NFL/NFLPA Negotiations Ongoing…

According to reports, the NFL and the NFLPA have begun preliminary discussions regarding a new CBA even though the existing one runs through the 2021 season.  Some reports say that the league would like the new deal to be finalized by the beginning of this 2019 regular season so that the league could then go about the business of negotiating new network TV deals with “labor peace and labor certainty on the league’s side of that negotiating table.  The 2019 regular season begins the week after Labor Day which is about 10 weeks from now.  All I can say is, that makes for an awfully tight deadline – – if indeed it is any sort of deadline at all.

I have portrayed these sorts of discussions/negotiations in the past as a tug-of-war between partners and that is precisely what the two sides will do over the next 10 weeks or the next 20 months.

  • The NFL and the NFLPA are partners in producing the most successful and the most watched TV series in the US.

If you think I am over-simplifying or mischaracterizing, consider some of these data:

  • Game of Thrones was one of the most talked-about and cult-followed TV series ever.  Its final episode was discussed, predicted, analyzed and awaited to the same extent as the season-opener of Dallas where the world would find out “who shot JR.”
  • Reportedly, the finale of Game of Thrones attracted 13.5 million live viewers.  If that is accurate, that means that 71 NFL regular season games from last year drew more viewers than the Game of Thrones finale did.
  • TV money is the top-level driver for NFL revenues that lead to the calculation of the NFL salary cap.  Since 2014, the NFL salary cap has risen 38%; that money comes from television revenues and that salary cap money goes into the players’ pockets.  TV money feeds the owners and it feeds the players.

So, what might be the burning issue between the league and the union that would shut down the floodgates of revenue from TV that the league and the players are living off?

  • Last time around, the players bargained for less mandatory practice time in the off-season and for leas arduous practice regimens in training camp.  Would they want to give up another percentage point of revenue going toward salary cap calculations to continue that reduced workload?  Would they shut down the gravy train over it?
  • The players – and much of the media – think that having Commissioner Roger Goodell installed as the prosecutor, judge and jury over every disciplinary action is odious.  [Aside:  I too have argued that the Commish has duties that go well beyond being the league disciplinarian and I have suggested other ways to recognize such a “disciplinarian”.  Nonetheless, Roger Goodell is the judge, jury and executioner as we speak.]  How many percentage points of the revenue that goes to calculating salary cap values might the players want to sacrifice to change the way discipline is handed out in the NFL?

Lots of people – players, media and fans – think that 4 Exhibition Games are too many Exhibition Games.  The owners make money on those games so they will be reluctant to give them up.  But what is the concession the owners may want from the union that makes the players happy to take a reduction in those meaningless games that present injury hazards in exchange for …?  Perhaps the owners might cede to the pleadings of their coaches and ask for more mandatory practice time in exchange for fewer Exhibition Games?

I wish it were possible to say how all these sorts of things – and the many other issues that will present themselves as bones of contention – will find resolution in the next 10 weeks.  I don’t think that is anywhere near the realm of possibility – but will happily be proven wrong here.  We shall see…

Changing from the NFL to youth sports is about as wide a chasm of US sports as one can try to cross, but I will do so here.  I ran across a report that said that parents at a youth baseball game for 7-year olds began to “brawl with one another” over a disputed call by the umpire who was a 13-year old kid himself.  Here is the link:

There are a couple of things wrong with this report that need to be stated explicitly:

  1. Why is a 13-year-old in charge of a game by himself?  I have officiated more than a few basketball games with kids of that age – but would never have sent one or two of them out on the court alone without an adult to provide “cover”.
  2. How unsuccessful do the lives of the adults involved in this “brawl” have to be for them to think that participation in that brawl justifies their categorization as “adults”?
  3. Youth sports are supposed to teach kids how to play whatever game is involved AND to teach kids about success and failure and how to deal with each of those things.  How were any of those objectives obtained in this situation?

Finally, here is comment from Academy Award winning actor, Jack Lemmon:

If you think it’s hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball.”

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



The Tampa-Montreal X-Rays?

Late last week, press reports said that the geniuses who run MLB agreed to allow the folks who own and run the Tampa Bay Rays to explore the possibility of having the team split its home games between two cities – Tampa and Montreal – starting sometime in the next 5 years or so.  [Aside:  If there were ever to be a Tampa-Montreal team, then to pay homage to the old Montreal Expos, the new team should definitely be called the Montreal-Tampa X-Rays or even the Montreal-Tampa Ex-Rays.]  Lest anyone be unclear at this point regarding my position on this idea, let me be as candid as I can:

  • In the Pantheon of Stupid Ideas related even tangentially to baseball, this belongs right next to the idea of naming José Canseco the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.
  • If I were to challenge you to come up with a dumber idea than this one, you might need 72 hours of sleep deprivation to meet that challenge.

This idea is so lame that I have to think that it is out there merely as a stalking horse for some other concept that will – at some future point – emerge as an alternate to this split-city entity and will necessarily seem to be a significantly better idea.  After all, MLB is a gigantic commercial enterprise with annual revenues in the range of $9-10B; the people who run that sort of enterprise cannot be such dolts lest the enterprise be in danger of imminent collapse.

I have no difficulty at all understanding why the Rays’ owners want to have some elasticity in the locale of their franchise; the fact remains that the Rays’ home attendance is embarrassingly small when the team is good and vanishingly small when the team is not so good.  The Rays suffer from a double-whammy here:

  1. Tampa/St. Petersburg is a small market to begin with.
  2. Within that small market, there are not a lot of dedicated fans who show up regularly to see the team play.

The reality is that the Rays home attendance this year is smaller than the average attendance for 28 of the 30 NBA teams last year.  That is what I mean by home attendance being “embarrassingly small”.  Remember, the Rays won 90 games last year and are in second place in the AL East at this very moment.

