Something Very Unusual Happened Last Week …

Walk-off hits – or home runs – are exciting when they happen in a MLB game; but, truth be told, they are not exactly rare occurrences. A “walk-off balk” might not be very exciting, but it is not commonplace by any means. Last week, we saw a walk-off home run that was exciting and rare at the same time because:

    It was a walk-off inside-the-park home run!

Here is how it went down:

    The Blue Jays led the Indians 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth. Jose Ramirez tied the game for the Indians with a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth.

    Outfielder, Tyler Naquin, was the next batter and he hit a shot to left field that took an odd carom off the wall away from the Jay’s outfield and Naquin circled the bases to score the winning run.

Some folks in the baseball stat world with a lot of time on their hands – or a really fulsome database for searching – determined that the last Cleveland Indian to hit a walk-off inside-the-park home run was Braggo Roth in August of 1916. Roth had an 8-yaer career in MLB and he hit a total of 30 HRs in his career. In 2016, he only had 4 HRs and the walk-off inside-the-park shot was one of them.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot has been on hiatus for a couple of weeks but he returned last week with a cogent comment about baseball:

“In passing: His Angels are in last place, but for the fifth year running, Mike Trout is baseball’s best everyday player.”

I absolutely agree here. There are maybe a dozen baseball players in MLB at any given time that I would go out of my way to see play the game. The first two players who fit that bill for me as a youngster were Ted Williams and Robin Roberts. Over the years, players such as Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, Jim Palmer, Lou Brock, Rod Carew, Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, Pete Rose, Dwight Gooden, Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, Ichiro, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw and Roger Clemens filled that role. Today, Mike Trout is probably the player I would most go out of my way in order to see him play the game of baseball. I think he is that good. Please note that everyone on my list above belongs in the Hall of Fame for what they did on the field…

While I am on the subject of baseball, it is not too early to give you my front-runners for Managers of the Year in both leagues. I will do it in alphabetical order because there is still time for fortunes to shift and sentiments to change:

    National League:

      Don Mattingly (Marlins): No one thought they would be a serious wild-card contender in April.

      Dave Roberts (Dodgers): Given all the injuries this team has had, they should be duking it out with the Padres for last place in the NL West not being in the hunt for a wild-card slot.

      “Whomever” (Atlanta Braves): Consider this a nomination akin to giving the recipient a Purple Heart. The Braves are barely better than a top-shelf minor league club.

    American League:

      Terry Francona (Indians): They are cruising in a division that has last year’s World Series Champs in it.

      Scott Servais (Mariners): In his first year as a manager at the MLB level, he has the Mariners contending for a slot in the playoffs. It has been a while since the Mariners have been there…

      Buck Showalter (Orioles): Never a contender for the “Mr. Congeniality Award”, he has the O’s in the thick of the AL East race for division champion and/or a wild-card slot.

Bob Molinaro had another observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot in his column back from vacation that I found interesting:

“Ratings game: Usain Bolt is the greatest track athlete of his generation, but is his career more impressive than that of American Carl Lewis and his nine gold medals? Nah.”

This is a debate that can go on forever. This is akin to the argument about who was better, Williams or DiMaggio. Who was better, Willie, Micky or The Duke? I have said that I do not like debates of this nature because I find it distasteful to say anything negative about any athlete who is so accomplished that he finds himself as part of such a debate. I am happy to have witnessed the greatness of both Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt. I shall remain happy to consider both of them outstanding Olympians.

Finally, I missed this one but Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times did not:

“Faster, Higher … Poorer?

“’The last Olympics that didn’t lose money for the host city?’ asked Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle.

“’Los Angeles, 1984.

“’The last Olympics at which the IOC didn’t make a ton of profit, even though it doesn’t really do anything except collect money?

“’Athens, 750 BC.’”

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

The “Ryan Lochte Circumstance” …

I am certain that you have heard sufficiently about the “Ryan Lochte Circumstance”. So have I. However, last week, there were a few folks out there who were trying to make this case:

    Ryan Lochte was being treated with kid gloves by the press because he is a white male and the evidence for that was the huge brouhaha that came up when Gabby Douglass did not put her hand over her heart during the national anthem.

I do not read the minds of columnists and commentators; nor do I read the minds of the folks trying to make this argument. However, it does seem to me that Lochte’s coverage was anything but “kind and gentle”. If this is the best argument one can find to illustrate “white male privilege”, I suggest it might be put on the back burner because it does not make the case well at all. For the record, where I stand on this matter is simple:

    I do not recall ever being taught that it was a “crime against humanity” to hear the national anthem without having my hand on my heart. I was taught that one stood straight, took off your hat and put your eyes on the flag. What Gabby Douglass did was perfectly acceptable to me.

    By contrast, Ryan Lochte is the leader in the clubhouse for the Asshat of the Year – – 2016.

If you would like to read just one more takedown of Ryan Lochte before he and his behavior sink into the muck and mire of sports history, let me suggest this column from Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post.

Jerry Jones is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the class that will be inducted in August 2017. I think this is a bit strange and perhaps more than a bit premature. I acknowledge that Jones is one of the owners who has successfully marketed his team and the league to the benefit of all of the owners and to the benefit of the NFL “brand”. He is a master of promotion and positivity; those traits have helped to make the NFL the entertainment juggernaut that it is. He recognized early on that pro football is entertainment and that the best way to “grow the business” was to continue to entertain the fans.

