Hear And Their

There are reports out today that the American Enterprise Institute – a Washington DC think tank – has conducted a study and found that the Wells Report on “Deflategate” is “seriously flawed.” I believe I had that one more than a couple of weeks ago but the imprimatur of the American Enterprise Institute is surely greater than mine.

I have no idea why the American Enterprise Institute would undertake such a study in the first place, but they did. The think tank has some history here; back when “Bountygate” was prominent in the news, the same two members of the Institute who did this study also did a study related to “Bountygate”. Here is a link to the current reporting on that study.

Last Friday, I got an e-mail from #1 son pointing me to some remarks made by Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly. In the aftermath of the academic dishonesty events at Notre Dame last year and the fallout from those events, Kelly said:

“I think we recognized that all of my football players are at-risk — all of them — really. Honestly, I don’t know that any of our players would get into the school by themselves right now with the academic standards the way they are. Maybe one or two of our players that are on scholarship.

“So making sure that with the rigors that we put them in — playing on the road, playing night games, getting home at 4 o’clock in the morning, all of the demands that we place on them relative to the academics and going into an incredibly competitive academic classroom every day — we recognize this is a different group. And we have to provide all the resources necessary for them to succeed and don’t force them into finding shortcuts.”

The comment from #1 son on these statements was that you have to give Kelly kudos for candor and not trying to sugar-coat the issues. I agree. Notice however that he specifies night games on the road where the team gets home at 4:00 AM. Indeed, that has to add academic stress to the players; and at the same time, those night road games are scheduled for purely economic reasons.

Charles Barkley extended his contract with TNT – and Turner Broadcasting more generally – through the end of the NBA season in the summer of 2025. According to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, here is how the deal went down:

    The President of Turner Broadcasting along with “other Turner Sports executives” went to Barkley’s home in Arizona.

    There they staged a “six-hour Italian feast” and managed to put away $1700 worth of wine and tequila.

    The next day these folks played a round of golf and presumably none of the execs giggled at Barkley’s – shall we say unorthodox – swing.

    Barkley then called his agent and told the agent to get the deal done.

I realize that Charles Barkley is a polarizing figure; personally, I find him far more entertaining than annoying. Ignoring the part of this report that indicates that gluttony and conspicuous consumption played a role in these “negotiations”, I also like that he made the deal himself and then told his agent to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. He seems to understand that the agent works for the player/announcer and not the inverse.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times took the news of how this contract extension happened and crafted this comment:

“TNT got Charles Barkley to renew his contract by tossing $1,700 worth of alcoholic beverages his way, Sports Illustrated reported.

“Which certainly gives a whole new meaning to Turner and hooch.”

Recently, I mentioned a couple of gastric calamities offered up to fans at MLB parks. Lest you think that minor league parks have dropped out of contention in this arena, consider these two menu items:

    The Wilmington Blue Rocks – the Carolina League affiliate of the KC Royals – offer a hot dog where the bun is a Krispy Kreme donut. As nasty as that sounds, it does get worse when you consider that two of the toppings available for the hot dog are bacon and raspberry jelly. Feed one of these to a 5-year old and he will be on a sugar high for 4 hours…

    The West Michigan Whitecaps – the Midwest League affiliate of the Detroit tigers – play in Fifth Third Ballpark just outside Grand Rapids. Should you venture there, you may see on the menu the Fifth Third Burger costing $20. Here is what you get for one portrait of Andrew Jackson:

      Five one-third pound burgers (Fifth Third Burger/five one-third pound burgers, get it?) with 5 slices of American cheese.

      Toppings/add ons include a cup of chili, salsa, nacho cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, Fritos, lettuce and tomato.

      The Fifth Third Burger contains 300 grams of fat and “weighs in” at 4800 calories. Anyone who eats the entire thing alone and in one sitting will get a free T-shirt.

Just a guess, but the free T-shirt will be one size larger than the one the diner wore into the ballpark.

Finally, Brad Rock had this item in the Deseret News recently indicating that he has probably attended some Nick Saban press conferences:

“Alabama coach Nick Saban’s daughter married her childhood sweetheart last week and celebrated by holding the reception at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“The event included fireworks and a ride in a Rolls-Royce.

“Asked afterward how the ceremony went, Saban allegedly said, I’ll have to look at the film.’ “

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

RIP Dusty Rhodes…

Sitting down at the keyboard this AM, one of the first things I came across on CBSSports.com was an article reporting that former pro ‘rassler, Dusty Rhodes, has died. Rhodes was a young kid just starting his career about the time I stopped following pro ‘rassling and given the shortened lifespan of many pro ‘rasslers I was glad to see that he had made it to age 69 before passing on.

RIP, Dusty Rhodes…

The next report that caught my eye said that Terrell Owens thinks he could make a comeback in the NFL if a team were willing to give him a shot. Owens is 41 years old – and would turn 42 during the upcoming NFL season – and his last appearance on the field in an NFL game was in 2010. As with many news items, it can always be worse… Imagine if T.O. gets a call from a team inviting him to training camp; you just know that within 3 days there would be a report that Brett Favre was considering a return to the NFL also…

    Memo to NFL Coaches: I am never in favor of “blackballing” anyone. Nevertheless, consider the circus you might create if you have T. O. in your locker room – and the mega-circus you might create if it tempted Brett Favre to start up the “Will he/Won’t he” wagon again.

