Great Minds – – – And All That Stuff

Today I ran across a blog item by Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World-Herald.  In the piece, he decides which activites are “Real Sports” and which ones are “Not Real Sports“.  You can read it here; it is worth your time and effort.

Back in 2001, I took a shot at something similar writing about what activities were sports and what participants were athletes.    You can read – or reread if you have been around here that long – my take on this subject here.

What Is A Sport – Who Is An Athlete?

If this were a high school English class, you would have to “Compare and Contrast”.  Fortunately for all of us, this is not a high school English class…

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



Beware The Ides Of March…

The Ides of March are upon us.  Julius Caesar departed this world on this date 2063 years ago.  Seems like only yesterday…

Speaking of yesterday, I mentioned the competitive imbalance in MLB and there were some comments offered by readers on that topic.  In addition, I got an email from a reader who chose to give me his idea in that channel; the idea there is sufficiently innovative that I want to present it here so everyone can see it:

“My idea for mixing things up is to align the divisions by pay roll.  So, if for example the five highest salaried rosters in 2018 were the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and Angels, that’s your top division for 2019. Playoffs would involve divisions 1, 3 and 5 in one half, 2, 4 and 6 in the other.  And no division would get more than two teams into the playoffs.  Adjust the schedules accordingly, with some deference to rivalries like Dodgers/Giants, Cardinals/Cubs.

“While it’s likely one of the top salaried teams would make it to the world series, that’s no different from the way things are now.  And it’s arguably better.  The way things are now Dodgers v. Sox or Yankees a definite possibility, almost every year.  And the wild card single game elimination would be wide open.  Consider that in 2018 the Phillies were for sure in the bottom tier.  Tampa Bay may have been there too.  But in a single elimination game either one would have had a real shot with Aaron Nola or Blake Snell pitching.

“And if baseball really wanted to go off the deep end, there could be an automatic move between divisions like in soccer. Finish first in division 2, move up to division 1.  Finish last in division 1, drop down to division 2.  But while in any one year there may be a few teams who recognize going in they have no shot at the postseason, at least there won’t be a dozen like the past few years.”

Any baseball purist who finished reading those 3 paragraphs probably needs the paddles of a defibrillator across his chest about now.  I think these ideas have merit and could be an interesting way to introduce novelty to the MLB regular season.

Over in the world of college football, recall that Kansas fired head coach David Beatty in mid-season last year but allowed him to finish the season on the sidelines coaching the team.  His contract called for him to receive a $3M buyout unless his firing was “for cause”.  At the time the AD said that the reason for the firing was lack of success on the field, so Beatty expected his $3M.  That is where the story gets dicey; Beatty just filed a lawsuit against Kansas seeking his $3M payment.

  • Kansas officials say that in the process of exit interviews with assistant coaches and staff, they learned about some potential NCAA violations committed by the team on Beatty’s watch and they did some investigating and then contacted the NCAA.  Kansas says they have put the $3M in escrow awaiting the outcome of the investigation and any NCAA action.  [Aside:  If payment is pending an NCAA decision, that could mean the money will still be in escrow when David Beatty’s great-granddaughter starts collecting social Security.]
  • Beatty’s suit claims that Kansas is merely looking for any way possible to avoid making the payment.  Thu suit says that Kansas is looking for “something” to hang around his neck – – such as “a dead hooker in [his] closet”.
  • This one might get interesting…

And speaking of hookers, I read a report about a week ago – – and did not record where I found it so I cannot cite it here – – that Robert Kraft’s arrest for solicitation of prostitution should not have any effect on his eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  The argument there was that the bylaws that direct the Hall of Fame voters thinking and consideration specifically say that the voters should ignore any off-the-field stuff – either positive or negative.  [Since I have never been part of the nomination/election processes here, I take that statement to be factual; I have no experience to confirm it or deny it.]

Here is my problem with that argument:

  • Robert Kraft would enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a “contributor”.  He would join a list of folks who owned teams or were NFL Commissioners or were successful GMs.  A few of these folks also played the game (Dan Reeves and Jim Finks come to mind) but most of them never strapped on a helmet for an NFL game.
  • Ergo, the only reason Robert Kraft MIGHT be considered for the Hall of Fame is because of his “off-the-field activities/deeds”.  Hmmm…

[For the record, while I think the allegations against Kraft are super-sleazy, I do not think they should condemn him to eternal damnation even if proven to be true.  When I think of other team owners who have been elected to the Hall of Fame, I would have to say that Kraft’s teams’ accomplishments are commensurate with the standard those other owners represent.]