I understand the ownership’s motivation and I even agree with it.  I have said here before that I think MLB should abandon the Tampa/St. Petersburg market – along with the Miami market but that is another story – and relocate the Rays.  However, the idea of two home cities is not the answer.  [Foreshadowing: I will provide my answer to this situation later in this piece.]

Let me try to unwrap some of the issues/challenges here:

  • Some people say the Rays cannot draw crowds because their stadium is either poorly located or is a dump – – or both.  I have never been inside Tropicana Field so I will not pretend to know the conditions there.  I have driven by the facility on the Interstate and I can say that it has easy access from that Interstate but is – by no means – located in a population center where folks can “walk to the ballpark”.
  • My personal opinion is that the reason there is a franchise in that area at all is that putting a team there precluded a lawsuit against MLB.  At one point in history, the White Sox flirted with the good folks on the Gulf Coast of Florida and then jilted those folks when new stadium money became available in Chicago.  Folks in Tampa threatened a lawsuit; MLB responded with a search for expansion franchise locations and – SURPRISE – Tampa won one of those expansion franchises.  The fact is that the franchise was crippled by its home venue from day one.
  • In addition to being a small market to begin with, Tampa/St. Petersburg is not a part of the country where there is a concentration of wealth or a concentration of commercial interests that can support a baseball team by attaching to it.  Ironically, that is a similar situation to the one that existed in Montreal where the Expos existed off the largess of the Bronfman family until they lost interest leaving the team in a situation where it was abandoned and run by MLB itself.  The big difference between the Montreal small market and the Tampa small market is that the Expos were able to draw crowds until such time as the facility there became “alienating”.

Until recently, the Tampa owners were trying to work with the politicos in Tampa/St Petersburg to get a new stadium built in “downtown Tampa”.  Earlier this year, they announced that they had abandoned that idea.  Might this trial balloon be a way to re-ignite such an effort?  I would not be surprised if that were the case.  I would also not be surprised if the folks who run the cities and counties that comprise the Tampa/St. Petersburg area do not fall all over themselves to find public monies to build a new playpen for the Rays.

And that would seem to go double for the good folks in Montreal.  Those folks in Quebec spent 30 years paying off the bonds they floated to host the 1976 Olympic Games and saw first-hand that the purported long-term benefits of spending tax dollars on sports facilities do not come close to what proponents suggest they will be.  Olympic Stadium turned into the home field for the Montreal Expos and the facility was a mess during the last decade or so that the Expos used it up to the time when they decamped for Washington DC.  That was at the end of 2004; only in some fairy tale world would that stadium have improved in the intervening years with the benign neglect that it has received.  It would likely take a couple hundred million dollars to upgrade that facility and I just cannot see the people in Quebec and/or Montreal jumping at the chance to get themselves back into debt to acquire a part-time baseball team.

There is another issue to consider here and that is the effect such a split-season existence might have on the team itself.  Tampa – because of its small market status – is not one of the spendthrift teams in MLB.  According to, the Rays had the lowest Opening Day payroll in MLB this year at $48M for 25 players.  Obviously, the team has not been “a player” when it comes to courting any of the top-shelf free agents over the past few years.  Nonetheless, a split-season would have to make signing free agents even more difficult for the team:

  • Players with families would need two residences – or have a single residence in one venue with a rental in the other.  Players’ wives do not have a union to represent their interests here, but wives everywhere do have ways to let their husbands know what is a good living situation, and what is not a good living situation.
  • The currently situated Rays do have one nice advantage to hold out in any sort of free agent discussions.  The State of Florida has no state level income tax; that means players can keep more of their contract dollars in their pockets.  Montreal has an income tax.  Therefore, whatever portion of players’ salaries that are earned there will be taxed there; that means players will keep less of their contract dollars in their pockets.

[Aside:  The choice of Montreal as the theoretical co-home for the Rays is ironic.  In the last couple of years of the Expos’ existence, the team there tried something similar playing a couple dozen games in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  That did not work either…]

Earlier on, I promised that I would offer up a solution to this problem.  I believe that the Rays are contractually obligated to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg until 2027.  As of that date, the Rays can and should move away from that area and just admit that it was a bad place for an MLB team from the get-go.  MLB should make it clear that this team is ready to negotiate its long-term future with other venues in the US that would like MLB to be part of the community.  And here is the first locale that I would contact and the one that I would focus my greatest effort on:

  • The Research Triangle Area in North Carolina

Here are some of the reasons that would be my new home for the Rays:

  • Yes, it is a small market as compared to places like Atlanta and Charlotte in the same general vicinity, but it is an area where people do have disposable income and have an interest in sports and their teams.
  • It is far enough away from both Atlanta to the south and from Washington DC to the north to have a minimal impact on team support for either the Braves or the Nats.
  • Corporate/commercial interests in the Research Triangle Area are in place and may be enticed to align with and support the Rays in that area.
  • Minor league baseball has been a staple in the sports calendar for people in North Carolina for decades.

The Rays are – barring some sort of Divine intervention – going to be in Tampa/St. Petersburg for the next 8.5 seasons.  That should be plenty of time to work out the details of where they will move and how they will finance the construction of a new stadium wherever that is.  The NFL has a “building fund”; if MLB does not have one, they ought to move quickly to establish one and finding a new home for the Rays should be its big priority.

Finally, the governance and the strategic thinking for MLB is obviously a male-dominated situation.  That fact juxtaposed with the existence of this latest “new idea” on how to resolve the Rays’ attendance woes brings to mind a statement made by Julie Foudy, former star on the US Women’s’ National Soccer Team.  This is a paraphrase because I cannot find a link to the exact statement:

“Girls are willing to admit that they can’t do something and then don’t try to do it.  Boys, on the other hand, tend to go for it – even when it is probably a bad idea.”

Vive la difference!

