Another Gift That Keeps On Giving?

For years, I have referred to José Canseco as the gift that keeps on giving.  Canseco says or does something outrageous sufficiently often that he provides regular grist for commentary here.  There may be a potential challenger to Canseco on the horizon.  Terrell Owens has gotten to the point where he says/does things that are apart from the center of gravity of normal behavior.  His latest is a comment made to a Dallas Sports Radio station saying that he cannot figure out why or how Jason Garrett has a job in the NFL let alone as the head coach of the Cowboys.

Owens’ rationale for that assertion is that the Cowboys – as a franchise – are at a “standstill” and whenever there are shortcomings in Cowboys’ performance, it is always the players who are the focus of the blame.  According to Owens’ it is Garrett who fails to lead the team.

For the record, I could not possibly defend the argument that Jason Garrett is a great NFL head coach.  His overall record in Dallas is 67-53 in 7.5 seasons at the helm; that normalizes to 9-7 each year and that is neither great nor horrible.  Adding to the stats that suggest that Garrett is a mediocre coach is the fact that the Cowboys have finished 8-8 or 9-7 in 4 of his 7 full seasons there.

The great irony of all this is the source of this commentary.  There is at least some reason to question Owens as a source of information on the subject of team leadership.  Owens put up some prodigious receiving stats over his career but wore out his welcome with 5 teams; his departures from both Philly and Dallas were operatic in their grandeur.  Moreover, in the majority of cases, team shortcomings are more properly assessed against the GMs who built the rosters and against the players on the field failing to perform sufficiently well to win games.  Coaching prowess is vastly overrated except for those very few “truly great coaches” at the top of the pile and those very few “truly incompetent coaches” at the bottom.

Speaking of football coaches, Chip Kelly will return to college football at UCLA after a hiatus in the NFL and as a TV analyst.  Kelly’s teams had lots of success during his time at Oregon and the Eagles won 10 games in each of his first two seasons there.  Things fell apart in his 3rd year in Philly and then he had the impossible task of trying to win with the Niners’ roster in 2016.  It will be interesting to see how he does with UCLA.

Chip Kelly is a “system guy”; he has a way of attacking a football game and he sticks to it.  He is a true-believer in “sports science” and is convinced that understating sports science gives him and his teams an edge in every game.  The reason I think it will be interesting to see how things go at UCLA this year and in the following couple of years is this:

  • If Chip Kelly is a “one-trick-pony” who was ahead of the crowd with his devotion to sports science and his constant hurry-up offensive attack when he was at Oregon, is he still ahead of the crowd?
  • Have defenses caught up to his offense?  Have other coaches found ways to counter his team’s style of play?
  • Can Chip Kelly adapt – if data begin to show that he should adapt?

A few weeks ago, I said that I had watched a little of ESPN’s new morning show, Get Up! Featuring Mike Greenberg, Michelle Beadle and Jalen Rose.  I have not been a devoted regular viewer since that last comment, but I have tuned in frequently to see various segments while the coffee is brewing in the morning or while thumbing through the morning paper.  I have watched enough of it to know that I am not going to watch much more of it because:

  1. It is not sufficiently informative to draw my attention.
  2. It is not nearly humorous.
  3. None of the three hosts approach “must-see TV” status.

Ergo…

The other sports network morning show that is relatively new is on FS-1.  First Things First features Cris Carter, Nick Wright and Jenna Wolfe.  This program has improved from the very rough edges that it exhibited when it started on the air.  It is still formulaic; Cris Carter is pedantic far too often for my taste; I have gotten to the point where I can take Nick Wright in small doses.  First Things First is not great television and I will not watch it more than once a week in the future, but it is now better than Get Up!

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson, formerly with the Omaha World-Herald:

“A kayaker in Japan was banned for eight years for spiking his rival’s drink. I’m pretty sure that’s legal at the Tour de France.”

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

 

 

Off-beat Baseball Today …

There seems to be a low background drumbeat building among the baseball writers and baseball poets advocating for MLB to expand to 32 teams.  While I must admit that there is one immediately beneficial aspect to that idea, I think it is a bad idea overall.  Here is what would be the good news:

  • Each league would have 16 teams and “16” is an even number.  That means MLB could eliminate the mandatory interleague game every week of the season and return interleague play to a short window in the middle of the season. 

The bloom is off the rose for interleague play.  It was a good idea when it was implemented; it created heightened fan interest.  Now, it has been hugely overdone, and it is no longer anywhere near “exciting”.  In today’s environment, fans look forward to an interleague series about as much as a guy heading for his senior prom looks forward to a honking pimple on his nose.  Ka-beesh…?