Brad Rock had this comment about Robert Kraft’s arrest in the Deseret News a couple of weeks ago.  It captures well my general sense of the gravity of the matter:

“Patriots owner Robert Kraft pleaded not guilty to charges of soliciting a prostitute.

“But he did plead guilty to wearing a colored shirt with a white collar 30 years after they went out of style.”

Finally, let me close with another observation by Brad Rock right around the NBA trade deadline:

“In a four-day span, former Portland teammates Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin were part of four organizations: Portland, Cleveland, Houston and Indiana.

“But the worst news is they’re expected to be waived.

“On the bright side, they’re now part of one more organization: the Delta Diamond Medallion club.”

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



It’s Pi Day…

Happy Pi Day.  One of the local supermarkets here has a sale today where you can buy a pie for $3.14.  I like apple pie, please…

MLB and the MLBPA have reached some agreements on some rule changes.  No, these are not going to be changes to the sacred rules that govern on-field play; any change along those lines would demand a convocation of important figures and august leaders equivalent to the Diet of Worms.  However, it is significant that they did reach agreement on some things because in the recent past – – and in the distant past – – MLB and the MLBPA would not agree that night came after day or vice versa.

  • The optimist sees all of this as a sign that the two sides know they will each need to compromise on issues when the new CBA must be hammered out in 2 years.
  • The pessimist sees all of this as the spending of a few small things the two sides can agree on meaning there are fewer seed crystals for an agreement later.
  • The pragmatist sees this as a set of small steps in a positive direction.

I like the first area of agreement a lot.  Starting now, there will be a single trade deadline – – July 31.  There will be no waiver-trades in August.  Frankly, if they moved this back until July 1 it would be fine with me.  Too many teams throw in the towel too early in the season rendering too many teams and games less than important in the final weeks of the regular season.  I understand that the job of a GM just got a bit harder because final decisions on making a playoff run must be backed up a month and because a significant injury in August cannot be addressed with a trade.  System depth just got more important to contending teams.

Another rule change involves a change in the voting process to select the All-Star Game participants.  It too will be implemented this year; it involves a two-step voting process; in the grand scheme, this just does not matter.

Next year, the major league roster will expand to 26 players and will limit teams to 13 pitchers.  In addition, the September rosters will only expand to 28 teams with a maximum of 14 pitchers.  That too is a step in the right direction – but does not go far enough.

Here is why MLB and the MLBPA need to stop finding ways to disagree with one another.  The 2019 season is about to begin in 2 weeks – not counting an opening game in Tokyo between the A’s and Mariners.  There are 30 teams in MLB, and I want to set a very low standard for teams to achieve in order to be successful in the eyes of their fans.  Here is the standard:

  • My team will play .500 baseball for the 2019 season.

As Derrick Coleman would say about that level of expectation, “Whoop-di-damned-doo!”  However, even with that low a standard, I think that fans of at least 40% of MLB teams would be happy to see that outcome for 2019.  Of course, there must be teams with losing records in order for there to be teams with winning records that go to the playoffs and the World Series.  But it takes more than a .500 record to be a playoff team – – absent a stunningly unusual set of season circumstances – – and I think these teams will begin play in April with zero expectation that they will even win 81 games let alone the 90 game or so that the top teams will win.  Here is my list of thirteen “little-to-no-hope teams:

  1. Blue Jays
  2. D-Backs
  3. Orioles
  4. Mariners
  5. Marlins
  6. Padres
  7. Pirates
  8. Rangers
  9. Reds
  10. Royals
  11. Tigers
  12. Twins
  13. White Sox

[Aside:  If you twisted my arm, I could add the Giants to this list thereby covering 47% of MLB teams.]

[Second Aside:  Note that four of the five teams in the AL Central are on my list above.  That should make for a real nail-biter of a race in that division.]

Granted, this is not as unbalanced as the NBA; but it is not an ideal set-up.  Not meaning to pick on the Mariners or their fans, but when the ceremonial first pitch is thrown in Tokyo for that opening game in about a week, what percentage of the Mariner fanbase is seriously considering that game to be the first step toward this year’s playoffs?

