Want To Win $1 Billion …?

The Fantasy Football ads are back on TV; I fear that is an ominous portent.  Moreover, they are re-running the same old ads from a couple of years ago.  However, at the end of one ad, DraftKings touts a free contest where you can win $1B.  That was strange enough to send me to their website to find out what the deal is.  Remember, I do not play fantasy football so let me quote for you here what they say is the “Billion Dollar Lineup”:

“It’s the lineup that scores the most DraftKings fantasy points that could possibly be scored within the salary cap and position requirements. The perfect lineup will be determined by calculating all possible lineup combinations for the NFL Week 1 player pool that fit DraftKings lineup requirements, and the highest scoring out of all possible lineups will be the perfect lineup.

“Scoring higher than all other DK users may not be enough to win unless your lineup scores the most fantasy points that could possibly be scored out of all possible lineup combinations. For clarity, it is possible that no DK user will draft the perfect lineup and therefore no DK user will be eligible for the prize. For tiebreaker rules and other conditions, please see the Official Rules.”

Go to the DraftKings website that explains all of this in case you choose to enter the contest.  For the record, I will not be entering.

According to an ESPN.com report, former MLB Commissioner, Fay Vincent, believes that legalized sports gambling is going to happen and that it could happen very soon.  He believes that the decision by the US Supreme Court to take the New Jersey challenge to PASPA is an important indicator that legalized sports gambling is coming on a nationwide basis.  Moreover, he believes that teams and leagues will find ways to monetize that legalized gambling and that is why the value of sports franchises have risen so dramatically.

Recall that Fay Vincent – and his fellow sports commissioners – testified passionately in favor of PASPA in front of the US Congress back in the early 90s.  Based on his remarks to ESPN.com, he still opposes sports gambling but recognizes the economics here:

“I’m not a fan of betting, and I’m not minimizing the consequences.  The complexities are staggering, but that is such an enormous amount of money, you can see why people would be grasping for it.”

Nowhere in his comments to ESPN.com is there a recognition on the part of Vincent that sports gambling has been going on in times before PASPA and has continued to go on after the passage of PASPA.  Banning sports gambling has been about as effective as Prohibition was in banning alcohol consumption in the US.

Several readers complained that I was too harsh on NFL Exhibition Games yesterday.  They felt that I had equated those games with an obvious bait-and-switch promotion in my example involving Bruce Springsteen introducing a clearly sub-standard musical act in his stead.  OK; I admit that NFL Exhibition Games are not bait-and-switch because any person who cares enough about NFL football to go and see the first Exhibition Game knows damned well that he/she will not see the “varsity players” on the field.

One commenter pointed out that the early Exhibition Games wee the only way for low-round picks/undrafted free agents to get the attention of coaches so that they might make the team.  He cited the example of Terrell Davis who just got into the Hall of Fame who allegedly caught the eye of coaches with his special teams’ play in an Exhibition Game.  Let me assume that is absolutely true and not urban legend; that example does not infuse meaning into Exhibition Games.

Here is the fundamental meaning of NFL Exhibition Games to the broadest spectrum of NFL fans:

  • They cross their fingers – and perhaps go to church to light a candle – in the hope that one of the critically important players on their favorite team’s roster does not incur a season-ending injury in such a meaningless display.

In my aperiodic commentary on culinary monstrosities at baseball stadiums, I tend to focus on the outrageous concoctions built on or around hot dogs or giant hamburgers; and indeed, these monuments to excess tend to dominate the menu segment you might call “strange”.  However, there are a few “strange entries” that build on a different platform such as:

  • Coors Field, Denver:  Someone had to stay awake late into the night to come up with this as an idea.  They call them Apple Pie Nachos and why anyone thought of mixing these things in the first place is a mystery to me.  What they have done is to take a slice of apple pie and put it on cinnamon dusted nacho chips and covered it with whipped cream and caramel.  So, that doesn’t sound all that outrageous until you know that you also have the option of topping all of that with nacho cheese.
  • Minute Maid Park, Houston:  The name of this option is the Chicken and Waffle Cone and there is no deception in that name.  What you get are fried chicken strips and mashed potatoes inside a waffle cone topped with honey mustard.  I guess if you are going to eat mashed potatoes with your hands, a waffle cone would come in handy.

Finally, Brad Dickson had this comment in the Omaha World-Herald recently regarding the similarities and differences in sports fans worldwide:

“In Serbia, a soccer player claims he was attacked by fans of his own team after losing a game. In Nebraska, we call this ‘Twitter’.”

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



Mediocre Entertainment

I get the NFL Network in my cable TV package here; and not surprisingly, the cable provider has that channel nested in with all the other sports channels.  Therefore, when I go grazing in that part of the programming spectrum, I pass by and through the channel that provides NFL Network.   At this time of the year, the programming there seems to consist of two things:

  1. Studio shows bringing me “breaking news” from training camps around the country and trenchant analysis of what the implications of such “breaking news” could be for the teams/players involved.  [Hint:  Just about every newsy tidbit has either glorious or apocalyptic implications.  I have yet to hear one of the studio experts hear a news item and say, “Meh!”]
  2. Replays of NFL Exhibition Games.

If I stop on the NFL Network in one of my grazing periods and they have an Exhibition Game replay on, I will often stop and watch a couple of plays.  I am not focused at all on the players because, in the first exhibition games, teams play guys who will not be on the roster in the regular season.  The first Exhibition Game is sort of like one of those meaningless college football bowl games in mid-December; the outcome is irrelevant; few if any of the participants will make their living playing the game of football.

What I do focus on is the attendance.  Here is what I notice:

  • There are huge swaths of empty seats in every venue I have seen.  In most cases, it would be generous to say that the stadium is 50% full; in a couple of cases, I would not be surprised to do a head count and find only 35% of the seats filled.

