Golf And Baseball Today

The July/August issue of Men’s Journal has an article by Karl Taro Greenfeld entitled:

    The Death of Golf

He paints a rather bleak picture of golf today and has serious misgivings about its future as a major sport; I certainly agree with his assessment that golf is in decline at this time, but I am not yet ready to put a toe tag on the corpse. He begins his essay with the story of his daughter who decided to try out for her high school golf team. Greenfeld recalled his days in school when the golf team was made up of people who had played regularly and had had some tutelage in the game. That was not his daughter. So, when she made the team, he spoke to the coach about how things were different. Here is the golf coach:

“There just isn’t the interest we used to have 14, 15 years ago. Now, I have kids showing up who have never hit a golf ball before. Kids are just less aware of golf. They have too many other options. And then when they find out it takes five and a half hours to play 18 holes, they’re just not interested.”

It is dangerous to draw conclusions from anecdotes because anecdotes are not data; it is more than merely dangerous to do so on the basis of one anecdote. However, the article goes on to cite statistical data showing that the number of golfers has dropped from 30.6 million in 2003 to 24.7 million in 2014. There are still plenty of golfers but that drop does represent a 19.3% decline. Other data shows that young folks playing golf dropped almost 30% over the same period of time.

Golf as a professional sport faces a challenge similar to the one facing MLB. Young folks are not drawn to the game in the same numbers as before and “pace of play” or “lack of attention span” or whatever similar label you might attach is part of the problem. Moreover, just like baseball, golf is never going to be converted into a fast-paced, action-packed event. It is more drama than adrenaline. Proposals to speed up golf have included things like cutting a round back to 15 holes; that is the same as changing baseball to a seven-inning event. If that is the “solution”, it may be time to consider pulling the plug.

Greenfeld points out another serious problem facing golf in California and in desert areas. On average, it takes 135,000 gallons of water each day to maintain a golf course. In California’s draught conditions, that could become a social issue giving golf courses a “black mark” and without courses there will be less participation.

The folks who promote golf and use it as the economic basis for a business or a club have to deal with an iron triangle of issues. None of the issues can “be solved” but they all need to be ameliorated to a degree:

    Playing golf is a very expensive pastime for kids. Lessons and coaching are expensive and so are rounds of golf.

    Playing golf is difficult. Most kids – indeed most people – do not walk out on a golf course and play well from the moment they pick up a club.

    Playing golf is time-consuming. In these days of two-career families where parents take turns helicoptering in on their kids, golf can be difficult to schedule.

As I said, I am not yet ready to send golf to “The Sports Coroner” just yet; but the arguments made in this article do indicate that there is indeed weakness on the links out there. Folks who love to golf – or to watch it on TV – may want to read this article in its entirety here.

Since I mentioned above MLB as being in a similar situation to golf, I find it interesting to see what may be in store for MLB in the future. Reports from just last week indicate that Commissioner Rob Manfred may be considering expansion of MLB. Recall that when he took over from Bud Selig he said one of his objectives was to grow the game internationally – particularly in Mexico. Now, the idea that the Commissioner might have expansion as an issue that holds even a tiny part of his attention leads me to wonder where MLB might put a new franchise. Here are eight candidate cities in alphabetical order so that no one might surmise that I think there is a “pecking order” established:

    Charlotte: The market supports the NFL and the NBA and it has a minor league baseball team too. The NHL franchise is in Raleigh not Charlotte.

    Las Vegas: They would have to have a domed stadium, wouldn’t they? They would not dare enlist Pete Rose to be their “point-man” when making their pitch.

    Mexico City: The Commish said he wanted to grow in Mexico and I presume that does not mean putting a team in Juarez.

    Montreal: Many people believe there is lots of support for baseball in Montreal so long as they play in a reasonable stadium. This also fits the criterion of “growing the game internationally”.

    Portland: Probably a long shot because the city has not had a good history of supporting its minor-league teams over the years.

    Salt Lake City: They have had a AAA team for most of the time since the late 50s and they support an NBA team. The downside is that this would be a very small market team forever.

    San Antonio: The NBA does well there and the city is trying to lure the Oakland Raiders. If they pull that off, why not MLB too…?

    Vancouver: This checks the “international” box and it provides a natural rivalry with Seattle on day one.

Finally, here is a golf item from Brad Rock in the Deseret News recently:

“Sweden announced recently that newborn Prince Nicholas Paul Gustaf will also go by the title Duke of Angermanland.

“But sources say the country will have to purchase the naming rights from Tiger Woods, who has been using it ever since his career started slipping.”

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

Correcting An Omission From Last Week…

In last week’s comments on the NBA Draft, I omitted one of the notes I made while watching the event. For the sake of completeness – and not because I think there is some fundamental wisdom contained therein – I shall include it today:

    I think the Utah Jazz made an interesting pick at #12 in Trey Lyles from Kentucky. I thought Lyles was the most complete big man on the Kentucky team last year but he definitely will need to add muscle to be effective in the NBA. Utah is one of the NBA’s “middling teams” at the moment. They are not nearly poised to make a run at the Conference Championship; they are not nearly as bad as a half-dozen other teams. The questions – I believe – are whether the Jazz can or will be patient with Lyles as he develops and whether Lyles puts in the work to get a lot stronger. He is only 19 years old.

What I really want to talk about this morning is the resignation of Ryne Sandberg as the Phillies’ manager last week just before game time. Let me be clear about one thing from the start:

    The Phillies have not done well in the time that Ryne Sandberg was their manager. That is not Sandberg’s fault; it would have taken a miracle worker to get the extant Phillies’ roster to play .500 baseball. When he took over for Charlie Manuel, the team was aging fast and the star players that had won the NL East routinely for the past several years were already on the wane.