Two institutions that rarely generate any positive response from me – the US Congress and the NCAA – have intersected in a news item today. Four members of the House of Representatives – two Democrats and two Republicans – have introduced legislation that would create a 17-member Presidential Commission for Intercollegiate Athletics. According to reports, this commission would “examine college sports issues such as the education of athletes, how the sports are financed, health and safety, and due process in infractions cases.” Oh swell…

Look, I cannot possibly be totally opposed to anything that either spanks the NCAA or holds it up to ridicule. At the same time, this proposed legislation also points to the fecklessness of the Congress. Consider:

    Do we need a Presidential Commission to reveal that some – probably many – schools cut academic corners when it comes to athletes who play “revenue sports”? Seriously, if anyone needs this, he/she has been living in a cave for the last 60 or 70 years.

    Do we need a Presidential Commission to reveal that some – probably much – of the financing for college athletics is “off the books”?

    Do we need a Presidential Commission to look at the health and safety issues of collegiate sports? In fact, if the courts rule that college athletes are actually employees of the schools, would not that be OSHA’s responsibility?

    Do we need a Presidential Commission to ponder the presence or absence of due process in infractions cases? Unless I missed the point in my civics classes in junior high school, I think that is what the judicial branch of government is supposed to do.

Moreover, if Congress creates the Presidential Commission, that would give the Congress the opening it would need to hold periodic hearings on these matters in the guise of “oversight” on the commission they established to oversee college sports. I need that like a giraffe needs a clarinet.

    Memo to these 4 Congressthings: Congratulations on your bi-partisanship here. Now, try applying that bi-partisanship to something that actually matters to the country.

The venue for home games by the Arizona Coyotes is back in the news. Recall that the NHL took over the franchise to keep it in Arizona rather than let a buyer move the franchise to “southern Ontario”. Part of the deal was a favorable least arrangement with the city of Glendale Arizona to keep the team there. That deal calls for the city to pay the Coyotes $15M a year to play in the arena; I would call that a “favorable lease”; how about you? Now, it seems that the city is running a projected $7M deficit for the year and can resolve that issue by abrogating the lease deal; the city fathers just voted to do just that.

Of course, this is going to wind up in court and will not be settled posthaste. It is not as if the Coyotes are going to have to find frozen ponds on which to play their games – which is a good thing because frozen ponds tend to be hard to come by in Arizona. However, this is an opportunity for the NHL to recognize that hockey is not nearly as economically viable in the “Sun Belt” as it is in many other parts of North America. Just as the Coyotes should have been moved when the league had to take over the franchise about 5 years ago, a franchise that needs to be paid by the city to play in the city’s arena needs to be moved today. So where might it go?

    The best idea would be to move the franchise to Canada where the league draws a disproportionate amount of its revenue because there is a much more extensive and solid fanbase there. The Coyotes began their existence as the Winnipeg Jets – but Winnipeg has found itself a team to replace the one that left.

      Quebec City: They have been without an NHL team for about 25 years since the Nordiques left to become the Colorado Avalanche.

      Hamilton: This is a more specific name for “southern Ontario”, but it might work.

      Regina or Saskatoon: The league has no franchise in Saskatchewan and the NHL has been adamant that it needs a “national footprint”. I leave it to folks far more knowledgeable about Canadian geography and economics to decide if either city would make sense.

    If, for reasons known only to Gary Bettman and the powers-that-be in the NHL, the franchise must remain in the US.

      KC: It has an underutilized modern arena waiting for a tenant.

      Seattle: It really wants an NBA team more than an NHL team but this could be a way to have a tenant in whatever new arena they want to build there while the NBA keeps them dangling.

      Portland: They support a basketball team and a team in the WHL rather well…

Finally, I missed this this item whilst on vacation but Bob Molinaro had it in his column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Quick hit: Johnny Manziel was in the news this week for throwing a water bottle at a young dope who was heckling him as he hung out with friends in Dallas. It’s the most attention one of Johnny Football’s tosses has attracted since the Browns drafted him.”

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

Corruption in FIFA – Seriously…

You may be certain that the FIFA bribery allegations and arrests were not big news in places like Cody Wyoming and/or Red Lodge Montana. Moreover, in some of the places we stayed, the “cable TV” available did not carry ESPN as one of the channels. [Aside: To be fair, one did have ESPNU on the menu but that channel did not have the “FIFA business” high on its list of featured events.] So, I have been trying to put together how all of this has unfolded since I got home. Some of this is from memory, so I do not pretend that I have every detail nearly correct.

This all starts with my clearly prejudicial assumption that FIFA is an organization that exists in the same level of shadiness and corruption as the IOC. I am certainly not alone in that thinking but if you would like to take 13 minutes out of your life to watch and listen to a blistering summary of FIFA’s venality, I recommend you follow this link and watch John Oliver skewer – and then barbecue – the organization in this monologue. I promise you will laugh while you are watching but then you will feel disgust in the aftermath.

I am still not clear why the FBI and the US Department of Justice are the entities involved in these indictments/allegations when the people were arrested in Switzerland and are foreign nationals. Nonetheless, it would be a wonderful situation if that were the only part of this mess that escaped my understanding. Now, with that confusion at the basis of these remarks, here is what I think has led us to where we are:

    A long time ago – not in a galaxy far away but here on Earth – FIFA awarded the World Cup Tournament in 2018 to Russia and the one in 2022 to Qatar. The Russia award was slightly controversial but Russia was already scheduled to host the 2014 Winter Games so most folks figured they could pull it off. Almost no rational thinker considered the Qatar selection within spitting distance of reasonable.