I am not about to fall into the trap of taking this “breaking news” and interpreting it as some sort of omen of doom for the NFL.  Fans are not abandoning the NFL – or football in general – as a pastime.  What I think is going on here is more positive than that.  Those seats are empty for two reasons:

  1. Some fans who were coerced into buying tickets to these Exhibition Games as part of their season ticket package and who could not give them away to friends/relatives simply chose to stay home.  They made an entertainment choice; they could do something more entertaining/pleasant in their lives than go to see a meaningless Exhibition Game.  Give those folks a round of applause for having at least a semblance of a life.
  2. A lot of fans who had the option to purchase seats not potentially encumbered by a season ticket holder’s fanny also found something else to do with their time and money.  Let’s give those folks a round of applause too.

At its core, the NFL is entertainment.  It is a hugely popular form of entertainment and the players often compare themselves to show biz entertainers as a way of justifying why they get multi-million-dollar salaries to play a game that happens to be shown on TV.  I get that; I have no problem with that.

I do have a problem with “entertainment” that does not deliver.  I am not a big music concert fan so let me pick an artist who is very popular and use him as example here.  This is purely fictitious because I have never heard this entertainer perform.  Imagine that the XYZ Club in Punxsutawney PA announces that Bruce Springsteen will appear live on their stage this weekend.  You can make reservations there for dinner and there will be a $10.00 cover charge.  I presume that if you are a fan of Bruce Springsteen and you live somewhere within striking distance of Punxsutawney, you might consider attending this event.

Here’s the rub.  When you show up and you order your dinner and have paid your cover charge, Bruce Springsteen walks onto the stage and tells you and the rest of your audience that he is not going to sing that night.  He is there only to introduce you to your entertainment for the evening and he calls Joe Flabeetz and the Atonal A-holes onto the stage.  He thanks you for coming and leaves the building.

Folks, that is NFL Exhibition Game football.  The real players are there; you can see them; they might even step on the field for the briefest of moments.  But you are paying top dollar to see a mid-December college football bowl game.  Fans are beginning to catch on and their action now is to stay home and do something else.

Lots of commentators – including me – have advocated cutting the Exhibition Season to at most 2 games and preferably 1 game.  The Commish has said that he is concerned with the quality of play in Exhibition Games – demonstrating conclusively that he is awake and conscious of his surroundings.  If you are a season ticket holder for an NFL team, you can consider the price you pay for these sub-standard performances like a cover charge to see Joe Flabeetz and the Atonal A-holes assault your ear-pans in lieu of [fill in the blank of your favorite musical entertainer here].

Speaking of irrelevant sporting events, let me turn my attention to the NBA regular season.  In the “Era of the Super-Team”, the vast majority of the games in the regular season are reduced to “happenings”.  On the spectrum of anticipation, “happenings” fall below “occurrences” which fall below “events”.  “Happenings” rank above “instances” but not much else.  Here is an example of a sports “happening”:

  • Today, the Phillies play the Giants in SF.  The Phillies are dead last in the NL East with the worst record in MLB; the Giants are dead last in the NL West a mere 38.5 games behind the division leading Dodgers.
  • This game has no “far-reaching implications”; Hell, it doesn’t even have “near-reaching implications”.  But they will play it anyway; it is a “happening”.

The NBA announced its full regular season schedule this week. Sportsonearth.com had an article identifying 10 games you should circle your calendar for; these were the games you dared not miss.  There are 1230 regular season games; this article says that 10 of them are “events”; a few others will be sort of important regarding who makes the playoffs so they can lose to one of the Super-Teams; the rest of them are either “happenings” or “instances”.  Wake me when the playoffs start in April 2018…  By the way, here is a link to that list of 10 games you don’t want to miss – just in case you are interested.

Finally, staying with the general idea of low-grade entertainment today, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot about the reincarnation of the TV Show, Battle of the Network Stars:

“There are some things you never want to come back. Pet rocks. Disco. Bad oysters.”

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



Inverted Sports Justice …

In the world of Spanish soccer, the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona is unmatched.  The two squads faced one another over the weekend and Real Madrid won the game, but that was not the story of the game.  Cristiano Ronaldo – considered by some to be the best player in the world – got a red card in the game, pushed the referee ever so gently after receiving the red card and then received a 5-game suspension for that act.  Let me summarize how he got the red card:

  • Entering the game as a substitute, Ronaldo scored a goal to put Real Madrid in the lead.  As he went through the typical over-the-top soccer celebration of a goal, he removed his shirt.  That got him a yellow card from the referee.  [Aside:  A friend is a soccer referee and he tells me that such a call is commonplace and not surprising.  He said it is like the NFL where a penalty immediately follows if a player removes his helmet as part of a celebration.]
  • Later, the referee made a call that Ronaldo “took a dive” in the Barcelona penalty box to try to get a penalty kick situation.  I have seen the replay; he did indeed take a dive; however, in the cosmos of soccer players taking dives, this particular one was not outrageous in any way.  Nonetheless, when the referee issued Ronaldo his second yellow card for his supposed fakery, that turned into a red card and Ronaldo was disqualified.
  • The referee turned his back to walk toward the center of the field; Ronaldo came up behind the official and pushed the official in the back very gently.  He now has a 5-game suspension that he will appeal.

Actually, he has only a 4-game suspension for “pushing” the referee because the red card he was issued carries an automatic 1-game suspension with it.  Nonetheless, Ronaldo will appeal.  Here is my position on the matter:

  • The “dive” that created the situation that ended in the red card was a borderline call and the “push in the back” was not violent.  However, Ronaldo’s suspension should be upheld because he is Ronaldo.
  • Soccer is a sport where violence against officials has a long and sordid history.  In baseball, fans shout “Kill the umpire.”  In soccer, they sometimes do just that to the referee(s).
  • The pooh-bahs who run soccer must not allow one of the best players in the world to do such a thing and get away with it.

I realize that my position here is that Ronaldo deserves punishment because he is so good at his sport.  Normally, the impact of “justice” in sports works in the other direction; star players tend to get away with “stuff” that would not be tolerated from ordinary players.  In some utopian construct, “sports justice” would be like Lady Justice – blindfolded to conceal the identities of the parties before her.  That has never been the case and will never be the case.

