6000 Calories Per Serving…

If I were one of the folks who thinks they need to wear a tinfoil hat to protect against the mind-reading and mind-control waves emanated by the government, I would start to worry about now. I write about valuations of franchises and the next day Forbes comes out with a whole new list; I write about a monstrosity of a culinary option at the Texas Motor Speedway and the next day the Green Bay Packers trump that. After all, the bacon beer milkshake in Texas does not come close to 6000 calories.

You have jumped to the correct conclusion; the Packers will offer their fans the chance to consume 6000 calories in a single order at the concession stand. That would be the 22-inch Kielbasa that comes in a semi-circular bun with “beer cheese” and “fried sauerkraut”. Anyone reading this who is related in any way to a cardiac surgeon is sending this info along with the idea that the whole family is going to relocate to northeastern Wisconsin and make enough money to buy Warren Buffett out of BNSF. AYFKM… [Are You F***ing Kidding Me]?

Oh, but the good folks who provide the victuals at Lambeau Field are not done yet. In addition to the “Kielbasa From Hell”, they will also allow you to order – and presumably consume – an order of “Bratchos”. Folks who are facile with English will conclude that this is a dish that marries bratwurst and nachos; they would be correct. This bad boy will come to the consumer in a tub that is about half the size of a football and contains all the ingredients you might imagine would be in bastardized nachos that had bratwurst in them.

EMTs are standing by at Lambeau Field in case anyone is foolhardy enough to order and consume both of these items on the same day. The human circulatory system did not evolve to survive that level of stress and strain…

Dean Blandino is the head of officiating for the NFL. Earlier this week, he said that there are going to be changes in the “extra point play” and those changes will be coming soon. He said that proposals will be presented to the NFL Competition Committee after the 2014 season ends. During the Exhibition Season, the NFL has “experimented” with moving the spot of the ball for the point after TD from the 2-yardline to the 15-yardline. Based on a small sample of exhibition games where some of the attempts came from guys who will not be on the field for any NFL team once the games count for real, the conversion rate for PATs from the 15-yardline was 94.3%. That does not sound like much until you consider that last season NFL kickers converted 99.6% of their point after TD tries. Not only do I “not have a problem” with this kind of a rule change, I think there are myriad options to make the game better by making the play that follows a TD into something where the outcome is questionable.

Moving the ball back to the 15-yardline (making the try for a point a 33-yard attempt instead of a 20-yard attempt) is insufficient as far as I am concerned. Here are the kinds of rule changes I would like to see considered seriously enough to have them as part of an “experiment”. [Aside: I put “experiment” inside quotation marks because I simply do not believe that Roger Goodell and his minions on mahogany row in the NFL suites go around every day wearing white lab coats and plastic pocket protectors.]:

    Bill Belichick suggested that the kick should come from the 42-yardline. I could live with that.

    I would love to see the NFL squeeze the uprights more than just a foot or two. Currently, the width of the goalposts in the NFL is 18-feet 6-inches. In the Arena League, the goalposts are only 9 feet wide. I would love to “split the difference” and make the NFL goalposts 14-feet wide. By the way, if they did that, it would also make long field goals more “dicey” and might add more actual football plays to the game instead of placekicking plays.

    I have also advocated – for at least the last 25 years – putting a bar across the top of the uprights and declaring that a field goal or point after TD is only good if it goes into the rectangle inscribed by adding that top piece.

    I read about one idea where a TD would be worth 7 points. Then, the scoring team would have the option to add 2 points to the TD with one play from scrimmage at the 5-yardline. The scoring team can opt to take that chance or just go back and kick off with 7 points on the board. However, if they opt to “go for it” and miss, then their TD is only worth 6 points. That rule might be fun for fans but so long as there are coaches on the Competition Committee, that proposal is Dead On Arrival.

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle was wondering if fans had reached a tipping point with regard to staying home to watch NFL games as opposed to heading out to the stadium to root for the local heroes. You can read his full “analysis” here – and I recommend that you do so – but to get to the bottom line, staying home is the clear winner. Here is the opening paragraph of that “analysis” to whet your appetite:

‘The 49ers have a museum in Levi’s Stadium stocked with precious relics of the team’s past. I haven’t seen the museum yet, but I hope they have a special display for the $5 beer.”