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



NBA Sleeper Pick 2019…

My first task this morning was to find out which NBA team drafted my NBA Sleeper Pick for 2019.  It turns out to be the 76ers who took Matisse Thybulle out of the University of Washington.  Unlike just about everyone else in the draft who brings gaudy scoring stats to the table, Thybulle is not much of a scorer and really does need time to develop his shooting and offensive skills.  However, what he does as well as or better than everyone else in the draft is to play perimeter defense; he led the nation in steals last year (3.5 per game) and he averaged 2.2 blocked shots per game too.  As NBA teams continue to “spread the floor” on offense, the value of perimeter defense is going to increase – and Thybulle is the best that I saw at that aspect of the game.  Ergo, he is my NBA Sleeper Pick for 2019.

When I left for vacation, the issue of Robert Kraft’s alleged dalliance(s) at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa focused on statements by the police/prosecutors that they would reveal covert surveillance tapes from inside the spa to show that there was “improper hoochie-coochie” going on in there.  For the record let me say unequivocally:

  • If such video evidence exists, I have precisely zero interest in watching it.  Sex is not a “spectator sport”.

Subsequent to that declaration by the prosecution, the judge in this matter ruled that the tape in question was obtained improperly and could not be used in court.  Who knows if that evidence will ultimately be admissible or not – and frankly, who cares?  Look, I have no interest in trying to navigate the waters where any questions are of this ilk:

  1. Why is prostitution a crime?
  2. If a woman has an inalienable right to choose what to do with her body, why can she not choose to sell sex acts with it for money?
  3. Why would a man of Robert Kraft’s means choose to go to a Day Spa for “relief” instead of “ordering in”?  [That was my question the day the original story broke.]

What I do want to say here is that the police and the prosecution in this case begin to seem overly zealous here.  Recall, on the day of the revelation of these arrests and charges, the police said that there was “human trafficking” going on in that Day Spa and that the women there were akin to sex slaves.  Now that would change the equation a whole lot.  Human trafficking is a totally despicable situation; sex slaves are not choosing to sell their sex acts for money, they are being coerced into doing so.  Human trafficking in sex is a form of rape in my mind where the rapist is not necessarily the person performing the sex act.

The problem is that no one has been arrested or charged with human trafficking in this matter for the last 4 months.  If it were in fact ongoing there – as was declared without any modifiers back in February – you would think that the gendarmes would have made an arrest or filed charges against the ne’er-do-wells by now.  The only logical conclusion to draw here is that there was no human trafficking going on notwithstanding the fact that the activities in that Day Spa were maximally sleazy.

The parallel that keeps coming to mind here is the infamous and disgusting “Duke Lacrosse Case”.  Just as the prosecutor in Durham, NC played fast and loose with public statements and various bits of evidence, it seems as if the prosecution here has been “less than candid” regarding how and why there was covert video surveillance in that building.

And now I have the opportunity for a relatively smooth transition to the next topic of the day – – Tom Brady, who works for Robert Kraft, is entering the final year of his contract with the Patriots.  I cannot imagine that he will become a free agent in February 2020; there will have to be a new contract or an extension of his current one in place before that.  Kraft said back around Super Bowl time that he foresaw Brady as the Pats’ QB for “quite a while”.  If I have interpreted the various salary numbers correctly regarding how one calculates the franchise tag, I believe it would cost the Pats a guaranteed $32.5M for a one-year extension if they use the franchise tag.  That would still leave Brady well below the annual salary for several NFL QBs and put Brady about on the same annual salary level as Carson Wentz.

However, the franchise tag would seem to work against the interests of both Brady and the Pats.  We know – because Brady has said so – that he has taken lower values on his contracts for the team to be able to sign other players for the benefit of the team.  The franchise tag does not allow for any salary cap relief; the entire amount goes on the books as a guaranteed deal for a single season the minute the ink dries on the dotted line.

This situation will find a resolution – probably before the start of the 2019 season…

Oh, by the way, two other “elder-statesman QBs” are in the final year of their contracts.

  • Philip Rivers will finish up a deal that had a total value of $83.3M over 4 years with the Chargers.  The Chargers have 3 other QBs on the roster at the moment – Cardale Jones, Easton Stick and Tyrod Taylor.  My assessment is that the Chargers do not have an “heir-apparent” in the wings and will find a way to get a new deal done with Rivers before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in February 2020.
  • Eli Manning will finish up a deal that had a total value of $84M over 4 years with the Giants.  The Giants have 4 other QBs on the roster as of this morning – Eric Dungey, Daniel Jones, Kyle Lauletta and Alex Tanney.  [For the record, Eric Dungey is double-slotted as a QB and as a TE.]  Given that the Giants took Daniel Jones with the overall #6 pick in this year’s draft, you would have to say that they think they have an “heir-apparent” in the wings.  It will be interesting to see what the Giants do with regard to signing/extending Eli Manning as this season progresses.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding the possibility that the Orchids of Asia Day Spa video tape was going to be made public:

“Florida prosecutors say they’ll release videos of Patriots owner Robert Kraft at Orchids of Asia Day Spa, with certain parts pixelized.

“Even the refs who jobbed the Saints are saying, “Bad call!’ ”

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



More Racing Blues…

While I was gone, a few more horses died – or more accurately had to be euthanized – at Santa Anita.  I believe the number of fatalities at that track now comes to 30 horses since Christmas 2018.  The LA Times has called for the track to cancel the rest of its meeting which the track has not done.  That “difference of opinion” is small potatoes compared to one that could arise very soon.

