Random Thoughts Today

NBA player movements continue to dominate the sports news this month – – at least until the NFL teams all open their training camps when the focus will switch dramatically.  The news today is that the Thunder, Hawks and sixers worked a 3-way trade and the headline on the deal is that Carmelo Anthony was “traded” to the Atlanta Hawks.  The only thing that makes sense for the Hawks now is to move Anthony on to some other team in another trade or to cut him outright and send him into free agency because the Hawks are trying to rebuild their team and they need Carmelo Anthony about as much as I need to listen to Mark Emmert read a prepared statement on the “student-athlete”.

Players who are much lesser known than Carmelo Anthony moved around in this deal and to me the most interesting guy moving around is Mike Muscala from the Hawks to the Sixers.  Muscala is a power forward who can shoot from 3-point range (38% over his 5-year career in the NBA) and who can play center if he has to.  The NBA these days puts a higher value on players who can play and/or defend multiple positions.  Muscala is potentially a very “interesting” player.

Of course, the Thunder are big winners in this trade even if none of the players they receive amounts to anything more than a pinch of pigeon poop.  They added immensely by subtracting Carmelo Anthony who did not fit with the Thunder offensive style and who refused to play even a charade of defense there.  Addition by subtraction works perfectly well in the world of sports and in algebra…

The 2018/19 NBA regular season will begin in late October 2018 and will run through late April 2019.  Between now and then, there will be “juicy” storylines about the next best free agent available for signing or possibly another multi-team swap of players that will change the balance of power in some segment of the NBA cosmos.  Sadly, all that intrigue and all that projected change will have to yield the floor to the fact that the NBA regular season will start.  And the flat-out fact that dominates the NBA regular season is this:

  • It is a 7-month slog that is relatively predictable – – absent the occurrence of key injuries to star players.

The NBA off-season and free agency period is a whole lot more interesting than the NBA’s 82-game regular season.

Speaking of the NBA and uninteresting things, might I suggest that the NBA Summer League is a non-event.  It is even less important than MLB Spring Training or the NFL Exhibition Season for a simple reason.

  • In the cases of MLB and the NFL, the actual players who will participate in the real games are involved – – even if only as cameo appearances.  In the NBA Summer League, you have meaningless games involving players who – for the most part – are going to be playing in anonymity in places like the Luxembourg League.

So, why does ESPN make such a huge deal out of the NBA Summer League – sometimes telecasting as many as 4 games in a day?  The answer is very simple, and it has to do with basic math:

  • ESPN has a multitude of networks and each one of them must fill the airwaves with programming for 168 hours each week.
  • The NBA Summer League is an ESPN “property” for the same reason.  It fills time on the air and it provides the opportunity to do re-runs of the event after the fact filling yet more air time.

Switching sports, news out of Las Vegas is that the Las Vegas Raiders will employ Brent Musberger as their radio play-by-play guy.  The report is that the team has signed Musberger to a 3-year deal.    Brent Musberger is “famous” in Vegas for dealing with and referring to the gambling aspects of sports in those “Dark Ages” when major sports leagues pretended that gambling did not exist – – or if it did then gambling was some sort of insidious force determined to ruin the sport itself.

When Musberger retired from network broadcasting, he joined up with a fledgling outfit called VSIN – the Vegas Sports and Information Network.  He hosts a show on that syndicated radio network that deals with sports gambling extensively – if not exclusively.  Since he will be doing local radio broadcasting for the Raiders, I wonder to what extent he will do the games with point spreads and totals and things like that in mind.  In any event, the Raiders did themselves a favor aligning themselves with Brent Musberger.

A friend who is a big fan of horseracing was lamenting the continued decline of the sport and asked me if there was any single thing the folks in charge could do to revive it.  We chatted for a while and finally came to this conclusion:

  • Horseracing is exciting and interesting because of the gambling aspects of the sport.  If you take betting out of the equation, the sport would die quickly because people are not going to assemble in a specific spot on a regular basis to watch horses run around in a circle.
  • Therefore, if you want to “goose up” interest in horseracing, you have to make the wagering experience more exciting/interesting.
  • To our minds, the thing that makes the wagering experience uninteresting are the 5-horse or 6-horse fields that are way too common at many tracks.  There are not a sufficient number of horses in training at any moment to fill all the race cards at all the tracks.
  • Since tracks are not going to close, the best way to augment the racing experience would be for each track to cut back the number of races it presents such that it would be a rarity to see a field of runners with less than 8 entries.

That seemed simple enough to us.  I shall not hold my breath until that happens, however…

Finally, since I mentioned ESPN needing things to fill lots of airtime, let me share with you a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“ESPN says more words beginning with the letter O are misspelled at the National Spelling Bee than any others.

“Remember, that’s Olbermann with two n’s.”

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



Manny Machado Moves West

The Dodgers and the Orioles have negotiated a “blockbuster trade”.  The Orioles – a team mired in a season that is a disastrous disappointment when compared to pre-season expectations will get 5 “prospects” from the Dodgers’ farm system.  The Dodgers get Manny Machado who – I believe – is the second-best young player in MLB at the moment behind Mike Trout.  And that last statement intends to throw exactly no shade on Kris Bryant or Bryce Harper or a bunch of other young stars of the game.  The surprise element in this trade to me is this:

  • The Dodgers are well represented on the left side of their infield for the future with Justin Turner at third abase and Corey Seager at shortstop when he returns from Tommy John surgery next season.   Machado can play shortstop this year but if the Dodgers seek to sign him to a long-term deal at the end of this season, that will create a logjam at shortstop/third base.  This can only mean that the Dodgers are going all out to win the World Series this year – – and they just might do that.

On the flip side of this trade, the Orioles have to be the most disappointing team in MLB when compared to what they thought they could do this season.  I doubt that any of their fans seriously thought they could beat out the Yankees or Red Sox in the AL East, but a solid third-place finish was certainly not out of the question – – until about the first of June.  At the All-Star break, the only team in MLB with a worse record than the Orioles would be the KC Royals – and just about everyone knew that the Royals were going to stink out the joint in 2018.  The Orioles of 2018 look as if they are a team that is tanking to restructure their roster; indeed, that may be the strategy as of July 2018, but it was not the plan as of March 2018.

