LeBron Is A Laker

LeBron James performed a massive public service over the weekend.  Instead of dragging out his decision – – The Decision Redux? – – as to where he would be “taking his talents” beginning with the next NBA season.  LeBron will play for the Lakers and has signed a 4-year deal worth $154M.  Please ignore all of the self-serving commentary you will hear from LeBron and the Lakers in the next 72 hours; please ignore the bazillion NBA commentary/essays that will appear in the next 72 hours purporting to “clarify for you” what this signing means and signifies.  Such statements and commentaries are pure blather.

Dwight Howard got traded again.  Reports say that the Hornets shipped him off to the Nets for Timofey Mozgov and a second-round pick.  Howard was a certified stud when he was playing for the Magic; he led the league in rebounding 4 times and in blocked shots 2 times in his 8 seasons there.  That ended in 2012 when Howard “took his talents” to LA to play for the Lakers; since then he has become a vagabond.  If/when he reports to the Nets – or any other NBA team in October 2018, it will be Dwight Howard’s 5th team since 2012 and four teams in the last four years.  Yikes!  Howard’s contract calls for him to earn $23.8M next year and then for him to be an unrestricted free agent.

Switching over to NFL news, Jameis Winston has been suspended for 3 games at the start of the 2018 season for a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy.  A female Uber driver has accused him of grabbing her by the crotch while she was taking him from Point A to Point B.  Winston has said that he had been drinking and cannot recall the details of that evening.

I am not interested in trying to litigate the allegations here so let me get a couple of things out of the way without any equivocation:

  1. No woman should ever be “grabbed by the crotch” unwillingly.  Period.  End of message.  There are no “mitigating circumstances”.
  2. This is not the first time that a woman has made allegations against Jameis Winston that involve unwanted or forced actions of a “sexual nature”.
  3. The presumption of innocence – guaranteed in the US Constitution – demands that we all declare that Jameis Winston has never been proven to be a sexual predator in a court of law.

With all of that out of the way, the NFL’s action and posture in this matter is befuddling.  After the blunder that followed the “Ray Rice Incident” – wherein Ray Rice got a 2-game suspension for knocking his future wife to her knees on an elevator captured on video – the NFL adopted a Personal Conduct Policy that set the bar at a 6-game suspension for actions involving domestic violence.  Recall that in 2017, Ezekiel Elliott got a 6-game suspension for that same sort of violation.

So … the current question open for analysis is:

  • Why/How did Jameis Winston get a suspension that is half as long as what the NFL’s policy demands and is half as long as what Ezekiel Elliott got just last year?

In order to try and understand all of this, I thought that the best way would be to look at what the NFL itself said about all of this in the announcement of the punishment and the closure of the matter.  The NFL said in its statement that Jameis Winston touched an Uber driver:

“… in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent.”

The NFL statement also included this comment:

“In addition, a future violation of the Personal Conduct Policy will result in more substantial discipline, including a potential ban from the NFL.”

OK, so now that you know what the NFL has to say about handing down a suspension that is half of what the league policy calls for and half of what Ezekiel Elliott got last year, can you give me a logical explanation?  If this is the best logical explanation, then the NFL and its so-called Personal Conduct Policy should be exposed for what it is:

  • An arbitrary and capricious use of authority granted to the Commissioner by the NFLPA in the last round of labor negotiations in exchange for more revenue being devoted to the salary cap.

This is off the top of my head and so there may be other “precedents” involved here.  It does seem to me that the 6-game suspension rule is not followed in more than a few cases.  Nonetheless, consider:

  • Josh Brown got a 1-game suspension for a domestic violence incident.
  • Junior Galette got a 2-game suspension for a domestic violence incident.  (This is the “Ray Rice punishment” after the fact and after the announcement of a new policy standard.)
  • Joseph Randle got a 4-game suspension for an incident that involved domestic violence plus a firearm.

[Aside:  Randle’s 4-game suspension was the same punishment handed down to Tom Brady for a charge not yet proven conclusively related to under-inflated footballs.  I must be missing something here regarding the severity of the potential/alleged violations of NFL rules/policies here.]

