A “Freeway World Series”?

A couple of days ago, I was talking about the mid-season status of baseball and that provoked an inquiry from a long-term reader of these rants who lives in California and is a huge Dodgers’ fan. He wondered what I thought about the likelihood of a “Freeway World Series” between the Dodgers and the Angels. I told him that at this point of the season that was no more or less likely than a “Freeway World Series” in Northern California between the A’s and the Giants – assuming that there is a freeway of some sort that connects/runs between the two cities. I am sure he was not pleased with my assessment…

I am absolutely confident that there will not be a “Red Line World Series”. For those who have never been to Chicago, the Red Line is the el line that has convenient stops for both US Cellular Field and Wrigley Field. There will be no need for Chicago fans to use that rail line to go to either stadium come October let alone both of them. Consider:

    At the All-Star Break, the White Sox were in a dead-heat for last place in the AL Central. Technically, they were .001 better than the Twins, which is hardly an accolade for the team. The Sox were 10.5 games out of first place in the division.

    At the All-Star Break, the Cubs were comfortably ensconced in last place in the NL Central. They were 12.5 games out of first place in the division and they were 8.5 games behind the fourth place Pirates at that point.

    The Cubs had two players hitting over .292. Brian Schlitter is a pitcher who is 1 for 1 this year. The other player is Arismendy Alcantara who has been to the plate 23 times and collected 9 base hits giving him a batting average of .391.

    The Cubs – not surprisingly – rank 27th in MLB in runs scored and 29th in team batting average (.237).

    The White Sox are hitting better as a team (.250) but it would only put the Sox 4 games ahead of the Cubs if they were in the same division.

    Only two teams have struck out more times than the White Sox. I mentioned in a previous rant that Tyler Flowers had struck out 102 times in 257 at-bats. Well, the Sox also have Adam Dunn in the lineup and he has whiffed 100 times in 263 at-bats.

The Obama Administration started a “Race to the Top” education initiative. The Cubs and the White Sox appear to be in a race to the bottom…

Speaking of racing, – sort of – I noticed that Morgan Shepard was involved in an accident in a recent NASCAR race that took out the driver who was running second late in the race. Normally, that kind of news goes in one eyeball and out the other but what caught my attention was that Shepard was 16 laps down at the time of the collision and he drew the ire of the driver he took out of the race. That is when I learned that Shepard is 72 years old. That was sufficiently surprising that I actually went to Wikipedia to look up his birthday and then did the math; he really is 72 years old and he was out there driving a racecar at more than 160 mph. What could possibly go wrong…?

Moreover, I think the fact that a 72-year old man is able to compete in the same race with men in their 20s and 30s stacks a lot of weight on the side of the argument that says NASCAR drivers are not athletes. Jack Nicklaus is 74 years old; he is arguably the best golfer ever; golf is not the most athletically demanding sport. Nevertheless, Jack Nicklaus cannot – and would not try to – compete against PGA players in their 20s and 30s.

Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times recently:

“What’s a guy to do when his ‘wife’ won’t get off his back?

“Ville Parviainen, with teammate Janette Oksman aboard, covered a grueling 278-yard obstacle course in 1 minute 3.75 seconds last Saturday to capture the 19th Wife Carrying World Championships in Sonkajarvi, Finland, unseating the five-time defending champions, Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapalainen.”

Wife carrying is a sport that does not take itself too seriously. Here is a link to the sport website where you can learn to become a “Master in Wife Carrying”. You can learn a lot reading some of the entries there. For instance:

    The minimum weight for a wife is 49 kilos (about 108 lbs) and if she weighs less than that, she will carry extra weight just as in horseracing.

    Regarding the attitude of participants, here is what the website says:

    “The wife carrying is composed of humour and hard sport on a fifty-fifty basis.”

    Here is what the race is all about:

    “The traditional track for the wife carrying consists of sand, forested terrain, a water obstacle and two log hurdles. If your style is “the wife dangling upside down”, you have better to remember that in the water pool the wife’s head is likely to go under the water.”

    Here are training tips:

    “It is possible to train for the wife carrying competition everywhere in the middle of the daily routines: in the bath, in the super market, in the playground or in the body building centre. The wife carrying is good for your relationship.”

Notwithstanding that final assertion, I do not think I shall suggest this to my long-suffering wife…

Finally, here is another gem from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“From the Sometimes These Items Just Write Themselves file comes word that among those gored (in the thigh) this year was Bill Hillman — co-author of ‘How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona.’ “

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

Misuse of Technology

Yesterday, I mentioned the automated/robotic beer-dispensing machine that will debut at Target Field in Minnesota and I wondered why it represented an improvement over the current human condition. I got an e-mail from a former colleague on that subject; here is the salient portion of his communique:

[Beer dispensers] are a bad idea but baseball has done worse with innovation. At least I can avoid the beer dispenser; I can’t avoid their ridiculous use of “replay”. Forget about stupid beer dispensers and rant about how bad instant replay is.”

My former colleague makes a good point. Should beer-dispensing machines proliferate among baseball venues, I can look at them and proceed on to my seat to enjoy the game. The situation is very much like the jillions of slot machines that exist in Las Vegas casinos; I notice that they are there and may even stop for a few moments to watch some of the blinking lights, but they do not interfere with my progress to the sportsbook.

