Onsite At Camden Yards …

I spent yesterday afternoon at Camden Yards in Baltimore with my long-suffering wife and two friends taking in the Cubs/Orioles game.  The Cubs won handily 8-0 and Cubs’ newly acquired starter, Jose Quintana pitched 7 innings of shutout baseball allowing only 3 hits.  But I am not here to do a game recap…

The Orioles are in a tailspin.  After starting out the season hotter than a barbecue grill, the O’s have fallen to 42-49 and are 9 games out of first place in the AL East.  Remember, this team was in the playoffs last year.  The problem with the Orioles is their starting pitching – notwithstanding their being shut out with only 3 hits yesterday.  Here are the 5 starters in the O’s rotation with their ERAs to date in 2017:

  1. Dylan Bundy:  ERA = 4.33
  2. Kevin Gausman:  ERA = 6.39
  3. Ubaldo Jimenez:  ERA = 7.01
  4. Wade Miley:  ERA = 5.41
  5. Chris Tillman:  ERA = 7.90

The 1927 Yankees would have had difficulty winning with that kind of pitching…

There was one other thing from the game yesterday that was comment-worthy.  As we were leaving the park to go and find our car – seemingly parked just south of the Canadian border – I saw a concessionaire sign that offered organic all-natural hot dogs.  It did not say they were all beef or chicken dogs; it said they were organic all-natural so I guess that means any or all typical barnyard denizens could be part of the filling inside that casing.  Here is the thing:

  • If you are fussy enough about what you east to seek out and buy organic and all-natural hot dogs, you probably have not thought about which anatomical organs and tissues get ground into the interior meat-like substance that is the hot dog.  In addition to various other parts of the animal, let me just say that the first organ one encounters in a trip through the alimentary canal is ground into the mix; and so is the final organ one would encounter as you exited that alimentary canal.  “Organic” and “All-natural” seem to me not to be important in that context.

While on the subject of stadium culinary offerings, the Cincinnati Reds seemingly have taken this to a different plane of existence.  They have created a culinary monstrosity and turned it into a fan challenge.  Here is the deal:

  • The sandwich in question consists of one pound of bacon with lettuce, tomato and mayo served with chips and potato salad.  Right there, you have cardiologist’s nightmare…
  • Here is the challenge.  If you can eat FOUR of those sandwiches in one inning (the time it takes for six outs to occur), you win the following “prizes”.  The cost of the sandwiches is zero; and you get a commemorative tee-shirt.
  • There is no indication that EMTs will be on the scene from the outset…

In other baseball news, the Red Sox designated Pablo Sandoval for assignment; once he clears waivers, he will be a free agent; it would appear that his playing days are over.  In a way, I am sad to see that; when Sandoval first came up with the Giants, he was fun to watch.  He played the game well despite his girth and he played it with an enthusiasm that was fun to see.  When he hit free agency, he was a hot commodity and the Red Sox signed him up for $94M; if my calculations are correct, the Sox still owe him $50M on that contract so his demotion or the termination of his MLB career is not going to leave him destitute.

Sandoval signed with the Red Sox after the 2014 season but injuries have only allowed him to play in 161 games in the 2.5 seasons since then.  Compounding his injuries are “weight issues”; Sandoval never had a typical physique for a player at the MLB level, but earlier in his career his weight did not prevent him from making the NL All-Star team.  During his tenure with the Red Sox, he hit an anemic .237 and posted a modest OPS of .646.

One other baseball note.  As I was grazing through the cable channels, I arrived in the middle of a segment featuring Tim Kurkjian and heard him say – this is a paraphrase not a quote:

  • During the final 35 games of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, he did not strike out once.

Since the source here is Tim Kurkjian, I believe there is no need to think of verifying that assertion and I have not done so.  I assume that the preceding discussion had to do with the prevalence of strikeouts in the modern game.  In any event, the idea of a player – particularly a power hitter – going 35 consecutive games without striking out is an alien concept in 2017.

Last week, I mentioned that this time of the year is a wasteland in sports news.  Last weekend, Greg Cote had a comment along that line in his column in the Miami Herald:

“Slow time in sports” defined: Arguing whether Kevin Durant was really mad at that Peyton Manning joke on the ESPYs.”

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Two women in San Francisco attacked a 64-year old man with pepper spray and stole his bag of laxatives.

“Undercover police immediately staked out the local hot-dog eating contests.”

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



Peaks And Valleys …

Life has its peaks and valleys.  The sports world is a slice of life and likewise has its peaks and valleys.  Let me begin today with one of the peaks.

Venus Williams at the age of 37 is in the women’s finals at Wimbledon.  The last time she won one of the tennis “majors” was in 2008; her run to the finals this year has been amazing for reasons other than her age:

  • About a month ago, Venus Williams was in a car accident that resulted in the death of the passenger in the “other vehicle”.  Police originally said she was responsible for the accident; only recently did they announce that further evidence and further investigation showed that Williams was “not responsible” for the incident.  At the start of Wimbledon, Williams broke down in a press event and had to excuse herself when that subject came up.
  • For several years now, Williams has suffered from an autoimmune disease, Sjögren’s Syndrome.  Symptoms of this condition include “numbness in the arms and legs”, “feeling tired”, “muscle and joint pain”.  I am certainly not a physician, but it would seem to me that any or all of those symptoms would be problematic for someone playing tennis at the top level of the sport.

The fact that she has reached the finals is impressive.  If she wins the championship, it will be her 50th win in tournament singles in her career – if I have done accurate accounting on her career.  This is a “peak story” in the sports world this morning.

Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding Venus Williams and an “issue” she had during the first round of this year’s Wimbledon tournament:

“Venus Williams wore a pink bra during her first-round Wimbledon match, violating the tournament’s strict all-white dress code.

“The NFL fashion police, simply out of habit, fined her $10,000.”

Just to create juxtaposition, let me go down in the valley now and comment on something that I would normally – and preferably – ignore.  The McGregor/Mayweather “fight” is in the promotional tour phase and it is predictable, stupid and ugly.  How’s that for a trifecta?

  1. It is predictable because the combatants are going from city to city in staged events to insult one another to each other’s face.  I guess I am supposed to admire the self-control of these warriors as they avoid conflict prior to the event itself.
  2. It is stupid because this is what pro ‘rassling has done for the last 50 years or so – – except ‘rassling does in on TV and not in staged events from city to city.  Listen to the two fighters when they have microphones in their hand.  Close your eyes and you can imagine Hulk Hogan and/or Rick Flair and/or Bruno Sammartino and/or “The Moose-Jaw Mangler” doing his thing on camera.  To me, UFC is nothing more than pro ‘rassling where the blows actually land and the blood is real.  This tour de force simply adds boxing to that mix.
  3. It is ugly because the insults have blatant racial remarks at the core.  They have not come out and said it explicitly, but one of the tired angles to this fight is McGregor as “The Great White Hope” with Mayweather as the “Black Menace”.  That sort of thing has happened before; Jack Johnson vs. Jess Willard about 100 years ago; Jerry Quarry vs. Muhammad Ali and/or Joe Frazier about 50 years ago; Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney about 30 years ago.  In almost any other circumstances, people would find this sort of interchange distasteful at best; for some reason, it is acceptable in this setting.

I noted recently that MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, mentioned Mexico City as a possible baseball expansion site one of these days.  I also noted recently that the NFL hopes to open the 2019 season with a game in China.  The NBA has not announced its latest outreach toward globalization.  In early August, the NBA will stage a game in Johannesburg, South Africa in the format of Team Africa versus Team World.  The proceeds will go to UNICEF and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Team Africa will feature players born in Africa or players with parents born in Africa; the team captains will Luol Deng and Thabo Sefolosa.  Team World will consist of players whose family roots are somewhere other than Africa.  Probably the most recognized names participating for Team World are Dirk Nowitzki, DeMarcus Cousins and Kristaps Porzingis.

The world of fantasy sports delivered some bad news to sports fans this morning.  The proposed merger of FanDuel and Draft Kings has been called off.  If you really care about the whys and wherefores of this decision, you can read the ESPN.com report here.

Why is this bad news for sports fans?  Well, recall a couple of years ago when these two entities were competitors how many times you had to sit through the same commercial trying to lure you to one site or the other.  In the last year or so, those ads have disappeared for one simple reason:

  • If the companies were going to merge, why spend money advertising to get fans to play at one site as opposed to the other; they would be the same company.

Therefore, I expect each of the two fantasy sites to go back to their ad agencies and to produce two or three ads for the upcoming football season and that the handful of ads will be run and re-run to the point that it will make you want to wash your eyes out with Clorox when you see the opening scene in the ad.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this item in his Sideline Chatter column recently.  It fits in here because it has to do with tennis and with an issue that has garnered great attention outside the world of sports:

“TBS’s Conan O’Brien, on reports that Russia interfered with voting systems in at least 39 states during the 2016 elections: ‘Which finally explains why the new governor of Wyoming is Anna Kournikova.’”

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



The Second Half Of The MLB Season Starts Now…

With the MLB season at the halfway mark and set to charge toward the October playoffs, here is how I see the races and the storylines shaping up:

  • NL East:  The Nats win this division in a stroll.  I cannot see any other team here getting anywhere near the Wild Card slots.  My bold prediction is that the Phillies will not lose 100 games.  They will lose 95 – – but not 100.
  • NL Central:  The Brewers are the Cinderella story of 2017.  On opening day, they had one of the lowest payrolls in MLB.  The question here is can – or will – the Cubs shake off their World Series hangover.  Unless one of the teams in the NL West dies like a dog, there will only be one team from the NL Central in the playoffs.
  • NL West:  The Dodgers will win this division in a walk.  The Rockies and D-Backs are pleasant surprises this year and both have significant leads in the race for the NL Wild Card slots.  The D-Backs have the second-best run-differential in the NL (behind the Dodgers); the Rockies are 5 games over .500 on the road this year.  How did the Giants fall to a point where they have the second worst record in the NL?
  • AL East:  The Red Sox lead this division on the strength of their pitching and defense and not their offense.  Who saw that coming?  The Yankees have played very well this year but the biggest surprise in the division are the Rays.  The AL East will provide one of the wild cards in the AL.  Just a hunch, I think it will be the Red Sox as the division winners and the Rays as a wild card.
  • AL Central:  I see that the Twins and Royals are “nipping on the heels” of the Indians.  Nonetheless, I think the Indians win this division without a ton of drama.  The Twins and Royals will fight for a wild card slot.
  • AL West:  It would take a catastrophe of the magnitude of the team plane going down with no survivors for the Astros to lose out in the AL West.  The big surprise here is that the Angels are only 2 games below .500 despite having Mike Trout on the DL for more than a month.  Maybe the Angels can get into the wild card mix with the Twins and Royals?

I watched a couple innings of the All-Star Game; when I was younger, this was must-see TV; I never missed a game.  Back in those ancient times, there was no inter-league play.  The players in the “other league” existed only in newspaper game stories, articles in Sports Illustrated and on baseball cards.  In terms of nationally televised games, there was only one game a week all the way up through the 1980s.  Watching the All-Star Game – and the World Series – was the way to see the stars of the “other league”.