A little more than 4 months from now – on November 1 and November 2 – the Breeders’ Cup Races are scheduled to take place at Santa Anita.  The Breeders’ Cup attracts the best thoroughbreds in training every year and the races provide for two days of TV pageantry and spectacle.  Now consider two ‘possibilities”:

  1. You are the owner of one of the 50 best horses in the world; you have a chance to win several million dollars in a Breeders’ Cup race; your horse is one of the top 3 Morning Line favorites in his race.  You also know that your horse is going to haul in several million dollars in stud fees even if he does not win this Breeders’ Cup race.  Question for you, Mr. Owner is simple: Do you ship your horse to Santa Anita even to work out on the track and risk that he becomes another notch in the barn door there?
  2. The horses are in the gate for one of the races on Saturday.  You are at home watching on TV and have been regaled with all the important – and non-important- stuff about this race for the past hour.  The gate opens and sometime in the first furlong, right there in the middle of the screen, one of those horses breaks a leg and goes down.  On national TV, one of those “noble steeds” effectively dies in front of everyone watching the races.

Horse racing is a sport in serious decline.  If a bunch of owners decide not to “risk” their prize horses on this pinnacle of the racing year, how can that possibly help put the sport on a more positive vector heading?  Even worse, if one of the top horses in training breaks a leg on this track that has seen such an abnormal breaking of equine legs this year, might the hue and cry that arises take horse racing from a sport in serious decline and send it into a death spiral?

  • [Aside:  Do not underestimate the fallout from an equine death on TV.  Remember when Barbaro broke its leg in one of the Triple Crown Races and the controversy it generated.  And, Barbaro’s demise predated the time when every yahoo with Wi-Fi access who wanted one could have a Twitter account to announce whatever comes to mind in the heat of any moment.]

Since the powers-that-be at Santa Anita still have no idea what is the root cause of these equine deaths, these questions loom over what is left of the sport for the next 4 months.  Imagine you had the deciding vote as to where this year’s Breeders’ Cup Races should take place.  Would you keep them at Santa Anita – or move them somewhere else?

In tracking down some of the info about Santa Anita and racing there, I also ran across something else that should concern the folks who are proponents of thoroughbred racing; this does not indicate good health for the “industry” as a whole.  Suffolk Downs will cease to have live racing at its facility as of the end of this month; it will stay open as a simulcast facility where folks can bet on races taking place elsewhere.  Suffolk Downs is in Boston close by Logan Airport; it has been the top racetrack in New England for about 75 years.  Suffolk Downs never achieved the recognition that Saratoga did nor was it ever comparable to the NYC tracks in prestige.  Nevertheless, it hosted its fair share of “great racehorses” over its time.  Now, it is going to be a simulcast facility and the land will be developed into a new Boston neighborhood.

While focused on events in the Boston area, let me turn to a comment recently by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton-Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Bottom line: Forbes has put out another list of the highest-paid athletes. It’s the usual dull cluster of dollar signs and numbers, but with one amusing twist. Strictly by salary, Tom Brady ranks fifth on the list — among Boston athletes alone. The top paid Beantown jock is Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, followed by teammates Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. Red Sox left-hander David Price slips into fourth place. Not taken into account is the cash value of six Super Bowl rings.”

I had always marveled at the fact that Brady was not one of the top QBs in the NFL in terms of salary given his record of getting teams into the playoffs and the Super Bowl and then to win Super Bowl Championships.  However, I had never thought to compare his salary to other athletes who toil in the same city.  Here is a tip of the hat to Professor Molinaro for that perspective.

The NBA Draft will happen tonight.  Amidst and among all the reports about trade rumors and who will draft whom, there is a sidelight to the draft that seemingly has only drawn attention here in the DC area.

  • The Washington Wizards – soon to be nicknamed the Woeful Washington Wizards – do not have a General Manager who will run this draft with some of his “personal skin in the game” so to speak.

About 2 months ago, the Wizards fired Ernie Grunfeld from that job.  That was a decision that should not have caused the owner, Ted Leonsis, even a moment’s confusion.  An NBA team has an opening as its GM; even though the Wizards are not a good team and are in a salary cap Hell that even Dante Alighieri could not have imagined, this is still a GM position in the NBA.  Notwithstanding the title and the position, there have been no hirings and there have been no public expressions of interest in the job for the whole time it has been vacant.

By the way, the Draft is tonight AND the NBA free agency period will begin 10 days after the Draft.  Even in something less than an ideal organizational situation, you would think that having an incumbent GM to navigate the free agent marketplace for the team would be a good idea, no?

Finally, since I spent time today with regard to sporting stuff in the Boston area, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about another Boston athlete:

“Just-retired tight end Rob Gronkowski put a big dent in the Patriots’ latest Super Bowl trophy when he wielded it like a bat to bunt a pitched baseball before a Red Sox game.

“In fact, one could say the chrome football atop the Lombardi now looks a bit … deflated.”

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



Random Stuff …

Whilst I was on hiatus, an email arrived from Gregg Drinnan whose Taking Note blog is one of the links on the blogroll here.  He was formerly the Sports Editor of the Kamloops Daily News until that paper ceased to exist.  He knows that I enjoy describing here some of the outrageous culinary offerings that show up at sports venues and he sent along one from the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions.  [Aside: The 2019 CFL season has begun as of 13 June.]  Here is something you can buy – and try to eat – at a BC Lions game; they call it The Outrageous Burger:

  • 3 Beef Patties
  • 3 Chicken Strips
  • 6 Strips of Bacon
  • 3 Slices of Cheese
  • 1 Hot Dog
  • All that super-healthy goodness packed inside a large bun.