Instant replay – and the folks who adjudicate replays surely have a different yardstick for what is “instant” than I do – interferes with the game. The NFL approved “limited use” of instant replay to assist officials in 1986. It seemed like a great idea at the time. It has not turned out to be such a great idea.

    [Aside: The NFL adopted one other “innovation” in 1986 that sounded like a good idea at the time. The NFL played its first game at Wembley Stadium in 1986.]

The problem with replay is that all of the logical and rational arguments for its use are negated by practice. Let me take those logical and rational arguments and examine them in light of actuality:

    We have to get the call right. No one in his right mind would argue that we need to get the call wrong; nonetheless, sometimes officials get it wrong. The problem is that if there is a definitive “right call”, then why is there so much dispute/confusion after a replay review? The fact is, replay does not get all the calls right.

    Change only comes with “conclusive video evidence”. Really? How many times have you looked at replay in super slo-mo and from 4 different angles and come up with an answer that is different from the one that comes from the replay folks? “Conclusive” must also mean something else to these folks.

    Replay will confirm – or correct – calls on plays that decide games or championships. I completely agree that replay should confirm a play such as Santonio Holmes’ TD catch in the Super Bowl with about 30 seconds to play. Everything rode on getting that right. However, replay is also used for trivial matters – such as a tag play at second base in the second inning of a game.

    Replay will eliminate arguments between the manager and the umpires. Surely, you jest…

Moreover, I do not even wish to discuss the lunacy in basketball of officials deciding how many tenths of seconds need to be on the clock in the final minute of a game. The fact that they always adjust the clock means – conclusively – that the timekeeper is never correct in his manipulation of the buttons that control the clock. Therefore, that never-correct-timekeeper has accumulated a ton of errors over the course of the game, which renders the judgments on tenths of seconds in the final minute nothing but stupid.

Baseball has a problem with “pace of play” even before you add replay to the equation. In a couple of weeks the Yankees will play the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball. The game will start at 8:00PM EDT; even if there are no “replay interventions”, the game will likely take at least 3 hours and 30 minutes. That is too slow – and the sad thing is that every time those two teams play each other the games go on like that. Baseball needs to “pick up the pace’ and replay surely does not work in that direction.

Instant replay is a great idea in theory. To date, it has not been implemented in practice in any sport where it continues to look like a good idea. Maybe the “goodness of instant replay” is a mirage; maybe it really is a bad idea. Before I give up on it entirely, I would like to see a sport – preferably MLB – implement a system that is truly instant (never more than 30 seconds of arbitration) and conclusive. If no one can – or will – come up with such improvements, then I might be forced to admit that replay is nothing more than a chimera.

Are you aware that the Tour de France bicycle race is ongoing? Do you even care? I think it would be a good idea to consider merging two annual events to create something more interesting.

    How about turning the Pamplona bulls loose on the cyclists at some random point in the race. They could weave in and out of the fans who line the streets as everyone tries to escape the bulls. That might actually be worth watching…

Are you aware that the WNBA season is in medias res? The three best teams have a combined record of 47 – 14. You might say that the 12-team league is a tad “unbalanced”.

Another basketball league is underway – the Las Vegas Summer League. The NBA will have 24 teams participating this year which means to me that the NBA condones if no supports professional basketball in Las Vegas. However, when anyone suggested moving a franchise to Las Vegas – with all the evil gambling that goes on there – David Stern would go into a spasm. The Summer League mainly involves rookies and developmental players. There are no “grizzled vets” out there in the summer league. So, let me get this right:

    It is OK to expose young “impressionable” players to the evil environment of Las Vegas without the presence of “veteran leadership”, but it is not OK to put a real NBA team in the same environment. Hello, NBA; this is the Earth calling…

Finally, regarding yet another obscure sport, here is a comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“Did you see the new rule for the next America’s Cup? Seriously. The defending champion U.S. team will be allowed a backup boat, but the challenger teams will not. That’s like a World Series where only one team is allowed to have a bullpen.”

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

Catching Up On Baseball

With the All-Star Game out of the way, it behooves me to make a few observations regarding the progress of the baseball season to date. However, before turning to the sport, there are reports of a new technological innovation for baseball that will make its debut at Target Field – site of the All-Star Game – very soon. In Target Field, there will be self-serve beer machines. Here is how it works:

    You acquire a card to operate the machine and put money on the card; basically, it is a debit card that only works in one place.

    Then you go to the machine and dispense beer at so many cents per ounce and the amount is deducted from your card.

Over the course of the industrial revolution, workers have lost jobs to mechanization and now to robots. The mechanical loom killed a ton of jobs for weavers more than a hundred years ago; mechanical mail sorting devices today put lots of US Postal Workers out of jobs. This is more than a trend; it is an inexorable movement. Having said that, how many economists and labor analysts foresaw the robot beer dispenser as a job killer for beer vendors at baseball games? I certainly did not.

    Oh, by the way, why is it “better” in any sense to make a couple of trips to the beer machine instead of staying in your seat and having someone deliver the beer directly to you? I have to admit, I just do not get this “technological advance”.

