A College Football Coach Steps Down

It is not as if a head football coach at a major school in a major conference has never had to step down from that job “unceremoniously”.  A few that come to mind are:

  1. Woody Hayes – Ohio State – assaulted an opposing player with a forearm while a game was in progress.
  2. Bobby Petrino – Arkansas – had a motorcycle accident that revealed an inappropriate relationship with someone who worked for him.
  3. Mike Price – Alabama – got into his cups in a strip club before he ever coached a game there.
  4. Kevin Wilson – Indiana – had “philosophical differences” with the Athletic Director.

Add Hugh Freese to the list.  Freese resigned as the head coach at Mississippi under an unusual set of circumstances.  The team has been highly successful during his time at Ole Miss beating Alabama in consecutive years (2014/15) and winning a Sugar Bowl game.  I remember when Ole Miss was a football powerhouse in the 1960s when they won national championships based on polls; their football fortunes more recently had tended toward “break even seasons”; then Freese arrived and the Rebels won a bit more than 60% of their games.

Opposing coaches and fanbases were – and probably still are – convinced that Freese used some “recruiting shortcuts” to assemble the talent he put on the field and the NCAA had already been peering into possible infractions that may have happened under Freese’s predecessor, Houston Nutt.  Freese professes to be a man of great faith and asserts that he ran his program in accordance with those high principles and values.  Whenever he was questioned about possible wrongdoing, he pointed to the faith that he wore on his sleeve and denied everything.

What came to light recently was a phone call placed from Freese’s phone – supplied by the university – to an escort service.  For a man who repeatedly used his faith and his piety as an explanation for his behaviors, that would have been most embarrassing but he simply said that it was a wrong number.  That story might have held because it was a short call and there was only one of them.  However, juxtaposed with the ongoing NCAA investigation(s), this became a burden too big for the school to bear.  So, Hugh Freese was given the opportunity to resign but the school made it clear that they were willing to invoke a “moral turpitude” clause in his contract as the basis to fire him.

Here are a few observations related to this matter:

  1. If indeed that call was a “wrong number” that was accidentally dialed, it would be ironic to learn that a “butt dial” to an “escort service” led to this resignation.
  2. Football coaches at every level are not always “truth-tellers”; lying, obfuscation and dissembling are skills that football coaches need and use; it is “professionally acceptable behavior”.  Having said that, rampant hypocrisy is much more difficult to take – even from a successful football coach.
  3. The interim coach is Matt Luke who was the OL coach and offensive coordinator under Hugh Freese.  In keeping with Freese’s piety theme, note that his name consists of half of the writers of the Gospels in the New Testament.  It may take someone of that stature to hold this program together this year…

As someone who enjoyed Batman comic books as a kid, the Hugh Freese matter has an interesting linkage.  One of Batman’s old arch-enemies was Mr. Freeze; his name is homophonic with Coach Hugh Freese.  Another of Batman’s villainous adversaries was Mr. Two Face; that seemingly describes Coach Hugh Freese quite well.  If you had told me when I sat down to compose this rant that I would tie together Ole Miss football with old-time Batman comic books, I would have been skeptical…

The other big news from late last week was the announcement that Kyrie Irving wants to be traded from the Cavaliers with 2 years left on his contract.  Reports indicate that Irving no longer wants to play with LeBron James.  Let me assume those reports are completely accurate for a moment; if that is the case:

  • Do not forget this circumstance any time in the future when Kyrie Irving or one of his representatives tries to tell the world that the only thing Kyrie cares about is winning championships.  If you are a basketball player and that is indeed your primary motivation, playing on the same team with LeBron James puts you in good stead to achieve that end.

I will not pretend to know the genesis of this trade demand from Kyrie Irving nor will I pretend to know where he might want to go for the next installment of his basketball career.  Naturally, there were knee-jerk analyses right after this story hit the streets suggesting either or both the Lakers or the Knicks as his next team.  The Lakers might be an interesting choice but the Knicks would likely be an unpleasant stop for him.  There is no way Kyrie Irving has asked for my advice and there is no reason for him to value it even a little bit, but if I were able to wave a magic wand and put him on another team where he might flourish, I would consider these options:

  • New Orleans Pelicans:  They have plenty of talent at the “big positions”; there is room for improvement at “shooting guard”; Irving might be the catalyst for a big step forward for the Pelicans.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves:  This team is loaded – with the recent acquisition of Jimmy Butler – and Irving might be what they need to become the #1 challenger to the Warriors in the NBA West.

Given that this would have to be a trade situation, I think the Cavs would be most likely to send him to the West and not to another East team.  However, there is an interesting aspect to all of this.  Remember, that Dan Gilbert fired GM David Griffin and then low-balled Chauncy Billups as his replacement.  Now we hear that Kyrie Irving wants out.  LeBron James has only one year left on his deal before he can opt out.  So, riddle me this – continuing my focus on Batman’s opponents:

  • If LeBron also “wants out”, is it possible that Dan Gilbert is the common denominator” here and that he is the chaos creator?  If he is indeed the burr under everyone’s saddle there, would that make him the ownership equivalent of Donald Sterling minus the racism?  Just asking…

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding fan fervor in SEC country:

“An Auburn fan showed up at SEC media days with his dog painted blue and orange. This work of art is widely considered to be the Mona Lisa of the South.”