Having said that, Sandberg’s sudden departure is strange. First of all, he resigned in the middle of his contract meaning that he left money on the table. I know that money is not the most important thing in the world and that Sandberg has made more than a little bit of it over his career such that he does not dine in soup kitchens. Nonetheless, that is not an exit path used by many coaches/managers in sports these days.

Like many other players who made it to the Hall of Fame, managing did not come as easily to Sandberg as did playing the game. However, unlike many other Hall of Famers who went onto the managerial track, he was not handed a top job on a platter. Sandberg spent years in the minor leagues in the Cubs’ system and then in the Phillies’ system. In the minor leagues, his teams won. However, the Phillies with their aging roster and depleted farm system had no chance and it was all unraveling on Sandberg’s watch. I presume – because I cannot possibly know – that the frustration of that situation is what kicked him over the edge and into resignation.

I am sure that Phillies’ fans who watch every game can point to errors in his judgment and/or strategies. Looking at the bigger picture, I think it is fair to criticize Sandberg for not getting the team to over-achieve – and by “over-achieve” I mean play such that they would not lose 100 games this year. [The Phillies are on pace to lose 105 games this year.]

Measuring a manager by the criterion of “over-achieving” is a tough one. Paul Molitor – another Hall of Fame player – surely seems to be doing that in Minnesota so far this year with the Twins 5 games over .500 and in second place in the AL Central as of this morning. Ryne Sandberg clearly did not make that happen in Philly this year or last.

One interesting outcome from all of this will be to see when/if Ryne Sandberg gets another job with an MLB team – as a manager or a coach or a minor league manager or a front office guy. Obviously, he knows something about the game and how to play it; however, he resigned – which some may equate with “quit” – in the middle of a disastrous situation in Philly. I wonder if that decision by itself will pollute the waters should he seek another job in another venue.

One other interesting thing to keep an eye on will be the Phillies’ scouting system. Only the Brewers have a record nearly as bad as the Phillies so it would not be outrageous to suspect that the Phillies will have one of the top three picks in next year’s draft – if not the top pick. The pressure is on…

Bob Molinaro had these two comments in his column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Adding spirits: The University of Maryland submitted a proposal to its local liquor board to sell beer and wine during football and basketball games because, says Maryland president Wallace D. Loh, ‘it will enhance the fan experience.’ But fans have always found a way to, ahem, enhance their game-day experience with tailgate drinking and by sneaking flasks and miniatures through the gates. For college crowds, locating booze is not a problem, though if Maryland gets its way, Terps fans finding their cars after the game might be.”


“Boo to booze: Texas is another institution of higher learning that wants to sell beer and wine at games. Noting that his school is resisting the trend, Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp wryly commented: ‘Our athletic program has not reached the point where we require the numbing effects of alcohol.’ A zinger that good deserves a toast.”

I would respect Maryland president, Wallace Loh, if he simply spoke the truth here. Selling beer and wine at the football and basketball games is a new revenue stream and the school needs to find way to increase its athletic revenues. If, in fact, the objective was to “enhance the fan experience”, then Maryland would be selling the stuff at cost with no mark-up. If they REALLY wanted to “enhance the experience” they would be handing the stuff out. Does anyone actually think either of those scenarios will come to pass?

I went to college in the 1960s; I went to an Ivy League school where football was not nearly the iconic part of campus life that it is at Texas. Nonetheless, in the student sections, at least 25% of the students could not have passed a breathalyzer test by halftime. Some were over the limit when they entered the stadium with pre-game parties often starting at 0900 and bringing adult beverages into the game was not even a challenge.

This entire business is just that; it is a business decision to dip deeper into the pockets of the fans. It has the potential to go way down south…

Finally, here is a cogent observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Indianapolis Colts hung a ‘2014 AFC Finalist’ banner at Lucas Oil Stadium to commemorate their 45-7 loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

“Yes, and Custer was a finalist at the Little Big Horn.”

For the record, Custer was a “finalist” in more ways than one at the Little Big Horn…

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

Last Night’s NBA Draft…

Mercifully, the NBA Draft is over and we can put Mock Drafts on ice for a while. I did not watch all of the festivities last night, but I did make a few notes and I have looked over the entire draft list quickly. Here are first impressions – which ought never to be confused with giving teams a grade for the draft before these guys ever set foot in a real NBA game.

    Sam Hinkie, GM of the Philly 76ers, has a plan. He has been there for several years now and it seems as if the plan is to put 5 players on the court all of whom are 6’ 11” tall – or taller. After taking Nerlens Noel two years ago and Joel Embiid last year, the Sixers took Jahlil Okafor at #3 last night. Maybe that will work; Noel can play defense and not worry about shooting which he cannot do. Okafor can play offense and not worry about defending which he cannot do. Embiid can rehab his foot.

    If you think I am exaggerating here, check the Sixers’ 2nd round picks:

      Guillermo Hernangomez is a 6’ 10” center from Spain. He is headed to the Knicks for 2 future draft picks one of whom will be used to secure the rights to Andre the Giant should he return from the grave.

      Arturas Gudaitis is a 6’ 11” center from Lithuania. Playing in the Lithuanian League last year, he averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds per game. Oh swell…

      Luka Mitrovic is only 6’ 9” so he can be the Sixers’ point guard on their skyscraper lineup. In the Serbian League, he averaged 8 points per game and 5 rebounds.

    The Knicks took Kristaps Porzingis at #4. They say he is a shooter who cannot/will not defend. Knicks’ fans loved Andrea Bargnani, right? They may have found his clone…

    I think the Heat got a steal at #10 in Justise Winslow.