Finally, there has been a lot attention to the Notre Dame football players who have been suspended while an investigation goes on regarding academic fraud and cheating. No matter what the findings of the investigators and the school’s tribunal, that situation will not end well. When one juxtaposes that story with the monumental hypocrisy of the NCAA with regard to exploiting athletes in the revenue sports, it is pretty easy to get to a point where one’s gag reflex is initiated. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel looked at that situation and came to this conclusion:

“Notre Dame supposedly has sidelined four football players because of academic fraud. My question: Is there a bigger oxymoron in college football than “academic fraud”? Don’t kid yourself, all of the big-time programs — by hiding their dozens of scholastically challenged players in gut courses and pointless majors — are academic frauds down to their very core.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

No Inside Info – I Swear…

I have a confession to make… When I wrote yesterday’s rant about the valuation of sports franchises and how Forbes might react to the Clippers having sold for $2B, I had exactly NO IDEA that Forbes was about to come out with new valuations for NFL franchises. No matter what it might look like, this is a perfect example of either serendipity or blind luck.

The new valuations are out and Forbes now thinks the Dallas Cowboys are worth $3.2B; that is a cool $900M more than Forbes thought they were worth just about a year ago. Jerry Jones’ credit rating just went up. According to Forbes the two least valuable teams in the NFL are the Rams (worth a mere $930M) and the Bills (worth a tidy $935M). These skyrocketing valuations are all in response to Steve Ballmer paying $2B for a “middle-of-the –pack” NBA franchise.

By the way, if Forbes is even close to correct, their franchise valuations say something very direct regarding the NFC East. Even if it is not the toughest division in the NFL – which it has not been for quite a while now – it is certainly the most valuable division. Here are the Forbes ranks for the four teams in the NFC East:

    Dallas 1st
    Washington 3rd
    NY Giants 4th
    Philly 7th

Here is a data point for you. Since 1997, the Dallas Cowboys cumulative record is 136-136. So, that is “America’s Team” and the franchise that is the most valuable in the NFL? Looks to me as if the Cowboys’ fans – as with the Oakland Raiders’ fans – are living in a world of past glories…

Notwithstanding any of the above, I also had no special insight into the NFL’s thinking regarding the halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl next February. I had no idea they were contemplating Rihanna, Katy Perry and Coldplay for the “job” or that the NFL would suggest to the performers that they (the performers) pay for the honor of being the halftime entertainment in front of potentially 100 million folks (give or take a couple of million).

    For the record, I do know the difference between Rihanna and a rhino.

    I could probably tell Katy Perry from Gaylord Perry just on the basis of gender.

    I do not know Coldplay from cold fusion or the play-of-the-week.

Speaking of NFL “stuff”, Mike Ditka responded to questions in the Chicago Sun-Times recently regarding Bears’ coach Marc Trestman’s ability to take Bears’ QB, Jay Cutler, from his current stature in the league to an “elite QB”. Here is what “Da Coach” had to say:

‘Marc can help him. He’s an outstanding coach and has a brilliant offensive mind. But Jay has to do it. He has to put the time and the work in, and he has to have the discipline to do it. He knows that. Can Marc make him? No. The only person that can make him is him. You can set up an offense to take advantage of his talent, and Marc has done that. But Jay has to perform on the field. That’s the bottom line.”

I have nothing to add here…

Later in whatever discussion Ditka had with the Sun-Times reporter, the subject turned to domestic violence and how it seems to becoming a more commonplace issue with NFL players. Here is what “Da Coach” had to say about that issue:

“There’s no excuse for domestic violence. None. If you have a problem, go outside and walk around the block. If that doesn’t work, keep walking.”

I cannot find any reason to argue with Ditka on this point either…

Moving on to the English version of football, Huddersfield Town – located northeast of Manchester and Liverpool – has a team in the English Champions League. That league is one level below the English Premier League. Huddersfield Town began this season with a loss to Bournemouth by a score of 4-0; their manager, Mark Robins, described the game as “a disgrace”. A couple of days later, the board of governors for the team fired manager, Mark Robins. Somewhere in the cosmos, George Steinbrenner nods in approval and wonders why he was so patient with all of his managers…

Baseball teams usually take the lead in creating outrageous culinary concoctions for their fans. However, the some folks involved in motor sports seem to have taken up the challenge and the Texas Motor Speedway will now offer its patrons:

    A beer and bacon milkshake.

NASCAR will be at the Texas Motor Speedway the first weekend of November for the Texas 500. [Aside: Since everything is purportedly “bigger” in Texas, why isn’t this race the Texas 750?] If you show up there you can have one of these bad boys and here are the ingredients:

    6 oz. Texas vanilla ice cream
    6 oz. Rohr & Sons Ugly Pug Black Lager
    2 oz. Bacon-infused Maple Syrup
    2 oz. Candied bacon bits
    Topping is whipped cream and more bacon bits

Just so there is no misunderstanding, I would not eat that with your mouth. If you even mention this to your cardiologist, my guess is that he will tell his staff to book you for bypass surgery sometime in the next 12 months…

Finally, Greg Cote had this item in the Miami Herald:

“Oregon State’s new men’s basketball coach is Wayne Tinkle. If I were him I’d hand out business cards that read: ‘Yes I have endured a lifetime of teasing. Whatever you’re thinking, I’ve heard it.’ ”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

A Franchise Bubble?

