Predicting the MLB Season – 2016

Here in Northern Virginia, the signs of Spring are all around. Birds are building nests; trees have leaf buds; crocuses are in bloom; the sun is in the sky more than 12 hours a day. However, here in the confines of Curmudgeon Central, Spring awaits one more thing before it can officially announce itself. And that would be:

      Opening Day for MLB

If I had a countdown clock running – which I do not – there would be less than 100 hours remaining until the first pitch of the first game on Sunday afternoon when the Pirates host the Cardinals at 1:05 PM EDT. Therefore, I guess it is time for me to make my predictions for the upcoming season.

AL West:

    I like the Astros to win the division. They say a team needs to be “strong up the middle” in baseball and the Astros have a solid catcher, good pitching (the addition of Doug Fister will not hurt them at all), outstanding young players at second base and shortstop and a good centerfielder who was injured last year and should return to form this year. If you think there is a better SS/2B combination than Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, you will have to convince me.

    The Rangers will challenge the Astros and finish second. If Yu Darvish finishes his rehab on schedule and is the pitcher he was prior to surgery, they could make the AL West race interesting.

    The Mariners should finish third. They have 3 solid starters in Hernandez, Iwakuma and Walker. Kyle Seager is a really good third baseman but he may be only the second best player in the Seager family. (See below…)

    The Angels have Mike Trout (perhaps the best all-around player in MLB) and an aging Albert Pujols and decent starting pitching, but they do not have enough to be serious contenders this year.

    The A’s do not have anywhere near enough pitching to keep up.

AL Central:

    Naturally, I like the Royals to win the AL Central. They have won it the last two years and basically have the same team this year. What’s not to like?

    I will take the Tigers to finish a distant second here on the assumption that their starting pitching holds together. The Tigers should score runs with the likes of Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler in the lineup. The starters have good pedigrees but recent performances have been less than expected…

    I guess I like the Indians to finish third in the division. They are sort of the mirror image of the Tigers – solid pitching but should struggle to score runs. Michael Brantley opens the season on the DL; the Indians need him back in the outfield ASAP.

    In a coin flip, I’ll take the Twins to finish fourth here. There is just not all that much to like about the Twins.

    Losing the coin flip puts the White Sox last in the AL Central. Chris Sale is a top-shelf starting pitcher; after him, the Sox have nothing but question marks. Offensively, the White Sox have Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera and a bunch of other guys.

AL East:

    The Blue Jays should win the AL East on pure offense. They scored 891 runs last year; that is 5.5 runs per game; everybody is back including Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnation in the middle of the lineup. Having Drew Storen in the bullpen to close games is a plus; the Jays should be taking leads into the ninth inning more than once in a while.

    I’ll take the Red Sox to finish second in the division by a nose over the third place Rays. The Red Sox should score runs and the addition of David Price to the starting rotation cannot hurt. Nevertheless, the rest of the Sox rotation is not much more than ordinary and they have huge question marks at the corner infield positions. Pablo Sandoval at third base and Hanley Ramirez at first base could make infield plays more exciting than they need to be.

    I’ll put the Rays in third place as a mirror image of the Red Sox. I like the Rays pitching but they might struggle to score much.

    The Yankees will finish fourth in the AL East because I think that Father Time is going to pay a very unwelcome visit to the Yankees’ clubhouse. A-Rod is 41; CC Sabathia has his own issues; Mark Teixiera is not nearly the player he was. The starting pitching is OK but nothing more than that. The Yankees’ bullpen is very good with Aroldis Chapman and Dellen Betances.

    The Orioles will trail the field here. I love Adam Jones in centerfield and Manny Machado at third base. The bullpen is very good too. Other than that…

NL West:

    I’ll take the Giants to win this division because I like the Giants pitching more than the Dodgers’ pitching and I like the Giants offense better than the D-Backs offense. Those 3 teams sit atop this division. The keys to the Giants’ winning are solid years from Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto and a healthy Hunter Pence.

    I like the D-Backs to finish second in the division because they have Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to head their starting rotation and Paul Goldschmidt in the middle of their lineup.

    I have the Dodgers finishing third here. The Dodgers’ starting pitching was great last year; this year it is Clayton Kershaw and a bunch of guys. I am not a Scott Kazmir believer… Corey Seager at shortstop is even better than his brother on the Mariners and that says a lot. Yasiel Puig is a head case; if he figures out how to play the game consistently, he can be a star.

    I like the Padres to finish a distant fourth in the division. If both Wil Meyers and John Jay bounce back from bad years in 2015, the Padres’ offense might be half-decent; otherwise… Oh, and their pitching staff is nothing to write home about either.

    I’ll take the Rockies to finish just a hair behind the Padres here. I just do not think the Rockies can score enough runs to keep pace with the number the pitching staff will give up.

NL Central:

    I like the Cubs to win the best division in MLB. Any lineup that projects Javier Baez and Jorge Soler as “bench guys” has to be taken seriously. The Cubs’ starting pitching is very good and deep. If they have a weakness, it might be in the bullpen. Remember, I said “if” …

    I like the Pirates to chase the Cubs in the NL Central. If Gregory Polanco plays up to his hype, the Pirates will have an outfield that matches any in the game. Their pitching is solid. Their biggest problem is that they are in the same division as the Cubs.

    I’ll take the Cardinals to finish third here. If you want an example of a deep starting rotation, look at the Cards. This is the Lake Woebegone of starting pitching; they are all above average. I think the Cards will not score enough to win enough to match the Cubs or the Pirates.

    The Reds will finish fourth in the NL Central simply because they have Billy Hamilton, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips at the top of their lineup. That is not nearly enough to make them contenders but it is enough to keep them out of last place.

    The Brewers will finish last in the NL Central.

NL East:

    I like the Mets to win the division simply because of their pitching. They have 4 really good young starters and Bartolo Colon who continues to find ways to get guys out. Oh, and their bullpen ain’t bad either. If David Wright’s health can let him play 120 games, the Mets will do just fine. The schedule is really nice to the Mets; their last 16 games of the season are against the Twins (3), Braves (3), Marlins (3) and Phillies (7).

