Tone Deafness…

One of the major stories from last week involved the cheerleaders for the Washington Skins.  According to several former cheerleaders as reported in the New York Times, there was a trip to Costa Rica in 2012 where the team invited some of its big-spending suite purchasers and other sponsors to come along as the cheerleaders were there to do a photoshoot for a calendar.  At least some of the posed shots were topless; at least one allegedly involved only body paint for clothing; the assertion is that the big-spenders and the sponsors – – all males – – were invited to look on and watch those proceedings.  Then there were social events in the evenings and the cheerleaders were asked to accompany/escort the men to those events although all agree that there was no sexual angle to any of this.

Obviously, there are counter-stories from others on this trip – – including the cheerleaders’ leader back then.  However, the official statement(s) from the team were unabashedly tone deaf – as if one could expect anything else from the folks who run that team.

  • They started out on the right foot.  Team President, Bruce Allen, said that they were doing a full investigation.  However, he could not stop there; he had to add that, “We’ve heard very different first-hand accounts that directly contradict many of the details of the May 2 article [in the New York Times.”   Even if you have heard such things, why not keep your mouth shut until you are finished with your full investigation that you said was ongoing?
  • The momentum today is clearly in favor of women speaking out about prior incidences where they were harassed – or worse – in the workplace.  How could the Skins’ communication folks not recognize that this was not the time to cast aspersions on the credibility of these team employees without an investigation?
  • For the record, Bruce Allen is the president of an NFL franchise only because he is the son of a former great coach in the NFL.  Basically, he won the sperm lottery
  • Given the “difficulties” that the NFL has had with cheerleaders for various other teams, the league needed this pimple to burst like New Orleans needs a return visit from Katrina.

I await the results of the “full investigation” that Bruce Allen asserted was ongoing.  I will be interested to see how “thorough” it is made to appear to be.  I will withhold comments until then.  However, you should read the column written by Jerry Brewer in the Washington Post last week as this story broke.  Here is the link; you should read it in its entirety.

I have said for years that the NFL Combine is the most over-hyped part of the NFL year.  I still cannot understand why anyone would watch this on TV as a bunch of players go though close-to-meaningless drills that are timed and measured.  Even worse, there are people who pay good money to sit and watch this stuff; it is less interesting than a track meet because at a track meet all the events actually involve real competition with winners and losers.

The point about over-hype was driven home to me when I read a report over the weekend saying that the NFL invited 334 players to participate in this year’s Combine.  There are 7 rounds and 32 teams, so there are only 224 picks to be made in the draft; when you throw in some compensatory picks and you wind up with 256 selections in this year’s draft.  So, even if every player taken this year had been one of the Combine invitees, there would have been 78 players on the outside looking in.  However, there were 117 Combine attendees who never “got the call” from an NFL team over the 3 days of the Draft.

That means that 35% of the guys that the league thought highly enough of to offer an invitation were of no interest to any of the teams in the league.  Even the so called “insiders” and “professionals” are not in the know on this kind of stuff.  Keep this in mind next year when you are tempted to tune in to see how high an offensive lineman can jump…

Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot about the TV coverage of the Kentucky Derby:

“TV Timeout:  Because it is unavoidable, NBC’s five hours of Kentucky Derby coverage will again include fawning tableaus of the horsey set’s one-percenters.  That and also stupid hats.  You know, the stuff with which the masses can easily identify.”

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



Can The Kickoff Be Saved?

The NFL Competition Committee has been at work trying to make kickoffs safer in NFL games.  There are myriad aspects to their suggested changes in what sort of blocking will be permissible and how formations for the kicking team will be regulated.  You can find descriptions of the proposed changes in this report by Mark Maske in the Washington Post.  It seems as if the Competition Committee recognizes that kickoffs are problematic regarding “player safety” but the Committee wants to try to legislate ways to keep kickoffs in the game.

There was a recent study cited by ESPN which concluded that kickoffs in the NFL were 5 times more dangerous to players in terms of concussions.  Moreover, the study also found that many of the concussions incurred on kickoffs that went out of the end zone or on kickoffs that were not returned by the receiving team.  If that is factual, that means that the collisions that create concussions happen even on plays that are seemingly benign because there is no runback.

[Aside:  I have not reviewed the study in question here or its methodology or its “counting rules”; therefore, I am in no position to comment on the confidence one should put in the results.  Nevertheless, it is indeed logical for a football fan to conclude that kickoffs create more violent collisions that most other plays and that those plays might be somewhat more dangerous to participating players.]

I will say that if indeed the probability of a concussion goes up 500% for every kickoff in a game, then there is at least sufficient reason to consider the possibility of removing the kickoff from the game.  I am not suggesting a move that will begin an inexorable march toward the “sissification” of pro football; this is not something that will lead to an inevitable situation where football players take the field wearing tutus.  Thinking about the possibility that football might continue to exist without the kickoff as part of the ritual may be the common-sense thing to do.