The Orioles will get 5 “prospects” from the Dodgers’ farm system in the trade.  Let me translate that for you:

  • The Orioles are getting 5 players who have never shown the ability to play baseball at the MLB level.  Their scouts have identified these prospects as “MLB-ready” or “developmental players with a high upside”.  The team needs to hope that those scouts are really close to accurate on those projections because in baseball the definition of a “Prospect” is “Someone who has achieved nothing to date”.

Regarding next season for the Dodgers, Justin Turner is signed for $18M in 2019 and then $19M in 2020.  Corey Seager is on a 1-year deal for $605K making him a ginormous bargain even with his injury.  He is not eligible for free agency yet, so he will be a huge bargain for the Dodgers again next year.  My point here is how does the team fit those two high quality players in with free-agent-to-be Manny Machado.  It will not be easy…

Let me make one more comment about the World Cup tournament here.  If all one did in the US was to tune in to see the final game between France and Croatia and all that one brought to the game was the press coverage of the tournament to date, I think that viewer/casual fan would have been confused and disappointed.  The game on the pitch was plenty interesting; the announcing that accompanied the game was pretty bleak.

  • Far too much air time was taken up by the announcers regaling folks with the myriad storylines that came from this World Cup tournament.  Big Bleeping Deal!  No one tuned in to see/hear the storylines; people tuned in to see and hear about the game on the pitch.
  • There had to be at least a half-dozen [I am being generous here with such a small number.] of references to lightening and thunder and a storm in the area of the stadium.  So, what?  Soccer is an outdoor sport; weather conditions are not always ideal; players routinely play through the weather conditions.  If I need or want weather updates and/or commentary on the position of lightening/thunder events, I can check out the Weather Channel App on my phone.  Cut that nonsense out of the coverage of the game on the pitch; it is irrelevant.
  • For TV coverage of major soccer events, US networks need to hire announcers from the EPL.  Those announcers know the game; they know how to let the pictures on the screen speak for the action on the pitch; put simply, they know when to shut up or to minimize the duration of their speech.  My all-time favorite soccer announcer is Ian Darke; I never heard his voice on any of the World Cup games that I saw this time around.  Sad for me; a black mark for FOX.

Here is another international soccer note…  It is not all that surprising to find a bad team that churns through coaches/managers at a blinding clip.  Palermo has been relegated from Serie A to Serie B in Italy and in the process of falling down the Serie Table to the point where they were relegated, Palermo ran though 13 coaches/managers between November 2015 and April 2018.  Bad teams lose games and it is easier for owners to fire a coach/manager than it is to fire an entire team and that is what happens to bad teams.

It is a bit less common to see a good soccer team grind its way through coaches/managers at an accelerated clip.  But to check that out, look at Chelsea in the English Premier League:

  • Chelsea recently fired its manager, Antonio Conte.  It was not a huge surprise but given the Chelsea record over the past decade, this firing makes the managerial situation there a bit out of the ordinary.
  • With Conte gone, that means Chelsea will start the next season with their 11th manager since 2007.  In that last decade, Chelsea has spent most of the time in the top quartile of the EPL.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this observation regarding the English side in the World Cup Tournament:

“England not only lost 2-1 to Croatia in the semifinals but the team was fined $70,000 for wearing ‘unauthorized socks.’

Since when has Roger Goodell been in charge of the World Cup?”

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



A Surprise Trade …

I must admit that I did not see this coming.  Breaking news overnight says the Spurs and Raptors have reached and agreement on a trade that would send Kawhi Leonard to Toronto and DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio.  Based on initial reactions contained in the report at CBSSports.com, the players involved did not see this coming either.

  • DeRozan posted on Instagram something that shows he is not happy with leaving the Raptors.  He has spent his entire NBA career (9 seasons) in Toronto.
  • Someone identified as being “in Leonard’s camp” [Aside: Is that different from “a source close to Leonard”?] said that Leonard has no desire to play in Toronto.

Like it or not, this trade has all the ingredients to become a storyline for the next 12 months when Kawhi Leonard will become an unrestricted free agent.  Meanwhile, DeRozan’s contract runs through the end of the 2020 – 21 season and he will make $27.3M in each of the next three years under that contract.  There are other components to this trade – including the Spurs’ first round pick next year – but the center of gravity for the deal is the swap of Leonard for DeRozan.

In another basketball note, several players from Louisville’s 2013 national champion team have sued the NCAA over the forfeiture of that national championship.  If you recall, that penalty came because of allegations made by a woman who claimed that she and others were hired by the team as strippers and sex partners with recruits who might attend Louisville.  While I have difficulty seeing how any harm came to those players of such a magnitude that a lawsuit makes sense, I do have to root for them in this matter for two reasons:

  1. This is another example of the NCAA’s flawed-to-the-core enforcement procedures.
  2. One of the lawyers for the players in his pleading to the court referred to the NCAA as “a morally bankrupt organization” and said, “They answer to nobody but are bad for everybody”.  When I read that, I yelled “Bullseye!

In another area of US jurisprudence, I read that Harvey Weinstein – through his attorneys and spin-meisters – will assert that he was “born poor” and that he lived through his adolescence as an “ugly” kid and that these elements will be in his defense against new sexual abuse charges/accusations.  If that seems a bit thin to you as a defense, just imagine that the venue for the trial is LA and the jury is picked from among the LA jury pool.  Anyone recall the OJ trial?  It could work.

For the record, given Mr. Weinstein’s appearance today, it is not hard for me to imagine that he was “ugly” as a teenager…

Since I am off on a tangent here, let me offer up a Quick Quiz:

  • In the pantheon of poor taste, which of these two things ranks higher:
  • Papa John’s CEO John Schattner’s comments regarding race – – OR – –
  • A Papa John’s pizza.

