Bouncing Around Today…

The resurrected USFL will play its championship game on Sunday.  The Philadelphia Stars and the Birmingham Stallions will compete in that title game.  The TV audiences for USFL games started strong but waned as the regular season progressed; nonetheless, FOX is hoping for a decent audience this weekend.  Over the regular season, the USFL telecasts averaged 715,000 viewers.

That number stands in stark contrast to the TV numbers for the NFL or for major college football contests – – but FOX points out that the USFL is not competing against those juggernaut TV attractions.  In reality, the USFL is competing against springtime sporting events after March Madness and The Masters are over.  There are two categories of springtime sports starting in mid-April:

  1. Major sports include NBA regular season and playoffs, NHL regular season and playoffs and MLB
  2. Lesser sports include Formula One racing, English Premier League games and MLS games.

The USFL TV audiences are competitive with all the “Lesser sports” listed above and are even close to those of NHL regular season games.  For me, the big question for USFL 2.0 is this:

  • What will happen next year when XFL 3.0 shows up as a direct “spring football competitor” for USFL 2.0 with TV exposure on ESPN?

That question is interesting to me because just this week there were reports that FOX – which owns USFL 2.0 – has hired an investment firm to see if there are investors out there who would like to buy a piece of the league.  Reports say that FOX wants something in the neighborhood of $150M – $200M for an unspecified percentage of the league.  It seems to me that offer to sell part of the league can be taken several ways:

  • FOX is worried about the competition from XFL 3.0 next year and wants to hedge its investment.
  • FOX still sees USFL as an emerging property and has specific growth plans for the league that will benefit from an extra $200M or so in cash.
  • Stay tuned…

Another report related to “football on TV” is that Amazon – which holds the rights to Thursday Night Football starting this year – has recently hired “vagabond QB”, Ryan Fitzpatrick to be an analyst on Amazon’s pregame show.  Lest anyone think I am demeaning Fitzpatrick by referring to him as a “vagabond QB”, I use that term as a statement of fact.  Fitzpatrick played in the NFL for 17 seasons on 9 different teams.  He moved around so much that United Van Lines could have named him its Customer of the Decade.

Fitzpatrick will join Tony Gonzales and Richard Sherman on that program.  There are reports that Marshawn Lynch is also in negotiations to be part of the presentation.  Gonzales has studio show experience and it was positive experience; he should be a big plus for the Amazon program.  Sherman is outspoken and articulate; if he does not go overboard in an attempt to be controversial about everything, he too should be a big plus.  Fitzpatrick is a Harvard grad; his post-game press conferences as an NFL QB demonstrated that he is perfectly in command of the English language.  I think this is a great step for him now that his playing career is over, and I think it is a good hire for Amazon.

If I may be so bold, let me offer Ryan Fitzpatrick one small suggestion:

  • Trim the beard.
  • Don’t shave it off but style it a bit.
  • The “Wolfman look” is OK as a player; on TV – – not so much.

Serena Williams’ wild card slot in the Wimbledon Tournament ended unceremoniously with a first-round loss to the woman ranked 105th in the world at the time.  I did not see the match but saw some highlights on You Tube after I read that Williams had lost in the first round.  Williams is 40 years old and had not played serious competition since last year at Wimbledon; it showed.  Serena Williams’ status in the world of tennis today is analogous to Tiger Woods’ status in golf.  At one point, each of them was unarguably the best in the world at their sport; such is no longer the case.  For now, Serena Williams appearances in any pro tennis tournament will make folks root for her to win just because of the greatness she has exhibited in the past; she is now tennis nostalgia.  Time marches on…

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the Raiders are now facing a series of lawsuits alleging harassment and retaliatory personnel actions in its Front Office over the past years.  [Fans in Washington face to the west, tip their caps and say, “Welcome to our world.”]  After being grilled by a Congressional Committee for more than two hours on the Washington situation, Roger Goodell needs this news like the Donner Party needed a master chef.  However, just to show that no matter how bleak a situation might seem things can always get worse, allow me to present a horrendous idea:

  • Have Mark Davis put in a call to Daniel Snyder seeking advice on how to handle this sort of thing …

Finally, I will close today with an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times from a while back:

“The Yankees cut outfielder Jake Sanford — a 2019 third-round pick — for allegedly pilfering equipment from his minor-league teammates and selling it online, the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger reported.

“That’s one way to lead the league in steals.”

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

 

 

A Night At The Ballpark

Last night, I was part of a family outing; we ventured to Altoona, PA to see a minor league baseball game in the Eastern League.  The Altoona Curve beat the Harrisburg Senators 8-3 but that is not particularly important.  What I found interesting was the effect that the 14-second pitch clock (expanded to 19 seconds with runners on base) had on the game.  Make no mistake here; that effect was a positive one.

Here is an overview of the game events:

  1. There were11 runs scored on 18 hits with 3 errors.
  2. One player was severely injured legging out a triple and they had to bring a cart out to take him off the field.
  3. The time of the “first pitch” was 6:06 PM; the time of the “final out” was 8:32 PM.  The game took 2 hours and 26 minutes.
  4. There were 7 different pitchers in the game and none of them ever got a warning for violating the pitch clock.

The pitch clock shortens game time, and it keeps action flowing.  Even in situations where the bases were loaded, the pitchers were about their business as soon as they got the ball back from the catcher; they did not take a moment to ponder some grand philosophical conundrum between pitches.

We had planned to stay for a fireworks show after the game but changed our plans because the game ended with enough light in the sky that the show was not going to start for 45 minutes.  So, if you made me look for a “negative” regarding the speed of the game, that would be it.