I had been saving this next item for the beginning of the college football season, but it seems appropriate to place it here in juxtaposition with The Outrageous Burger.  A former colleague was a visiting professor at the University of Texas – Austin.  Last year and he sent me a description of some of the eats available at a local eatery about a half-mile from Darrell Royal Stadium in Austin.  The restaurant is known as “Fat Sal’s”; that ought to be a foreshadowing.  One of their “sandwiches” comes on an extra wide roll and is known as the Fat Texas.  On that extra wide garlic roll, one can savor:

  • Barbecue Pastrami Brisket
  • Chicken Fingers
  • Mozzarella Sticks
  • Bacon
  • Grilled Onions
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Mozzarella Fries
  • Mayo
  • Honey barbecue sauce

Pass the Rolaids, please…

With the NBA Draft nearly upon us, I need to dislocate my shoulder by patting myself on the back for a moment here.  As I noted yesterday, I did not get to watch even a moment of the NBA Finals and so I spent part of yesterday reading some of the accounts of those games and looking at some stats.  Fred Van Vleet was a significant contributor to the Raptors championship run and that reminded me that I touted him as a sleeper in the 2016 NBA Draft.  Here is what I said about him on 23 June 2016 – just before the NBA Draft in that year:

“Fred Van Vleet (Wichita State): He is not the best “fill in the blank here” as compared to other guards in this draft. There are better shooters, passers, ball handlers etc. However, Van Vleet is very good at everything you want a guard to do – and some of that derives from the fact that like Denzel Valentine, he got 4 years of good coaching in college. I think that a team in need of a point guard – a backup for the first year or two to be sure – would do well to pick up this guy tonight.”

Van Vleet was not drafted by anyone in 2016 demonstrating that talent scouting is an art more than a science.

I ran across a report that OJ Simpson has set up a Twitter account and that he intends to “set the record straight” with that account.  Another report said that OJ had acquired more than 500,000 followers in less than a week.  Here is Brad Dickson’s Twitter reaction to this “news”:

“Good: to be followed by O.J. on Twitter.

“Bad: to be followed by O.J. home from a restaurant.”

A report yesterday said that David Ortiz’ condition at Mass General Hospital had been upgraded to “Good” after he was shot in the back in a bar/club in the Dominican Republic a few days ago.  News continues to dribble out about the alleged perpetrators and about potential motivations for that shooting.  Obviously, there will need to be some sort of trial to clarify many of the points here but even at this extremely early stage of the investigation, I believe there are two conclusions I might draw:

  • Allegedly, the “money man” behind all of this paid approximately $8000 to a cohort of people to pull off the shooting.
  • The gunman got behind Ortiz and at close range shot him in the lower back area.
  • Conclusion #1:  If you are the gunman and you are close to the back of your target in a crowded space where one shot is likely to be all you will get, why not shoot the intended victim in the back of the head instead of the lower back?  John Wilkes Booth knew he had only one shot to accomplish his end; he did not put a bullet in Abraham Lincoln’s lower back.  There was a planning gap here.
  • Conclusion #2:  You get what you pay for.  What else could you expect for only $8000?

Finally, let me put the NBA Finals and the NHL Stanley Cup Finals into perspective here with comments from these two sports columnists:

“OK, so the NBA champ is from Canada and the NHL champ from the U.S.

“What everyone really wants to know is who gets to claim curling?” [Brad Rock, Deseret News]

And …

“If the Raptors win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, will Canada hold it hostage to get the Stanley Cup back?”  [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

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



The Bad Penny Turns Up Again…

Poor Charlie is still riding the Boston MTA because he does not have that extra nickel to get off that train.  He is “the man who never returned” …  I on the other hand am like “the bad penny”.  No matter how often I go away, I always seem to turn up again.  Like today …

While I have been in the industrialized world for the past 3 weeks – – two in Switzerland and one in Ireland – – I have been pretty much off the grid when it comes to US sports.  In Switzerland tennis, skiing and golf seemed to dominate the sports news in the English language newspapers available.  In Ireland, the only US sporting thing that mattered was the US Open golf tournament.  As for things like the NBA Finals, only the injuries got any sort of mention; and with regard to MLB, they may just as well have been playing those games on one of the moons of Jupiter.  I did not learn of the Anthony Davis trade to the Lakers until yesterday when I got a carry-on copy of USA Today for my flight home to the US.

So, piecing together the top-level view of what happened since I have been gone:

  1. When I left, the Phillies were leading the NL East by 1.5 games over the Braves.  This morning, the Braves hold a 3-game lead in that division.  There is still some suspense left here.
  2. When I left, the Cubs led the Brewers by a half-game and led the Cardinals by 4 games in the NL Central.  Today the Brewers have a half-game lead over the Cubs with the Cardinals 2.5 games back.  This division is going to be the most interesting races in MLB this year.
  3. When I left, the Dodgers led the D-Backs and the Padres by 8 games.  This morning they lead both those teams by 10 games in the NL West.  Call that division race over and done with.
  4. When I left, the Yankees led the Rays by 2.5 games and the Red Sox by 6.5 games in the AL East.  Today the Rays trail by only 1.5 games and the Red Sox are 5.5 games out of first place.  This division is where the AL focus should be for the rest of this season.
  5. When I left, the Twins had a 10-game lead over the Indians and that situation still pertains today.  I guess the Twins might collapse but until this race gets closer than 5 games, I will pay a lot more attention to AL East than to this race.
  6. When I left, the Astros had a 6.5-game lead over the A’s – – and the A’s had just won 10 games in a row.  Today the A’s are in 3rd place in the AL West 11 games behind the Astros and the Rangers have moved into second place there trailing the Astros by 8.5 games.  The AL West race is – like the NL West race – over for the 2019 season.

The Women’s World Cup group play is underway, and the US Women have breezed through their first two games against Thailand and Chile.  Next up for the US Women will be Sweden and that game will not be a cakewalk.

Everyone has proclaimed that the Lakers are the clear and definitive winners in the trade with the Pelicans for Anthony Davis.  There is an adage in NBA circles that goes like this:

  • Whenever a superstar is traded from one team to another, the team that loses the superstar loses the trade.