On Monday, I suggested you might want to read a report in the Seattle Times about Steve Ballmer and his involvement with the basketball program at Lakeside School in suburban Seattle. That report got me thinking about Ballmer and his purchase of the LA Clippers for $2B and what that might mean for the future of sports franchises.

Periodically, Forbes puts a value on each of the franchises in the major US sports. I have no way to judge the methodology by which they do that but I assume that they use a consistent yardstick across all the teams and all the sports since the bottom line is a common unit of measure – the dollar value of the enterprise. Using 2013 as the source of data, here is how Forbes put a value on NFL franchises. Remember, the NFL is the 800-lb gorilla with regard to US sports enterprises:

    1. Dallas Cowboys $2.3B
    2. NE Patriots $1.8B
    3. Wash Redskins $1.7B
    4. NY Giants $1.55B

In other words, only the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise in the NFL is worth more than the $2B that Steve Ballmer paid for an NBA team. Stunning…

Now the good folks at Forbes are devotees of free markets and one of the tenets of a free market is that a product or a service is worth exactly what someone else is willing to pay for it in an arms-length transaction. According to the Forbes methodology, here is what they thought various NBA teams were worth the last time they went through the exercise:

    1. NY Knicks $1.1B
    2. LA Lakers $1.0B
    3. Chicago Bulls $0.8B
    4. Boston Celtics $0.73B
    18. LA Clippers $0.43M

Well, the free market value of the Clippers just jumped to $2.0B; and so, the question now comes down to this:

    Will Forbes adjust all of the values upward for franchises in the NBA such that most of them will be more valuable than the Dallas Cowboys?

More importantly, perhaps someone far more knowledgeable about economics should address this:

    Did the $2B purchase of the LA Clippers signal a bubble that could burst for franchise ownership – or – was this just one super-rich guy going slightly beyond his petty-cash drawer to buy an expensive toy?

The NFL Exhibition season is in full-swing; and after playing those meaningless games and using guys who have no prayer of making the team once the games count, the coaches have to stand up to press inquiries. Those interviews can be tedious after a real game; during the Exhibition Season, they are painful. As I see highlights of coaches answering questions when they simply do not want to be in the same room with their inquisitors, I imagine what is really going through their minds that they have to be sure not to say. Here are a couple of examples:

    Jason Garrett: “I have been quizzed by professors at Princeton; you guys are so junior varsity…”

    Rex Ryan: “My last statement wasn’t nearly bombastic enough. Get a load of this next one…”

    Chip Kelly: “Gotta make sure to get out of here before the sugar high wears off…”

    Bill Belichick: “I’d like to see all of you boiled in oil…”

    Jim Harbaugh: “Hope I can follow doctor’s orders and keep my blood pressure under 310/265 until this is over…”

    Gus Bradley: “If we stink, I am going to get fired – but the fact is we are going to stink…”

    Mike Tomlin: “Must not smile; if I do, these guys might think that football is less important than world peace…”

This is a fun game; you can play it in your living room all season long. No need to thank me…

I saw a report saying there is an Internet petition out there demanding that the Super Bowl halftime headliner be “Weird Al” Yankovic. That sounded bizarre enough to check out; indeed, there is such a petition; you can see it here.

I think this would be great halftime entertainment. “Weird Al” might lead off with Dare To Be Stupid followed by Like A Surgeon and then leading into White And Nerdy. Then they could have a surprise appearance by Placido Domingo who might join “Weird Al” in a hearty rendition of The Nasty Doorman – the Nessun Dorma.

Hey, even I would watch that halftime show – and it would be the first one.

Finally, Scott Ostler had this lament recently in the SF Chronicle:

“Man, I have the world’s most boring bucket list. Nothing on it but buckets. Last week I crossed off ‘driving range balls’ and ‘KFC’.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Ex-Jocks Behind A Microphone

Last weekend, I had a chance conversation with someone in the neighborhood who is a displaced Chicago White Sox fan. I mentioned something about a recent Nats’ game that had been on the local cable network. That led my neighbor to express displeasure with the Nat’s color announcer on the local cable telecasts, F.P. Santangelo; my neighbor said he was too bland to listen to. Then my neighbor said he wished the Nats would get someone as good as “Hawk” Harrelson to do their local games…

In no way would I put F.P. Santangelo in any pantheon of great color commentators in the history of the game. Nonetheless, I do not find him objectionable in any way. He is like vanilla ice cream; you may not love him but there is no way you can dislike him.

