee, meaning they are unlikely to be approved as permanent rule changes. Instead, the committee recommended a preseason experiment.

Coaches have been lobbying for additional officiating help for several years, and the league is looking for new ways to improve officiating after its failed one-year experiment to pass interference reviews to replay in 2019.

Meanwhile, momentum is growing for another team-proposed rule change: an alternative to the onside kick put forth by the Philadelphia Eagles. Instead of kicking off after a score late in the fourth quarter, a team would have the option for one offensive play from its 25-yard line. It would need to gain at least 15 yards to retain possession.

Owners rejected a similar proposal last year from the Denver Broncos, but the league did try it out during the 2019 Pro Bowl.

Since the start of the 2018 season, when the league instituted new kickoff rules, the recovery rate on onside kicks has been 10.5%. It was 19.5% from 2001-2017, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The competition committee has endorsed two minor rule changes for owners to consider:

  • Expanding defenseless player protection to a returner who has secured possession but hasn’t had the opportunity to ward off impending contact

  • Closing a loophole that last season allowed the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans, among others, to drain the clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock was running.

Also to be discussed will be making permanent the expansion of automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any successful or unsuccessful extra-point attempt.

The Eagles had proposed restoring preseason and regular-season overtime to 15 minutes and to implement rules to minimize the impact of the overtime coin toss, but they have withdrawn the idea.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Peyton Manning goes Rocky Top shelf with Tennessee bourbon whiskey at $200 a bottle

For Tennesseans who need their spirits raised by Peyton Manning again, he’s there for them by helping to raise a spirit.

Manning is the headline big-name investor in a new high-end Tennessee-made bourbon whiskey which will be available for purchase exclusively in the Volunteer State starting next Tuesday. For $200 a bottle, one can put Sweetens Cove — named after a beloved golf course in South Pttsburg, Tenn. — on his or her (Rocky) top shelf.

Manning’s recently retired brother Eli is also finanicially backing the Nashville-based product, which will be available for purchase at first online at 9 a.m. May 26 before being distributed throughout the state. CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz, retired tennis champion Andy Roddick and singer-songwriter Drew Holcomb are among the other investors.

According to the Tenneseean, Sweetens Cove Tenneseee Bourbon Whiskey will eventually make its way to nearby states, although in limited supply. Before any bottles are sold to the public, however, Manning and company are trying to reserve 20 bottles from the first barrel to donate to charities, including those focused on COVID-19 relief.

Manning has shown a magic touch off the field with his business and commercial ventures, from Papa John’s franchisee to DirecTV (with Eli) and Nationwide pitchman. He’s also getting more attention for his golf game, as he’s teeing off with Tiger Woods against Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson in “The Match: Champions For Chairty” on Sunday, making it a very busy Memorial Day weekend.

In addition to getting the chance to team up with Eli, Manning and Nantz are also great friends tied together by football and golf. Taking it to the next level by marketing Kentucky-style bourbon in Tennessee also seems like it’s overdue on Peyton’s resume.

Early indication is that Sweetens Cove, with its master distiller status, is more sweet nectar than just another celebrity-supported liquor venture. When it comes to Peyton Manning and Tennessee, he always volunteers to bring his best.

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Devonta Freeman: Seattle Seahawks offer running back one-year, $4m deal

Former Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has a one-year, $4m (£3.27m) offer on the table from the Seattle Seahawks, according to reports.

The offer is said to have a base value of less than $3m (£2.45m), with the rest of the money available in incentives.

  • Fitzpatrick: I’ll do my best to help Tua
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Freeman, who turned 28 earlier this year, had three years and $21m (£17.21m) remaining on his contract when he was released by the Falcons on March 16, two years into a five-year deal.

A fourth-round pick by the Falcons in 2014 who was twice named to the Pro Bowl, Freeman posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2015-16.

He rushed for 656 yards and two touchdowns and caught 59 passes for 410 yards and four scores in 14 games in 2019. His career totals include 5,987 yards from scrimmage and 43 touchdowns.

The Seahawks have a full crew of running backs already under contract and are considered bringing back Marshawn Lynch, per reports.

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Ryan Fitzpatrick already Tua Tagovailoa’s ‘biggest cheerleader,’ but ready to lead by example in 2020

Sixteen-year NFL veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick knows full well what the Dolphins’ plans were when they drafted Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa fifth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft.