    I like the Nationals to finish second in the NL East. The Nats need a big year from Jayson Werth who is 37 years old and they need the injury bug to stay away from Anthony Rendon. Bryce Harper will put up big numbers but he needs help. The Nats starting rotation needs Stephen Strasbourg to pitch to his reputation consistently and for Gio Gonzalez to pitch better than he did in 2015. Jonathan Papelbon is a very good closer – but I wonder what might happen if he takes a loss because Bryce Harper makes an error in the outfield…

    I’ll take the Marlins to finish third in the NL East for a very simple reason. They are not nearly as good as the Mets or the Nats and they are not nearly as bad as the Phillies or the Braves.

    I’ll take the Phillies to finish fourth in the NL East because I think they are a year ahead of the Braves in the “teardown/rebuild” process. The Phillies’ future is still in the minor leagues but at least they have a couple of their young guys on the main squad getting experience like Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez and Aaron Nola.

    I think the Braves will finish last in the NL East and may lose 100+ games this year. They have recognizable names in the lineup – but the players attached to those names are on the downside of their careers like Erick Aybar, Nick Markakis and AJ Pierzynski. The Braves are a work-in-progress.

Play Ball!

Finally, in keeping with the theme of the day, here is a baseball item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Savannah, Ga., Bananas will become the 16th team in the Coastal Plain League, a summer circuit for college baseball players. So obviously the team MVP award will be known as the Top . . . nah, too easy.”

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

Geno Auriemma Vs. Dan Shaughnessy

Earlier this week, a tempest in a spittoon erupted when Boston Globe columnist, Dan Shaugnessy, suggested that the dominance of UConn women’s basketball was not good for the sport. To the surprise of exactly no one, UConn women’s coach, Geno Auriemma, took umbrage and said that the dominance of Tiger Woods for about a decade did not hurt golf but that it did create an environment into which there evolved a lot of really good golfers named something other than Tiger Woods. To get in a final dig, Auriemma added:

“There are a lot better writers than Dan Shaugnessy. But that doesn’t mean he’s bad for the game.”

As is often the case, both of the folks involved here are partially correct. Auriemma is correct that his team is good for women’s basketball because they attract some viewers who might not ever think of watching women’s basketball just to see how good these women – the ones who are dominating every team that takes the court with them – can be. In addition, there are plenty of examples in “sports history” where the presence of a truly dominant team adds to a following for the sport just because some folks are devout front-runners and bandwagoners while other people cannot wait to see the giant slain. So, Auriemma has a point…

At the same time – using me as an example – I only watch the UConn women once or twice a year for the simple reason that whenever I tune in, the game is a blowout and blowouts are not fun to watch. Then, after I have seen what UConn can do, the next time I tune into a women’s game I am sort of “disappointed” because neither team on my TV set can play at anything like the level of play I saw fleetingly in my UConn-viewing. So, I am not attracted to women’s basketball any more today than I was yesterday. So, Dan Shaughnessy has a point…

In case you think I am over-stating the degree of dominance for the UConn women’s team, consider these stats from this season;

    UConn won its first 4 games this season by 40 points or more.

    Then in game 5 they won by 16 and in game 6 they won by only 10.

    After game 6 they won 18 games by 39 points or more.

    Only twice has their margin of victory been as small as 10 points.

Sorry, but when UConn is dominating an opponent on its way to a 107-45 win (over Cincy back on December 30) or on its way to a 106-51 win (over UCF back on January 20), I lose interest and go looking for something else to watch. I am not suggesting that everyone’s viewing habits or tastes are the same as mine – if that were the case there would be no MMA or poker on TV – but I can understand Dan Shaugnessy’s criticism here. At the same time, I can understand why Geno Auriemma did not take that sort of commentary all that well.

In another women’s basketball happening – this one far down the ladder from the position UConn occupies – Prairie View A&M fired coach Dawn Brown after the coach suspended two of her players earlier this year for dating – – one another. The players claim they were discriminated against based on their sexual preference; Brown says she is the injured party here because the school’s Title IX administrator knew of the situation and “approved” the suspensions. I will be shocked if this matter does not wind up in a court to determine if this firing is appropriate under all of the prevailing circumstances.

Let me say this:

    Dawn Brown’s record at Prairie View A&M was 13-15 this last season and it has been 41-51 over her 3-year tenure there. If in that 92-game span, her teams’ record had been 89-3, I suspect there might be a very different vibe surrounding this situation.

Based on a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the sportsbooks there are rooting for someone to beat Syracuse next weekend. Here are two items from a report earlier this week:

“In early January, according to Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay, four wagers, including one for $100, were placed on Syracuse at 1,000-1 odds to win the NCAA championship.”

And …

“Two weeks ago, after the Orange slipped into the field of 68 as a No. 10 seed — much to the dismay of bracketology gurus and CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb — the Westgate posted Syracuse at 300-1 to win the title and William Hill posted 400-1 odds.

“’Just a couple tickets at that number, no major dollars,’ [the William Hill director] said. ‘But Syracuse is our worst result.’”

Looking at that situation from the point of view of the bettor and not the sportsbook, consider for a moment that you were the person who put down $100 on Syracuse to win the NCAA championship when the odds were 1000-1. Now imagine that Syracuse bests UNC on Saturday night in the semi-final game. Question:

    Would you let the bet ride as it is and go for the entire $100K winnings – or –

    Would you “hedge” and bet the opponent to win in the final game such that you take home “something” instead of possibly “nothing”?

Since I will not be the person in that position, let me say that I would “hedge” the bet just a bit and be sure that I took home a nice chunk of change.

Finally, here is an item from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald that relates to women’s intercollegiate athletics and to the travesty of the NCAA continuing to refer to “student-athletes”:

“The Creighton softball team returned to Omaha after a 24-game road trip. Christopher Columbus and Lewis and Clark weren’t gone that long.”

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

Baseball In Montreal?