“Hawk” Harrelson is not that way at all. Harrelson is about as big a “homer” as anyone you will have ever heard or will ever hear. Therefore, if you are a White Sox fan – like my neighbor – you will love him. If you have no particular affiliation with or affection for the White Sox, you might wonder if this guy even knows that the word “objective” exists in the English language.

Personally, I can take Harrelson in very small doses but his “homerism” quickly gets to me and I start to tune him out. However, that chance conversation got me to thinking about ex-jocks who have migrated to a position behind a microphone on radio and TV. Some of them are – or were – very good but there are some who just do not provide me with listening pleasure:

    Troy Aikman: He is good working with Joe Buck; he is good on his own. I like him a lot.

    Charles Barkley: I think the lack of a 10-second delay line between his brain and his tongue provides for the possibility of real entertainment when he is on the air. I enjoy him; nevertheless, I recognize that there are lots of folks who would prefer that he get laryngeal surgery – today.

    Cris Collinsworth: I think he is excellent.

    Kirk Herbstreit: I have no idea if this guy does anything in his life that is not connected to college football, but he is really good at that one thing.

    Michael Irvin: What he does to the English language is what workers in an abattoir do to the carcass of a steer. I fear that my 12th grade English teacher – wherever she may be in the cosmos – gets a twinge in her spine every time Irvin goes off on one of his expository flights of fancy. As often as not, I change the channel mid-way into one of his commentaries.

    Daryl “Moose” Johnston: I used to enjoy him but he is too repetitious. He harps on things over and over. His repetitiveness drives me nuts. How come he says the same things all the time? Enough already…

    Shaquille O’Neal: If Shaq is an acquired taste, all I can say is that I have not yet acquired same.

    Warren Sapp: Many folks say he is a wonderful person who would give you the shirt off his back. I cannot speak to that but I do wish that he would say something important more often than he does.

    Curt Schilling: He is destined to make Sominex an unnecessary product.

    Shannon Sharpe: Just because he speaks loudly does not mean he has something important – or even interesting – to say.

    Phil Simms: It took a while for me to get used to his voice, but once over that hurdle I came to enjoy hearing from him.

    Tony Siragusa: He tries too hard to be the latter-day Art Donovan.

    Kenny Smith: He and Charles Barkley obviously have fun working together and I enjoy being part of that upbeat environment.

    Joe Theismann: Five words apply here:

      Fingernails scratching on a blackboard

    Chris Webber: One word will suffice here:

      Vapid

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list; it just happens to be a few folks who came to mind as I recalled the conversation with my neighbor. I am sure others can add folks to the “really like this guy list” and to the “get this guy off the air list”.

Finally, here are a few of the best malapropisms from the late Ralph Kiner – a former jock who got behind a microphone and provided entertainment albeit not always in the way he meant to provide it:

“All of his saves have come in relief opportunities.”

And …

“If Casey Stengel were alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave.”

And …

“The reason the Mets have played so well at Shea this year is that they have the best home record in baseball.”

And …

“The Mets have gotten their leadoff batter on only once this inning.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Recommended Reading

Mike Baker has a report in the Seattle Times about new Clippers’ owner, Steve Ballmer, and his involvement with the basketball program at Lakeside School in suburban Seattle. The story is well researched and well written.

In case you might wonder how someone who could afford to spend $2B to buy an NBA franchise might affect a high school athletic program, I suggest you should read this in its entirety.

The New Commissioneer Of MLB

With the election of a new Commissioner of MLB, there has been an outpouring of “advice” for Rob Manfred regarding things he needs to do to improve the game. Some of the “moldy oldies” get dragged out of the storage shed and into the sunlight one more time in these words of advice such as:

    Make a final decision on Pete Rose’s reinstatement one way or the other.

    Put the DH in the National League or remove it from the American League.

    Make the “replay rule” work better.

    Keith Olbermann wants MLB to force all team mascots – especially Clark the Cub – to wear pants at all times.

I do not want to disparage any of those kinds of recommendations; it would be very good for MLB to do all of those kinds of things. I prefer to focus on what I think is a much bigger issue facing MLB. I think that Rob Manfred needs to figure out why TV ratings for the nationally televised “Game of the Week” have tanked and are continuing to go down. I think that is a far more important issue for baseball than most of the other things that have been thrown around. Here is why:

    The major networks will not continue to pay “top dollar” for TV rights to games if ratings continue to drop. The so-called “Mendoza Line” exists for baseball hitters; there is an analogous “Ratings-version Mendoza Line”; it determines which sports get the big bucks and which get chump-change.

    The national TV contracts are vital sources of revenue for “small market teams”. Big market teams get big revenue from local TV deals – unless they get into a spitting match with cable companies over the rates they want to charge to those cable companies a la the Dodgers at the moment. Small market teams do not even generate chump-change in local TV revenue.