My biggest problem with expansion is that there is not nearly enough pitching to go around in MLB as it is.  Adding two more teams – each of which would carry 12 or 13 pitchers on the roster – would add 25 more pitchers to the leagues and that would not be a plus in any part of the known universe.  How many teams are stashing “The Next Clayton Kershaw” in some AA league because the parent club has so much pitching that it cannot find a place for the prodigy?  Obviously, the answer is ZERO.

Baseball faces the fact that some its gone-but-hardly lamented stars of old might want to try a comeback.  Rafael Palmiero, Sammy Sosa and José Canseco would jump at the chance for another big-league gig.  If there were two expansion teams out there looking for ways to draw fans to see the expansion team get lit up four times a week, some exec might think that was a good way goose attendance.  Really, do you want to see that?

Look at some of this year’s attendance figures for some of the bad teams in MLB – and a couple of the pretty good ones too:

  • Miami Marlins average 10,676 per game.  That projects to 864,756 fans for the season.
  • Tampa Bay Rays average 14,711 per game.  That projects to 1.19M fans for the season.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates average 15,287 per game.  That projects to 1.24M for the season.
  • Chicago White Sox average 15,486 per game.  That projects to 1.25M for the season.

In fact, 11 MLB teams – more than one-third of MLB – projects to draw fewer than 2 million fans for the season.  Expansion is not going to shrink that number…

I mentioned Rafael Palmiero above as a former star player in MLB who would be interested in a comeback.  I did not make that up; Palmiero actively sought a slot in Spring Training with an MLB team; none of the MLB teams took him up on the offer.  Rather than go quietly into the night, Palmiero signed on with an independent team in the American Association – – the Cleburne Railroaders.  And to be sure that this was not much more than a giant goat rodeo, that same team signed Palmiero’s son, Patrick, to play for the same team.  Raffy will play first base; Patrick will play third base.  A good time will be had by all … unless this kind of nonsense gets anywhere near MLB.

Just to be clear:

  • On balance, MLB does not need to expand.  [Aside: If it does expand, the places to put the two new teams would be Montreal and either Las Vegas or Portland – – flip a coin on those two western venues.]
  • I do not want to see a 53-year old Rafael Palmiero in MLB this year nor do I want to see an antiquated version of him anytime down the road.

Here is a baseball comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“The scourge of a trend — American teams exporting meaningful games abroad — crossed a line this week when MLB announced the Yankees and Red Sox would play two regular season games in London in 2019. The crown-jewel rivalry of America’s Pastime should be played in Boston or Da Bronx. Period. Am I alone on that?”

Professor Cote in spot-on with that remark.  Notice that the NFL does not schedule Packers/Bears games in London nor do they export Atlanta/New Orleans games.  By analogy, MLB should not be taking a Yankees/Red Sox series from the local fans.  This is a bad idea that MLB may have difficulty “walking- back”.

Finally, Brad Rock had this observation in the Deseret News several weeks ago:

“A 106-year-old competitive cyclist in France has been cautioned by his doctor to limit his exercise to a stationary bike.

“So far his only concession to age has been habitually driving down the road signaling left.”

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

 

 

Peregrinations…

I just know that this rant is going to meander around a wide swath of the sporting cosmos today …  Yesterday, I – and much of the sports commentary – was consumed by the Supreme Court decision to get rid of PASPA.  I read lots of stuff about who were the “winners” from this decision and who were the “losers”; I read lots of stuff tracking the history of the decision; I read lots of stuff about what the decision might mean in the far future with respect to sports in the US.  If you were interested in that sort of stuff, you too were able to find it.

I did enjoy reading a thoughtful and analytical piece in the LA Times written by Sam Farmer et. al.  Sam Farmer’s claim to fame has been his league-wide coverage of the NFL – a beat that he covered like a blanket even before there were two LA teams.  Here is a link to his analytical piece from yesterday; I found it insightful.

At the other end of the commentary spectrum, I found several Tweets from Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World-Herald on the decision handed down by “The Supremes”:

“The states can now legalize sports gambling. Don’t count on it in Nebraska where the legislature is scheduled to vote on a bill requiring zoo animals to wear pants.”

And …

“Now the states are going to decide whether sports gambling is legal. Don’t hold your breath on the Nebraska Legislature which is this close to banning dancing in public.”

And …

“Sports gambling may soon be legal. Millions of Americans will abandon playing the Powerball Lottery to bet against the Cleveland Browns.”

Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week regarding LeBron James and the playoffs this year:

“Futurewatch: His most faithful devotees have to decide whether they want LeBron James to advance to another – his ninth – NBA Finals. That, after all, would likely lead to the sixth Finals loss of his career. In my mind, it wouldn’t tarnish LeBron’s legacy if, at 33, he carried another underdog Cavaliers team to a runner-up finish. Others looking to diminish this era’s greatest talent, though, would relish any opportunity to toss brickbats.”

I really hate arguments that take the form of “Who is the greatest [fill in the blank here] of all time?”  In basketball terms, the modern form of that question is LeBron James versus Michael Jordan.  In a previous era, it was Wilt Chamberlain versus Bill Russel.  Today’s arguments omit consideration of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan and Akeem Olajuwon.  In the 60s and 70s, the “Wilt vs. Bill” argument wrote off Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West.  Moreover, in order for me to take a position in favor of Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time as opposed to LeBron James, I have to say relatively negative things about LeBron James and that makes no damned sense at all.

It “matters” who is the fastest 100-meter sprinter in a year because those folks race against one another and the winner is clear.  In team sports – and particularly in team sports over different eras – the comparisons are foggy at best.  Why not simply accept this fact that virtually no basketball fan would consider challenging?

  • Michael Jordan and LeBron James are both extraordinary basketball talents.  It was a pleasure – and a privilege – to be able to watch them play basketball over the arcs of their careers.

Thinking about Michael Jordan and LeBron James naturally makes me think about the NBA as an entity.  Bob Molinaro – whose comment above got me on the track of the “MJ vs. Lebron” controversy – has opined for years that NBA basketball is significantly superior to college basketball simply based on the huge gap in player talent.  He and I have debated that point off-line several times.  The current status of the NBA playoffs supports one of my arguments that college basketball is the more interesting sports spectacle:

  • Take yourself back to October 2017 as the NBA regular season was about to begin.  Who did you think would be in the NBA’s version of the “Final Four”?
  • Most folks thought it would be the Warriors/Rockets in the West – – with a few folks touting the Spurs and even fewer pointing to the Thunder.
  • Just about everyone on the planet thought it would be the Celtics and the Cavaliers in the East.
  • The “Final Four” are indeed Warriors/Rockets and Celtics/Cavaliers.  The issue is that it took more than 7 months and 1230 regular season games – plus two playoff series – to get to what most everyone knew was going to happen.

The NBA regular season is getting close to the status of “pointless”.  Notwithstanding that fact, it goes on forever and presents to fans a ton of games that almost no one gives a fig about.  Indeed, there are early season college basketball games that are cupcake games and mean nothing.  However, once conference play begins, there are far fewer meaningless games put before the sports fans of the country.

The prosecution rests, Your Honor…

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times that is the opposite of the argument over “Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James” discussed above:

“The film ‘Never on Sunday’ is:

a) a 1960 Greek black-and-white romantic comedy

b) a mythical showdown between the 0-16 Lions and the 0-16 Browns.”

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

 

 

RIP Chuck Knox

Chuck Knox passed away over the weekend.  He had very successful stints as the head coach of the Rams, Seahawks and Bills; in fact, he was named Coach of the Year while coaching each of those three teams and he is the only coach in NFL history to achieve that honor with three different franchises.  His “conservative”/ “smash-mouth” offensive philosophy earned him the nickname “Ground Chuck”.

Rest in peace, Chuck Knox…

The Stanley Cup playoffs and the NBA playoffs are in full swing.  Meanwhile, the MLB season is gathering momentum and there are some interesting things to note about MLB so far this year.

On the negative side:

  • The Cleveland Indians were 20-19 as of yesterday; that record put them in first place in the AL Central.  If the Indians were in the AL East, they would be in 4th place; if the Indians were in the AL West, they would be in 4th place.  The deal here is that everyone else in the AL Central is below .500 – – going all the way down to the Royals and White Sox whose winning percentages are bordering on embarrassing.
  • The LA Dodgers were 16-24 as of yesterday; that put them squarely in 4th place in the NL West.  Yes, I know that the Dodgers have been wracked by a tsunami of injuries to their starting position players and to there starting pitchers.  Nevertheless, playing on a pace that would win only 65 games for the entire season is a shock for that franchise; and being swept in a series by the Reds – – probably the worst team in MLB in 2018 – – is embarrassing.  I fully expect the team to far surpass a 65-win total for 2018, but their record so far is both putrid and unexpected.

Sounding a nostalgic baseball moment:

  • Rafael Palmiero is 53 years old and he said earlier this year that he wanted to come back from retirement and play in the majors.  That did not happen but Palmiero did achieve something interesting last week.  He signed on with the Cleburne Railroaders – an independent team in the American Association – and the team also signed Palmiero’s son, Patrick.  Raffy will play first base; Patrick will play third-base.  Having a father/son tandem on a single team does not happen every year.  Here is a link to more on this situation.

Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week.  I have wondered about this topic since the time as a kid when I saw the “Ted Williams Shift”:

“It’s disappointing – and should frustrate fans – that so few big-league hitters attempt to beat infield over-shifts by going the other way with the pitch. Is this stubbornness some sort of macho thing? I suspect so. But are managers strictly prohibited from instructing batters to take what the defense gives them? Whatever’s happening, the game isn’t the same.”

What ever happened to the simplistic – – but obviously effective – – hitting philosophy attributed to Wee Willie Keeler who managed to bat .341 over a 19-year career:

“I hit ‘em where they ain’t.”

Could it be that the success of modern analytics in baseball is dependent to some extent on player and managerial stubbornness?

Finally, here are comments from two different sources regarding college football recruits who are “large of size”:

“The Minnesota Golden Gophers football team got a commitment from 6-8, 395-pound Australian lineman Daniel Faalele. Minnesota has lakes that are smaller.”  [Brad Dickson, formerly of the Omaha World Herald]

And …

“Kiyaunta Goodwin of Louisville, KY. Is 6 feet seven, weighs 370 pounds, wears size-18 shoes, leg presses 1000 pounds, bench presses 315, displays uncanny agility, likes art music and robotics, and has a football offer from Georgia in his pocket according to Bleacher Report.

“Oh and did we mention that he’s only 14 years old and an eighth-grader?”  [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

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

 

 

The Matt Patricia Mess

Twenty-two years ago, Lions’ head coach, Matt Patricia, was still in college; he and a friend were on Spring Break in Texas.  Out of that excursion came an indictment against Patricia for sexual assault; he was never tried, and the charges were dropped.  Patricia has been in the coaching business since his college days at Rensselaer and this is seemingly the first time this fact has been brought to light.  In the current environment of the MeToo movement, this allegation cannot be ignored as something from the dim, dark past that has no relevance today.  At the same time, it is important to ask the right questions here and to focus on what to do now.

The Detroit Lions – and the New England Patriots before them – assert that they knew nothing of this indictment until this week.  If those assertions are truthful, it is difficult to assign any blame to either team for having Patricia as part of their organization.  I think it is more appropriate to ask at this time a different set of questions:

  • Who does the background checks as part of the vetting process for the Lions and the Patriots?  Do other NFL teams also use the same folks to do background checks for them?
  • How did these investigators miss this indictment – which is a matter of public record?  Or, did they find it and choose not to report it to the teams in question here?  If that is the case, why did they do that?

In 2018, there is no chance that this sort of situation will be ignored.  For that reason, I think it is important to figure out first if the Lions – and the Pats before them – were ever aware of this accusation. Here is why:

  • If either – or both – knew about this and hired Patricia anyway, it is fair to ask the teams about their “personnel evaluation processes”.  What factors led the team(s) to believe that this blemish on Patricia’s record could be overlooked?
  • If, however, neither team was made aware of the indictment, the focus of the questioning must be in the vetting processes themselves and the people/organizations that provide the vetting data to the Lions, Patriots and potentially to other NFL franchises.
  • If Joe Flabeetz was the person responsible for doing the background investigation on Matt Patricia when he was up for the Lions’ head coaching job, it would be appropriate and important to find out what Joe Flabeetz did and did not do in that investigation.  For example, it may be standard practice for Joe Flabeetz and his organization to ignore arrests/indictments that never go to trial even when they find them.  That practice would resonate with the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” but it would not play so well with the idea of probing the true character of the potential employee.

I am not an attorney, so I have no idea if the alleged victim in this matter can re-activate these charges 22 years after the fact.  There are statutes of limitations in American jurisprudence, but I have no idea how “aggravated sexual assault” charges are covered by such statutes in the State of Texas.  I mention this not because I think breathing life back into this matter is a good idea; rather, I bring it up because without a trial, it will be next to impossible to ascertain the facts of the situation.  And without the facts, it will be difficult to figure out what questions need to be answered and by whom.

There is another NFL-related situation that could well wind up in the legal world.  Last week, the NFL issued a 4-game suspension to Saints’ RB, Mark Ingram, for violation of the league’s PED policy.  Ingram has categorically denied the situation saying that what he tested positive for is something that is permissible in the NFL with an exemption.  I do not know what the substance involved here is nor am I aware of the NFL’s “exemption rules” here.  I presume what Ingram is talking about here is that there are medical conditions that require as treatment the administration of a drug/medicine that will trigger a reaction in the standardized NFL drug test.  With prior notification from the doctor – and probably concurrence by someone in the league offices – a “failed test” for this player and that substance can be waived.