If you get the idea here that I think the NFL is bending over backwards not to drop the hammer on a young Black QB who continues to show that his maturity level and his self-control mechanisms are inadequate, you would be most correct.  Nonetheless, I feel in good company because this is what Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had to say about this matter:

“Suggestion for the lawyers and agents of Jameis Winston: When you release a statement on Winston’s Facebook account, listen to how he talks and try to make the statement sound like him. Not: ‘In the past two years my life has been filled with experiences, opportunities and events that have helped me grow, mature and learn.’ Is that his valedictory speech?

“Apparently one of those growth opportunities was the groping of a female Uber driver.”

Finally, since I invoked the name and the commentary of Scott Ostler just above, let me close today with another of his observations regarding the NFL and its rules and policies:

“If you want to see an NFL owner sweat, ask him what will happen if Marshawn Lynch continues to sit out the national anthem. The owners are hoping and praying that their new anthem rule will make that sticky situation go away, and Lynch could be the wild card. Good luck, owners, on getting a feel for what Lynch might be thinking. He sits out the anthem, on the Raiders’ bench, surrounded by team staffers trying to hide him. Lynch never explains why he’s sitting. And he doesn’t like being told what to do. And the Raiders don’t want to punish Lynch and risk alienating Oakland fans. Tick, tick …”

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

 

 

Updating Some Projections …

Back on May 1, six teams in MLB were on track to lose 100 games this year – – and the Reds projected to lose 123 games.  I do not have the inclination to check the numbers, but I doubt that there has ever been a season in MLB where that happened.  Those teams were:

  1. Marlins
  2. Orioles
  3. Padres
  4. Reds
  5. Royals
  6. White Sox

Here we are almost two months later and what do we have:

  1. Marlins now project to lose only 99 games.  I wonder if that will engender a spike in attendance in South Florida.
  2. Orioles now project to lose 115 games.  Buck Showalter has managed 20 years in MLB; his teams have never lost more than 97 games in a season.
  3. Padres now project to lose 92 games.  The improvement here comes despite a 2-8 record in the Padres’ last 10 games.
  4. Reds now project to lose 95 games.  That is a major improvement over the past 2 months under new manager Jim Riggleman.
  5. Royals now project to lose 111 games.  The Royals are in a weak division and are the weakest of the weak.
  6. White Sox now project to lose 105 games.  The White Sox are in the same division as the Royals; enough said about the AL Central.

If all these projections at the halfway point of the season pan out, there will be 3 teams in the AL that will have lost more than 100 games in the 2018 season.  Economists often talk about “income inequality”; this year’s AL standings could show a humongous “victory inequality”.

For at least the last two decades, I have advocated moving the Preakness Stakes to somewhere other than Pimlico Race Course and have suggested on several occasions that Pimlico had all the charm and elegance of an upholstered toilet.  Friends and acquaintances who live in the Baltimore area or who are from Baltimore always reacted as if I had desecrated a religious icon.  My response was always that I call ‘em like I see ‘em.

It seems that my bordering-on-sacrilegious statements may be taking root elsewhere in the minds of folks who might do something about this.  Here is the lead paragraph from an article in the Baltimore Business Journal from yesterday:

“A top city official said Thursday he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ that the Preakness would remain in Baltimore.”

Evidently, the owners of Pimlico – who also happen to own Laurel Race Course about 30 miles from Pimlico – have estimated that it will take $300M to redevelop and modernize the Pimlico facility.  The city-fathers in Baltimore have some ideas of their own wherein not only does Pimlico Race Course get modernized; the whole neighborhood in the Pimlico area gets redeveloped into a “race track and entertainment hub”.  Here is a link to the article from yesterday if you are interested in the current state of events.