And he’s totally OK with it.

Fitzpatrick on Monday appeared on the “What’s Next?” podcast with former Bills teammate Eric Wood to discuss, among other things, how he may mentor Miami’s future franchise quarterback in 2020.

“I’m really excited, I’m really excited that they drafted him,” Fitzpatrick told Wood. “I’m excited because I watched him play at Alabama and he seems like he’s a pretty dynamic talent. For me, I’m his biggest cheerleader right now.”

That said: While Fitzpatrick is happy to teach Tagovailoa, he hopes his own play is good enough that he can do so by example.

Part of that, assuredly, will be teaching Tagovailoa how to better protect himself on the field. The rookie has a notable injury history from his time at Alabama, including a college-career-ending dislocated hip and posterior wall fracture. That in turn caused everyone from media members, former coaches and anonymous scouts and executives to comment on whether he was worth a first-round pick.

“Hopefully some of the lessons I’m able to teach him are him watching me play, but if it’s the other way around, I’m going to do my best to help him to succeed in the best way that he can,” Fitzpatrick said of Tagovailoa.

“I think part of it is, they have to take a backseat and watch,” he added. “They have to watch how I operate … not to say what I do is perfect … but there are going be a lot of things they can pull from me that they like and there’s going to be some things they can pull from me that they don’t like and say, ‘I don’t want that.’ But I think that I have enough qualities that Miami has seen that they like and they would like another quarterback to have in them.”

Regardless of whether Tagovailoa is a Day 1 starter — which Fitzpatrick said would be asking a lot of the rookie — the NFL veteran is ready to mentor him in whatever capacity Miami deems best.

Said Fitzpatrick: “I want to pass on all these lessons and experiences I’ve learned to younger guys because when I came in (the NFL), I had the same thing, guys that taught and showed me the way.”

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Your quick guide to becoming a NASCAR fan with no other sports to watch

This is the Morning Win. Nick Schwartz is filling in for Andy Nesbitt today. 

With the UFC off until the end of the month, sports fans craving live action to watch have few other choices than to get into NASCAR. Fortunately, the racing schedule is now packed with the typical Sunday races along with new mid-week events, meaning there's never been a better time to get into watching cars go in circles at extreme speed.

NASCAR will stage a second consecutive Cup Series race at iconic Darlington Raceway on Wednesday night, weather permitting, part of a frenzied stretch of the revamped schedule that includes eight races in 29 days.

When you add in Xfinity and Truck Series races, there's a decent chance that there will be a NASCAR race going on whenever you turn on your TV over the next month.

What's the deal with NASCAR, anyway, and who should you root for? If you're a lapsed NASCAR fan or a complete newbie, we're here to help.

The basics you need to know:

For all its rules and regulations and draconian in-race penalties and season format redesigns, NASCAR is still a fairly simple sport for a casual observer. A field of cars begins a race, a set distance is run, the car that finishes first wins. There's obviously much more going on, but that's all you really need to know.

In recent years, each race has been subdivided into three "stages," which award points to top finishers. It remains to be seen how the NASCAR schedule will be altered for the rest of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the schedule contains a regular season and a 10-race playoff round, which eventually produces a series champion with a winner-take-all race at the end of the year.

How to pick a favorite driver (the most important part):

A common refrain from traditional ball sports fans is that NASCAR is boring. It's just a bunch of cars making left turns repeatedly. Why would you want to watch that for several hours at a time?

Those critics obviously don't have a favorite driver! Picking a favorite and rooting for them throughout the race is absolutely central to any motorsports experience. As the excellent Formula 1 series on Netflix highlighted, racing is personality-driven, and you're missing out if you don't emotionally invest in a few drivers.

Here's a quick guide to finding your new favorite:

If you prefer Thanos to any of the Avengers, you should root for….Kyle Busch.

The defending Sprint Cup champion, Busch is NASCAR's most polarizing figure, but has seemingly embraced his role as the sport's greatest villain. When he's not winning races in the Cup Series, Busch can often be found destroying the competition in lower series, to the point where there's an active $100,000 bounty on him.

If you're still in 'Last Dance' mode, you should root for…Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick.