That “mystery factor” no longer exists and the game is no more meaningful than a Spring Training game.  In fact, a Spring Training game is probably more interesting because in Spring Training there is always the question of which rookie might make the team this year or which veteran attempting a comeback will be successful in that endeavor.  The All-Star Game has no aura related to “consequence”.

Having said all of that, let me be clear on something:

  • The MLB All-Star Game is far and away the best All-Star Game of the major US sports.  None of the games have any meaning; so that is not the reason the MLB game is the best of the lot.  The reason it is the best is that the MLB All-Star Game actually resembles a real baseball game; pitchers are actually trying to get hitters out and fielders are actually playing defense.  In football, basketball and hockey there is zero defense and so the all-star games bear no resemblance to the actual sports they represent.

Let me switch gears here to comment on another example of strange fan behavior.  There are lots of colleges who can point to the dedication and fervor of their fan bases; every once in a while, one of those fans does something that might indicate that the fan is just a tad too ‘involved with” or “attached to” the school’s scholar-athletes.  LSU is one such school with an avid and devoted fan base.  Teams playing LSU in Baton Rouge on a Saturday night know they will be facing a good football team on the field and a crowd of more than 100,000 fans whose ardor gave the stadium the nick name, Death Valley.

Today, there is a report about one of the LSU fandom taking his passion into Tiger Stadium on a different vector heading.  Local police arrested a 36-year old man and a woman standing by a ladder that was positioned in a way for them to enter the locked stadium.  No, they were not going there to take selfies at the 50-yardline; when the police arrived, the man admitted that the woman was a prostitute.  I will leave it as an exercise for the students here to come up with conclusions as to what the couple might have intended to do once inside the facility.

The man was arrested and charged with “unauthorized entry into a place of business” and solicitation of prostitution.  It was not clear to me from the report if the “unauthorized entry into a place of business” referred only to Tiger Stadium of if there may have been multiple charges contained therein…

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about a fan interruption of a MLB game earlier this year:

“A streaker clad in only his socks ran across the field at a Brewers-Giants game in Milwaukee three security finally tackled him near shortstop.

“He’s expected to be charged with misdemeanor lewd and lascivious behavior, and violating the infield-fly rule.”

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



NFL Stuff Today …

Some storylines have legs; other story lines just will not die.  This morning at CBSSports.com you can read about Joe Montana’s assessment as to why Colin Kaepernick does not have a job in the NFL.  [Spoiler Alert:  Defenses figured Kaepernick out.  But there is still hope …]  I have tired of this story; I believe we have all plumbed the depths of it thoroughly and repeatedly.  What I prefer to do this morning is to look at a few other NFL veterans who are free agents but have no team to report to as training camps start to open in the next week.

  1. Anquan Boldin:  He will be 37 in October and that is ancient for a WR.  Nonetheless, he played in all 16 games last year and caught 67 passes for 584 yards and 8 TDs.
  2. Ryan Clady:  He was cut by the Jets as the team cleared its roster of expensive and experienced players to go into a full-blown rebuilding phase.  He has had some injury issues in the past three seasons but he will only turn 31 by the start of this season.
  3. Dwight Freeney:  He is 36 years old and cannot play every snap on defense any more.  As a situational pass-rusher …
  4. Nick Mangold:  Like Ryan Clady, Mangold was asked to leave the Jets early in the free-agency period.  Mangold is 33 years old.
  5. Darrelle Revis:  He too left the Jets in the offseason.  His play seemed to be on a downward arc for much of last season and he may need to play safety and not corner back if he plays in the NFL.  Revis has signed some big contracts in his career; if he signs one now, it will be a small one.
  6. DeAngelo Williams:  He filled in for LeVeon Bell last year and played adequately.  He is 34 years old and has carried the ball 1730 time sin his NFL career.
  7. Mario Williams:  He is a former overall #1 draft pick who is now 32 years old.  As recently as 2014, he had 14.5 sacks in a season.  In 2015, he had “issues” with the Bills’ defensive schemes and coaches and whatever; in 2016, he went to Miami and recorded only 1.5 sacks in 13 games.  Can he still play …?

On the eve of training camp openings, the Chicago Sun-Times tracked down Bears’ draft pick, Mitch Trubisky, and asked some questions.  One of the things Trubisky said was that he thinks the Bears can make the playoffs – – this year.  A quick check this morning says that Las Vegas oddsmakers have a different view of the Bears’ fortunes for 2016.  The Bears are 40-1 to win the NFC North and 20-1 to make the playoffs.  However, Bears’ fans probably would prefer that their young QB-of-the-future be delusionally optimistic than to be resigned to a fate that looks like 3-13…

Thinking about Mitch Trubisky reminded me that “top QB prospects” in college last year had an “East-of-the-Mississippi” center of gravity.  Trubisky was at UNC; Deshaun Watson was at Clemson, DeShone Kizer was at Notre Dame; Lamar Jackson was at Louisville.  [Yes, I know that Patrick Mahomes II was at Texas Tech and that school is in Lubbock.]  This year, it would appear as if the center of gravity for QB prospects has shifted decidedly to the west.

Lamar Jackson is still at Louisville and Deondre Francois is still at Florida State and Trace McSorley is still at Penn State.  If I spent some time looking carefully, I am sure I would come up with some other quality QBs east of the Mississippi but these are the ones that come to mind quickly.  However west of the Mississippi you have – in alphabetical order:

  • Josh Allen – Wyoming
  • Sam Darnold – USC
  • Luke Falk – Washington State
  • Tanner Mangum – BYU
  • Baker Mayfield – Oklahoma
  • Josh Rosen – UCLA
  • Brett Rypien – Boise St.