    Soon after those events – and amidst non-specific suggestions that payoffs influenced the Qatar selection process – a senior official of FIFA was caught with his hand in the till and banned from any involvement in football for life. It seems to me that this put some blood in the water…

    FIFA needed to do damage control and hired a US firm to do an investigation of bribery and corruption within FIFA. I remember that these folks were to report to the FIFA Ethics Committee which is something I consider to be an organic oxymoron. The investigators delivered their report to those upstanding folks and then got into a spitting contest with the Ethics Committee when their report was summarized and given to the media. The investigators claimed that the summary was not quite what they had found. My guess is that all of that background takes us up to about the Summer/Fall of 2013.

    Now we have these bribery and racketeering allegations against FIFA senior officials pending and the whole mess led to the resignation of the newly re-elected major domo of FIFA, Sepp Blatter. He was not one of those arrested but to borrow a phrase from about 40 years ago, it sure seems as if he is an “unindicted co-conspirator”. Lots of folks would love to find out what did he know and when did he know it. [Hat tips to the Watergate Grand Jury and to Senator Howard Baker, R- Tenn.]

The most visible high-ranking FIFA official these days is Jerome Valcke and he has said that the process of soliciting bids for the 2026 World Cup will cease while all these legal matters are floating around. That is probably not a bad idea – especially since one report tied Valcke himself to a $10M funds transfer involving a bank in NY. In what has to be something straight out of the theater of the absurd, Barrack Obama, Vladimir Putin and David Cameron actually took public stances on this entire matter.

    Memo to those three World Leaders: There are major problems in the world for you to work on. Don’t sweat the small stuff…

Now let me speculate for a moment and assume that the Qatar selection for 2022 comes up for “review” within whatever the new structure of FIFA becomes. A change of venue from Qatar could be a financial boon to FOX Sports. FOX has the US TV rights in 2022 and games played in Qatar do not map well into US viewing time slots. Imagine for a moment that FIFA changed the venue and put the games in Brazil again – as a way to use the new stadiums there for things other than bus parking lots. Brazil games are a lot more “time friendly” for FOX than Qatar games would be and “more time friendly” equates to “more ad revenue”.

I suspect that the major European soccer entities would also want to find a way to move the games from Qatar because the current FIFA thinking is to play those games in November/December due to the climate in Qatar in the summer. European leagues would have to interrupt their seasons in 2022 for a month creating a scheduling nightmare for many teams and leagues. My guess is that the European leagues would be happy to play the 2022 games on the moon if they were held in the summer months.

Why this is a DoJ matter and how we got to the point where the FBI convinced the Swiss authorities that FIFA execs needed to take a “perp walk” still eludes me. But it could be a fun ride from here on out…

Meanwhile, the Women’s World Cup Tournament has begun in Canada with an expanded field this year. Not surprisingly, some of the newcomers did not fare well against established teams in the opening round. Germany beat the Ivory Coast 10-0. That is not quite as bad as losing a college football game 222-0 (as once happened) but it is close.

Finally, a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from a while ago:

“Big week for rehabbing Marlins ace Jose Fernandez. He faced live batters in practice for the first time since his surgery, and also became a United States citizen. Fernandez is proof that in America anything is possible, particularly if you can throw 97 mph.”

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

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog

After three and a half weeks on the road, I am back home once again. The reason I know I am home is contained in a comment I recall but not the author of the comment:

“Home is where you can say anything you like cause nobody listens to you anyway.”

One of the things I accomplished in my not-so-abundant free time on the road trip was to finish reading Dan Jenkins’ “semi-memoir” (his description) His Ownself. Anyone who has read these rants for any length of time now knows that I think Dan Jenkins is a brilliant writer and this book is as good as anything he has written before. If you want a fast read that is completely enjoyable, I cannot recommend His Ownself highly enough. Here is a link to where you can get it:

Speaking of Dan Jenkins, much of his writing career and his life has focused on golf. This year, a 15-year old from Dallas – just down the road from Fort Worth where Jenkins grew up and began his career – will play in the US Open. Cole Hammer shot two rounds to a total of 132 in final qualifiers to make it into the field. I have a hunch that Cole Hammer and Dan Jenkins will meet at the event…

There are a few surprises in the baseball standings at this point of the season; some of the surprises are positive and some are not:

    Positive: The Minnesota Twins are only 1 game behind in the AL Central race.

    Not Positive: The Seattle Mariners are 6 games under .500.

    Positive: The Houston Astros lead the AL West by 2 games.

    Positive: The Texas Rangers are in second place in the AL West.

    Not Positive: The “Moneyball” Oakland A’s are dead last in the AL West.

    Positive: The Mets lead the NL East by a half-game.

    Not Positive: The Reds are 5 games under .500.

Here are three more things to glean from the baseball standings as of this morning:

    The White Sox are 3 games under .500 despite having been outscored by 57 runs in their 57 games this season. By comparison, the Indians have the same record as the White Sox and the Indians have scored exactly as many runs as they have given up.

    The Phillies are in the midst of a dumpster-fire season. In 60 games, they have been outscored by 85 runs (worst differential in MLB by 27 runs) and they are a miserable 7-22 on the road.

    The Texas Rangers, on the other hand, are 20-12 on the road and only 11-15 at home.