    If the Sixers are trying to corner the market on centers, maybe the Celtics are trying to do the same with guards. Taking Terry Rozier in the first round is not surprising; having the Celtics take him with their top pick was indeed surprising. Their next pick was another guard, RJ Hunter who will be a 3-point shooter but will give up a ton of points too.

    The Cavs taking Tyus Jones was a good move. Now they have someone to bring up the ball and set the offense other than LeBron James.

    The Rockets got Montrezl Harrell in the 2nd round. How did that happen?

I shall put the NBA in the rear view mirror for a while with this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald as he gets to the heart of the story in the NBA Finals:

“Golden State defeated Cleveland for its first NBA title in 40 years. That’s the uplifting part of the story. The downside: The last time Cleveland won a professional sports championship, the team’s punter was Meriwether Lewis.”

If you believe the talking heads on ESPN, Roger Goodell is going to “take his time” before rendering a decision in the Tom Brady appeal matter. That means that we will have a period of time where this story is like the Chinese water torture. The reports will come regularly and will have no new content – because until he renders his decision, there is nothing new to report.

Some folks say that this episode is important to Goodell because his job may hang in the balance. Obviously, I do not know if that is the case; but if it is, let me remind everyone of something I wrote last September. The job of NFL Commissioner – and the Commissioner of all the other major sports too – is to grow the league and to do so in a way that maintains labor harmony. That is the job.

The conundrum for Roger Goodell now is similar to the one he sort of found his way out of in the Ray Rice Affair. He has to grow the league and keep peace with the NFLPA, but – and this is as big a “butt” as any nose tackle in the league – he is also required by the CBA to be the NFL disciplinarian. Those two things just do not fit together well and in the next CBA the league and the union need to come up with a way to have an independent person or body take care of the discipline business.

Please note that this is an issue that needs attention by the league and the union jointly. To my non-legally trained mind, a Collective Bargaining Agreement is analogous to a contract; and in order for it to be a contract and not an edict, there needs to be at least two signatories. The NFL pushed to have the discipline power in the hands of the Commissioner over the years; the NFLPA acquiesced to that – and probably got some concession somewhere in return for that concession. In any event, the two sides need to correct this situation the next time bargaining happens.

Finally, here is – hopefully – the final word on the 2015 US Open golf course from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Hear about Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Billy Horschel teaming up to bankroll a line of Chambers Bay wine? It’s 100 percent sour grapes.”

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

Just Stuff Today…

I am sure you have read about Sean “Diddy” Combs’ arrest in California on charges that he assaulted an assistant UCLA football coach with a kettlebell at a practice there. Evidently, the coach had been yelling at Diddy’s son who is a DB on the team and things escalated from there. Diddy is out on bail and his PR folks released a statement saying that Diddy was merely trying to defend himself in the matter. This is a tempest in a teapot but it does boil itself down to a very simple question:

    Diddy do it – – or not?

My apologies, I will go and sit in the corner for five minutes…

A friend and former colleague spent a lot of time as a youth baseball coach and one of his protégés went on to college and was recently taken in the third round of the MLB Draft by the Arizona D-Backs. His first assignment will be in Hillsboro, OR pitching for the Hillsboro Hops in the Northwest League. That sent me to check out the MLB Draft – something I never do in any detail – and that led me to some interesting player names:

    Skye Bolt was drafted by the A’s. It seems to me that he ought to play Thor in the next Avengers movie.

    Bowden Derby was also drafted by the A’s. His name sounds like a horse race for 3-year olds.

    Icezack Flemming was drafted by the Yankees. His name sounds like a cure for a respiratory infection.

    Bucket Goldby was drafted by the Marlins. Do you think Bucket has a list?

    Tucker Tubbs was drafted by the Red Sox. If his baseball career does not pan out, he should be a natural for NASCAR.

Ever since folks have used Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to provide women’s sports a sort of equal footing with men’s sports in college, one of the long-range goals was to have professional athletic opportunities available for women similar to those of men. That is not in the law of course, but it has been a tacit objective. To date that has not come to pass here in the US. However, Bob Molinaro had this observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

“Controversy: It’s a gross understatement to call U.S. women’s soccer goalie Hope Solo a polarizing figure. From the New York Times to ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, she’s being portrayed as unfit – or at the very least, an uncomfortable fit – to represent her country in the World Cup after her arrest last June on domestic violence charges. There’s plenty to read about that on the Internet, and Olbermann’s video pulls no punches. But whatever your take on Solo, there’s no denying her abilities in goal, where her presence strongly suggests that women’s sports are becoming more like the men’s, in which talent trumps character.”

The matter involving Hope Solo and the alleged domestic violence remains in medias res. I agree with Professor Molinaro that this is not the way folks envisioned women’s sports becoming akin to men’s sports – but it may indeed be one of the leading similarities for the moment. I suspect that it will not be long into the future when I choose to put Hope Solo into my Just Go Away Club. In that club, talent does not trump character; the major criterion that gets one there is the achievement of sustained annoyance to the general public. I see the potential to achieve sustained annoyance in Hope Solo…

I ran across this item from Brad Rock of the Deseret News from a time when I was on my road trip:

“Miami Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis was injured last week during a team-endorsed kickball game. He’ll be sidelined at least four weeks.

“Sources say the Dolphins are compiling a list of other risky activities they plan to ban, including Twister, hopscotch and door-crasher sales on Black Friday.”