Let me encourage you to consider minor league baseball as an evening event for another reason – – economics.  If you have been to a major league game any time in the last year or so, consider these costs from last night:

  • Parking in a covered garage with a walk of about 150 yards from car to gate was $3.00.
  • Admission to excellent seats in the mezzanine behind the first base dugout was $13.00
  • Programs were free.
  • An Italian sausage sandwich with peppers and onions was $6.50.
  • A 24-ounce beer (Yuengling) from a tap was $7.00.

One player in last night’s game was interesting too.  Henry Davis was the first overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft by the Pirates.  An injury limited him to a total of 8 minor league games in 2021.  However, this Spring he spent a total of 8 games in a Rookie League and at the Single-A level before being promoted to “High-A” baseball in Greensboro.  Since early May he has been with Altoona at the AA level.  He is only 22 years old, and he is a big man; the program says he is 6’2” and 210 lbs; he looks bigger than that from the stands.

One other quick observation from last night.  The Harrisburg Senators are the AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals – – a team that needs pitching help.  The Senators trotted out 4 pitchers last night.  I shall not be looking for any of them to ascend to the major league roster any time soon…

Moving on…  I am not big on golf, so I learned only recently that there is something called the DP World Tour which has a “Strategic Alliance” with the PGA.  The DP Tour focuses on events in Europe so I guess you can look at this alliance as the golf-version of NATO.  Once I knew that background, I was not surprised in the least to learn that the DP Tour – – which runs an event known as the Scottish Open – – has banned any of the LIV Tour golfers from participating in that event.

  • [Aside:  For others who are not “golf guys”, the Scottish Open is not the same as The Open which is often referred to as The British Open.  The Open is one of golf’s four major tournaments; the Scottish Open is not.]

I really think the folks at the DP World Tour need to think about renaming the Scottish Open.  If the event is an “open”, then how can you ban any qualified players from participating?  That situation makes it seem as if the tournament is only half-open so maybe they could call it the “Scottish Ajar.”  Just trying to be helpful here…

One other golfing note pertinent to the spitting match that is ongoing between the PGA Tour and the LIV Tour…  After the first LIV Tour event where the last place finisher made more money than all but a handful of the PGA Tournament field on the same weekend, the PGA suddenly found more money in its coffers to add to some tournament purses.

As social/political rabble-rouser, Steve Bannon, is wont to say:

  • “There are no conspiracies but there are no coincidences.”

Finally, since I have often closed rants with observations by George Bernard Shaw, let me close today with observations of George Bernard Shaw by some other authors:

“Bernard Shaw has no enemies but is intensely disliked by his friends.”  [Oscar Wilde]

And …

“It is his life’s work to announce the obvious in terms of the scandalous.”  [H. L. Mencken]

And …

“He writes his plays for the ages – the ages between five and twelve.”  [George Jean Nathan]

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

 

 

Rest In Peace, Marlin Briscoe

Marlin Briscoe died earlier this week.  He was the first Black starting QB in American professional football.  Briscoe played at a time when there existed a mindset in many if not most football coaches that Black players were not “smart enough” to handle the subtleties of the game.  Briscoe was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 1968 in the 14th round out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha.  He played QB for the Broncos in 11 games that year and started 5 of those games.  His stat line was not spectacular even considering the way pro football was played in the 1960s except for one stat:

  • Briscoe led the NFL for that season at 17.1 yards per completion.

When the Broncos decided that he would not be given a chance to compete for the starting QB job in 1969, Briscoe asked for his release and the Broncos complied.  He signed with the Bills as a WR and was voted to the Pro Bowl at that position.  He played 8 seasons as a WR and chalked up these career receiving stats:

  • 224 receptions for 3537 yards with 30 TDs.
  • 49 rushes for 336 yards and 3 TDs

It would be a stretch to compare him to Jackie Robinson in terms of breaking a color barrier, but it would also be wrong to think that what Marlin Briscoe did in 1968 was “no big deal”.  It was a watershed moment for the NFL.

Rest in peace, Marlin Briscoe.

Returning to a topic from the past couple of days, Kyrie Irving opted-in to the final year of his contract with the Brooklyn Nets.  He was given permission to try to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal with a team of his choosing in the league.  Reports say that could not generate interest and that the best offer he could entertain was something called  a “mid-level cap exception” to play with the Lakers for $6M.  The Nets’ contract is worth $36.5M.  Kyrie Irving may be flaky, but he can figure out that a $30.5M difference in contract value is a lot of cheese.

What surprised me about reports that accompanied the news of Irving’s opting-in was a column in the NY Post by Mike Vaccaro.  His columns are balanced when they are critical; even when he writes “negative stuff”, the tone is always balanced and measured.  Not so here…

In his column about Irving coming back to the Nets, Vaccaro uses phrases like “pathetic petulance”, “serial phony”, a “one-man act of subterfuge”, and he calls the Nets a “freak show”.  Here is a link to that column; it is worth reading in full.

There is another recent column I suggest you read.  Thom Loverro is the lead columnist for the Washington Times, and he is not remotely interested in offering any aid and comfort to Daniel Snyder for anything.  When Snyder stiffed the House Oversight Committee’s invitation to testify about the Commanders’ previous “toxic work culture”, Loverro took to the keyboard.  For this piece he anointed Snyder with the name “Skipper Dan the Sailor Man” because Snyder was reportedly on his yacht in the Mediterranean making him unable to attend the Committee hearing.  Here is the link to that column.