I recognize that those are powerful credentials and I recognize that Jones will have plenty of support from the folks who do the voting because the majority of them are people who cover the NFL and teams in the NFL. Jerry Jones is probably the most “open” and “available” owner in the league; when someone covering any aspect of the NFL that might involve the Cowboys even tangentially needs to get a comment from an owner, Jerry Jones is willing to provide it. However, this is the part of the “Jerry Jones résumé that gives me pause:

    In addition to owning the Cowboys, Jerry Jones serves directly as the GM for the team. That is part of his “NFL career”; and in that part, he has been “less than fully satisfactory”.

    I need not go into the record for the Cowboys once “The Triplets” – Aikman, Smith and Irvin – went their separate ways. As a GM, Jerry Jones would have been fired multiple times if he worked for any owner other than Jerry Jones.

I do not vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and I never will. If I were in that position this year, however, this nomination would give me pause…

Last week, I wrote about the importance of the backup QB in the NFL. There is an implicit problem in having good backup QBs for all 32 teams; that would mean there would have to be 64 “good QBs” out there. The fact is; there are not. The Niners demonstrated that fact late last week when they signed Christian Ponder to a 1-year deal after third string QB, Thad Lewis required season-ending surgery. The Niners’ current backup is Colin Kaepernick who is still rehabbing from shoulder surgery and who has been plagued with “shoulder woes” during training camp. Christian Ponder is the Niners’ safety net.

Ponder last appeared in an NFL game in October 2014; there is a reason for that. Ponder has started 36 games in a 4-year NFL career. The team record in those 36 games is 14-21-1. Using the ESPN QBR (Quarterback Rating system) which has a range of 0 – 100 as a measure, Ponder’s best season was 51.63 – ever so slightly above average. In those 36 starts, according to Pro Football Reference, he engineered exactly 3 game-winning drives.

What I find interesting about this signing is that the Niners now have a depth chart that reads:

    Blaine Gabbert – #10 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft
    Colin Kaepernick – #36 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft
    Christian Ponder – #12 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

    The Niners would seem to own the 2011 NFL Draft …

The Miami Dolphins will play their home games this year in Hard Rock Stadium. No, they have not moved to a new venue; this is another name for the stadium that was originally known as Joe Robbie Stadium back when Joe Robbie owned the team back in the Iron Age. Hard Rock Café is a rock music themed restaurant chain and they are the latest in a long list of business entities to put their name on this stadium. Off the top of my head, this place has been called:

    Pro Player Stadium
    Land Shark Stadium
    Sun Life Stadium

I am sure I missed one or two others along the way. Good luck to Hard Rock in maintaining enough interest in this naming venture to have it last for a while. Meanwhile, if the Dolphins fortunes take a turn for the worse, be sure to look for someone to say they are between a Hard Rock and a hard place. BaDaBing! BaDaBoom!!!

Finally, a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times on the “Ryan Lochte Circumstance”:

“Ryan Lochte spokesman for Burger King?

“Hey, don’t laugh. They’d probably sell a lot of Whoppers.”

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

Trivia Item Verified …

Earlier this week, I mentioned a trivia item given to me by a friend that I passed along without verification because it would have been more work that I thought it was worth to do so. That item said that a student or alum of USC had won a medal at every Summer Olympics since 1912 and that only 15 countries could make that claim. Well, the reader in Houston who obviously has a PhD in sports stats and sports history did not think such an effort was too daunting and here is what his analysis came up with:

    “With regard to only 15 countries having won a gold medal in every Summer Olympics since 1912, please note that the US is not one of them (1980 being the boycott of Moscow).

    “With regard to USC, I confirmed that with the only possible exception being in 1980 when the US boycotted the Olympics.

    “However, in 1980 Michelle Ford won a gold medal for Australia in the 800M freestyle. Three years later in 1983, Ford accepted a scholarship to attend USC for a degree in communication, while training for the 1984 Summer Olympics to be held at USC/LA the following year. Unfortunately, she did not qualify for the 1984 Olympics due to being overweight and therefore unable to match her previous times, resulting in her eventual retirement from the sport.

    “At the time when she won the gold, she was not affiliated with USC, but did attend three years later. Therefore, if Usain Bolt and LeBron James are offered scholarships to USC in 2020, so that they can further their movie careers by being close to Hollywood, they can also be included as USC gold medal winners.”

So, there you have it … except there is even more info from Houston on the subject:

    “FYI – USC students/alums have represented 59 countries and participated in 28 different sports, ranging from those generally associated with USC, such as track, swimming, volleyball, and hoops to lesser sports, such as team handball, canoeing, fencing, water polo, and even bobsled. While the Trojans traditionally have found their place in the sun during the Summer Olympics, USC athletes also have competed in the Winter Olympics 10 times in such sporting events as biathlon, skiing, and bobsledding.

    “FYI – The Pac-12 has the nation’s top 3 universities with Olympic competitors in Rio–USC (44), California (41), Stanford (39), while UCLA (29) is fifth behind Florida (31).”

Several weeks ago, I suggested that MLB adopt a rule that any pitcher in a game must face at least 3 batters as a way to increase the pace of play. I have continued to think about that issue and I hereby propose two more new rules:

    1. Teams employ the stalling tactic of having the catcher or an infielder go to the mound to have a “glove-over-the-mouth” interaction with the pitcher. Maybe teams have to limited to a certain number of such “visits”. How about no more than 2 or 3 per game?