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



The Juice Is Loose – – Almost

OJ Simpson was granted parole yesterday; this was front page news in the Washington Post today.  I am confident that there is no other person incarcerated by the State of Nevada whose parole would make it to the front page of the Washington Post.  In fact, the only other people currently in jail that might achieve that status that come to my mind are:

  1. Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber)
  2. “The Underwear Bomber” (cannot recall the name)
  3. Bernie Madoff
  4. Charles Manson
  5. Terry Nichols

Reverting to the sports world…  When I was in high school, one of my classmates of the female persuasion was an athlete and a big sports fan.  We would catch up at periodic reunions and she has been a reader of these rants almost since the day they hit the Internet.  Having lived for a time in NYC, she is a Knicks’ fan.  I will pause here so that you may offer your condolences now.

Right after the Knicks fired Phil Jackson, she sent me an e-mail saying that she would love to get the job as Knicks’ president so that she could put the team on the right path.  I responded by asking her if I could be one of the team’s collegiate scouts if she got the job.  Making me a college basketball scout would allow me to realize what Mark Twain identified as the path to a truly happy life.  He said it involved 2 simple steps:

  • First, find what it is that you truly love to do.
  • Second, find some damn fool who will pay you to do it.

Alas, my classmate did not get the job and my hopes to lead a truly happy life will have to continue to be what I derive from these rants.  This all goes to show that Groucho Marx was correct when he noted:

“Man does not control his own fate.  The women in his life do that for him.”

Scott Perry got the job as the Knicks GM having most recently served as the VP for Basketball Operations for the Sacramento Kings.  If Scott Perry is the intersection of the Kings’ organization and the Knicks’ organization, perhaps we should refer to him as “Dysfunction Junction”.  The Knicks must be very enamored with Perry’s abilities because they gave the Kings a second-round pick and “cash considerations” to hire Scott Perry.  Until the announcement of this hiring, I was not aware that it was Perry who “masterminded” the Kings’ draft and their free agent signings this year; now that I know that I have to say that he deserves kudos.

  • In the draft, the Kings got De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason.  Giles is the biggest question mark here because he comes off an injury last year but the other 3 picks look rock solid.
  • In free agency, the Kings signed George Hill and Zach Randolph – two solid NBA players who should provide leadership and stability for the rest of the young roster.

I am not ready to pretend that the Kings are a threat to the Warriors in the NBA West just yet, but the franchise has needed rebooting for a while now and this off-season seems to be a reasonable start along that path.  Like the Kings, the Knicks have been in need of a roster reboot for a while now.  Starting with the 2001-02 NBA season, the Knicks have been over .500 exactly twice and one of those times finished the season with a 42-40 record.  In terms of on-the-court issues, Scott Perry and coach Jeff Hornacek have to deal with:

  1. What to do with Carmelo Anthony once and for all.  Now, he says he would waive his no-trade clause for specific teams; can the Knicks make a reasonable deal for him?  Whatever their decision, they need to make it and take that soap opera off the air.
  2. How to repair relations with Kristaps Porzingis.  He is a talented player and he was clearly not happy with the “prior management”.
  3. Do they have an NBA level point guard on the roster?  They did not have one last year; they drafted Frank Ntilikina who played in Europe for Strasbourg in the French League last year.  Scouts say he was the best pick of the foreign players in the draft; the calendar says he will turn 19 years old next week.

If you are a Knicks’ fan like my classmate, you can look at the glass as half full and under a running faucet.  No one would blame you if you looked at the glass here as half empty and under a faucet dispensing water from the Flint Michigan water system.  There is a discordant note in the background here.  Prior to hiring Scott Perry, the Knicks were in negotiations with David Griffin for the GM job.  Like Perry, Griffin had experience in a dysfunctional organization whilst he was GM for the Cavaliers.  However, Griffin did manage to deal with the egos on the court and the mercurial owner sufficiently to deliver a championship and appearances in the NBA Finals.

Griffin removed himself from consideration for the job and it was reported that a sticking point was that he would not have hiring/firing authority.  I can’t point to specifics, but given the way the Knicks have been run for the last 15 years, there are likely some folks in the organization that would be better off in the unemployment line.  Unless, of course, all the dysfunction belongs to owner, James Dolan, in which case any GM from Planet Earth is doomed from the start.  The final chapter has not been written yet…

Finally, here is an observation from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle regarding an off-season move in the NBA:

“With Chris Paul and James Harden sharing a backcourt, every Rockets game will be a flopping clinic. There will be times when one of them takes a shot and both of them fall down.”

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



Windfall Profits

If you ever visit Las Vegas and venture into one of the casinos on The Strip, all you have to do is to look around at the facilities/accoutrements there to realize that “The House” does not lose over the long run.  That is not a complaint or a protest of any kind; it is an acknowledgement of reality.  Earlier this week, I ran across a report in the Las Vegas Journal-Review detailing how some winners in some casinos have voluntarily forfeited their winnings to “The House” giving the casinos a windfall profit at the expense of its customers.  Here is the deal:

  • The Chicago Cubs have a large national following and for years – 108 of them to be precise – the Cubs’ fans rooted for a World Series.  In the casino era in Las Vegas, those fans would bet on the cubs to win the World Series every year and the house would bank the bets.
  • Last year, there were lots of bets on the Cubs as usual – – except the team actually did win the World Series.  Some fans with winning tickets did not cash them; instead they kept them as souvenirs.
  • Sportsbook bets typically have a 6-month lifetime once the winner has been determined.  World Series bets had to be settled a couple of months ago so now the accountants in Las Vegas recognize how much the sportsbooks have “saved” in terms of payouts.

The details are in this report and the amounts naturally vary from company to company but here is the bottom line:

  • More than 1,000 winning tickets on the cubs to win the world Series remain uncashed at casinos serviced by CG Technologies.
  • At the Golden Nugget sportsbook, two $600 bets on the Cubs at 5-1 odds were not cashed.