Johnson has already established himself as one of the GOATs in NASCAR history with a record-tying seven titles, but he's retiring after the 2020 season. He's currently on the longest winless streak of his career, but if he can find victory lane again before calling it quits, it'll be an unforgettable moment. Harvick, meanwhile, just picked up his 50th career Cup Series win last Sunday. He currently has no plan to retire anytime soon, but at the age of 44, he's one of the oldest drivers in the field.

If you want your driver to be in contention to win every week, you should root for…Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin or Brad Keselowski.

All fan-favorites, you can't really go wrong with any of these drivers.

If you're only into NASCAR until MLB/NBA/NHL/NFL returns….

just pick the coolest looking car. You can check out all the paint schemes here.

Wednesday's Big Winner: Goalie cat

Goalie Cat (Photo: Screenshot)

While professional athletes have been chilling at home, Goalie Cat has been tirelessly training. The phenomenal feline, named "Meownuel Neuer" after the superstar German national team No. 1, simply can't be beat, even at close range. A supercut of Goalie Cat's ridiculous saves went viral with more than a million views on Twitter, and for good reason. All hail Goalie Cat.

Quick Hits: Horace Grant calls MJ a liar, Jordan's mysterious illness, Chad Johnson

– Former Bulls big man Horace Grant, who was traded away after the first three-peat, slammed "The Last Dance" and said Jordan lied throughout the series.

– Our Charles Curtis caught up with the man who says he delivered a pizza to MJ the night before the "Flu Game," and swears that his pizza isn't what got MJ sick.

– Former Bengals star Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson left another monster tip at a restaurant in Florida that just reopened.

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Bowlsby: Big 12 status in mid-July to dictate start

  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of Indiana University

The Big 12 conference doesn’t have a date yet for its sports to resume, but commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Tuesday the league needs to be “up and running” by mid-July if the college football season is going to start on time.

“If we’re not, we’re looking at probably having to delay the season a little bit,” he told ESPN, “but it’s too early to know if we’re going to be able to make that or not.”

College football is tentatively scheduled to start on Aug. 29, and while there is still no definitive timetable for college sports to return, the May 31 moratorium that was imposed in March at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic is quickly expiring.

Multiple sources have told ESPN that the SEC athletic directors are meeting with health officials on Thursday, and will then make a recommendation to the league’s university presidents and chancellors about whether to permit student-athletes to return to campus as soon as June 1 for voluntary workouts. The SEC presidents and chancellors are expected to meet and make a decision on Friday.

Bowlsby said the Big 12 conference will have meetings next week for similar conversations, as its deadline is also May 31. He said it’s up to health experts to determine when it’s safe for the student-athletes to return.

“They have to have testing and assurances that systems are in place to deal with positive tests, treat people after a positive test, triage, hospital-level disinfectant in all of the activity spaces,” he said. “There’s just a lot of layers of systems that have to be put in place.”

When asked about the potential for a competitive advantage should the SEC allow athletes to return earlier, Bowlsby said the conference commissioners are in constant communication with the hopes of similar timelines.

“That’s why we work together is to try and avoid those things, but there’s a range of outcomes that are probably satisfactory and that allows some local discretion,” Bowlsby said, “but to the extent we can, we’ll try and do things similarly, but it doesn’t have to be identical.”

Last week, Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley said any talk of bringing players back to campus in a matter of weeks is too soon.

“All the talk about these schools wanting to bring players back on June 1 is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard,” Riley said in a Zoom chat with reporters. “We’ve got to be patient. We have one good shot at it.”

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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf expresses ‘general concern’ after Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s video at barbershop

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed himself getting a beard trim at a barbershop, and the state's governor didn't think that was a good move in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf didn't address Roethlisberger's case specifically but expressed a "general concern."

"Anybody who puts himself or herself into harm’s way is something that I think we ought to try to avoid," Wolf said at his coronavirus briefing Tuesday. "And when you go to something like a barbershop and you’re not protected, I don’t care who you are, the chances of that virus actually wreaking havoc on your life increases."

Roethlisberger, who had elbow surgery in September, had vowed not to shave until he was able to throw a pass to a teammate. Monday's video was designed to show where he stood in his recovery. It included a scene in a barbershop.

Feels good to be back out there with my guys! @[email protected][email protected]/hAlOwr7Ias

Barbershops and salons are among businesses that have been shut down nationwide in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"I don’t personally think that any Pennsylvanian ought to take that chance," Wolf said. "I certainly don’t want to take that chance myself.”