When MLB and the MLBPA sit down to negotiate the next CBA – and they better start soon – they are going to focus on “economic issues” involving distribution of league revenues and alleged collusion to limit salaries for aging players and the economic effect(s) of the luxury tax and revenue sharing in MLB.  Of course, those will be contentious issues and it will take time to find avenues of compromise.  However, I think that the two sides also need to address bridging the gap that exists between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in MLB.

Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

“Plungers: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s request that sportsbooks in Nevada and other states refrain from taking bets on spring training games was shrugged off by the gambling industry. As it should have been. But think about it. Who is throwing money at Grapefruit and Cactus League games? People who need help, most likely.”

I agree with Professor Molinaro here; betting on Spring Training games – and/or NFL Exhibition games – is not remotely interesting to me.  But Commissioner Manfred is off-base asking sportsbooks to take those games off the board.  It is almost as if Manfred thinks that by doing so, people will refrain from betting on Spring training games.  If he does believe that, he needs to be introduced to a few local bookmakers; those entrepreneurs will take action on Spring Training baseball or junior league curling if there is sufficient demand.  It is not as if the sportsbooks are creating the marketplace.

Finally, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times related to baseball and wagering:

“Yankee Stadium could soon host sports betting if New York legislators pass pending legislation.

“If the Reds covet a parlor of their own, ‘The Rose Garden’ has a nice ring to it.”

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



Movement Around the NFL…

The opening acts of NFL free agency are not “sustainable” – to use a word currently in vogue.  There may be an important signing with an eye-popping dollar total we have not seen yet; there may be a big trade out there that has not come to fruition.  But it is unlikely that we will have as many big movements in such a short time period until next year when NFL free agency begins.  To me, the most interesting thing to observe is the wide variety of prices paid by teams to acquire big-play wide receivers.

  1. Most expensive WR:  Odell Beckham Jr. went from the Giants to the Browns.  The cost to the Browns was a 1st round pick this year (17th overall) plus a 3rd round pick this year plus Jabrill Peppers a good young defensive back.
  2. Next-most expensive WR:  Antonio Brown went from the Steelers to the Raiders.  The cost to the Raiders was a 3rd round pick and a 5th round pick this year.
  3. Bargain-basement WR:  DeSean Jackson went from the Bucs to the Eagles.  The cost to the Eagles was a 6th round pick this year – – but they also get a 7th round pick next year in addition to Jackson.

I think we would all agree that Jackson is the least valuable of those three WRs at this point in his career; he will be 33 in December.  However, he did lead the entire NFL last year in yards per catch at 18.9 yards per catch.  The cost to the Eagles to acquire him and to give the team a legitimate deep threat was trivial – – unless you want to fantasize that the 6th round pick sent to the Bucs is going to turn into the 2019 iteration of 6th round pick Tom Brady.

If you compare Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr., you are looking at two of the top five or six WRs in the league.  Brown will be 31 when the season starts; Beckham will be 27 in November.  Brown has caught 100+ passes in each of the past 6 seasons and led the NFL in TD receptions last year with 15; Beckham has enviable stats but not ones that are equivalent Browns.  In that light compare the costs and implications:

  • Did the Giants fleece the Browns?  Or, did the Steelers take a yard-sale price in their deal just to get Brown out of town and out of their division?
  • Are the Browns playing a long game acquiring offensive assets to add to Baker Mayfield thereby justifying the cost?  Or, are the Raiders in something of a “win-now mode” acquiring the older WR of the two?

People will argue about who get the best deal here and which team lost out here; those arguments will extend at least until the teams finish the 2019 season.  However, the disparity of “prices” paid for WRs in the early flurry of free agency does raise an interesting question:

  • What is the market value for some of the remaining WRs who are free agents?  Here are a few possibilities:  Randall Cobb, Michael Crabtree, Golden Tate…

The fact that these three accomplished WRs moved around with draft picks used mainly as the currency for their acquisition leads me to cite an observation made by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

“Reality check: I hope Kyler Murray turns out to be as impactful as his biggest fans imagine. The NFL can’t have too many good quarterbacks. But I find it funny when his Heisman Trophy is cited as proof that he’s got the goods. Come on now, you could wallpaper your house with the press clippings of Heisman quarterbacks who bombed out in the pros. Two words: Gino Torretta. Two more: Danny Wuerffel. Must I go on?”