Last week, we had an example here in the US of an “ordinary player” being judged more harshly that a “star player”.  As we awaited the NFL’s judgement on Ezekiel Elliott regarding a domestic violence incident – an investigation that stretched out over a year and allowed Elliott to establish himself as a top performer – another Cowboy named Lucky Whitehead was released by the team for doing absolutely nothing at all.  When a miscreant was arrested for shoplifting, the miscreant told the police he was Lucky Whitehead; basically, the Cowboys took that news at face value and cut him.  “Sports justice” operates on a sliding scale depending on one’s talents and productivity.

I mention the Lucky Whitehead matter again because of news from earlier this week.  He signed on with the Jets about a day after he was released by the Cowboys.  Yesterday, Whitehead broke his foot in practice.  It was not immediately known if he is out for the season; but clearly, he will be out for a while.  If not for bad luck, it seems that Whitehead would have no luck…

As the MLB season heads into the home stretch, you are running out of time to get yourself to a ballpark to sample some of the culinary creations there.  So, if you are in any of these areas, here is what you might be missing:

  • PNC Park in Pittsburgh:  You can enjoy a Cuban Pretzel Dog.  This is a foot-long dog on a pretzel bun topped with ham, pork, cheese, pickles and mustard.  This is essentially a Cubano sandwich on a hot dog.  Shouldn’t this be on the menu in Miami?
  • Miller Park in Milwaukee:  This concoction begins with an 18-in bratwurst.  Say no more, there will be Rolaids involved when you are done.  Then add fried sauerkraut, fried jalapenos, cheese curds, sour cream, melted cheese, fries and gravy.  For color, top all of this with chives.
  • SunTrust Park in Atlanta:  They call this creation a “Burgerizza” and that pretty much tells you what it is.  Start with a 20-oz hamburger and top it with melted cheese; this is a simple humongous cheeseburger.  Then you put that bad boy between two 8-inch pepperoni pizzas.  I guess you should wash that down with a Pepto Bismol spritzer…

Finally, readers here know that I like to identify athletes with unusual names.  Here are two comments from sports columns around the country that provide examples of unusual names:

“S. Santiwiwatthanaphong finished 11th in a recent LPGA tournament. The rookie is actually giving copy editors a break going by “S.” Her real first name is “Sgrtuuxezazgiiopvq.”

“Her biggest challenge as she embarks upon a pro career? Signing the scorecard.”  [Brad Dickson, Omaha World-Herald]

And …

“Iceland’s Thorir Thorbjarnarson is Nebraska’s last basketball commit.

“Pundits predict he’ll be a Scrabble All-American.”  [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

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



RIP Ken Kaiser

Today you need to tip your cap to the ancient Greek mathematician/philosopher, Pythagoras.  If you write today’s date in numerical form [ 8/15/17 ], those numbers represent the sides of a right triangle as put forth by the Pythagorean Theorem.  The next time that will happen will be on October 24, 2026 – – 10/24/26.

Ken Kaiser died last week at the age of 72 and I missed the report of his passing.  A friend and reader who used to umpire baseball games sent me the obit.  Kaiser was an umpire in MLB for 23 years and while he was working his way up the umpiring ladder for 13 years – and you may be sure that minor league umpires were not pulling down any significant wages back then – he augmented his income for a brief time as a professional wrestler.  His nom de guerre in the ‘rassling world was “The Hatchet Man”.

RIP, Ken Kaiser.

It now appears official that a group of investors fronted by Derek Jeter will buy the Miami Marlins from Jeffrey Loria for $1.17B.  The investor with the most money in the deal reportedly is a venture capitalist from NY named Bruce Sherman and Michael Jordan – yes, that Michael Jordan – also has a piece of the action.  Jeter will, according to the NY Times, control the baseball side of the franchise.  The deal still needs the approval of the MLB owners and that will not happen prior to a scheduled meeting of the owners in October but all signs point to approval of this deal.  There were several groups bidding for the Marlins and the groups included some familiar names.  Here is a quick summary of all the luminaries who were involved in the bidding process.

$1.17B is a whole lot of money and the Miami Marlins are certainly not a vibrant and beloved franchise in the MLB cosmos.  On one hand, maybe this tension between the team and its fans is resident in Jeffrey Loria’s ownership.  In the course of his stewardship of the team, he has won a World Series ring and has subsequently traded off all the players who made that happen to put a rag-tag group out on the field soon after the glory days.  Fans did not appreciate that.  Loria then got the folks down there to build him a new stadium at taxpayer expense – – and still put a chokehold on the purse strings for the team.  Perhaps that is why the Marlins are 28th in MLB this year in attendance per game (20,715 fans per game) down 1,038 fans per game relative to 2016.

This is not a new phenomenon in Miami.  Almost 20 years ago, Elian Gonzales was prominent in the news.  He was the young boy who was to be returned to his folks in Cuba based on a court ruling and it took a Federal raid ordered by Attorney General Janet Reno to take him from the arms of relatives who had the boy in Miami.  Believe me, I am not going to try to relitigate that matter here…

There were major demonstrations in Miami at the time trying to convince folks that young Elian should be allowed to stay here and should not be returned to Cuba; this was – and probably still is – an important event within the Cuban-American community in Miami.  One night, there was a demonstration there and the press covering it estimated that the crowd was 25,000 people.

This all happened before I was writing these rants for the Internet but I was writing abbreviated versions of them for a limited group of colleagues.  I wrote at the time that the Marlins – having trouble drawing fans (15,041 fans per game in the 2000 season) – ought to hold “Elian Gonzales Night”.  They could bring the child and his family to the park and give them prominent seats in the stadium; that would bring 25,000 demonstrators plus any other interested baseball fans to the park and that would be a significant boost for attendance.