Dwight Perry had this comment in his Seattle Times column last weekend:

“Major League Baseball will allow its teams to sell sponsorships to cannabis companies that market CBD products, the Sports Business Journal reported.

“’Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain’ is about to be supplanted by ‘Cheech and Chong and Pass the Bong.’”

MLB is the first of the major US sports to deal openly in terms of sponsorships and the like with cannabis companies.  I will not be surprised to see other leagues follow suit because there is money to be made via those sponsorships.  For example, I read a report that the NFL at the league level now takes in $2B per year from its sponsorships.  There have been a few changes in the sponsor lineup recently because Little Caesar’s is now going to be the NFL’s Official Pizza replacing Pizza Hut and E&J Gallo will be the Official Wine sponsor of the NFL.

You may be asking yourself, “What benefit does a winery get from being an NFL sponsor?”  Well, for one thing, the deal will give Gallo “exclusive pouring rights at major events including the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl.” Those “pouring rights” will necessarily have to be shared with other booze sponsors because Anheuser-Busch is the Official Beer sponsor and Diageo is the Official Hard Liquor sponsor.  Now you know what sort of wine will be available if you venture out to see the Super Bowl or the Pro Bowl in person – – assuming of course that the NFL does not axe the Pro Bowl as it should have done years ago.

Supposedly the biggest sponsorship deal for the NFL is with Verizon and that deal is reported to be worth $300M per year.  I must admit that I do not understand how any sort of sponsorship deal can be worth that amount of money – – but I have never been in the marketing business.

Finally, since I cited Dwight Perry above, let me close with another of his observations in the Seattle Times:

“At TheOnion.com: ‘North Dakota constructs billion-dollar stadium just in case some NFL franchise gets desperate.’”

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

 

 

More Basketball Drama Potential

Yesterday’s rant was devoted to three NBA players who need to make a decision about their contract status for next year by tomorrow.  There are several other players in a similar situation and their decision(s) in the near term could have an impact around the league.  So, I will begin today with Russell Westbrook who has a player option for one year at $47M.  That year is the final remnant of a deal he signed with the Thunder in 2016 and before he began his tour of NBA franchises with stops in Houston, Washington and now Los Angeles.  I cannot imagine that any team is going to sign him as a free agent and pay him more than $47M for next year, so I fully expect him to exercise that option.  If he does that, he will be the highest paid player on the Lakers’ roster for next year.

But stand by because there are rumors afloat that the Lakers might be interested in acquiring Kyrie Irving from the Nets.  As I understand it, the only way that can happen under the salary cap would be for the Lakers to trade away Westbrook and that option-year contract.  I said yesterday that Kyrie Irving is a drama waiting to happen; well Westbrook has been known to create a few wrinkles of his own.  I would be surprised if the two teams made an even swap of Irving and Westbrook but if they do, let me be the first to label the trade Getting the Band Back Together:

  • Kyrie Irving and LeBron James would be reunited in LA after winning a championship in Cleveland and then going through a “messy divorce”.

And …

  • Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant would be reunited in Brooklyn after playing together with the Thunder from 2008 – 2016.

Another interesting situation exists in Arizona because the Suns chose last year not to pick up the fifth-year option for Deandre Ayton.  That was a tad surprising when it was announced because Ayton was the first overall pick four years ago and because he is from Phoenix and played high school and college basketball in Arizona.  Reports say that Ayton wants a 5-year max contract allowed by the current CBA; such a deal would be worth $177M over that span but the Suns – reportedly – have not agreed to such a deal.  Ayton is a restricted free agent meaning that the Suns can match any offer that he signs with another team.  This kerfuffle has the potential to end harmoniously or atonally.

Last season, the Suns won 64 games – – the most in the NBA by a comfortable margin.  Ayton averaged 17.2 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game at the age of 23.  It would seem to me that the Suns should want to find a way to keep a happy Deandre Ayton on their roster.  So, stay tuned…

Another locus for potential NBA upheaval is in Utah.  Quin Snyder resigned as head coach there after 8 seasons on the job.  In explaining his decision, he said there were no problems or “philosophical differences” in his decision, but he has been a successful coach there and now he is gone.  In addition, there are rumors that Donovan Mitchell might enjoy playing under a more intense spotlight and Rudy Gobert has been a centerpiece of about a half-dozen trade rumors in the last month or so.

Snyder is gone and has not yet been replaced.  If somehow Mitchell and Gobert also take their talents elsewhere, the Jazz team you see on the court next season will bear no resemblance to the team that won 49 games last season.

And of course, no compilation of potential sources of NBA drama could possibly exist without a tip of the cap to the NY Knickerbockers.  In 2021, the Knicks finished with a 41-31 record meaning the team was above .500 for the first time since 2013.  Things were looking up, but the team stumbled last season finishing 37-45 and missing out on the playoffs.  Fans were upset – – but there was always the potential for a great draft pick that would put the team back on an upward arc.  Well draft night was exciting for the Knicks; let me leave it at that.

After trading away Kemba Walker and its picks in a trio of trades, the Knicks acquired:

  • A 2023 first round pick highly protected until 2027
  • A 2023 first round pick highly protected until 2025
  • A 2025 first round pick protected 1-4
  • $18M in cap space for this year.

The story in NY is that the Knicks will use that cap space and every other enticement they can muster to sign Jalen Brunson who is an unrestricted free agent.  Brunson has been with the Mavs for his 4-year career and last season he demonstrated clearly that he belongs in the NBA.  The Knicks need a point guard; Brunson is their target.  Can they get him?