Just a quick Google search for what this is all about reveals that the kickball game was part of the Dolphins’ OTAs and that Sturgis’ injury was a pulled quadriceps muscle. If he pulled that muscle trying to kick the ball in the kickball game, the Dolphins need to worry; kicking a ball is what they pay Caleb Sturgis to do. It would be of much lesser concern if he pulled the muscle jumping to catch a ball someone else had kicked…

One of the trade-rumor stories that has filled a lot of space in a lot of newspapers recently is the Kings’ possibly trading Demarcus Cousins. Of course, they deny that he will be traded and he swears that he is committed to staying in Sacramento; without those elements the story would not have legs. The latest rumor has the Kings in discussion with the Lakers with regard to such a trade. I have exactly no insight into what is ongoing here but I do want to make an observation:

    I have difficulty imagining a smooth working relationship between Cousins and Kobe Bryant. They are very different kinds of people with regard to the way they approach the game. There is certainly room for both men in the NBA based on talent, but I seriously wonder if they will be an effective pairing.

    We shall see…

Finally, since I mentioned Hope Solo above, here is an observation from Jimmy Kimmel regarding the Women’s World Cup:

“The Women’s World Cup is under way again. Soccer, of course, is the sport in which you’re only allowed to use your hands if you’re the goalie or taking a bribe.”

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

Pete Rose – For The Last Time?

Long-term readers know well that I have believed that Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame for the accomplishments of his career on the field. I have never liked his off-field behaviors but I thought that Bart Giamatti at first took a hard stand on those behaviors and then Fay Vincent piled on. What bothered me the most about his off-field behavior is that it took him years upon years to admit what he had done. As with many “scandals” the cover-up and the denial magnify the iniquity.

Nonetheless, I am still willing to have Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame and to include on the plaque bearing his name a direct statement of the fact that he bet on baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds in the late 1980s. However, new evidence seems to have surfaced that indicates that Pete Rose bet on baseball games while he was a player – in a time that preceded his managerial position. Now, that changes everything…

The new evidence was uncovered and announced by ESPN’s Outside The Lines. There is no question that Outside The Lines has earned a prestigious standing in the arena of investigative sports journalism. The fact that the folks there put their names and the reputation of the program on the revelation renders a high degree of credibility to the report. If the same report had come from some “click-bait website”, I would be skeptical.

The timing of the emergence of this new evidence – originally obtained/discovered 26 years ago in 1989 – is strange. It has been sealed and stored in the National Archives for all or most of that time and just now a copy of it has surfaced. Were I given to conspiracy theories – and I am not – it would not be all that difficult to see some nefarious hidden hand at work here moving to leak new evidence just as Pete Rose has applied for reinstatement to baseball with a new Commissioner. Frankly, I think the Bilderbergs and the Trilateral Commission have bigger things to worry about than whether or not Pete Rose is reinstated into the good graces of MLB.

Let me explain why the new information presented by Outside The Lines crosses into a new and dark place. To do that, let me present to you some fictional events in the life of the winningest jockey of all time – – Joe Flabeetz. Everyone who ever went to a racetrack where “Beetzy” was riding knows that was always a threat to win the race when he was on a horse in the starting gate; he was just the best. So, when he retired, it was a sure-thing that he would go into the Racing Hall of Fame; after all, he had won more races than anyone in history.

Now suppose we learned – after his retirement – that Joe Flabeetz had a long history of gambling. After all, gambling and horseracing are inseparable activities; should that be disqualifying? Well, I think it all depends:

    If “Beetzy” bet on the Super Bowl every year, I would have no concern about that at all if he did that through a sportsbook in Las Vegas or through some off-shore book that took such action. Once again, if I were prone to conspiracy theories, I might be just the tiniest bit concerned if he made that bet with a local bookie because – perhaps – it might tie him to organized crime and that is not a good thing for racing. Nevertheless, I would ignore it…

    If Joe Flabeetz bet regularly on football and/or baseball and/or soccer and/or hockey games, I would have the same reaction to his wagering on the Super Bowl. I just do not think this is any bigger of a deal than if he played poker every Saturday night with a group of friends who had nothing to do with horseracing. I just do not think this matters…

    Looking back over “Beetzy’s” career, he won just about all of his races in the US and in Canada. Every once in a while when he had a “super horse” he would go to Dubai to ride that steed in the annual top-shelf race there. So, what might I think about a new revelation that Joe Flabeetz regularly bet on horse races in Australia? Not only had he never raced there, he had never even been to Australia… I am very uncomfortable at this point because jockey’s betting on horse races erodes significantly the confidence in “the integrity of the sport”. Lord knows; there is a significant fraction of horse players who are ready to believe that the only reason they lost that last race is because of some “hidden hand” that turned the outcome against them. At this point, I am very uncomfortable with “Beetzy” and his behavior(s) when he is not in the saddle; but still, he did win more races than anyone in history…

    One more revelation indicates that Joe Flabeetz bet on races at the tracks where he was riding – but only on races where he had no mount. I am off the Joe Flabeetz Train at this point. Gambling and jockeys are too closely related in terms of the sport to let jockeys get this close to gambling on the races themselves. This would disqualify Joe Flabeetz from the Racing Hall of Fame in my mind. And that is where it would seem that Pete Rose is with the new Outside The Lines information.

Let me take this clearly fictional analogy one step further:

    Let us suppose that we just learned that Joe Flabeetz bet $100 to win on every horse that he rode in every race in his career and that he absorbed all the losses while donating all the proceeds from the winners to the noblest charity you can imagine. Moreover, he kept all those records and the IRS itself has audited and determined that every dime is accounted for properly. Even in that situation where Joe Flabeetz has clearly done some splendid good, he disqualifies himself from recognition in the Racing Hall of Fame. There has to be a clear line that separates jockeys from betting on races close to them and the nobility of the outcome from crossing the line does not justify the crossing of the line.