I am sure that with some time spent on research, I could come up with some other “western QB prospects” too.  For NFL scouts assigned to find a new QB for their teams, the focus in 2017 would seem not to be in the Eastern Time Zone…

Buffalo Bills’ DL, Adolphus Washington, was arrested in Ohio on charges of improperly carrying a concealed firearm.  He has been released and the legal processes are ongoing in this matter.  Here is the unusual aspect of this matter.  Washington improperly carried his concealed firearm at – – wait for it – – a water park.  Honestly, I could not make this stuff up.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding teams and their interactions with season-ticket holders:

“The Denver Broncos are revoking season tickets from purchasers who did not attend a home game last season.

“The Browns, not to be outdone, are offering free grief counseling for anyone who decides to re-up with them.”

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



Ramblings …

Just wondering … Do the craps tables in Las Vegas offer special promotions today?

As is customary, MLB Commish, Rob Manfred, addressed the media yesterday as the All-Star break commenced.  One of the subjects he touched on was MLB expansion.  As I have pointed out in the past, having two leagues with 15 teams in each league poses more than a couple of scheduling problems and having 16 teams in each league would be much simpler.  The Commish did not shy away from saying that he would consider expansion and made two points:

  1. MLB recognizes that two existing teams have attendance problems that just might be mitigated with a newer/better stadium for those teams.  The Oakland Coliseum is an albatross around the neck of the Oakland A’s; there are many folks who assert that the Tampa Bay Rays’ attendance woes are caused in large part by their stadium and its location.  Manfred said that MLB’s priority was to “resolve the stadium situations” in these two cities.
  2. The Commish then mentioned 3 cities that he said were “great candidates” for expansion once Oakland and Tampa were taken care of.  Those would be Montreal, Charlotte and Mexico City.

You can read about Manfred’s remarks here.

Let me comment on the three cities that the Commish mentioned yesterday:

  1. Montreal:  The city supported the Expos for years until the team was forced to play in the stadium built for the Olympic Games in Montreal.  Take that white elephant out of the picture, and Montreal could be an excellent addition to MLB creating a natural rivalry with Toronto as well as with Boston and New York.
  2. Charlotte:  The city has the right demographics but I have a nagging unease about putting baseball there.  The southeastern US is “football country” – – specifically “college football country”.  Next comes “basketball” – – specifically “college basketball”.  Baseball is a big deal in the Northeast but not nearly such a big deal in the Southeast.  Check out the teams in the Southeast and ask which ones are attendance monsters.  Atlanta?  Hardly, they don’t always sell out playoff games.  Miami?  Get serious.  Tampa?  See above.
  3. Mexico City:  Obviously, this locale tips a hat to globalization and making the MLB brand “international”.  There are surely enough people in Mexico City to support a team; the city proper has a population of about 8.2 million people and the “metro area” is home to 21 million.  However, I wonder if there is enough money in the hands of enough baseball fans there to do things like buy luxury suites and/or to pay the Mexican equivalent of 50-75 dollars per game for half decent seats.

If MLB wants to get outside the “lower 48” with franchises, Montreal and Vancouver in Canada would seem to be better choices to me.  If MLB wants to have a footprint in Latin America, they could also consider Puerto Rico.  Moreover, if MLB moves with its normal speed on this issue, they might want to keep Havana open as an option.  It might take MLB so long to get around to this that both Castro brothers might no longer be exchanging oxygen in the biosphere and relations between Cuba and the US might be fully normalized by then.

Speaking about globalization and possible international expansions, the NFL wants to play a game in China and the target date is Opening Week in 2019.  Some reports say that the LA Rams will be the host team for the game.  Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald reacted to that news with this comment:

“The NFL may open 2019 with a game in China. A rules expert would explain holding and pass-interference calls to the Chinese fans. Maybe then the Chinese fans can explain them to us.”

In going through one of Brad Dickson’s columns, I also came across the following comment

“Texas signed a marketing deal to name Corona as the official beer of Longhorn athletics. To kick off the promotion, Bevo blew a 0.215 on a Breathalyzer.”

Forget about poor Bevo for a minute.  Also, forget about the fact that more than a few of the Texas student body are underage and it might be a tad unseemly for the school to have a brand of beer as a “corporate partner”.  Forget that UT-Austin is a “dry campus” and beer is only sold at athletic events.

This act by the Athletic Department – and with de minimis the acquiescence/concurrence of the Lord High Pooh-bahs at the school – demonstrates why college athletic departments need to be taxable entities.  They are businesses run for a profit – or at least the intention of making a profit.  They are not tax-exempt educational entities; they should be separate and distinct from the universities that they represent and they should keep their books to GAAP and IRS standards and pay taxes as appropriate.  You can read more about this sponsorship deal in this link to a report in the Dallas News.

Finally, let me complete a Brad Dickson trifecta today with this comment from his column, Breaking Brad, in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Russia has reportedly developed a missile that’s described as ‘capable of destroying Texas.’ So apparently Kremlin officials have seen the Longhorn Network.”

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



The Dark Ages …

Today begins the “Dark Section” of the sports calendar in the US.  Consider:

  1. MLB is on hiatus for things like the Home Run Derby Nonsense and then the All-Star Game;
  2. None of the NFL teams have reported to training camp yet so we still do not know who reported to camp overweight;
  3. All the important NBA free agents have already signed on for next year and the Summer League games are even worse than D-League games in terms of entertainment;
  4. I could not even find a mention of hockey or the NHL in this morning’s paper.