With regard to baseball itself, the A’s sport the best record in MLB but it looks as if Billy Beane may be jumping off the moneyball bandwagon. His trades in early July have the look of “win it now” since he acquired expensive veterans and gave up prospects. I cannot say that I blame him for doing that since the A’s have been a good regular season team for a while now but not good enough to do much of anything in the post-season.

The AL East standings look strange at the moment. The Orioles and Blue Jays lead the division; the Yankees are dead even playing .500 baseball; meanwhile, the Rays and the Red Sox are way back and neither team even has a .500 record at home.

The Yankees are 47-47 right now. That record includes 16 game decisions for Masahiro Tanaka where he is 12-4; taking him out of the picture, the Yankees are 35 – 43. Tanaka has a “partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament” according to MRI tests and will take an injection of “plasma-rich plasma” (Is there any other kind?) and begin a rehab program to see if he can avoid Tommy John surgery. Yankee fans have to hope the treatment works as planned and that Tanaka can return sometime in September. If not, Yankee fans may have to learn – reluctantly – how to say “Tommy John” in Japanese.

The injury to Tanaka combined with the injury to CC Sabathia leaves the Yankees’ rotation in a mess. Moreover, the contract situations for those two players demonstrate why I rarely think it is a good idea to give big-money-long-term contracts to pitchers. Consider:

    If – I said IF – Tanaka needs Tommy John surgery, he will not pitch for the Yankees again until 2016. The Yankees paid $20M just for the rights to negotiate with Tanaka and then signed him for 7 years and $155M.

    Sabathia signed a contract extension in 2011 that pays him $23M this year and again in 2015 and then $25M in 2016. There is a vesting option for $25M in 2017 and interestingly all of the conditions for the contract to vest involve him not having a left-shoulder injury. His injury now is to his knee not his shoulder. The least the Yankees owe him is $71M; the most would be $96M.

The worst record in baseball belongs to the Texas Rangers. They are 21 games out in the AL West and are a game-and-a-half behind the Houston Astros. If that situation continues to obtain to the end of the season, there will be a gigantic organizational ass-kicking event within the Rangers come October.

The NL Central race looks as if it could be the best one in baseball. Only the Cubs are out of race for the division title. The other four teams are bunched together; the fourth place Pirates are only 3.5 games behind the division leading Brewers. If these teams stay close to one another, that could set up some critical games in September when the schedule focuses on intra-division matches.

The Dodgers and Giants dominate the NL West. Interestingly, both teams are playing better on the road than they are at home so far this year.

The Red Sox signed Stephen Drew in May for $10M to play the rest of this year and then to test the free agent market again this winter. In 101 plate appearances, Drew has this slash-line:


I am sure there is a parallel universe somewhere in which that slash-line is worth $10M…

Speaking of individual player stats, consider White Sox catcher, Tyler Flowers. He has 257 at-bats this year and he has struck out 102 times. If, instead, he had 102 hits in those at-bats, he would be hitting .397. For his career, Flowers has struck out 303 times in 786 at-bats so this year’s level of futility at the plate is only slightly greater than normal for him.

Finally, in keeping with today’s baseball focus, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“The Marlins tied a record with a 13th consecutive interleague win, a reminder that only Guinness keeps track of more obscure records than baseball does.”

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

Recommended Reading

I am not a golfer nor do I particularly love watching golf on TV. Nevertheless, I have just finished reading Dan Jenkins’ novel, Slim and None. I commend it to your reading with one reservation:

    If you are offended by blatantly politically incorrect dialog between fictional characters with regard to just about every bastion of political correctness, you might want to steer clear of this book.

The story is about a 44-year old pro golfer, Bobby Joe Grooves, who has never won a major and who realizes that time is running out for him to do so. He says that he has two chances to win one this year, slim and none. The four sections of the book concern his time prepping for and playing in The Masters, the US Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Tournament. As with all of Dan Jenkins’ novels, there are plenty of laughs and more than a few guffaws on the pages.

Jenkins is a master at coming up with oddball names for his minor characters in his books. In this one you will meet – very briefly –

    Paregoric Sims
    Blubber Doss
    Hubbard Gilliam and
    Snot Fishy Poot Stain (a talented rapper).

You can easily finish this book in a weekend because once you get into it, you will want to find out what outrageous situation comes next.


Mishmash Time…

There seem to be a bunch of little things on my clipboard today and so it is time to throw some of them together and see what sort of mishmash comes out.

Whenever a player scored a goal in the World Cup – or in just about any pro soccer contest – he/she is generally exultant and then mobbed by teammates in celebration. It is part of the game; it is as if every goal is a walk-off home run. However, an MLS player seems to have soiled that image. It is more than OK; it is well and proper for a player to celebrate with his/her teammates after a goal. Most of the time, others on the pitch had something to do with the outcome. However, a week ago a KC player, Dom Dwyer, scored against Chicago and then proceeded to:

    Whip out a cell phone and snap a selfie with some of the fans.

I think that took soccer’s goal celebrations to a place they need not have gone. In fact, it is simply the final straw with regard to something that has been annoying me for the last 6 months.

