Kentucky Derby Talk

This Saturday, two cultural events collide.  It is the first Saturday in May and that means it will be the day that they will run the Kentucky Derby.  It is also May 5th and that means that there will be Cinco de Mayo celebrations everywhere.  And before anyone dares to ask, that calendar confluence does NOT mean that you can make mint juleps with Dos Equis beer in place of good bourbon.  I assume that readers here are all adults and so I will not get into any moralizing about how one must consume alcohol responsibly at a Cinco de Mayo celebration.  I take it as axiomatic that adults reading these rants know about such admonishments.

However, these are sports-related rants and so I will take a moment here to pass along some advice regarding the Kentucky Derby.  I am doing this 3 days in advance of the race so that anyone interested in serious handicapping will have some time to make that happen.

Here is what we know about the Derby on Saturday.  It will be a mile-and-a-quarter race for 3-year olds and there will almost assuredly be 20 horses in the starting gates.  There is an Also Eligible named for the field just in case one of the currently entered horses succumbs to an early scratch.  Handicapping a 20-horse field is a royal pain in the posterior and so I will try here to give racegoers and race bettors a head start.

I have divided the 20-horse field into 3 categories.  Here in Category 1 are the horses that I do not think have a chance to win the race on Saturday.  I say this knowing that the Derby has produced more than its share of longshot winners; these horses just do not seem to measure up to several other entries and so I would throw them out and not waste any more time looking for arcane clues in their past performances.  Here they are in alphabetical order:

  • Blended Citizen  Morning Line = 50-1 (He is the “Also Eligible” horse)
  • Enticed  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Firenze Fire  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Flameaway  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Hofburg  Morning Line = 20-1
  • Instilled Regard  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Lone Sailor  Morning Line = 50-1
  • My Boy Jack  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Noble indy  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Promises Fulfilled  Morning Line = 30-1

That cuts the field in half meaning you need to focus your handicapping energy and reasoning on only half of the field.  But I’ll make it even simpler.  Here are 4 horses in Category 2 who are better than the 10 listed above but who do not give me much confidence that they can win the race.  Maybe they can finish in the money; maybe they can fill out a Superfecta; maybe they will run “up the track”.  In any event, here are my Category 2 horses – – ones that I cannot throw out but ones that I do not particularly like:

  • Bravazo  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Combatant  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Free Drop Billy  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Mendelssohn  Morning Line = 5-1

To my mind, if you have subtracted these horses from consideration in the winners’ circle, that should leave you with 7 contenders.  That is a manageable number of horses to deal with in terms of serious handicapping.  Here are my Category 3 horses – the serious contenders to win the 2018 Kentucky Derby:

  1. Audible  Morning Line = 8-1
  2. Bolt d’Oro  Morning Line = 8-1
  3. Good Magic  Morning Line = 12-1
  4. Justify  Morning Line = 3-1  (Likely the race favorite at about 8-5)
  5. Magnum Moon  Morning Line = 6-1
  6. Solomini  Morning Line = 30-1
  7. Vin Rosso  Morning Line = 12-1

Just for the halibut, here is my superfecta box for the race.  At the $1 level, it risks $24.  The horses in the box are Free Drop Billy, Justify, Magnum Moon and Solomini.  Whatever…

The 2019 MLB schedule is still very much up in the air – – except for one fact that has been nailed down.  The Oakland A’s will open “at home” against the Seattle Mariners but the game will be played in Tokyo.  That will give the A’s the attendance equivalent of two “home openers” – – the one in Tokyo and then the one in Oakland.  Given the A’s attendance woes over the past several years, having two “Home openers” cannot possibly hurt.

Finally, here are two comments from Brad Dickson – formerly with the Omaha World-Herald – on the importance of spring football in Nebraska:

“In the rest of the world the big story is Kim Jong Un saying he’s gonna disable his nuclear weapons. In Nebraska, however, the big story is a third team linebacker being moved to second team for today’s spring game.”

And …

“In Lincoln Saturday Earth Day will be observed by releasing 80,000 environmentally damaging red balloons into the air after someone scores a touchdown at a football game that doesn’t count.”

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

 

 

Baseball And Stats Today…

A recent column by Joel Sherman in the NY Post contained some interesting baseball stats.

  • In April 2018, MLB had its first month ever where there were more strikeouts in all the games (7,335) than there were base hits in all the games (6,992).
  • The collective MLB batting average for April 2018 was .244 and Sherman points out that this is the lowest since 1972 – the year before the American League introduced the designated hitter.
  • For April 2018, walks per game and hit batters per game are also at historically high levels.

From this data, Sherman summarizes:

“April concluded with 35.6 percent of plays ending in a strikeout, walk, homer or hit by pitch — hence, not in the field of play creating consistent action.”