The Milwaukee Brewers are stinking it up on the field this year (dead last in the NL Central with the emphasis on the word “dead”) but their fans can expect culinary delights when they venture out to Miller Park. Here are a couple of the options fans may contemplate:

    Inside The Park Nachos: This is taco-seasoned ground beef on a stick crusted with Doritos crumbs slathered with nacho cheese and sour cream and a dollop of dipping salsa.

    Pulled Pork Parfait: The name is alliterative – and a bit disgusting at the same time. The dish consists of alternating layers of mashed potatoes and pulled pork drenched in gravy and chives. I would need a highly trained sommelier to recommend the proper wine to have with that bad boy…

    The Beast: Just the name ought to make one check out other menu items for the sake of the well-being of one’s alimentary canal. This concoction is a sandwich served on a pretzel roll which is a good start. However, inside that pretzel roll, they put a bratwurst that has been stuffed with a hot dog and then wrapped in bacon. Just to complete the gastric disaster, they cover it all in sauerkraut and onions. Be sure to have industrial strength Maalox on hand for the 7th inning stretch if you eat this one.

Finally, a baseball note from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“Angel Pagan says his back got out of whack from sleeping on a too-soft mattress. You’ve got a glass back, you make $9 mil a year and you can’t spring for a new mattress?”

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

Playing Perry Mason This Morning…

The Preakness will happen later today. Favorite American Pharoah drew the #1 post position; and at Pimlico, that is not an advantageous draw. In a short field, it will not necessarily be as bad as it would be in a full field, but the post draw does add a marginal level of interest to the race. Lest you think I am being too critical of the Preakness Stakes, consider this item from Bob Molinaro’s column yesterday in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Horsing around: The Preakness is a day away. There’s still time to pretend you care.”

For the record, that comment comes from a native of Baltimore…

Now that Tom Brady has decided to appeal his 4-game suspension and Roger Goodell announced that he will personally hear that appeal, let me outline here what I would emphasize in the appeal if I were representing Tom Brady. The obvious disclaimer here is that I am not a lawyer and there is no way that Tom Brady or his representatives would seek my opinion here, but this is the broad outline of the points I would try to make.

    I would avoid any hint of an argument that would make it seem that I considered Ted Wells to be biased in his investigation on the basis that the NFL paid him. Ted Wells is by every report an experienced and highly regarded attorney; and unless there is video evidence of him doing something untoward and prejudicial in the matter, I would not go down that road even an inch.

    I would point out, however, that Ted Wells did not have subpoena power to command documents/records nor were any of the folks he spoke to subject to perjury or cross-examination. That does not nullify what he found but it does weaken the degree to which his findings can be taken as undeniable facts. Wells himself supports this argument because all he could bring himself to say over his signature and therefore with his reputation on the line were things like “more probably than not” and “generally aware of” in his findings.

    I would stress the amateurish – almost Keystone Kops – way that the league measured the pressure in the footballs at halftime. They used two gauges which did not agree with one another on even a single ball that was measured. Moreover, the difference in readings was as much as 0.4 psi – which happens to be 40% of the acceptable pressure range for footballs in a game (12.5 – 13.5 psi).

    I would apologize for Brady’s agent’s commentary that the NFL and the Colts engaged in a “sting operation” unless – once again – I could present video evidence to show same.

    I would argue that by all NFL precedents, this suspension is excessive. A comparison of the suspensions of other players relative to what they did – and the degree of certitude that they actually did what they did – is pretty easy to construct.

    I would point out that Ted Wells’ characterization that Brady did not aid in the investigation by making his phone records available to him is more a statement of pique than substance. First, that lack of subpoena power forces Wells to deal with that possibility from the start. Second, in a previous NFL disciplinary matter, another star QB, did not share his phone records with the investigation and did not suffer a 4-game suspension. (See Brett Favre and his “sexting incident” where his penalty for failure to cooperate was a fine of $50K.)

    Finally, I would hint that the punishment for Brady – and for the Pats by extension – is colored by the previous Spygate incident and that such a linkage is improper:

      a. Because Brady had no part in stealing the signals according to the findings at the time

      b. Even if he did have a part in stealing those signals, this is an unrelated matter and therefore added punishment would be the equivalent of “piling on” for the Spygate matter which the NFL did not put in Brady’s lap at the time.

I want to be clear here. I am not a New England Patriots’ fan; I have never lived anywhere in New England; I admire Tom Brady for his on-field accomplishments to the same degree that I admire Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw and John Unitas among others for their on-field accomplishments. If you want to interpret all of this through the prism that I am some kind of a fanboy, I cannot stop you from doing that. All I can tell you is that in the harsh light of reality, I am not a fanboy.

In the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson maters, I supported what the NFL – and Roger Goodell – did. Granted in the Ray Rice matter, it took some time for the league to try to impose a penalty stiffer than a 2-game suspension. Many others called for Roger Goodell’s head on a plate; back then, here is what I wrote about the evolving Ray Rice Episode.

My support then for the league and for Roger Goodell was based on the degree of certainty I had in the wrong-doing of Ray Rice; I had seen “conclusive video evidence”… There is nothing even remotely close to such a level of certainty in this entire matter. That is not Ted Wells’ fault, but it is the fault of the NFL for taking “more probably than not” and “generally aware” as a sufficient basis to “drop the hammer”.

Finally, just in case you were worried that hyperbole might be on the wane, CBS announced that Super Bowl 50 – to be telecast on CBS next February of course – will be “the most historic broadcast event of all time”. Really? Have the suits at CBS forgotten already about Katie Couric’s colonoscopy and that time Judge Judy had to interrupt and scold one or both of the “litigants” in her “court” and/or the final episode of My Mother the Car?