It does not matter nearly as much when/if ratings for the All-Star Game or even the World Series are lower than they were 15-20 years ago. Those are singular events and the networks will always bid on them; the revenue danger for MLB lies in the declining ratings for the “Game of the Week”. I suggest two reasons why those ratings are in serious decline:

    1. Pace of play: I know that some folks are tired of hearing about this but baseball games take too long. Moreover, there can be significant stretches of the game where not a lot happens even though time marches on. I – and others – have made lots of suggestions on ways to increase “pace of play” in the past; I seriously think that Rob Manfred needs to consider ways to do that without damaging the game itself.

      Suggestion: Why not put a “pitch clock” in as an experiment in a couple of the minor leagues and gauge fan reaction and player/manager reaction from it. If that is “positive”, do the same experiment in Spring Training. Then, …

    2. Interleague play: This was a great idea when introduced in 1997. It boosted attendance and heightened interest in the game. It may also have outlived its usefulness. A return to the days where the only “interleague games” that mattered were in the World Series would create space in a team’s schedule that could be filled with games against division rivals.

No one should read the above and conclude that I think MLB is on a precipice and about to go down in flames. It is not. However, with a new commissioner comes a chance to look at some issues differently than they have been observed in the past; I think MLB should avail itself of that opportunity.

By the way, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this suggestion for amending the replay rule. I do not know if this would make the game better or move faster, but it might be very entertaining:

“How to fix baseball replay: It’s stupid that managers protest replay decisions by barking at the umps on the field. If the skipper has a replay beef, put him on a Skype hookup with the replay ump in New York, and beam the discussion to the ballpark video screen.”

The Dallas Morning News reports that the players in the bullpen for the Texas Rangers have created a new “game” that they play to pass the time out there. The game is called:

    Fart-bottle Roulette

In case you think I am making this up – I am not nearly that creative, by the way – here is a link to the report. Even though you probably cannot guess the rules of the game, I can assure you that it is about as disgusting as the name might suggest.

Finally, Mike Bianchi had this comment in the Orlando Sentinel recently:

“With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy: How can you tell if a Mississippi State fan is on vacation in Orlando? He’s the one trying to take his fishing pole into Sea World!”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

The “Look Of The Games” Logo…

The folks in charge of the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 revealed their “Look of the Games” branding design for the event. I cannot even begin to describe it; you will have to look here to see it for yourself.

The creators of that “thing” say that it demonstrates the “harmonic diversity” of Brazilians and it took them a year’s worth of “research” to bring it forth. I admit that I have about as much appreciation of abstract art as your typical Visigoth; but to me, it looks more like something a kid in first grade might do with finger-paints in art class. Looks more like “atonal nonsense” than “harmonic diversity” to me.

Speaking of the 2016 Games in Rio, there was an AP article in the NY Post recently that followed up on the notional but not real economic benefits of the Olympics in Athens in 2004. Basically, many of the Olympic venues are abandoned and approaching the status of “ruins”. The article quotes an economist, Andrew Zimbalist:

““In Greece, few of the sporting venues — mostly purpose-built permanent structures — have seen regular post-Olympic use. The badminton venue is a successful concert hall, but the empty table-tennis and gymnastics stadium is up for sale, and the beach volleyball center has been rarely used and was recently looted.”

The article also says that most of the former Olympic venues are padlocked. Not too many “padlocked properties” provide economic benefits to citizens and jurisdictions where those “padlocked properties” are. If you want to read the entire story – in case the local pols in your vicinity decide it would be a good idea to attract the Olympics to your neighborhood – you can find it here.

Here is one more item gleaned from the sports section of the NY Post. In one of Ken Davidoff’s recent columns, he wrote about an interview he had with Hal Steinbrenner of the Yankees. Asked about A-Rod and what the future might hold for him and the Yankees, here is what Steinbrenner had to say:

“[Reporting to spring training is] what he’s planning for, and that’s what we’re planning for … I have not talked to Alex. I know my brother-in-law [Yankees executive vice president Felix Lopez] ran into him in the city, said he looks good, looks fit. Alex is a hard worker. Alex will be ready. And we’ll just have to go from there. See how he does and how he responds to playing every day in Spring Training.”

Hal Steinbrenner could not have said anything other than what he said but you do have to parse that statement just a bit.

    1. The Yankees still owe Alex Rodriguez $61M in base salary for 2015-17.

    2. If A-Rod hits 6 more homeruns, he gets another $6M for reaching 660 career homers. He has five other $6M add-ons for further home run production such that all of the add-ons could total $30M.

    3. If A-Rod refuses to show up and try to play next spring, that act might void his contract and he could miss out on $61M guaranteed plus a pretty certain extra $6M payday.