    I hereby call for Federal Legislation making it a crime punishable by banishment from the Internet for 5 years for anyone who takes a selfie anywhere at any time.

    Should I start one of those idiotic White House online petitions? Anyone want to sign on…?

Staying in the realm of soccer for another moment, it appears that Manchester United will have a new sponsor logo on its jerseys next year. About ten years ago, Man U wore AIG on their jerseys until of course, AIG sent its shareholders to the poorhouse back in the 2008 financial debacle. Since AIG left the scene, Man U has sported AON on their jerseys. AON is a multinational “risk management company” which means to me that it is like AIG but it did not come to the brink of going paws up back in 2008.

Now, Man U will go in a different direction with its new sponsor – or maybe it is completing the circle. Next year, they will wear the Chevy logo on their jerseys. Chevy is hardly in the insurance/risk management business, but like AIG, they were on the brink of folding their tent and going off silently into the night in 2008. From the point of view of someone on the “business side” of Man U, the only really important thing is that the check from Chevy for the sponsorship does not bounce.

Joey Chestnut won the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest again. This time he scarfed down 61 dogs – and buns – in the allotted time. Chestnut also holds a bunch of other Competitive Eating World Records to include:

    15 pints of vanilla ice cream in 6 minutes. [Holy brain freeze, Batman…]

    70 bratwursts in 10 minutes

    121 Twinkies in 6 minutes

    141 hardboiled eggs in 8 minutes.

      [Aside: Remember how outrageous it was in the movie Cool Hand Luke when Luke said he could eat 50 hardboiled eggs in 1 hour?]

Anyhow, I mention all of this because I read somewhere that ESPN has signed on with the good folks who run the “sport” of Competitive Eating for another several years. I know that ESPN does not jam this down our throats – hey, I had to use that metaphor here – but there seems to be a larger issue. At what point will competitive eating become so disgustingly routine and repetitive that it becomes objectionable?

Seriously, do you care to watch someone try to eat 8 lbs of lard in 6 minutes? For those who do not care to watch that, are you interested to know that someone actually did that or could you consider your life complete without that knowledge? It surely seems to me that competitive eating has lost the novelty/shock factor it had 10-15 years ago. Without those factors, what else is there to watch? It is not as if there is strategy involved or any form of defense permitted in the contest.

Since I do not want to come across totally as a Debbie Downer on this topic, I think the Competitive Eating Mavens should be prepared to morph their event on a rapid basis should whatever popularity is has seem to wane. My suggestion is to create Competitive Digestion. Competitive Eating is the first half; Competitive Crapping would be the second half.

Why wait for the Competitive Eating Mavens to take over that realm. Get me ESPN on the phone…

Gregg Drinnan was the Sports Editor for the Kamloops Daily News until the paper closed up shop early this year. He used to write a notes column, Keeping Score, which ran on Saturdays – except when it didn’t. That was his description, not mine. He has kept that column alive in blog form here. In his 5 July posting, I found this item:

“[Lebron] James, it seems, is intent on spending his playing days chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan. What James, who has two NBA championship rings, seems to forget is that Jordan won six rings in eight years and did it all with one team, the Chicago Bulls.”

I think there is more to it than that. Michael Jordan and the Bulls went to the NBA Finals 6 times. The Bulls won all 6 of those series AND Michael Jordan was the MVP of the finals all 6 times. The simple fact is that James cannot meet let alone exceed that standard. James and his teams (Cavs and Heat) have been to the Finals 5 times. The Cavs/Heat have only won 2 of those 5 series. It would seem to me that the only way to exceed 6-for-6 would be to go 7-for-7. That is mathematically impossible…

Finally, insight from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“Johnny Manziel might be second string in Cleveland, but he’s a starter in Las Vegas, baby. Just before reporting to the Browns, Johnny Football was seen spraying Champagne on Vegas nightclub patrons. How many rookies are willing to put in the time practicing Super Bowl celebrations?”

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

Germany Wins It All…

It is Bastille Day in France; there are celebrations there. It is “World Cup Monday” in Germany; there are celebrations there. Probably the only people celebrating in Argentina today are former Nazi SS officers who fled there after World War II to avoid prosecution for war crimes. Evita told Argentina not to cry for her; perhaps the National Team needs to say the same thing.

Because I have been on the road for the last month or so, I did not get to watch nearly as much of the World Cup as I would normally watch. Therefore, I do not feel comfortable commenting on the entire tournament. However, I did watch the “consolation game” and the final game in their entirety. I make these six observations:

    1. The better team won both of those games.

    2. Brazil’s defense was no more than a rumor.

    3. Argentina’s defense was really good – particularly in the first half when the Germans managed only one dangerous shot on goal.