    2. In the minor leagues, they are experimenting with pitch clocks and they time relief pitchers arriving into the game. It works perfectly well; it does not intrude on the game nor does it upset the sacred ambience of the game. What MLB needs is a countdown clock on replays. I propose two such countdowns:

      2a. After a controversial call – safe or out at a base/ fair or foul on a ball down the line/home run or not – the manager has 15 seconds to decide if he will challenge the call. No more standing on the top step of the dugout while some minion “upstairs” watches the tape and calls the bench coach in the dugout. Either challenge it or sit down and live with it…

      2b. Once the umpires take the challenge, the mavens who are reviewing the play have 90 seconds – I would prefer 60 seconds but I doubt that would ever be acceptable – to make a decision to overturn. After 90 seconds of review, if the play is so close that they cannot decide to overturn or not, then the call stands as it was on the field.

These two rule changes – along with the one about requiring pitchers to face a minimum of 3 batters will speed up the games. The chances of them showing up in MLB next season are about the same as the chances that I will win the Nobel Peace Prize.

If anyone is thinking of heading out to Turner Field to see the Braves play their final games at that venue, there are two culinary items you might want to sample. You can avail yourself of the T.E.D. – The Everything Dog and/or the Burgerizza

    Naturally, the T.E.D. is built on a foundation of a foot-long hot dog. Then it is adorned with fries, chili, nacho chips, jalapenos, melted beer cheese, a “Coca Cola infused barbecue sauce and all of that is topped with popcorn.

      How can this be an “Everything Dog” without bacon? Riddle me that …

    The Burgerizza is simply a gut bomb waiting to go off. You get a 20-ounce burger and stick it between two 8-inch pepperoni pizzas. It ought to come with a side of Pepto Bismol…

Finally, an observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Vikings backup QB Taylor Heinicke severed a tendon in his foot when he tried to kick in a door and missed, putting it through a window instead.

“On the bright side, they didn’t need instant replay to determine if he broke the pane.”

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

Pro ‘Rassling Is Big Business

I used to be a big pro ‘rassling fan when I was a kid but I have not followed or even paid a shred of attention to it since the days of Bruno Sammartino, Dr. Jerry Graham and Antonino Rocca. However, I read a report recently on analyzing the pro ‘rassling business and there are obviously a whole lot of people who not only like this sort of display but also spend time following it. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is a publicly traded corporation on the New York Stock Exchange; therefore, its finances are available for public scrutiny.

    WWE revenue for last year was $658M which is up more than 20% from two years ago.

    WWE staged 273 events in the US last year attracting 1.6 million fans who paid an average of just over $53.00 per person to attend.

    WWE got $130M in TV rights fees last year and that number will grow to $235M in 2018.

    40% of WWE fans are women; more women watch WWE on TV than watch Oxygen Network or Lifetime Channel.

    WWE is the #1 subscribed YouTube sports channel. Twelve million subscribers watched over 1 billion YouTube segments.

    John Cena is a WWE rassler. I might be able to pick him out of a lineup but I am not positive that I could. He is the most-followed athlete in America on Facebook. His page there has 42.2 million “likes”. By comparison, LeBron James has 23 million “likes”.

Notwithstanding the fact that I am not a fan or follower of pro ‘rassling, the WWE is big business and a successful business in 2016. To see some of the other data to support what a big business it really is, check out the report here.

There are a little less than 7 weeks left in the MLB regular season and the American League is the place to watch for potential excitement and fireworks. The major focus would have to be the AL East race where the Blue Jays, Orioles and Red Sox are in a virtual dead heat at the moment for the top spot in the division. It could be that the two AL wild Card teams could be the two teams in the AL East that do not win the division – although the Astros, Mariners and Tigers are also in contention for at least one of the two Wild Card slots. Oh, and even though the Yankees were “sellers” at the trading deadline and have reduced their average roster age, they are still within striking distance of the AL East lead.

    The Yankees hold their fate in their own hands. They have 6 more games against the Blue Jays; they have 8 more games against the Red Sox; they have 9 more games against the Orioles.

    The Yankees are a real long-shot to be able to climb over 3 opponents to win the division, but with all of those division games remaining, they are in a position to make a run if they go on a tear.

The Red Sox play the Orioles 7 more times this year. The Blue Jays play the Orioles 6 more times this year. The Blue Jays and the Red Sox play each other 6 more times this year. All three teams have shown the ability to go on a roll and run up nice win streaks; all three teams have also shown the ability to go cold for a week or so at a time. This could be fun to watch from afar and very stressful to watch for fans of these three teams. All three of these AL East teams can score runs. Consider:

    Toronto Blue Jays lead MLB in home runs this year.

    Baltimore Orioles are second in MLB in home runs this year.

    Boston Red Sox have 2 players with 27 HRs this year and 5 others with more than 12 HRs this season.

In the NL East, the Marlins’ hopes to put together a miracle run to catch the Nationals in the NL East – or at least to secure a Wild Card slot in the NL playoffs – suffered a huge punch to the gut when Giancarlo Stanton suffered a groin injury that appears to put him on the shelf for the rest of the regular season. Stanton is a stone-cold monster in the middle of the Marlins’ line-up and replacing him there appears to be impossible.

A friend described Johnny Manziel as a toxic asset; he said that Manziel was not signable by any NFL team right now because of the PR “spit-storm” that his signing would cause in any NFL market. I agree that is the case in 2016 and I am not sure what even a year of rehab and “clean living” might do to alter that situation. However, as I thought about this chat with a friend, I realized that both Ray Rice and Greg Hardy remain unsigned as of today.