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Conner: ‘It would be hard’ to leave Pittsburgh

Steelers running back James Conner is scheduled to be a free agent after this season and says it “would be hard” to play for another team because of how connected he is to the city of Pittsburgh.

“It would be hard, it would be hard to put another helmet on. Just because of everything and what this city means to me,” Conner said on The Adam Schefter Podcast. “The city I played my college ball in, the city I had my life saved in, became healthy. The city I got drafted to, and I want to be able to say the city I brought a championship to.

“It would be hard. I’m Pittsburgh through and through. But like I said, I’m big on my faith, so I’m always going to end up doing and being where I’m supposed to be at through the Lord’s guidance and direction. We’ll see. We’ll take it one day at a time; I’m staying in the moment.”

After a Pro Bowl season in 2018, when Conner rushed for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns, he struggled in 2019, rushing for just 464 yards and 4 touchdowns as injuries contributed to his lack of production.

Before the draft, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said he expects Conner to be healthy this season and return to a Pro Bowl level as the team’s starter.

While at the University of Pittsburgh, Conner overcame a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015. The Steelers selected him in the third round of the 2017 draft.

The Steelers selected Maryland’s Anthony McFarland Jr. in the fourth round of last month’s draft. They also have 2019 fourth-round pick Benny Snell, who was second on the team with 426 rushing yards as a rookie, and 2018 fifth-round pick Jaylen Samuels on the depth chart.

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Minnie Lee’s scorebooks: A two-decade love letter to Reds baseball

Minnie Lee Olges loved her Cincinnati Reds.

Nearly every summer night for almost two decades, this sweet baseball-loving grandma settled into her recliner, the one next to the screen door leading to the driveway, and listened to Reds broadcasting legends Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call Cincinnati baseball games on her radio. 

In her house, the second-to-last one on a quiet dead-end street in Louisville, Ky., Minnie Lee kept score as her beloved Reds competed on the field. She didn’t have cable TV, so she couldn’t watch many games, but she didn’t need to. She watched the Reds through Marty and Joe’s words, and she told their stories on her score sheets.

She started her collection in 1973, first on the back of an envelope, then on what was supposed to be a score sheet for a college basketball All-Star game between players from Kentucky and Tennessee, then on loose-leaf pieces of paper and finally in spiral-bound notebooks. 

The thing is, nobody really knew the extent of what she was doing every single devoted night. She lived alone, retired and long separated from her husband, though her daughter Mary lived with her husband, Bob, and three sons seven houses up the street, and they visited regularly. 

“She didn’t drive, so we would take her to the grocery store once a week, or church or wherever, and she would always say, ‘Honey, I have to be back at 7 because the Reds are playing,’” grandson Mike Murphy told Sporting News. “We all knew that. We knew she liked it, but you don’t know how much she loved it until you get into the scorebooks.”



(Courtesy of Mike Murphy)

Minnie Lee’s early Reds scorecards
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Minnie Lee’s scorebooks are utterly, beautifully, stunningly amazing. It’s not a stretch to say they’re worthy of a spot in one of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s museum displays. They represent the essence of America’s connection, deep and true, with baseball. 

“Her scorebook had a heart,” Murphy said. “There’s a heartbeat to that thing. It’s not just numbers and data.”

They’re amazing because of the detail. She created her own scorebook grid, using a carefully folded piece of paper as a de facto ruler to keep her lines straight. She had her own style of scorekeeping, too — for example, “Stos” was a swinging strikeout, “GoSS” was a ground out to the shortstop, “S.RF” was a single to right field and a simple “H” stood for home run. 

She would flip the page over and write down — always in cursive — details as fast as she could when the action got hot. And the more Marty and Joe got excited, the more she was excited, and the larger her writing became. “Rose’s night!!” spilled into the line above and the line below, with a double underline on Sept. 11, 1985, the night Rose collected hit No. 4,192 to pass Ty Cobb on the all-time hit list. She loved Marty and Joe; the notebooks are full of “Marty says …” or “Joe says …” followed by the little tidbits they’d share on the air, or just the back-and-forth of the pair she loved so much.

They’re amazing because of how she used her scorebooks as a journal, not just of her life but significant events in the sport and in our country. If she missed any action, she’d always write why.