“The House” wins in the long run; Cubs’ fans gave them a helping hand last year…

Yesterday, I mentioned that I am not one of Billy Beane’s acolytes and made some critical remarks about the Oakland A’s as a team.  Two readers told me via e-mail that I was being too hard on Beane and the A’s and that there were worse GMs and worse teams in MLB.  That may be the case over the past year or two, but there are significant distinctions in my mind.

First, Billy Beane has been the GM in Oakland for about 20 years.  I cannot think of another MLB GM who – when criticized for not being half the genius he has been made out to be is supported by the argument, “Well there are worse ones,” AND that GM has been around for 2 decades.  Moreover, fans in Oakland seemingly have recognized that the team is dismal and are finding other things to do with their time and money.  Consider:

  • The A’s attendance reflects three factors and the A’s attendance is dismal.  Let me review some numbers here.  Since 2007, the A’s total attendance has gone over 2 million exactly one time and in that year, they exceeded 2 million fans by the grand total of 3,628 folks.  In that 10-year stretch, the A’s attendance has been 12th or worse in the AL 8 out of 10 years.  So far this year, the A’s are on pace to draw a little over 1.5 million fans.
  • Yes, the Oakland Coliseum is a miserable venue; it adds to any repulsion fans may have regarding the team.  However, there is another team-related factor that hurts attendance.  There is no continuity there.
  • If the A’s trade away Sonny Gray – as is widely speculated – in the next few days as the trade deadline approaches, the longest tenured players on the roster will have been there since the 2015 season.  There is no “face of the franchise” because no one stays around long enough to establish nearly the identity needed to assume that role.  The troika of bad stadium, bad team and revolving-door roster explains why the A’s have to scramble and scratch to try to be competitive.
  • The GM has some control over two of those three negative factors.  He gets a pass only on the noxiousness of the stadium.

Those of you who know me in real life know that I am not a huge fan of movies; in general, I would much rather spend a couple of hours reading a book than going to see a movie.  Nevertheless, I am a fan of Al Pacino as an actor; I would not make it a point to go and see a movie simply because he is in the movie, but I do enjoy his acting when I happen to see him on screen.  Recently, I read that Al Pacino will play the part of Joe Paterno in a movie about Penn State and Penn State football.  My immediate reaction was:

  • Does the world really need this?

The Jerry Sandusky matter was outrageous, scandalous and barbaric.  There was ton of blame to be handed out to myriad folks regarding that whole business – – and in fact, the justice system seems to be trudging along in handing out that blame and the punishments that go with it.  It surely appears as if the university has moved on to a new place with regard to what happened and I wonder if there is a real value in re-hashing that mess.

[Aside:  I make a distinction here between a “documentary” and a film that “examines” the situation through the eyes of a screenwriter or team of screenwriters.  What happened was a fact – a horrible fact.  Is there really a benefit to be derived from a sort of historical fiction here?]

            Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that rings true to me:

“Sarcasm ahead: I don’t know how anybody could have enjoyed watching Babe Ruth without knowing the launch angle and exit velocity of his home runs.”

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



Must-See TV? Not For Me …

ESPN bills itself as the “Worldwide Leader in Sports”.  Ignoring the ESPN channels in foreign countries about which I know nothing, I believe the ESPN “family of networks” has 5 different channels that are on the air 168 hours per week.  That demands a lot of “inventory” and/or reruns to prevent dead air or a test pattern for periods of time.  Execs at ESPN must be vigilant in their search for programming to fill up all those hours; later this week, they will get a smidgen of help from the US jurisprudence system.  You read that right…

Tomorrow, in Nevada, OJ Simpson will be up for parole and he will go before the parole board to see if he can get out of prison there.  That event will be televised on ESPN – and other networks too – as it happens; the schedule calls for it to begin at 1:00 PM EDT.  Then, ESPN will air a special 90-minute version of Outside the Lines anchored by Jeremy Schapp.

You may be sure that I will have something else to do at 1:00 PM EDT tomorrow; I have been meaning to find time to arrange the paper clips in my desk drawer…  However, you may be enticed to tune in to see the results of this hearing because – – wait for it – – you can bet on the outcome of the hearing at offshore Internet sportsbooks.  As of this morning, here are the odds at one of those sites:

  • Granted parole in 2017:  Miinus-475
  • Not Granted parole in 2017:  +325

The proposition will not necessarily be determined tomorrow because even if the parole board thinks it is OK to release OJ, the earliest he would hit the streets is in October.  To fulfill the proposition “Granted parole in 2017” means that OJ must get a favorable decision tomorrow AND that the process leading up to his release comes to fruition before December 31, 2017.

  • Memo to Anyone Making This Wager:  Get yourself into a 12-step program … quickly.

Last week, there was a headline at SI.com that has to be nominated as the most self-evident headline of the year.

“MLB Rumors:  Multiple teams interested in Marlins’ Stanton”

That would be Giancarlo Stanton.  He is 27 years old; this is his 8th year in MLB where he has a career OPS of .901; he is a 4-time All-Star.  Looking at those stats, even someone who does not follow MLB closely would have to ask himself/herself the following questions after reading that headline:

  1. Why would the Marlins want to trade him?
  2. How many of the other 29 teams in MLB have 3 outfielders better than Stanton?
  3. Is there another “MLB Rumor” out there to the effect that Babe Ruth was a pretty good ballplayer?

Here is what would be really surprising to see as a headline at SI.com or anywhere else:

“Marlins cannot find any MLB team with interest in acquiring Giancarlo Stanton”

While on the subject of baseball, anyone who has been reading these rants for a while knows that I am not a believer in Billy Beane as some sort of baseball savant who knows more than everyone else combined about how to construct a roster.  I will point to the A’s record over the last decade if need be.  Recently, we had another Billy Beane “outside the box move” when he traded two relievers to the ultra-needy Washington Nationals for “prospects” or “assets”.  If you believe in the assessment of baseball prospects, what the A’s got back was more than a bag of hair – – but not much more.