Regardless of how this situation works, Mark Ingram is pressing his case that he did not fail a PED test and that this suspension is unwarranted.  His explanation/excuse for the failed test is a lot more satisfying to me than the much more standard explanation that the failed test was due to a tainted supplement that was taken innocently and ignorantly.  Here is a statement from one of Mark Ingram’s representatives on the matter:

“At the end of the 2017 season, as a result of an NFL mandated drug test, Mark Ingram tested positive for a substance that was not a performance-enhancing substance, but a substance in fact permissible with the proper use exemption with the NFL. He has vigorously challenged the test results through the arbitration process. The arbitrator’s Opinion is due on or before Wednesday, May 16. Upon having the opportunity to review the arbitrator’s opinion, we will explore what further options are needed.”

The outcome of this matter could be very interesting…

Finally, here is a comment from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, on the rebirth of the XFL:

“I can’t wait for the XFL to return – that’s another three hours a week I can go to Walden Pond with a bag of Fritos.”

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

 

 

Infrequent Occurrences …

Yesterday, the NY Mets turned in a wrong batting order card to the umpires and batted out of turn leading to a player who actually hit a double in his “at-bat” being called out and sent to the dugout for batting out of order.  The MLB rules governing this sort of thing are explicit and clear; there was no misinterpretation by the umpires here.  I coached a Little League team for ONE season back when Dante’s Inferno was on the “New Releases List”.  Even then, I knew not to screw up that aspect of the game.  Here is a link to the CBSSports.com report on this matter.

As noted in that report, the Mets had started the season at a torrid 12-2 but have fallen on hard times since then.  After yesterday’s loss – the game involving the batting out of order incident – the Mets’ record stands at 18-16 which is a whole lot worse than 12-2.  The Mets have also lost Jacob deGrom to the IR list and have traded Matt Harvey after he refused a team decision to send him to the minor leagues.   Even for a team in NYC, the Mets have packed a season’s worth of drama into a single 5 week stretch of the season.

In other MLB news, Ichiro has left the active roster for the Mariners – presumably ending his MLB career as a player – and has taken up a job in the Mariners’ front office.  Ichiro is 44 years old and it appears as if Father Time has called him into a position off the field of play.

I have said several times in the past that Ichiro was one of the players in MLB that I would want to pay to see “live-and-in-person” when he came to my town to perform.  Here are a couple of his accomplishments:

  • He amassed more than 3000 base hits in his MLB career and that feat is magnified because Ichiro did not play in MLB until age 27.
  • He broke a long-standing record in MLB when he collected 262 hits in a single season.  Previously, the record was 256 hits by George Sisler.

In the last week, Albert Pujols collected his 3,000th hit – and a $3M bonus for achieving that milestone.  In addition to being a member of the three-thousand-hit-club, here are some of Pujols’ other career achievements:

  • He has hit 620 HRs in his career as of this morning.
  • He has been on the All-Star team 10 times.
  • He has been the MVP in 3 different seasons.

If you look at active players and ask who among them might be next to reach the 3000-hit club, the answer is Miguel Cabrera.  Here are Cabrera’s stats:

  • He is 35 years old as of today.
  • He has collected 2666 hits as of today.
  • Last year was the worst year of his 16-year MLB career when he only managed to get 117 hits.
  • If he were to continue at that slow pace at the plate, he would need less than three more years to reach 3000 hits.  It could happen in late 2019 if he returns to his earlier performance levels; barring major injury, it will happen sometime in the 2020 season.
  • By the way, Cabrera is also likely to collect 500 HRs over his career.  AS of this morning he has hit 465 HRs.

In basketball news, I want you to juxtapose these two headlines from columns on the Internet yesterday:

“Dwayne Casey voted Coach of the Year by peers”

And…

“Report:  Raptors leaning toward head coaching change”

If that is not enough to cause you to shake your head in wonderment, consider that Brad Stevens did not get a single vote from among his peers in the NBA as the Coach of the Year.  Seriously…

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

“The Metropolitan King County Council approved a ban on vaping and chewing tobacco in sports facilities — particularly the Mariners’ Safeco Field — effective May 19.

“In other words, Skoal’s out for the summer.”

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

 

 

Sports Economics

Last week’s Kentucky Derby provided a race with some historic happenings.  It also provided a historically high handle for wagering.

  • The Derby itself attracted $148M in total bets.
  • The entire card for Derby Day was $223.7M according to The Daily Racing Form which is an authoritative source on matters such as this.