Fortunately, I do not rely on game results for material to craft these rants; were that the case, I too would be on hiatus this week.  But here in Curmudgeon Central, I have my trusty “clipboard” …

Since I mentioned the MLB festivities in Miami this week, let me begin with a comment from Greg Cote in yesterday’s Miami Herald:

“Monday’s Home Run Derby and Tuesday’s 88th All-Star Game come to Marlins Park. It should be two nights of non-stop feelgood and cheering … well, assuming they don’t inadvertently introduce Jeffrey Loria.”

Since I mentioned the NBA Summer League games, let me remind you that Lonzo Ball’s first summer league game was an ugly performance on his part.  He missed lots of 3-pointers and even missed layups; if you did not recognize him so you knew who he was, you would have concluded that this guy will never make a D-League team let alone the Lakers.  This is the guy who was supposed to erase all of Magic Johnson’s records/accomplishments with the Lakers.

Then, in his second Summer League game, Lonzo Ball had a triple double.  Go figure…

Since I cited a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald above, let me insert another item from his column yesterday:

“Sentences I Never Imagined Writing, one in a series: ‘Todd Marinovich is making a comeback at age 48. Marinovich was most recently in the news when arrested on drugs while naked.’”

When I read that, my first thought was that this had to be some sort of garbled communication; Todd Marinovich could not possibly think that he was going to get a look from an NFL team.  My second thought was that I did not recall him being “arrested on drugs while naked.”  So, I ventured onto the Internet and found this report from CBSSports.com and learned the following:

  • Marinovich will try to make the SoCal Coyotes of the World Development Football League.
  • Marinovich was indeed arrested when he was found naked in someone’s yard and in possession of marijuana and meth.
  • Marinovich has been sober since that arrest.
  • The SoCal Coyotes are one of four teams in the Pacific Division of the World Development Football League along with the Arizona Wolves, the California Sharks and the LA Saints.

I also learned from Internet browsing that there are two local teams in this league called the Maryland Carnage and the DC Wolverines.  Until this morning I had no idea such teams existed.

In football news “north of the border”, the Canadian Football League has a new commissioner and he is a former CFL player and Grey Cup champion.  Randy Ambrosie was an offensive lineman who played in the CFL for 9 years and was on the 1993 Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos.  After his playing career, Ambrosie was the secretary of the CFL Players’ Association and he has held several positions in the financial/securities industry in Canada.  His educational pursuits took him to the University of Manitoba, Columbia Business School and the Wharton School.  It would certainly appear as if he has plenty of perspective from various vantage points to lead the CFL.

When introduced as the new CFL Commish, Ambrosie sounded more like a football coach than a buttoned-down financial exec from mahogany row:

“I know from experience that football is the ultimate team sport. I’m confident that by working together, we can ensure this great league reaches its full potential. Let’s get to work.”

Finally, let me complete the trifecta here with a third citation from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Phil Mickelson split from his longtime caddie and the only people on Earth who cared were Phil, his caddie and golf writers.”

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



RIP, Gene Conley

Earlier this week, Gene Conley passed away.  Conley has a unique position in the world of sports; he is the only person to win a World Series (with the Milwaukee Braves) and to win an NBA Championship (with the Boston Celtics).

Rest in peace, Gene Conley.

Yesterday, I listed some things in the sports world about which I do not care even a little bit.  Via e-mail, several readers offered addenda to that list:

  1. Home-Run Derby – – a huge waste of time and energy
  2. Drone Racing – – a new sport that has already become tiresome
  3. Dressage – – essentially, this is horse dancing
  4. Fantasy sports – – this reader and I share a harmonic connection in the cosmos.

FOX Sports will need a new head honcho.  Earlier this week, Jamie Horowitz was fired from the position of “President of National Networks at FOX Sports”.  According to reports, this firing has something to do with sexual harassment allegations at FOX Sports[Aside:  Given that similar allegations resulted in the dismissal of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly at FOX News, one might consider that there is something in the water at FOX HQS…]  Horowitz’ attorney denies all allegations here and says that the firing was egregiously wrong; I suspect there is more to learn here.

Horowitz is generally regarded as the person who – in his previous incarnation at ESPN – created the “debate format” for sports TV.  At ESPN, he is seen as the creator of First Take, a program wherein Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith concocted ways to talk past each other in very loud voices about real or imagined “issues” in sports.  When Horowitz left ESPN for FOX, Bayless also jumped networks and is now paired with Shannon Sharpe on a program named Undisputed.  [Aside:  The only thing “undisputed” about the program is that it is unwatchable.]

According to Sports Illustrated media commentator, Richard Deitch, FOX will not be abandoning the “debate concept” for its studio programming and that there is a significant divide within FOX Sports between the folks who produce “studio work” and those who produce “field work” i.e. live sporting events.  Here is a link to that report on SI.com.

Back at the turn of the century, Katie Hnida made news when she was a walk-on placekicker for the football team at Colorado.  She dressed for games at Colorado but never saw the field; later she transferred to New Mexico for whom in 2003 she kicked 2 PATs in a Division 1-A college football game making her the first woman to score a point at that level of competition.  Recently, there has been another “first” in this area.