Since I mentioned the NBA Draft above, let me offer an observation that I found interesting.  Two teams used their first-round picks to take players whose main strength is defense.

  • The Pelicans picked Dyson Daniels from the G-League.  I only saw Daniels play a couple of times, but I thought he was far more impressive in defense than he was on offense – – and that makes sense for the Pelicans who have CJ McCollum and Zion Williamson on the roster to produce points.
  • The Raptors picked Christian Koloko from Arizona.  Koloko was the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year and is an excellent interior defender.  On offense, Koloko has a lot to learn, but his defense got him a start on an NBA career.

Finally, since today was all about basketball, let me close with a classic observation about the game from former Princeton coach, Pete Carril:

“Bad shooters are always open.”

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

 

 

Hockey And Basketball Today

Congratulations this morning to the Colorado Avalanche; they are the Stanley Cup champions having defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in 6 games.  I will not pretend to be able to provide a meaningful analysis of how or why the Avalanche prevailed here other than to say that as I watched the series progress, it seemed to me that Colorado was faster than Tampa and it is awfully hard to defend against an opponent that you cannot keep up with.

I want to focus on a couple of NBA issues today.  The league is in its offseason – brief as it may be – but there are a bunch of storylines that need following over the next few days and others that will play out over the next couple of months.  The ones that have short-term “deadlines” have to do with players whose contract has expired but who also have player options for one more year.  Those players have until June 29 to choose one of three options:

  1. Decline the player option and work out a contract extension with their current team
  2. Let the deadline pass and become an unrestricted free agent eligible to sign with any team
  3. Exercise that one-year option with their current team.

A report by NBC Sports says that Bradley Beal and the Wizards have agreed on a contract extension.  His option year would have paid him $36.5M but the new contract is purportedly worth $248M over the next 5 years.  Assuming that report to be completely accurate, Beal is setting himself – and most likely his grandchildren – up with an incredibly secure financial future.  At the same time, I suspect that he is consigning himself to being the best player on a mediocre team for the next 5 years.  The players surrounding him on the roster seem to me to be from Lake Woebegone – – everyone thinks they are slightly above average.

Another player who has to make a decision this week is James Harden.  According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Harden is going to blend Option 1 and Option 3 above; the report says that he will exercise his one-year option at $47.4M and then sign a short term (2-year) deal with the Sixers on top of that which would give him a 5% increase in salary in each of those two seasons.  James Harden will be 33 years old when the next NBA season tips off; the last time he played in more than 70 games in a season was back in 2018/2019.  I do not want to go hyperbolic here and say that Harden is washed up because he is not; having said that, James Harden is not the player he was 5 years ago, and he is not likely to regain that form any time in the future.  This saga has a couple more days to run before the first shoe drops and Harden opts in for next year at $47.4M.  I think he would be crazy not to do that.

The third player in this situation is the one that brings the most drama to the storyline; that would be Kyrie Irving and that ought not be a huge surprise because Kyrie Irving can create drama over the preparation of a grilled cheese sandwich.  Irving’s option year with the Nets would pay him $36.4M next year; a couple of months ago, he announced that he intended to sign an extension with the Nets but that  seems to have run aground.  Let me try a thumbnail reset here:

  • Irving was drafted by the Cavs in 2011.  He was a major part of the Cavs’ NBA Championship team alongside LeBron James in 2016.
  • He spent 2 seasons with the Celtics and professed a love for the team and city assuring fans he was there for the long haul – – and then he bailed.
  • Signing with the Nets brought him close to his high school neighborhood in Elizabeth NJ and paired him with his friend, Kevin Durant – – but that has not seemed to make Irving into a reliable teammate.

To call Irving “mercurial” is an understatement.  More importantly, he is not reliable in the sense that he has not played in slightly more than half of the Nets’ games over the past 3 seasons.  From the Nets’ perspective, he is a part-time employee pulling down a full-time salary and according to reports, the Nets are not excited about the prospects of seeing that sort of situation perpetuate into the future until such time as Irving begins to whine and demand a trade.

At his best, Kyrie Irving is a dominant player.  When I watch him play, he does his thing so effortlessly that I wonder why everyone else doesn’t do those same sorts of things.  He is indeed a special talent on the court.  On the bench and “on the street”, it is a different story.  Irving does not “elevate the players around him” and he creates drama for himself and by extension for others involved with the team.  Last season, it was his refusal to take the coronavirus vaccine that created a maelstrom; in the past Irving felt it important to let everyone know that he believed that the Earth is flat and for some reason there was a need for scientists to have the general public falsely believe it is spherical.

  • [Aside:  Those utterances earned him the nickname “World B. Flat” placing him aside another legendary NBA free spirit, World B. Free.]

The Nets/Irving drama has seen the curtain come down on several acts and another one will come down on June 29.  The question for the Nets at that time will be:

  • How much are  you willing to pay for another string of acts in this play titled Irving and the Nets[Aside:  Not to be confused with Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”…]

The reason that is the central question for the Nets is simple.  History shows that Kyrie Irving cannot exist without “external events” that affect his game or his ability to participate.  When no such circumstances exist, he will manufacture them.  Stay tuned…

Finally, today’s rant has dealt with people who are very rich; and so, I will close with this comment about rich people from George Bernard Shaw:

“What is the matter with the poor is poverty; what is the matter with the rich is uselessness.”