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

Two Cities…

Let me start this morning with a tip of the cap to Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; … it was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.”

No, I am not going to talk about soccer in Europe. Rather, those words applied to the sense of optimism and the sense of despair felt by baseball fans in two American cities during the last offseason. In Cleveland, there was reason for optimism. The Indians won 85 games last year only 5 games behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers and only 4 games behind the wild-card KC Royals, who just happened to make it to the World Series. Jonah Keri covers baseball at Grantland.com and he picked the Indians to win the AL Central. Sports Illustrated went one up on Professor Keri and put the Indians in the World Series for 2015. About now, the fans in Cleveland are looking at their 2015 “spring of hope” turning into a “winter of despair”.

As of this morning, the Indians record stands at 12-21; only the imploding Milwaukee Brewers have a worse record in all of MLB. The Indians are 9 games behind the Royals in the AL Central and are in danger of losing touch with the race. Making matters a lot worse – and recognizing that the season is young and the situation has time to change –, the Indians are 6 full games behind the Minnesota Twins. The breakdown of the Indians’ record provides little solace; they are 7-16 in games against AL Central opponents and only 6-12 at home. Their Cy Young winner from last season just won his first game of the year this week and their dismal record stands in spite of the fact that six players are hitting .288 or higher and three players have an OPS higher than .850.

The Indians’ 6-12 record at home has to be ominous but perhaps a small part of that dismal record has to do with playing at home in Cleveland. Last year, the Indians were contenders for the AL Central title and for the wild-card slot for virtually the entire season. Nonetheless, the average crowd in Cleveland was only 17,746. The only team close to that meager an average attendance was Tampa Bay which does not draws fans even when the team is in first place and the Rays were not in first place for much of 2014. The Cleveland attendance in 2014 was pathetic. So, with the “spring of hope” and predictions of good times coming, how have the Indians drawn so far this year?

    In 18 games so far this year (22% of all the home dates on the schedule), the Indians are drawing 15,540 folks per game. That is more than 2000 fewer fans per game than the full season average from last year.

    To be fair, Cleveland attendance usually increases as the summer arrives. Nevertheless, this is not much of a “home-field advantage”.

In another major league city, Philadelphia, there was little reason for optimism over the winter. The Phillies only won 73 games last year finishing last in the NL East a measly 23 games behind the Washington Nationals. The team traded away one of its aging stars, Jimmy Rollins, over the winter but did not get back a phenom; Cliff Lee’s arm troubles were worrisome in the winter and became problematic when they showed up again in Spring Training. The team has bloated contracts it cannot move and the team offense that was suspect over the winter has shown itself to be worse than anemic in 2015. Consider:

    The Phillies have exactly 1 position player (Freddy Galvis) batting over .300 and his OPS is .815.

    Chase Utley has gotten off to such a bad start (.118/.209/.403) that three pitchers on the team have better batting stats so far.

    The Phillies sent 3B, Cody Asche down to AAA to learn to play left field which leaves open the question of the future of former wunderkind, Dominic Brown.

The roster is a mess; the team record so far this year is 13-23; the team will have to pick up the pace to win 60 games for the year. Last year, the Phillies’ average home attendance was 29,924 which is pretty good for a team that never had a prayer of making the playoffs. In 19 home dates this year, the Phillies are still drawing an average of 26,106 to the park every night. Philly fans have not abandoned this team – – yet. However, last winter’s despair has carried over into this spring and will surely remain over the summer months. By August, it should not be difficult to walk up to the ticket window and get a ticket for the game that night.

Since I was talking about ticket-buying and attendance figures above, let me switch sports for a moment. In July, the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame will welcome the arrival of Brett Favre and the team will retire his number. Given the less-than-fully-amicable parting of the way between the team and their former QB, this is a good thing. The Packers decided to open this event up to more fans than were going to be able to fit into the Hall of Fame structure; and so, Lambeau Field tickets were offered up so that fans could come and view the ceremony on the video screen at Lambeau. The agenda for the evening calls for Favre to make a cameo appearance at Lambeau “on his way” to the dinner and ceremonies for the evening.

The good news here is that the team did not use this opportunity to gouge the fans and dip even deeper into their pockets. Tickets cost $4 – that is not a typo; that was Favre’s number that is about to be retired – and the money will go to Favre’s charity foundation, Favre 4 Hope. According to reports, the Packers sold 67,000 tickets in less than 24 hours.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter, in the Seattle Times:

“Sign hoisted by a Milwaukee Bucks fan, after Chicago jumped to a 3-0 lead in their NBA playoff series: ‘But you still have Cutler.’

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

The Smell Of Affirmation In The Morning

It is nice to receive affirmation; it is doubly nice when said affirmation comes from a columnist that you think is in the upper echelon of writers on a particular topic. That is how I feel this morning. Let me do a reset here…

For at least 25 years, I have said that the Preakness Stakes having to take place at Pimlico made the Preakness into – at best – a third rate event. I have said that Pimlico was antiquated and outdated; it is. I have said that Pimlico is in a part of town that is anything but “top-shelf”; it is. I have said that on my visits there I had to look to find a horizontal surface at the track that was not sticky to the touch; I did. I likened the ambience at Pimlico to an “upholstered toilet”; that was unkind to every upholstered toilet on the planet.