Obviously, the new information obtained and revealed by Outside The Lines will need to be vetted/corroborated and we do owe Pete Rose and his attorneys the opportunity to rebut or challenge the accuracy of that information. However, if at the end of the vetting and rebutting it turns out that Pete Rose bet on baseball games while he was a player, I will – sadly – change my call for him to be in the Hall of Fame.

If the information is valid, then Pete Rose belongs NOT in the Hall of Fame but rather in my fictional Just Go Away Club.

Finally, let me leave this topic with two thoughts that seem appropriate to this entire messy situation:

“There’s one way to find out if a man is honest — ask him. If he says, ‘Yes,’ you know he is a crook. – Groucho Marx

And …

“It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.” – H. L. Mencken

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

Quiet Time In The NFL…

The NFL will move into a “quiet time” in terms of on-field events even as the commissioner and Tom Brady and the NFLPA begin the process of appealing Brady’s 4-game suspension coming out of Deflategate. OTAs and mini-camps are over; reports say that every high draft pick for every team looked good at those events. Of course, they take place in shorts and not in pads so the high picks had damned well better look good there or the GMs who made the picks need to be looking for other lines of work. I mention that because there were a plethora of reports about how good Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariotta both looked with their new squads. And that got me to thinking:

    When quarterbacks are taken with the overall #1 pick AND the overall #2 pick in the draft, it seems that one does pretty well and the other flames out.

That is just a gut feeling from recent happenings and so I did a tad of research – nothing like what Dan Daly might do at to be sure – and here is what I came up with:

    2015 Jameis Winston #1 and Marcus Mariotta #2: The jury is out and should not render any verdict before 2019.

    2012 Andrew Luck #1 and RG-3 #2: Preliminary results say that Luck is the significantly better QB but neither career has run its course yet.

    1999 Tim Couch #1 and Donovan McNabb #2: McNabb was clearly the better pick here. Oh and by the way, in 1999 another QB, Akili Smith, was taken with the overall #3 pick and he was the worst of the trio.

    1998 Peyton Manning #1 and Ryan Leaf #2: There is simply no comparison here…

    1993 Drew Bledsoe #1 and Rick Mirer #2: Bledsoe played for more than a decade and went to the Super Bowl with the Pats; Mirer played well as a rookie but never really was more than a journeyman.

    1971 Jim Plunkett #1 and Archie Manning #2: In this case both QBs played well. It took Plunkett a while – and a change of scenery from New England – to blossom; Archie Manning played very well for a series of Saints’ teams that were significantly short on talent. Oh and by the way, in 1971 another QB, Dan Pastorini, was taken with the overall #3 pick. Interestingly, it was Pastorini’s broken leg that gave Plunkett the opening to start and to lead the Raiders to a Super Bowl victory in 1981.

    1954 Bobby Garrett #1 and Lamar McHan #2: I have to admit I had to look both of these guys up. Garrett was drafted by the Browns but played the 1954 season for the Packers. That was his only year in the NFL. McHan played in the NFL for 10 years with four teams. His stats were not stellar but he clearly had the better NFL career.

Only in the 1971 Draft did both of the QBs taken at the top of the draft do well in their pro careers – with the caveat that RG-3 may improve to the point where he adds the 2012 Draft to that list. Three times, the player taken #1 overall had a significantly better career than the player taken #2; twice the player taken #2 overall had the significantly better career.

What does this portend for Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariotta? Probably nothing. However, it is “quiet time” for the NFL and that allows one’s mind to wander a bit…

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had these two cogent NFL observations recently:

“Static alert: Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has every right to seek a long-term contract, but by complaining that he’s making only $12.8 million and threatening to hold out, he’s violating the first rule of rich people – no whining on the yacht.”

And …

“In passing: Johnny Manziel says he’s ditching his immature, look-at-me ‘money sign.’ Maybe he’s just realizing that there would be no sense in flashing it from the bench.”

In general, I am at the point where I am looking forward to the start of the football season with one minor hesitation. When the NFL games are on for real, that means the NFL Network is prone to put Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders on the same set with both of them in possession of live microphones. Let me just say this…

    If there were such a thing as Crimes Against Syntax, Michael Irvin would have long ago been indicted, convicted and sent to 10 years of diagramming sentences.

    When he and Deion are on the same TV set and I am sitting on my couch with the remote in my hands, the TV set is in danger of having the remote arrive at the screen traveling at a significant velocity.

Finally, here is a college football related observation from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald:

“According to a World-Herald breakdown, NU [Nebraska University] is paying Bo Pelini $29,490.91 per week, $737.27 per hour, $12.29 per minute or 20.4 cents per second to not coach. For comparison’s sake, we only pay our state legislators $12,000 per year to not work.

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

Cut The Complaining…

As golfers finished the US Open, several of them vented their spleen about the course conditions. Ian Poulter used Instagram for his criticism; Billy Horschel just dropped his words of wisdom in front of the TV cameras. Look, I am all in favor of free expression but this kind of griping annoys me about as much as the condition of the golf course and its greens seems to have annoyed various golfers.

    Everybody played the same course. It is not as if any individual golfer had to putt on “horrible greens” while others putted on billiard tables.

    Everybody had a chance to see/walk the course before the tournament. It is not as if they thought they were playing Pebble Beach and were suddenly dropped in on Chambers Bay.

    No one forced any of the complainers to play. If the conditions were so awful, why did they come back for the second round on Friday – or even finish their first round on Thursday?