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

 

 

Two Stories With Legs …

Yesterday, I spent most of the rant on a story that has legs in the DC area – – the continuing saga of the “toxic workplace” that existed in the Washington Commanders’ organization allegedly reaching the highest levels of that organization.  Here is why that story has legs in the DC area.  Imagine for a moment that the Commanders’ Fairy Godmother showed up in DC and gave the fans the following two choices – – they are mutually exclusive:

  • Option A:  For this season, the Commanders win the Super Bowl AND two fan favorites from the team’s glory years of the 1980s get elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • Option B:  For this season, the Commanders go 4-13; two of their best players have demanded a trade AND Daniel Snyder sells the team.

In that imaginary circumstance, a significant fraction of the fanbase would choose Option B.

There is another story unfolding in the DC area that also has legs, but it has no sordid details, nor does it have an “evil villain figure” attached to it.  In fact, this other story evokes feelings of sadness rather than anger/disgust.  I am talking about the latest injury to Stephen Strasburg that has sent him to the Injured List yet again.

Strasburg was the first-round pick of the Nationals in 2010; when he debuted in the majors that year, he struck out 14 batters in his first game.  The Washington media and fanbase went into paroxysms of joy.  I recall saying after that first game that folks needed to pump the brakes just a bit because those 14 strikeouts left him merely 5700 strikeouts shy of Nolan Ryan.  That snarky comment proved to be eerily accurate.

Nolan Ryan was a model of availability.  In his career he pitched 5386 innings between 1966 and 1993.  He pitched more that 200 innings in 13 seasons and threw more than 300 innings in both 1973 and 1974.  Stephen Strasburg’s career has not been anything of the sort.

Strasburg suffered his first injury in his first year in the major leagues and it required Tommy John surgery.  If I have counted correctly, he has been on the IL 14 different times in his 13-year major league career.  Only twice has he thrown more than 200 innings in a season and in four seasons – not counting 2022 – he has thrown 68 or fewer innings for the season.  This year, he made his first – and so far, only – start in mid-June; he pitched 4.2 innings and left the game feeling good.  The next day or two found him with pain in his rib area and back he went on the IL meaning that since the Nats won the World Series in 2019 and Strasburg was the MVP of the Series, he has pitched a total of 31.2 innings.

In 2020 – on the heels of his MVP performance in the World Series – Strasburg signed a contract with the Nats for 7 years and $245M guaranteed.  I doubt that there were more than a handful of folks in the DC area who thought that was a bad idea; Strasburg teams with Max Scherzer at the top of their rotation would bring more pennants and World Series trophies to the Nats.  Suddenly, that contract looks as if it may have been a huge miscalculation.

Daniel Snyder’s time on the sports scene in DC has produced some bad football teams punctuated by a couple teams that were mediocre to slightly-above-average.  Stephan Strasburg’s time on the sports scene in DC has produced one magical year and 12 years of good-but-not-great performances.  The fans in DC hate Daniel Snyder and they love Stephen Strasburg demonstrating that being a good person has value of its own.

I want to stay on the subject of Stephen Strasburg for another moment here and use him as an example of how baseball has changed over the years.  Stephen Strasburg has been in MLB for 13 seasons; he has started 247 games; he has pitched a total of 1470 innings (117.2 innings par season); he has thrown 2 complete games.

In times past – – and I do not mean in the 1880s – – top of the rotation starting pitchers routinely threw 200 innings in a season; more than occasionally, they threw more than 300 innings in a season.  Moreover, there were such things as complete games:

  • Nolan Ryan had five seasons with 20 or more complete games and a total of 222 complete games over his career.
  • Bob Gibson threw 28 complete games in 1969 and had a total of 255 complete games over his 17-year career.
  • Don Drysdale had double-digit complete games in 9 different seasons – – and 8 seasons in a row – over his 14-year career.
  • Robin Roberts threw 28 consecutive complete games spanning two seasons in the 1950s and one of those games was a 17-inning affair; he threw a total of 305 complete games over his 19-year career.

If I thought I needed more street cred as an old codger/curmudgeon, I would use that sort of info to accuse current day pitchers of being molly coddled.  That may be the case –  – or it just may be that the tenets that underlie managerial tactics have changed significantly over the past 25 years.  Sometimes change is neither inherently good nor inherently bad; sometimes change is merely change.  I think baseball pitching strategy/tactics have changed and that’s about it.

Finally, for those who expected some sort of dismissal of young modern-day pitchers here, let me offer these two views of “youth”:

“The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time.  They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.”  [Quentin Crisp]

And …

“What is youth except a man or a woman before it is ready or fit to be seen?”  [Evelyn Waugh]

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

 

 

Nasty Stuff Today …

The toxic workplace scandal involving the Washington Commanders achieved a new level of smarminess yesterday.  With the Congressional Oversight and Reform Committee ready to question Roger Goodell under oath later in the day, the Washington Post dropped another extensive report on the activities taken on behalf of Daniel Snyder to intimidate witnesses and to silence them.  This is a lengthy report, and it contains within it a 29-page memorandum prepared by the Congressional Committee outlining many of its findings to date.  The Post’s reporting is an ugly story – – but it has plenty of underlying support.  If you have the time, you can read it here.

The NFL comes off looking less than honorable in the Wilkinson investigation because its behavior(s) clearly fall on the side of keeping this mess quiet as opposed to finding out what really happened and trying to make sure it does not happen again.  As the NFL was nominally in charge of the Wilkinson investigation, there is evidence that Snyder and lawyers representing him conducted a “shadow investigation” with the intent of either discrediting possible inimical  witnesses and/or intimidating them.  Moreover, there is an assertion by the Committee that Snyder sought to place the blame for everything that took place in the “toxic  workplace” on former team President, Bruce Allen.