“I missed this part of the game. Johnny and Stephanie were here,” she jotted in her scoresheet over the first five innings of Game 1 of the 1976 World Series between the Reds and Yankees. “Had to care for Angel and missed this,” she wrote in the sixth and seventh innings of the July 15, 1984, game, when she went to tend to her neighbor’s dog. 

“She put family first. She never put listening to the ballgames above her family,” daughter Mary Murphy said. “If we came to visit, not being aware that there was a game being played, she never mentioned the game or cut our visits short so she could start keeping score.” 

On March 30, 1981, she stopped listening to the Reds game in the sixth inning, writing this on her scoresheet: “President Reagan was shot and 3 other men. I watched on TV and missed the rest of this game, but the Reds won.”



(Courtesy of Mike Murphy)

Minnie Lee’s scorebook when President Reagan is shot
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The biggest moments in Reds history for two decades, good and bad, are there: The Big Red Machine’s failures and successes in October, the magical 1990 World Series team, the disappointing 1980s. And it’s not just Reds moments. Minnie Lee made sure she found the important games — like Hank Aaron’s 715th home run — on her radio, and she kept score throughout the playoffs, whether or not the Reds were playing. She documented Reggie Jackson’s three-homer World Series game in 1977 and the earthquake that shut down the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants shortly before Game 3 was about to start.

Minnie Lee didn’t score every single game every year, but she didn’t miss many. She’d give up baseball for the holy days on the Catholic calendar, and the 10 p.m. local start times for West Coast games could be tough to finish when the family had 7 a.m. Mass the next morning. Whatever the reason, she’d always write it down in her notebook. 

Her grandson Mike’s passion is to share Minnie Lee’s passion with baseball fans — especially Reds fans — everywhere. He created a Twitter account, Grandma’s Reds Scorebook, in April and tweets out pictures of her captivating scoresheets every day. The challenge isn’t finding something to tweet every day, it’s deciding which year to choose among so many great options. 

Minnie Lee died in 1996 at 90 years old, but thanks to her youngest grandson, her passion for baseball can finally get the audience it deserves. 

“This is not just a Reds fans story. It’s a baseball love story,” Murphy said. “It crosses generations and demographics. This touches everyone, with her humbleness, her uncanny sense of humor. There’s something in here for everybody.”

♦♦♦♦♦

Marty Brennaman saw bits and pieces of Minnie Lee’s work for the first time this past weekend.

“What she did, it’s incredible, really unbelievable. It’s almost incomprehensible, to try and explain to somebody how in-depth she went, basically documenting day to day, the ups and downs of this baseball team, for a lot of years,” Brennaman said. “For someone to have such a passion for the game, and particularly for a team, to do that on a daily basis over a period of that many years is just mind-boggling.”



(Courtesy of Mike Murphy)

Minnie Lee’s hand-made “ruler” and Hank Aaron’s 715th homer
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If Minnie Lee was writing about Marty’s excitement level during the phone interview Sunday, her cursive letters would have been HUGE. It was obvious the Hall of Fame broadcaster — the 2000 Ford C. Frick award winner called Reds games on the radio from 1974 to 2019 — was enthralled with the life’s work of the biggest fan he never met. 

“It’s just incredible. It really is. I would have loved to be able to sit down with her and just talk Reds baseball,” Brennaman said. “That would have been the ultimate because of how much she loved the game. I’m sure she felt a personal connection between herself and all the players whose names she wrote down day to day over the years.

“The icing on the cake was the times she felt compelled to write notes, for whatever the reason: preparing a certain type of food or whatever. That’s unbelievable.”

And he is fully on board with the idea that Minnie Lee’s scorebooks need to be seen by baseball fans everywhere. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything,” he said, “in all the years I’ve been around with this team, that in-depth for that many seasons.”

♦♦♦♦♦

Nobody in the family really knows when Minnie Lee became a Reds fan, or how she learned to keep score. She lived in Cincinnati for a couple of years early in her marriage before moving to Louisville, but she never attended a single baseball game, again, as far as anyone in the family knows. But regardless of how/when it started, that love of baseball helped carry her through the final 20-plus years of her life.

Minnie Lee’s scoresheets are a bit overwhelming, at first glance. She packed incredible amounts of information on each page, with little notes written into the margins, but the more you see, the more they start to make sense. It’s not that there’s a method to the madness; there’s a method to the passion. 