It has been quite a while since I have been to Pimlico for a day of racing; my guess is that my last visit was around 2002 or 2003.  I recognize that neighborhoods can change a lot – for better or worse – in 15 years but my sense is that the neighborhood surrounding Pimlico will cost at least as much to renovate as the estimated $300M needed to make the track into something worth the trouble to visit.  If the city government in Baltimore wants to redevelop/improve the neighborhood, that would be a good idea – – but there does not have to be a racetrack in the middle of the newly improved neighborhood to make the project work.  My position remains the same:

  • The Preakness should be run at Laurel – about 15 miles south of Baltimore city.
  • Pimlico should be razed and the land put to whatever productive use the owners and the city can agree upon.
  • The City of Baltimore has plenty of other things to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on to make life in the city better for lots of residents there.

NFL Futures bets are not pari-mutuel; the odds are not calculated with a simple and widely known formula.  However, NFL futures bets do reflect generally the sense of the betting public.  When a lot of money shows up on a team, the sportsbooks reduce the odds for anyone making a wager after the change of odds.  As of this morning, the Cleveland Browns are 66-1 to win the Super Bowl in February 2019.  Yes, that is the one at the end of this season.  Recall that the Browns have only won one NFL game in the last two years.

You can use that information to consider that the Browns may be significantly improved this year, or you can look at that information and think that some people have more money than brains or … whatever.  I think there is a way to look at this that goes beyond the Browns.  There are 7 NFL teams that are at longer odds than the Browns to win the Super Bowl.  They are:

  1. Arizona Cardinals  75-1
  2. Washington Skins  75-1
  3. Buffalo Bills  80-1
  4. Chicago Bears  100-1
  5. Cincinnati Bengals 100-1
  6. Miami Dolphins  100-1
  7. NY Jets  100-1.

The Browns play the Bengals twice this year and the Jets will come to visit the Browns for a Thursday Night Football extravaganza in Week 3.  Might those opponents use these odds as “bulletin-board material” prior to those games?

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Ant:  An insect of the family Formicidae, colonies of which have been around for 130 million years and have succeeded in occupying almost every landmass on earth.  Kind of puts your bachelor’s in business administration in perspective, doesn’t it?”

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

 

 

Around And Around And Around …

It is not often that I can start a rant with a Biblical reference.  Everyone can open their Bibles now to Ecclesiastes Chapter 1 and Verse 9:

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

[Full disclosure:  I remembered that this was a Bible verse, but it was Google that let me identify where in the Bible is was.]

In the world of sports and television, the old has become the new as of this morning.  Reports say that FOX and the WWE have gotten together on a 5-year deal that will put 2 hours of live professional ‘rassling on network TV every week.  Back in the infancy of television, pro ‘rassling was on the air regularly; then it went away as viewers turned to sitcoms and adult Westerns; then came mini-series programming; and now, pro ‘rassling is back.

The program is called Smackdown Live and it evidently has been on cable networks for a while.  FOX is paying $205M a year for this programming meaning that each of the 52 shows a week will cost FOX $3.9M; that seems to be a cost they can cover with two hours of advertising to sell.

Right now, FOX and FOX Sports are focused on televising the World Cup games.  Given the fact that the US Men’s’ National Team did not qualify, there has to be some diminution of interest at a broad level for the event in the US.  [Aside:  If you have seen how terribly Panama has played in these World Cup games, you have to wonder how the USMNT finished behind them in the qualifiers.]  FOX says, nonetheless, that they have had strong ad sales for the games in the Group Phase and market analysts say that FOX has been the beneficiary of the NBA Finals going only 4 games.  That reduced sports competition on the air and it attracted some of the sports advertising dollars that did not get spent on an extended NBA Finals.

Of course, worldwide interest in the World Cup Games is immense.  We were in Belgrade and heard an entire city erupt in cheers – and what sounded like gunfire – in celebration of a goal by the Serbian team about a week ago.  And folks in that part of the world do not only watch their own teams; they watch all the games all the time.  Back in 2014, the World Cup Final game was watched by an estimated 700 million people.  That is more than twice the population of the US and about 10% of the world population.

The ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting has produced some fallout beyond getting a couple of assistant coaches fired and producing a report from a Blue-Ribbon Panel that seems to have faded into memory already.  The tangible fallout is a civil lawsuit brought by Sketchers (a shoe company) against Adidas (the alleged bad guys in the FBI probe) on this basis; Sketchers alleges that Adidas:

“… created false advertising and unfair competition by funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret payments to high school and college basketball players and their families to wear its products.”

Moreover, Sketchers asserts that those secret payments:

“… effectively blocked Skechers and other companies from competing on a level playing field for young, NBA-level endorsers, and unfairly bolstered consumer perception of Adidas’ overall brand quality and image well beyond the basketball footwear market.”

Not unexpectedly, the response from Adidas was to say that this complaint was “frivolous and nonsensical”.  I won’t pretend to be the modern-day incarnation of Oliver Wendell Holmes here but let me just say that Sketchers probably would not want me on the jury if this ever went to trial.

Back in the late 50s – – back when pro ‘rassling was a network TV staple – – the Detroit Lions were a solid football team.  In 1957, the Lions won the NFL Championship beating the Cleveland Browns (also an NFL powerhouse at the time) 59-14 in the championship game.  The QB in that game was Tobin Rote who was substituting for the Lions’ starting QB, Bobby Layne, who was out with a broken leg.  According to reputation, Layne was a “bad boy” whose commitment to training and sobriety was not complete.  Nevertheless, he was a fine QB once game-day rolled around.  After winning the championship with backup Tobin Rote under center, the Lions’ braintrust decided they had had enough of Layne and they traded him away to the Pittsburgh Steelers (an NFL doormat at the time).  Layne supposedly said that the Lions were stupid and that they would never win another championship for 50 years.

Last year, was the 60th season after the Lions traded Bobby Layne.  Not only have the Lions not won a championship in those 60 seasons, they have only won 1 playoff game in that span of time.  The Lions record in playoff games since their championship in 1957 is 1-12.  That lone win came in 1992 when the Lions beat the Cowboys in a first round game.  The Lions lost the next week to the Skins by a lopsided score.

To give you an idea of the futility of the Lions as a franchise, the team has been in the NFL for 89 seasons (since 1930).  Over that time, the Lions winningest coach was Wayne Fontes and Fontes’ career record with the Lions was 66-67-0.

Here is another Lions’ oddity.  Since the merger of the NFL and the AFL in 1970, no head coach of the Lions was ever a head coach for another NFL team after the Lions fired him.  It is almost as if the rest of the league does not want to risk that sort of taint on their franchise.  Welcome to Detroit, Matt Patricia…

Finally, consider this item from Dwight Perry’s Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times:

“TBS’s Conan O’Brien after President Donald Trump tweeted that he is considering a pardon request made by Sylvester Stallone:  ‘The pardon is for the guy who wrote Rocky V’.”

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

 

 

A New Wagering Opportunity …

The Westgate sportsbook in Las Vegas is offering futures betting for the College Football Playoff next December/January.  For the first time, they will take action on which individual teams will be selected as the four semi-finalists.  Here are the odds for some of the top teams:

  • Alabama   minus-210
  • Clemson   Even money
  • Ohio St.   +125
  • Georgia   +175
  • Oklahoma  +350

According to reports from the Westgate, there is lively action on these futures bets and the Westgate announced that in about 2-3 weeks they will post odds for more than 200 college basketball teams to reach the Final Four next April.

Back when MLB free agents were having a tough time signing monster contracts, I mentioned that some of the previous contracts handed out to aging hitters may have taught GMs to be wary of the dangers of such deals.  I mentioned then the contracts for Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.  Let me add one more name to my previous list.

In 2016, the Orioles signed then 30-year old Chris Davis to a 7-year contract worth $161M.  That contract runs all the way through the 2022 season.  There is money in the contract that is deferred totaling $42M meaning that Davis gets an average of $17M each year through 2022 and then collects the $42M deferred money in 10 annual installments starting in 2023.  And how has this worked out for the Orioles…?