Well, the Pelicans traded away a superstar in Anthony Davis and what the got in return are 3 good-but-not-nearly great players in return (Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram) and 3 first round picks from the Lakers that stretch out to the middle of the next decade.  No one can reasonably say that the trade makes the Pelicans into a formidable threat to win the NBA West.  The Lakers clearly improved – – but unlike most other commentators, I am not yet ready to announce that the Lakers are clearly the Best of the West.  Next season may show that they are the best, but let me offer up 2 reasons to pump the brakes just a bit:

  1. Anthony Davis has been in the NBA for 7 seasons.  In 2 of those seasons he played in 75 games meaning that he went through the season without any sort of injury.  In the other 5 seasons, he has missed more than 15 games in each one of them.  The Lakers need him to stay healthy enough to play well in at least 75 games.
  2. LeBron James’ season in 2018/19 can be viewed as an anomaly due to his groin injury or it might be seen as an indication that his career arc has leveled off.  Recall when James returned that he announced that he was going into “championship mode” with his play and that would propel the Lakers into the playoffs where – he hinted – there might be surprises for other NBA West teams.  That sounded great; problem is that it never came close to happening.  “Championship mode” produced more losing for the Lakers and led to James being “shut down” before the regular season ended.

Time will reveal the winner and the loser in this trade – and the degree to which the win and the loss had a lasting effect on the two franchises.  I do think, however, that there is a definitive loser in this trade and that loser is LaVar Ball.  His dream was to have all three of his sons playing for Lakers’ championship teams.  Lonzo got to wear the Lakers’ uniform but will not be doing so for the next several years; in terms of franchises and visibility, Lonzo Ball has just been sent to the NBA’s version of Elba.

Because ESPN’s NBA coverage dotes on the Lakers, there used to be a reason for ESPN to invite LaVar Ball to be a guest on one of their gabfests.  I don’t see that happening very much over the next several years.  I think the only way LaVar Ball’s dream of his three sons playing for the Lakers simultaneously would be if he sells a whole lot of those $500 sneakers and uses the profits to buy the Lakers and then signs up his sons to play for the team that he would obviously coach.  I shan’t be holding my breath…

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News had some bad news for some marathon runners recently:

“CNN says the Belfast City Marathon was more than a marathon. The lead car wandered off the official route, making the race three-tenths of a mile longer than regulation.

“Great. Now all those Volvo drivers have to change their window stickers from 26.2 to 26.5.”

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



On Hiatus …

I shall be off the air for about 3 weeks.  Later today, my long-suffering wife and I leave for two weeks of traveling around Switzerland by a series of train rides.  After that, we will fly to Ireland for a week to visit The FOG – – The First and Only Grandson – – and his parents too.

If all goes according to plan, we will be home late in the afternoon of June 17th.  Depending on the impact of jet-lag and the attending chores of returning home, I hope to be back on June 18th – – but it might not be until June 19th.

Please check back then.

Stay well, all…


The Jockocracy In 2019

I really try not to do what have come to be known as “listicles” – – “articles” that are put on the Internet as lists of things labeled as “The Ten Best Things of This Kind” or “The Worst Sports Decisions Known to Man”.  The reasons I try to avoid them as much as possible are that everyone and his/her maternal grand-aunt does them and because most of them are nothing more than contrived clickbait.  Having said that, I am now about to do a “listicle” because it came to my mind that I could make some potentially relevant comments relative to the list.  This came to my mind as a result of Jason Witten resigning his positon with ESPN and returning to  the Dallas Cowboys and subsequently reporting to one of the team’s OTAs where he received universally positive reviews for his drills as a tight end.

The fact of the matter is that I was very VERY wrong about Jason Witten as a color analyst on MNF.  Early on, I thought that he had insight to reveal to the audience and that he would ooze his way into a broadcasting style that would allow for him to transmit that insight.  Granted, one year of time in the MNF booth is not a huge sample size; nonetheless, Jason Witten was not significantly better at the end of the 2018 season than he was on Day One.  My conclusion at the end of that 1-year tour of duty is that Jason Witten is not cut out to be a TV color analyst.

Upon reflection, he got the job offer because he was a logical invitee into the fraternity of retired football players who enter the broadcasting booth because of their fame/recognition on the field.  Howard Cosell railed against this fraternity as long as 45 years ago; Cosell called it the “Jockocracy”; we the audience were subjected to the verbal stylings of former jocks without regard to their ability to communicate whatever knowledge they may have had.  And so, I began to think about the current former jocks who inhabit positions behind microphones in various sports.  [Not to worry; I am not about to regale you with how good Dandy Don Meredith or Tom Brookshier used to be or how Dan Dierdorf paired well with Al Michaels.]  This is not an exhaustive list; these are the ones that have come to mind over a period of about 24 hours – – and this is what I think of them.

Let me break the list down by sport – and let me do football first:

  • Troy Aikman – He works with Joe Buck and the two of them are greater than the sum of their parts.  I think Aikman might have a short shelf life if he had to change broadcast partners.  As things stand with FOX, Aikman is more than adequate as a color analyst.
  • Cris Colinsworth – – He and Tony Romo are today’s gold standard for TV color analysts.  And no; he does not hate your favorite team whichever team that may be.  When he criticizes them, they almost always deserve it – – and more.
  • Dan Fouts – He was a HoF level QB and he turned himself into a solid color analyst over time with hard work.
  • Trent Green – I like his work, but last year, he was paired with Bruce Arians and a play-by-play guy that I do not remember.  Problem was that I found Arians to be annoying to the max.  Neither Green – nor any other analyst will have to put up with the burden of having Arians in their booth this year since Arians is back into coaching in the NFL.
  • Tony Romo – He took to the broadcasting booth as fast as a kid learns to play the card game, War.  He and Jim Nantz have only been working together for a couple of years, but their interactions and banter makes it seem as if they have been partners forever.  It was probably Romo’s “instant success” that led to the idea of throwing Jason Witten into the deep end of the pool on MNF so quickly.
  • Mark Schlereth – If FOX gives him exposure, I think he can capture audience attention.  Problem is that he has been relegated to low-exposure games most of the time.