Answer below…

Terrell Owens is in the news again for something other than being a no-show at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  He has hired a Canadian agent and has said he wants to play in the CFL.  The Edmonton Eskimos have his Canadian rights and according to the report I read, the team has until 24 July to offer Owens a contract or they will relinquish those rights making him a free agent in Canada.  Owens professes a love of football and a desire to play in Canada – and/or the NFL if they would have him back.

Personally, I do not care even a little bit if he shows up or stays away from the hall of Fame induction ceremony.  Moreover, I do not care even a little bit about where he plays football or does not play football from here on out.  He has been signed and released/traded by 5 NFL teams so far; if he adds a Canadian team or two to that tally, so what?

Owens will turn 45 in December of this year.  His last appearance in a pro football game was in 2010 (age 37) with the Bengals.  He appeared in 14 games that year, caught 72 passes for 983 yards and 9 TDs.  The fact that no NFL team took him aboard after a season with those stats tells you something about Owens’ “intangibles”.  [Note:  Technically, he played “pro football” in 2012 for the Allen Wranglers in the Indoor Football League.]

Speaking of things I do not care about at all, let me get this straight.  At the end of the meaningless Home Run Derby, there was a controversy.  As soon as I read that headline, I figured it would be about as important as a controversy at a quilting bee – – and I was right.  It seems that Bryce Harper’s father – who was pitching to Harper in the Home Run Derby – did not wait for the ball to land on a hit before launching the next pitch.  Holy Moly!  If ever there were an issue that called for Congressional hearings…

Here is my desired resolution to this scandalous behavior:

  • Cancel the Home Run Derby – – which is at least 99% as lame as the Slam Dunk contest during NBA All-Star Week.

Answer to the Quick Quiz:  Both of them are in hugely poor taste.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment recently in the Seattle Times:

“Canada will legalize marijuana nationwide on Oct. 17, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced.

“Coming soon to an NHL trophy case near you: the Lady Bong Trophy.”

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



The NFL Juggernaut Rolls On

Each year we get a glimpse into the finances of NFL teams because the Green Bay Packers are not owned by one person.  They are a publicly owned entity and therefore must file financial statements the same way Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon do.  For the previous year, the national revenue distributed by the NFL to each team was $255M.  With the salary cap set at about $170M, that means each team has covered its player costs with about $85M left over to cover ancillary costs like coaches’ salaries, travel, stadium leasing etc.  Not a bad deal if you can get it…

I think there are some other things to note here:

  • National revenue to be split among the teams was up in 2017 to $8.1B.  That is a 4% increase year-over-year.  The bulk of that national revenue comes from the network TV deals the NFL has with its “broadcast partners”.
  • Notwithstanding the gloom-and-doom narrative of falling TV ratings and negative reactions to the anthem protests, the NFL national revenue stream increased by 4% last year.
  • Team owners do not have to share local income – such as local radio and TV deals, ticket revenues (except with visiting teams), parking receipts etc.  As a “small market entity” the Packers managed to generate an additional $199M in 2017; that means the Packers’ total revenue was $454M.  Imagine what a “big market team” will generate in terms of revenue.

Tangentially related to the NFL is the fact that Peter King’s new Monday column for NBC.com debuted this week and it is called Football Morning in America.  The first installment was similar in format to his previous columns at SI.com meaning that football fans now have two columns of extensive NFL news to take in every week.  This situation reminds me of a friend whose motto in life is:

  • Nothing exceeds like excess.

In Greg Cote’s weekend blog entry at miamiherald.com, he set the stage for television events this week that may be of interest to sports fans with these two comments:

“British Open begins this week: Golf’s next major begins this Thursday at Carnoustie. This is once again where we chew over whether Tiger Woods is finally “back” and ready to at last win his first major in 10 years, raising the volume when he shoots a solid early round, only to concede by the weekend it ain’t-a gonna happen. “

And …

“The 26th ESPY Awards are this Wednesday night in L.A. Because there just are not nearly enough awards shows!”

Regarding the ESPYs, Professor Cote is absolutely correct.  His comment about the British Open and Tiger Woods brings to mind the hype and rumor surrounding a supposed winner-take-all match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson for $10M.  The golf writers are slobbering all over this idea as if it might be THE solution to world peace and the ultimate identification of who actually put the ram in the ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong all wrapped up in one.  Obviously, I think such a staged/concocted event would fall far short of either goal.

Why can we not identify the underpinnings of this idea for what it really is?

  • These are two aging and fading super-stars in their sport who are going to take a shot at one more “cash grab”.

Years ago, Tony Kornheiser published a book that was an anthology of previous newspaper columns he had written.  That book, Pumping Irony, sold well and so he and the publisher went and collected a bunch of other columns he had written and put them together in a second book.  Tony Kornheiser gave the second book an honest title when he called it I’m Back For More Cash.  That should be the way we all refer to a Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson $10M winner-take-all hootdoodle.  Here is a question for you.

  • If it were a $10 winner-take-all match between John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, would you watch?

And one last thing here…  I would be more interested in this winner-take-all match if Woods and Mickelson each put $10M of their own money into an escrow account and the winner got to have the $20M total.  That would not get me to watch the match, but it would make it more interesting and a lot more honest.

Switching gears – and sports.  I have been scanning baseball box scores for almost 70 years now.  My father and I would check them out in the paper when he got home from work. For the last month or so, I find myself looking for something I had never sought out before.

  • I am looking at the number of hits a team gets in a game and checking to see if that same team struck out twice as many times as they got base hits.
  • Start checking out your box scores in the paper.  It is not all that uncommon these days.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times about a golfer on the PGA Tour not named Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson:

“Golfer Bryson DeChambeau used a compass in a tournament, prompting a PGA Tour investigation.

“Veteran Tour watchers were stunned — to learn that a man actually thought about checking for directions.”

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



France Wins The World Cup

My adopted World Cup team – Croatia – put up a good fight yesterday, but France was the World Cup winner for 2018.  When the Croatians tied the game at 1-1 overcoming an “own goal” that had given France the lead, I thought they were going to pull off the upset.  It did not happen.