Forget the pageantry and the relatively new infield tradition of drunkenness and public sex; Pimlico needs to be imploded – or at the very least to get a visit from the wrecking ball that used to fascinate Maynard G. Krebs. [Google is your friend.] And now, after about 25 years of being a voice crying in the wilderness, I am joined in the chorus by none other than Andy Beyer who I consider to be the best racing writer practicing the craft today. In this column in the Washington Post, Professor Beyer says that the Preakness should be moved to a modernized Laurel Race Track and Pimlico should be razed. He is absolutely on the mark here…

Several weeks ago, Charlie Walters said in a column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the Minnesota Wild needed to win their first round Stanley Cup playoff series in order to show a profit for the season. Talk about cutting it close in the world of budgeting… In any event, here are some of the data he presented:

    A sell-out crowd at the Xcel Center (17,954) turns a profit for the game of $1.3M for the team.

Assume his numbers are exactly correct. That means the team turns a profit of $72.40 per person – over and above the cost of putting on that specific playoff game such as paying the concession workers and the people who prepare and maintain the ice and the cost of utilities and etc. I think that number is interesting because the average cost of a ticket to an NHL game might be close to $70 all by itself.

Let me move to a couple of baseball notes here. The Yankees continue to refuse to pay A-Rod for his 660 HR achievement because they contend that they have an option to market that achievement and they choose not to. Fine. A court or an arbitrator will decide if they have to pay up or not. Nevertheless, it sure does seem as if the Yankees are being “cheap” here.

The team contends that A-Rod’s PED use makes their marketing of his HR achievement tenuous at best. Perhaps that is true. On the other hand, marketing that achievement will cost them $6M. Now, the Yankees are also scheduled to hold a ceremony later this year in Yankee Stadium where they will retire the number of Andy Pettite. The team is promoting that event – at no cost to the team close to paying Pettite $6M – and when you look at Pettite and A-Rod in juxtaposition you see two players who both admitted to using PEDs on more than one occasion.

A cynic might look here and see that the difference is that marketing the “Pettite event” does not cost the team any cash on the barrelhead while marketing the A-Rod achievement will cost the Steinbrenner Brothers $6M. That makes the Yankees look “cheap” and Papa George Steinbrenner will not be happy with that situation wherever in the cosmos he may be.

Many folks thought going into the season that the Boston Red Sox starting pitching was questionable at best. Well, so far this year, the Sox pitching staff as a whole – starters and relievers – has been well beneath “questionable”. And what did the Sox do to deal with that situation:

    Trade for Cole Hamels? No.
    Bring up their top pitching prospects? No.
    Lure Roger Clemens out of retirement? Thankfully, no.

What they did was to fire their pitching coach, Juan Nieves, who was the same pitching coach upon whom everyone lavished heaps of praise when he guided the Sox pitching staff that won the World Series. That was in 2013 which means Nieves got really dumb really fast…

According to some reports, Barry Bonds is considering filing a “collusion lawsuit” against MLB alleging that he was blackballed after the 2007 season and after he had – for all practical purposes – the BALCO Mess in the rear view mirror. Obviously, I have no idea if the owners colluded to keep him out of the game but if – I said IF – they did, I would hope that the owners learned a lesson from history. Back in the 80s, the owners lost a couple of costly “collusion lawsuits” because there was a paper trail of memos/messages/whatevers among them on the subject of “keeping free agent salaries low” for that particular season. As I recall, part of that paper trail also tied the office of the Commissioner into the cabal and that paper trail cost the owners something in the neighborhood of $300M.

So, IF the owners orchestrated a plan/scheme to keep Barry Bonds out of baseball – thereby depriving him of a way to make a living – one would have to think that they were smart enough also to get rid of any incriminating documents/text messages/voicemails/e-mails/whatevers. Could they be so dumb as to have neglected to cover that trail…?

Finally, here is a social commentary from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“WNBA stars Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson were arrested in a domestic-violence incident. It’s about time women in sports other than Hope Solo chipped in. Male athletes have been bearing the brunt of the idiot burden for far too long.”

Professor Cote must not have noticed that Griner and Johnson more than made up for their squabble because the two of them were married in the last week or so. Love conquers all…

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

Random Musings…

Too bad Braylon Edwards is no longer playing NFL football; his arrest yesterday would have been a fantastic test case for the NFL under the new standards of evidence leading to punishment as established in Deflategate. Edwards was arrested under suspicion of DUI and police reports say he blew a .20 which is more than double the legal limit. Now, that is just the police report and not the findings of a court but still:

    “More probably than not” someone driving with a breathalyzer reading of 0.20 is over the limit.

    Braylon Edwards was surely “generally aware” that he had had a few pops prior to starting his vehicle.

It would have been an interesting test case…

I mentioned yesterday that Bill Simmons and ESPN were parting company. With his departure, there is certainly the possibility that Grantland.com will undergo a significant change and that leads to a situation that should be interesting to watch. ESPN has been “developing/incubating” another edgy website called The Undefeated. Some have referred to it as “The Black Grantland” because it will be headed up by Jason Whitlock. In absolutely no way do I believe that Simmons’ dismissal has anything to do with the impending launch of The Undefeated (scheduled for some time this summer), but with Simmons absent there will likely be fewer comparisons to the well-established Grantland.com and that almost has to help The Undefeated.