Recall that it was a series of email exchanges between Allen and Jon Gruden – then with ESPN – that got Gruden fired as coach of the Raiders.  It seems from the Committee report that Snyder’s lawyers obtained emails from and to Bruce Allen based on subpoenas granted to support Snyder’s lawsuit against a media company in India.  Juxtaposing the attempt to place the blame on Allen for the toxic workplace environment and the mysterious release of the Allen/Gruden email exchanges makes one wonder.

Oh, but it does not end there…  In addition to the article linked above, the Post published a second report yesterday with details on an allegation of sexual assault made against Dan Snyder in 2009 where the accuser received a “seven figure settlement” accompanied by a non-disclosure agreement.

Here is the essence of the accusation according to the Post reporting:

“The woman accused Snyder of asking her for sex, groping her and attempting to remove her clothes, according to a letter sent by an attorney for the team to the woman’s lawyer in 2009. The woman alleged the assault occurred in a private, partitioned area at the back of one of the team’s private planes during a return flight from a work trip to Las Vegas.”

You can read the entirety of this report here.  It is not nearly as lengthy as the one above, but it is not flattering at all to Snyder or the team environment.  Tactics of discreditation and intimidation seem to have been in play when lawyers investigated these charges from 2009.  I am not an expert in these sorts of things, but there do seem to be parallel behaviors at play here as compared to the “shadow investigation” referred to regarding the toxic workplace mess.

Daniel Snyder did not testify yesterday.  He is out of the country and both he and his lawyer(s) say that whatever Snyder was doing yesterday was a “longstanding commitment.”  And the lawyer said that he was also committed to some other matter yesterday.  If that is the case – – at this point, I am not spring loaded to take any statement by Snyder as impeccably true – – it should not be a Herculean task for the Committee and the lawyer and Snyder to find a mutually agreeable date such that the committee can take his testimony.  This “scheduling issue” could become interesting over the next several weeks.  After the hearing concluded yesterday, the Committee said that Daniel Snyder would be served with a subpoena.  The fun never stops…

Meanwhile, in another NFL/sexual assault arena, Deshaun Watson reportedly has settled twenty of the twenty-four existing lawsuits against him.  The attorney who represented the twenty-four women says that he “looks forward to trying these cases in due course consistent with other docket obligations and the court’s schedule.”  Coming up soon on Commissioner Goodell’s calendar is a decision regarding any sort of penalty for Watson for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.  Here is a serious question:

  • If the Commissioner is nominally committed to a non-toxic workplace where women are not objectified or harassed as he certainly sought to be seen by the Committee yesterday, how can he let Watson off with a slap on the wrist here particularly in light of the fact that there are still 4 civil lawsuits out against him and 2 other women who have made accusations of sexual improprieties by Watson – – but those two other women have not filed any legal action to date?

People are appalled to read that Roger Goodell makes something north of $60M per year as the NFL Commissioner.  All I can say is that he will earn a large portion of that compensation dealing with the Daniel Snyder fallout and the Deshaun Watson ongoing saga.  This is a holy mess.

Finally, since today has been about instances where women in the workplace were allegedly not treated properly, let me close with this observation:

“Anyone who believes that men are the equal of women has never seen a man trying to wrap a Christmas present.”

[Guilty as charged…]

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

 

 

Take Me Out To the Ballgame…

I read a report in either the NY Post or the NY Times (sorry, did not make a note of the source of this info) that said the Yankees and Mets had both sold the broadcast rights for many of their Friday night games to Amazon Prime so that access to those games would require access to that streaming service.  Because the streaming service is not required to carry every game – – some of which are guaranteed to be irrelevant and uninteresting – – I am sure that on a “per game basis” this is a lucrative deal for the two teams.  However, I wonder if both teams are sacrificing a piece of the future for immediate cash-flow.

MLB has had to confront – – even though it has tried to ignore – – the flat fact that baseball’s audience skews old and that surveys show that young people are not falling in love with baseball as entertainment nearly to the degree that has happened in previous generations.  Because I like baseball, I do not understand how young folks cannot be attracted to the game as I was when I was growing up, but I am sufficiently grounded in realism to recognize a simple actuarial fact:

  • Older folks (baseball fans) die off at a higher rate than young folks.
  • Young folks (not attracted to baseball) are not “replenishing the ranks” of departed fans.

Every team ought to be concerned with the two trends noted above, but it is not really the business of individual franchises to “go it alone” as the entity of “baseball” tries to secure the future of the game.  This is an issue for MLB and the MLBPA.  And as is often the case, when it comes to big issues about the future of the game, both sides recuse themselves and hide behind the assertion that there are other important issues that need to be addressed in the immediate term.

  • Horse hockey!  There is a CBA in place through the end of the 2027 World Series.
  • This is the “down time” that both entities could use to address long-term issues related to the health and growth of the game itself.

Friday night games are ones that kids might – perhaps and maybe – be able to watch on TV because it is not a school night and MLB night games rarely if ever end before kids have to be in bed on school nights.  Do not blame the Yankees or the Mets for taking the money and running here; their “job” is to maximize their individual revenue streams.  This one rests on the shoulders of MLB and its Commissioner and on the union and its CEO who ought to be working together now that a new CBA is in place to find ways to grow the game.  Trust me, I shall not be holding my breath until I see any such behaviors from either side of the labor divide here…

Since I am off on the baseball vector today, let me share with you a report I read over the weekend that said the pitch-clock experiment in the minor leagues has shortened the average time of games at the AA and AAA levels by 29 minutes per game.  Games took an average of 3:04 in 2021; and so far in 2022, games take an average of 2:35.  Having seen minor league baseball games, let me assure anyone who has not seen them that his is not something that destroys the game and makes a mockery of its history.  In fact, catching a game that goes 9 innings and ends in two-and-a-half hours takes me back to the baseball games of my youth.  Such occurrences were commonplace then.  Here are the pitch-clock rules in place in minor league baseball this season:

  • In AAA, a pitcher has 14 seconds to begin his pitching motion if no one is on base and 19 seconds to do so if there is/are baserunners.
  • In AA and below, a pitcher has 14 seconds to begin his pitching motion if no one is on base and 18 seconds to do so if there is/are runners on base.