Frankly, the reason I like the US Open and the British Open are that they do not always take place on a course that has been manicured to make scores low. When a ball goes in the rough; you have to look to find it; in a PGA event, if the ball goes into the rough, that means it is not sitting atop grass that all has been cut to the same length and is all pointing in the same direction.

I will probably watch some of the upcoming British Open but I will probably not watch even a minute of the PGA Championship where the only real challenge to the contestants will be to keep the ball out of the minimal water hazards.

There have been a couple of marginally interesting happenings related to the Arizona Coyotes and their contretemps with the city fathers in Glendale. Recall that the city voted to abrogate the lease deal with the Coyotes which had the city paying the Coyotes $15M annually to stay in town and play in the Glendale arena.

    1. Moody’s Investment Services made favorable comments about the city’s move to get out from under that lease deal. Moody’s is one of the sources of bond ratings and bond ratings determine the interest rate that the city will need to pay in order to borrow money. Here is what Moody’s had to say:

    “Voting to cancel the 15-year arrangement is credit positive because it reduces the city’s costs related to professional sports enterprises and provides additional resources for critical services.”

    A rough translation would be along the lines of:

      The city needs to spend money on critical services and the fact that it is spending so much on sports enterprises (hockey and spring training baseball facilities) means they do not have enough to pay for those critical services. That is not financially smart. So, the city acted intelligently to get to a position where they can fund critical services without having to borrow lots of money to do so.

    2. The majority owner of the Coyotes, Andrew Barroway, opted to take a lesser share of the franchise. Reports say that other partners in the enterprise will buy the share that he wants to get rid of. The timing of this announcement is interesting because Barroway only acquired the majority interest in the Coyotes only about 6 months ago. Moreover, he has had previous interest in buying into the NHL having unsuccessfully trying to buy the New York Islanders when they were previously on the market. One has to wonder about just how critical that city payment to the Coyotes is with regard to the solvency of the franchise…

It is “Rumor Time” in the NBA as players get some time off and front offices begin to think about how to restructure teams. The Lakers are the subject of lots of rumors – probably because the Lakers played uncharacteristically badly last season. We do know for certain that the Lakers will draft second in the upcoming NBA Draft. Beyond that, here are some of the “rumors” floating out there. Recall that Kobe Bryant is expected to play one final season in LA next year according to Lakers’ GM, Mitch Kupchack:

    1. The Lakers may want to acquire Rajon Rondo from the Dallas Mavericks but there are also stories that the Houston Rockets may want Rondo too.

    2. The Lakers may be trying to get Dwayne Wade to leave Miami and come to LA to join up with Kobe Bryant. That would have been a dynamite pairing in 2011; given the recent injury history of both players, that Lakers’ roster might lead the league in “games missed by starters”.

    3. If Kevin Love “opts out” of his contract in Cleveland, conventional wisdom is that this child of So Cal will strongly consider going home to play there. That puts the Lakers squarely in the middle of any such speculation about Kevin Love.

The best way to weather the storm during “Rumor Time” is to sit back and wait to see what actually happens and then analyze the possibilities. I am confident, however, that no matter how much the Lakers and their fans might wish for it to happen, Magic and Kareem will not be coming back to suit up in the purple and gold next year…

Finally, here is some sage financial advice from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“A pair of sneakers Michael Jordan supposedly wore in a game in 1984 is expected to sell for $50,000 or more at auction. I’d spend that for a pair of old sneakers only on the assurance I’d find a blank check for $49,995 stuffed in one of the shoes.”

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

Football, Golf And Baseball Today…

I mentioned recently that the American Enterprise Institute had done a study analyzing the Wells Report which forms the basis for Tom Brady’s suspension. The appeal of that suspension will happen next week and Sally Jenkins had a column in yesterday’s Washington Post that you should read in its entirety. What she says is that the AEI report demolishes the factual bases underlying the Wells Report and it paints Roger Goodell into a corner of his own making.

Toward the end of the column, she notes that DeMaurice Smith said of the Wells Report when it was issued that it “delivered exactly what the client wanted.” That observation is absolutely germane here because it is fundamentally true. It underlies most if not all of the polls, surveys and studies with regard to public opinion and political/social issues. It also works here. And that fact leads me once again to wonder why the American Enterprise Institute studied air pressure in footballs in the first place. If they have a “client” here who paid for the study, it would be important for Roger Goodell – and the public – to know who that client is. If the two researchers just did it on their own, that changes markedly how I would weigh the credibility of the two studies/reports.

Next week could be interesting…

Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson are not household names and so it is inconvenient that they share the lead after the first round of the US Open shooting rounds of 5-under par 65. Therefore, more than a couple of sports websites this morning have headlines regarding the US Open that run along these lines:

    Tiger Struggles In Round One

Well, I should say so… Tiger Woods shot a 10-over par round yesterday; he shot 80. He trails the leaders by 15 strokes but more outrageous is the fact that he trails 15-year old Cole Hammer by 3 strokes. I was grazing through the channels last night and happened upon the FOX coverage of the tournament and was surprised to see the brown grass on the course so I tarried for a while. This course is very different than any that the PGA would employ; there is lots of sand; the undulations on the greens look as if they were used as scale models to build roller coasters; freight trains rumble by several of the holes every few minutes and shockingly, the trains do not obey the signals to be quiet given by officials.

There are actually a few interesting story lines going on here:

    Rickie Fowler shot an 81 and finished ahead of exactly one other player in the tournament.

    Only twenty-five golfers (out of 156 starters) broke par. In a normal PGA tournament, you can expect to find more than half the field under par after round one.

    Phil Mickelson continues to chase the “Career Grand Slam” here and he is still “in the mix” at 1-under par.