As you might imagine, that sort of promotion did not happen.  Wayne Huizenga owned the Marlins at the time; if it had been Bill Veeck …

I mention this because whoever buys the Marlins has a lot of work to do to change the relationship between the team and its fans.  Derek Jeter surely has an impeccable résumé on a baseball field and in a clubhouse; he will need to project that same sort of image to the fans in Miami as a way to start changing the perception of the team.  It is almost standard procedure for a new owner of a team to come in and “change things up” as a way of announcing to the fanbase that the place is “under new management’.  I think the Jeter-group should do that for more fundamental reasons than just showing there are new folks in charge; they need to show folks there that this group is different from the previous ownership and that things are going to be done differently.

To date, Derek Jeter has succeeded in just about everything he has done related to baseball.  The only reason he is not in the Hall of Fame is that he retired after the 2014 season and his “HoF waiting period” has not yet concluded.  Having said that, he his entering a whole new phase of baseball with this purchase.  He may not be the person with the most money at stake in the deal but he will be the face of the franchise from the moment that the ink is dry on the closing documents.  He will no longer be making decisions about how to shade a hitter as a shortstop or anticipating the next pitch from an opponent; now he will have to make management decisions that will only be viewed positively if other people perform well on a baseball field.

I am not saying he cannot do this; I am saying this is not necessarily going to be a cakewalk for him…

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald regarding some potential competition for the Miami Marlins as the new ownership takes over:

“There are reports a $10 million cricket franchise is coming to South Florida, surprising analysts who were unaware there were cricket franchises.”

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



No Fun Today …

I am not looking forward to the topic I will mention today.  The NFL has suspended Ezekiel Elliott for 6 games for a violation of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy.  That suspension comes at the end of an investigation that went on for a very long time by the league into allegations of domestic abuse.  No one who reads these rants needs me to recap the history here, but it is important to recognize that – once again – the NFL has chosen to act despite the lack of any indictment or conviction in the criminal justice system related to the alleged domestic abuse.

Back in September 2014 as the NFL flailed about after everyone saw the infamous “Ray Rice elevator video”, I wrote that the way the current CBA sets up the mechanism of NFL discipline guarantees that significant suspensions would always be contentious.  I really should have amended that assertion a bit;

  • Significant suspensions for important players on potential playoff teams will always be contentious.
  • I am not so sure that the level of rhetoric and legal challenge and fan vitriol would be the same if the NFL suspended Joe Flabeetz from one of the bottom-dwelling franchises for 6 games even if the “personal conduct violation” was nothing more than an allegation that he passed gas in an elevator.

At the core of the CBA flaw in the way it handles discipline issues is the fact that it rests the power of judge, jury and executioner in the person of the Commish.  Since 2014, I have believed that this is not what Roger Goodell is hired to do and the fact that he has this as one of “other duties as may be assigned from time to time”, sets him up in an untenable position.  Please take a moment and read what I wrote 3 years ago.

The “Ezekiel Elliott Escapade” is about to enter the “nasty phase”.  There will be aspersions cast by every side in this matter and it could get very ugly very quickly.  And here is the fundamental problem with this matter that should not be ignored but will be buried in the mudslide of vitriol that is about to happen:

  • The only two people on the planet who know the full story of what happened in these incidents from July 2016 are the alleged victim and Ezekiel Elliott.

Try to keep that in mind when you hear comments from sports radio yakkers, columnists, social advocates, Jerry Jones, NFL Front Office folks, me, you and the lamppost.

In the letter the NFL sent to Elliott informing him of the suspension, there is an ominous paragraph.  Perhaps I am reading more into this than was intended; perhaps this is boiler-plate language inserted here by the league lawyers:

“You must have no further adverse involvement with law enforcement, and must not commit any additional violations of league policies. In that respect, you should understand that another violation of this nature may result in your suspension or potential banishment from the NFL.”

It is the phrase “potential banishment” that jumped out at me.  I understand that banishment is indeed mentioned in the Personal Conduct Policy of the NFL, but somehow, that sentence seemed like driving a thumbtack with a jackhammer.

Before I leave this subject for today – knowing that I will probably feel the need to comment on it down the line somewhere – let me provide some atmosphere here:

  1. This would NOT be the first time the NFL suspended a “top-shelf” player for 6 games in the absence of any criminal charges or conviction.  They issued a 6-game suspension to Ben Roethlisberger in 2010 for the “nightclub incident” then despite any charges.  That suspension was ultimately reduced to 4 games.
  2. Assuming for a moment that the Elliott suspension stands, the Cowboys would start the 2017 season with 4 players under league suspension.  [Elliott for 6 games, Randy Gregory for 16 games, David Irving for 4 games and Damontre Moore for 2 games]
  3. In addition, two other guys on the Cowboys’ roster could face suspension in the future because of run-ins with the gendarmes.  Damien Wilson allegedly assaulted someone while in possession of a firearm and Nolan Carroll allegedly faces DUI charges.

Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot over the weekend:

“Tickets are still available for the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Connor McGregor greed-a-palooza on Aug. 26. How much are they? If you have to ask, you can’t afford them, but for the record, ringside seats go for $10,000 each.”

I read somewhere – but cannot locate it now – that the contract for the fight gives Mayweather a piece of the live gate for the fight.  If tickets are still available and are as costly as reported here, that might be a significant chunk of change that does not find its way into Mayweather’s bank account.  And that leads my cynical self to wonder:

  • In the past couple of weeks, Mayweather has said that he has “lost a step” and that he is an old fighter and that he has been training differently for this fight because of his age and the accumulated rust from his retirement status.
  • Might that be honest talk from Mayweather or might he just be saying that kind of stuff to goose the gate a bit by making it seem as if this fight could go either way?

Finally, I’ll close with this comment from Greg Cote last weekend in the Miami Herald regarding that upcoming fight:

“Countdown: 13 days ’til McGregor vs. Mayweather, the only fight I’ve ever been sick of even before it happened.”