Becca Longo has been given a scholarship as a placekicker at Adams State – a Division II school.  According to reports, she can “routinely” convert 45-yard tries and she reportedly has made a 50-yard field goal in practice.  She has trained with Alex Zendejas who asserts that this is not some sort of publicity stunt because Longo is a real kicker.  Moreover, this story may have legs because reports say that Becca Longo wants to be an NFL placekicker down the road.  As she enters college, she is listed at 5’ 11” and 145 lbs.  NFL kickers – Sebastian Janikowski notwithstanding – are not behemoths, but I doubt that any of them weigh only 145 lbs.  If she is going to have a chance to get a tryout with an NFL team – and not get crushed by a special teams’ opponent on a kickoff – she is going to have to add some muscle to her frame over the next 4 years.

Bonne chance, Becca Longo…

Last week, Manny Pacquaio lost a controversial decision to a hometown fighter in Brisbane, Australia.  Some folks say there was “corruption” involved; that is an ever-so-polite way to assert that “the fix was in”.  Others say that the judges’ unanimous decision was merely a demonstration of monumental incompetence.  I have only seen short highlights from the fight and have not nearly sufficient interest to find an online video of the entire fight and watch it.  Therefore, I have no way to offer any comment on the “corruption versus incompetence” spectrum here.  I will offer a few generic comments however:

  • If indeed “the fix was in”, this would not be the first time something like that happened in boxing.  The earliest fight I recall where it surely appears as if “the fix was in” was when Jess Willard beat Jack Johnson for the heavyweight title almost 100 years ago.
  • Boxing has been replete with “cheating” situations over the years to include things like plaster-loaded fists under the gloves and gloves that had some of the padding removed to make each punch landed more impactful.  One fighter claimed to have been given a sedative just before entering the ring in the form of an orange slice.
  • This controversial decision has generated more publicity and more focus on boxing than anything in recent years.  It also sets up a rematch – surely to be held somewhere other than Brisbane – down the line.  A cynic might see great convenience here…  [Aside:  The Mayweather/McGregor spectacle is technically a boxing match and it has generated more publicity than this decision but I think that “hybrid match” is not much more than a one-off money-grab and not generic boxing.]

Finally, since I mentioned Becca Longo as the first female to get a college football scholarship, let me close with this observation from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald regarding an oddity in the world of college football scholarships:

“The University of Hawaii offered a fifth-grade quarterback a scholarship. The quarterback is looking forward to taking a recruiting visit as soon as he’s old enough to cross the street by himself.”

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



Do I Care ?

After hearing that a new record was set in the July 4th hot dog eating contest, I asked myself if I could come up with 10 things related nominally to the sports world about which I cared less than I do about that annual hot dog eating contest.  Obviously, I could name a bunch of other stupid “competitive eating” events but that would be an intellectual tautology.  I gave myself a couple of minutes to think about it and this is what I came up with – – in the order they flashed into my mind:

  1. Anything related in any way to professional ‘rassling.
  2. Sumo wrestling.
  3. MMA, UFC and things of that nature.
  4. Lawn mower racing.
  5. Professional fishing.
  6. The Naked Olympics.
  7. The Winter Olympics.  This may not belong on this list because I do enjoy watching some of the hockey games here and there is nothing about the hot dog eating contest I care about at all.
  8. Synchronized “anything” in the Olympics.
  9. The America’s Cup Yacht Races.  New Zealand just beat the US in this regatta held in Bermuda which is not the home of either combatant.  Why they held it there, I do not care to try to understand.  See below for another comment on the allure of this sporting event.
  10. The Tour de France.  This annual event is ongoing as I input these words.  My reaction is, “Whoop-di-damned-doo!”

            Greg Cote had this comment in the Miami Herald recently about the recently completed America’s Cup regatta:

“Team USA got clobbered 7-1 by New Zealand in America’s Cup sailing. How great would it be if there arose a scandal in which the Kiwis were found to have illegally used outboard motors!”

Yesterday, I reviewed some of the astronomical numbers being thrown around as contract values in the NBA without even mentioning the $201M contract just signed by Steph Curry.  Later in the day, I ran across a report that Buffalo Bills’ WR, Sammy Watkins, took to Twitter to complain about those NBA contract numbers because – – according to Watkins – – NFL players should be getting that kind of money too.  At first glance, you might think that Watkins has a point; but upon a bit of reflection, you might conclude that if he wore his helmet, no one would notice.

The NFL has higher revenues than the NBA; so, you would think they have more money to “throw around” to their players.  Also, NFL players have – on average – shorter careers than NBA players meaning they should be demanding higher annual salaries than NBA players.  Sounds good except for:

  • NBA teams have 12-15 players under contract at one time.  Counting the practice squads, NFL teams have more than 60 players under contract most all of the time.
  • NBA teams pay a head coach and maybe 3 assistant coaches per team.  NFL coaching staffs can have as many as 20-25 coaches getting a paycheck.
  • Because NBA teams play 41 regular season home games as opposed to 8 for the NFL, NBA home attendance averages about 200,000 more fans than the NFL.

Sammy Watkins’ tweets do not seem to acknowledge the basic math here.  While the NBA does not take in the same amount of revenue as the NFL does, there are many more “mouths to feed” in an NFL team structure than there are in an NBA structure.  Moreover, there is another important factor that Watkins seems to ignore.

The current CBA between the NFL and the NFLPA imposes a hard salary cap on NFL teams.  In that agreement, the salary cap must be at least 47% of the “annual revenue” for the NFL.  “Annual revenue” takes about 20 pages of the CBA to define so let’s just say it is a very large number.  However, that number for 2017 yields a salary cap of approximately $167M.  If that were spread out evenly among the 60 or so players each team has under contract, that would come out to be a bit less than $3M per player.