Now, one could look at that data and that conclusion and say that the lack of “consistent action” is the reason that baseball is a game that attracts a significantly older clientele.  I have a problem with that logic on two fronts:

  1. If “consistent action” was the sine qua non for widespread fandom among millennials, then the NHL should be leading the pack in terms of sports interest in the US – – and it is not.
  2. Baseball is a game of action – – and it is a game of strategy and tactics.  The four “outcomes” noted by Joel Sherman above – strikeout, walk, homer or hit by pitch – all create new strategic and tactical challenges for both the offense and the defense.  Excitement comes to baseball games in many different flavors; when the ball is hit into the field of play, that creates excitement; those other outcomes from an at-bat can also produce baseball excitement.

This was an interesting column from Joel Sherman who is a well known and highly respected writer on baseball.  Here is a link to this column.  I suggest you may want to read it in its entirety.

The winter of 2017/2018 was a disappointing one for many MLB free agents; that state of affairs was widely reported as Spring Training began with lots of hopeful free agents left hanging out to dry.  Some folks even used the “C-Word” in hushed tones; you know … collusion.

I would like to point out here how three different teams are currently suffering under stifling guaranteed contracts that they doled out to free agents who were deep enough into their careers at the time of the signing to assure that there would be bleak times ahead for the teams and the players:

  1. Chicago Cubs:   They signed Jason Heyward in 2016 to an 8-year contract worth $184M.  He will make $21.5M this year and then another $106M in the years up to the end of the 2023 season.  Heyward has been a .261/.344/.412 hitter over his 8+ years in MLB and that is hardly an eye-popping stat line.  In his first two years in Chicago, he did not even live up to that career standard.  I guess Cubs’ fans can take solace that he is still a really good defensive outfielder and they can hope that aspect of his game continues to obtain through 2023.
  2. Detroit Tigers:  They signed Miguel Cabrera in 2016 as the Cubs did with Jason Heyward.  Cabrera’s deal is also for 8 years through 2023 and it was for a whopping $248M with options in 2024 and 2025.  Cabrera will make $30M this year; he will make $31M from 2019 through 2021; then, he will make $32M in 2022 and 2023.  And if the Tigers want to drop him in 2024, it will cost them an additional $8M to do that.  Last year, Cabrera hit .249 which was his worst year at the plate in his 15-year MLB career.  He is 35 years old now and will be closing in on 41 years old when the Tigers buy out the 2024 season for $8M.
  3. LA Angels:  They signed Albert Pujols in 2012 to a 10-year contract worth $240M.  Pujols makes $27M this year and will make $28M next year, $29 M the year after that and $30M in the 2020 season.  In addition, he will collect a $3M bonus sometime this year when he collects his 3000th MLB hit.  It will take a catastrophic event to prevent him from reaching that milestone this year since he had 2996 hits as of May 1st.  In 2 of the last 3 full seasons, Pujols has hit less than .250; in half of his 6 full seasons with the Angels, he has hit fewer than 30 home runs for the year.

Every dime of those three contracts – and every other MLB contract signed – is fully guaranteed and in these three cases it is fair to say that the players have not been living up to the lofty expectations the clubs had for them as the ink was drying on the contract.  That is not a reason to eschew signing free agents; it is a reason for the clubs to think twice about how long a deal – and how much guaranteed money – they will offer to a player who is near the age of 30 at the time of the free agency

Finally, here are some random observations from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“Scientists studying the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is four times the size of California, were surprised to find it contains three Trump hotels.

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is larger than France, but the Patch’s wine region can’t carry France’s wine region’s Jacques.”

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

 

 

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I am not going to pretend to know with any degree of certainty greater than homeopathic concentration levels about the future successes/failures of QBs taken in the 2018 NFL Draft.  Nonetheless:

  • How do you think Tyrod Taylor feels today having signed a free agent deal with the Browns only to see the Browns spend the overall #1 pick on Baker Mayfield?
  • Similarly, how do you think Sam Bradford feels today having signed a free agent deal with the Cards only to see the Cards trade up to acquire Josh Rosen?

Notwithstanding any and all of the stress and agita that might arouse from such draft circumstances, there may indeed be more pressure on the incumbent QB in Baltimore than there is elsewhere among established starting QBs.  Joe Flacco is the starter for the Ravens; that is a fact and that is not going to change over the next several months so long as Flacco is not involved in a traffic incident that leaves him as a multiple amputee.  Ravens’ fans can take opposing positions on the “question” posed above; but I think that question is settled and unworthy of appeal.  Here is what the Ravens and Joe Flacco have to look forward to in training camp the year:

  • Recall that the Ravens signed RG3 to an incentive laden contract merely 2 weeks ago.  RG3 can run; no one can dispute that statement.
  • In the first round of the draft, the Ravens traded up to take Lamar Jackson.  That means they have two “running QBs” on the team behind Joe Flacco who is more mobile than an elm tree – – but not much more.