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



Serendipity Strikes In Tampa …

The Tampa Bay Rays want a new stadium.  In their interpretation, it is mainly the fault of Tropicana Field that the Rays draw so poorly.  There are studies underway and surveys to see where a new stadium might be constructed some day; and of course, there are lots of political concerns and issues woven under around and through all of this.  As I have said before, I have never been to Tropicana Field although I have driven by it on my way to Steinbrenner Field to see the Yankees play in Spring Training.  On that basis, I am not qualified to say if it is the venue or its location that causes the Rays to reside at or near the bottom of MLB in terms of home attendance year after year.

Having said all that, the Rays’ management and the folks who support the idea of building a new playpen for the Rays got a bit of serendipitous news this week.  Sports Illustrated had an article ranking 28 MLB ballparks in terms of food safety.  Here are two explanatory paragraphs from the opening of the piece:

“Thousands of public inspection records gathered from local health departments in the United States and Canada reveal that food safety varies widely across Major League Baseball’s venues. Inspectors uncovered many concerning practices, from nearly 250 total violations at Dodger Stadium to a single concession stand at Tropicana Field that racked up 25 violations alone. They also found stadiums, like Safeco Field, in stellar condition.

“Sports Illustrated used data from 28 local health departments to compile a comprehensive ranking of ballpark food safety across the league based on the most recent inspection of the stadium. Public records requests to Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Detroit’s Comerica Park went unfulfilled by publication, leaving them off this list.”

Here is what the article had to say about the situation at Tropicana Field – the worst one on the list:

“With staggering 105 critical violations in 2017, Tropicana Field brings up the rear in our rankings. Two food entities (the catering kitchen and the stand outside Section 303) tallied over 20 violations each. Violations ranged from the observed presence of live insects to black mold accumulating inside an ice bin. An employee was observed handling hot dogs and cash without washing hands in between. An ESPN report from seven years ago found that every inspected stand at Tropicana had at least one critical violation. That number has dropped from 100% to about 50%, but the Tampa Bay stadium still leads the way in eye-popping food safety numbers.”

I cannot begin to believe that this report and its timing represents some sort of secret cabal between Sports Illustrated and the forces touting a new stadium for the Rays.  However, this is not the sort of report that would make fans in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area more likely to take in a game this season.  You can read the entire Sports Illustrated article here and find where your favorite ball park falls on the list.  [Spoiler Alert:  Safeco Field in Seattle came in at the top of the list.]

Even though the preceding material regarding food at Tropicana Field is not necessarily appetizing, let me take a moment and point out one of the specialty food items available there.  This concoction is only available at day games and it is called the Brunch Bloody Mary.  Here is the deal:

  1. Start with a 12-ounce Bloody Mary.
  2. Add skewers carrying chunks of sausage, bacon, chicken, egg, waffle and donuts.
  3. Get comfy in your seat as you nap your way through the 5th, 6th and 7th innings…

Staying in the world of MLB, whatever efforts have been made to increase pace of play this year have not worked.  The games take forever and they are providing a lot of “non-action”.  According to the stat mavens:

  • Home Runs happen at a rate of 1.25 per game per team.  There is little if any defensive involvement on a home run.
  • Strikeouts happen at a rate of 8.24 per game per team.  There is little if any defensive involvement on a strikeout – assuming the catcher is minimally competent.
  • Walks happen at a rate of 3.26 per game per team.  There is no defensive involvement on a walk.

These data show that fans can spend a lot of time sitting on their hands during games that take – on average – more than 3 hours to play.  The average game in 2017 takes 3 hours and 5 minutes which is up from 3 hours and 1-minute last year before MLB tried to increase pace of play and shorten games.  For reference, the average game 35 years ago in 1982 took 2 hours and 35 minutes.  There is no simple solution to the way baseball has evolved and it is not likely to return to the way it was played in 60s, 70s and 80s.  Baseball fans are simply going to have to become more involved in looking at various facets of the game between pitches for a simple reason:

  • The number of pitches in an average game is also on the increase.  This year in a 9-inning game, the average is 297 pitches which is an all-time high.
  • Moreover, the average time between pitches is 24.3 seconds.  That adds up to a lot of time when everyone on the field is just standing around scratching himself.

Finally, since I started out today talking about food at the ballpark, let me close with an unusual concoction that you can find if you venture out to Progressive Field in Cleveland to see the Indians play.  It is called the Killer Kilbane Dog – and no, I do not know how it got that name:

  • This is a hot dog that comes topped with peanut butter, relish and Sriracha sauce.
  • Pass the Rolaids, please…

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



Athletics And Academics …

UCLA QB, Josh Rosen, made news this week when he told an interviewer essentially that being a college football player and being a top-flight academic performer did not mix because it was like doing two full-time jobs.  He also stirred up some controversy by saying explicitly that there are some athletes in college who do not belong in college.  As you might imagine, this has provided fodder for the TV “sports debate programs” and for sports radio hosts.  As you can imagine, folks with various points of view on such issues have turned him into a lightning rod.  Let me try to examine what he said:

  1. Playing college football takes a lot of time; being an academically excellent student takes a lot of time.  Not everyone can make a commitment to do both because it is difficult to do both.  However, it can be done – – and it is done by lots of football and basketball players on campuses around the country all the time.  Josh Rosen overstated the problem here.
  2. While indeed there are plenty of college athletes who graduate from their university in four or five years, there are also plenty of college athletes who are only admitted to college because of their athletic abilities.  To deny that situation is Pollyannaish to the max.
  3. Academic counsellors for athletes have the primary objective of keeping the athletes eligible.  If the athlete does not “speak up”, there is more than a small likelihood that the athlete will be “guided” into a series of easy courses/majors that will keep him/her eligible and may or may not provide the athlete with a useful degree upon graduation – – if that ultimately occurs.

Some college majors are more compatible with college athletics than others.  I was a chemistry major in undergraduate school.  When I took organic chemistry, it was a two-semester course which had 3 hours of lecture, 1 hour of recitation and 6 hours of laboratory per week.  The lecture part and the lab part were separate courses in terms of the credit I received, but the total class time for those 2 courses worth of credit was 10 hours per week – – and that does not account for even a moment of study outside the class.