By happenstance, I have some soccer news to comment on today.  The first one has to do with MLS here in the US, but before I get to that, I want to offer up a hypothesis regarding MLS and its TV contract.

  • For many new sports or niche sports, we tend the see a national TV contract as a measure of the acceptance of the sport and/or as a measure of the viability of the sport as an economic enterprise.
  • MLS has a national TV deal with FOX – the same network that carried the World Cup games here in the US.  One may normally see this as a huge plus for MLS given the cross-promotion that FOX did and given the juxtaposing of MLS games with World Cup matches.
  • My hypothesis is that the FOX national TV deal hurts MLS as much as it helps MLS.  The reason is that MLS games are not nearly as well played as the World Cup games.

I can feel the soccer mavens gearing themselves up to hit the comment button at the bottom of this rant about now, but the problem is deeper than that.  I will not have to wait 4 years to see another World Cup tournament which will throw shade on MLS games; I only have to wait a short while until the English Premier League and the Bundesliga begin to play because I can see a good number of those games on the same cable package that lets me see the MLS games.  I believe that MLS is hurt by the comparisons to the European leagues because even to a novice viewer like me, the difference in the quality of play is evident.

I think this situation is similar to – but not as stark – as the comparison one can make between NBA games and WNBA games.  They are both available nationally on TV, but I do not think the WNBA gets very much benefit from their TV deal other than the revenue that it provides.  I think another analogy is appropriate here.  MLB plays the same game as do Minor League Baseball teams; if a fan checks out the two levels of play close by one another, it will be relatively clear very quickly that MLB demonstrates a higher level of skill in the “same game”.  Minor league baseball dodges that comparison because there is no minor league baseball TV contract to show fans that one level is the “good stuff” and the other level is the “not-nearly-as-good-stuff”.

I mention the TV deal because it is a prelude to the opening of a new soccer-only stadium here in DC for the DC United team in MLS.  There are more than a dozen of these new soccer-only facilities around the country for MLS squads.  The one in DC is Audi Field and it frees DC United from having to play in RFK Stadium which is a facility that should have been razed at least 20 years ago.  As with many of the other new soccer-only venues, this one is not a huge concrete cavern; Audi Field will seat 20,000 people.

All of that coincides with another major piece of news for DC United:

  • They signed Wayne Rooney – the aging EPL star for Manchester United and Everton.  He is available for the opening game at Audi Field.

This signing of an aging foreign star is the new normal for MLS.  Various US pro soccer leagues in the past have gone down this path only to see that it did not provide nearly the financial revenues that were envisioned.  Previous foreign stars who came to the US to play soccer here – and hopefully to convince skeptical fans that it was OK to enjoy soccer – included Pele, Johann Cruyff and Giorgio Chinaglia; none of them succeeded in that task.

I think that MLS has taken a different and more realistic view of what it is and what it might become in the near term in the context of US sports.  The answer is that it is still a small and growing sports enterprise and that it does not have itself leveraged to the hilt.  MLS does not play in cavernous venues that cost and arm and a leg to lease and to operate.  MLS has a national TV contract to keep the league financially sound – if not artistically sound by comparison to other televised soccer leagues.

What I find most interesting here is that another of the niche sports that suffers from TV comparison with the way the “big guys” play it – the WNBA – has begun to emulate the MLS playing venue model.  The WNBA teams are looking to find alternate sites for their games other than the large and expensive arenas where the men play NBA basketball.  The New York Liberty are going to play future home games in Westchester County and not in Madison Square Garden.  The folks who run the Liberty have decided that they are not going to fill the Garden even if they try to wallpaper it with free give-away tickets; ergo why try to cover costs in a place as expensive as the Garden when there are much smaller – and much more affordable – venues available for the booking.  It makes eminent sense…

As of now, only 4 of the 12 WNBA teams play in “NBA arenas”; when the league started, every team played in an “NBA arena”.  The Liberty’s new home seats a maximum of 4500 which is fine given the number of paying customers the Liberty draws.  Here is the kicker; the new arena in Westchester County costs only 5% of what it costs to play in Madison Square Garden.

In recent news, and in another sport, you can find yet another team looking to downsize its venue.  The MLB Tampa Bay Rays have had difficulty drawing fans to their very large ballpark outside St. Petersburg.  The place can seat 55,000 for baseball; the Rays cannot draw 20,000 for anything other than Opening Day or a World Series game.  So, the Rays have been looking for a new park for a while.

What now is on the table is a stadium in a downtown neighborhood of Tampa that will seat only 28,000.  Given the attendance history of the Rays over the past 15 years, this downsizing makes sense.  Lots of folks have opined as to why the venue in St. Petersburg has never worked all that well for fans in the area.  I would be lying if I tried to tell you what the correct opinion might be in that mix.

There are no definite decisions regarding this new venue for the Rays; this is all still in the “concept stage” but the mayor of Tampa seems to be pleased by the idea and the design.  Now will come the interesting part of the “negotiating: who will pay how much and for what in order to turn the proposed site into an actual stadium.  I am sure that the Rays would like the whole thing to be on the city’s dime; I surely hope the city drives a harder bargain than that.  You can see a report from the Tampa Bay Times about the design concept for the new stadium and where it might be located and what the projected costs might be at this link.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World-Herald regarding the recent summit meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un:

“In Singapore Kim Jong Un reportedly ordered his security detail to seize and destroy the phones of bystanders who were taking lots of selfies…OK, this guy isn’t all bad.”

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



Friday The Thirteenth

It’s Friday the Thirteenth.  What could possibly go wrong…?