To say that Jason Whitlock can sometimes be controversial/provocative is sort of like saying that Sinatra could sing a bit. The site has five essays posted on it now and all are interesting reading; two are thought-provoking. I had thought I would wait until after the formal launch to link you to the site, but now that the launch is imminent and given the possible turmoil surrounding Grantland.com, you might want to check it out in its nascent form. Here is the link.

Almost 2 weeks ago, the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame held its annual induction ceremony in Columbus. The Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame has been around for a while; this was its 10th induction ceremony. The keynote speaker was Bob Knight (a charter inductee 10 years ago) and he presented the first Ohio Heritage Award (a lifetime achievement award of sorts) to Jerry Lucas. For a Hall of Fame at the state – or the school – level, those two are huge icons. Both men are properly enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. And it their presence at this event that points to the tenuous status of localized Halls of Fame.

The most recognizable name on the inductee roster this year for people who live outside of Ohio would be Zydruynas Ilgauskas. The majority of the others on the list would be unknown to all but the most ardent fan of an Ohio team. Consider:

    Tom Dinger
    Dave Jamerson
    John Miner
    Bert Price
    Marlene Stollings
    Brooke Wyckoff

Those are the players – in addition to Ilgauskas – inducted this year. I did not include on the list the coaches and the referee who were also added to the rolls. My point here is that restricted Halls of Fame – not just in Ohio but everywhere – create multi-levels of members where the disparity among the levels is huge. Go, for example, to Cooperstown to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sure, there are gradations of members; only a fool would try to equate Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Henry Aaron with Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Nellie Fox. However, the disparity from the top to the bottom there is not nearly as great as you might find if you look at the full membership of the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame.

Nonetheless, a good time was probably had by all. Ergo, no harm came from the event or the fact of the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame’s existence…

File this under “When it rains, it pours…” Aaron Hernandez already stands convicted of murder in the case of Odin Lloyd in 2014. He is charged with murder and a bunch of other things in a 2012 incident where two people were shot and killed outside a nightclub in downtown Boston. That trial is imminent.

Earlier this week, the local prosecutors also charged Hernandez with intimidating a witness involved in that 2012 case that is about to come to trial. Allegedly, Hernandez shot this potential witness in the face sometime in 2013 and left him to die after the person said something about that previous incident that was not to Hernandez’ liking. That shot to the face cost the recipient an eye.

OK, I think we have crossed a threshold here. I think that the preponderance of good citizens in the US of A would conclude about now that Aaron Hernandez is not a nice person. Here is a link to a report that goes into more detail on this whole situation.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times is exactly on target with this observation;

“The Wire apartment building in Omaha, Neb., has been equipped with a 136-foot vertical tube that uses rising warm air to turn a turbine and generate electricity.

“But why stop there? Hire Dickie V. to talk into that tube, and you could light up the whole city.”

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

Moving On – – Hopefully

OK, the verdict is in. Tom Brady is out for 4 games without pay (costs him something in the neighborhood of $4-5M), the Pats are fined $1M (peanuts) and the Pats lose two draft picks (first round in 2016 and 4th round in 2017). Of course, this is pending appeals and grievances and the like, but for now…

Try to shed any vestige you may have of your dislike for the Patriots or your Patriots’ fanboy attire. Is this punishment commensurate with the alleged crime? I say alleged because after about 4 months and 243 pages of turgid prose, the best the investigators could come up with was “more probably than not” and “generally aware”. If that is the new standard for “proof” in the NFL and if those penalties are the new standard for punishment, teams and players had best beware.

Try to shed any vestige you may have of your dislike for the Patriots or your Patriots’ fanboy attire. Is this punishment a surprise? I say it is not surprising at all because the NFL had pretty much painted itself into a corner with regard to punishments. The only thing that is surprising is the magnitude of the sanctions.

Oh, and before folks get carried away with saying that Tom Brady is the highest profile player ever to get a severe punishment from the league, please recall that Paul Hornung was suspended for an entire season back in 1963.

Enough about Deflategate for now; there will be more as appeals and grievances happen…

The next blot on the NFL’s escutcheon arrived yesterday when it was revealed that 14 teams were paid by the National Guard to stage things like salutes to soldiers and other flag waving events. The National Guard says that it did this as a recruiting tool for an all-volunteer army; I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with the fact that this was a sponsored event and that fact was not disclosed. When Pepsi or Budweiser sponsors an event, it is pretty clear that they are ponying up some cash or promotional considerations to get to do that. When there is a salute to veterans or a tribute to the troops, one could – in the past – delude oneself to believe that the teams or the league were self-motivated to honor the troops. It turns out that the honor bestowed on the troops was bought and paid for – very quietly – with funds allocated to the DoD.

Why the secrecy? I think it is simple. It looks sleazy – and now that it is open to public scrutiny, it will look even sleazier if that is even a word. It appears that 14 NFL teams shared a total of $5.4M in DoD funds. If you care to see which teams got how much money, here is a link that will give you that information.

So, what might be next for the NFL…?

    Santa Claus appears in stadiums because a retailer like Target or Nordstrom paid the NFL for the appearance?

    The league does not donate to breast cancer charities after wearing pink for a month, the charities are paying the league to have the players wear pink?

    The punt pass and kick competition is rigged and parents buy their kids way into the finals?

So, you think I am just being cynic? Maybe so, but I do not quite achieve the ultimate level of cynicism as defined by H. L. Mencken:

“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.”

I am sure you have heard by now that Bill Simmons and ESPN are parting company starting in the Fall. Unlike many other reporters, I will not profess to know what he might or might not be doing next. Unlike others, I have no insight into the events within ESPN that led to this situation. Here is what I know.