I neither like nor dislike Ronde Barber and Chris Spielmann in the booth.  When they are on, I do not sit up and take notice of their comments nor do I reach for the mute button.

Moving along to baseball:

  • Ron Darling – He must be an acquired taste.  Several friends think he is the “best in the business” and they love his candor.  I think he is OK – – and nothing more.  To each his own…
  • John Kruk – I like him because I never know what he might say/do next – – and that is entertaining even if the game he is doing is 11-1 after 7 innings.
  • Alex Rodriguez – He knows the game and he is articulate.  He is also hugely unlikable AND he will take a small thing and beat it to death over the course of a game.  There is talent there if he can develop it and/or if broadcasting mentors can get him to change.
  • Frank Thomas – When he points out something a player is doing well – or poorly – at the plate, you should pay attention.  The man was a great hitter and he understands what hitting is about.  Usually, whatever observation he might make about a hitter is reinforced by visual evidence later in the game.
  • Bob Uecker – Yes, he does play-by-play more than analysis, but here’s the deal.  If you can listen to an entire Brewers game done by Uecker without enjoying the experience, you are an irretrievable grouch.

And now for the basketball analysts…

  • Charles Barkley – I love Sir Charles; I think he is funny, and I like the way he is perfectly willing to put himself out there on the island of his own opinion.  Since he always picks against the Golden State Warriors, I can understand why fans in the Bay Area may not have the same opinion that I have.  Your mileage may vary …
  • Jay Bilas – A former colleague hates Bilas because he thinks Bilas “talks down to me” and because Bilas “always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the building”.  Since I believe that both of those statements are possibly true, that is why I like Jay Bilas.
  • Reggie Miller – If you can laugh at his malaprops – – like the time he compared LeBron James to a fullback with a full steam of head – – he is interesting to listen to.
  • Jalen Rose – Once I got used to his voice, I grew to like him more and more.  He is insightful and he is very direct in his analytical comments about what is happening on the floor.  He is even better in a studio setting.
  • Bill Walton – He is the worst; I would rather gargle with razor blades than listen to him do an entire basketball game.  He is the reason that God invented the mute button…
  • Chris Webber – I think he is awful; I have several friends who think he is brilliant.  You can take him for whatever you think he is so long as you do not demand that I listen to him for any protracted period of time.

I am sure I have left out some analysts that you enjoy hearing.  There was little to no “research” done to compile these 3 lists; these are people who came to mind as I was setting out to fill out the lists and these are my reactions alone.

Finally, let me close with this observation from the Twitter account of Brad Dickson:

“The U.S. Postal Service is experimenting with self-driving mail trucks. What could go wrong? The challenge is programming the trucks to deliver the mail 3 days later to the wrong address.”

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



RIP Bart Starr

Bart Starr died over the weekend; he was 85 years old.  Starr was low-key QB of “Lombardi’s Packers” in the 50s and 60s; that was not a time when QBs put up gaudy stats, but Starr managed to get the Packers into 10 playoff games winning 9 of them.

Rest in peace, Bart Starr.

Organizations like to do a “late Friday news dump” when they have to reveal some sort of bad news or something that might be very controversial.  The idea is that many people will be focused on their weekend plans that the news will not get as much notice as it might if done during the week.  Last Friday was a really good time for one of those “news dumps” given that this is the Memorial Day Weekend where almost everyone had weekend plans.  So, a high school in Texas seemingly took advantage of that and made this “potentially controversial” announcement last Friday evening:

  • Mount Vernon High School hired Art Briles to be its head football coach.

To be sure, Briles has been successful on the sidelines all during his career – – but there was more than “a bit of a problem” during his time at Baylor.  Personally, I am surprised that he is coaching anywhere other than in pro football after his exit from Baylor.  Rather than go through all the problems there and his prospects in his new job, let me provide a link to this piece by Pete Thamel at Yahoo! Sports.  Lest you think there will be any ambiguity on the part of the author here, this is the headline:

In hiring Art Briles, a small Texas town sells its soul

In a recent column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, Bob Molinaro had this to say:

“Wondering: Have we seen anything from the Bucks or Raptors that makes us think either could beat the Warriors? We haven’t. This is a problem for the NBA and its TV partners.”

I agree this is a problem for the NBA – albeit not a severe one.  In terms of predictability being a problem for a sport and its “TV partners”, I think we should turn our attention to MLB at the moment.  The season is not quite one-third finished and unless you think that the Cleveland Indians are going to snap to life from their current state of somnambulance, the playoff structure in the AL is set.  No one is catching the Astros in the AL West; the Twins have a 10-game lead in the AL Central and the highest run differential in MLB, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are dominating the AL East.  Those folks are playing for home field advantage and to avoid the “dreaded wild-card play-in game”.

Over in the NL, there is still some intrigue – – if you remember to avoid looking at the NL West where the Dodgers might have to invent something totally new in order to lose the division title.  So, in MLB, there are only two divisions where the races are not rather well known so early in the year.

The Toronto Blue Jays are apparently strong believers in the science of genetics.  Earlier this season they called up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (scion of a Hall of Fame player) from their minor league system.  Last week, they dipped into their minor league pool of talent and called up Cavan Biggio – son of Hall of Fame second-baseman, Craig Biggio.  A historian should check to see if the Jays’ GM, Ross Atkins, is related to Gregor Mendel.

The folks who put together The Onion are spectacular when it comes to cutting through a lot of haze and exposing the heart of a matter.  Consider this headline from about a week ago:

  • Adam Gase to play all 22 positions after pushing out entire Jets team.

Back in March, Landry Jones signed on with the Raiders as a free agent.  After spending 5 years with the Steelers as a back-up QB to Ben Roethlisberger, it was clear that he was heading west to continue in that role behind Derek Carr.  As a back-up QB on a good team, Jones did what you might expect a back-up QB to do.  The Steelers called on him to start a total of 5 games and the team record in those games was 3-2.  He “held the fort.”  This seemed like a sensible move on the part of the Raiders building some depth behind Derek Carr.