Forget any “training cam controversies”.  The Ravens are set up to create shouting matches among their own fanbase after every loss and maybe after some of their wins too.  It should be “fun and games” in Crabtown…

With the Draft in the rearview mirror, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have posted the futures bets for the 2018 season.  According to them, 19 of the 32 NFL teams will win 8 or more games this year. That can happen of course, but it requires a few teams to win a lot less than 8 games and the oddsmakers do not have any teams lower than 5 wins for the season.

Fear not; the oddsmakers have not lost their minds.  Remember, they are not posting numbers that necessarily reflect reality; they are posting odds that – hopefully from their point of view – will balance their books.  Fans of teams tend to be overly optimistic at this point of the season; and so, the sportsbooks taking futures bets want the win totals for 2018 to reflect that optimism.

The person who I refer to as the “Chief Logistics Officer” for our annual Las Vegas sojourn thinks it might be a winning strategy to bet all 32 teams UNDER their posted win totals at this point of the year.  Here is the link to those totals.  I will check this out and report back in December.

Switching to baseball, I realize that the season is only one month old.  Nevertheless, the Miami Marlins do not have the worst record in MLB at this point of the season despite their team-gutting activities over the winter.  In fact, at the start of May, there are 5 teams that would fall below the Marlins if MLB had a single ranking of teams.

  • Marlins  10-18  Win percentage = .357
  • Padres  10-20  Win percentage = .333
  • White Sox  8-18  Win percentage = .308
  • Orioles  8-20  Win percentage = .286
  • Royals  7-21  Win percentage = .250
  • Reds  7-22  Win percentage = .241

Is this the start of a “grand race to the bottom”?  Or, are there really 6 teams in MLB that are fielding the moral equivalent of a AAA team for the year in hopes of getting the first pick in the MLB Draft next year?

The Marlins project today to win 58 games; that means they will lose more than 100 games.  By projection, 6 teams in MLB will lose more than 100 games this year; even worse, the Reds project to win only 39 games for the season meaning they would lose 123 games – – clearly a modern record for failure.

Finally, here is a comment from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, describing a truly frightening scenario:

“I  woke up in a dead sweat the other night from a dream in which I was the sideline reporter at a pantomime competition.”

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

 

 

Retrospective On The 2018 NFL Draft

I want to talk about the NFL Draft at the outset today – – but I promise that I am not going to pretend to be able to “grade” any team’s draft even before any one of their draft picks has reported to training camp.  I prefer to look back at the draft from a different perspective.

There was something new about the 2018 NFL Draft.  It was covered by ESPN and by FOX.  You had a choice this year regarding which football gurus you preferred to listen to as you were waiting for the next pick to be announced.  As I bounced back and forth between coverages, I noted these observations:

  • None of the experts on either channel was particularly adept at forecasting the upcoming pick.
  • On FOX, Joel Klatt and Troy Aikman were on-field quarterbacks.  I found their commentary about the plethora of QBs selected early in the first round to be more interesting than the commentary on ESPN at the same time.
  • Once the “QB-wave” had crested, Troy Aikman’s observations were pretty superficial.
  • According to all the “analysts”/”gurus” on these programs, every player picked is super-talented and could become an All-Pro player down the line.

It is that last observation that grinds my gears more than just a little bit.  History tells everyone who pays attention that somewhere between a third and a half of the players picked in the first two rounds of any draft do not amount to a drab of donkey dung in the NFL.  Just because they are picked high in the draft does not mean they will do anything meritorious in the NFL.  I would greatly prefer to hear the “analysts”/”gurus” be a tad more critical/discerning in their exultation of each and every pick.  The fact that all these guys say that every pick is a great one and that the guy taken is going to be really good is lazy and sycophantic.

I have another over-arching view of the draft as it pertains to the New England Patriots.  For at least the last month, all that I have heard about the Pats is that there is discord in the locker room and that they will have to find a way to draft Tom Brady’s replacement in this draft because Brady is the leader of the locker room rebellion.  Well, maybe Brady is and maybe he isn’t; in fact, maybe there is a locker room rebellion and maybe there isn’t.  Looking back however, here is what I see:

  1. The Pats were AFC Champions last year and played in the Super Bowl.
  2. They achieved that stature without much of a contribution from their draft picks last year.  They had no picks in the first two rounds and both of their third-round picks sat out the season on IR.  Both are expected back this year meaning that a team that was good enough to get to the Super Bowl is going to add two high draft picks from last year who contributed nothing to the team getting that far.  Derek Rivers is a DE – – a position identified as a team need this year – – and Antonio Garcia is an OT – – another position identified as a team need this year.
  3. In this year’s draft, the Pats added an offensive lineman from Georgia, a running back to replace Dion Lewis (lost to free agency), a highly regarded CB and as a result of a trade with the Niners, they landed Trent Brown who might be a long-term starter at OT.