    4. Lionel Messi is fun to watch.

    5. The German team plays with precision and keeps the pressure on for the whole game.

    6. The German goalie looks as if he should be playing NBA basketball.

Prior to the Netherlands/Brazil consolation game, I wondered if the Brazilians would arrive at the game primed to show that their 7-1 defeat at the hands of Germany was a “fluke” and if they would play with passion and energy. Alternatively, they might be dispirited and just “mail it in”. I did not know which Brazilian team would show up. Clearly, it was the one mailed it in. Brazil came out flatter than Twiggy. [People under 40 need to Google that one…]

Ian Darke and Steve McManaman did a great job calling the final game. Even when the winning goal was scored in overtime play, they were enthusiastic but not crazed. I mention that because in 2018, the World Cup will be on FOX and the execs there have decided to train Gus Johnson for the #1 play-by-play job. Make no mistake; Johnson can get his voice up an octave when he is calling the action of a blinking yellow traffic light. I already know I will miss Darke and McManaman in 2018…

The NBA made news over the weekend when LeBron James chose to leave Miami and “return home” to Cleveland. Two things came to mind immediately when I heard that news:

    1. What percentage of the asshats who burned their LeBron James jerseys and memorabilia four years ago when he left town are going to go and buy new ones now? My guesstimate is 90%.

    2. Given the fickle nature of sports fans in Miami, how many of those bright orange seats are there likely to be on display without customers on the few occasions when the Heat are nationally televised next year?

Certainly one of the most thankless jobs in sports right now is the guy in the Miami Heat’s PR department who has to put together an advertising/promotional campaign to get fans there to buy season tix to the heat games. At the moment, the Heat have Chris Bosh, Norris Cole and Justin Hamilton under contract. That looks like the foundation of a 30-win team; in Miami that translates to 25% empty seats…

Carmelo Anthony decided to stay with the Knicks. Surprise, he chose to go to the team that could offer him the most money. What that does is to underscore the silliness of the coverage provided to Anthony and his “opting out” over the last 12-18 months. He picked the big payday; there is no news there. That whole “story” turned out to be nothing more than a tempest in a spittoon.

Regarding the Brooklyn Nets, Dan Daly formerly with the Washington Times had this item on Facebook last week:

“‎Nets‬ will pay a $90.6M luxury tax for last season. That = the current budget for the ‪‎Omaha‬‬‬‬‬‬ Fire Dept. And the Omaha FD has a better team.”

The Nets also had some internal drama of their own over the last month. Jason Kidd – he of the coaching résumé that spans one entire season – demanded front office level control over the team such that he would pick and choose the players on the team. The Nets do have a GM and in this case, they backed their GM. Kidd took a hike and the Nets got two second round picks from the Bucks so that the Bucks could hire him in Milwaukee. The Bucks’ incumbent coach was Larry Drew; he is now out of a job but in possession of a tidy buyout payment.

Maybe I am missing someone, but I think that Greg Popovich and Doc Rivers were the only NBA coaches with “front office authority”. If the list is now Popovich, Rivers and Kidd, there is certainly one coach on that list who might be considered an “upstart”.

Oh, by the way, check out the Bucks’ roster to see what it contains – beyond a core of players that posted the worst record in the NBA last year.

Finally, prior to the World Cup Tournament, syndicated columnist Norman Chad had these observations regarding the World Cup and soccer in general:

“Group G this year is the so-called ‘Group of Death’ with the United States drawing Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Incidentally, there is a culinary ‘Group of Death’ within our borders – in a one-mile stretch of Lenwood Calif, off Interstate 15 there is an Arby’s Subway, Chili’s, BajaFresh, Denny’s, IHOP, Del Taco, Carl’s Jr., Godfather Pizza, El Pollo Loco, Panda Express and Jack in the Box.”


“All MLS games are broadcast somewhere though many are not viewed anywhere.”


“Russia is hosting the next World Cup. Of course, by 2018 the Russian empire could extend west to Poland and east to Alaska, so host cities are up in the air. Warsaw and Anchorage should be on high alert!”

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

Back Home Again…

Greetings from home in suburban Washington DC. The month-long road-trip vacation is over; there will be a trip report when I get around to writing it.

The final stop on our trip was an overnite in Chicago – built into the trip to assure that we could make a train connection in Chicago because the run from Portland to Chicago is notoriously late. Indeed, we would have missed our connection without the overnite stay. That happened to be the 48th anniversary of the day my long-suffering wife became my long-suffering wife. We dined at a restaurant where we had been with #1 son and his family many times when they lived in Chicago and in taking the Red Line to the restaurant we passed by Wrigley Field. I mention that because Garrison Keillor – normally not one of my favorite entertainers – offered an excellent alternative hypothesis to the futility of the Cubbies over the past 106 years:

“It’s the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field in Chicago, which was built in 1914 on the site of the old Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary. And right there is the key to the story of the Chicago Cubs. This team is the living embodiment of Lutheran theology, which if I need remind you is not about winning. It’s not about being No. 1. It is about taking the back seat and being of service to others.

“The Cubs have been of service to so many other teams. They have pulled other teams out of losing streaks. Batters who were in painful slumps have recovered their confidence against the Cubs.

“It’s a good Lutheran team you’ve got there on the North Side of Chicago.”

Cubs’ fans have tried myriad ways to exorcize the demons they believe afflict their team; perhaps – if Professor Keillor is correct – they should try something new. Perhaps the Cubs’ owner needs to go and nail a document of 95 Theses on the Bud Selig’s door. After all, none of the other exorcisms has worked…

Obviously, I have not seen nearly as many sporting events in the last month as I normally do nor have I followed the details of many sports “issues” as closely as I usually do. However, there is one area of sports coverage that I have seen more than enough of:

    The future venue(s) where LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade will play basketball will become news when those four gentlemen make their decisions as to where they shall play. Until such time, all of the coverage/commentary on the subject is blatherrhea. There is a cure for such blatherrhea and that is to write about and talk about something else.