Oh, but you should go on; the list of Heisman QBs who failed to make the jump to the NFL with any impact is a long one:

  1. Steve Spurrier (1966)
  2. Gary Beban (1968)
  3. Pat Sullivan (1971)
  4. Andre Ware (1989)
  5. Ty Detmer (1990)
  6. Chris Weinke (2000)
  7. Eric Crouch (2001)
  8. Jason White (2003)
  9. Matt Leinart (2004)
  10. Troy Smith (2006)
  11. Tim Tebow (2007)
  12. Johnny Manziel (2012)

More interesting to me is the list of great NFL QBs who failed to win the Heisman Trophy such as:

  1. Troy Aikman
  2. Terry Bradshaw
  3. Len Dawson
  4. John Elway
  5. Brett Favre
  6. Dan Fouts
  7. Jim Kelly
  8. Dan Marino
  9. Joe Montana
  10. Warren Moon
  11. Bart Starr
  12. John Unitas
  13. Steve Young

I’m sure I left someone off this list who belongs here…

Finally, since today was all about NFL happenings, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald from soon after the Patriots’ Super Bowl parade in Boston last month:

“A thrown can of beer hit Rob Gronkowski in the head during the Patriots’ championship parade. Alternate punchlines: A) He didn’t feel a thing. B) That’s terrible. What a waste of beer!”

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



Proposed NFL Rule Changes

The “football news frenzy” of the day is focused on what free agent signed with which team and who got traded where.  That sort of stuff will sort itself out over the next 3 months as teams prepare to begin training camp in July, but there are more imminent NFL happenings that should be considered.  Teams have made proposals to the NFL’s Competition Committee regarding rule changes they would like the Committee to consider for 2019; those findings by the Competition Committee will be presented to the NFL owners at one of their convocations which will happen two weeks from now.

Each of the teams fills out a questionnaire at the end of the season related to things like rules and player safety and technology that may or may not be used during a game.  Those questionnaires are part of the agenda building process for the Competition Committee for consideration.  The protocol then is that the Committee recommends rule changes and the owners either approve or disapprove.

According to reports, here are some of the things that teams wanted the Competition Committee to chew upon:

  • KC Chiefs:

The Chiefs want both teams to get a possession in OT even if the first offensive team scores a TD.  [After the outcome of this year’s AFC Championship Game, I am not remotely surprised at this suggestion.]

The Chiefs want the OT coin toss eliminated and the coin toss at the beginning of the game to prevail.  Not sure why this is a step forward, but it does not seem like a step backward either.

The Chiefs want all overtimes eliminated in Exhibition Games.  So obviously a good idea, I wonder why it has not already been written in stone,

  • Denver Broncos:

The Broncos want to eliminate onside kicks.  Similar to the AAF rule, the Broncos want a team that wants to try an onside kick to have the ball at its own 35 in a 4th adn15 situation.  Convert and the ball is theirs; miss the conversion and the ball goes over.  Should it be 4th and 10 or 4th and 12 or 4th and 15?  That is something for the data crunchers to deal with.  I have no problem with the concept here.

The Broncos want all fourth down or goal line plays that are spotted short of the line to gain would be subject to automatic review. Similarly, the Broncos are also proposing that all extra point and two-point conversion attempts be subject to review.  That sounds like a lot of mandatory reviewing.  Is this a solution in search of a problem?

  • Washington Redskins:

The Skins want anything and everything to be reviewable by the officials.  Under the Skins’ proposal, all plays that occur during a game could potentially be subjected to a coaches’ challenge or review by the officiating department in the instant replay system.   I think this is overkill.

The Skins also want personal foul calls to be reviewable.  This seems like a subset of the suggestion above.  If the above rule change were implemented, plays could be reviewed, and personal fouls not originally called might be imposed by the review process.

  • Philadelphia Eagles:

The Eagles want any scoring play or any turnover that is negated by a penalty to be subject to an automatic replay review.  Those are potentially game changing plays; reviewing them to be sure the penalty call is correct is not a bad idea – – and there just aren’t that many of these sorts of plays in a typical game.