Seemingly, the A’s are always in “selling mode” when it comes to the trade deadline and this year is no exception.  The A’s are 20 games out of first place in the AL West and have the next-to-worst record in the AL.  So much for all the “prospects” and “assets” that have been acquired over the last decade…

Sonny Gray has been with the A’s for 4.5 seasons now and he is the longest-tenured player on the team; if you believe the rumors, he is on the trading block; there are teams that need him and are interested in him; the A’s want to get “prospects” or “assets” back in return.  Let me assume that the A’s find a way to make such a deal.

That would mean that the longest tenured player on the A’s roster – if I have calculated correctly – would be either INF Marcus Demien or C Josh Phegley.  They both came to the A’s from the White Sox in 2014 as “prospects” in exchange for Jeff Samardzija.  I have no intention of figuring out which of the two showed up in a game for the A’s first; that is the reason for the uncertainty here.  What that means is that all the prospects/assets that had been acquired from all the trade deadline fire sales over the past decade did not produce the core of a solid – let alone contending – MLB team.

Billy Beane has been the GM in Oakland since 1998; he has been the architect of the A’s for a long time now.  From the start of the 2007 season to this morning the team record is 838-875.  It will take you a while to convince me that record over the last 10 years is laudatory.

Finally, here is a college baseball item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Iowa’s baseball team under coach Rick Heller has won 141 games the past four seasons — the best four-year run in program history.

“Or as the hot stretch is now known around Iowa City, Heller high water.”

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



NFL GMs And Agents In The News …

If you follow the NFL, you know that every team seeks to have its franchise QB in place and secured under contract.  Here in Washington, things are never that simple; consider:

  • Kirk Cousins is the best QB the Skins have had in at least 30 years and probably more.  The team has him playing under the franchise tag for the second year in a row; he and his agent have huge leverage in this situation.
  • Yesterday, the Skins’ “braintrust” – and I put that in quotation marks because there seems to be little rational thought extant in that assemblage of humankind – decided to tell the world that the reason no long-term deal was reached was because Kirk Cousins and his agent never even responded to the Skins’ contract offer.  And then they proceeded to go into “full-spin mode” and made the contract sound overly generous to Cousins & Co.  Skins’ GM, Bruce Allen issued a statement that sets the standard for “tone deafness”.

If you live outside this area, you might read this news and wonder how Kirk Cousins – a guy who made $20M last year under the franchise tag – could pooh-pooh an offer of $53M at signing and more than $72M guaranteed in the deal.  Well, here in Washington, we know in sports and in politics that the devil is in the details.  If you would like to understand why this situation is in the state that it is, I suggest that you read this analysis by Jerry Brewer in this morning’s Washington Post.  Brewer has only been with the Post for about 2 years but he clearly sees through the arm-waving PR that accompanies everything the Skins do and gets down to the core of the business.  I suggest you read his column in its entirety.

In other NFL QB news – having nothing to do with players and agents turning down “guarantees” of tens of millions of dollars – there is a sports agency that has a longshot exacta ticket in hand.  Select Sports Group is a Houston-based sports agency that represents about 50 players including Robert Ayers, Brent Celek and Andy Dalton.  According to recent reports, this agency also represents Colin Kaepernick as he seeks to find an NFL home and just recently added another wayward QB to the fold signing up Johnny Manziel.  As I understand it, Kaepernick and Manziel are represented by two different agents within Select Sports Group but things could get interesting within that agency.

There is not exactly a “hot market” out there for either Kaepernick or Manziel as of this morning.  It is virtually certain that no NFL GM or coach will wake up tomorrow morning and come to the realization that the key element to their ability to contend for the Super Bowl in 2017 is to have either of these guys be their starting QB in Week 1.  In fact, as of this morning, no GM or coach has even hinted that they would really like either of these guys to report to training camp just to be a “camp arm” to aid in the evaluation of the receiving corps.

However, let us suppose for a minute that a couple of season-ending injuries happen early in a mixture of training camps such that the search for a QB with some time on the field in an NFL game becomes a lot more difficult.  At that point, a team may consider either Kaepernick or Manziel meaning that they would sort of be in competition for a contract offer and at the same time be represented by the same agency.  There is nothing improper about that; but it could be more than a tad awkward during the weekly staff meetings at HQS in Houston.

So, that leads me to wonder …  If a team were to bring on one of these two players as a backup QB, which one would be the bigger “problem” from a PR standpoint?  Here is where I come out on that:

  • I believe Kaepernick would be the better player on the field AND I think he would be the bigger PR problem for the franchise.
  • Glad I am not an NFL GM who has to make that sort of decision…

It is not often that NFL GMs and agents create enough stories at the same time to fill up one of these rants but today is the exception that proves the rule.  The Carolina Panthers fired their GM, Dave Gettleman, yesterday.  With training camp about to open, this is not a typical time for a team to fire a GM – – although when you think about it, this is the time of year when the GM’s job goes quiescent for a brief interlude; the roster is assembled; there is not much scouting to be done; ticket sales have plateaued…  The interesting thing about Gettleman’s firing is the gleeful – almost vengeful – reactions from former Panthers’ players who were released by Gettleman.  These include Steve Smith Sr., Josh Norman and DeAngelo Williams.