The pace of play is increased but it is not crazed; I have never seen a pitcher panic as time was running out.  Basically, pitchers have adjusted their “mound practices” to fit their needs and simultaneously fit the countdown clock.  I recognize that for some ultra-pure baseball fans the insertion of a clock onto the core of the game is an abomination in the sight of the Lord.  I am not in that camp; I think a pitch clock in MLB is an addendum that is necessary and that it is something that might make the game more attractive to potential young fans.

Sticking with baseball one more time, the Yankees are on a pace to win 119 games this season.  Let me put that in perspective for you:

  • The 1927 Yankees – – the team with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri and Earl Combs – – won only 110 games in a 154-game season.
  • The most games ever won in a 162-game season is 116 – – a record set by the 2001 Seattle Mariners.
  • The most games ever won in a 154 game season is also 116  by the Chicago Cubs in 1906.

For the balance of the season, the Yankees can be seen as chasing greatness as a team in a season.  For most fans, that could be a significant reason to pay attention to baseball even after football season starts around Labor Day.  Moreover, it would represent a positive record that could be under assault as opposed to the negative record that seemed to be in the offing just a month or so ago.

Recall that the Reds began the 2022 season with only 3 wins in their first 25 games.  That would have shattered the record for most losses in a season, but the Reds seem to have pulled themselves out of that miasma and have a record today of 23-44.  While that is nothing to write home about, it means the team that started the season at 3-22 has gone 20-22 in the intervening games.  I doubt that anyone would be unable to see that there is progress in that latter part of this season…

Finally, since today has been all about baseball, let me close with a comment from Marsha Warfield – of Night Court fame on TV:

“Every time a ball player grabs his crotch, it makes him spit.  That’s why you should never date a baseball player.”

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

 

 

Good To Be Back…

I am back from Seattle where my jinx on visiting baseball teams continued to obtain.  I was supposed to see 3 games over the weekend; through a series of miscommunications and logistical flubs that would have scuttled the D-Day invasion, I only got to see 1 game.  Here are the weekend results:

  • The Mariners lost 4 of 5 games to the Angels.  Indeed, I was in the stands for the single victory.
  • In the 4 losses, the Mariners scored a total of 3 runs and were shut out twice.  When I was in the park, they scored 8 runs and won handily.

This “tradition” of visiting friends in Seattle with the additional intent of seeing Mariners’ baseball games began sometime between 2002 and 2004.  Since then, I have seen the Mariners go 26-17 which projects to a season-long record of 98-64.  Consider that record in line with these facts:

  • Since 2002, the Mariners have never won 98 games in a single season.
  • Since 2002, the Mariners have won 90 or more games in a single season only 3 times.
  • Since 2002, the Mariners have been above .500 only 8 times.

I have said that the Mariners should pay me to come visit several times a season.  Maybe other AL West teams should pay me to stay home?

While I was gone, FIFA announced the 16 cities in North America that will host World Cup games in 2026.  Two cities in Canada and three cities in Mexico will host games; the rest are in the US.  I was a bit surprised to see that Chicago was not on the list to host any games.  I would have thought that a city with more than 2.5M in population in addition to being a city represented in MLS would have gotten a nod.  C’est la vie…

I also read that Marv Levy has been elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in Hamilton, Ontario.  Levy is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH meaning that he will be only the third person to be inducted into both Halls of Fame.  The other two are:

  1. Bud Grant
  2. Warren Moon

Congratulations to Marv Levy…

The US Open golf tournament came and went over the weekend.  In the coverage leading up to and in the early rounds, there were several references to the LIV golfers as “traitors”.  Can we please put a stop to that nonsense?  For the record:

  • Benedict Arnold was a traitor; Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson et.al. are not traitors.
  • When I was in school, we opened the day with the Pledge of Allegiance.  That pledge was to the flag and the country; that pledge was not to the PGA.

Along that same line of “reasoning”, should anyone consider the NBA as a whole as being “traitorous” because it does hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of business with China?  Saudi Arabia is not a paragon when it comes to human rights to be sure, but neither is China.  So why consider golfers who take Saudi money “traitors” while looking at the NBA as it rakes in money from China and think of the league as “globalizing its brand”?

Another tempest in a teapot seems to be developing here in the DC area.  George Washington University has been wrestling with an issue for the last year or so that has divided the school and its alums.  The issue is the name and mascot for the university and last week the school concluded that it needed to ditch the nickname “Colonials” and find a new one.  [Aside:  A new nickname/mascot will be introduced sometime next year.  Try to contain  yourselves…]  The school stopped short of ditching George Washington’s name notwithstanding the fact that George was indeed a “colonial” for most of his life.

Opponents of that nickname say that “colonials” were people who stole land and plundered resources from indigenous peoples and that “colonials” were bad folks.  If that is the yardstick to be  used here, how can the school change its nickname and keep its official name?  Here are facts:

  • George Washington was born in, lived in and fought for colonies to become a nation.
  • Washington’s plantation at Mount Vernon belonged to indigenous peoples at some time prior to his taking possession of that land.