The handle on US horse racing has increased this year and the common interpretation for this is that new tax rules reduce the number of winning wagers that are automatically reported to the IRS and for which a portion of the winnings will be withheld immediately.  I certainly cannot offer any informed opinion on that.  I would also point out that the number of races at tracks in the US has also declined meaning that there are possibly more races with more betting interest available to hose players.  Whatever the cause, it appears that the racing industry is experiencing an uptick in its fundamental economics.

The other datum about Derby Day that was interesting to me was that attendance at Churchill Downs was announced as 157,813.  That was the eighth largest attendance in Derby history and the weather had to be one of the eight worst in Derby history.

In another sport, there are reports of possible changes based on fundamental economics there.  Reuters reported on Monday that NASCAR may be up for sale and this potential decision by the France family – the folks who own NASCAR – may be in response to:

“… an aging fan base, stricter safety rules and a competitive media landscape that have weighed on its popularity and made it less attractive to advertisers and sponsors.”

Reuters also says that the France family has retained Goldman Sachs to look for deals here but that things are still in a very preliminary/exploratory stage.  The “aging fan base” has been a drag on NASCAR because younger fans – particularly millennials – have not shown a great affinity for NASCAR meaning that TV ratings have dropped significantly from previous high levels.  This has reduced revenues meaning that networks and media distributors are reluctant to continue to pay a lot for TV rights fees.  Here is a link to the Reuters report.

Every once in a while, I run across a story that makes me think to myself:

  • There is dumb, and there is stupid … and then there is this.

A couple of weeks ago, Packers’ WR, Trevor Davis, got himself arrested.  He was not driving drunk or strung out on some sort of recreational drug; he was not involved in any sort of domestic violence; he was not brandishing a weapon.  Here is what allegedly happened.

  • Trevor Davis and a female traveling companion were at Los Angeles International Airport evidently checking in for a flight on Hawaiian Airlines.
  • When he was asked the standard suite of security questions at the baggage check counter, he turned to his traveling companion and allegedly asked her, “Did you remember to pack the explosives?”
  • That is a stupid thing to do but his traveling companion took it to a new level when she allegedly answered, “Yes.”
  • The attendant at the baggage check counter did not respond to this as light-hearted banter or anything of the sort; she called airport security.
  • Airport security folks take nothing of this sort lightly; when they arrived, they arrested Trevor Davis.  He was booked and then released because in fact he did not have any explosives in his baggage.

Maybe this is the reason that NFL teams continue to administer the Wonderlic test to potential draftees/signees?  That was a monumentally stupid thing for Davis to have done.

Finally, here is a comment from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle about a recent nominee to President Trump’s new President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition:

“Bill Belichick. Because nothing screams healthy lifestyle like Bill Belichick.”

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

 

 

Cinderella On Ice

I do not spend a lot of time talking about the NHL here for the simple reason that I do not believe that I understand any of the subtleties of ice hockey better than the average/casual viewer.  That is not to say that I do not enjoy watching ice hockey because, in particular, I very much enjoy watching the Stanley Cup playoffs.  This year there is a great storyline that has developed around the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

If ever there were a “Cinderella Hockey Team”, the Knights must fit that mold.  This is the first year of existence for the franchise; this is a team created from the culls of every other team in the league.  By expectation, this team should have been eliminated from playoff consideration sometime around Christmas; nevertheless, the Knights have just won the second round of the playoffs in the Western Conference and are poised to take a shot at being in the Stanley Cup Finals.

There have been plenty of Cinderella stories in sports, but none are quite like the Golden Knights:

  • The Whiz Kids of 1950 were a shock to the baseball world.  A Phillies team that had been the doormat of the National League for the last 25-30 years suddenly stood up on its hind legs and won the NL pennant.  Nevertheless, the Phillies had been a franchise that was in existence for about 70 years at the time; there were not Johnny-come-latelies.
  • The Miracle Mets of the late 60s won the World Series with a frantic rally at the end of the regular season and a continues run of inspired play in the post-season.  The Mets were close to an expansion team; they had been in existence for less than a decade.  However, unlike the golden Knights, the Mets’ inaugural season was a disaster.  In 1962, the Mets as a team posted a record of 40-120; it is a modern standard of futility.
  • A couple of years ago, Leicester City shocked the English football world and won the English Premier League.  Prior to the start of the season, betting shops in England gave 5,000-1 odds that Leicester would not do that – – but they did.

Those three teams provided huge surprises in the sports world – – but I do not think that any of their exploits were as surprising as what the Golden Knights have done so far this year.