We are closing in on Opening Day for MLB and over the last month or so, I have read a couple of reports that I find disquieting. One report from about a month ago said that MLB Commish, Rob Manfred, “continues to be optimistic about Montreal as a venue for baseball”. That statement made me wince just a bit until I read that he also said he does not see MLB expanding to go back into Montreal as a “venue for baseball”.

Let me be clear here. I have no animosity about the city of Montreal or about having another Canadian team in MLB; there is no territoriality in my feelings here. I am simply opposed to any expansion of MLB into any market – new or recycled – for a pretty simple reason:

    There is an insufficiency of quality pitching to go around for 30 MLB teams as things stand today.

    If MLB were to add 2 teams (adding an odd number of teams would be a scheduling nightmare), that would add about 20 – 22 more pitching slots to MLB that would need to be filled.

    As far as I am concerned, I need that situation about as much as former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali needs another Boutros.

One of the newspapers in Montreal has suggested that perhaps Montreal and Tampa might “share” the Tampa Bay Rays since the Rays continue to have attendance woes in St. Petersburg. While that might sound alluring at first, I doubt that whatever fanbase the Rays might have along the Florida Gulf Coast would take kindly to having the Rays play a couple dozen of their home games about 1300 miles to the north. I know that the Rays are “studying” the possibilities for a new stadium site in the Tampa/St. Pete area with the idea that a new stadium in a more favorable locale will boost attendance in that market. Taking some of the games out of that market will not ease the processes that might lead to a new stadium. The suggestion from the Montreal paper is probably well-meaning but it would be short-sighted for the Rays or for MLB to consider it for more than a moment.

If that was all the “chatter” about MLB expansion, I would have forgotten that suggestion about sharing a franchise between Tampa and Montreal. However, in other circumstances, reports said that Manfred mentioned future expansion sites in the US (Charlotte, Portland and San Antonio) and said that even further into the future MLB might think of expanding to Mexico. Sorry, but I do not want to hear about any of that…

And then, I read in the Austin Business Journal that the Commish said he would like to see MLB expand to 32 teams sometime after 2020. Why was this in the Austin Business Journal? Well, some folks have opined that Austin would be a potential landing place for a new MLB franchise. You can read here why this particular author believes such thinking is off base – so to speak. Nonetheless, the idea of “expansion” remains in the public discourse probably meaning that some of the folks in MLB are giving this much more serious consideration than I would wish for.

In another bit of baseball economic news, the NY Mets are reaping the benefits of their post-season successes from last year. According to the NY Post, season ticket sales for the Mets are double what they were in the last week of March in 2015. In addition, group sales are up about 33% and advance sales for tickets to individual games are up almost 25%. Obviously, winning plays a major part in these increases but give credit to the folks on the business side of the Mets’ franchise for thinking ahead.

Last season as the Mets were making their push to get to the playoffs, the team began to market season tickets for 2016 with the promise that people who bought 2016 tickets would get good seating options for the 2015 playoff games. Even though the season is not that far off – the Mets open on the road and do not have a home game until 8 April – the team continues to sell season tickets because they have a few “milestone games” on the schedule this year and as of now the only way to get tix to those games is to buy season packages. The “milestone games” include:

    August 1 and August 2: Mets host Yankees

    July 29 – July 31: Mike Piazza Retirement/Hall of Fame Weekend: Mets host Rockies

    May 28: – 30th Reunion of 1986 Championship Team: Mets host Dodgers

Who knows? If the Mets continue to win and keep ticket sales booming the way they are, they may recoup all of the money for the owners that Bernie Madoff hooked them for…

I said above that talk about MLB expansion was not something I wanted to hear about; well, here is something even worse. Consider this item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Something different: Whether it’s here by popular demand or not, there’s a website in this country that has started to offer daily fantasy game wagering on sumo wrestling in Japan. The fantasy world just got a little weirder. And fatter.”

Does not the world have enough fantasy sports as it is? Really, sumo wrestling? What’s next? Daily fantasy synchronized swimming?

Finally, here are two comments from Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel that just seem to go together:

“My operatives tell me that NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got fellow NASCAR driver Danica Patrick the same Valentine’s Day gift as always: A dozen long-stemmed socket wrenches.”

And …

“Did you see where Danica Patrick was fined $20,000 by NASCAR for angrily walking near the race track after she wrecked last week? Judging by her NASCAR finishes, angrily walking might get Danica to the finish line quicker than actually driving.”

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

The Final Four Is Set

After Notre Dame mounted a furious rally to win its regional semi-final game against Wisconsin on Friday night, head coach Mike Brey said that it was destined for Notre Dame to win because it was Good Friday. He added that the regional final was to take place on Easter and that Notre Dame “could not lose” on Easter. It was a clever sound bite; it turned out to be inaccurate. Notre Dame and UNC played an exciting and entertaining game but UNC simply had more good players to deploy than did the Irish. UNC is the only #1 seed to make the Final Four.

Back in early November, Sports Illustrated projected their Top 20 college basketball teams for the season that is about to conclude. With regard to the Final Four teams, here is what they had:

    UNC: Preseason, SI had them ranked #1 in the country and said they had “the nation’s best frontcourt”. That pretty much sums things up…

    Villanova: Preseason, SI had them ranked #8 in the country and based almost all of their optimism on the play of Ryan Arcidiacono. They got that one right too…

    Oklahoma: Preseason, SI had them ranked #12 in the country and pointed to improved play from Ryan Spangler as a key to Sooner success given that they already had “a pair of high-level outside scorers”. Spangler has indeed played very well this year and in this year’s tournament…

    Syracuse: Preseason, SI had nothing to say about the Orange. Hey, three out of four ain’t bad…

UNC will take on Syracuse next weekend. There will be a test you can administer to the folks at TBS who will put together the pre-game show(s). Are the programs on the air for pure entertainment or is there a mixture of journalism and entertainment present? The test will be how seriously and how significantly the folks at TBS address the fact that both UNC and Syracuse are institutions where significant academic fraud has happened. The schools certainly bear plenty of responsibility here but there is more than a truckload of opprobrium to be offered up to the NCAA itself which is still “dealing with” scandals that go all the way back to 2005 in the case of UNC and the potential that fake classes accounted for athletic grades all the way back to 1993. The NCAA and UNC are “still investigating” …

Here is a rather simple fact that the mavens at the NCAA seem not to understand – or if they do understand it they do not acknowledge the gravity of the situation:

    If the penalties that the NCAA hands out for violating any or all of its myriad rules are insignificant when compared to the potential benefits a school can harvest by breaking the rules, then – wait for it – the rules are going to be broken over and over and over again.