[Aside:  I really like the Pats’ 7th round pick of Braxton Barrios from Miami.  I think he may be the next Julian Edelman/Wes Welker/Danny Amendola for the Pats.]

There are plenty of “ifs” and “maybes” and “projections” in the commentary above; nevertheless, for a team that is coming off a Super Bowl level of performance in 2017, I would say that the future is not nearly as foreboding as many pundits/rumor-mongers would have you believe.

The other story that relates to the NFL Draft only because of its timing is that Jason Witten will be leaving the Dallas Cowboys to take the job with ESPN as the color analyst for Monday Night Football.  Congratulations to ESPN for “breaking the mold” and putting someone behind the microphone who did something other than play QB in the league.  From listening to Witten speak in interview settings, he is articulate and bright; if he can find a way to work harmoniously with play-by-play guy, Joe Tessitore, he should be just fine on MNF.  And from my perspective, “just fine” will be a monumental improvement over the departed – but not lamented – Jon Gruden.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times interprets recent medical findings to the NFL here:

“Adults should average no more than one alcoholic drink per day according to a new international study.

“With the obvious exception, say, of Browns’ fans.”

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

 

 

Basketball And Baseball Today…

Yesterday, I wrote at length about the College Basketball Commission’s recommendations to the NCAA.  Obviously, there was a lot of commentary on that subject around the country yesterday and I am glad to see that most writers/analysts recognize the situation for what it is:

  1. There is widespread violation of the extant NCAA rules.
  2. The current enforcement mechanism is inadequate.
  3. Schools/teams have assessed that the risk of “capture” is worth taking.
  4. The NCAA as constructed cannot fix this by itself.

The reason I am glad to see this sort of widespread recognition is simple.  If there is a problem to be solved, one must first acknowledge that there is a problem and then one must identify the scope of the problem.  It seems as if we have done that with regard to many of the ills of college basketball; now, if there is to be progress toward some solutions, there are identified goals to be achieved.  Things may actually improve…

There was another “basketball related” bit of news from earlier this week.  Lavar Ball had been uncharacteristically quiet for several weeks but emerged from his cocoon in Lithuania to announce that he is pulling his two sons off their Lithuanian team with two games left in that team’s season.  Lavar Ball had gotten crosswise with the Lithuanian coach particularly about the playing time allotted to the youngest son, LaMelo, and said that the most important thing now was to get the middle son, LiAngelo, ready for the upcoming NBA Draft.

[Aside:  Please tell me you are not surprised that Lavar Ball got crosswise with the Lithuanian coach.  Anyone surprised by that circumstance would probably also be surprised to learn that you do not need a brain transplant to change your mind.]

There was, however, a small angle to this story that was buried in one of the middle paragraphs.  This Lithuanian team has two games left in its season and it is facing relegation.  Yes, in Lithuania, they have a tiered system of basketball leagues and teams can be relegated and promoted just as teams can in soccer in England.  So, the question that flashed into my mind here was this:

  • How is it possible that this team – with two future NBA stars on it – is anywhere near relegation in a secondary level Lithuanian league?

Forgetting the snarky remark, here is a serious thought about the Ball Family Odyssey.  It appears as if LiAngelo and LaMelo could run out of places to play basketball.  By playing for a pro team in Lithuania, neither will be eligible for NCAA competition; LaMelo is still in high school – nominally home-schooled – and his professional exposure would make him ineligible at that level too.  Reports say that LiAngelo is not highly regarded as an NBA prospect meaning that his future would be in the G-League or in another overseas venue.  However, the recent rupture with the Lithuanian team/coach might constrain the demand for the services of the Ball Brothers.

You may recall that Cubs’ infielder, Anthony Rizzo, made news recently by saying that there are too many MLB games and that there should be a shorter season which would mean pay cuts for the players.  If you look at the weather conditions that have impinged on MLB so far this season, you would probably agree that things could be improved.  After Rizzo’s remarks and the initial flurry of comments about his remarks had calmed down a bit, there was a thoughtful column at espn.com written by Bradford Doolittle about cutting the MLB season back to 154 games.  Here is the link to that column; I suggest you read it in its entirety.

It would seem as if reducing the schedule by 8 games would not do a lot to shorten the season – and presumably play baseball in better weather conditions.  However, the idea here is to mix in double-headers with the 154-game season to reduce the time from Opening Day until the end of the World Series.  [Currently, the MLB season could be as long as 187 days.]  Here is one of the important suggestions in this column:

“By shortening the regular season, and mixing in at least one doubleheader per team per month — always in advance of an off day — we could easily avoid these ultra-early starts at the beginning, and kill the specter of November baseball at the end.”