In addition to those team-specific recommendations to the competition Committee, the reports say that the Eagles, Panthers, Rams and Seahawks all want the rules to permit coaches to challenge “player-safety related fouls” called on the field or not called on the field.  This sounds good – – but I wonder what the scope of “player-safety related fouls” might be.

Here is the Curmudgeon Central Rule that should have been implemented as soon as the NFL had enough cameras in the stadium to consider implementing instant replay for anything:

  • Whenever there is a fight or an altercation that leads to a flag or flags being thrown, replay should be used to determine the player that started the altercation and his team should be the one penalized – – unless the retaliation by the other team exceeds the original provocation.

Time to move from reality/practicality/rationality to the part of the world inhabited by José Canseco.  Earlier this week, Canseco used a Tweet to accuse A-Rod of cheating on his fiancée, Jennifer Lopez, with Canseco’s ex-wife.  Minutes after that Tweet “hit the streets”, Canseco put out another one to challenge A-Rod to a boxing match or an MMA match “anytime you want” – – apparently as a way for Canseco to defend Jennifer Lopez’ honor.  I guess I am glad that he suggested boxing or MMA to settle this matter and stopped short of suggesting they reinstitute dueling with pistols at 10 paces…

About a month ago, a Notre Dame WR, Javon McKinley, was arrested on battery and alcohol misdemeanor charges.  There were two charges of battery related to McKinley allegedly punching two campus police officers.  [Aside:  Getting into a fight whilst intoxicated is never a good idea; getting into a fight with two police officers whilst intoxicated is a really bad idea.]  McKinley is suspended from the team pending resolution of all this stuff…

Finally, we are in that part of the sports calendar when the TV promos for the upcoming Masters golf tournament happen daily.  Ergo, consider this comment from Lee Trevino who briefly boycotted the Masters tournament for several years in the 1970s:

“Golf is a game invented by the same people who think music comes out of a bagpipe.”

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



Rest In Peace, Dan Jenkins

Dan Jenkins died late last week of congestive heart failure.  He was the last living member of my personal Mount Rushmore of sportswriters/columnists from my youth.  Those four are now somewhere in the cosmos assessing who among the current crop of writers might someday be considered to have similar stature.  My personal Mount Rushmore – – in alphabetical order because I really do not want to have to rank these four gentlemen:

  • Frank Deford
  • Sandy Grady
  • Dan Jenkins
  • Jim Murray

I never met Dan Jenkins; I wish I had been so privileged.  Dan Jenkins was more than a great sportswriter who was informative and entertaining simultaneously; Dan Jenkins was a great writer – – period – – and exclamation point.  He was part of the “glory days” of Sports Illustrated and his coverage of college football in SI back in the 60s and 70s was must read material whenever it appeared in the magazine.  However, his writings on golf were even better.

Please understand… I do not play golf; I do not follow golf; I do not have much interest in watching golf on television except for the occasional major tournament.  [Aside:  Dan Jenkins is the person who came up with the word “majors” to describe the 4 annual tournaments that are covered by that word.  Technically, Bobby Jones never won a “major” because Dan Jenkins had not yet designated any tournaments as such.]  Notwithstanding my “who gives a rat’s ass” feelings about golf, Dan Jenkins’ writings on golf were mesmerizing and commanded my interest.  He was a scratch golfer who was captain of his college golf team and he played practice rounds with Ben Hogan in Texas back in the 40s and 50s.  When he wrote about golf, his words came from someone who knew the game; but the words were more than that.

When he wrote about golf, his words generated interest – maybe even excitement – about the subject in at least one mind that otherwise did not care about golf.  His golf novels e.g. The Franchise Babe and Dead Solid Perfect were entertaining because of the implausible plot and Jenkins’ signature style which was utterly PC-bashing.  [Aside:  Dan Jenkins was anti-PC long before political correctness advanced to its current hugely annoying state.]  But it went beyond that.  One of his books was a compendium of golf columns he had written for Sports Illustrated and for Golf Digest.  He called this compilation, Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate.  This non-golfer read it end-to-end over a rainy long weekend and loved every word of it.