What were the penalties imposed on Syracuse? They vacated a bunch of wins in previous years and they had to play 9 early season games without Jim Boeheim on the bench. The “cost” to the university and/or the basketball program imposed here is about as burdensome as a snot drop. So, if a coach or someone on the staff at Disco Tech takes a look at this and does a simple cost/benefit analysis, his logical conclusion should be that breaking the rules is clearly worth it even if it all comes unraveled somewhere down the line.

Enough of that… After the Cleveland Browns signed RG3 to a contract last week, it did not take long for a couple of sports commentators to make clear just what import they assigned to that event.

“The Cleveland Browns just got their next future ex-quarterback, Robert Griffin III.” [Brad Dickson, Omaha World-Herald]

And …

“Robert Griffin III signs as on as the Browns’ latest QB-bust-in-waiting.” [Greg Cote, Miami Herald]

In his column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, Bob Molinaro had this item:

“Maturity issues: Even a fan of LeBron James has to think that his passive/aggressive quotes and tweets are getting out of control. Now he seriously asserts that one day he wants to make the NBA equivalent of a buddy movie with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, discounting the fact that an off-hand remark like that is tantamount to dissing his current teammates. Off the court, LeBron appears to be shrinking in stature.”

I would certainly agree that LeBron’s commentary there was less than appropriate but I am not sure I would ascribe it to “maturity issues”. I would, however, choose to note that what LeBron did there would be considered “tampering” if done by a coach or a GM or an owner since all of those other players are currently under contract with other NBA teams. The conclusion I draw here is that the NBA rules regarding tampering apply only to people holding the title of coach or GM or owner and not someone who is the de facto coach and Gm of a team.

Finally, Dwight Perry took note of another interesting NFL signing in the Seattle Times last week:

“The Kansas City Chiefs signed Mississippi State track star Tautvydas Kieras, who’s never played organized football in his life.

“Hey, it was either that or sign an ex-Cleveland Brown.”

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

Gettin’ Chalky…

A week ago, the mantra was that college basketball was a jumble this year; there were no dominant teams; it was the year for upsets; parity had come to men’s college basketball. Ommmmm…

Well last night two of the regional finals were set. In both the South bracket and the West bracket, the #1 Seed will play the #2 Seed. Oh, and by the way, none of the games last night setting up those “chalky pairings” was very close.

The other two brackets cannot be nearly as “chalky” since the #2 seed has been eliminated in both of those brackets and the winner of Gonzaga/Syracuse (seeded #11 and #10 originally in their bracket) will have to be in the regional final game. Nonetheless, look at the teams that populated the Sweet 16 in this “year of parity” in college basketball. Point to a school that does not have a rather long “basketball tradition” and/or a significant “basketball pedigree”. I’ll give you Oregon and maybe Texas A&M. Iowa State? Well they have been in the tournament more than half the time over the last 25 years so I would not call them an “outsider” in the mold of George Mason or an Ivy League team or Florida Gulf Coast or Loyola Marymount.

Speaking obliquely of “outsiders” in the Tournament, consider this observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times from last weekend:

“Butler Blue III, Butler’s live bulldog mascot, had to stay back at the team hotel when NCAA tournament officials said no dogs would be allowed in the building.

“So please explain, then, how the Hampton and Stony Brook basketball teams got in?”

Report say that Alex Rodriguez will retire after the 2017 season. Let me just note that the end of the 2017 season will also coincide with the final moments of the monstrously large contract that he signed with the Yankees back when George Steinbrenner was still alive and signing the checks for the team. At the end of the 2017 season, A-Rod will be 42 years old. If his ego – and we have ample evidence to suggest that he has a significant ego – will not allow him to take a pay cut of 75% or more, then it probably will not matter if he chooses to retire because he is not likely to get an offer from any other team that will be to his liking. Even so, I would prefer to put off any plans he or the Yankees may have for yet another Year of Farewell for A-Rod because his ego may be torn at the end of the 2017 season. Consider:

    A-Rod has hit 687 home runs in his career. That puts him fourth on the all-time list. Last year he hit 33 home runs. If he matches that total, he will wind up at the end of the 2016 season with 720 home runs and will have passed Babe Ruth for third place on the all-time list.

    Assume for a moment that A-Rod enters the 2017 season with 720 home runs. He would be 35 home runs short of tying Henry Aaron’s mark and 42 home runs from equaling Barry Bonds for the all-time record. Now take one more imaginary step with me and assume that A-Rod’s production falls off just a bit in 2017 such that he hits another 25 home runs. He would end the 2017 season in this situation:

      He is only 17 home runs away from the all-time lead – but –

      He has no contract and no team in their right mind is going to pay him anything near $30M per year to give him a shot at the all-time record.

There are enough variants on possibilities here to keep psychologists – or amateur psychologists – busy for the next two years. My guess – and I stress the word guess here – is that if A-Rod is within shouting distance of the all-time record at the end of the 2017 season, he would accept just about any contract that came his way from any team that would allow him to DH for a season to catch the record. I have no deep insight or professional expertise to back that up; it is simply my guess as to which tug on the ego would be stronger.

In Miami, there is another aging baseball star chasing a milestone. Ichiro has a 1-year deal with the Marlins for $2M – and there is a club option for 2017 for another $2M. Ichiro was making more than twice that amount annually back in 2001 when he came to MLB from Japan. He is playing at age 43 at a significant pay cut to chase the possibility of getting 3000 hits in MLB despite the fact that he did not start playing in MLB until he was 28 years old. Ichiro will start the 2016 season with 2,935 base hits; he needs 65 hits to make it to 3000; last year in 153 games, he got 91 hits.