Bill Simmons and ESPN have been together for more than 10 years. Simmons created and led Grantland.com starting with a concept and turning it into a highly regarded website for long-form commentary on sports and pop-culture. He also was one of the prime motive forces behind ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentaries. He has appeared on various studio shows for ESPN and has been a fill-in host on PTI on occasion.

Back when the Ray Rice Affair was front-page news, Simmons called Roger Goodell a liar on his podcast. The NFL and ESPN have more than a passing acquaintance in the financial arena and Simmons earned a 2-week suspension for that remark. I agree at that point he crossed the line. Recently, he was a guest on Dan Patrick’s syndicated radio show and made another comment about Goodell that was less than flattering. He said Goodell lacked “testicular fortitude”. Soon after that, ESPN announced that they will not be renewing Simmons’ contract in September.

Bill Simmons is a talented guy; I do not think there is a lot of argument about that. He may be replaceable in terms of finding someone to edit/lead Grantland.com. However, one thing I read made me stop and shake my head:

    According to reports, ESPN will retain ownership of his ESPN outlets one of which is his podcast, “The B. S. Report”.

    The initials there stand for Bill Simmons and not the gutter phrase for ovine offal. I do not know how ESPN thinks it will carry on “The B. S. Report” in the absence of “B. S.” unless of course they have Keith Olbermann do it in the persona of Bob Slurm…

Finally, this item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times demonstrates that if you look hard enough, you can find something good to say about anything:

“Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg, on the Orioles and White Sox playing inside an empty stadium: ‘On the bright side, nobody did the wave.’”

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

Deflategate – Morning, Noon And Night

I think that the only way for Deflategate to get more coverage/exposure would be for some exec at CNN to mistake Deflategate for a missing airliner over the ocean and to order the network into its blanket coverage mode.

Last week, I told all of you what I thought might and should come out of the Deflategate Mess now that the league has the Wells Report. Over the weekend, there was a plethora of sports column space devoted to the topic and, of course, those columns attracted multiple sets of comments. Let me recommend two such columns to your reading today.

Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette addressed the issue with some humor while paying attention to most of the salient issues here. Like me, he was not particularly fond of the Wells Report itself. I will just give you a sample of his evaluation of it:

“According to the much-anticipated Deflategate report commissioned by the league and prepared by the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, whose mountains of billable hours Ted Wells brought home in 243 pages (The Old Man And The Sea came in at 126 if you’re wondering how much verbiage it took Hemingway to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953, because I know you were), 243 pages that somehow do not include the words Tom Brady is a cheating, conniving liar.”

Here is a link to the column; I commend it to your reading; I would not recommend that you spend a lot of time reading the comments at the end of it.

The other column you may wish to read in its entirety is by Charles P. Pierce at Grantland.com. Pierce is a wonderful writer and in this analysis he manages to harken back to the days of Nixon, Ehrlichman and Haldeman and ties that stuff into Deflategate. I have to admit, that would never have occurred to me nor could I have pulled it off. Here is the link to the piece.

About a year ago, I created something called the Just Go Away Club. I put in charter members including Lance Armstrong, Terrell Owens and the like. Membership in the club meant that I hoped not to hear from or about them anymore; they had worn out their welcome in my brain. Later Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano earned membership in that club. Thankfully, they seem to have gone away. I have a new member that I wish it induct into the Just Go Away Club today. That would be …

    Don Shula

Coach Shula has won more NFL games than any other coach; for that he is properly enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Coach Shula also piloted the only NFL team to go undefeated through a season and win the Super Bowl at the end of the season. While that is a big achievement, Coach Shula has beaten the sports world over the head with that achievement for at least the last 20 years – and I am being generous there. Now he has felt the need to add his voice to the Deflategate Mess by telling SI.com:

“We didn’t deflate any balls.”

Congratulations, Coach; you, your staff and your players were nothing but paragons of virtue in addition to athletic stalwarts. However, no one cares anymore about your 1972 team. You have made mention of that team something that resembles fingernails scratching a chalkboard. Enough already…

Oh, by the way Coach, about all that “paragon of virtue” stuff, you do recall don’t you that in the process of leaving the Baltimore Colts to go to the Dolphins, there were shenanigans involved. The Dolphins tampered with you – and interestingly it is difficult to have tampering occur in a contract signing without TWO signatures on that contract. So, while you “more than likely” did not initiate the tampering, you were a party to it. If you ever feel the need to moralize again, please include that disclaimer.

Coach Don Shula, Just Go Away!

Sticking with NFL happenings for the moment, Ed Reed announced his retirement from football last week. He played 12 years – 11 of which were with the Baltimore Ravens. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and safeties do not win that award all that often. He is certain to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame down the line and perhaps the best way to summarize his career is to use the words of Bill Belichick who was preparing to play against the Ravens and Ed Reed in the 2012 AFC Playoffs:

“Can’t say I’ve ever coached against anybody better than Ed Reed in the secondary.”

Bonne chance, Ed Reed…

Finally, here is a note from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding an NFL persona who is on the fringe of membership in the Just Go Away Club:

“Former NFL receiver Plaxico Burress, 37, has been indicted on charges he failed to pay a $48,000 tax bill when his electronic funds transfer failed and he ignored notices to make good on it.

“Prosecutors are calling it out-and-out tax evasion; Burress apologists say it’s merely an incomplete pass.”

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