Tiger Woods’ playing non-competitive golf in a major tournament is no longer news. Currently, the cut line to make it to play on the weekend is at +2. To get there, Woods will need to shoot a 62 today. I hope you did not draft him for your fantasy golf team this week…

In baseball news, we are approaching Fathers’ Day and I have a four observations:

    The Astros are still in first place in the AL West. The Astros have won 5 in a row and currently sport the second best record in MLB.

    The Mets are still in first place in the NL East. The Mets are 4 games over .500 despite being outscored by 12 runs for the season.

    The Cardinals no only lead the NL Central, they have the best record in MLB by a 4-game margin. No, this is not the result of any hacking…

    The Phillies and the Brewers are the only teams winning less than 40% of their games and they are careening out of control as their seasons go down the drain. For the moment the Phillies are 1 game worse than the Brewers in the race to the bottom.

Before leaving on my “road trip”, I suggested that it was still early in the season but that A-Rod’s performance might just make him the Comeback Player of the Year. He has now collected his 2,999th base hit; when he reaches the 3000 mark he will join only 28 other players in the 125-year history of baseball to do that. For anyone else, that would be major news but given all of the PED use and the prevarication about that PED use and the yearlong suspension, it is difficult to celebrate that accomplishment to the degree that it was celebrated when someone like Tony Gwynn or Cal Ripken joined the club.

Nevertheless, A-Rod still belongs in the conversation for Comeback Player of the Year for 2015. He is hitting .278 with an OPS of .888; he has hit 12 home runs and driven in 34 runs in 216 at-bats at age 39 after sitting out all of 2014. If you look at the numbers without attaching those numbers to a name…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this baseball item (sort of) in the Seattle Times recently:

“Walmart is taking songs sung by Celine Dion and Justin Bieber off its in-store playlist after complaints from employees.

“But when it comes to assaulting the senses, why stop there? No more Phillies games on the TV sets!”

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

Cards Hack The Astros – Initial Thoughts

The big sports story of the moment is the “hacking” of the Houston Astros’ computer systems/databases by folks employed by the St. Louis Cardinals. I put quotation marks around “hacking” here because if the reports out there are correct, this is not equivalent to what was done to break into the Sony databases. It seems as if the Astros’ GM – formerly with the Cardinals – had a favorite set of passwords that he used when with the Cards and he did not change them when he moved on to the Astros. Well, if you know someone’s passwords, it is not exactly “hacking” to get into the systems.

None of that is to try to justify what folks with the Cards allegedly did. If I find a key to your house in a parking lot and I wait until you are gone to let myself in, my entry into your house is not justified. I do not know if that analogy would hold water in the legal realm, but that seems to be a valid comparison for here.

Because the Cardinals have been a very good team for a very long time now, fans of opposing teams are experiencing a sense of schadenfreude. That is a fun sensation for a while; what is more important is to learn about what happened and to assess its implications and then move on to some kind of resolution.

I will refrain from schadenfreude for now until the legal folks decide whether they are going to charge anyone high up in the Cards’ organization with a crime in the matter. Unlike some other baseball cheating scandals, this one also seems to violate Federal Law – the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 as amended. This seems to me to be a case of corporate espionage at the very least. For me the key question now is:

    Who in the Cards’ organization knew what – and when did they know it?

It may not matter to the FBI and the DoJ whom they indict in this matter and what position those folks held in the Cards’ organization, but it matters to me. If the Cards’ GM knew this was going on and turned a blind eye, that makes this a whole lot worse. If an underling told him that (s)he thought (s)he could break into the Astros’ databases because (s)he thought (s)he had the passwords and he gave a nodding approval, that makes it even worse than a whole lot worse. From an overview perspective, there is a significant difference between a “rogue IT guy” doing this and “executive suite involvement.” Both situations are bad; one is outrageously bad.

Commissioner Rob Manfred seems to be doing the right thing here. He has said MLB is cooperating with the FBI in the investigation – I should hope so! – and he has not jumped the gun with regard to punishments. Moreover, he is not going to need to hire an investigator to weed out what happened. The FBI with subpoena power and needing to interrogate people who may choose to have their own legal representation will provide him with better information than a private investigation could. When the FBI and the DoJ are done, he can act. At the very minimum, there are going to be some folks banned from ever working in baseball again.

Taking a longer view, I find it interesting to try to place this hacking incident into the landscape of baseball scandals. In a sense, this is signal stealing on steroids which may be an apt description given baseball’s history with steroids. I am not a baseball historian by any measure, so consider what follows as something a high school kid might write for his junior thesis and not what a professor might write for a peer-reviewed journal.

Scandals that were worse than the current “hacking” investigation seems to be:

    The Black Sox Mess in 1919: This involved fixing games in the World Series. Surely we can agree the current mess is nowhere near as bad as that.

    The ’51 Giants stealing signs from their scoreboard: Stealing signs happens; denying that it does would be stupid. However, sign stealing at the level that the Giants practiced it was an affront to the game and surely affected a pennant race and a World Series participant. That was worse than this mess.

    BALCO/Biogenesis: These illegal and corrupt activities affected the stats that form part of the foundation for baseball’s history. I cannot see how the current mess will come close to doing that.

    Racism: After integration in the 40s, baseball still suffered outrageous racism in the form of death threats to Henry Aaron as he approached Babe Ruth’s home run record and in the form of Marge Schott as a franchise owner. The current mess is not good, but it is not nearly as pernicious as racism.

Scandals that were bad but not as bad as this one looks to be:

    The 1980’s Free Agency Collusion: This was not cheating to win games; this was cheating to save money. It was a stupid idea and it was even more stupidly executed. In the end it did not save money; it cost owners $300+M.