Longtime readers of these rants know that I enjoyed watching Ichiro play on my annual visits to Seattle in the summertime. Father Time has taken a significant toll on his skills but he is still someone who demands attention when he is on the field. He is as instinctive an outfielder as I can recall since the time of Roberto Clemente; when the ball comes off the bat, Ichiro is – seemingly – already at full stride heading to where the ball is going. He may not have the batting stroke he had 5 years ago and he may have lost a step while stealing a base, but baserunners will “take the extra base” off him at their own peril.

Dwight Perry had this comment about the Marlins and one of their scheduled games for the 2016 season in the Seattle Times recently:

“The Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves will play their July 3 game at Fort Bragg, N.C.”

The pitchers, understandably, are worried about getting shelled.”

Finally, since I have stolen material from Dwight Perry twice already today, let me hit the trifecta here:

“The Baltimore Orioles, citing safety reasons, have banned the budding tradition of smashing pies in teammates’ faces to celebrate big wins.

In a related story, Soupy Sales Bobblehead Night is hereby canceled.”

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

RIP, Joe Garagiola…

Joe Garagiola died yesterday at the age of 90. I recall having his baseball card as a kid. What I remember a lot more than that are the times he provided entertainment as the color commentator on MLB’s Game of the Week back when all you got to see on TV was your local team and one national game each week. Many folks today think of Vin Scully as a single operator in a broadcast booth; that was not always the case. Joe Garagiola was his partner on those national telecasts.

RIP, Joe Garagiola.

At their annual spring meeting, the NFL owners approved 9 rule changes for 2016. Many of them are approved on a 1-year trial basis and will need to be revisited next year. Here is a brief summary:

    1. Moving the snap-point to the 15-yardline on extra point tries was a “1-year rule” last year. This year, the owners voted to make that permanent. I cannot imagine that any of the NFL kickers were thrilled by that decision.

    2. Offensive and defensive play-callers can use the direct communication links to players on the field from up in the coaching box at the top of the stadium. Previously, only coaches on the sidelines had access to those links. On ESPN, Herm Edwards effused about what a big deal this is; I am not sure I understand his enthusiasm, but if he says it’s a big deal, I am happy to go along.

    3. All chop blocks are illegal. That sounds like a rule change that is a plus for the defense and for player safety/longevity.

    4. Two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a game is an automatic ejection for a player. I will have to wait and see how this affects the officials’ calling of the game before I decide if this is a good idea or a bad idea.

    5. Kickoffs into the end zone – or out the back of the end zone – will now come out to the 25 yardline. I am not sure if this discourages kickoff returns or encourages kicking teams to keep the ball in play…

    6. The “horse-collar rule” has been expanded to include pulling the jersey from the neck to make the tackle. The basis of the original rule is that the play is dangerous. Therefore, it never really made sense to split hairs the way the old rule did. Consider this a good change.

    7. If a team tries to call a timeout “when not permitted to do so”, this will be a delay of game violation. Other than being out of timeouts, what are any other circumstances involved here? I have to say that I do not recognize the problem this rule change tries to resolve.

    8. Starting this year, if an eligible receiver goes out of bounds and then illegally touches a forward pass once back in-bounds, the penalty now will be loss of down and not a 5-yard penalty. This is another rule change that seems to favor the defense.

    9. The rule for this year “eliminates the multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession.” I have to admit that this one is way too far down in the weeds for me…

So, now you know how much hard work those NFL owners put in when they make their way to an owners’ meeting in Boca Raton…

Let me stick with NFL items for today. Steelers’ WR, Martavious Bryant is facing a 1-year suspension; Ian Rappaport of NFLN says that the basis for the suspension is “substance abuse violations”; Bryant sat out 4 games in 2015. Later reports said that Bryant was “depressed” and others said that he was checking into rehab. There are enough uncertainties surrounding this matter to warrant postponement of judgment regarding the validity of the suspension. What is pretty certain at this moment is that the Steelers’ offense will need to replace a better than average WR for the 2016 season. In 11 games last year, Bryant caught 50 passes for 765 yards and 6 TDs.

The free agent QB market remains on hold at the moment. It appears that the Cleveland Browns’ decision is the fulcrum for this matter. The Browns have released Johnny Manziel and their roster now has Austin Davis, Josh McCown and Connor Shaw listed as QBs. McCown is 36 years old; he would almost certainly be the starter in this group of three, but no one can possibly consider him the Browns’ “QB of the Future”. Not even his mother …

The Browns continue to show interest in and talk with RG3. Griffin struggled in Washington behind a porous offensive line and could not stay healthy. Let me be polite here and say that with the losses the Browns have had along the OL in this offseason, the OL in Cleveland may not be as effective as the Maginot Line. But talks continue…

The Browns reportedly offered the Niners a 3rd round draft pick for Colin Kaepernick who let it be known he would “like to play for the Browns”. The Niners have held fast that they want a 2nd round pick for Kaepernick and that gulf between the bid price and the asked price has stood in the way of a deal for about a month now. Here is what I find much more interesting than the stalemate over what sort of a draft pick it might take to effect this transaction:

    If Colin Kaepernick truly would “like to play for the Browns”, how much must he hate the Niners’ organization that he would want to leave it to join the Browns? It is either that or…

    Colin Kaepernick has taken sufficient leave of his senses that he now qualifies as an intelligent turnip. Seriously, he would “like to play for the Browns” if there were other options?

It appears that once the Browns decide what they are going to do, the other teams looking for QBs this year [Broncos, Jets, Rams (?), Cowboys (?)] will be able to facilitate negotiations with one fewer buyer out there for agents to use as leverage.

Speaking of leverage, there are reports that the Jets were using contacts with RG3 as leverage in their negotiations with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Forget the factual basis for those reports for just a moment and imagine that the Jets sign RG3 and go to camp with a “QB battle” between Geno Smith and RG3. The NYC tabloids could not wish for a better situation….