Williams is a free agent RB looking for a team; recently, he listed several teams he would not play for under any circumstances and the Panthers were on that list because they released him unceremoniously in the past.  With news of Gettleman’s firing, Williams tweeted this:

“I want to publicly say @Panthers is off my list of teams I won’t play for due to the firing of that snake Dave gettleman (sic).  [Then four emojis follow]

I do not know Dave Gettleman from Donald Duck but I do recognize that Williams’ tweet and the reactions from other former Panthers’ players is unusually hostile.

Finally, let me close today with something that is a bit lighter and more upbeat than the rest of this commentary.  This comes from Brad Rock’s column Rock On in the Deseret News:

“Jimmer Fredette made 92 of 100 3-point attempts at a charity event.

“Warriors coach Steve Kerr is thinking: ‘Nice. But I have six of those guys.’”

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



Onsite At Camden Yards …

I spent yesterday afternoon at Camden Yards in Baltimore with my long-suffering wife and two friends taking in the Cubs/Orioles game.  The Cubs won handily 8-0 and Cubs’ newly acquired starter, Jose Quintana pitched 7 innings of shutout baseball allowing only 3 hits.  But I am not here to do a game recap…

The Orioles are in a tailspin.  After starting out the season hotter than a barbecue grill, the O’s have fallen to 42-49 and are 9 games out of first place in the AL East.  Remember, this team was in the playoffs last year.  The problem with the Orioles is their starting pitching – notwithstanding their being shut out with only 3 hits yesterday.  Here are the 5 starters in the O’s rotation with their ERAs to date in 2017:

  1. Dylan Bundy:  ERA = 4.33
  2. Kevin Gausman:  ERA = 6.39
  3. Ubaldo Jimenez:  ERA = 7.01
  4. Wade Miley:  ERA = 5.41
  5. Chris Tillman:  ERA = 7.90

The 1927 Yankees would have had difficulty winning with that kind of pitching…

There was one other thing from the game yesterday that was comment-worthy.  As we were leaving the park to go and find our car – seemingly parked just south of the Canadian border – I saw a concessionaire sign that offered organic all-natural hot dogs.  It did not say they were all beef or chicken dogs; it said they were organic all-natural so I guess that means any or all typical barnyard denizens could be part of the filling inside that casing.  Here is the thing:

  • If you are fussy enough about what you east to seek out and buy organic and all-natural hot dogs, you probably have not thought about which anatomical organs and tissues get ground into the interior meat-like substance that is the hot dog.  In addition to various other parts of the animal, let me just say that the first organ one encounters in a trip through the alimentary canal is ground into the mix; and so is the final organ one would encounter as you exited that alimentary canal.  “Organic” and “All-natural” seem to me not to be important in that context.

While on the subject of stadium culinary offerings, the Cincinnati Reds seemingly have taken this to a different plane of existence.  They have created a culinary monstrosity and turned it into a fan challenge.  Here is the deal:

  • The sandwich in question consists of one pound of bacon with lettuce, tomato and mayo served with chips and potato salad.  Right there, you have cardiologist’s nightmare…
  • Here is the challenge.  If you can eat FOUR of those sandwiches in one inning (the time it takes for six outs to occur), you win the following “prizes”.  The cost of the sandwiches is zero; and you get a commemorative tee-shirt.
  • There is no indication that EMTs will be on the scene from the outset…

In other baseball news, the Red Sox designated Pablo Sandoval for assignment; once he clears waivers, he will be a free agent; it would appear that his playing days are over.  In a way, I am sad to see that; when Sandoval first came up with the Giants, he was fun to watch.  He played the game well despite his girth and he played it with an enthusiasm that was fun to see.  When he hit free agency, he was a hot commodity and the Red Sox signed him up for $94M; if my calculations are correct, the Sox still owe him $50M on that contract so his demotion or the termination of his MLB career is not going to leave him destitute.

Sandoval signed with the Red Sox after the 2014 season but injuries have only allowed him to play in 161 games in the 2.5 seasons since then.  Compounding his injuries are “weight issues”; Sandoval never had a typical physique for a player at the MLB level, but earlier in his career his weight did not prevent him from making the NL All-Star team.  During his tenure with the Red Sox, he hit an anemic .237 and posted a modest OPS of .646.

One other baseball note.  As I was grazing through the cable channels, I arrived in the middle of a segment featuring Tim Kurkjian and heard him say – this is a paraphrase not a quote:

  • During the final 35 games of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, he did not strike out once.

Since the source here is Tim Kurkjian, I believe there is no need to think of verifying that assertion and I have not done so.  I assume that the preceding discussion had to do with the prevalence of strikeouts in the modern game.  In any event, the idea of a player – particularly a power hitter – going 35 consecutive games without striking out is an alien concept in 2017.

Last week, I mentioned that this time of the year is a wasteland in sports news.  Last weekend, Greg Cote had a comment along that line in his column in the Miami Herald:

“Slow time in sports” defined: Arguing whether Kevin Durant was really mad at that Peyton Manning joke on the ESPYs.”

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

“Two women in San Francisco attacked a 64-year old man with pepper spray and stole his bag of laxatives.

“Undercover police immediately staked out the local hot-dog eating contests.”

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



Peaks And Valleys …

Life has its peaks and valleys.  The sports world is a slice of life and likewise has its peaks and valleys.  Let me begin today with one of the peaks.

Venus Williams at the age of 37 is in the women’s finals at Wimbledon.  The last time she won one of the tennis “majors” was in 2008; her run to the finals this year has been amazing for reasons other than her age:

  • About a month ago, Venus Williams was in a car accident that resulted in the death of the passenger in the “other vehicle”.  Police originally said she was responsible for the accident; only recently did they announce that further evidence and further investigation showed that Williams was “not responsible” for the incident.  At the start of Wimbledon, Williams broke down in a press event and had to excuse herself when that subject came up.
  • For several years now, Williams has suffered from an autoimmune disease, Sjögren’s Syndrome.  Symptoms of this condition include “numbness in the arms and legs”, “feeling tired”, “muscle and joint pain”.  I am certainly not a physician, but it would seem to me that any or all of those symptoms would be problematic for someone playing tennis at the top level of the sport.