Speaking of sports in the playoffs, I feel compelled to say something about the TV coverage of the NBA Playoffs and it is a disturbing trend.  I think this began with the coverage of/fascination with Jack Nicholson sitting courtside at Laker games; he was a celebrity and took an interest in NBA games in LA and drew media attention.  Around the same time, the Knicks were the team that had Spike Lee at courtside for every one of their games.  Unlike Nicholson, he did not just watch the games; he was animated in his fandom in his courtside seat.  The TV directors loved to catch him in his exuberance.

This fascination has gotten out of hand.  Now we have far too much coverage of Drake at courtside during Raptors’ games and/or Kevin Hart during Sixers’ games and/or Rob Riggle at any game anywhere.  [Aside:  I have never found Rob Riggle to be funny; and to me, there is nothing more painful to endure than someone trying to be funny when he/she is absolutely not funny.]

  • Memo to NBA Playoff TV Directors:  The product you are putting on the air to sell to the public involves athletes on the court and not celebrities – – or in some cases marginal celebs – – who show up courtside as much to be seen there as to watch the game itself.  Dial back that coverage more than just a little bit.

Now, if Queen Elizabeth were to show up at a game in a courtside seat, that would be newsworthy, and you should let us know about it – briefly.  Other than that …

If my following of the latest in NFL contract news is correct, the four highest players in the NFL for now are:

  • Matthew Stafford – – $27M next year
  • Jimmy Garoppolo – – $27.5M next year
  • Kirk Cousins – – $28M next year
  • Matt Ryan – – $30M next year.

I do not begrudge any of them even a single nickel of their contracts, but I do have to point out that none of them has won anything of any consequence in any of their careers.  Yes, I know that Matt Ryan led the Falcons to a Super Bowl, but I contend that the total collapse of the Falcons in that game surrendering the 28-3 lead they had in the second half of the game negated the fact that they were in the game in the first place.  Expectations for these four gentlemen are – and ought to be sky-high.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding another instance where the world of sports intersected the world of politics:

“Texas Wesleyan baseball coach Mike Jeffcoat nixed a recruit from Colorado because that state’s ‘liberal politicians’ legalized marijuana use, so the school fired him.

“Or as eye-for-an-eye advocates prefer to frame it, he weeded himself out.”

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

 

 

Tone Deafness…

One of the major stories from last week involved the cheerleaders for the Washington Skins.  According to several former cheerleaders as reported in the New York Times, there was a trip to Costa Rica in 2012 where the team invited some of its big-spending suite purchasers and other sponsors to come along as the cheerleaders were there to do a photoshoot for a calendar.  At least some of the posed shots were topless; at least one allegedly involved only body paint for clothing; the assertion is that the big-spenders and the sponsors – – all males – – were invited to look on and watch those proceedings.  Then there were social events in the evenings and the cheerleaders were asked to accompany/escort the men to those events although all agree that there was no sexual angle to any of this.

Obviously, there are counter-stories from others on this trip – – including the cheerleaders’ leader back then.  However, the official statement(s) from the team were unabashedly tone deaf – as if one could expect anything else from the folks who run that team.

  • They started out on the right foot.  Team President, Bruce Allen, said that they were doing a full investigation.  However, he could not stop there; he had to add that, “We’ve heard very different first-hand accounts that directly contradict many of the details of the May 2 article [in the New York Times.”   Even if you have heard such things, why not keep your mouth shut until you are finished with your full investigation that you said was ongoing?
  • The momentum today is clearly in favor of women speaking out about prior incidences where they were harassed – or worse – in the workplace.  How could the Skins’ communication folks not recognize that this was not the time to cast aspersions on the credibility of these team employees without an investigation?
  • For the record, Bruce Allen is the president of an NFL franchise only because he is the son of a former great coach in the NFL.  Basically, he won the sperm lottery
  • Given the “difficulties” that the NFL has had with cheerleaders for various other teams, the league needed this pimple to burst like New Orleans needs a return visit from Katrina.

I await the results of the “full investigation” that Bruce Allen asserted was ongoing.  I will be interested to see how “thorough” it is made to appear to be.  I will withhold comments until then.  However, you should read the column written by Jerry Brewer in the Washington Post last week as this story broke.  Here is the link; you should read it in its entirety.

I have said for years that the NFL Combine is the most over-hyped part of the NFL year.  I still cannot understand why anyone would watch this on TV as a bunch of players go though close-to-meaningless drills that are timed and measured.  Even worse, there are people who pay good money to sit and watch this stuff; it is less interesting than a track meet because at a track meet all the events actually involve real competition with winners and losers.