Earlier this week, I shared some trivia sent by a long-term friend that I suggested you could use to win bar bets – – if you took the time to verify their accuracy.  The reader in Houston who is a world-class font of sports stats and history took that as a challenge and indeed verified those assertions.  Here are his findings:

  • Ted Williams indeed did get a hit in every opening day game in which he appeared.  He was in 14 of them; in opening day games, Williams hit .449 with 3 HRs, 14 RBIs, 7 doubles and a triple.
  • The Houston Maven also passed along that Walter Johnson started 14 Opening Day games and threw 9 complete game shutouts in those games.  Wow!
  • Wilt did indeed have 124 games with 30 points or more and 30 rebounds or more.  Our “fact-checker” said he did it the easy way and checked with Elias Sports Bureau.  His bonus info here is that Chamberlain also had 100 games where he went 50/20 – – 50 or more points and 20 or more rebounds.
  • Regarding Tony Gwynn’s record against Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez, let me simply quote the response from Houston on the matter:
  • “I checked out Gwynn and he hit .415 vs. Maddux over 16 seasons (1986-2001), while he faced Martinez in just Martinez’ first six MLB seasons (1992-1997). Your friend could have picked other HOF pitchers who faced Tony at least 10 years for such a comparison and also in their prime.

  • “For example, Tony hit .444 vs. Smoltzie in 13 seasons (1988-2001, in 2000 Smoltz DNP).

  • “Altogether vs. all current HOF pitchers, Tony hit .333 in 508 AB.”

So, while I am on the track of having readers write today’s offering, let me set another scene.  Two of the regular readers here used to be baseball umpires at the high school, American Legion and collegiate levels.  So, when a bizarre idea popped into my head, I asked them what they thought would be the call.  Here is the situation:

  • Team A has used its entire quota of mound visits for a game.
  • Pitcher for Team A calls time out and is granted time out by one of the umpires.
  • Pitcher for Team A moseys over to third base where he is joined by the catcher for Team A and they chat.
  • Manager for Team B bolts out of the dugout breathing fire …

Both reader-umpires agreed that ejections were in order here.  The pitcher probably has to go; so too would anyone from the bench on Team A that may have joined in this conversation.  Neither former umpire commented on the fate of the catcher who was in on the chat.  It would be fun to see how Cowboy Joe West would handle something like this, right?

Minor league baseball teams put on lots of off-center promotions and that is part of the fun of minor league baseball.  However, the Montgomery Biscuits – a Double-A team – decided to put on Millennial Night on 21 July with advertising that said there would be:

  • Participation ribbons, napping and selfie stations and lots of avocadoes.
  • It also asked, “Want free things without doing much work?”

Let’s just say this did not go over well.  You can read some of the vitriolic commentary on social media here.  This is not the dumbest sports promotion ever, but it has to be one of the dozen or so dumbest ones considering that baseball at all levels is trying to cozy up to young people and not mock them to drive them away.

This got me to thinking about stupid sports promotions that were worse than this one.  Here is what I came up with:

  1. Disco Demolition Night in old Comiskey Park.  Google is your friend…
  2. Ten-cent Beer Night in Cleveland.  Definitely Google this gem…
  3. “Awful Night” in Altoona.  The Altoona Curve decided to celebrate failure that night and did things like reverse batting averages from “hitting .300” to “failing .700”.  The night was indeed, awful.
  4. Celebrity Boxing which once featured a “fight” between William “Refrigerator” Perry and Manute Bol.  [For the record, Bol won the “fight”.]

Feel free to add to the list…

Finally, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun used mathematics to put a sports story in perspective for “the rest of us”.  When LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Cavs to sign with the Lakers, he left $46M on the table in Cleveland; so, Simmons did the math:

“For someone making $75,000 a year, you’d only have to work 613 years to equal what LeBron declined.”

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



Change The Narrative On Anthem Protests

There is a storyline/narrative in sports journalism today that needs to be put to bed.  Specifically, I mean the storyline/narrative involving the NFL National Anthem protests.  It is a narrative that never should have had the legs that it has had; we have now reached the point where we should all say;

  • Enough is enough – – and too much is plenty.

Let me recap briefly what I said back when Colin Kaepernick was an active player in the NFL and first sat through a national anthem and then knelt during the national anthem.  I said then – and I believe now – that three things are true all at the same time:

  1. There are social injustices involving the way that Blacks are treated by police officers and district attorneys in some parts of the US.  Those issues are fair game for protests/activism/reform.
  2. Colin Kaepernick – as is the case with every US person – has an inalienable right to protest those social injustices without fear of restraint from any government entity.  However, he may or may not receive reprisal(s) from the public or his employer for his action(s).
  3. Choosing to kneel during the national anthem was a poor choice for such a protest for two reasons.  First, it was sure to be a hot-button issue with many folks who would see this as a protest of patriotism.  [As it turns out, I was pretty much right with that one.]  Second, progress on those social injustices will not happen on the sidelines of an NFL game; they will happen at police stations and in district attorney’s offices.  Kneeling during the anthem does not take the issues to a place where they can be addressed directly.  Based on these two reasons, the attention of the public will be divided on the issues.

It seemed as if the anthem issue had calmed down a bit when the NFL changed a rule and said that players who did not want to stand for the anthem could remain in the locker room until the anthem was over.  That rule change received a flurry of coverage – – and then seemed to do what ought to be done which is “go quietly into the night”.  And then …

  • President Trump held a rally and thought it was important for him to announce that, in his mind, the new rule was not a solution to the problem but the new rule made it worse.
  • That is exactly what we did not need!

Again, just to be sure that no one misunderstands:

  • The President can say whatever he wants on this issue.  I have no wish to censor him or limit his range of expression.  [And for the record, I agree with him that the new rule is not much of a “solution” to the anthem problem.  I don’t know if it is “worse” than what went before, but it ain’t great.]
  • Having said that, he did not help this situation even a little bit and I wish he had kept his opinion on this matter to himself.

That statement by President Trump put the entire “debate” about the anthem and the purported “blackballing” of Colin Kaepernick and the new rule right back on center stage – where it need not be.  Remember:

  • None – as in not a single one – of the social injustices that started all of this will be resolved or improved within the context of the NFL games on Sundays.