Finally, amidst reports that NBA free agent, Nate Robinson, is considering trying to switch to the NFL, here are two comments from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald:

“NBA free agent Nate Robinson wants to try out for the NFL. Evidently, he’s never seen video of Michael Jordan swinging a baseball bat.”

And …

“The NBA’s Nate Robinson is toying with trying out for the NFL. You know the major difference between the NBA and NFL? You’re more likely to be called for traveling in the NFL.”

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

Being In The Right Place At The Right Time…

Jerry Jones is a hugely successful businessman and marketer; he has made the Dallas Cowboys into a money generator. Anyone who doubts his business acumen is either jealous or stupid. Jerry Jones has previously demonstrated that all of that business acumen does not necessarily translate into the sort of smarts that it takes to be a successful GM in the NFL. In the last 20 years with Jones being the Cowboys roster builder, the team has been in the playoffs 6 times and has won 2 Wild Card games. That’s it…

Jerry Jones recently took a position that – taken literally – would put him in the company of those folks who continue to believe that Copernicus and Galileo were wrong and that the Earth is at the center of the universe. Basically, what he said is that there is no established link between playing football and incurring CTE. Had he not said it with such certainty and bombast, I would give him the benefit of the doubt and say that his remarks were “nuanced” in the sense that there is no widely agreed upon mechanism with regard to how a single blow to the head results in CTE or how individual blows to the head have an additive effect on the brain such that CTE is the result. Indeed, more research needs to be done to get to that state of understanding. Nonetheless, to say there is no link between CTE and football is more than a bit “retro”. Here is a part of Jones’ commentary;

“We don’t have that knowledge and background and scientifically, so there’s no way in the world to say you have a relationship relative to anything here. There’s no research. There’s no data . . . there’s no data that in any way creates a knowledge [of such a relationship]. There’s no way that you could have made a comment that there is an association and some type of assertion. In most things, you have to back it up by studies. And in this particular case, we all know how medicine is. Medicine is evolving. I grew up being told that aspirin was not good. I’m told that one a day is good for you.”

Speaking of Jerry Jones as GM of the Cowboys, I do think that the team made a good move signing free agent RB, Alfred Morris, earlier this week. Morris has been in the NFL 4 seasons and went over 1000 yards in the first 3. Last year, the Skins decided to split the RB duties between Morris and rookie, Matt Jones; playing a little more than half the time, Morris managed to gain 750 yards. The Cowboys need depth at the RB position; Darren McFadden is not likely to carry the ball 20 – 25 times a game for 16 games.

And speaking of free agent signings, the Eagles signed QB, Chase Daniel, to a 3-year deal worth $21M with $12M guaranteed. Nominally, his job is to be the backup QB to Sam Bradford and the biggest credential he brings to the table is that he “knows the system” since he had been with Coach Doug Pederson in KC for the last 3 years. Familiarity with the system is definitely a plus but so is on-field performance. So, let me summarize Chase Daniel’s on-field performance here relative to a 3-year contract with $12M guaranteed…

    Daniel came into the NFL in 2010; he spent 3 years in New Orleans and then 3 years in KC. He has started 2 games in six seasons; his record as a starter is 1-1.

    In six seasons he has thrown 77 passes and completed 50 of them – almost a 65% completion mark which is not bad at all. He has thrown 1 TD and 1 INT in six years. Ho-hum…

    In 2015, Daniel had an interesting stat line. He threw 2 passes and completed both of them. The total yardage gained was 4 yards. By itself, that is not very impressive but it is even stranger when you notice that his longest completion was for 6 yards. One need not be an expert in advanced mathematics to figure out what happened on the completion that was not the “long gain for the season”.

Let me insert here one other “intangible” that Chase Daniel brings to the Eagles’ roster. His name is a complete sentence. Not too many other backup QBs can make that claim…

If reports about his contract with the Chiefs for the last 3 years are accurate, Chase Daniel made approximately $9M in those 3 seasons. Now he is guaranteed to make $12M more and possibly $21M more. Chase Daniel is an example of how one can succeed in a career by doing two things:

    1. Be in the right place at the right time: NFL coaches now recognize the need for competent backup QBs on their rosters so this is the time to be a free agent career backup QB.

    2. Do not be a pain-in-the-ass: Doug Pederson worked with chase Daniel for 3 seasons; if Daniel was a high-maintenance jerk, there is no way Pederson would bring him to Philly with him.

Now to bring the discussion full-circle, consider please that Cowboys’ GM, Jerry Jones, should also be concerned with the backup QB slot on his Cowboys team. Tony Romo will be 36 years old next month; he broke his collarbone twice last season; he has had spinal injuries in the past; he played in only 4 games last season. On the roster at the moment, the Cowboys show Romo as the starting QB – as he should be – with Kellen Moore and Jameill Showers as the backups. Lest I leave you with the impression that Chase Daniel’s on-field accomplishments are a bit thin, consider Moore and Showers:

    Kellen Moore has been in the NFL 4 seasons. He appeared in 3 games and started 2 of them – losing both. For his career, he is 61 for 104 passing with 4 TDs and 6 INTs.

    Jameill Showers has yet to see the field in an NFL game.

I am not suggesting that Jerry Jones go out and spend big time money on a backup QB, but it sure appears as if the Cowboys are thin at that position. Remember what happened to the Cowboys last year with Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassell as their starters…

Finally, since I mentioned the Cowboys’ signing a running back above, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding a former Cowboys’ RB:

“Former Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle has been arrested for the sixth time in 17 months. That ties the record held by Otis on ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’”

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

Not The “Parent Of The Year” …

I do not expect to win any votes in the “2016 Parent of the Year Contest” with this remark:

    I have heard more than I want to hear about Drake LaRoche. The next thing I want to hear about him is that he graduated from high school as the class valedictorian and is weighing his options with regard to college or the MLB draft. Until then, can everyone please stop.

My tipping point came this morning when I read a column in the Washington Post by someone who can turn any report of any incident into a “women’s issue”. She spent about 800 words today saying that a woman could not get away with taking her daughter to her job every day the way Adam LaRoche evidently did and wanted to continue to do. Puh-leeez..!