    4. Even if one thinks A-Rod is one of the more despicable life forms on the planet, he is not stupid. He is going to report to Spring Training next year.

At the same time, the Yankees – and Hal Steinbrenner specifically – want to know about “how he responds to playing every day”. They have a direct monetary interest in that issue. Rodriguez has had major surgery on both hips and had an arthroscopic procedure on a knee in the last 5 years. If he were physically unable to “play every day”, the Yankees could recoup his $61M in guaranteed money via an insurance policy they took out against such an eventuality. Therefore, the situation boils down to this:

    Alex Rodriguez will show up in Tampa next spring at the Yankees’ camp. That will assure that a minimum of $61M in future salary will flow through his bank account.

    The Yankees will have a predisposition to say he is not capable of playing baseball any more.

    That would get them insurance money.

    That would assure A-Rod never hits those next 6 homeruns that would cost them that $6M contractual add-on.

    It will definitely be a circus.

Finally, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this to say about an NFL exhibition game he saw on TV:

“In NFL preseason action, the Chiefs beat the Bengals, 41-39. Cincinnati QB Matt Scott threw up twice on the field. We’re in Week 1 of the preseason, and I already regret buying that high-definition big-screen TV.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Revenge Of Frankenstein

Like the sequels to the old time horror flicks – The Mummy Returns, Revenge of the Mummy, The Mummy’s Sister’s Boyfriend etc. – it appears as if we will receive yet another visit from the “Biogenesis Bother”. Last week, the Feds filed criminal charges in the matter; setting aside for the moment any possibility that more names of baseball juicers may emerge during the proceedings, there is one key issue at this stage of the process:

    Which of the indicted folks is going to roll over first and become a cooperative witness for the Feds?

My money is on Anthony Bosch – founder and overlord of Biogenesis. After all, he was a key cooperating witness in MLB’s investigation/arbitration into this matter leading to A-Rod’s season-long suspension; it would be sort of difficult for him now to play the role of “innocent naïf”. Never having been indicted by the Feds for any transgression, I cannot know this first hand, but it seems to me that the first indicted person to become a cooperative witness for the government tends to get the best plea bargain deal. So, the race is on…

Also indicted is Yuri Sucart. If that name rings a bell deep in your memory, he is A-Rod’s cousin; he is the person that A-Rod fingered as the one who provided him with PEDs and even injected him with the drugs back in 2009. The Miami New Times has been on top of this story since the day “Anthony Bosch” and “Biogenesis” entered the sporting vocabulary. A recent article there will give you a thumbnail sketch of the life of Yuri Sucart and how he links to Biogenesis and to A-Rod. I highly recommend that you read it here.

For the moment, it appears as if none of the athletes who bought and used “stuff” from Biogenesis faces any charges; the Feds are after the suppliers/manufacturers of the illegal substances and not the users. That is not to say that we may not learn of other athletes who were “customers” for Biogenesis products; that could be part of the investigation and trial that will be ongoing. Stay tuned…

Sticking with baseball for now, the wildcard races in the two leagues are very different this year. In the National League as of this morning, the teams not leading the divisions that are contending for the two wildcard slots are all very close to one another; five teams have winning percentages between .533 and .500. Two will make it; three will not.

However, in the AL, the Angels are clearly ahead of all the other wildcard aspirants. As of this morning, they have a 5.5 game lead over the Mariners who are the leaders of the “other teams in the running”. In one way, that might seem to reduce the focus on the AL wildcard race but I think this situation adds an interesting dynamic.

Recall that the playoff rules call for the two wildcard teams to face each other in a single-elimination game – sort of a “play-in game”. Obviously, it is better to win a division than to have to face that “one-and-done” game; and if the playoffs started today, the Angels would face a team 46 percentage points behind them in the standings. However, the Angels can look in the other direction to note that they are only 2.5 games behind the A’s and recognize their incentive to win the AL West and not have to play in the elimination game. Oh, by the way, unless the A’s are dumber than bait, they too will recognize that finishing atop the AL West is significantly in their interest also. And so, in the AL, there could be two interesting races to follow – the wildcard race for the second slot and the AL West race.

Here is an interesting scenario that might make the AL West race even more interesting. Suppose that one of the teams well behind the Angels today goes on a run while the other contenders continue to play something like .500 baseball. Just because I got back from Seattle and saw the Mariners, let me assume the team that makes that run is the Mariners. Going into the last week of the season, it might be the case that the Mariners are locked into the second wild card slot while the Angels and A’s are neck-and-neck for the AL West title. That could allow the Mariners to set up their rotation to assure that Felix Hernandez pitches in the elimination game while the Angels and the A’s would both need to use their aces to get the slot that bypasses that game with the Mariners.