And then, just to be certain that this issue will continue to be a topic for fruitless debate and commentary, the NFLPA decided earlier this week to file an official grievance over the new national anthem rule.  Great!  That is about as useful as a set of Amish emojis.

There was a big win amidst all the falderal encircling these events in the last year or so.  Malcom Jenkins and Anquan Boldin founded something called the Players Coalition; and in meetings with NFL owners, the Players Coalition got a commitment from the owners to put a total of about $90M into the Players Coalition that would be used to address the social issues and social injustices that started all of this.  That news got some coverage for a short time, but there was no follow-up.  That is sad because there is news reporting to be had in there AND because this demonstrates how NFL players can make direct contributions to the potential relief of some of those social injustices.  Here is a key point that has not gotten nearly the attention it deserves:

  • The members of the Players Coalition got that significant monetary commitment from the owners by sitting down and talking with them about the issues and about how the players could help improve social conditions and how all of that would make the NFL itself look good.  I have seen no reporting to indicate that Colin Kaepernick or any of his supporters ever did that or tried to do that.  The folks in the Players Coalition achieved some progress through constructive dialog and not by kneeling on the sidelines of a stadium.

Not only is that a positive and constructive bit of reporting that has been missing, there is also a paucity of reporting on activism by NFL players that result in changes in communities.  I am not talking about the periodic puff pieces you often read concerning an NFL player organizing a day camp for kids in his home town or something like that.  Those are feelgood stories about things that have little-to-no lasting effect on communities.  Jenny Vrentas is one of the folks who has taken over the Monday Morning Quarterback column at SI.com since Peter King’s departure.  Earlier this week, she reported on the sort of stuff that ought to be front and center about NFL players and their off-field activism.  Here is just a sample from Vrentas’ column:

  1. Devin McCourty and Robert Kraft jointly wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe advocating a specific change in the Massachusetts juvenile justice system.  The legislature passed a bill and the governor signed it changing the age for criminal responsibility in Massachusetts from 7 years old to 12 years old.
  2. Three Pats’ players moderated a forum/town meeting that brought together the 5 candidates running for Boston District Attorney.  This is the sort of direct engagement of community and government officials that is important because district attorneys play a critical role in the justice system regarding who gets charged with crimes and who is or is not allowed out on bail awaiting the disposition of said charges.  [Vrentas also reported that the Players Coalition is similarly involved in other election races for district attorney around the country.]
  3. Demario Davis and Ben Watson lobbied for a bill in Louisiana that became law in May.  It restores voting rights to felons who have been out of prison for 5 years with a clean record.
  4. Malcom Jenkins and Chris Long lobbied for a change in the law in PA that was signed into being this year.  It is called the Clean Slate Law and it wipes clean the record of non-violent criminals who do not repeat any non-violent offenses for 10 years.

Do not misunderstand.  I do not mean to imply that these sorts of actions resolve the problems of social injustice and police interactions with minority communities all over the US.  But these are a start – – and more importantly, they show that progress can be made by NFL players – and owners – working with legislators and law enforcement officials directly.  That is the sort of “scorecard” that sports journalists are ignoring in favor of reporting on the grievance filed by the NFLPA about the new anthem rule.  And don’t get me started on that grievance which asserts that the new rule was “… imposed by the NFL’s governing body without consultation with the NFLPA, [and] is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights,”

Let me translate that for you:

  • Those meanies in the owners’ suites didn’t talk to us about how to resolve this issue even though we knew about the issue for a couple of years and offered no ideas as to how to resolve it.  So, we are going to be aggrieved about this and pout for a while…
  • There is no infringement on “player rights”.  Players have a right to be free of restriction on their expression by government entities not by private citizens or by private business entities.

There is a saying in the TV news business, “If it bleeds, it leads.”  That has become SOP in the TV news business and consumers of TV news – and much of print news these days – have become accustomed to that news taxonomy.  In the “anthem situation”, the part of the story that “bleeds” is the fact that Colin Kaepernick is without a job in the NFL and that is where 99% of the reporting has focused.  Not a word in any report on that vector heading will provide anyone with information about progress toward resolving any of the problems that motivated Colin Kaepernick to kneel in the first place.

Let me assume for a moment that sports journalists would prefer to see progress on social injustice issues more than they would prefer to maintain the convenient narrative that allows for rather easily written reports/columns periodically on anthem protests/blackballing/union grievances.  If that is the case, we should see much more reporting going forward about Players Coalition activities in communities and in lobbying efforts with legislators and in dialogs with police officials and district attorneys.  [I said we “should see” more of this in the future not that it is nearly certain that we will.]  The Players Coalition will be administering $90M of the NFL’s money – along with money the players themselves contribute to righting social injustice situations.  There will be plenty to report on there – – but most of it “will not bleed”.  Might we see a deviation from the norm of the TV news business here?  I would welcome it.  At the same time, I doubt it.

One final point regarding the now-filed grievance.  The NFL and the NFLPA are partners in what is unquestionably the most successful sports enterprise in North America.  I believe the current CBA calls for the NFL and the players who make up the NFLPA to split the national revenue stream on a 52%/48% basis.  [If I am off on those percentages, it is not by more than a percent either way.]  They are splitting up relatively equally an annual take of about $13 – 15B.  And those two entities seem to be unable to come to an agreement on any issue that is more controversial than whether Tuesday came after Monday last week.  William Shakespeare summed up the correct reaction to this situation in 1595 when he wrote in Romeo and Juliet:

“A plague o’ both your houses!”  Act III, Scene 1

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



Sports Gambling “Stuff” on 7/11…

On July 11 – – 7/11 in shorthand – – I feel a need to lead off with a discussion of sports gambling.  In the wake of the Supreme Court decision regarding PASPA, sports gambling has expanded its footprint in the US and I am glad to report that all of the major professional sports leagues remain intact.  Gambling has not yet destroyed – or even harmed slightly – any of them.  I’ll keep an eye out for major damage – as the leagues professed would happen – in all their legal filings on that case.