I will not be the least bit surprised to hear this subject brought up in a future “debate” among Presidential candidates. Do not tell me it cannot happen; in the past, one of the “interrogators” asked about fantasy football.

This entire kerfuffle has nothing to do with “rights” nor does it have anything to do with the typical workplace except in the following sense:

    Each employer sets rules with regard to what will and what will not be allowed in the workplace the employer establishes. The limits on those rules are set to assure than no one’s fundamental rights are violated.

    If there is a “right” to have one’s child present in the workplace whenever the parent wishes to have said child there, I missed that phraseology in Article Whatever of the US Constitution.

Enough already… Adam LaRoche had a choice. He could play for the Chicago White Sox and earn a reported $13M this year but he would not be allowed to have his son, Drake, in the clubhouse whenever it was convenient for the LaRoche family. He chose not to play for the team because of the limitations placed on his son’s access to the clubhouse. He made his choice which is what adults do in situations such as this. So, leave it alone.

I have said more than a few times that coverage of Spring Training is generally a wasteland where there are not enough news events to justify six weeks of coverage of 30 MLB teams. In my opinion, the “Drake LaRoche Saga” is one more piece of evidence to support my assertions.

Yesterday, I mentioned that Drew Rosenhaus was the new agent for Johnny Manziel. Well, in typical agent fashion, Rosenhaus let it be known that there are teams (in the plural) who are interested in signing Manziel but he will not be elaborating on that just yet because the rest of Manziel’s life is so public that Rosenhaus wants to handle these negotiations in private. Sounds good – – except if you want to keep it all private, why did you drop that little tidbit in the first place?

I suspect that Manziel will indeed get another chance with an NFL team other than the Browns. He showed ability in college and talent trumps just about anything else in the NFL world. I also suspect that teams will be very reticent to sign him absent some actions on Manziel’s part to demonstrate that he has a degree of commitment to sobriety and to learning the craft of being an NFL QB. And therein lies an interesting contradiction:

    Anyone’s commitment to sobriety is a personal and private matter; that is why they call it “Alcoholics Anonymous”. If Johnny Manziel has made/is making/ever makes a commitment to sobriety, that should not be something that makes headlines nor should it be something posted online at one of the “Gotcha Websites”.

    Unfortunately for him, Johnny Manziel’s behaviors in the past related to a seeming lack of commitment to sobriety have been so public and so self-destructive that any change in that behavior will raise questions that go directly to any real or imagined commitment to sobriety.

I will not pretend to bring any expertise to the party here with regard to what sort of help Manziel may need to change the perception that fans and NFL coaches/execs have of him. I do believe that to change those perceptions, he will need to change at least some of his behaviors meaning that if he has a future as an NFL QB, he will have to find a way to alter his lifestyle. And that could bring us to the famous chicken/egg conundrum:

    Might a team sign Manziel with contract incentives tied to behavior changes prior to his participating in some kind of commitment to sobriety?

    Might a team demand that he makes such a commitment, seek help in finding ways to implement that commitment and then sign him to an incentive laden contract?

I believe that NFL agents get a 3% fee from their clients for the contracts negotiated and various services associated with that representation. If that is the case, I think that Drew Rosenhaus will earn every last penny of his fee in this matter.

Finally, this comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot explains clearly the difference between “following the letter of the law” and “following the spirit of the law”. It really needs no further explanation:

“Officiousness: Wednesday night’s game between the Celtics and Grizzlies was held up for about a minute as officials went to the scorer’s table with 1.5 seconds left to look at a replay before adding 1/10th of a second to the clock. Why mention this? Because the Celts were leading by 20 points.”

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

Just A Bunch Of Stuff Today…

Well, I survived the orgy of 48 Tournament games in 4 days. Now, all I have to do is to re-introduce myself to my long-suffering wife who may or may not have been here for most of the past 4 days. I have a spotting to report. I was almost certain this “species” had gone extinct but on Friday it showed up and proved that it does indeed live in the dark shadows of the basketball world:

    In the VCU/Oregon St. game, I saw the officials call a 3-second violation. Seriously. My jaw dropped when I saw the official give the “lane-violation signal”.

    Later on the same day in the Texas/Northern Iowa game, there were two 3-second violations called on back to back possessions.

    I felt the way Dr. Frankenstein may have felt; I wanted to scream out, “It is alive! The 3-second violation is alive!”

Who knows? If indeed the 3-second violation percolated to the front of the minds of the game officials, perhaps we might have a sighting of a palming the ball violation sometime before this Tournament is over.

There were plenty of exciting moments over the weekend, but from here in Curmudgeon Central I feel obligated to mention the unquestionably ugliest game of the Tournament so far. The final score was Wisconsin 47 and Pitt 43. Would that I could say this was a battle between defensive titans. Actually, it was a combination of good-but-not-great defense and impossibly inept offense. Nigel Hayes is a good player for Wisconsin; he shot 3-17 from the floor. James Robinson is a good player for Pitt; he shot 3-15 from the floor. Truly an UGLY game…

After Yale beat Baylor to give the Elis their first Tournament win ever, Brad Dickson had this observation in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Yale outrebounded Baylor. So the flubber worked.”

The folks who run the PAC-12 schools have taken a step in a positive direction for collegiate athletics. They just passed a PAC-12 rule that will ban from any athletic team a transfer student who is ineligible to be re-admitted to the college from which he transferred for reasons of “misconduct”. What this means is that athletes who are dismissed from one school for reasons of anti-social behaviors will not be going to PAC-12 schools to continue their athletic careers. One of the enforcement mechanisms for that rule will be that such students are ineligible for athletic scholarships from PAC-12 schools. Here are more details on this new rule.

This is not a panacea for all that ails college (revenue) sports but it sure is a step in the right direction. So, that leads me to ask:

    How come the overlords at the NCAA in Indianapolis did not think of this?

    Just what is it that those folks do for a living?