That scenario is not likely, but it could happen. In that case, the system would perversely give an advantage to the second wildcard team. That might be another interesting thing to watch for…

Another baseball happening around this time of the year is the Little League Playoffs/World Series. As I have said before, there are far too many of those games on television and if you ever wanted to point out an example in sports where young athletes are exploited, look no further than the Little League Playoffs/World Series. Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this observation about the playoff games:

“I watched five minutes of the Little League baseball regionals. Every batter steps out of the box after every pitch. One kid drew in the dirt with his bat, crossed himself, twitched, dug in and gave the ump the big ‘Wait!’ hand. After every pitch, the kid stepped out and refastened his batting glove. Stop that!”

I have only disagreement with Professor Ostler here. He said it was “one kid” that did all those things. I saw at least a dozen of them do all of that. Here is the point on which Professor Ostler and I are in total agreement:

    Stop that!

Finally, here is an item from Brad Rock’s column, Rock On, in the Deseret News earlier this week:

“Faced with declining revenue and high maintenance costs, some golf courses are allowing a new game called “footgolf.”

“Participants kick a soccer ball down the fairway and into a 21-inch hole.

“Rock On will pass on that. He’s waiting to cash in on the swimboxing craze.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Hopping Here And There Today…

I guess the “breaking news” of the day is that the NBA announced that the sale of the LA Clippers to Steve Ballmer closed yesterday. Donald Sterling no longer owns the team but he continues to sue the NBA over the forced sale; not surprisingly, the NBA has counter-sued Sterling claiming that his actions have caused significant damage to the league. Let me put the pending legal actions in perspective from a layman’s point of view:

    Neither party has much acreage on the high ground it has tried to stake out for itself.

    Given that the sale of the team is completed, neither lawsuit matters a whole lot – except to the lawyers who are accumulating billable hours.

    These proceedings are about as interesting as the content of the sure-to-be forthcoming book by V. Stiviano where she lets readers in on her worldview.

When Steve Ballmer’s offer to buy the Clippers for $2B was first in the news, Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot scoped out an important angle to this whole saga:

“In passing Ballmer should meet with the approval of NBA commissioner Adam Silver if their matching haircuts are any indication.”

The accident that took Kevin Ward’s life on a dirt-track race over the weekend is a tragedy and I guess the outpouring of emotional response to that event is to be expected. However, the emotion and the speculation about Tony Stewart’s “road rage” and references to his “volatile history” mask the heart of the matter here:

    A young man – age 21 – is dead.

    He is dead because he confronted a moving motor vehicle.

    Pedestrians – and bicycle riders too – are longshots to survive such confrontations on racetracks or on city streets.

Rest in peace, Kevin Ward…

Dan LeBatard writes an occasional column for the Miami Herald and does a radio and TV show for ESPN 5 days a week. Recently, he got a 2-day suspension from his show for a publicity stunt he pulled off. He had tried to place an ad in the Akron and Cleveland papers showing a picture of two NBA Championship Rings with the caption:

    “You’re Welcome, LeBron.
    “Love, Miami”

The papers refused the ad – I thought newspapers needed to boost ad revenues these days – saying that people in Ohio might not like it. So, LeBatard went out and put the message on a billboard in Akron, Ohio. Evidently, the suits at ESPN were not amused and he got the 2-day suspension.

Lots of folks have over-reacted to this on either side of the argument. For the record:

    No one has infringed Dan LeBatard’s freedom of expression here. His rights have not been violated.

    The newspapers are absolutely correct to turn down advertising that they believe might be offensive to readers.

    ESPN as an employer needs to set standards of acceptable behavior for its employees.

Having said all that, ESPN seems to have over-reacted here. [Aside: Perhaps after criticizing Roger Goodell so vehemently for “under-punishing” Ray Rice they felt the need to drop the hammer on one of their “miscreants”?] Let me look at this situation from afar and with no dog in the fight:

    Dan LeBatard is paid to be controversial. He does not fill hours of radio and TV time by airing the sports equivalent of “Hearts and Flowers”.

    When you hire someone to be controversial – or edgy –, you get controversial and/or edgy. For example, it you hire Howard Stern to fill 4 hours a day of time on your radio station, you cannot be shocked and amazed when he makes a gratuitous reference to his penis. That is what he does; you knew that when you hired him.

    LeBatard ought to have known he was on thin ice after his previous stunt where he sold his Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot to Deadspin and allowed fans there to vote as to how he should fill it out. Again, it was an edgy stunt and it was not universally well received; he needs to look at things like that in perspective.

    In the end, this was a joke or a stunt if you will; it does not come close to blasphemy. No one was harmed; in fact, the only way to imagine someone being harmed would be if the person putting up the billboard ad had fallen off the platform. A suspension over a silly joke seems a bit much to me.