    Rice has been out of the NFL for 2 seasons; the window is closing on his career.

    Hardy was part of the Cowboys – with their seeming goal to be the Boys
    Town of the NFL with Jerry Jones cast as Fightin’ Father Flanagan taking in and changing the lives of lost children. Hardy even wore out his welcome there.

I think the Communications Director for all 32 of the NFL teams has to go to church to light candles at least once a week praying that none of these three albatrosses gets put around the neck of the Communications Director for a year’s worth of explaining…

Finally, an Olympics observation from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“Brazil claimed during the Olympic opening ceremonies that it launched the first airplane flight.

“Moments later, Al Gore called a press conference to take credit for inventing the samba.”

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

A History of NCAA Infractions

The Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University has published a report that examines the “penalty consistency of NCAA infractions”. This was not a quick glance at a few highly publicized incidents; this was an examination of NCAA infractions, investigations and punishments going back to the 1950s. Included in the study were 554 incidents going back to 1953; to me, this is the interesting part of the research:

“… relative consistency of penalties prescribed by the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions were examined, and sources of variance in penalty severity were identified.”

Interestingly, the study could not support the myriad conspiracy theories that abound with regard to the NCAA when it comes to infractions. There is an old joke that if Kentucky basketball has to be investigated by the NCAA, it means that Cleveland State is going to be penalized severely for something going on at the smaller program. This study showed no correlation between penalties and conference affiliation. While I do not subscribe to the full-blown conspiracy theories that led to that old joke, I am a bit surprised to see no correlation at all.

I was not surprised to see in the report that 82.9% of the major infractions studied in the report involved football or men’s basketball programs. Those are now – and have always been – the college sports that provided the most revenue to the schools; if there is going to be any “corner-cutting” in the athletic department, you would think it would be in a sport that might pay off in the exchequer, right? Here are two of the findings I found interesting:

“The top four most common infraction types are recruiting inducements, impermissible benefits, other recruiting violations and unethical conduct.”

And …

“Probation was a prescribed penalty in 86.5 percent of all major infractions cases, with a two-year probation penalty being the most common time period. Postseason bans (42.2 percent) and scholarship reductions (45.5 percent) were also commonly prescribed penalties.”

This is an interesting study. If you want to get to the meat of the data, here is a link:

Last weekend, a friend offered me a piece of trivia that I have not taken the trouble to verify because it would be far too much work to do so. I present it here as it was presented to me simply because I find it interesting:

    The University of Southern California (USC) has had a student or an alum win a gold medal in every Summer Olympic Games since 1912. And, only 15 countries have won a gold medal in every Summer Olympic Games since 1912.

If you wish to do the research to debunk that claim, be my guest. If not – and if you are willing to accept it at face value as I have – that is an amazing accomplishment for a single university.

Sticking with the Olympics, I found a report in The Guardian about Olympic swimming that demonstrates that the overseers of that sport internationally are either incompetent or crooked or both. I tend to lean toward “both” here because they are clearly crooked and they are sufficiently incompetent that they let this sort of data come to light. According to The Guardian:

“The Olympic entry lists show many of the swimmers competing in Rio achieved their entry times at the World Aquatics Championships in Kazan in August 2015. In nine cases the entry times listed do not match the times recorded at those championships. Another eight are listed as having achieved entry times in events in which they did not compete or were disqualified from. The 17 athletes are from 16 different countries, and include 11 men and six women.”

FINA is the International overseer of swimming; it says that the Rio Organizing Committee made some mistakes when it compiled the Olympics entry lists. The Organizing Committee says that FINA is to blame because FINA approved the Organizing Committee’s compilation. Moreover, the World Aquatics Championships in Kazan was a FINA event AND the Mexican swimming mavens have admitted that they falsified the times of Mexican swimmers to make them eligible for the World Aquatics Championships. Let me get to the bottom line here very quickly:

    Swimming is as corrupt a sport as is figure skating and/or cycling and/or [fill in the blank here].

To understand the depth of the nonsense going on here, I suggest you read the report from The Guardian in its entirety here.

Let me stick with the Olympics here … After the US Women’s National Soccer Team lost to Sweden, Hope Solo called the Swedes “cowards” and proclaimed that the better team did not win that day. What the Swedes did was to play defense and look for a way to counter-attack; that is not cowardly; that is strategic. It would be a blessing if Hope Solo’s career arc would gently fade over the horizon now that the US Women’s Team is out of the competition. Frankly, I have heard enough from and/or about her. Vaya con Dios, Hope Solo.

Finally, with all of the detritus – to include body parts – that have appeared in the waters where Olympic events such as sailing and rowing are being contested, I wonder if it is possible that the body of Judge Crater will be found this year…

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

An Important NFL Roster Slot – Backup QB

I tuned in to Mike and Mike In the Morning on ESPN Radio today and they were doing a fantasy football marathon. I doubt that I need to remind anyone here that I am not particularly interested in fantasy football but as they were “debating” the merits of this guy versus some other guy, it flashed through my mind that there is an underrated position on an NFL roster. That position is Backup Quarterback.

The fact is that some starting QBs will get hurt during the upcoming season and will miss games. It is inconceivable that 32 starting QBs on opening day will be the same 32 QBs who take all the offensive snaps for their teams through to the end of the year. That never happens… In addition to injury situations, some of the starting QBs on opening day are going to play their way to the bench as the season progresses. This is not a “perhaps” situation; this is a “guaranteed” situation.