I must admit that until I read this column, I did not know of Bradford Doolittle or his work.  I am going to be alert for his byline in the future; he seems to be a passionate baseball fan who is also very analytical.

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

“Professional bowling, an ESPN staple since the network’s founding in 1979, is moving to Fox for a ‘multi-year, multi-platform’ deal beginning in 2019.

“Things got so quiet around the ESPN studios when the news was announced that you could’ve heard . . . nah, too easy.”

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

 

 

Sports Radio

A couple of days ago, the NY Post reported that Mike Francessa – of Mike and the Mad Dog fame – wants “desperately” to return to the radio and that a return to WFAN in NY is possible.  I have exactly no reason to doubt this report or to put any faith in it; I take it for what it says.

Mike Francessa and his former radio co-host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo are significant cultural figures.  WFAN was the first 24-hour all-sports radio station in the country; it hit the airwaves in 1987.  Imus in the Morning got good ratings for the station but the show that solidified the sports-radio identity for the station began in 1989 when Mike and the Mad Dog took over the afternoon programming.  Their success led to the overall success of WFAN and that spawned the myriad sports-radio stations that now populate just about every major market in the US.

Francessa and Russo had a messy split several years ago and Francessa retired last year after hosting the afternoon show as a solo act for several years.  In place of Mike and the Mad Dog – and later Francessa’s solo act – WFAN has a trio of hosts for the afternoon drive slot.  I have not been to NYC recently, but I have taken some time to tune into that program over the Internet just because I was curious to see how the new hosts would follow this iconic act.

  • Spoiler alert:  It is not pretty.

The new hosts are Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott.  The best thing I can say about this trio is that they minimize the time that they talk over one another on the air.  Here is my assessment based on listening for a total of 7 or 8 hours in bits and pieces:

  • Chris Carlin:  He is the adult in the room, but he does not seem to bring any personal passion to the program.  He is facile with stats and trends, but he does not come across as a guy who is on top of “sports stuff”.
  • Maggie Gray:  She is obviously an accomplished broadcaster, but I have no idea why she is part of this program team.  Other than the fact that she possesses a doubled-X set of chromosomes …
  • Bart Scott:  Let me channel the late Dick Enberg here; Oh my!  There is a style of radio known as “Easy Listening”; Bart Scott defines the genre of “Painful Listening”.  During one of my listening segments, I was starting to root for him to incur a virus that would bring on laryngitis.

Mike and the Mad Dog was vintage sports radio; it was appointment listening.  When Francessa went solo, the show was still good – – but not as good as when he and Russo were behind the microphone.  The current afternoon programming simply recalls the Biblical verse:

“How the mighty have fallen …”

The NFL Draft starts tomorrow night.  In this morning’s Washington Post, there is evidence that every story about the ramp-up to the draft has been written and there is no more to say.  On the front of the sports section, there is this headline:

“Redskins lay out plans as NFL draft approaches”

The sub-head for that article says:

“[Doug] Williams says selecting running back early, trading down on table”

I hope you agree that there is nothing in those headlines that would draw your interest at this late stage of draft prep.  Of course, the team is finalizing its plans; of course, the Skins would have to consider taking a running back; of course, they would consider trading down depending on the circumstances.  There is no indication of any “news” in this report.

Then, on page 3 of the sports section – after the jump – here is the next headline for that article:

“Williams says available players, other teams’ offers will dictate Redskins’ course”

And in an even semi-rational world, how might it be otherwise?

Fortunately, the draft is tomorrow night; and that means we can shift the focus from the now threadbare fabric of what teams will do in the future as the draft unfolds and begin the next meaningless exercise of giving grades to various teams’ draft hauls before any of the draftees ever sets foot on a practice field.

One quick note about the NBA Playoffs…  I watched most of the fourth game of the Jazz/Thunder series and have this to say:

  1. The Jazz are fun to watch.  They move the ball on offense and they play aggressively on defense.
  2. Donovan Mitchell has made the transition from college basketball to NBA basketball in his one-year in the league.
  3. Ricky Rubio still can’t shoot – – but he controls the offensive flow of the game for the Jazz.

Finally, since I mentioned the Utah Jazz above, let me close with an item from Brad Rock’s column, Rock On! in the Deseret News:

“International soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic is now with the L.A. Galaxy — and he wants everyone to appreciate it.

“The Swedish striker bought a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times that said: ‘Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome.’

“LeBron James is thinking, ‘Rats! Stole my line’.”