The current CBA between the NBA and the NBPA does not have a hard salary cap.  It has a cap but teams may exceed it by paying a luxury tax on all salaries paid in a year that are in excess of the cap.  The NBA’s CBA calls for the salary cap to be 49% of the “annual revenue” of the league and when you go through all the “puts and takes”, that comes out to be about $100M per team this year.  Again, if that were distributed evenly among the 15 players that an NBA team might have under contract, that would come out to be about $6.6M per player.

Sammy Watkins’ “complaint” has math working against it and it has the legality of two different CBAs working against it.  Sammy may wish it were otherwise, but I do not see him or his comrades-in-arms in the NFL getting the same kind of money that NBA players do.  Top-flight NFL stars will get huge contracts; rookies will get mandated/slotted low-wage deals.  How many players fall into the “NFL middle-class” will depend on how individual teams allocate their $167M of cap room.

Finally, this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald surely provides an eleventh entry on my list of things in sports that I care less about than the hot-dog eating contest:

“At the World Cup of Darts, top-seeded Scotland has been eliminated. If this ruins your office bracket, your office has too many brackets.”

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



The Numbers May Shock You…

Let me begin today with NBA free agency and that portion of the calendar year when NBA teams adjust their rosters.  Gordon Hayward signing on with the Boston Celtics must feel like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn; he seems to be the only top-shelf NBA free agent ignoring Horace Greeley’s advice, “Go west, young man.”  Paul George went west from Indiana to Oklahoma City in a trade; Jimmy Butler went west in a trade from Chicago to Minnesota; Paul Millsap took his talents from Atlanta to Denver; Chris Paul changed teams but remained in the Western Conference; Gordon Hayward went from Utah eastward to Boston.  For his efforts, reports say Hayward will get a contract for $128M over 4 years.

The new NBA TV deals that kicked in last season have left the league awash in cap room; the soft cap in the NBA is just a shade under $100M for the upcoming season so the contract numbers you are seeing now – and will be seeing over the next year or two – are going to seem outlandish.  Get used to it…

The Celtics went to the Eastern Conference finals last year losing there to the Cavaliers 4-1.  The Celtics drafted Jayson Tatum a few weeks ago and he looks like a bona fide prospect; now they added a premier free agent – perhaps THE premier free agent of the 2017 class – to the roster.  Therefore, people now want to opine on the obvious question:

  • Have the Celtics done enough to be able to unseat the Cavaliers as the “big dog” in the NBA Eastern Conference?

The Cavs have basically stood pat so far this off-season; their only major change was the firing of their GM and not replacing him to date.  Gordon Hayward definitely makes the Celtics a better team but the Celtics still lack a dominant rebounder and what has come to be called a “rim protector”.  As of today, I do not think the Celtics have overtaken the Cavs in the East but I do wonder if the fact that they have made no moves signals another LeBron James departure from Cleveland next year when his contract is up.  Were that to happen, the Celtics would be the heir-apparent to the Cavs in the East…

I said above that some of the numbers you will read regarding NBA free agency would seem outlandish.  Here is an example; the Washington Post reports this morning that the Brooklyn Nets have extended a max contract offer to Washington Wizards’ free-agent, Otto Porter, Jr.  [Aside:  Porter also had a max offer from the Sacramento Kings but did not accept it; he has accepted the one from the Nets.]  Given Porter’s 4-year tenure in the NBA, his deal maxed out at 4 years and $106M.  Last year was Porter’s most productive season as a pro and here are the highlights:

  • 32.6 minutes/game; 51.6% field goal accuracy; 43.6% 3-point accuracy; 13.4 points/ game; 6.4 rebounds/game; 1.5 assists per game

Otto Porter, Jr. is 23 years old; I think this contract offer represents “betting on the come”.  Those are nice numbers but somehow, I don’t think they – as the most productive year of Porter’s career – stand out as mandating a max contract offer.

Porter is a restricted free agent meaning that the Wizards can match that offer and retain his services.  The Wizards have indicated they have “every intention” to match the offer indicating to me that there are at least 3 NBA teams – Kings, Nets and Wizards – who think Otto Porter, Jr. is a max-contract player starting right now.

The Hawks loss of Millsap means that the team has lost two important players in two consecutive seasons.  Last year, Al Horford left the Hawks to sign with the Celtics.  Two seasons ago, the Hawks won 60 games in the regular season; without Horford and Millsap, I suspect they will struggle to win 35 games next year.

And what of the Utah Jazz?  In addition to losing Hayward, they also lost point guard George Hill to free-agency and replaced him with Ricky Rubio acquired in a trade with the Timberwolves.  They still have Rudy Gobert as a significant defensive presence but I do not see a way for the Jazz to find a “replacement” for Hayward at this juncture.  In the loaded Western Conference, the Jazz will struggle next year to make the playoffs.

Enough NBA stuff for now…  Let me turn to the intersection of jurisprudence and sports.  The US Department of Justice has withdrawn from a pending case in court that would have barred the Washington Redskins from maintaining their trademark based on a provision of the Lanham Act.  That act said that the US government could deny trademark protection to words or phrases or images that were offensive to peoples.  As I noted recently, a decision by the US Supreme Court in a totally unrelated case struck down that provision of the Lanham Act saying that it violated the First Amendment protection of free expression.

The protest over the team name has waxed and waned for decades.  Long before this ever went to court, I remember calls for the team to change its offensive name going back to the late 1970s or the early 1980s.  In the last 3 decades or so, there have been marches and protests; various news outlets have forsworn the use of the team name; a host of sportswriters and commentators have railed against the use of this racial slur.  Former president, Barack Obama, publicly aligned himself with the protest movement and suggested that Danny Boy Snyder change the team name.  None of that amounted to a dash of doggie doo-doo.