So, I started to think about teams that have good backup QB situations and ones that have shaky backup QB situations. This is not going to be the result of exhaustive research; most of this is off the top of my head.

I also realized that a few of the teams that I would consider having a “shaky backup” situation are in that category because the starting QB is excellent and the drop-off to whomever is the backup appears to be immense. So, let me start with that category and I will call it:

    Apparently Shaky Backup QB Situations:

      Pats: Jimmy Garropolo will have to be awfully good to measure up to Tom Brady.

      Giants: Ryan Nassib will have to be awfully good to measure up to Eli Manning.

      Steelers: Gradkowski and/or JOnes will have difficulty by comparison to Ben Roethlisberger.

      Colts: Scott Tolzein is not Andrew Luck.

      Packers: Brett Hundley is not Aaron Rodgers.

    Shaky Backup QB Situations:

      Titans: Matt Cassel backs up Marcus Mariotta. I like Mariotta from what I saw last year; I think Matt Cassel showed that he cannot play at the NFL level from what I saw last year.

      Jets: They have 3 QBs on the roster behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. Even though Fitzpatrick is nowhere near a “great QB”, there is a huge step down to any of the backups considering that 2 of the 3 guys on the roster have never taken a snap in a real NFL game.

      Texans: Brock Osweiler will start for Houston and that presents some questions all by itself. However, the backup at the moment is Brandon Weeden and I have seen him crash and burn enough times to conclude that the Texans will be in deep yogurt if Osweiler misses games. The other QB on the roster is Tom Savage; he does not have a “large body of work” by which to judge him…

    Apparently Solid Backup QB Situations:

      Bucs: Mike Glennon used to be the starter in Tampa and did not embarrass himself or the team. Now he backs up Jameis Winston there.

      Niners: Colin Kaepernick was the starter for the Niners in the Super Bowl not so long ago. Now he backs up Blaine Gabbert; that should work.

      Eagles: Chase Daniel has had 3 years to learn Doug Pederson’s offense from KC Chiefs’ days. Now he backs up the injury-prone Sam Bradford…

      Bengals: AJ McCarron acquitted himself well backing up Andy Dalton last year. Were it not for late-game melt-downs by Pacman Jones and Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals would probably have won their first playoff game in a long time with McCarron at QB.

      Browns: Josh McCown is the backup to RG3; unless RG3 reasserts his game to the level it achieved in his rookie year in Washington, McCown may in fact be the better QB on the roster. [Yes, I realize that is damning by faint praise …]

That covers about half of the NFL teams. If you are convinced that backup QB is an important position, you can check out the depth charts for the rest of the league and fill in the blanks here.

Oh, by the way, the fact that I can only come up with 5 backup QB situations that I would call “Apparently Solid” is not an opening for the Tim Tebow Fan Club to screech that he deserves a shot in an NFL training camp and that he is being “blackballed” – for some nefarious but unspecified reason – by the NFL or maybe by the Trilateral Commission.

Finally, here is an interesting observation from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“In 2017, Omaha will play host to the U.S. Olympic curling trials. If you’ve never watched curling, picture a three-hour algebra lecture featuring brooms.”

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

No, Not Morphing Into A Drama Critic …

I will need to be quick today… Last night, my wife and I attended a play in Philly. It was written by Ray Didinger, an old friend – much too long a story to relate here as to how I met him but I have known Ray since the early 1970s. Ray has been an outstanding sportswriter, a multiple Emmy-award winning producer for NFL Films, a radio host and a TV analyst in the Philadelphia area since forever. His main focus as a writer was as the beat-writer covering the Eagles and then as a columnist on sports in general. It turns out that his boyhood hero was Tommy McDonald – the Eagles’ wide receiver who caught a TD pass in the 1960 NFL Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers.

The play tells the story of “Young Ray” meeting his hero “Young Tommy” at Eagles’ training camp in Hershey PA and then interviewing “Aging Tommy” for various stories he was writing. Ultimately, Ray nominated Tommy McDonald to the Hall of Fame selection committee and after McDonald got the call to inform him of his election to the Hall, Tommy McDonald asked Ray Didinger to be his presenter at the ceremony. It was only then that “Adult Ray” told “Adult Tommy” that they had met back at Eagles’ training camp back in the 1960s.

The story obviously played exceptionally well in Philadelphia. However, this is a story that has legs and can easily travel to other venues. The play is called Tommy and Me. If you ever see one of your local theater companies putting this play on, let me urge you to find the time to go and see it. It got a standing ovation in Philly last night; I suspect it would get a similar reaction from audiences around the country.

Ray Didinger was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a writer in 1995 and Tommy McDonald was in the Hall of Fame Class of 1998.

The play was a touching presentation last night but that feeling does not carry over to the next item in today’s rant. David Stern – the Sultan of Smug – is about to speak to the global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas NV. Do not be confused; the Global Gaming Expo has nothing to do with Pokemon Go; this “gaming” is often called “gambling”. Now, anyone who follows sports in the US even a little bit knows that David Stern has never been someone who thought that sports and gambling could possibly co-exist. Gambling was a constant threat to the “integrity of the games”; the Tim Donaghy affair proved to David Stern that was the case; as soon as New Jersey tried to change its state laws to allow for sports wagering, David Stern and the NBA were right there to support in court any and all forces that sought to stop that action.