  • In 2016, Davis hit .221; had an OPS of .792 and led the AL in strikeouts.
  • In 2017, Davis hit .215; had an OPS of .732 but only struck out 195 times

Now, in 2018 at age 32, Davis finds himself on the bench for lack of production.  In 61 games this year, he is hitting .149 and his OPS is .469.  He has 33 hits for the season and has struck out 93 times.  The Orioles are in the midst of a horrendous season even though they did not leave Spring Training with the idea of tanking to rebuild the team.  While Davis’ performance has contributed to the Orioles’ woes, it would be a stretch to blame him for miserable record.  Other than Manny Machado who is having a great year, just about everyone else on the team is under-achieving.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this take on the Orioles’ malaise this year:

“Phil Mickelson incurred a two-stroke penalty for hitting a moving ball at the U.S. Open.

“’You can hit a moving ball?’ asked a Baltimore Oriole.”

Scott Boras is the agent who got Davis that deal.  Scott Boras also represents Nats’ wunderkind Bryce Harper who will be a free agent this winter and who has indicated that he would love to see offers north of $400M in total value.  Harper is only 25 years old, so Boras will very properly point out that he is about to enter the prime years of his career.  The negotiating hurdles here could be twofold:

  1. Scott Boras has had more than a few of his former clients who have not performed up to the levels of their deals.  The Yankees’ deal with A-Rod is a prime example here.  The Chris Davis deal is also not looking like a gem.
  2. Bryce Harper is making $21.6M this year and is not playing up to that value so far.  As of this morning, he is hitting .217 with an OPS of .832.  He does lead the league with 19 HRs, but he has only driven in 46 runs in 75 games.  That is not what one might call an “ideal walk-year performance”.

Notwithstanding the above, Harper will get a mega-deal because of his numbers in years prior to this one.  Personally, if I were a GM and I were inclined to throw out a $400M offer this winter, I would probably direct it to Manny Machado first.  But I am not a GM and I never will be…

Over in the National League, the Miami Marlins surely appear to have chosen tanking as a team strategy for at least 2018.  The new ownership – fronted by Derek Jeter – took the opportunity last winter to trade away their entire starting outfield:

  • Marcel Ozuna is in St. Louis
  • Giancarlo Stanton is a Yankee
  • Christian Yelich is in Milwaukee.

All three of them are having solid seasons with their new teams.  Without resorting to Google, how many outfielders for the Marlins in 2018 can you name?  For the record, I could only recall one name – Derek Dietrich – without glancing at baseball-reference.com.  Then, when I went to that site, I noticed that Marlins’ centerfielder, Lewis Brinson, has been in 76 games so far this year and is hitting all of .177 with an OPS of .554.  Moreover, Brinson leads the team in strikeouts.

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

“The Phillies’ pitching staff is nothing but right-wingers after lone lefty Zac Curtis got demoted to the minors last week.

“The Republican Party approves of this message.”

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

 

 

Still Catching Up …

Julian Edelman is facing a 4-game suspension from the NFL for failing a drug test.  I was not the least bit surprised to hear that Edelman proclaimed that he had no idea how this happened; that is the “go-to response” for every athlete who “lights up the lab” with one of his samples.  Here is the thing that did surprise me:

  • The NFL said that his failed test was due to the detection of an “unrecognizable substance”.

The natural question here is:

  • If the substance is “unrecognizable” – – translation: the guys in the lab have no idea what it is – – how can the NFL be sure that it is a performance enhancer or one of its banned substances or some sort of illicit drug?

Just suppose that after months of painstaking analysis, they find that the “unrecognizable substance” is in fact – – mule snot.  I doubt there is evidence that mule snot is a PED; I am pretty sure that ingesting mule snot is not illegal; I am certain that mule snot is not on the NFL list of banned substances.  So, while the test can only conclude that there is some “unrecognizable substance” in Julian Edelman’s sample, how can the NFL assume that it is one that merits a suspension?