Presumably, the NFL kickoff rule(s) will change this year – along with the “what is a catch rule” – and we will see if the changes make an innately violent game just a tad safer.  I suspect that it will not take long for special teams’ coaches to figure out ways to get around these rule changes in order to try to pin opponents back in their territory on kickoff plays.  When they do that, big kickoff collisions will be back even if these rule changes make them drop on a temporary basis.

Thanks to, we are aware of a very strange story involving a high school superintendent in New Jersey.  Here is the first paragraph of that report:

“A high school superintendent in New Jersey is in deep doo-doo after being caught pooping on another high school’s football field. This wasn’t a one-time occurrence, either.”

Here is link to that story where you can read all of the gory details.  I think the best part of the saga is that the pooping perpetrator has been charged with “lewdness” and “littering”.  I guess the “littering” charge is there because the area does not have an “anti-dumping” ordinance…

Over in England, Arsene Wenger has been the coach/manager of Arsenal in the English Premiere League for more than 20 years now.  However, he will be replaced at the end of this season; Arsenal has 3 games remaining in the 2018 season.  The Gunners are in 6th place in the 20-team English Premier League and have only a mathematical chance to advance and finish in 5th place for the season.  Notwithstanding that place in the EPL Table, Arsene Wenger has been an icon in EPL football for the last two decades.

Wenger is one of the coaches who took over for a “legendary figure” at Arsenal and managed to succeed and hang around for a while – 22 years to be more precise.  Feelings and loyalties regarding EPL teams are even more intense than similar circumstances for teams here in the States.  Arsenal’s rivals did not take kindly to Wenger due to his success and his candor regarding opposing players or managers.  Nevertheless, his was a successful time at the helm for Arsenal and his successor will have large shoes to fill.  As of today, his record at Arsenal is 705 wins, 280 draws and 247 losses.  Even counting draws as unacceptable as losses, his winning percentage at Arsenal is .572.  Arsene Wenger is retiring at the age of 68.

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

“All 22 ESPN experts predicted that Portland would beat New Orleans in their NBA playoff series – only to have the Pelicans sweep the Blazers in four.

“Even Brandon Belt’s 21-pitch at-bat didn’t produce that many foul tips.”

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



Kentucky Derby Talk

This Saturday, two cultural events collide.  It is the first Saturday in May and that means it will be the day that they will run the Kentucky Derby.  It is also May 5th and that means that there will be Cinco de Mayo celebrations everywhere.  And before anyone dares to ask, that calendar confluence does NOT mean that you can make mint juleps with Dos Equis beer in place of good bourbon.  I assume that readers here are all adults and so I will not get into any moralizing about how one must consume alcohol responsibly at a Cinco de Mayo celebration.  I take it as axiomatic that adults reading these rants know about such admonishments.

However, these are sports-related rants and so I will take a moment here to pass along some advice regarding the Kentucky Derby.  I am doing this 3 days in advance of the race so that anyone interested in serious handicapping will have some time to make that happen.

Here is what we know about the Derby on Saturday.  It will be a mile-and-a-quarter race for 3-year olds and there will almost assuredly be 20 horses in the starting gates.  There is an Also Eligible named for the field just in case one of the currently entered horses succumbs to an early scratch.  Handicapping a 20-horse field is a royal pain in the posterior and so I will try here to give racegoers and race bettors a head start.

I have divided the 20-horse field into 3 categories.  Here in Category 1 are the horses that I do not think have a chance to win the race on Saturday.  I say this knowing that the Derby has produced more than its share of longshot winners; these horses just do not seem to measure up to several other entries and so I would throw them out and not waste any more time looking for arcane clues in their past performances.  Here they are in alphabetical order:

  • Blended Citizen  Morning Line = 50-1 (He is the “Also Eligible” horse)
  • Enticed  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Firenze Fire  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Flameaway  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Hofburg  Morning Line = 20-1
  • Instilled Regard  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Lone Sailor  Morning Line = 50-1
  • My Boy Jack  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Noble indy  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Promises Fulfilled  Morning Line = 30-1

That cuts the field in half meaning you need to focus your handicapping energy and reasoning on only half of the field.  But I’ll make it even simpler.  Here are 4 horses in Category 2 who are better than the 10 listed above but who do not give me much confidence that they can win the race.  Maybe they can finish in the money; maybe they can fill out a Superfecta; maybe they will run “up the track”.  In any event, here are my Category 2 horses – – ones that I cannot throw out but ones that I do not particularly like:

  • Bravazo  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Combatant  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Free Drop Billy  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Mendelssohn  Morning Line = 5-1