Now, David Stern is retired from the NBA and collects speaking fees here and there as a way to make some small change in his retirement. Here is some of what the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported with regard to this upcoming address by the former NBA Commish:

    “Stern will discuss the future of sports betting and its impact on major professional sports, as well as how the NBA’s expansion parallels the casino gaming industry…”

And …

    “The commissioner for 30 years, Stern in October joined current Commissioner Adam Silver in calling for legalized sports wagering nationwide.”

And …

“’I’m with Commissioner Silver,’ Stern said at the time. ‘There should be federal legislation that says, ‘Let’s go all the way’ and have betting on sports. It’s OK. It’s going to be properly regulated.’”

There is an old-saying in the Washington bureaucracy – and in politics to a lesser extent – that explains shifting positions. Basically, that saying goes:

    Where you stand on an issue depends on where you are sitting at the moment.

I think that saying applies in spades to David Stern…

With regard to the Olympics, Usain Bolt made history winning his third 100-meter dash Gold Medal. Given the apparent ease of his performance here, I would not be shocked if he tried to make it four-in-a-row in Tokyo in 2020.

You may have read the reports of US swimmers being robbed at gunpoint in Rio. If not, you will not have any difficulty in finding such reports. Let me say two things about those reports:

    1. Brazilian officials say that the athletes were not in their proper area at the time of the robbery. I guess that is supposed to gloss over the fact that armed robbery is a frequent and natural occurrence in Rio. One stat that I read was that there are 25 times more muggings in Rio than there are in NYC in a year and NYC has three times the population of Rio. Somehow, I do not thing the Rio Tourist Bureau trumpets those numbers.

    2. Ryan Lochte’s account of what he did and said to the armed robber(s) could be construed to make him sound like a tough-guy. To me, it makes him sound like a dummy. When a person with a badge and a loaded gun – real or fake “police officer” makes no difference – tells you to get on the ground; you do not argue with him. You just get on the ground because that is where you are going to wind up one way or the other.

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from a couple of months ago:

“The Indianapolis 500 (coming up May 29) has named an official poet laureate. OK, what rhymes with carburetor?”

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

RIP John Saunders

John Saunders died on Wednesday this week at the age of 61. I had no idea that he was sick; the only “change” I had noticed was that he had more grey hair than he had a year ago but that is not something that made me sit up and take notice with regard to his health. Saunders joined ESPN in 1986 as a SportsCenter host/reporter. In the last 30 years, he has done hockey and college football and SportsCenter and The Sports Reporters. John Saunders was not the attention-grabbing personality of the kind that Chris Berman or Keith Olbermann was. Nevertheless, he was an important part of how ESPN has grown in the past several decades.

Rest in peace John Saunders.

In addition to the retirement announcements of A-Rod and Mark Texiera this week, two other important MLB players may have seen the end of their careers:

    Prince Fielder had a second neck surgery to fuse cervical disks. After the surgery, the doctor would not sign off on Fielder’s return to baseball. What that means is that his career is over at age 32 from a debilitating injury. I surely expect some folks to attribute this to Fielder’s weight and physique. I will leave that assessment to his doctor who did the surgery but I will say that his injury/condition is in his neck which is not exactly part of the major weight-bearing apparatus of his skeleton. If he had knee problems or ankle problems that were inoperable or uncorrectable, that might be a different story. His neck …?

    Tim Lincicum has been trying a comeback with the Angels this season and it has not gone well at all. The Angels sent him down to Triple A this week which is something that was unimaginable about 5 seasons ago. So far in 2016, Lincicum has thrown 38.1 innings with the Angels; in that time, he has accumulated an ERA of 9.16. In addition, he has walked 223 batters while striking out 32; that is not a good ratio at all. Lincicum just turned 32 in June.

Cecil Fielder and Tim Lincicum seem to have reached the ends of their careers at age 32 and not in their late-30s. The peak earning years for top-shelf athletes are often rather short-lived…

I mentioned earlier this week that Tim Tebow is trying to make it to MLB at age 29. A former colleague took note of that report and sent me this e-mail:

“He throws left-handed and if he can throw 90 miles per hour as a left-handed pitcher, he may have another dozen years to make it to MLB. Of course, if he could throw 90 mph with any accuracy, he would be a starting QB in the NFL by now.”

While I am talking about MLB, #1 son is a devoted fan of the Chicago Cubs. He went to grad school in Chicago and then did a post-doctoral fellowship there. He came to be a Cubs’ fan in those two stints of living in Chicago and he has carried that with him even now that he lives in Dublin, Ireland. He has been very hopeful for the Cubs this season but he still retains the “Cubs’ fan pessimism” as he awaits the fated dire event that will derail the Cubs from the World Series. Since I never acquired that “pessimism strain”, I have been feeding him optimism for the season. Now that we are in mid-August, it seems fair to ask this question:

    Will the Cubs win 100 games in 2016?

Right now they are on pace to win 101 games. The last time a Cubs’ team won 100 games was back in 1935 when MLB teams only played 154 games per season. The 1935 Cubs did make it to the World Series but lost the Series to the Detroit Tigers in 6 games. Given the way the Tigers are pounding the ball, they too could make the playoffs and could reach the World Series. It could happen …

Of course, here in Curmudgeon Central I always like to take a look at the world through the “other end of the telescope” and that viewscape suggests that this is a pertinent question:

    Will the Atlanta Braves lose 100 games?

If not the Braves how about the D-Backs, the Reds or the Twins?

The Braves are on pace to lose exactly 100 games; the other teams are on pace to lose 98 games. The Braves have had a lot of difficulty selling tickets this year given how bad the team has played and given that the team is moving to a new venue next year. If the team goes down to the wire trying to avoid losing 100 games, maybe that will goose attendance a few hundred folks for late games this year.