The fact that she has reached the finals is impressive.  If she wins the championship, it will be her 50th win in tournament singles in her career – if I have done accurate accounting on her career.  This is a “peak story” in the sports world this morning.

Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding Venus Williams and an “issue” she had during the first round of this year’s Wimbledon tournament:

“Venus Williams wore a pink bra during her first-round Wimbledon match, violating the tournament’s strict all-white dress code.

“The NFL fashion police, simply out of habit, fined her $10,000.”

Just to create juxtaposition, let me go down in the valley now and comment on something that I would normally – and preferably – ignore.  The McGregor/Mayweather “fight” is in the promotional tour phase and it is predictable, stupid and ugly.  How’s that for a trifecta?

  1. It is predictable because the combatants are going from city to city in staged events to insult one another to each other’s face.  I guess I am supposed to admire the self-control of these warriors as they avoid conflict prior to the event itself.
  2. It is stupid because this is what pro ‘rassling has done for the last 50 years or so – – except ‘rassling does in on TV and not in staged events from city to city.  Listen to the two fighters when they have microphones in their hand.  Close your eyes and you can imagine Hulk Hogan and/or Rick Flair and/or Bruno Sammartino and/or “The Moose-Jaw Mangler” doing his thing on camera.  To me, UFC is nothing more than pro ‘rassling where the blows actually land and the blood is real.  This tour de force simply adds boxing to that mix.
  3. It is ugly because the insults have blatant racial remarks at the core.  They have not come out and said it explicitly, but one of the tired angles to this fight is McGregor as “The Great White Hope” with Mayweather as the “Black Menace”.  That sort of thing has happened before; Jack Johnson vs. Jess Willard about 100 years ago; Jerry Quarry vs. Muhammad Ali and/or Joe Frazier about 50 years ago; Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney about 30 years ago.  In almost any other circumstances, people would find this sort of interchange distasteful at best; for some reason, it is acceptable in this setting.

I noted recently that MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, mentioned Mexico City as a possible baseball expansion site one of these days.  I also noted recently that the NFL hopes to open the 2019 season with a game in China.  The NBA has not announced its latest outreach toward globalization.  In early August, the NBA will stage a game in Johannesburg, South Africa in the format of Team Africa versus Team World.  The proceeds will go to UNICEF and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Team Africa will feature players born in Africa or players with parents born in Africa; the team captains will Luol Deng and Thabo Sefolosa.  Team World will consist of players whose family roots are somewhere other than Africa.  Probably the most recognized names participating for Team World are Dirk Nowitzki, DeMarcus Cousins and Kristaps Porzingis.

The world of fantasy sports delivered some bad news to sports fans this morning.  The proposed merger of FanDuel and Draft Kings has been called off.  If you really care about the whys and wherefores of this decision, you can read the ESPN.com report here.

Why is this bad news for sports fans?  Well, recall a couple of years ago when these two entities were competitors how many times you had to sit through the same commercial trying to lure you to one site or the other.  In the last year or so, those ads have disappeared for one simple reason:

  • If the companies were going to merge, why spend money advertising to get fans to play at one site as opposed to the other; they would be the same company.

Therefore, I expect each of the two fantasy sites to go back to their ad agencies and to produce two or three ads for the upcoming football season and that the handful of ads will be run and re-run to the point that it will make you want to wash your eyes out with Clorox when you see the opening scene in the ad.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this item in his Sideline Chatter column recently.  It fits in here because it has to do with tennis and with an issue that has garnered great attention outside the world of sports:

“TBS’s Conan O’Brien, on reports that Russia interfered with voting systems in at least 39 states during the 2016 elections: ‘Which finally explains why the new governor of Wyoming is Anna Kournikova.’”

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



The Second Half Of The MLB Season Starts Now…

With the MLB season at the halfway mark and set to charge toward the October playoffs, here is how I see the races and the storylines shaping up:

  • NL East:  The Nats win this division in a stroll.  I cannot see any other team here getting anywhere near the Wild Card slots.  My bold prediction is that the Phillies will not lose 100 games.  They will lose 95 – – but not 100.
  • NL Central:  The Brewers are the Cinderella story of 2017.  On opening day, they had one of the lowest payrolls in MLB.  The question here is can – or will – the Cubs shake off their World Series hangover.  Unless one of the teams in the NL West dies like a dog, there will only be one team from the NL Central in the playoffs.
  • NL West:  The Dodgers will win this division in a walk.  The Rockies and D-Backs are pleasant surprises this year and both have significant leads in the race for the NL Wild Card slots.  The D-Backs have the second-best run-differential in the NL (behind the Dodgers); the Rockies are 5 games over .500 on the road this year.  How did the Giants fall to a point where they have the second worst record in the NL?
  • AL East:  The Red Sox lead this division on the strength of their pitching and defense and not their offense.  Who saw that coming?  The Yankees have played very well this year but the biggest surprise in the division are the Rays.  The AL East will provide one of the wild cards in the AL.  Just a hunch, I think it will be the Red Sox as the division winners and the Rays as a wild card.
  • AL Central:  I see that the Twins and Royals are “nipping on the heels” of the Indians.  Nonetheless, I think the Indians win this division without a ton of drama.  The Twins and Royals will fight for a wild card slot.
  • AL West:  It would take a catastrophe of the magnitude of the team plane going down with no survivors for the Astros to lose out in the AL West.  The big surprise here is that the Angels are only 2 games below .500 despite having Mike Trout on the DL for more than a month.  Maybe the Angels can get into the wild card mix with the Twins and Royals?