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

 

 

Football Today …

While sports fans everywhere are seeking refuge from the final stages of the Mock Draft Hysteria, the NFL calmly revealed its schedule for 2018 leading to a small eddy of listicles along the lines of “The Five Most Important Games For The Patriots In 2018”.  Obviously, no one can know that sort of thing in April, so I tend to relegate such commentary to the same bin as the Mock Drafts.  What I noticed was the array of international games that the NFL will display this year:

  • Mexico City will host a game again this year; it will be a Monday Night Football game featuring the Chiefs and the Rams on November 19.
  • London will host 3 games in 2018.  The Seahawks and the Raiders will play on October 14 in the new Tottenham Stadium.  A week later, the Titans and Chargers will meet in Wembley Stadium and a week after that the Eagles and Jags will face off in Wembley Stadium.

That is a solid menu of “overseas games”.  The Rams are currently co-favorites to win the NFC Championship according to Vegasinsider.com and the Chiefs are going to contend in the AFC West.  The Seahawks and Raiders have a longstanding rivalry dating back to the time when Seattle was in the AFC West.  The Titans/Chargers matchup has one playoff team from last year; but, truth be told, it is the plain vanilla game on this menu.  And the Eagles/Jags game features the reigning Super Bowl champs against a division winner from last year; I do not recall a London Game of that magnitude in the past.

The other interesting thing for me is that the NFL will play in London on 3 consecutive weekends.  If the league were ever to consider putting a franchise there, they would need to be convinced that fan interest in London is sustainable.  By playing on 3 consecutive weekends, the NFL pooh-bahs can get an indication of such sustainability.

Since I mentioned MNF in passing above, ESPN seems to be taking its sweet time naming a color analyst to replace Jon Gruden for next year.  Reports say that Peyton Manning turned down the job and that Brett Favre “flunked” an audition.  Then, Kurt Warner’s name surfaced as a leading candidate.  I know that the NFL is a copycat league but do the networks that cover the NFL have to behave in the same way?  I know that the top-shelf color analyst on FOX is Troy Aikman and that Tony Romo was a big success for CBS last year, but does that mean that ESPN has to find a QB to fill their slot?

Having been an NFL QB does not mean the individual will be a great color analyst.  To make my point let me offer two words:

  • Joe … Theismann

I will now proceed to contradict myself and tell you whom I would want in that job.  I think that Steve Young – – already employed by ESPN don’t you know – – would be an excellent color analyst.  There is only one minor problem with my choice.  Steve Young has already said he is not interested in taking that job.  Too bad…

Last week, I mentioned an NCAA rule change that was a solution in search of a problem.  There is another rule change that has caused agita in a segment of college football fandom.  Here is what Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had to say about it:

“There’s already been bellyaching about the new college football kickoff rule. Players will be allowed to fair-catch kickoffs anywhere inside the 25-yard line and the ball will be placed at the 25 as if it were a touchback. It’s being done with safety in mind by trying to reduce the number of violent kickoff coverage collisions. Hardcore football fans will really hate this when it goes into effect. But so what? Whatever the rules, we’re still talking football. People can’t quit it.”

Professor Molinaro has it right.  It is not difficult to find college football fan sites where this bellyaching is loud and prominent, and it takes the predictable path asserting that the next rule change will dress up the players in tutus.  Notwithstanding the anger/disgust expressed there, this is bellyaching and nothing more.  Once the rule in in effect, people will focus on the games and the rivalries and merely note the new kickoff rule as the way the game is now played.

Finally, here is a comment from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, regarding some other NFL-related television programming:

“The Smithsonian Institute has petitioned CBS for the network’s library of ‘The NFL Today’ broadcasts for its ‘longest running worst programming’ exhibit at the National Museum of American History.”

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

 

 

Comeback Players For 2018…

I saw Michael Vick on one of the jillionteen chatterbox shows on sports TV recently.  He was talking about his comeback to the NFL and how important that was to him and how important it was for him to be able to own up to the actions that led to his banishment.  While I thought that message was potentially an important one for younger players who seem unable to avoid “off-field circumstances” that can adversely affect their NFL careers, it also got me thinking about some NFL players who need for the 2018 NFL season to reinvigorate their careers.

These important “comeback years” come in two flavors.  Let me first consider players who need to rebound from injury to reoccupy their high-level status in the NFL hierarchy.  [Aside:  This is off the top of my head; there are surely players of note that I have left out of this discussion; that is because I did not think of them immediately and for no other reason…]