Earlier this week, there were folks who were Tweeting during the Opening Ceremony for the Rio Olympics. If one was already watching the Opening Ceremony, the Tweets were abjectly unnecessary. If someone was not watching the Opening Ceremony and experiencing it only in the “Twitterverse”, that reminds me of a bit of useless radio…

    About 20 years ago, my long-suffering wife and I and her sister and our brother-in-law flew to Albuquerque NM to experience the hot air balloon festival there. Hundreds of hot air balloons of all sizes and shapes and with all sorts of sponsorships are there and in the early morning hours, they fire up and take off and go with the wind in a great spectacle.

    We somehow acquired passes that got us into a “Premium Area” for the launch and that access got me to see a tent that had been set up by one of the local radio stations. They were doing a remote broadcast with two of the station personalities and they were describing the balloon launches as they happened:

      “Oh, there goes the Dodge Caravan balloon. It sure has a golden glow about it.”

      “Look, there is the Domino’s Pizza balloon. You can see the pepperoni slices against the glow inside the balloon.”

      “Wow, here comes the Albuquerque Isotopes balloon. Remember last year when they dropped coupons for $5 off on game tickets? Boy that was exciting…”

I stood by the tent listening to the “coverage” until they broke for a set of commercials. With the mics dead and the headphones off, let me assure you that the commentary from the guys who were made to do this coverage was far less upbeat and positive. I recall more than a few scatological references…

That is the precise value of Tweeting the Opening Ceremony – – except the Tweeter thinks he is doing something valuable and important and it is left to the listener/recipient to put forth the scatological references.

Finally, as the Olympics continue, let me share with you a great comment from Dan Jenkins about the sport of track and field:

“The only thing more boring that track, is field.”

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

NFL Items Addenda …

Yesterday, I wrote about Donovan McNabb signing on with ESPN Radio to do color analysis for NFL games and I wished him well in that endeavor. Later in the day, I was in an e-mail conversation with someone who has known Donovan McNabb since about the time he was drafted by the Eagles in 1999. I asked this person how he thought McNabb would be in a radio booth given his performance as a studio analyst. Here was his assessment:

“I think he will be better in the booth. In studio, he tried too hard to be polished and ‘TV-ish’. He tended to overstate and too often went for the big sound bite which usually fell flat. A live game will force him to be more spontaneous and stick to talking X’s and O’s which he should do pretty well. He is no dope. He studied communications at Syracuse and prepared for a post-NFL career in TV.”

I certainly agree that Donovan McNabb is no dope. I guess I never interpreted his studio performance as going “for the big sound bite”; but if that is a correct assessment, I agree that doing, color analysis for a live game will relieve him of that temptation. I suspect that ESPN Radio will try to put him on a few Eagles’ games early in the season since McNabb was a teammate/understudy to new Eagles’ coach, Doug Pederson. Just that connection could provide him with a few opportunities for insights that will get him headed in a positive direction.

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that the cancellation of the NFL Hall of Fame Game – an extra meaningless EXHIBITION GAME no less – was a blessing for all of us. Loads of people on the Internet and in the “Twitterverse” do not feel that way and have declared this a disgrace of major proportion. I understand that people spent good money to buy tix for a game that never happened and that some folks traveled – and therefore incurred expenses – to go to the induction ceremonies and to see that game. I appreciate that those folks might be upset or even slightly angry about this turn of events. But let us maintain perspective here…

    The Hall of Fame Game is an EXHIBITION GAME and it means NOTHING.

    If the teams scheduled to play this game held a scrimmage at one of the two training camps, it would have as much impact on the world as would this EXHIBITION GAME.

    Players should not risk their health/careers playing an EXHIBITION GAME on a field that is unsafe.

The Hall of Fame Game came under criticism last year because the playing field was substandard and Steelers’ kicker tore his ACL on that field. This year, the league “imported” a playing surface from the Superdome in New Orleans. That fact alone tells me that the NFL and the NFLPA – who inspected the field prior to the application of the paint job – knew that there were problems with this field. The powers that be chose to try to “fix” the problem from last year but did not get it right. Perhaps they might consider one of these two options:

    1. Forget having an EXHIBITION GAME associated with the Hall of Fame induction. Those ceremonies pay tribute to the greatest players in the game; if there is to be a game associated with those ceremonies, at least it should be a real game that means something somewhere in the known universe.

    2. If the NFL and the NFLPA must associate an EXHIBITION GAME with the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, do not put NFL players on a glorified high school field. There is an NFL quality field about 60 miles north of Canton, Ohio in Cleveland and another one about 225 miles southwest of Canton, Ohio in Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, the outraged folks need to adjust their medications on this topic. This is not an omen portending the downfall of Western Civilization. This is merely a demonstration that the NFL is playing one more EXHIBITION GAME over and above the 64 other ones – and that number is too many to begin with – just to put their product on TV as early as possible. That is all it is and nothing more.

The NY Yankees will finish a three-game series in Boston against the Red Sox tonight. Assuming that Alex Rodriguez is in the lineup, this will be his final game in Fenway Park since A-Rod is supposed to leave the team tomorrow and head off into the sunset. One of the great understatements of the month would be to say that A-Rod is not very popular in Boston. In fact, according to the NY Business Journal, Red Sox fans have been paying elevated prices on the ticket resale market just to go to Fenway for this series to express their displeasure with Alex Rodriguez. Consider:

    Back in April/May this year, the median price on the resale market for a Yankees/Red Sox game was $99. The range of prices was $78 to $117. Yes, I know that it can be cold in Boston at night in April – and even May – but in that series, there was not the attraction of “last opportunity to boo A-Rod” in the offing.