    Enough already – until one or all of them makes their decision(s).

When I tune in to find the Dutch National Team playing in one of the World Cup games, I always do a double take. Their uniforms seem to me to be the same color as the ones worn by US prison inmates as they pick up trash on the median strips of Interstate highways. For a fleeting moment, I wonder if in fact I have tuned into a sports channel…

The final game of the World Cup Tournament will be this weekend and the outcome of the game should be of significant interest in – of all places – Vatican City and for anyone who thinks that God “takes sides” with regard to the outcome of athletic endeavors. Consider:

    Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was born in Bavaria, Germany.

    Pope Francis was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

    These men probably agree on most theological items; they will likely disagree with most of the referee’s calls in the game on Sunday.

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle provided these two comments regarding the World Cup and about the suspension of Luis Suarez for biting an opponent:

“Fun fact: ‘Nil’ is short for Nilenschnitzelfritter, a German bagel made from sawdust and foot powder.”


“Now that Suarez is suspended, ESPN should hire him to provide biting commentary.”

I saw a report that Shane Battier retired from the NBA and that ESPN signed him on to do commentary on college basketball. Pairing him with Jay Bilas might make for some interesting commentary.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this comment a while back:

”Eastbound: The Big Ten is holding its 2017 men’s basketball tournament in Washington, D.C. You could say this is a failure of geography, but the league wants to raise its profile in the East now that Maryland and Rutgers are members. However, fans in traditional Big Ten states reportedly are not amused.”

Allow me to make an addition observation on that point:

    Unless Maryland has a miraculously good season in the Big 10 that year and makes a run in the conference tournament, there WILL be beaucoup empty seats in the arena for the games. Bank on it…

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times found this wonderful headline:

“At TheOnion.com: ‘Report: John Calipari offered Cavaliers $20 million to leave him alone.’ “

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

Greetings From Portland, OR – Again…

Greetings from Portland, OR once again. This is probably the last post card from our road trip. Tomorrow we hop onto an Amtrak train here in Portland bound for Chicago where we will do an overnite and then hop another train to home in the DC area. My long-suffering wife is out making the most of the final moments of this excursion walking to and through some Japanese gardens. I have seen more than a sufficient number of plants, trees and other botanical wonders on the trip and so I did what comes naturally to me – I went to the hotel lobby and found the bar that had the TV tuned to a sporting event.

The World Cup Tournament seems to have progressed satisfactorily to this point. The stadiums have been functional despite the fears that they might not be ready to host a beer-league level soccer game let alone a World Cup game. The protests about the diversion of funds to this kind of extravagance instead of funding basic human needs seem to have been respectably peaceful and quiet. The Tournament has gone on more smoothly than many folks might have predicted.

Nonetheless, in the background, FIFA continues to have issues regarding its choice of a venue for 2022 in Qatar. There is, of course, the climatological issue regarding Qatar and a summertime soccer tournament; FIFA can do nothing about that. It is certain to be hotter in Qatar in the summer of 2022 than it has ever been for any World Cup event in history. The Qatari bid acknowledged that problem when it spoke of air-conditioned venues. The inescapable fact is that it is going to be hotter than Hades if the games are played there in June/July 2022.

Then there are issues about which FIFA may do something about and may have to do something about. There are reports of bribery and chicanery in the processes that led to the voting that put the tournament in Qatar in the first place. There are allegations that a former VP of FIFA was paid “millions of pounds” by a Qatari company that was controlled by an ex-Asian Football Federation President. You can read about those allegations here.

Even the major domo of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, seems to think that the selection of Qatar was a mistake – although he does not seem to be nearly as worried about the possible corruption involved in the selection as he does about the climatological “issues”. Blatter continues to think that holding the World Cup in the winter months of 2022 would be a feasible “work-around” despite the fact that all of the major soccer federations and leagues think that would interrupt their seasons to an impossible level. You can read about Blatter’s misgivings here.

I think the facts of the matter here point to a situation where FIFA officials got caught with their hands in the cookie jar – just as IOC officials have in the past. Qatar is not an ideal venue and now FIFA is feeling some economic pressure. There is an ongoing ethics investigation within FIFA and the outcome of that investigation might demand a new vote on the site for the 2022 World Cup. I would not bet on that happening.

However, there also seem to be issues that have a “human rights flavor” to them regarding the workers who will construct the venues for the tournament in Qatar. I do not wish ti imply that working conditions are splendid everywhere in the world or that every country involved with FIFA has an exemplary record with regard to human rights. Nevertheless, the issues here have brought pressure on FIFA from sources reported to include:

    Coca Cola
    Hyundai and

Those are four of the major sponsors for FIFA in 2022 and these companies can – if they want to – invoke “The Golden Rule”:

    He who has the gold makes the rules.