Most courses where I went to school met 3 hours per week.  So, if someone majored in political science – to pick a subject at random – he/she would rack up 2 course credits with 6 contact hours per week.  Four hours per week may not sound like much, but if you are trying to “do two full-time jobs at once”, it does make a difference.  I do not want this to sound as if I had to bear up under hardship in college; that was not the case at all.  I merely use myself as an example here to suggest that some courses and some majors will make the already difficult road to simultaneous excellence in academics and athletics even more challenging.

Josh Rosen is 20 years old; he will not turn 21 until after the college football season is over.  He made some valid observations and he exaggerated some of his statements.  I do not think hyperbole is a capital offense for someone 20 years old…  For the record, Josh Rosen in majoring in economics at UCLA.

In the latest installment of the “Colin Kaepernick Saga”, people are organizing a rally to be held outside NFL HQS in NYC for 23 August.  The announcement of the rally came in a Tweet from Spike Lee.  Surely, we will hear more about this and learn more about the focus of this rally in the next week or so, but there are several things that are not clear to me as of now:

  1. Is this rally to urge the NFL to put pressure on owners in order to get Colin Kaepernick a job as a QB for one of the teams?  I realize that Kaepernick’s situation is uncommon, but is a rally with that objective proper?  Should there have been similar rallies back when Tim Tebow wanted to be an NFL QB but could not get any team interested in him?  How about Joe Flabeetz?
  2. Is this rally to focus on Kaepernick’s support for issues of police brutality and various other social causes in the African-American community?   If so, why hold it outside NFL HQS?  Roger Goodell is hardly a beloved figure with many football fans, but I doubt that any rational folks would pin the blame on him for things like police brutality and high unemployment rates in the African-American community.
  3. Is this rally going to make it easier for Colin Kaepernick to get a job with an NFL team as the QB?  Call me a cynic, but I think this rally is a “Get Out Of Jail Free Card” for any owner/GM/coach who wants to avoid thinking about Colin Kaepernick as a member of the team.  Coaches talk about those “dreaded distractions” and any owner looking for an explanation as to why he has not talked to or signed Kaepernick can merely point to the video files of this rally and go off on a riff about “distractions”.

All that stuff will become clearer in the next couple of weeks but there is one thing that I know about this rally already.  Spike Lee is involved; he may or may not be one of the organizers, but he is obviously involved in some way.  Now IF the objective here is to get Colin Kaepernick a QB job somewhere, I am not sure that an NFL coach or GM is going to put a lot weight on Spike Lee’s recommendations/urgings.  After all, his advice and direction for the NY Knicks has not produced much of anything positive.

File this under “I Could Not Make This Up”; the Philadelphia Union of MLS have hired a Chief Tattoo Officer.  The team and a tattoo parlor in suburban Philadelphia called Bonedaddys have an agreement that names Bonedaddys as the “go-to place for Union players and staff in need of tattoo services.”  You might imagine that some PR guy conjured this up and signed up some deal just to get a press release out.  Well, if team press releases are to be believed, this was a serious effort.  According to the Philadelphia Union:

  • 150 tattoo parlors were initially considered for this “partnership”.
  • 13 parlors were “semi-finalists” and 5 parlors were “finalists”
  • The winner was determined by “site visits” to the 5 “finalists”.

For those who live near Philly, this partnership will kick off on 21 August at Bonedaddys.  To get the ball rolling, the Union’s VP for marketing along with one of the Union players and the founder of the team’s fan club will all be getting tattoos at that kick-off ceremony.  I will not be able to make it to this party; I have an appointment back on Earth… [ /Philip Roth]

Finally, since my head is still spinning over the idea of a team hiring a Chief Tattoo Officer, let me close with some musings by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“Idly wondering: Why did Superman need a real job? Need cash? Grab a lump of coal and squeeze it into a diamond. Want to get close to Lois Lane? Call her and say, ‘Superman here, let’s have lunch.’

“And if Superman needed a real job, why newspaper reporter? Should I fight interplanetary crime today, or cover the Metropolis school board meeting?

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



Drifting Around Today …

There has been a lot of “news” in this NBA offseason regarding free agent movements and supposed tensions within the Cavaliers’ organization and GMs getting fired and the like.  In the midst of all that “furor”, the fact remains that the NY Knicks remain a “fixer-upper franchise”.  They have a new GM because they are paying their former GM tens of millions of dollars to sit at home in Montana to not generally manage the team.  Now the new GM has made a move:

  • The NY Knicks signed Michael Beasley to a 1-year contract at the veteran minimum.
  • With that move, the Knicks have a full roster; they can only add a player if they drop a player.

Michael Beasley was a high school sensation and a monster at Kansas State in his only year there.  He was drafted by the Miami Heat in 2008 and he played well for his first two seasons there.  In 2010 – when Miami acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh – Beasley was the odd man out as the Heat traded him to the Timberwolves.  He stayed in Minnesota for 2 years before being traded to the Suns in 2012 where he was released in 2013 after an arrest involving marijuana possession.

Since his release by the Suns, he has played for the Miami Heat (again), the Shanghai Golden Sharks, the Houston Rockets and the Milwaukee Bucks.  The Knicks will be his 7th team in 9 seasons which ought not to bring paroxysms of joy to Knicks’ fans; that is not the career arc one would have expected or predicted for Michael Beasley after his tenure at Kansas State.

I said that the Knicks are a “fixer-upper franchise”.  If the Knicks were a house, they would need a new roof; new windows and a lot of interior remodeling.  Michael Beasley seems to me to be a new azalea bush planted in the front yard.

Speaking of player moves that would fall in the category of “less than monumental”, there is an AP report that the Texas Rangers sold relief pitcher, Ernesto Frieri to the Seattle Mariners for $1.  Yes, when I read the report, I thought for sure that was a typo just as you probably think it is a typo.  However, that figure appears in several reports about this transaction so I guess it is correct.  I would love to hear a transcript of the phone calls between the Rangers’ GM and the Mariners’ GM as they negotiated this deal.