I watched a couple innings of the All-Star Game; when I was younger, this was must-see TV; I never missed a game.  Back in those ancient times, there was no inter-league play.  The players in the “other league” existed only in newspaper game stories, articles in Sports Illustrated and on baseball cards.  In terms of nationally televised games, there was only one game a week all the way up through the 1980s.  Watching the All-Star Game – and the World Series – was the way to see the stars of the “other league”.

That “mystery factor” no longer exists and the game is no more meaningful than a Spring Training game.  In fact, a Spring Training game is probably more interesting because in Spring Training there is always the question of which rookie might make the team this year or which veteran attempting a comeback will be successful in that endeavor.  The All-Star Game has no aura related to “consequence”.

Having said all of that, let me be clear on something:

  • The MLB All-Star Game is far and away the best All-Star Game of the major US sports.  None of the games have any meaning; so that is not the reason the MLB game is the best of the lot.  The reason it is the best is that the MLB All-Star Game actually resembles a real baseball game; pitchers are actually trying to get hitters out and fielders are actually playing defense.  In football, basketball and hockey there is zero defense and so the all-star games bear no resemblance to the actual sports they represent.

Let me switch gears here to comment on another example of strange fan behavior.  There are lots of colleges who can point to the dedication and fervor of their fan bases; every once in a while, one of those fans does something that might indicate that the fan is just a tad too ‘involved with” or “attached to” the school’s scholar-athletes.  LSU is one such school with an avid and devoted fan base.  Teams playing LSU in Baton Rouge on a Saturday night know they will be facing a good football team on the field and a crowd of more than 100,000 fans whose ardor gave the stadium the nick name, Death Valley.

Today, there is a report about one of the LSU fandom taking his passion into Tiger Stadium on a different vector heading.  Local police arrested a 36-year old man and a woman standing by a ladder that was positioned in a way for them to enter the locked stadium.  No, they were not going there to take selfies at the 50-yardline; when the police arrived, the man admitted that the woman was a prostitute.  I will leave it as an exercise for the students here to come up with conclusions as to what the couple might have intended to do once inside the facility.

The man was arrested and charged with “unauthorized entry into a place of business” and solicitation of prostitution.  It was not clear to me from the report if the “unauthorized entry into a place of business” referred only to Tiger Stadium of if there may have been multiple charges contained therein…

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about a fan interruption of a MLB game earlier this year:

“A streaker clad in only his socks ran across the field at a Brewers-Giants game in Milwaukee three security finally tackled him near shortstop.

“He’s expected to be charged with misdemeanor lewd and lascivious behavior, and violating the infield-fly rule.”

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



NFL Stuff Today …

Some storylines have legs; other story lines just will not die.  This morning at CBSSports.com you can read about Joe Montana’s assessment as to why Colin Kaepernick does not have a job in the NFL.  [Spoiler Alert:  Defenses figured Kaepernick out.  But there is still hope …]  I have tired of this story; I believe we have all plumbed the depths of it thoroughly and repeatedly.  What I prefer to do this morning is to look at a few other NFL veterans who are free agents but have no team to report to as training camps start to open in the next week.

  1. Anquan Boldin:  He will be 37 in October and that is ancient for a WR.  Nonetheless, he played in all 16 games last year and caught 67 passes for 584 yards and 8 TDs.
  2. Ryan Clady:  He was cut by the Jets as the team cleared its roster of expensive and experienced players to go into a full-blown rebuilding phase.  He has had some injury issues in the past three seasons but he will only turn 31 by the start of this season.
  3. Dwight Freeney:  He is 36 years old and cannot play every snap on defense any more.  As a situational pass-rusher …
  4. Nick Mangold:  Like Ryan Clady, Mangold was asked to leave the Jets early in the free-agency period.  Mangold is 33 years old.
  5. Darrelle Revis:  He too left the Jets in the offseason.  His play seemed to be on a downward arc for much of last season and he may need to play safety and not corner back if he plays in the NFL.  Revis has signed some big contracts in his career; if he signs one now, it will be a small one.
  6. DeAngelo Williams:  He filled in for LeVeon Bell last year and played adequately.  He is 34 years old and has carried the ball 1730 time sin his NFL career.
  7. Mario Williams:  He is a former overall #1 draft pick who is now 32 years old.  As recently as 2014, he had 14.5 sacks in a season.  In 2015, he had “issues” with the Bills’ defensive schemes and coaches and whatever; in 2016, he went to Miami and recorded only 1.5 sacks in 13 games.  Can he still play …?

On the eve of training camp openings, the Chicago Sun-Times tracked down Bears’ draft pick, Mitch Trubisky, and asked some questions.  One of the things Trubisky said was that he thinks the Bears can make the playoffs – – this year.  A quick check this morning says that Las Vegas oddsmakers have a different view of the Bears’ fortunes for 2016.  The Bears are 40-1 to win the NFC North and 20-1 to make the playoffs.  However, Bears’ fans probably would prefer that their young QB-of-the-future be delusionally optimistic than to be resigned to a fate that looks like 3-13…

Thinking about Mitch Trubisky reminded me that “top QB prospects” in college last year had an “East-of-the-Mississippi” center of gravity.  Trubisky was at UNC; Deshaun Watson was at Clemson, DeShone Kizer was at Notre Dame; Lamar Jackson was at Louisville.  [Yes, I know that Patrick Mahomes II was at Texas Tech and that school is in Lubbock.]  This year, it would appear as if the center of gravity for QB prospects has shifted decidedly to the west.