As Murphy went page by page through the notebook in the years after his grandmother’s death, he laughed every time she tried to guess how to spell players’ names. She didn’t have a newspaper subscription, so her only option was to phonetically sound out names as she heard Marty and Joe say them and write every attempt out to see what looked right. 

FOSTER: The day the Reds and Braves made me fall in love with baseball

Ken Griffey was “Ken Griffe” for the first several years of her scorekeeping career; Murphy likes to joke that Griffey didn’t earn the ‘y’ at the end of his name until after he was part of Tom Seaver’s no-hitter in 1978. And Paul O’Neill? Well, there’s just about every variation imaginable written into her lineups. When it came to the visiting players, the guys Marty and Joe didn’t talk about as often, those were really a challenge. There’s one page on which Minnie Lee has written about a dozen different possibilities for Orel Hershiser. Terry Pendleton posed all sorts of issues. And Bob Ojeda? How in the world is a ‘J’ silent? 



(Courtesy of Mike Murphy)

Minnie Lee’s spelling adventures
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Quick Griffey aside: He was one of Minnie Lee’s all-time favorite players (Ron Oester was another). As Murphy points out, she just writes about him differently than most other Reds. And her note about his final game in a Reds uniform (Aug. 17, 1990) is amazing, for several reasons. 

Everyone hates to see him leave. I guess he has been with the team (as a player) longer than anyone else. Tony Perez is still with the Reds but not playing (coach at first base). Ken Griffey is the last of the “Big Red Machine.” His son, Ken Griffey, Jr., is in baseball, too. I just hope our Griffey will get some job in baseball.

“She would have had the biggest hoot if she knew how good Junior became,” Murphy said.

Oh, and Mike learned that his grandma LOVED the fights that sometimes happened on the baseball diamond. 

“That was totally out of character for her. She was a hard worker, but the most mild-mannered person. You never heard her cuss,” he said. “But the way she wrote about fights, you would think she was a chain-smokin’, foul-mouthed, drinking-ringside-double-bird-flippin’-off-at-the-wrestlers type. But she was not that way at all. That was the biggest pleasant surprise for all of us when I started finding these things. She loved that stuff.”

On July 29, 1990, Minnie Lee chronicled a fight between the Reds and Phillies. 

Some fight!!! I wish I could have seen it or at least heard all of it on the radio. Marty and Joe were yelling so & noise turned up too high. 

As she got older and her hearing worsened, she had to turn up the volume on her radio, to the point where anyone standing outside two or three houses away could hear the game clearly, the noise escaping through that screen door. Good thing her neighbors loved her, too. So by 1990, it was already loud, and when Marty and Joe started yelling during the basebrawl, well, the pitch was just too much for her to make anything else out. 

Minnie Lee was away from her house for three weeks in 1984, caring for Miss Boesser, her former landlord turned friend who was in declining health.

“While she was gone, she asked me to keep the newspaper sports page of the Reds,” Mary Murphy said. 

Thing is, Mary wasn’t a baseball fan. She thought her mother wanted the reports about the local minor league team, the Louisville Redbirds, then the Cardinals’ Triple-A team. 

Oops. So on a page in her book — that year, she used loose-leaf paper in a binder — Minnie Lee wrote: “I missed the games from June 25/84 to July 15/84. Was with Miss Boesser at her place.”

And nothing more was made of it.

“She didn’t fuss or get mad or anything,” Mary Murphy said, laughing as she thought back. “She just said, ‘It’s the Cincinnati Reds I wanted.’”

Reading through his grandma’s scorebooks, over and over, Murphy noticed a trend. 

“As she got older, she did get more emotionally into the writing,” he said. “I think she was lonely, I guess. I’d love to know, did she ever go back and pull it out in December or January and go back and look through it? I never got to ask those questions. Those are things I wished I could ask.”

Here’s what she wrote after the penultimate game of the 1989 season, a 9-2 loss to the Astros that left the Reds with a 75-86 record. 



(Courtesy of Mike Murphy)

Minnie Lee signs off for the 1989 season
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And here’s the last game in Minnie Lee’s scorebook, October 27, 1991. 