  • Did the Rangers start out asking for $10?

As I grazed through the channels of my cable TV package yesterday, I ran across a Little League game between teams from Tennessee and Georgia as part of the tournament that selects the teams from various regions to make up the field for the Little League World Series Tournament in Williamsport, PA.  Indeed, ESPN continues to expand its coverage of Little League baseball in these summer doldrum days and you may be certain that they will provide blanket coverage of the games in Williamsport.

That means it is the time of year for me to remind everyone here that Little League athletes are even more exploited than college athletes.  Whether you believe that collegiate athletes in the revenue sports should be paid or not, the fact of the matter is that collegiate athletes are given something in exchange for their services – the possibility of coming out of college with a degree and without a huge college debt that needs to be paid off.  Little League players – for the most part – come away from their time in the Little League with memories and not much else.  So, someone other than the players and their families are taking down the rights fees paid by ESPN for these television rights.

For the record, I am not “anti-Little League”.  I played Little League baseball – not well, but I played.  I very much enjoyed my time in Little League; one of my teammates from those days was eventually one of my fellow travelers on those baseball odysseys I used to take every summer – prior to his death.  I am a proponent of Little League.  Notwithstanding all the above:

  • You cannot be a champion for “exploited athletes” without taking on the issue of exploitation of children between the ages of 9 and 12 in Little League Baseball.

With NFL training camps in full swing, I have read reports about two players signed as free agents in the offseason who have “weight incentive clauses” in the contracts they signed.  Eddie Lacy reportedly has a series of “weigh-ins” with the Seattle Seahawks that he must have with weight targets to allow him to collect portions of his bonus money.  According to this report at CBSSports.com back in May, Lacy earned his first $55K by weighing in at 253 lbs.

CBSSports.com also says that Falcons’ free agent signee, Dontari Poe, has a $500K weight clause in his contract.  Last year, Poe was listed at 346 lbs and sometimes you would think that weight was before breakfast in the morning.  This report says that the Falcons want him to “slim down” to 330 lbs in order for him to be “quicker off the line of scrimmage”.

Given those contractual clauses makes me wonder when we turned that corner.  In the past, if a player was “overweight”/”out of shape”, the coaching staff had two choices:

  1. They could keep the player around and tolerate his being out of shape.
  2. They could cut him and find someone else who was in shape to take his place.

Today we pay professional players tens of thousands of dollars – even hundreds of thousands of dollars – to be in shape to play the game that is their profession.  Somehow, this seems to confuse “change” with “progress” …

Finally, let me close with a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“Michael Phelps’ highly anticipated race with a shark was a red herring.

“The Discovery Channel’s event ended up being Phelps swimming against a computer generation of a swimming shark.

“Still, it was more realistic than the NBA All-Star Game.”

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



None Of Your Business…

The latest tempest in a spittoon in the sports world seems to be a manufactured controversy about Tom Brady refusing to say whether or not he suffered concussions last season that were either undetected by the NFL protocols or unreported by those who detected them if they existed in the first place.  His wife said about a month ago that he had indeed suffered concussions last season; Brady’s answer to inquiries about that “revelation” was simple and direct:

  • That’s none of your business.

Reporters are not used to being spoken to in that manner and TV pundits can fly into paroxysms of outrage merely at the thought that anyone could hold such a thought let alone express it.  And you know what…?

  1. Tom Brady is 100% right.  It is none of “the public’s” business.
  2. This is a personal medical matter and it is an interpersonal matter between Brady and his wife.

If this were Joe Flabeetz – a bus driver in Boston – and he was asked about his medical situation and/or some statement his wife had made to someone else a month ago, Joe Flabeetz would be completely correct to tell the questioner to go pound sand.  That would be none of the questioner’s business.

If the medical condition we were talking about in the Brady instance were something other than a concussion, the same is true.  Imagine the following interchange:

  • Reporter:  Tom, your wife said you played in several games last year with hemorrhoids and that was not on the injury list.  What’s your comment?
  • Brady:  That’s none of your business.

The NFL has established something it calls the concussion protocols as part of its homage to player safety.  Those protocols along with the NFL employees who are charged to maintain and enforce those protocols are the ones who should be questioned about this matter.  Just because Tom Brady is a five-time Super Bowl winning QB, he has absolutely no extra obligation to share his medical information with the public than you do or I do or Joe Flabeetz does.

Recently, someone was arrested for shoplifting and identified himself to the police as Lucky Whitehead – kick returner/WR for the Dallas Cowboys.  Whitehead was not the perpetrator nor was he the one who was arrested; nonetheless, when the team heard the news of the arrest, the Cowboys cut Whitehead and then refused to say why they did that once it became clear that Whitehead had done nothing wrong.

Whitehead was not one of the Cowboys’ star players; that is the fundamental reason he was cut when the team heard this news and why they did not fall all over themselves to “rectify the situation” once it became clear that they had reacted to what is now commonly referred to as “fake news”.  You may be certain that if something similar had happened to Dak Prescott, the Cowboys’ actions would have been very different.

Lucky Whitehead was signed quickly by the NY Jets; for the moment at least, he is on an NFL roster and has the opportunity to make a team and get paid for his time and effort.  Nevertheless, the “Lucky Whitehead saga” drew this commentary from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“After a Dallas Cowboys return man was arrested for alleged shoplifting, he was cut and picked up by the Jets. This may be the greatest deterrent to crime I’ve heard.”

In the 2015 NFL Draft, the Falcons took CB, Jalen Collins from LSU.  He started two games in 2015.  He began the 2016 season with a 4-game suspension for violation of the substance abuse policy; recognize here that to suffer that suspension, he had to run afoul of the policy at least three times.  From the fifth game forward, Collins was part of the defensive backfield rotation for the Falcons and wound up starting 6 games back there.  This year, Collins will start the season with a 10-game suspension for – – you guessed it – – violation of the substance abuse policy.