Finally, words of wisdom from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“When Michael Phelps returned to competitive swimming, the sport of golf lost a great victim.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

NCAA Loses Round One…

Whilst I was enjoying a long weekend in Seattle visiting friends and watching Mariners’ baseball, Ed O’Bannon won the first round of his legal battle with the NCAA. I cannot – with a straight face – pretend to offer up a rational analysis of the judge’s decision in the case; I can only pretend to understand the decision at the surface level. However, this column by Michael McCann at SI.com goes into the ramifications of the decision and speaks to potential future events that will be associated with the case. I suggest you read it in its entirety.

It does seem to me is that Judge Wilken has inflicted a significant blow to the NCAA with regard to the way it does its business. She did not find merely that the NCAA business model was unfair; she said that it violated the antitrust laws of the country. At my shallow level of legal understanding, that sounds like a pretty big deal – and it is something the NCAA had better deal with before other parts of its business model are deemed to be similarly in violation of antitrust laws.

Moreover, every time someone challenges the NCAA with regard to its rules and/or its business practices, the NCAA hauls out the “amateurism argument”. Their contention is that without “amateurism” there would be no intercollegiate athletics; “amateurism” is the foundation upon which everything stands. Now, it would seem that Judge Wilken thinks the NCAA’s “amateurism” is merely a benign label on an illegal practice. Ooops…

The NCAA has already announced that it will appeal this decision – just as O’Bannon would likely have appealed should Judge Wilken have ruled the other way. That means that the rational way to resolve this issue – the parties sit down and negotiate how to allow college athletes to share in the profits earned by using their names and images in the marketplace within a set of guidelines that maintains competitive balance on the field. I really believe that last thing is the only thing that the NCAA exists to do – maintain competitive balance on the field. I made that argument back when the NCAA Bigfooted its way into the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky mess. That had nothing to do with competitive balance on the field and the NCAA had no business doing anything.

In 2002, Dr. Myles Brand took over as the NCAA Executive Director and he boasted that he would see to it that the college presidents took over collegiate athletics and reined in the runaway/rogue athletic departments and coaches. That was patent nonsense then and of course, he never came close to achieving even 1% of that noble objective. And now, his successor – Mark Emmert who seems not to be able to lead a dog to a pork chop – is looking at a near term future where judges in courtrooms will be looking to rein in the NCAA itself.

After last weekend’s PGA Championship, I wonder if it is time to ask the following impertinent question:

    Has Tiger Woods become golf’s version of Michael Jordan in Michael Jordan’s years with the Washington Wizards?

Both men were – at the top of their games – the single best practitioner of their art in the world. They rightfully belonged in any conversation regarding the “best ever” in their sport. Jordan’s time on the court for the Wizards was sad to watch in a way because he was only able to be “His Airness” a few plays a week instead of a few plays per quarter of a game. Today, it is difficult to watch Tiger Woods play at a level where he may or may not be competitive with players who would have been caddying for him 10 years ago.

One other item from the PGA Championship… I read a report that the folks at Valhalla had more than 3500 volunteers signed up for the week of activities. Not to put too fine a point on this, but those folks are demonstrating platinum-plated stupidity. Think about it for a moment; the PGA will give out approximately $10M in prize money for the tournament and you can be certain the PGAQ is not “running in the red” for the week. The PGA is not a mendicant living from hand-out to hand-out.

    Memo to Volunteers: You enable these folks who make their living based on the athletic excellence of pro golfers to make more money than they deserve. You give them free labor thereby increasing their profit margins for sitting back and “organizing” golf events – where you do the work and they drink cocktails in the hospitality tents. Wake up…

According to a report I read in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Oakland Raiders might just be considering a move to San Antonio, TX. Raiders’ owner, Mark Davis, met with former San Antonio mayor, Henry Cisneros, recently setting off speculation that the Raiders may be looking to move from their antiquated and dysfunctional quarters in Oakland to something a bit more modern and upscale. Remember, the sewer lines periodically back up in O.com Stadium leaving sewage on the locker room floors; so moving upscale from that is not exactly a Herculean task.

In addition, if I understand correctly the “stadium status” in Oakland it goes something like this:

    The A’s signed a 10-year lease to stay in that stadium – but they can opt out of the lease with 12 months’ notice.

    There is also a clause in the lease for the A’s that would allow the city – and the Raiders – to tear down the stadium to make way for a new football field.

If that sounds strange to you, welcome to the world of rational people…

Finally, here are observations from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle regarding the Niners’ new venue, Levi’s Stadium:

“The 49ers will sell standing-room tickets for $50 and $75. For $75 you get to stand on both feet.

“Along with the $50 or $75 SRO ticket, you will be required to purchase a ‘personal air-space license.’ “

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………