You remember that one. Jack Morris pitched 10 innings of shutout baseball as the Twins outlasted the Braves in one of the best World Series Game 7s in baseball history. This is what she wrote:

Twins won World Series in 7 games. 
1991
I have never seen a bunch so Happy as the Twins are! 
Both teams were wonderful. I feel for the losers, but to let the other team get only 1 run was good.

Those six lines of typed text? Minnie Lee used 18 lines’ worth of space on her paper. And of those 41 words, eight were double-underlined.

Yep, Minnie Lee really loved baseball. 

♦♦♦♦♦

Minnie Lee Prewitt was born on Jan. 23, 1906. 

She played basketball for the Cambellsville College team — she was teammates with her sisters, Stella and Ethel — and she was president of her sophomore class in college. Under her picture in the Garnett and Gray yearbook was this poem … 

“A girl that’s seldom meek and mild,
The girl that’s peppy all the while,
The girl that’s never cross nor blue; 
Minnie Lee, that’s you.”



(Courtesy of Mike Murphy)

Minnie Lee, basketball player
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Her life was far too often marked by tragedy. She was the second of nine children born to Milo and Thula Prewitt, two of whom died in infancy. Her parents were killed in a well accident when she was 15 — a gas explosion overwhelmed Milo as he was digging the well, then Thula when she went in to help her husband — and the siblings were split up, though they stayed in touch as best they could.

Minnie Lee and her husband, Joe Olges, had five children. Their first, Joseph, died when he was 8; he fell through the ice of a frozen pond and drowned, on Feb. 3, 1942, an accident too awful to even think about. 

Despite the tragedy, Mary Murphy remembers a happy childhood. She remembers her mother reading “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” giving life to Mark Twain’s characters with her tone and inflections; she’d taken drama classes and put those lessons to use when reading stories to her children — and, Mary notes, was a big reason her scorebook notebooks included big letters and underlines and exclamation points for emphasis. 

“She was a very loving mother,” said Mary, who is now 81 and still lives in the same house on the dead-end street. “She never raised her voice. We knew by her eyes that we’d better behave.”

Minnie Lee often worked as a nanny — picking up tasty recipes for her family along the way — and spent many, many years working in the nursery at St. Joseph’s Orphanage. 

Minnie Lee has other two daughters, Ruth and Roberta. Jack, Minnie Lee and Joe’s second-born son, played fullback for the Flaget High football team in Louisville that won city, state and Catholic championships in 1952, a team quarterbacked by Paul Hornung. Yes, that Paul Hornung. Before he was the 1956 Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame, four-time NFL champion (including Super Bowl I) and Pro Football Hall of Famer, he followed the lead blocks of Jack Olges to an unforgettable high school football season. 

♦♦♦♦♦

Mike Murphy, the youngest of Minnie Lee’s 14 grandchildren, was born one year before she started her scorebook obsession/collection, and the two shared a special bond.

Nearly every morning during the summer, Murphy would ride his bike down the street just to ask his grandma if Johnny Bench, his favorite player, hit a home run the night before. When the family would gather for Thanksgiving or Christmas at Minnie Lee’s house, Murphy would sneak away to look at the stack of notebooks and just imagine the glorious baseball stories they told. 

Mike would tag along when his mom and grandma went to the grocery store; his quarter allowance was enough to buy one pack of baseball cards, which he would open next to his grandma on the bench seat of the family Oldsmobile on the way home. The 1978 Topps set stands out in his memory, and two cards in particular. The first one was Steve Garvey, because Murphy’s T-ball team was the Dodgers, and Garvey’s Popeye-esque forearms looked like the forearms on his dad, who was a steelworker and a bricklayer.

The other was Cesar Geronimo. 

“I remember flipping through the pack and finding a Reds player,” Murphy said. “I said, ‘Grandma, who’s he?’ And when she said Cesar Geronimo, I thought that was the coolest name I’d ever heard. I made her say it back to me about 50 times. The other guys on the team were named Joe, Pete, George, Ken, Dave, Tom … so when I heard Cesar Geronimo? I was enamored with him from that point on.”

Minnie Lee was, essentially, Murphy’s own personal Baseball-Reference; if the players he saw in his packs played in the National League and Marty and Joe talked about them, she had a story. She could tell him which cards were good and which ones weren’t. And she knew which ones knew the value of a good education, too. 