Lamar Jackson is still at Louisville and Deondre Francois is still at Florida State and Trace McSorley is still at Penn State.  If I spent some time looking carefully, I am sure I would come up with some other quality QBs east of the Mississippi but these are the ones that come to mind quickly.  However west of the Mississippi you have – in alphabetical order:

  • Josh Allen – Wyoming
  • Sam Darnold – USC
  • Luke Falk – Washington State
  • Tanner Mangum – BYU
  • Baker Mayfield – Oklahoma
  • Josh Rosen – UCLA
  • Brett Rypien – Boise St.

I am sure that with some time spent on research, I could come up with some other “western QB prospects” too.  For NFL scouts assigned to find a new QB for their teams, the focus in 2017 would seem not to be in the Eastern Time Zone…

Buffalo Bills’ DL, Adolphus Washington, was arrested in Ohio on charges of improperly carrying a concealed firearm.  He has been released and the legal processes are ongoing in this matter.  Here is the unusual aspect of this matter.  Washington improperly carried his concealed firearm at – – wait for it – – a water park.  Honestly, I could not make this stuff up.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding teams and their interactions with season-ticket holders:

“The Denver Broncos are revoking season tickets from purchasers who did not attend a home game last season.

“The Browns, not to be outdone, are offering free grief counseling for anyone who decides to re-up with them.”

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



Ramblings …

Just wondering … Do the craps tables in Las Vegas offer special promotions today?

As is customary, MLB Commish, Rob Manfred, addressed the media yesterday as the All-Star break commenced.  One of the subjects he touched on was MLB expansion.  As I have pointed out in the past, having two leagues with 15 teams in each league poses more than a couple of scheduling problems and having 16 teams in each league would be much simpler.  The Commish did not shy away from saying that he would consider expansion and made two points:

  1. MLB recognizes that two existing teams have attendance problems that just might be mitigated with a newer/better stadium for those teams.  The Oakland Coliseum is an albatross around the neck of the Oakland A’s; there are many folks who assert that the Tampa Bay Rays’ attendance woes are caused in large part by their stadium and its location.  Manfred said that MLB’s priority was to “resolve the stadium situations” in these two cities.
  2. The Commish then mentioned 3 cities that he said were “great candidates” for expansion once Oakland and Tampa were taken care of.  Those would be Montreal, Charlotte and Mexico City.

You can read about Manfred’s remarks here.

Let me comment on the three cities that the Commish mentioned yesterday:

  1. Montreal:  The city supported the Expos for years until the team was forced to play in the stadium built for the Olympic Games in Montreal.  Take that white elephant out of the picture, and Montreal could be an excellent addition to MLB creating a natural rivalry with Toronto as well as with Boston and New York.
  2. Charlotte:  The city has the right demographics but I have a nagging unease about putting baseball there.  The southeastern US is “football country” – – specifically “college football country”.  Next comes “basketball” – – specifically “college basketball”.  Baseball is a big deal in the Northeast but not nearly such a big deal in the Southeast.  Check out the teams in the Southeast and ask which ones are attendance monsters.  Atlanta?  Hardly, they don’t always sell out playoff games.  Miami?  Get serious.  Tampa?  See above.
  3. Mexico City:  Obviously, this locale tips a hat to globalization and making the MLB brand “international”.  There are surely enough people in Mexico City to support a team; the city proper has a population of about 8.2 million people and the “metro area” is home to 21 million.  However, I wonder if there is enough money in the hands of enough baseball fans there to do things like buy luxury suites and/or to pay the Mexican equivalent of 50-75 dollars per game for half decent seats.

If MLB wants to get outside the “lower 48” with franchises, Montreal and Vancouver in Canada would seem to be better choices to me.  If MLB wants to have a footprint in Latin America, they could also consider Puerto Rico.  Moreover, if MLB moves with its normal speed on this issue, they might want to keep Havana open as an option.  It might take MLB so long to get around to this that both Castro brothers might no longer be exchanging oxygen in the biosphere and relations between Cuba and the US might be fully normalized by then.

Speaking about globalization and possible international expansions, the NFL wants to play a game in China and the target date is Opening Week in 2019.  Some reports say that the LA Rams will be the host team for the game.  Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald reacted to that news with this comment:

“The NFL may open 2019 with a game in China. A rules expert would explain holding and pass-interference calls to the Chinese fans. Maybe then the Chinese fans can explain them to us.”

In going through one of Brad Dickson’s columns, I also came across the following comment

“Texas signed a marketing deal to name Corona as the official beer of Longhorn athletics. To kick off the promotion, Bevo blew a 0.215 on a Breathalyzer.”

Forget about poor Bevo for a minute.  Also, forget about the fact that more than a few of the Texas student body are underage and it might be a tad unseemly for the school to have a brand of beer as a “corporate partner”.  Forget that UT-Austin is a “dry campus” and beer is only sold at athletic events.

This act by the Athletic Department – and with de minimis the acquiescence/concurrence of the Lord High Pooh-bahs at the school – demonstrates why college athletic departments need to be taxable entities.  They are businesses run for a profit – or at least the intention of making a profit.  They are not tax-exempt educational entities; they should be separate and distinct from the universities that they represent and they should keep their books to GAAP and IRS standards and pay taxes as appropriate.  You can read more about this sponsorship deal in this link to a report in the Dallas News.

Finally, let me complete a Brad Dickson trifecta today with this comment from his column, Breaking Brad, in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Russia has reportedly developed a missile that’s described as ‘capable of destroying Texas.’ So apparently Kremlin officials have seen the Longhorn Network.”

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