Another NFL-related story got far too much attention over the past several weeks.  Terrell Owens said that he would not attend the Hall of Fame ceremony that would induct him into the Hall of Fame.  Analysts have concluded that T.O. is miffed that it took him a couple of years to be voted into the HoF and that is why he will not show up for the event.   Talk about a tempest in a spittoon…

Look, if Terrell Owens wants to make his mark as the guy who snubbed the HoF ceremony because he thinks the HoF snubbed him for a couple of years, so be it.  By turning that decision on Owens’ part into something worthy of discussion/debate, the media journalists played directly into his hand.  I think it is fair to say that more than a few events in Terrell Owens’ life/career point to the fact that he loves to be the center of attention; discussing this magnificently unimportant decision on Owens’ part only serves to make him the center of attention.

Jason Whitlock of FS1 had this Tweet about this matter:

“The worst teammate in the history of professional football is now going to be the worst teammate in the history of the Hall of Fame.”

Somewhere T.O. is smiling while doing sit-ups in his driveway and thinking of how he just got his name in the public eye yet one more time…

Here is an alternate explanation:

  • Owens will skip the ceremony because he could not find anyone who was sufficiently egoistic to write the acceptance speech for him.
  • Of course, if that is indeed the case, I think it would be safe to conclude that Terrell Owens and LaVar Ball are not on the best of terms.

The US Congress – Motto: Taking fecklessness to new depths daily! – – has held hearings as it contemplates a piece of legislation known as the Horseracing Integrity Act.   Sports fans with a memory span greater than that of a rutabaga should recall the last time the Congress waded into the sports world with legislation to preserve the integrity of sports.  That previous incursion was the late – but hardly lamented – passage of PASPA which was to protect and preserve college and professional sports from the evil influences of gambling.  There were only two flaws in the PASPA legislation:

  1. It was declared to be unconstitutional 26 years after its enactment.
  2. It failed to stop gambling on collegiate or pro sports thereby failing in its stated duty to protect those athletic endeavors.

Other than that, …

These days the Congress is contemplating how to “save horseracing” and to protect its integrity; moreover, the Congressthings are actually able to do this with a straight face.  Clearly, this means that all of the important problems facing the nation are already resolved if the geniuses on the Hill can take time to work on this nit-not-worth-picking.  The Horseracing Integrity Act would ban Lasix on race day and would put drug testing for horses under the auspices of the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency).  Those are the same efficient and effective folks who assure that Olympic athletes and cyclists are not using banned substances.  What could possibly go wrong?  I know; they might find horse blood and urine samples that have “unrecognizable substances” in them and use that information to draw a conclusion other than the most obvious one:

  • Your “drug testing regimens” are woefully insufficient.

Recently there was a hearing on this matter and the opposing sides of the debate came loaded for bear.  Here is a link to a report that will give you more details on this subject that the law allows…

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News.  I completely agree…

“ESPN and Netflix plan to air a 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan.

“Because what the world seriously needs is more stories on Michael Jordan.”

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

 

 

Hello Again …

Back in the days of Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio, the hosts would come back from breaks and say they were “back and better than ever”.  Well, I have been on an extended break and the best I can say is:

  • I’m back – – and I promise to be as crabby as ever.

When I went off the air, the Caps and Lightening were tied 2-2 in the NHL semi-finals while the Golden Knights led the Jets 2-1.  Congratulations to the Caps on their first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.

In the NBA, both Conference Championship rounds were tied at 2-2.  The Cavaliers prevailed in the East and then were swept by the Warriors in the Finals.  Over in the Balkans where I was for much of my hiatus, the NBA is a big deal and lots of people were watching various NBA games at bars and outdoor restaurants.  There were also lots of people wearing NBA “gear” and just about every school we saw had basketball hoops installed on the grounds for kids to use.