    This week, the median price for a resale ticket yesterday and tonight for the Yankees/Red Sox is $132 for last night and $159 for tonight. I really do not think that there are any other circumstances that would explain a 30-60% rise in the median price for a ticket to these games.

Here is a comment from Gregg Drinnan in his Keeping Score blog:

“Pre-Games headline at Line already growing for Olympic Village’s working toilet.”

Finally, here is another Olympics-related comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Sure sign you haven’t been paying close enough attention to the Olympic Games: You think Zika is Brazil’s latest soccer star.”

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

Strange News Yesterday …

There were two reports at yesterday that were ones I did not expect to see when I clicked on the website. The first report came from Will Brinson and it said that Tim Tebow has eschewed his NFL ambitions but plans to work out for MLB teams. The report cited Adam Schefter saying that Tebow has been working out/practicing/honing his baseball skills in Arizona for the past year. Tebow did play baseball successfully in high school and last played in 2005.

I am neither a “Tebow-fanboy” nor a “Tebow-hater”. I wish him well in this endeavor as a 29-year old man to take up a sport he played as a kid and to hope to make it to the top echelon of that sport while still in his athletic prime. I wish him good luck here but I am not going to wager any money on his ever making it to the big leagues.

The second report I did not expect to see yesterday comes from Dayn Perry and it said that Curt Schilling “announced” that he plans to run for the presidency in either 2020 or 2024. Jim Bunning was a Hall of Fame pitcher who had a stint in the US Senate; Wilmer ‘Vinegar Bend” Mizel was a MLB pitcher who served in the House of Representatives; there is precedence for pitchers to practice politics. Schilling’s Presidential Campaign would come after a presumably successful campaign to win an election – still unidentified – at the state or local level.

If I recall correctly, there were 22 folks who declared that they were running for President as of the time of the first party “debates” (17 Republicans and 5 Democrats). I shudder to think that Curt Schilling might be any less impressive or qualified to be President than the majority of those folks. The 2016 Presidential Campaign has proven to me that what my elementary school teachers told us is true:

    Anybody can be President of the United States.

The Philadelphia Business Journal had an item a week or so ago saying that ESPN Radio has hired Donovan McNabb to be a color analyst for NFL game broadcasts on that network. I remember watching some of McNabb’s studio work on FOX Sports and I have to say that I was underwhelmed; his comments seemed to me to be far more “platitudinous” than “insightful”; I expected more from someone who had played QB successfully in the NFL.

In a sense, this gig is a career revival opportunity for McNabb. He was fired at FOX Sports after two DUI arrests and a conviction that sent him to jail briefly. Since those events, McNabb has been contrite and admitted his wrongdoing; this assignment gives him the opportunity to restart his broadcast career. Here is some of what he had to say about that career restart:

“When you make mistakes, obviously there’s consequences with it. Obviously I’ve acknowledged the mistakes that I’ve made and I apologized for it and I know that’s not going to happen again. But when you step away from a job that you truly enjoy doing — I was working at Fox and all the other networks I was a part of after retirement — you feel that drive of continuing on. It’s sort of unfinished business for me. ESPN gave me that opportunity when other networks were there, but nervous about making that decision early on because of the scrutiny they may feel they’d get. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m so excited at getting this opportunity to work with ESPN and get back on track and get more involved in sports and being able to talk about them.”

Indeed, those are the right things to say. Now, comes the time for Donovan McNabb to be sure not to have any more “mistakes” and for him to show that he really does have a future in radio/television as a second career.

Bonne chance.

Yesterday, I said that I do not like arguments about who is the “greatest of all time” in any sport. Today, I will declare that I do not like something that is going to get me in trouble with #2 son because #2 son thinks this is one of the great innovations of modern civilizations:

    I do not like – indeed I hate – NFL Red Zone.

I am not going to do an old guy rant here – – Get off my damned lawn! – – about whippersnappers having the attention span of kittens. I recognize that many people of all ages prefer to hop around from game to game to see the big plays and the scoring plays. Indeed, if you are playing in a half-dozen fantasy football leagues, that sort of game-hopping may be of paramount interest to you. I have a different interest in watching a football game. I am not saying that my interest is better or worse than anyone else’s but it is different.

I see a football game as an ebb and flow as teams adjust to what the other team has been doing to thwart what that team has been doing successfully. I enjoy watching the game as it evolves and trying to put myself in the shoes of the offensive and defensive coordinators on both teams as they call the plays. I find that to be an essential ingredient to my enjoyment of a game and that essential ingredient cannot be found on NFL Red Zone.

Instead of feeling excited about being switched from a Steelers/Bills game to watch a 5-yard TD run in the Cowboys/Lions game, I feel angry and want to grab a remote and change back to the game I was watching. Oh, and when they now switch immediately to the Broncos/Falcons game, I am ready to throw my shoe at the TV screen…

Finally, since I am in hot water with #2 son, let me offer as a closing item something he sent to me. This is a comment from Conan O’Brien about the phenomenon known as Pokemon Go:

“The coach of Manchester United has banned all players from Playing Pokemon Go. He apparently doesn’t want any of his team distracted by a fun game where something actually happens…”

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