The State of Delaware was one of the first states out of the blocks with expanded sports gambling at their racetracks in the state.  [I know of 3 racetracks in Delaware; there may be others.]  Delaware had been one of the 4 states “exempt” from PASPA because they had established sports gambling prior to the passage of PASPA so I guess Delaware had a head start.  The first month’s results are in and here is what we know:

  • Bettors wagered $7M in Delaware at the racetracks where sports gambling action was taken.  Approximately 70,000 wagers were made meaning the average bet was $100.
  • Payouts to bettors was $6M.
  • While that looks like a $1M profit for the State of Delaware, that is not really the case because some of that $7M wagered was on futures bets such as who will win the World Series.  The bookkeeping/accounting for sports gambling revenues is not so revealing on a short-term (monthly) basis.
  • Almost 75% of the money wagered was on MLB games.
  • More money was wagered on World Cup games than on the NBA Finals.  [Of course, there are far more World Cup games to bet on than there were in the NBA Finals which was a sweep.]

Here is a Wimbledon update that would have gotten you a major score if you had bet on this prop before the tournament:

  • None of the top ten seeds on the women’s side has survived to the quarterfinals.

If that prop bet existed anywhere, you can be sure it was a long odds prop.  However, do not be fooled into thinking that this year’s Wimbledon winner might be someone you never heard of.  Serena Williams was not one of the top ten seeds this year, and she is still alive and is the current betting favorite to win it all.

One of the readers of these rants has – in the past – sent me trivia facts related to sports.  Since I have known him for about 30 years, I have taken them at face value and have not tried to verify them because it looked to be too much work.  My plan was to save up a couple dozen of those gems and do a rant on something like “Bar Bets You Can Win”.  That plan hit a significant speed bump recently.

I had not received one of those “gems” in several months and finally had the temerity to ask why they had stopped arriving in my inbox about once every month or two.  The response came in an e-mail earlier this week:

“I had no idea you were counting on these for one of your rants.  I would have told you not to do that because I do not have a reliable source for them.  I read something that is statistically significant and send it to you because you always liked that kind of oddball [stuff].  That’s all these were … I don’t know when I will find the next one to send to you.”

So, I will adapt to this new information and present here a far more abbreviated version of “Bar Bets You Can Win” – – if, of course, you take the time and expend the energy to verify each of the following:

  • Ted Williams got a hit in every opening day game he played in.  Williams was in the majors for 19 seasons between 1939 and 1960.  He missed 3 years during WW II; he also played in only 6 games in 1952 and only 37 games in 1953.  That was the time of the Korean War and he went back into the service for some of that time.  If I assume he missed those opening days in ’52 and ’53, that means he played in 17 opening day games.
  • Wilt Chamberlain produced 30/30 games 124 times in his career.  That is a game where he scored 30 or more points AND had 30 or more rebounds in the same game.  These days, if a player does that one time, it is top-of-the-front-page-of- the- sports – section news.  Chamberlain did it 124 times in a total of 1045 NBA games.  He did it more than 10% of the time!
  • Tony Gwynn batted against Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez 143 times in his career.  Against those two Hall of Fame pitchers, Gwynn batted .388 and struck out zero times.  If you had any doubts about why Tony Gwynn is in the Baseball Hall of Fame …

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times that has nothing at all to do with sports gambling.  It’s just that I found it interesting and amusing:

“IKEA announced global partnerships with a few leading brands such as Adidas.

“Which is great news if you like taking two hours to put your sneakers together, then wondering why you have three screws, a bracket and an Allen wrench left over.”

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



NBA Doings…

Recently, Bob Molinaro posed this question in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Just asking: Is the Golden State Warriors’ signing of big man DeMarcus Cousins any more extreme than the Yankees adding Giancarlo Stanton to an already power-laden lineup?”

My answer to that is that the Yankee’s deal to get Stanton had a taint to it that the Cousins to Golden State does not have.  The Cousins/Warriors deal appears to be an arms-length transaction.  The Warriors offered a 1-year deal at $5M; virtually every team in the league could have offered that same deal and perhaps other teams did; Cousins chose to sign the deal put in front of him by the Warriors.  I have no problem with any of that.

The Yankees/Stanton deal has as aspect to it that is unsavory.  From the Marlins’ side of the table, the negotiator was Derek Jeter.  Like it or not, any transaction between Jeter and the Yankees is going to cause raised eyebrows with regard to the degree to which Jeter drove a hard bargain.  I am not saying that he gave Stanton away; I am saying that the fact that the deal involved the Yankees gives one pause in thinking about the deal.

Since I started on the NBA today, let me continue down that path.  There has been some player movement that merits comment:

  • Dwight Howard signed with the Wizards.  When the Wizards traded Marcin Gortat, it was clear they needed a big man.  John Wall had been critical of Gortat for not being sufficiently athletic and able to stretch the floor; ergo I would have expected the Wiz to get someone that fit such a description.  Dwight Howard does not.  Howard is a good player at the point in his career and a likely Hall of Fame player when one considers his entire career.  I am not sure he fits what the Wizards say is the way they want to play next year.  Oh, and there is one more thing…  The Wiz will be Howard’s 6th team since 2012.  At least 3 of those “partings” were of the variety of “Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out!”  This will be interesting to watch.
  • DeAndre Jordan signed with the Mavericks – – and did not change his mind this time; the deal is worth $23M for 1 year.  The Mavs did well in the draft last year with Dennis Smith and many people think they struck gold this year with Luka Doncic (time will tell).  Signing a center who can play defense and rebound and run the floor a bit seems like a good thing to me – – but why only 1 year?
  • Tony Parker signed a 2-year deal with the Hornets.  That would have been a great deal for the Hornets in 2010 or even in 2012.  Parker’s stats have been waning for several years and last year he only averaged 19 minutes per game in only 55 games.   I really do not understand this one.
  • Derrick Rose re-upped with the Timberwolves for 1 year at $2.2M.  Like the Tony Parker deal, this would have been great in 2012.  Rose has been injured multiple times and appeared in only 25 games last year and he averaged less than 17 minutes per game.  He is only 30 years old; I guess the Timberwolves are hoping that he pays a visit to Lourdes over the summer.