If I understand the CBA correctly, Collins has a sword of Damocles hanging over him at this point.  He can come back to the Falcons after 10 games this year – if they want him back – and his career can go forward.  However, the next time he fails a test for PEDs, he will be suspended for 2 years and would then have to apply for reinstatement to the NFL.  Collins is not a “Pro Bowl caliber” cornerback; in fact, he would probably not be a full-time starter for the Falcons this year even if he were available – absent an injury to one of the starting corners in training camp.  To my mind, that pretty much means that one more failed test would be the end of his career.

As a second-round pick back in 2015, he got a nice signing bonus (in the $2M range) but his “cap number” and his “dead money” impact on the Falcons’ finances are minimal at this point.  This young man is potentially watching his career circle the drain.  Here is a statement issued by Falcons GM, Thomas Dimitroff:

“We are extremely disappointed that for the second straight season we are dealing with a suspension for Jalen. Such are the consequences when certain choices are made. Our decisions going forward will be based on what [Coach] Dan [Quinn] and I feel is best for the team.”

Finally, here is another NFL-related observation from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Viagra and Cialis will not be advertising during televised NFL games this fall. No word on how the league will recoup the estimated $6 trillion in lost revenue.

“Viagra and Cialis are done with the NFL. Now we will never again see a kick returner running in the open field while an announcer goes, ‘We’ll be right back after this word about erectile dysfunction’.”

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



Dress For Success

Dress For Success is a non-profit organization here in the Washington DC area – and probably in many other areas as well – with the mission to help women achieve economic success and independence.  One way they try to help is to provide women with attire that is appropriate for women in the professional workplace.  I am not here to endorse this organization – even though I think they have a laudatory mission – nor am I here to disparage them.  I mention them only because the name of their organization, “Dress For Success”, has an interesting connection with a sports story today.  Here is the deal:

  • Dolphins’ QB Ryan Tannehill injured his knee in practice last week and it may require season ending surgery.
  • The Dolphins signed Jay Cutler out of retirement to a 1-year contract for $10M to be their QB for 207.
  • There were reports the Dolphins also considered Tim Tebow as an option for that job had they not been able to reach an agreement with Cutler.

So what does this have to do with “Dress For Success”?  Well, there is another QB out there looking for a team named Colin Kaepernick and given the way his job situation has evolved, the most likely avenue for him to get a job in the NFL is to have a team lose its starter in training camp so that …  Well, that just happened in Miami and he did not get an audition let alone a job.  “Dress For Success” may have had something to do with that.

Last year, a reporter for the Miami Herald was interviewing Kaepernick prior to a game between the Dolphins and the Niners.  The reporter – of Cuban heritage – asked Kaepernick why he wore a T-shirt with the images of Malcom X and Fidel Castro on it when he had a news conference to explain the basis of his National Anthem protest.  You can read the article here – and I suggest that you do so – because I believe it explains why Colin Kaepernick did not get an audition with the Miami Dolphins.

Miami has a large Latino community with linkages to Cuba – and the vast majority of those folks do not consider Fidel Castro to be a worthwhile human being.  In the interview with the Miami Herald reporter, Kaepernick demonstrated that he did not understand that situation nor did he realize that Fidel Castro is like a “third-rail” in Miami.  He may have learned about the intensity of those feelings over the weekend; if he still does not understand them, then he needs to place a telephone call to Ozzie Guillen who can explain it to him with first-hand knowledge.

Kaepernick still has a shot to sign on with the Ravens; there has been talk of front office consideration of that move in the wake of Joe Flacco missing a few days of practice early in training camp.  Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had a piercing comment on the Ravens and their deliberations last weekend:

“The hilarity continues in the Colin Kaepernick saga. Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti, speaking before a group of fans, said of the reports of team interest in Kaepernick, ‘Your opinions matter to us. … We’re very sensitive to it, and we’re monitoring it, and we’re trying to figure out what’s the right tack. So, pray for us.’

Pray for us? I’m no theologian, but if Ravens’ fans are devoting valuable prayer time to asking the Lord to guide this football team in its quest for a backup quarterback, your life and your world are in terrific shape.”

Can I get an “AMEN !!” here?

Speaking of QBs who may be looking for a job, there is a possibility that Skins’ QB, Kirk Cousins may be a free agent next year – after playing on two consecutive franchise tags.  People have speculated that he would be coveted by the Niners and the Bills because their current head coaches had been offensive coordinators in Washington when Cousins was there.  And, of course, anyone who follows the NFL even casually knows that the Browns are always looking for a QB and they will have a boatload of cap room to dangle in front of Cousins.

Just for giggles, I wonder if the dominoes might fall in a different way:

  • Ben Roethlisberger contemplated retirement in this off-season and decided to come back for the 2017 season.
  • Just suppose that was a real soul-searching on his part and that he seriously considered retirement to the point that after one more year of wear-and-tear on his body, Ben Roethlisberger decides to hang up the jockstrap at the end of this season.  I am not predicting this; I said, “Just suppose …”
  • Now, put yourself in free agent Kirk Cousins’ position.  The Niners and the Bills have coaches you know and like – – but their supporting casts, particularly their offensive lines, are less than stellar.  The Browns have a coach who is supposed to be “great with QBs” – – but when push comes to shove, these are still the Browns and that is not good.  And then, there are the Pittsburgh Steelers…
  • With the Steelers, he could throw to Antonio Brown who is at the very least one of the top 5 WRs in the NFL.  With the Steelers, he could hand the ball off to LeVeon Bell who is at the very least one of the top 5 RBs in the NFL.  He would have a competent OL in front of him and a team that normally puts a competent defensive unit together.
  • Cousins is going to make a ton of money wherever he signs a long-term deal and he has already made about $45M on the two franchise tags the Skins gave him.  So, why would the Steelers be a bad choice on his part – – given that Ben Roethlisberger actually decides to retire?

Finally, let me close with another observation from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“Fun fact: Scientists and statisticians say that on the opening day of NFL training camps every season, the total amount of weight lost by NFL players in the offseason exactly matches the total amount gained by other players.”

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