To my mind, if you have subtracted these horses from consideration in the winners’ circle, that should leave you with 7 contenders.  That is a manageable number of horses to deal with in terms of serious handicapping.  Here are my Category 3 horses – the serious contenders to win the 2018 Kentucky Derby:

  1. Audible  Morning Line = 8-1
  2. Bolt d’Oro  Morning Line = 8-1
  3. Good Magic  Morning Line = 12-1
  4. Justify  Morning Line = 3-1  (Likely the race favorite at about 8-5)
  5. Magnum Moon  Morning Line = 6-1
  6. Solomini  Morning Line = 30-1
  7. Vin Rosso  Morning Line = 12-1

Just for the halibut, here is my superfecta box for the race.  At the $1 level, it risks $24.  The horses in the box are Free Drop Billy, Justify, Magnum Moon and Solomini.  Whatever…

The 2019 MLB schedule is still very much up in the air – – except for one fact that has been nailed down.  The Oakland A’s will open “at home” against the Seattle Mariners but the game will be played in Tokyo.  That will give the A’s the attendance equivalent of two “home openers” – – the one in Tokyo and then the one in Oakland.  Given the A’s attendance woes over the past several years, having two “Home openers” cannot possibly hurt.

Finally, here are two comments from Brad Dickson – formerly with the Omaha World-Herald – on the importance of spring football in Nebraska:

“In the rest of the world the big story is Kim Jong Un saying he’s gonna disable his nuclear weapons. In Nebraska, however, the big story is a third team linebacker being moved to second team for today’s spring game.”

And …

“In Lincoln Saturday Earth Day will be observed by releasing 80,000 environmentally damaging red balloons into the air after someone scores a touchdown at a football game that doesn’t count.”

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



Baseball And Stats Today…

A recent column by Joel Sherman in the NY Post contained some interesting baseball stats.

  • In April 2018, MLB had its first month ever where there were more strikeouts in all the games (7,335) than there were base hits in all the games (6,992).
  • The collective MLB batting average for April 2018 was .244 and Sherman points out that this is the lowest since 1972 – the year before the American League introduced the designated hitter.
  • For April 2018, walks per game and hit batters per game are also at historically high levels.

From this data, Sherman summarizes:

“April concluded with 35.6 percent of plays ending in a strikeout, walk, homer or hit by pitch — hence, not in the field of play creating consistent action.”

Now, one could look at that data and that conclusion and say that the lack of “consistent action” is the reason that baseball is a game that attracts a significantly older clientele.  I have a problem with that logic on two fronts:

  1. If “consistent action” was the sine qua non for widespread fandom among millennials, then the NHL should be leading the pack in terms of sports interest in the US – – and it is not.
  2. Baseball is a game of action – – and it is a game of strategy and tactics.  The four “outcomes” noted by Joel Sherman above – strikeout, walk, homer or hit by pitch – all create new strategic and tactical challenges for both the offense and the defense.  Excitement comes to baseball games in many different flavors; when the ball is hit into the field of play, that creates excitement; those other outcomes from an at-bat can also produce baseball excitement.

This was an interesting column from Joel Sherman who is a well known and highly respected writer on baseball.  Here is a link to this column.  I suggest you may want to read it in its entirety.

The winter of 2017/2018 was a disappointing one for many MLB free agents; that state of affairs was widely reported as Spring Training began with lots of hopeful free agents left hanging out to dry.  Some folks even used the “C-Word” in hushed tones; you know … collusion.

I would like to point out here how three different teams are currently suffering under stifling guaranteed contracts that they doled out to free agents who were deep enough into their careers at the time of the signing to assure that there would be bleak times ahead for the teams and the players:

  1. Chicago Cubs:   They signed Jason Heyward in 2016 to an 8-year contract worth $184M.  He will make $21.5M this year and then another $106M in the years up to the end of the 2023 season.  Heyward has been a .261/.344/.412 hitter over his 8+ years in MLB and that is hardly an eye-popping stat line.  In his first two years in Chicago, he did not even live up to that career standard.  I guess Cubs’ fans can take solace that he is still a really good defensive outfielder and they can hope that aspect of his game continues to obtain through 2023.
  2. Detroit Tigers:  They signed Miguel Cabrera in 2016 as the Cubs did with Jason Heyward.  Cabrera’s deal is also for 8 years through 2023 and it was for a whopping $248M with options in 2024 and 2025.  Cabrera will make $30M this year; he will make $31M from 2019 through 2021; then, he will make $32M in 2022 and 2023.  And if the Tigers want to drop him in 2024, it will cost them an additional $8M to do that.  Last year, Cabrera hit .249 which was his worst year at the plate in his 15-year MLB career.  He is 35 years old now and will be closing in on 41 years old when the Tigers buy out the 2024 season for $8M.
  3. LA Angels:  They signed Albert Pujols in 2012 to a 10-year contract worth $240M.  Pujols makes $27M this year and will make $28M next year, $29 M the year after that and $30M in the 2020 season.  In addition, he will collect a $3M bonus sometime this year when he collects his 3000th MLB hit.  It will take a catastrophic event to prevent him from reaching that milestone this year since he had 2996 hits as of May 1st.  In 2 of the last 3 full seasons, Pujols has hit less than .250; in half of his 6 full seasons with the Angels, he has hit fewer than 30 home runs for the year.