Of course, there is the pending saga of Carmelo Anthony who reportedly will part company with the Thunder and seek employment elsewhere in the league.  Rumors have him going to the Lakers and/or the Rockets and/or the Celtics.  I am not sure I understand why any of those three teams would want him, but I am not an NBA GM.  I think it is safe to say that he will not be returning to the Knicks any time soon…

Another NBA topic that had some time in the sun recently was the idea of re-seeding the teams in the NBA Playoffs with the idea that it would be possible for the two best teams to meet in the Finals instead of in Conference Finals.  In theory that is a good idea, but I don’t think it is a good one overall.  I know that – for the moment – the Western Conference is significantly stronger and deeper than the Eastern Conference.  That will change over time.  And that difference in strength and depth is a major reason why re-seeding is a bad idea.

  • If the East is weaker than the West and the schedule is maintained as it is, then teams in the East play weaker schedules than ones in the West.
  • If that is true – and it is – then the regular season records of Eastern teams are not directly comparable to the Western teams.  But that is the basis on which the teams would be re-seeded.  Hello?

If the NBA were of a mind to restructure itself such that every team played a totally balanced schedule, that would be a monumental undertaking.  Thirty teams playing eighty-two regular season games does not make for a balanced schedule anywhere let alone everywhere.  Do the math…

If the NBA figured a way to play a balanced schedule – they won’t! – that would mean the end of any meaningful divisions or conferences and that would put a significant dent in franchise rivalries.

  • Memo to NBA Mavens:  That would be a horrendous idea.  Do not weaken franchise rivalries.

The NBA regular season is – for the most part – a 7-month bore.  Rivalry games make some of those games a bit more interesting than others; there is no good that will come from eroding those rivalries.  What the NBA ought to want to do is to have more of these sorts of regular season games:

  • Los Angeles/Golden State
  • Dallas/Houston/San Antonio
  • Boston/Philly
  • Indiana/Chicago

Finally, since I began today with a question posed by a columnist, let me close with another question posed by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Mets pitchers yielded seven bases-empty home runs in an 8-7 loss to the Dodgers.

“So when is Hope Solo Jersey Night?”

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



World Cup Status Report…

We now have the “Final Four” for the World Cup.  The favorites are out, and the game’s biggest stars are out.

  1. Argentina is out.  They feature Lionel Messi who some believe is a “generational player”.
  2. Brazil is out.  They are a World Cup blueblood.  Neymar is a world star and he is gone.
  3. Germany is out.  They are the defending World Cup champions and they were the betting favorite to win it all at the start of the tournament.
  4. Portugal is out.  They are the reigning UEFA champions.  Cristiano Ronaldo is also considered by many as a “generational player”.
  5. Spain is out.  They were the second favorites in the betting as the tournament began.

What is left is a very interesting mixture of four European teams.

  1. Belgium is a country with a population of about 11.3 million people.  Putting that in perspective, that is approximately the population of the city of Tianjin in China – – and Tianjin is only the fifth largest city in China.  Nevertheless, even from that small native talent pool, Belgium has fielded a team labeled the “Golden Generation” because they feature 4 players who are bona fide stars in the English Premier League.  [Aside:  I have enjoyed watching midfielder Kevin De Bruyne; he is an excellent passer and is always looking to attack.]
  2. Croatia is a country with an even smaller population than Belgium; Croatia has a population of about 4.2 million people.  Putting that in perspective, that is approximately the population of the metropolitan area surrounding Boston MA.  Like Belgium, they have a talent pool that is sufficiently skilled that much of the Croatian team plays in the top leagues around Europe.  Remember, I am rooting for Croatia this time around because I promised out tour leader in the Balkans that I would.
  3. England is a soccer crazed nation that has underperformed in the World Cup tournaments for the last several decades.  From what I have seen in this year’s tournament, England is playing very good defense.  If the adage that “defense wins championships” holds water, England may prevail.  This time around, they are in the semi-finals and the mantra there is that “It’s Coming Home!” – – meaning the World Cup trophy.  For the record, the only time England won the World Cup was in 1966.
  4. France is also a one-time winner of the World Cup (1998) and they seem to have gotten here on cruise control.  I did not see any of their draw with Denmark, but I have seen some or all of France’s other games and if they were pressed in any of them, it surely did not look like it on a TV screen.  They have looked to be under control and in control when I have been watching.

Since a team from Europe is sure to win this year’s trophy, that will mark the fourth consecutive World Cup that has gone to a European nation; the last winner from somewhere other than Europe was Brazil in 2002.

There was an interesting stat from the quarterfinal Belgium/Brazil game.  In that contest, Brazil took 26 shots – – and Brazil lost the game.  To put that in perspective consider these shot stats for other teams in the quarterfinal matchups:

  • Brazil  26 shots  lost
  • Croatia  3 shots  won
  • Belgium  9 shots  won
  • France  11 shots  won
  • England 11 shots  won

On a recent ESPN telecast of a Yankees/Red Sox game, Brett Gardner beat out an infield hit.  Analyst Jessica Mendoza said that he did that “by using his feet to get down the line”.  Interesting:

  • I was unaware of the rule change that allows players to opt for a Segway to take them to first base…

In NFL news, Julian Edelman’s 4-game suspension was upheld on appeal.  I never expected any other outcome.  However, the NFL has yet to reveal what it was in the blood/urine sample that caused the test failure; they still do not know what the “unknown contaminant” is.  For me that leaves a huge open question here:

  • If you do not know what the substance is that makes the test procedure indicate a “failure”, how do you know that it is a PED or that it is on the list of NFL-banned substances?
  • Seems like a good final exam essay question for a college course in epistemology…

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

The biggest competitive mismatch these days is:

  • a) Globetrotters vs. Generals
  • b) Warriors vs. NBA
  • c) Joey Chestnut vs. hot dogs

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