  • Odell Beckham, Jr.:  He has lots of “scratchy” traits that can be accommodated in the locker room simply because of his greatness as a WR.  But if he comes back in a state that does not allow him to be great …
  • Eric Berry:  He is a top-shelf safety – – probably one of the three best in the league.  The Chiefs will be thrilled to have him back in their secondary.
  • Dalvin Cook:  It sure seemed as if the Vikes had a top-shelf running back on the roster until the injury gods intervened.
  • Julian Edelman:  No one is “irreplaceable”.  Nevertheless, he is important enough to the Pats’ offense that his return is very important to the team.
  • David Johnson:  He is one of the current “top 3 running backs” in the NFL.  Having him in the backfield has to enhance the Arizona Cards’ offense.
  • Andrew Luck:  The vector heading for the entirety of the Colts’ franchise depends on Luck’s ability to play QB the way he did in the first 3 seasons of his career.
  • Clay Matthews:  No offense, but even when healthy, he has been way over-hyped for the last two seasons.  Can/will he discard that statistical negativity and forge ahead with his career?
  • Aaron Rodgers:  If I need to explain to you why this entry is on this list, you probably ought not to be reading this rant.
  • Richard Sherman:  All eyes in NoCal and in Seattle will be on him to see how he does against the Seahawks twice this year.  The first direct confrontation will be on December 2nd when the Niners visit the Seahawks.  Should be interesting…
  • Deshaun Watson:  Even if you hate the Houston Texans, you must realize that his return to the field at anything near his level of competence from last year will be a huge boost for the Texans…
  • JJ Watt:  Everything I said above about Deshaun Watson and his value to the Texans applies to JJ Watt in spades…

At the same time, there are several NFL players who had down years in 2017 for reasons that have nothing to do with injury and who need to rebound their careers onto a positive vector heading for 2018:

  • Dez Bryant:  He no longer “gets separation” the way he used to and he is no longer the constant long-ball threat he was in the “Tony Romo Days” in Dallas.  Nevertheless, he can be a load-and-a-half to deal with inside the 10-yardliine for defensive coordinators.
  • Amari Cooper:  What happened here?  After 2016, some may have been ready to suggest that Amari Cooper might be the heir-apparent to Jerry Rice as the best WR of all time.  After 2017, no one who thought that would want to stand up and acknowledge the same…
  • Joe Flacco:  We are no longer debating if he is an “elite QB” because it is clear that he is not.  The question now is whether he can remain a viable starter in the NFL.
  • Marcus Mariotta:  Did the 2017 NFL season represent a misstep on his part or was 2017 the cap on his abilities as an NFL QB?  I think it is the former – but he needs to show me how wrong I would be to assert the latter.

Finally, here is a cogent comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Idle thought: I’m relatively curious about next week’s NFL draft, if only to find out where the best quarterbacks land. That doesn’t mean I still don’t see any reason to treat it like Easter Mass at the Vatican.”

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

 

 

MLB’s First Manager Fired Already

The Cincinnati Reds have been awful in the early going of the 2018 MLB season; they lost 15 of their first 18 games.  Then they fired their manager, Bryan Price, as if that is going to make the team into a winner; it will not.  The Reds find themselves on the wrong end of two very important baseball stats.  This is not new and advanced analytics; these stats go back to the beginnings of baseball:

  • Through 18 games, the Reds have scored 54 runs in 18 games; that is 3.0 runs per game.  Every team in the NL is averaging more runs scored per game than the Reds.
  • Meanwhile, the Reds have allowed 100 runs in those same 18 games.  No other team in the NL has allowed 100 runs for the season no matter how many games they have played to date.

When you consistently give up 2.5 runs per game more than you score per game, you are going to lose a whole lot of baseball games – – and that is just what the Reds have done so far.  I don’t know Bryan Price from The Price Is Right, but I am confident that he was not the reason the Reds began this season so pitifully.  Jim Riggleman will take over as the manager in Cincy; good luck to him.

Recently, I wrote about the attendance problems facing the Oakland A’s.  With the less-than-charismatic White Sox coming to town, the A’s decided to do something bold to get the attention of their fans.  The A’s played a game and offered free admission to those who showed up in time to get a seat.  Rather than the normal crowd of about 17,000 souls, this game between two teams with a combined record of 13-21 was played in front of 46,765 fans.  Local writers in the area are saying that this bold move is what the A’s needed to jumpstart interest in the team and that it would result in an attendance upswing.

Those pundits may be right, but I think they are looking at the situation through rose colored glasses.  Here is how I interpret what happened for that game:

  1. There is indeed “baseball interest” in Oakland and there are fans of the A’s as a local team.
  2. Those fans will come out and support the team when the price is right.  Currently, whatever the A’s charge for tickets is higher than what many fans consider the “right price”.
  3. Free games cannot work as a business model.  Whatever the current price of A’s tix may be, it is too high, and it will not work well as a business model either.  I agree it will work better than free games, but the current price-point is not really sustainable either.

The folks at NCAA HQs have come up with a new rule for college football.  It has nothing to do with actual games; it is another of the ancillary details of college football that the NCAA seeks to regulate.  Henceforth:

  • College football teams can no longer use former players to practice with the current team.