There are more chapters to be written here, but as things stand in 2014, there are a few questions we all should keep an eye on as time marches forward:

    1. The 2018 World Cup Tournament will be held in Russia. What could possibly go wrong there?

    2. If Sepp Blatter thinks the only issue involving the 2022 bid won by the Qataris is the climate, is he ready to tell the world how he – and his august colleagues – did not know that it is hotter than Hades in Qatar in the summertime back when they did their voting?

    3. What contractual pressures can individual clubs and national leagues – and international competitions such as those run by UEFA – put on FIFA with regard to moving the World Cup to the winter?

    4. How come one of the 2022 major sponsors – Emirates Airlines – located in Dubai has not found it important to register its discomfort with the alleged human rights issues regarding their neighbors in Qatar?

These kinds of issues can keep me focused on international soccer politics and practices for the next few years. However, I prefer to close here with an issue that Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle honed in on back when the vote was taken to assign the tournament to Qatar.

“The government of Qatar is still questioning the need to sell beer at World Cup matches in 2022. Isn’t Qatar in the desert? Yo, vendor, gimme a hot chocolate!”

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

Greetings From Portland, OR

Greetings from Portland Oregon. We are in the final stages of our odyssey; we will be in Portland for the next day or so and then board a train in Portland bound for Chicago and then on to Washington DC. Where did the time go…?

In the past week or so, I have gotten e-mail commentary from “Mike G.” who is a sports historian with knowledge beyond mine. His commentaries involve my contention that the trading/selling of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees was the single worst baseball trade ever and my compilation of the worst college football programs over the long haul. Here is his note to me regarding the Babe Ruth trade:

In defense of Harry Frazee, ESPN once had a well-done “Five Reasons You Can’t Blame” episode on Frazee and the Babe Ruth “trade”, which was actually a sale.

    5. WWI: With rosters depleted by about 20% because of the war, Ruth saw action as both a pitcher and outfielder, making him a HR hitter. After the players returned from the war, Babe became bigger than the Sox because his HRs were the talk of baseball and he no longer wanted to pitch.

    4. Ban Johnson: The AL president limited Frazee to the Yanks and Chisox, as the only teams with whom Frazee could make deals with by pressuring the other five teams not to make any trades with Frazee.

    3. Babe’s antics: He was an alcoholic, often drunk only hours before games. He also jumped the Bosox several times, including the last game of the 1919 season, which was the final straw.

    2. Ed Barrow: Frazee’s right-hand man was GM and field manager. Barrow knew how much of a troublemaker Babe was. When Frazee wanted to send Ruth to the Yankees, Barrow said the Yanks didn’t have any players he wanted. Ironically, Barrow left the Bosox after the 1920 season to become GM of the Yanks and built them to 1923 World Champs by acquiring 7 players from the Sox (four of which were on the 1918 World Champ Bosox).

    1. Babe’s holdout: Ruth forced Frazee’s hand by holding out after the 1919 season, asking for $20,000, which was twice as much as he had been making during 1919. During the holdout, Babe planned other ventures, such as getting into boxing and acting. Frazee was pissed over the holdout because he had given Ruth relatively generous bonuses after both the 1918 and 1919 seasons. Finally, with Ruth’s demands so high and after several occasions in which Ruth had already jumped the team, Frazee felt he had no choice but to dump “The Babe”.

My response to these points goes as follows:

    If Babe Ruth did not want to pitch, he still did so for the Yankees who figured out that playing him at a position most of the time was a smart move. The Red Sox could have accommodated that “desire” since they clearly did not have anyone on the squad who could hit nearly as well as Babe Ruth.

    Ruth’s alcoholism and erratic behavior continued unabated with the Yankees who found ways to deal with him for most of the time. Indeed, the Yankees had to suspend Ruth a few times when he was outrageously outrageous.

    Ed Barow was probably right; there was not an abundance of talent on the 1919 Yankees for the Red Sox to acquire in a trade.

    The Yankees found ways to accommodate Ruth’s off-field endeavors – including acting and film making. It seemed to work for them.

As to the idea that Ruth’s contract demands were too steep for Frazee, I guess they were if he was also hell-bent to fund that Broadway production that would suck wind and drive him to a financial point where he had to sell the Sox. I think ESPN needed to come up with reasons to exonerate Harry Frazee in order for them to complete their feature; I continue to believe it was the most unbalanced exchange of assets in the history of baseball.

As a post-script to that message, “Mike G.” added this note:

“Originally, the plan was to trade Babe to the Chisox for “Shoeless” Joe, but when rumors of the Black Sox scandal came out after the 1919 WS, that trade was put on hold and then thrown out when Joe’s name was mentioned as one of the possible conspirators. That was an honorable mention reason not to blame Frazee.”

I have to agree here. Had Frazee traded Babe Ruth for a guy who would be forever banned from baseball, that would have been worse than selling him to the Yankees…

With regard to my recitation of the worst college football programs over the long haul, here is the note I received:

“You need to include K-State on your worst football program list. Sure, they’ve been very good in the Bill Snyder years, but if you go back to “1934” through 1990, you will see that they only had five winning seasons, 29 seasons in which they won two games or less, and had only one bowl invitation over that 56-season period.”