The point about over-hype was driven home to me when I read a report over the weekend saying that the NFL invited 334 players to participate in this year’s Combine.  There are 7 rounds and 32 teams, so there are only 224 picks to be made in the draft; when you throw in some compensatory picks and you wind up with 256 selections in this year’s draft.  So, even if every player taken this year had been one of the Combine invitees, there would have been 78 players on the outside looking in.  However, there were 117 Combine attendees who never “got the call” from an NFL team over the 3 days of the Draft.

That means that 35% of the guys that the league thought highly enough of to offer an invitation were of no interest to any of the teams in the league.  Even the so called “insiders” and “professionals” are not in the know on this kind of stuff.  Keep this in mind next year when you are tempted to tune in to see how high an offensive lineman can jump…

Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot about the TV coverage of the Kentucky Derby:

“TV Timeout:  Because it is unavoidable, NBC’s five hours of Kentucky Derby coverage will again include fawning tableaus of the horsey set’s one-percenters.  That and also stupid hats.  You know, the stuff with which the masses can easily identify.”

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

 

 

Can The Kickoff Be Saved?

The NFL Competition Committee has been at work trying to make kickoffs safer in NFL games.  There are myriad aspects to their suggested changes in what sort of blocking will be permissible and how formations for the kicking team will be regulated.  You can find descriptions of the proposed changes in this report by Mark Maske in the Washington Post.  It seems as if the Competition Committee recognizes that kickoffs are problematic regarding “player safety” but the Committee wants to try to legislate ways to keep kickoffs in the game.

There was a recent study cited by ESPN which concluded that kickoffs in the NFL were 5 times more dangerous to players in terms of concussions.  Moreover, the study also found that many of the concussions incurred on kickoffs that went out of the end zone or on kickoffs that were not returned by the receiving team.  If that is factual, that means that the collisions that create concussions happen even on plays that are seemingly benign because there is no runback.

[Aside:  I have not reviewed the study in question here or its methodology or its “counting rules”; therefore, I am in no position to comment on the confidence one should put in the results.  Nevertheless, it is indeed logical for a football fan to conclude that kickoffs create more violent collisions that most other plays and that those plays might be somewhat more dangerous to participating players.]

I will say that if indeed the probability of a concussion goes up 500% for every kickoff in a game, then there is at least sufficient reason to consider the possibility of removing the kickoff from the game.  I am not suggesting a move that will begin an inexorable march toward the “sissification” of pro football; this is not something that will lead to an inevitable situation where football players take the field wearing tutus.  Thinking about the possibility that football might continue to exist without the kickoff as part of the ritual may be the common-sense thing to do.

Presumably, the NFL kickoff rule(s) will change this year – along with the “what is a catch rule” – and we will see if the changes make an innately violent game just a tad safer.  I suspect that it will not take long for special teams’ coaches to figure out ways to get around these rule changes in order to try to pin opponents back in their territory on kickoff plays.  When they do that, big kickoff collisions will be back even if these rule changes make them drop on a temporary basis.

Thanks to CBSSports.com, we are aware of a very strange story involving a high school superintendent in New Jersey.  Here is the first paragraph of that report:

“A high school superintendent in New Jersey is in deep doo-doo after being caught pooping on another high school’s football field. This wasn’t a one-time occurrence, either.”

Here is link to that story where you can read all of the gory details.  I think the best part of the saga is that the pooping perpetrator has been charged with “lewdness” and “littering”.  I guess the “littering” charge is there because the area does not have an “anti-dumping” ordinance…

Over in England, Arsene Wenger has been the coach/manager of Arsenal in the English Premiere League for more than 20 years now.  However, he will be replaced at the end of this season; Arsenal has 3 games remaining in the 2018 season.  The Gunners are in 6th place in the 20-team English Premier League and have only a mathematical chance to advance and finish in 5th place for the season.  Notwithstanding that place in the EPL Table, Arsene Wenger has been an icon in EPL football for the last two decades.

Wenger is one of the coaches who took over for a “legendary figure” at Arsenal and managed to succeed and hang around for a while – 22 years to be more precise.  Feelings and loyalties regarding EPL teams are even more intense than similar circumstances for teams here in the States.  Arsenal’s rivals did not take kindly to Wenger due to his success and his candor regarding opposing players or managers.  Nevertheless, his was a successful time at the helm for Arsenal and his successor will have large shoes to fill.  As of today, his record at Arsenal is 705 wins, 280 draws and 247 losses.  Even counting draws as unacceptable as losses, his winning percentage at Arsenal is .572.  Arsene Wenger is retiring at the age of 68.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“All 22 ESPN experts predicted that Portland would beat New Orleans in their NBA playoff series – only to have the Pelicans sweep the Blazers in four.

“Even Brandon Belt’s 21-pitch at-bat didn’t produce that many foul tips.”

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