It seems that some schools have figured out that they can use former players as members of the “scout team” when those former players have a skill-set that is close to the skill-set that an upcoming opponent might present.  Somehow, that seemingly harmless practice has drawn sufficient wrath from the NCAA honchos that it is now forbidden.  When you figure out who or what is harmed by that practice, let me know…

Finally, at a time when concussion-awareness is front and center in football, this item from Dwight Perry’s column Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times just made me shake my head:

“Cheyenne, Wyo., is set to host the country’s first bare-knuckle boxing card since 1889 on June 2, using current professional boxers and former UFC and Bellator fighters.

“Which certainly doesn’t give any John L. Sullivan wannabes much time to grow their handlebar mustaches.”

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

 

 

RIP Bruno Sammartino

Bruno Sammartino died earlier this week.  Long ago when I watched pro ‘rassling on black-and-white television sets, Bruno Sammartino was the champ and the guy who beat up all the bad guys who were “terrorizing” the rest of the ‘rassling cast.  He was 82 years old.

Rest in peace, Bruno Sammartino.

ESPN.com had a report yesterday saying that Cubs’ first-baseman, Anthony Rizzo, said on the local ESPN Radio station that he thinks the season is too long and there is too much baseball.  In a show of self-awareness and candor, he also said that he knows that would mean salary reductions for the players; yet, he thinks a shorter season makes sense.  He has obviously thought about this concept for more than a moment or so because he said that there would have to be a transition period from today’s environment to a shorter season to accommodate all the guaranteed contracts out there.

He is clearly not enamored with starting the season in Chicago in early-April.

“I think playing in the cold sucks … When you think of Cubs and Cardinals, you think of a beautiful Saturday at Wrigley Field.  You don’t think about playing in 20 degrees.”

He also said the season could be shortened on the calendar by scheduling double-headers prior to scheduled off-days.  I have advocated both shortening the season and adding double-headers to the schedule to fit the season into a more climatically-friendly part of the calendar.  I realize that my idea has little chance of happening – – and Anthony Rizzo agrees with me on that point too.

Even in a part of the country where bleak weather conditions are not threatening the health and questioning the sanity of local baseball fans, there are some “attendance issues”.  Recently, the Miami Marlins hosted the NY Mets on a weeknight and according to ESPN.com the Marlins drew fewer fans that night than did their AA affiliate, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.  Granted, it was the home opener for Jax; nonetheless, the Jumbo Shrimp drew 6960 fans while the Marlins drew 6150.

  • The AA team drew 13% more fans than the MLB team.

Let that sink in and recognize that the Marlins had a miserable year at the gate in 2017 drawing a meager 1.58M fans for the season.  This year – with new owners and a completely gutted roster, the Marlins are on track to draw only 1.07M fans and that is the lowest in MLB.  Even on Opening Day, the Marlins did not come close to selling out; they only drew 34,000 fans for that event.

For this year, the Marlins say that they are going to report attendance only as the number of tickets sold.  According to reporting by the Miami Herald, last year’s attendance figures of 1.58M fans included tickets that were given away and that the ‘paid attendance” for the Marlins season was less than 900K fans.  Logically, Miami should be a viable MLB market given the popularity of baseball in Caribbean nations and the large Hispanic community in the Miami area.  The fact is that has not been the case.  Previous owners – Wayne Huizenga and Jeffrey Loria – have been blamed for the Marlins’ “image issues”; now the new owners fronted by Derek Jeter are taking heat for dismantling the core of a good young team.  All in all, this viable baseball market seems to have been squandered…

One of the players the Marlins sent elsewhere was Giancarlo Stanton.  Stanton has not set the world afire in NY for the Yankees so far.  Consider:

  • In 16 games, he is hitting .197
  • He has 13 hits and 3 homeruns
  • His OPS is only .702
  • He has struck out 29 times.

It is the strike out stat that stands out to me.  He is averaging 1.8 strikeouts per game and that would project to 294 strikeouts for a season.  That is an outrageous number even when you temper your reaction to it based on the small sample and the large extrapolation.  When compared to another great Yankee outfielder, Joe DiMaggio, those strikeouts are even more alarming:

  • In the 1941 season – the year of the 56-game hitting streak – DiMaggio played in 139 games and had 622 plate appearances.  He struck out a total of 13 times.
  • In fact, DiMaggio had 7 seasons where he struck out 30 or fewer times.

DiMaggio struck out a total of 369 times in his 13 season in MLB.  Stanton has been in MLB for 8 years and a month and has already struck out 1169 times.  Wow…

Finally, Richie Incognito seemingly announced his retirement from the NFL – and then he rescinded that announcement – and then he said he would report to the Bills’ OTA – and then he said he wanted out of Buffalo – and then …  I have no idea if or where Richie Incognito will play football this year or in future years, but in the midst of all the announcements, Brad Dickson tweeted this comment:

“Richie Incognito is retiring. The NFL’s loss is dwarf tossing’s gain.”

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