Based on reports from last week, we have the potential for some juicy news tidbits over the next several months. You may recall that when Johnny Manziel was detained on charges related to domestic violence about 6 weeks ago, his agent dumped him. Now the Browns have also dumped him meaning that Manziel needs an agent to get him a contract with another team – particularly if he hopes to maintain his free-wheeling lifestyle. In what would seem to be a marriage made in Heaven for commentators, “Johnny Highball” – his new identity now that “Johnny Football” is off the table for the moment – has signed on with Drew Rosenhaus.

To be sure, not each of the 100 or so Rosenhaus clients is a “problem-child” but consider that Manziel will be joining these other players who may or may not have “issues”:

    Dez Bryant (current)
    Plaxico Burress (previous)
    Josh Gordon (current)
    Greg Hard (current)
    Chad Ochocinco (previous)
    Terrell Owens (previous)
    Warren Sapp (previous)
    Donte Stallworth (previous)

Greg Cote had this item in the Miami Herald over the weekend. I think it brings you up to date on a news story regarding the NFL from last week:

“Boca Raton hosts league meetings: A league executive, Jeff Miller, became first NFL official to acknowledge a direct link between football-related head trauma and brain disease. Meanwhile the NFL owners’ meetings are today through Wednesday in Boca.

Haven’t seen the complete agenda but I understand the main order of business is a resolution to make Jeff Miller shut up.”

Recently, Scott Ostler had a column in the SF Chronicle about the upcoming Rio Olympics and the lack of outrage over what has gone on there with regard to lack of preparation for the Games and with regard to the use of rather scarce public funds to make the Games look good on TV while averting eyes from the lack of infrastructure in Rio and in much of Brazil. As is almost always the case with Scott Ostler’s columns, this is something I suggest that you read in its entirety. You can find it here.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times saw a nexus between a political issue here in the DC area and the NFL:

“Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have proposed a plan to pay people not to commit crimes.

“’Good luck with that,’ said 32 NFL owners in unison.

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

Notes From Yesterday’s Games…

Here are some impressions/comments jotted down as I watched yesterday’s tournament games:

    UNC-Wilmington C, CJ Gettys went to same high school as Ben Roethlisberger. After seeing Ben for all these years, it is hard to imagine that he is not nearly the biggest guy to come out of that high school but Gettys is 6 inches taller and probably 30 pounds heavier.

    Duke’s defense was lethargic in the first half. They started the second half with animated defense and turned a 3-point deficit at halftime into a 10-point lead in about 6 minutes.

    Colorado/UConn was a sloppy game on offense and defense. Colorado C, Josh Scott is a big man with decent mobility and a very good interior passer.

    Butler/Texas Tech were not the best teams to play in the early time slot by a wide margin, but it was the best game to watch among those first four games.

    Iowa State is unimpressive but dominated Iona. Draw your own conclusions from that. Iona plays “AAU basketball” which is fine until you have to play someone who has a modicum of “team basketball skills”.

    Virginia simply outclassed Hampton. Same goes for Kansas and Austin Peay. Indiana looked like it was a scrimmage against Tennessee-Chattanooga. Once Kentucky decided to break a sweat, it was all over for Stony Brook.

    Yale/Baylor was a great game because it was a close game. Questions:

      Does Yale coach, James Jones ever smile? Does he ever get upset? Do you think his blood pressure ever goes above 105/60?

    When Arkansas-Little Rock finally beat Purdue in double-OT, that was the second #12-seed to win yesterday.

    Buffalo kept it close, but Miami was the better team.

    Wichita St. just kept grinding out plays to beat Arizona. The Shockers are tenacious on defense.

    Had only seen Utah once before yesterday and I was impressed. They toyed with Fresno State.

    Providence/USC was a great game. What more do you want than a game that goes down to the final 2 seconds before it is decided by one point with a layup?

    Gonzaga looked awfully good for an #11-seed. Domantas Sabonis – the son of Arvydas Sabonis proving that genetics works – was Dominant Sabonis here.

I have a few other notes from yesterday that do not speak directly to the games themselves. Yes, I did find a few “Bad Ads” that will receive mention in the annual “Bad Ads” compendium come December. In addition, here is one other observation from yesterday:

    We saw shots of players arriving at the arena wearing headphones. We saw shots of teams that were scheduled to play in the second game of a double header sitting in the stands watching part of the first game wearing headphones.

    Then it dawned on me… These student-athletes were listening to recorded lectures in Advanced Physical Chemistry or Macroeconomics in preparation for their mid-term exams back at school next Tuesday.

In women’s college basketball, there is a sordid mess ongoing in Florida. I will present here a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald that will likely give you more than you want to know about this:

“FIU: Panthers fire women’s basketball coach Marlin Chin. Let’s see here. An NCAA violation. Allegation of sexual misconduct with a player. And a 5-26 record. That would pretty much be the trifecta of how to get fired.”

Moving on to another topic, team sponsorships and promotional linkages do not always make sense to me. I plead ignorance when it comes to any sort of expertise or gut-feeling when it comes to marketing/promotional “stuff”. Having said that, this next one is unusual even for the world of marketing.

There is a German soccer club playing in the second level of the Bundesliga called Sportverein Sandhausen 1916 e.V. That is a mouthful even in Germany, so the team is simply referred to as Sandhausen and they have just entered into a sponsorship agreement with an enterprise in the nearby town of Heidelberg. The enterprise is Bienenstock Eros Center; you guessed it, it is a bordello.

Oh, but it is not just any run-of-the-mill cathouse… According to the Sandhausen folks, Bienenstock Eros Center is an “eco-brothel”. The building is a passive energy-conserving structure; smoking is forbidden in the brothel. A team representative stated definitively that players for Sandhausen would not receive discounts as a result of this sponsorship arrangement. He did not mention if that same discount ban applied to referees for Sandhausen home games…

Finally, here is another item from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“More than 24,000 runners were registered for Sunday’s Miami Marathon and Half Marathon won by Moroccan Benazzouz Slimani and New York’s Allison Kieffer. One entrant Larry Macon, 71, of San Antonio, competed in his 1,606th marathon. That’s 42,077 miles in a lifetime of running. Big deal. My car already has more than 7,000 miles and I’ve only had it six months.”

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