4/5/06 – Golf, Soccer and Horseracing Today…

Back in the days when Hootie Johnson and Martha Burke were “at odds” over The Masters and the lack of women members at Augusta National, I suggested to a friend that Martha Burke should expend here energies more wisely and seek to set up a major women’s tournament opposite The Masters. It would likely die an agonizing death, but at least it would be a positive action in lieu of the moaning and complaining that Martha Burke’s protest contained to the exclusion of almost everything else. My friend said in a completely matter of fact tone that if Martha Burke did that, he would dare her to name that new tournament “The Mistresses”. It was at that moment that I understood why my idea was another one of my bad ideas.

Every once in a while, I get a note from someone who asks why I don’t particularly like golf and why I don’t see the beauty of the game and the tension felt by the players. I always respond to such commentary by saying that I am a terrible golfer; I only came within sniffing distance of breaking 100 one time in my life; and so, I recognize that there is a skill level attached to golf that takes a lot of work to master. However, there is no defense in the game. Every error that you see on a golf course is “an unforced error” in tennis parlance. No professional golfer makes a mistake on a shot because his opponent beat whatever block his caddie threw on the edge such that the opponent “came free” and threatened to block the golf shot. I’m sure that the psychologists who read these rants will contact me to say that my feelings here represent an atavistic tendency on my part; I admit that I long for a primitive and simple competition where defense is a primary part of any real sporting event. So be it. What one sees on any golf telecast of every tournament in the world is a total lack of “forced errors” and an addiction to a rationalization for all the botched golf shots that became “unforced errors”.

In case you haven’t kept up on news in the world of soccer, Diego Maradona is in the hospital; the latest report was that his condition was “improving”. I put that in quotes because his immediate problem is “acute hepatitis” which is far less than a trivial problem. Once again, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald summarized the whole situation in a brief comment to fill you in on the whole back-story here:

“Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona, grossly overweight again, is being treated for alcoholism, excessive eating and excessive smoking. Otherwise, he’s said to be in good health.”

Bay Meadows is the premier horseracing facility in Northern California. When it concludes its fall meet this year, it will close. I wrote about this about a year ago because Bay Meadows was one example of the serious decline of horseracing as a sport in the US. The reason it will close now – and not several years from now – is governmental oversight. Actually, it’s shortsightedness masquerading as oversight, but that’s hardly news. Let me explain.

The track was sold to the Bay Meadows Land Company in 2005 for the stated purpose of closing the track sometime around 2010 – 2012 and to demolish all the structures there to develop the land. The tract is 83 acres and developers see more than 1000 residences and millions of square feet of commercial real estate fitting into the site. Meanwhile, the racetrack was going to continue to operate – and by the way employ a few folks – for the next three to five years. Meanwhile, the California Horse Racing Board passed a rule saying that all tracks in the state had to install synthetic surface tracks by 2007. That’s probably a good rule for every track that would plan to continue to operate for more than a couple of years after 2007, but it makes no sense for Bay Meadows, which is going to close. Oh, Bay Meadows opened for business in the mid-1930s, so they didn’t really have an option to put in a synthetic surface in the first place; they race on a natural surface called “dirt”.

Naturally, the track asked for a waiver of the rule for two years. There weren’t any shenanigans here; the track operators told the Racing Board that it was too expensive for them to put in a synthetic surface and probably only use it for the 2008 and 2009 racing seasons. The Racing Board denied the waiver. So Bay Meadows will not have any racing past this year; they won’t even ask for racing dates to keep open the possibility.

The ominous part of this for the racing industry is not the shortsightedness of the overseers; the folks in the racing industry have dealt with that for decades. The ominous part is the huge value that exists in the development of the land on which a racetrack sits. When the Bay Meadows Land Company reaps a huge profit from this deal, other developers and politicians elsewhere will begin to look at racetrack facilities as things that could generate a tsunami of cash – - if only those pesky racing folks weren’t standing in the way. And did I mention that the Bay Meadows Land Company already owns Hollywood Park, which sits on a piece of real estate proximal to Los Angeles International Airport? This is not good news for the horseracing racing industry.

Ray Ratto writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and for cbs.sportsline.com. Like me, he is tired of players and coaches using their families as PR props to justify a decision by a coach to take a new job somewhere – or in the case of Dana Altman to take a job at Arkansas and then change his mind to go back to Creighton 24 hours later. I don’t care where Dana Altman coaches next year; I don’t care if Dana Altman coaches anywhere next year; I don’t care why he thought moving from Omaha to Fayetteville was a good idea in the first place. Most of all, I don’t want to hear that he changed his mind because of his family. And Ray Ratto doesn’t want to hear any more of that nonsense either. His column today is definitely worth reading.

Finally, Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune puts into perspective the White Sox thinking regarding Jermaine Dye:

“Ozzie Guillen on Jermaine Dye’s upcoming free agency: ‘If he has another year like that, he has a chance to make pretty good cake. I wish we could have him back, but whoever signs him is going to have a good ballplayer.’ So, let me get this right: If Dye is an MVP candidate, he’s gone, but if he’s awful, the Sox could afford him next year. Fun. Get that season-ticket money in.”

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

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