“Mike had a hard time with the first grade,” Mary Murphy said, with a motherly laugh all these years later. “He’d cry and didn’t want to go to school. He’d stand and look out the window and say, ‘Did Johnny Bench have to go do school?’”

It took a couple of months to adjust — the strict Catholic school nuns were a shock to the system of a boy who grew up in such a loving environment — but with the knowledge that Johnny Bench endured school, Murphy decided he could, too. 

And he stuck with it. He’s a special education teacher at an elementary school in Louisville, back in the classroom after years as a school administrator. And the one time he met Johnny Bench? Murphy asked the Hall of Famer to sign “Johnny Bench, 1965 Valedictorian.”

“He turned to the guy next to him,” Murphy recalled with a laugh, “and said, ‘I have never signed that in my entire life.’”



(Courtesy of Mike Murphy)

Johnny Bench
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Because the two shared a love of baseball, it eventually became Murphy’s honor to give his grandma the same Christmas gift every year: a 200-sheet, three-section notebook and a package of pens. 

“She played it up when I gave it to her, too. Trust me,” Murphy said. “Her eyes were big, like, ‘I know what’s in here. I’m set!’”

When Murphy got a little older, the two would flip through the notebooks together at her house, Murphy sipping on a cup of Postum and eating a cheese blintz or a pimento-cheese sandwich lovingly prepared by his grandma. 

Murphy collected the notebooks after Minnie Lee died of natural causes in 1996, at 90 years old. He knew he wanted to do something special with them, but wasn’t sure exactly what. Finally, with his brother Jeff’s wedding approaching in July 2007 — knowing the family would be together — Murphy dove into his new project. For two months, he organized and stacked and copied pages and notebooks, crying and laughing constantly as he read his grandma’s words. 

A few days before Jeff’s wedding, Murphy told his brother about his project and asked whether it would be OK to give them out at the end of his reception. Jeff, of course, agreed. 

Murphy made four copies of this labor of love, a binder book he titled “Game day through the eyes of Marty & Joe and the ears of Minnie Lee.” He separated the book into nine sections, each tailored to unique elements of his grandma’s scoresheets. He gave one to his mom, one to his uncle Jack, one to his Aunt Ruth and one to his Aunt Roberta, Minnie Lee’s four surviving children. He wrote a letter to the four, a heartfelt note that included this near the end.

I truly believe she kept these books for us to read and share later. There are so many priceless memories in this book. We are truly blessed to be able to read these simple conversations that she had with herself and hear her wisdom long after her death. I wanted these notebooks because of my early memories with her growing up. I had no idea that they contained all of these priceless memories. I’ve laughed and cried many of times during this process. Grad some Kleenex, enjoy and share these experiences with your families.

And for each of Minnie Lee’s kids, Murphy found and clipped out a piece of paper where she’d written out her name, so the letter was signed by their mother. 

Brennaman was blown away by the book when he saw pictures. 

“I thought that was really cool, I swear to goodness,” he said. “Periodically, people will show me things similar to hers, but not nearly to the extent in which she undertook it.” 



(Courtesy of Mike Murphy)

Tribute book to Minnie Lee Olges
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♦♦♦♦♦

One last story for today, though there are thousands more screaming to be told. 

Murphy played catcher because he wanted to be like Johnny Bench, so when Bench retired after the 1983 season, Murphy needed a new favorite catcher. The easy choice was Gary Carter, the Expos’ All-Star catcher who always had a huge smile on his face and played the game with Bench’s passion. 

When Carter was traded to the Mets before the 1985 season, Murphy became a big Mets fan. The 1986 season was unforgettable; Carter finished third in the NL MVP voting and the Mets went on to win a classic World Series against the Red Sox. 

So when Murphy was doing his book project, he flipped through Minnie Lee’s section on the 1986 postseason. What she wrote after the Mets won the NLCS made him sob uncontrollably. 



(Courtesy of Mike Murphy)

Minnie Lee leaves Mike a note
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Now for the World Series!! Mike, I’m hoping your Mets win!! I know you are pulling for them, I am too. Ray Knight is an ex-Red. I’d like for MacNamara’s team to play well, too.”

Read that again. Murphy certainly has, hundreds of times.  

“You open that up years later, not knowing it’s there, and you see that?” 

Mike paused. 

“It’s like she was leaving us all love notes the whole time.”

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