Indeed that sounds like a justification to put K-State on the “bad football program list” and so I went and did some checking to make sure it was as bad as “Mike G” made it out to be. It was. Consider:

    For the decade of the 1950s, the cumulative record for K-State football teams was 30-66-3.

    For the decade of the 1960s, the cumulative record for K-State football teams was 14-80-1. In there, you will find 3 winless seasons and two seasons with a single victory. YOWZA!

    For the decade of the 1970s, the cumulative record for K-State football teams was 36-74-0.

    For the decade of the 1980s, the cumulative record for K-State football teams was 21-87-3. That decade contained two consecutive winless seasons followed by a one-win season. YOWZA!

The evidence shows that “Mike G” is right on with this one. I should have a added K-State to that list of football futility.

Finally, only Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times would dig up this obscure sporting item and turn it into a brilliant play on words:

“An American Legion baseball game in Juneau, Alaska, was briefly interrupted because a bear was roaming along the outfield fence.

“It nearly became the first game called on account of game.”

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

Greetings From The Dalles, OR

Happy 4th of July to all and greetings from The Dalles, OR by way of McMinnville, OR and Dayton, OR. Careful readers may recognize McMinnville, OR as the home of Linfield College about whom I write during football season in NCAA Mythical Picks. Indeed, I have pictures of me in Maxwell Field where the Linfield team plays its home games. Until this week, I had no connection to Linfield College other than an intellectual interest in their streak of winning football seasons that dates from 1956. As of now, I can say that I have seen from whence it all emanates…

I have mentioned here more than a few times some of the creative promotional stunts put on by minor league baseball teams. Well, there is a sort of “minor league” soccer league in the US called the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). That league has more than 80 teams around the country competing in a variety of divisions and conferences; the reality is that it is a league one notch below MSL. One of the teams in the NPSL seems to have contacted and channeled the ghost of Bill Veeck when it comes to promotional opportunities.

One of the stories of the World Cup matches was the “biting incident” involving Luis Suarez (Uruguay) and Giorgio Chiellini (Italy). Suarez’ bite cost him a suspension in the Group Play games. This is not the first time Suarez had had a “biting incident”; he served a suspension in the English Premier League for the same offense. So, how might that story translate into a promotional gig for a minor league soccer league team in the US?

    The Fort Worth Vacqueros played the Dallas City FC in an NPSL game a few days ago. The first 50 fans to show up for the game were given “Luis Suarez teeth” – actually more like vampire fangs – that would go in one’s mouth and make it particularly unpleasant to be on the wrong end of a “biting incident”.

    Somewhere in the cosmos, Bill Veeck nodded approvingly…

Greg Cote had this World Cup commentary in the Miami Herald a while back:

“England trained in South Florida for the World Cup and played friendlies here against Ecuador and Honduras. What we learned: Wayne Rooney leads all the world in hair transplants.”

Having a nightcap this evening, I met a young man – he cannot possibly be more than 35 years old – from Alpharetta, GA who is a huge college football fan. We got to chatting; and, of course, he is convinced that the SEC is far and away the best college football conference there ever was or will be. When he found out what I did as my retirement hobby – writing these rants – he wanted to know which teams I thought were the best long-term programs in the major conferences. I explained to him that the idea of curmudgeonly commentary was to think about which teams were the long-term worst programs in all of those conferences. And so, from there, off we went.

    Illinois (Big 10): They can be good once in a while, but when they are bad they are truly bad.

    Indiana (Big 10): I told him that I could not remember the last time they went to a bowl game. It turns out that was back in 1994. Looking up the stats after the fact taught me that the last time Indiana won the Big 10 was in 1967.

    Maryland (Big 10): The Terps were not major players in the ACC; their move to the Big 10 – along with Rutgers – may take some of the heat off Illinois and Indiana.

    Kentucky (SEC): I could not remember them ever winning the SEC; it turns out they won it twice since joining the SEC in 1932. Once was in 1950 when Bear Bryant was the coach; the other time was in 1976.

    Vanderbilt (SEC): They have been on the upswing in the last couple of years but just lost their coach to Penn State. Question:

      Did Coach Franklin chart a new course for Vandy football or are they about to resort to “conference doormat status”?

    Duke (ACC): Yes, they won 10 games last year; looking at their record over the past 20 years, that is an aberration. In fact, that was the first time the team won more than 8 games in a single season since 1941.

    Iowa State (Big 12): I said they had never won the conference championship unless it was “back in the 30’s”. I was wrong, the last time – and the only time – they won a conference championship was in 1912.

    Kansas (Big 12): They had a brief resurgence about 8 or 9 years ago but seem to have reverted to form as a great Homecoming opponent. Checking the stats, Kansas has won only 14 games in the last 5 seasons.

    Washington State (PAC-12): The last time they were “relevant” was when Ryan Leaf was their QB – and that was a long time ago. It turns out that since 2004, the Cougars have won a total of 38 games.

Remember, this was a conversation over nightcaps about major collegiate conferences and not about which team may have sucked wind in the Ivy League or the Southern Conference over the last 40 or 50 years. With that in mind, whom did I miss?

Finally, here is a college football comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“The annual Orange Bowl game reportedly is switching title sponsors from Discover to Capital One, begging the question: ‘Who gives a crap!?’”

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