Environmental Shock

Since yesterday was the Summer Solstice, it is fitting to begin today with an item that relates to Fairbanks, Alaska and environmental shock. Fairbanks is just below the Arctic Circle meaning that the sun actually set there for a brief period of time yesterday but the sky never got really dark. Fairbanks can be warm in the summer but is desperately cold in the winter with more than a bit of snow. With that as a backdrop, consider the environmental shock about to happen to Mick Durham who spent the last three years as an assistant basketball coach at New Mexico State (Las Cruces, NM) virtually on the US/Mexican border and has taken the job as head basketball coach at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks.

There is a bit of mitigation for Mick Durham, however. Prior to taking the job at New Mexico State, he coached at Montana State in Bozeman, MT. Bozeman is not within striking distance of the Arctic Circle – - but it can get far below the level of “chilly” there in the winter.

Seventy years ago, baseball had a magical season. In 1941, Ted Williams hit .406 for the season; no one has done that since. In the same year, Joe DiMaggio had his 56-game hitting streak; no one has done that since. When you read about the long-term guaranteed contracts that top players of today – - and even a few second-tier players – - get, can you imagine what either or both of those players might be worth in free agency this winter?

What brought that to mind was a conversation yesterday with a devoted baseball fan and student of baseball history. I will not pretend to know half of what he knows about the history of baseball. He told me – - and I have not lifted even a finger to confirm or refute this assertion – - that over the same period of games where DiMaggio hit safely in 56 games, Williams actually had a higher batting average than DiMaggio did. According to my guru, DiMaggio hit .406 over that span of 56 games and Williams hit .414.

Yesterday, I wrote about the sorry state of the Dodgers’ franchise. Whether or not you are a fan of the Dodgers, they are one of the flagship franchises of MLB. The Dodgers broke the color barrier; the Dodgers led MLB to a national footprint; the Dodgers typified stability and profitability and fan interest. When the Dodgers do not draw 3 million fans this year, it will the first time in a while their attendance has dipped below that lofty level. This sorry state of affairs happened on watch of Frank and Jamie McCourt as the team owners and it may be appropriate to review the bidding here and then ask what these folks might do next in life.

In summary, the McCourts bought the Dodgers using “OPM” – - Other People’s Money. Their initial stake was about $10M of their own money. They used property in the Boston area – - parking lots – - as collateral for a large loan to close the deal and then then defaulted on the mortgage on those collateral properties. They raised ticket, concession and parking prices and the fans still came allowing them to pull somewhere around $100 – 130M out of the team over the last 5 years for their personal expenses. I believe that Commissioner Selig has characterized their behavior as living a “lavish lifestyle”.

The divorce action brought by Frank McCourt alleges that his wife was doing the horizontal rumba with her chauffer/bodyguard. Jamie McCourt claimed in the divorce action that she would need something in the neighborhood of $500K per month to maintain her lifestyle and pay her lawyers as the divorce action made its way through the courts. The two of them spent so much money – - on mansions, jet planes, vacations and lawyers – - that the team needed to get a short-term loan from FOX to avoid a default earlier this season. To hear Frank McCourt tell it, Bud Selig is throwing him out of the “Ownership Society”. If that is accurate – - and I am not convinced it is completely accurate or without justification – - that would be akin to the Chairman of the Board of a Fortune 500 company kicking his shareholders out of an annual meeting. The Commish works for the owners the way the chairman of a corporate board works for and is elected by the shareholders.

With that merely as the Cliffs Notes version of how things got where they are, what might the future hold for the McCourts in terms of “occupations”? Here are some options:

    Televangelist: They are sufficiently smarmy for that.

    CNN Program Host: Just listen to the incumbents holding that job and you get the impression that the sole criterion for hiring there is the ability to fog a mirror.

    US Congressperson: I think this is the way they should go. Looking at how they got to where they are, it looks as if they have been apprenticing for political campaigns.

The NFL owners met as a whole in the Chicago area yesterday to discuss the state of the labor negotiations. At the conclusion of that session, Commissioner Roger Goodell held a press conference and basically said that all of the owners were briefed on where things stand with regard to a new CBA and that there was an open discussion of issues. I take that to mean – - and have exactly no “sources close to the situation” to back this up – - that there remains a gulf between factions within the ownership cadre as well as a gulf between the league and the players.

I suspect that we have passed the point where a written CBA signed by all the relevant parties and ratified by both sides in this dispute can be had before training camp would normally open. In fact, I am not sure that if the sides reached a handshake agreement to get back to work tomorrow and all of them dropped all of their legal actions against one another by noon tomorrow that they could have a finalized and ratified CBA by the time the regular season is supposed to start the week after Labor Day. If there is to be a full season this year, both sides are going to have to trust one another enough to get things started based on a verbal commitment and the outline of an agreement with details to be filled in later.

Greg Cote had this comment in the Miami Herald last weekend:

“This marks Day 100 of the NFL lockout, and on this anniversary I would like to congratulate both club owners and players for their mind-numbing intractability. I found the perfect Hallmark card for this special occasion. The verse reads:

    “ ‘Baseball is lacking the excitement we need,
    But even dull ballgames beat football’s damned greed.’ “

Finally, Dwight Perry had this Fathers’ Day note in his Sideline Chatter column last weekend in the Seattle Times:

“Hear about the guy who got 14 ties for Father’s Day?

“His kids bought him MLS season tickets.”

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

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  • Ed  On June 22, 2011 at 1:21 am

    Ah, if your friend had really wanted to stump you he’d have asked you where Di Maggio finished in the batting race that year. Many would say he won, most others would recall Williams and say second. He was actually third – Senators shortstop Cecil Travis was second, also leading in hits. A forgotten player, at 27 he had 7 years of .317 or better. Never got his game back after WWII after being frostbitten at the Battle of the Bulge. A year and a half after the war, he hit .241 and retired a little after he turned 34.

  • The Sports Curmudgeon  On June 23, 2011 at 9:26 am


    I must admit that until the moment I read your note, I do not recall ever hearing of Cecil Travis. Thanks.

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