Every dime of those three contracts – and every other MLB contract signed – is fully guaranteed and in these three cases it is fair to say that the players have not been living up to the lofty expectations the clubs had for them as the ink was drying on the contract.  That is not a reason to eschew signing free agents; it is a reason for the clubs to think twice about how long a deal – and how much guaranteed money – they will offer to a player who is near the age of 30 at the time of the free agency

Finally, here are some random observations from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“Scientists studying the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is four times the size of California, were surprised to find it contains three Trump hotels.

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is larger than France, but the Patch’s wine region can’t carry France’s wine region’s Jacques.”

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



What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I am not going to pretend to know with any degree of certainty greater than homeopathic concentration levels about the future successes/failures of QBs taken in the 2018 NFL Draft.  Nonetheless:

  • How do you think Tyrod Taylor feels today having signed a free agent deal with the Browns only to see the Browns spend the overall #1 pick on Baker Mayfield?
  • Similarly, how do you think Sam Bradford feels today having signed a free agent deal with the Cards only to see the Cards trade up to acquire Josh Rosen?

Notwithstanding any and all of the stress and agita that might arouse from such draft circumstances, there may indeed be more pressure on the incumbent QB in Baltimore than there is elsewhere among established starting QBs.  Joe Flacco is the starter for the Ravens; that is a fact and that is not going to change over the next several months so long as Flacco is not involved in a traffic incident that leaves him as a multiple amputee.  Ravens’ fans can take opposing positions on the “question” posed above; but I think that question is settled and unworthy of appeal.  Here is what the Ravens and Joe Flacco have to look forward to in training camp the year:

  • Recall that the Ravens signed RG3 to an incentive laden contract merely 2 weeks ago.  RG3 can run; no one can dispute that statement.
  • In the first round of the draft, the Ravens traded up to take Lamar Jackson.  That means they have two “running QBs” on the team behind Joe Flacco who is more mobile than an elm tree – – but not much more.

Forget any “training cam controversies”.  The Ravens are set up to create shouting matches among their own fanbase after every loss and maybe after some of their wins too.  It should be “fun and games” in Crabtown…

With the Draft in the rearview mirror, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have posted the futures bets for the 2018 season.  According to them, 19 of the 32 NFL teams will win 8 or more games this year. That can happen of course, but it requires a few teams to win a lot less than 8 games and the oddsmakers do not have any teams lower than 5 wins for the season.

Fear not; the oddsmakers have not lost their minds.  Remember, they are not posting numbers that necessarily reflect reality; they are posting odds that – hopefully from their point of view – will balance their books.  Fans of teams tend to be overly optimistic at this point of the season; and so, the sportsbooks taking futures bets want the win totals for 2018 to reflect that optimism.

The person who I refer to as the “Chief Logistics Officer” for our annual Las Vegas sojourn thinks it might be a winning strategy to bet all 32 teams UNDER their posted win totals at this point of the year.  Here is the link to those totals.  I will check this out and report back in December.

Switching to baseball, I realize that the season is only one month old.  Nevertheless, the Miami Marlins do not have the worst record in MLB at this point of the season despite their team-gutting activities over the winter.  In fact, at the start of May, there are 5 teams that would fall below the Marlins if MLB had a single ranking of teams.

  • Marlins  10-18  Win percentage = .357
  • Padres  10-20  Win percentage = .333
  • White Sox  8-18  Win percentage = .308
  • Orioles  8-20  Win percentage = .286
  • Royals  7-21  Win percentage = .250
  • Reds  7-22  Win percentage = .241

Is this the start of a “grand race to the bottom”?  Or, are there really 6 teams in MLB that are fielding the moral equivalent of a AAA team for the year in hopes of getting the first pick in the MLB Draft next year?

The Marlins project today to win 58 games; that means they will lose more than 100 games.  By projection, 6 teams in MLB will lose more than 100 games this year; even worse, the Reds project to win only 39 games for the season meaning they would lose 123 games – – clearly a modern record for failure.

Finally, here is a comment from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, describing a truly frightening scenario:

“I  woke up in a dead sweat the other night from a dream in which I was the sideline reporter at a pantomime competition.”

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