The NBA presence and awareness in Europe is significant.  Taking a cue form the NFL, the NBA will play another regular season game in Europe again next season.  In January 2019, the Knicks and the Wizards will face each other in London.   I wonder if the NBA selected those teams because of the diverse presence of European players on both teams:

  1. Wizards’ Center Marcin Gortat is from Poland
  2. Wizards’ Center Ian Mahinimi is from France
  3. Wizards’ Forward Thomas Satoransky is from the Czech Republic
  4. Knicks’ Forward Kristaps Porzingas is from Latvia
  5. Knicks’ Guard Frank Ntilikina is from France
  6. Knicks’ Center Enes Kanter is from Turkey

And as icing on the cake, Knicks’ Guard Emmanuel Mudiay is from the Congo.

In the NFL, Tom Brady and Odell Beckham, Jr. were not attending OTAs.  For some reason, that was considered newsworthy.  Somehow, I believe both of these guys will still be on NFL rosters come September…

The NFL is simply not a big deal in the Balkans.  In that part of the world “football” is a totally different game…

In MLB, the Phillies and the Braves were tied for first place in the NL East.  This morning the Braves are still in first place.   Last year, I said that I thought the Braves were back as contenders; that was premature.  However, the Braves’ team in 2018 looks pretty good to me.

The Yankees and Red Sox were running off with the AL East.  They continue to do so.  The surprise in the AL East is not that the Orioles are out of contention but that the Orioles have the worst record in MLB and the team is not trying to tank for a rebuilding process.

The Indians were sitting at .500 and still led the AL Central.  They now lead the division by 5 games partly because every other team in the division is still below .500.

The Astros led the Mariners by 2 games when I left.  Back then the Astros had only allowed 125 runs in 49 games.  The Astros lead is now 3.5 games and they are still very stingy with runs allowed.  In 76 games, they have allowed 233 runs; the next best team in terms of runs allowed is the Cubs giving up 253 runs in 73 games.

The NL Central race was a 4-way affair when I left.  Today, it appears to be sorting itself out into a race between the Brewers and the Cubs.

The NL WEst had the Rockies, D-Backs and Giants setting the pace.  Today the Dodgers have inserted themselves in the race and trail the D-Backs by only 2.5 games.

MLB is not much of a deal in the Balkans.  I saw a few folks wearing Yankees’ caps and a young man and a young woman decked out in KC Royals hats and shirts.  Other than that, …

Back when I left, the US Supreme Court had just declared PASPA unconstitutional.  Lots of folks were opining on what this might mean in the future.  Former Senator Bill Bradley – who was one of the proponents of PASPA back in 1992 when it was passed into law – obviously thought that the Court’s decision was wrong-headed.  I have a great deal of respect for Senator Bradley – not because he was an excellent basketball player but because he is generally thoughtful and reasonable and pragmatic.  Nonetheless on this issue, he and I fundamentally disagree.

Senator Bradley dipped into a line of argumentation that was once labeled “the parade of improbable horribles”.  He said that legalized sports betting could lead to gambling on high school games and even into in-game betting on those events.  Indeed, that could happen, and I agree that it would not be a boon to high school sports to have lines posted for the games.  HOW-EVAH …  [/Stephen A. Smith]:

  • Sports wagering has been ongoing in Nevada for decades and in all my visits to sportsbooks there have never been any high school sporting events available for wagering.
  • What the Supreme Court said is that the Congress could act to regulate sports wagering but PASPA was not a permissible way to do it.  If the several States and/or the Congress wish to assure that there are no legal wagers placed on high school sports, the door is open for those entities to do so.
  • Please note that I said “legal wagers” above.  If a local bookmaker wants to take action on a game between Rocky Mountain High and Secondhand Smoke High, there are already laws on the books to prevent such action – – but the local bookie can probably still do that with impunity.

Finally, the College World Series started whilst I was gone and here is a comment from Brad Dickson, formerly with the Omaha World-Herald about the weather in Omaha at this time of the year:

“Torrential downpour, dangerous lightning strikes, flooding, 60 mph winds. And still, this is pretty nice weather considering it’s College World Series time.  CWS visitors are learning that ‘Omaha’ is an old Indian word meaning ‘rain delay’.”

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

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………