    Pete Rose: There is no evidence he bet on games involving his teams nor that he bet on games while he was playing. His jail sentence was for tax evasion which is not a baseball scandal.

Since this investigation is not yet finished – and often these Federal probes take a lot of time – there will be plenty of time for folks to ruminate on where this scandal fits into the landscape of scandals in the sports world outside baseball. Surely, someone will try to draw a comparison between this matter and “Deflategate”. There is an attractive reason to do so in that the Cards and the Pats are top-shelf teams/franchises and it might be fun to demonstrate their feet of clay. When you read that kind of thing, consider it nonsense. Even under the most nefarious scenario you might imagine for “Deflategate”, no one is in danger of going to jail based on the air pressure in a dozen footballs. Someone – some ones – here might do some time.

No matter how all of this shakes out, there is a baseline issue that Rob Manfred will have to deal with. Someone in the Cardinals’ organization cheated; there is no way to sugar-coat that. Someone used an improper – seemingly illegal – means to gain an advantage for the Cardinals that an opponent (the Astros in this case) did not have access to. I do not see any way around coming to the conclusion that cheating is involved here. Now, if the “integrity of the game” and the “best interests of baseball” mean anything other than bluster, Rob Manfred is going to have to take some definitive action(s) when we get to the bottom of all this.

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

Congratulations To The Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors are the NBA Champions for 2014/2015 and they deserve the title. They were the best team all season long and came from behind in two playoff series to secure the championship. Moreover, they were the most interesting team to watch this season because of their style of play. The conventional wisdom has been that a “jump-shooting team” will not win a championship because when a jump-shooting team has a cold night, they have no other recourse. Well, the Warriors are a “jump-shooting team” and what they showed is that when they do not have cold nights – and when they shoot those jump shots as proficiently and in as great a number as they do, they can beat anybody. Congratulations to the Warriors…

However, what I want to talk about this morning is LeBron James. Let me put something squarely in the center of the table at the outset:

    LeBron James was the best player on the court in all of the NBA Playoffs.

    LeBron James is currently the best basketball player on Planet Earth.

Taking those two statements as self-evident, this demonstrates that basketball is a team sport. The Warriors had a much better team than did the Cavaliers despite the fact that the Cavs had the best player on Planet Earth. In fact, I would argue that the second best player the Cavs had at their disposal in the final series – Timofey Mozgov – would not start for the Warriors.

For those of you who were sentient and following sports in the 1960s, you have seen this opera play out before. Back then, it was the Warriors who had the best player on Planet Earth in Wilt Chamberlain and those Warriors routinely lost out to the Celtics who had the far superior team. As I thought about the comparison of Chamberlain and James and their team situations over this span of 50+ years, I realized that LeBron James needs to be considered in the same breath as Oscar Robertson when you think of great all-around players.

Most folks know that Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double for an entire season. For the 61/62 season:

    Robertson averaged 30.1 points per game
    Robertson averaged 12.5 rebounds per game
    Robertson averaged 11.4 assists per game

Today, we get excited if a player achieves a triple double two or three games in a row; Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double while playing 79 games in a season. Moreover, the 61/62 season was not some statistical freak; Oscar Robertson was not a “one-hit wonder”. He flirted with season-long triple doubles for quite a while. In fact, consider these aggregate stats from the first 5 years Roberson was in the NBA:

    Robertson averaged 30.3 points per game for those 5 years
    Robertson averaged 10.4 rebounds per game for those 5 years
    Robertson averaged 10.6 assists per game for those 5 years

That one season was the only one where he had a triple double for the season, but he was damned close in all of the others too. All of this is a prelude to saying that LeBron James and Oscar Robertson both belong in the conversation when the topic is:

    Best All-Around Basketball Player Ever

For the record, I would add Elgin Baylor and Magic Johnson to the discussion for this accolade should the topic ever come up in a bar debate…

And that leads me to LeBron James’ pronouncement after Game 5 with the Cavs down 3-2 in the series where he said he was confident in the Cavs’ chances because he was the best player in the world. I do not recall any athlete in any major sport making such a self-proclamation in the past. However, I do not consider what James said to be braggadocious for the simple reason that I think what he said is absolutely correct. The reason his “confidence” was misplaced is that basketball is a team sport and he happened to be on the lesser team this month.

Speaking of the Cavaliers, Brad Rock had this item in the Deseret News recently suggesting that some folks in Cleveland may have taken some of the series a bit too seriously:

“Cleveland weatherman Mark Johnson was critiquing NBA playoff officiating during his broadcasts last week, even bringing in a weed trimmer to illustrate poor calls.

“Consequently, NBA officials are preparing to hit Johnson with a Flagrant 2 for incorrectly predicting sunny skies on President’s Day.”

Here is an unusual bit of news from college basketball. Ohio State and Michigan were both recruiting a high school small forward named Seth Towns from Northland High School in Columbus, OH. Naturally, Ohio State had to be one of his strong considerations; and of course, Michigan would love to “steal” the player from under Ohio State’s nose. Neither school got what they wanted here because Seth Towns committed to Harvard. He is obviously a good student and currently thinks he wants to be an engineer – entering freshmen in colleges everywhere change their minds about their ultimate major more often than not. Nevertheless, choosing Harvard is not a bad idea for any serious student because even if he changes his mind with regard to his major from engineering to medieval Norse music, he will likely find that Harvard can provide him with challenging educational opportunities.

Finally, Jimmy Fallon had offered an interesting analysis of NBA basketball as it relates to US society in general:

“Basketball is an important part of our lives. Without basketball, think of all the ridiculous-looking shoes we wouldn’t have.”

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