All of that thinking went out the window last week when the Raiders released Landry Jones to make room for a tight end that they added to their roster.  There is something else about this low-level roster move that puzzles me.  Here are the 2 QBs on the Raiders’ roster who stand behind Derek Carr now that Jones is once again a free agent:

  • Mike Glennon – Granted he has never been with a team as talented as the Steelers, but he has started 22 games and the team record in those games is 6-16.
  • Nathan Peterman – He has started 4 games in his career; the team record in those games is 1-3.  He has thrown 3 TDs and 12 INTs in his career.  His average passing yards per game in those 4 starts is 68.5.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times seems to have connected the dots with this observation:

“Americans are bored 131 days a year, according to a survey conducted by OnePoll researchers.

“Which, as fate would have it, is exactly the number of days from this year’s NFL Draft to the season opener.”

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



Not So Quiet Anymore…

Things seemed to be quieting down on the “western front” – – not the western front in World War I, I mean the western front in terms of horse racing controversy in the US.  Recall that Santa Anita (in Arcadia, CA) had seen a couple dozen racing and training injuries earlier this year that were sufficiently severe that the horses had to be euthanized.  They shut down the track for a month or so; they had a variety of specialists/experts study and analyze the track; they instituted new rules about medications.  Seemingly, that put things on a more normal footing, until just recently.

Now, Santa Anita has had two more injuries that resulted in euthanasia in the past week or so – one during training and another in a race.  There had been about 6 weeks of accident-free racing and training but now the spotlight is again focused on Santa Anita.  The grim statistics there are:

  • Since Christmas of 2018, there have been 25 horses injured at Santa Anita to the extent that the animals had to be put down.

If there were nothing else going on, that datum could easily scare trainers and owners of thoroughbreds to the point that they would take their assets and deploy them elsewhere.  If that was the “extent of the damage”, one could live with the bewilderment as to how all of that came to pass and move on to look at horse racing in different venues.  But that is not all that is going on and the stakes for what is going on are much higher than the quality of racing at Santa Anita or the continued existence of Santa Anita as a horse racing facility.

Bryant Gumbel did a segment on Santa Anita – and horse racing more generally – on his HBO program, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.  In the segment, reporter Bernard Goldberg said that these equine injuries/deaths are only “the tip of an iceberg the public knows nothing about”.  When the “issue” is framed that way, the problem is much larger.

Obviously, some defenders of horse racing and/or racing enthusiasts consider the HBO piece akin to a drive-by shooting.  I don’t want to get in the middle of their beef with HBO on this because – like both sides of that argument – I do not know enough about all the dimensions of this situation to form a solidly based opinion.  However, I do think I understand enough to make a couple of reasonable observations here:

  1. Owners and trainers use a wide variety of medications on horses racing in the US.  Some states have “tight rules” that are “closely monitored”; some other states have more lax rules with a much looser set of regulatory procedures.  That leads some to say that racing needs a “National Czar”.  If I believed that concept had an even 50/50 chance to resolve the problem, I’d be all for it.  Problem is that I think a “National Czar” would be more window-dressing than problem-solver.
  2. At the same time, I do believe that meds and drugs are part of “the problem”.  In many other countries, horses must be off all such substances for a sufficient time that on racing day, there are no traces of any such stuff in their blood – – and they test all the racers.  Meds and drugs allow a horse to run when it has “soreness” or a “minor injury”; it is comparable to weekend athlete taking an ibuprofen tablet before going out to play touch football.  But the fact is that meds set up horses to train and work while they have minor injuries and that means they do not let those minor injuries heal.
  3. I am confident that the next item I will describe will do nothing to resolve this problem.  The California State Legislature has begun to hold hearings on an “Overview of Equine and Human Safety and Welfare Policies and Procedures Within California’s Horse Racing Industry”.  The legislators seek to find the answer(s) as to what has caused this spate of equine deaths at Santa Anita and to prevent it from happening in the future.  C’mon now…  There is legislation pending that would allow the California Horse Racing Board – the “State Czar” of racing if you will – to close down any track based on its safety/welfare concerns.  [Aside:  No possible chance for shenanigans there…]

I said this before, and I continue to believe that these unexplained and misunderstood deaths at Santa Anita threaten the viability of horse racing as a sport and that racing as a sport is not in the best of health absent this sort of negative news.  I think there is progress to be made understanding and more tightly regulating the use of meds and drugs to the point where – perhaps – people who run afoul of those regulations are banned from the sport permanently.  Even there, I recognize that a lot of work and study needs to be done.

Moreover, I am convinced that any panel of legislators – from town councils to the “Greatest Deliberative Body on Earth” – will not resolve the issues here.  The best anyone can hope for there is a lot of grandstanding and arm-waving by people who would not recognize the source of these problems if the source stood up and announced its presence in monosyllabic simple declarative sentences.

Moving on, the NFL and some of its players are about to offer us a new competition.  40 Yards of Gold will feature 40-yard dashes between NFL players and former NFL players.  40 Yards of Gold bills itself as:

“… the Authority on Speed in the sport of football from Pop Warner to the NFL.”

Some of the NFL entrants are top-shelf players such as Alvin Kamara, Tarik Cohen and Mark Ingram.  The idea is to have 8 offensive players and 8 defensive players arranged in two seeded brackets.  By elimination there will be an “offensive champ” and a “defensive champ” and then there will be a final sprint to determine the “40-Champion”.  Two things come to mind here:

  1. Sounds like fun.
  2. Sounds like pulled/torn hamstrings about to happen.

[Aside:  No danger that injured human sprinters here will be euthanized…]

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

“An Arizona woman was jailed after sending 159,000 texts to a man after just one date.

“Thus breaking the record previously set by overzealous Alabama fans to a five-star recruit.”

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