Finally, it seems that the protesters focused on the only path that might get them to the goal that they set for themselves – namely the team name gets changed.  They stopped trying to make this a moral issue and turned it into an economic issue.  Had they prevailed and stripped the Washington Redskins of trademark protection the path to forcing a name change would have been a lot smoother; with this defeat, they have two choices open:

  1. Go back to making this a moral issue.  That is not going to work so long as Danny Boy Snyder owns the team, but it will make lots of the protesters and the sportswriters/commentators feel good about their continued righteousness.
  2. Find another economic angle to this protest that allows the protesters to use the potential loss of dollars as the fulcrum for their change objective.

I am not trying to be “Negative Nancy” here, but I really do not think there are any other things to do now.  [Aside:  Some suggested that the DoJ should have kept the case alive because the Supreme Court could still have ruled favorably in this case because it has some differences from the one that generated the previous decision.  The problem with that “argument” is that the Supreme Court decision was a unanimous 8-0 decision; there is no assurance the Court would even take the case.]

Finally, let me try to end today’s rant on a lighter note.  Consider, please, this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“A British soldier won the National Cheese Rolling Championships where competitors chase a 9-pound wheel of cheese. A group of humans dressed in wiener suits racing around a U.S. baseball stadium stopped in front of a TV monitor to go, ‘Stupid!’”

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



Happy Birthday America …

Since today is America’s birthday, let me begin with a baseball item and ask the rhetorical question:

  • What is wrong with the Chicago Cubs this year?

After dominating the National League from start to finish in 2016 and then winning the World Series to break a century-plus championship drought, the Cubs have been sleepwalking through the 2017 season.  This team is not one where the core of players has gone into significant career-decline; this is a very young team that figured only to get better year-over-year in 2017.  As of July 4th – sort of the unofficial halfway mark in the MLB season – the Cubs are the definition of mediocrity with a record of 41-41.  If the playoffs started now, the Cubbies would be at home watching games on TV.

If I had a way to identify the cause of this “World Series hangover” and a way to cure it, I could probably extract a princely sum from the Cubs and their fans for it.  Clearly, I do not; but perhaps the manifestation of the “hangover” can be seen in this comparison:

  • 2016:  Seven Chicago Cubs were on the NL All-Star Team
  • 2017:  One Chicago Cub is on the NL All-Star Team – – and he was not one of the members of the 2016 team.

Kyle Schwarber is not the cause of the malaise here but seems to represent the most debilitating form of the “World Series hangover”.  In the past, Schwarber was a hitting machine; in last year’s playoffs, he shook off the rust accumulated from an entire season in rehab to pound the ball all over the place even though he could not play the field.  In 5 playoff games, he hit .412 and drove in 10 runs.  His performance at the plate this year has been so dismal that he was sent down to the minors to get back on track.  In 2017 with 222 at bats in 64 games, he is hitting .171 and has driven in 22 runs.

The good news for Cubs’ fans is that the NL Central is a model of mediocrity.  The Cubs are only 2.5 games out of first place in the division and only 8.5 games separate first place from last place in the NL Central.  The Cubs can still make the playoffs and win their division, but it will not be the cakewalk that it was last year.

The Cubbies made another piece of news about a week ago when they released catcher Miguel Montero because of what he said after a game.  The Cubs lost to the Nats and the Nats stole 8 bases in that game.  Montero griped that pitcher Jake Arietta did not hold runners on and he had no chance to throw any of them out.  Replay would seem to confirm Montero’s analysis and Arietta admitted there was a kernel of truth in the comments but those comments are not in line with “proper teammate decorum” and so Montero lost his job.  The story has a “happy ending”; Montero was signed a few days after his release by the Toronto Blue Jays; he is still in MLB.  However, I do want to draw an analogy here:

  • Miguel Montero’s comment had no social or political significance, but he lost his job in MLB – temporarily – because he said what he thought.
  • There is a lot of similarity here to the Colin Kaepernick situation in the NFL who lost his job in the NFL – seemingly not so temporary – because he used a symbolic gesture to express what he thought.

Staying with MLB, the average 2017 MLB game takes 3 hours and 8 minutes; that is the longest average game-time ever.  Evidently, the addition of the time-saving rule to avoid the four pitches in an intentional walk has not resulted in shortened games.  The people who do “advanced analytics” for baseball have determined that the average time between pitches in 2017 is 23.8 seconds and that is the longest interlude in the 10-15 years that people have been measuring that statistic.  Let’s do some math here:

  1. If each team throws 120 pitches in a game, that means there will be 240 pitching interludes.
  2. Given the average time between pitches that amounts to 95.2 minutes – more than an hour-and-a-half – wherein the pitcher is standing there holding the ball and staring at the catcher.
  3. That represents about 50% of the time it takes to play the average MLB game of 3 hours and 8 minutes.

If MLB wants to increase the pace of play and cut down game times significantly, they need to stop focusing on the time it takes to walk a batter intentionally and to look at the things that take a lot of time in a game.  The pitcher holding the ball is one such thing; the time it takes umpires to complete a review is another such thing.  Consider these two items from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Headline at TheKicker.com: ‘Umps go to video replay to see if they’re slowing game down too much.’”

And …

“United Airlines is about to unveil the world’s longest flight, 8,700 miles from L.A. to Singapore — nearly 18 hours.

“To help pass all that air time, the in-flight movie will be replays of three Yankees-Red Sox games.”

Finally, syndicated columnist Norman Chad also had something to say about the length of MLB games in his weekly Couch Slouch column:

“Watching baseball on TV these days is like putting a pot of water on medium heat and waiting for it to boil.”

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