If that land exploitation was sufficiently horrible to strip the school of its nickname, how can it possibly retain the name of the specific individual who was a party to such a miscarriage of justice?  If this sort of “logic” continues to spread, the Minnesota Vikings could be next in the cross-hairs…

Finally, with the summer solstice upon us, let me close today with the definition of “Stonehenge” from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Stonehenge:  Prehistoric grouping of large standing stones in the English countryside.  Because it is not known how an ancient culture could have constructed Stonehenge, the mysterious site attracts a fair percentage of people who spend most of their free time going to Renaissance Fairs and listening to either ‘Yes” or “King Crimson’.”

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

 

 

Basketball And More Basketball

The NBA Finals might be finished tomorrow; the Warriors lead the Celtics 3 games to 2 with tomorrow’s game in Boston.  If a 7th game is needed it will be Sunday in San Francisco.  The Series so far has been interesting, but the games have not been exciting; the average margin of victory has been 13.4 points per game; every game has been decided by double-digits.  Tomorrow’s game – and Sunday’s game if needed – should be worth your attention.

I want to focus on some of the remarks that Adam Silver made about the league earlier this month before the finals began.  The league did well this year on TV and its playoffs averaged more than 3.5 million viewers per game.  That is good news for the league and for its fans because the league lost a reported $695M to the pandemic.  Moreover, reports say that the losses are not restricted to the “small market teams”; the NY Post reported that the Brooklyn Nets lost at least $50M over the course of the COVID-19 restrictions.

The NBA national media deals expire at the end of the 2024 season; the existing deal will have brought in $24B in revenue to the league at expiration, and one report I read from CNBC suggested that the NBA will seek a multiyear deal worth $75B this time around.  If the league can triple its revenue from TV rights, that should go a long way to erasing the COVID-related losses.

As is always the case when a league Commissioner participates in one of these so-called “State of the League” press events, there is some focus on issues that seem far less important than things like TV ratings and revenue growth.  This year’s press event was no different.

Commissioner Silver said that there is still consideration given to a tournament for NBA teams in the midst of the regular season and that such a tournament might begin as soon as next season – – if they can figure out how to do that.  The Commissioner’s remarks there are important:

“We continue to talk to our Competition Committee about it, our team governors, the Players Association, to see if there’s a way throughout the season to create more meaningful games, more games of consequence, potentially a tournament that would arguably replace some of the regular-season games but would be more meaningful.”

“More meaningful games” and “more games of consequence” for the NBA regular season has been a bugaboo for at least the last 25 years.  There are way too many games that are of zero importance to anyone other than the participants on the floor and I have argued for years that the league needs to find ways to fix that.  My solution has been to shorten the season to 58 games where each of the 30 teams plays every other team twice – – home and away.

I am not sure if the league were to “take a break” and run a single elimination tournament in mid-season if that would add “meaningful games.”  Maybe the last three games of the brackets might be interesting – – or not.  I will say this about the idea of a tournament:

  • I cannot imagine a scenario where the Players’ Union would agree to institute a tournament in addition to an 82-game regular season schedule.
  • Even without a tournament, it is unusual to find a player who participates in all 82 games; adding more contests would seem to call for more consideration of load management.

One way that pro sports leagues have used to infuse capital into the league is expansion.  Rumors abound that the NBA will expand by two teams as soon as 2024 and that one of them will play in a new arena under construction in Las Vegas.  Silver seemed to throw some water on the specifics of those rumors in his remarks.  He said that indeed it was inevitable for the NBA to expand but that it is not something that is under discussion right now.  On this point, I think the Commissioner is correct.  There are supremely talented players in the NBA – – but there is not a surfeit of them.  Unless the league were to allow teams only to “protect” a starting five from an expansion draft, an expansion team – – or two of them – – would be hideously uncompetitive for several years.  The last team in that position was the Vancouver Grizzlies  It was not until the 5th season of the team’s existence that it was able to win 20 games in a season.  That is not something that bears repeating.

Switching attention to college basketball, the NCAA Rules Oversight Panel approved “allowing men’s basketball officials to assess Class B technical fouls to players who fake being fouled, beginning in the 2022-23 season.”   A Class B technical foul awards one free throw to the opponent.  Under the current rule/interpretation, the official would give a warning first before calling a “Flopping Tech”.

As a former official, I am of two minds on this one:

  • I totally agree with the intent to get flopping out of the game.  Fakery should not be part of basketball at any level.
  • I also know that every “flopping call” will have a component to it that requires mind-reading on the part of the official as he/she considers the intent of the potential flopper.  Basketball officials are not mind-readers; these calls – if there are many of them – will be VERY controversial.

Here is the explanation of this new rule interpretation that does not mention mind-reading.  It almost sounds as if you could measure it objectively:

“When evaluating potential flopping situations, officials will be asked to judge whether the player’s physical reaction to the contact with another player is consistent with what would have been expected, given the force of the contact. When the reaction is not consistent, the player is most likely exaggerating the nature of the contact in an attempt to gain an advantage, and flopping has occurred.”

Good luck with this one, folks…

Finally, let me close today with the definition of “Basketball” from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Basketball:  A fast-paced and energetic team sport in which two opposing teams attempt score the most points by propelling a large orange ball through a hoop roughly ten feet off the ground.  The game is notable mostly for the fact that it is played in stadiums that used to have some individuality but are now named after a wide variety of telephone companies and office supply retailers.”

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