That last sentence leads me to suggest to every reader here that having a few paperback copies of Jenkins’ novels on hand for the occurrence of rainy three-day weekends would be a great idea.  Every one of those novels can be consumed in such a timeframe and every one of them will brighten up such a weekend.  His first novel was Semi-Tough; it was an instant success and was eventually made into a movie.  [Aside:  In his memoir, Frank Deford said that Dan Jenkins took a leave of absence to write Semi-Tough and that he wrote the novel in three weeks; the editing took longer than the writing.  That is beyond amazing.]   Many of the characters in Semi-Tough appear in subsequent novels; Jenkins creates a fictional world involving sports in general and these characters float about in that world.  Semi-Tough inspired a sequel titled Life Its Ownself.  Most sequels do not come close to living up to the work that inspired the sequel in the first place; Life Its Ownself toes that mark; it can stand on its own as a great read depending on Semi-Tough mainly for the backgrounds of many of its characters.

My personal favorite novel was You Gotta Play Hurt which is a recounting of a year in the life of an experienced and irreverent sports columnist who travels the world to cover specific events and write about them.  The protagonist is named Jim Tom Pinch; it is not difficult to figure out who the real-world inspiration for Jim Tom Pinch might be.

There is a scene in Semi-Tough that stands out in my mind.  Every year when the Super Bowl rolls around, I think of this scene.  It was written in 1972 when the pageantry of the Super Bowl was in ascension and it intended to satirize what all of that might become.  The setting for the scene is a Super Bowl game in the future between the NY Giants and the “dog-assed NY Jets”.  In the scene, the Giants’ coach, Shoat Cooper, is explaining to the Giants’ players that the timing of the Super Bowl game will be different from regular games because of the pageantry – and because there had been a major earthquake in China which could cause the network to cut in and do some news broadcasting simultaneous with the telecast of the game.

I want to present here that scene in its entirety.  Remember, this hyperbole intended to satirize what the Super Bowl pageantry might become from the point of view of 1972; it was not far off the mark for what would become Super Bowl reality.

  • [WARNING:  There is politically incorrect text to follow and some words/phrases that were much more commonplace and acceptable in 1972 than they are today.  If you are easily offended by such language, stop reading here.  In fact, if you are easily offended by such language, you probably should not be reading many of the rants posted here.]

            “In the serious part of the squad meeting, Shoat Cooper explained to us what the drill would be for Sunday, in terms of what time everything would occur.

“Shoat said we would start getting our ankles taped at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.  Those that needed special braces and pads taped on, he said, ought to get to the taping room thirty minutes earlier.

“He said he hoped everybody on the team could have breakfast together at nine in the Señor Sombrero Café on the second floor.

“He said we would leave for the Los Angeles Coliseum about ten-thirty.  It would be about eleven-fifteen when we got there, he said, and that would give us plenty of time.  ‘To get frisky for them piss ants,’ he said.

“The kickoff wasn’t until one-fifteen, he pointed out.  It had been set back fifteen minutes by CBS, he said in order for the network to finish up a news special it was doing on some kind of earthquake that wiped out several thousand chinks somewhere yesterday…

”… Shoat said that both the offense and the defense would be introduced, on both teams, for television before the game.  He said we should line up under the goal post that would be appointed to us and carry our hats under our arms when we trotted out to our own forty-five yard line and faced the dog-assed Jets for the ‘Star Spangled Banner’.

“That would be the last thing we would do before the kickoff, Shoat said.  Therefore, he said this would come after we had warmed up and then gone back into the dressing room and crapped and peed and drank some more Dexi-coffee.  Them what needed it like the interior linemen.

“’A little spiked coffee never hurt nobody’s incentive,’ Shoat said.  ‘Especially them lard butts who have to play down in that trench where the men are.’

“Shoat said we might have a long time to lay around the dressing room after we warmed up because the National Football League had a fairly lavish pregame show planned.

“Shoat said he understood that the both the pregame show and the halftime show would have a patriotic flavor.

“’That can’t be anything but good for football,’ he said.

“According to Shoat, here’s what was going to happen before the game:

“Several hundred trained birds – all painted red white and blue – would be released from cages somewhere and they would fly over the Coliseum in the formation of an American flag.

“As the red, white and blue birds flew over, Boke Kellum, the Western TV star, would recite the Declaration of Independence.

“Next would be somebody dressed up like Mickey Mouse and somebody else dressed up like Donald Duck joining the actress Camille Virl in singing ‘God Bless America.’

“And right in the middle of the singing, here would come this Air Force cargo plane to let loose 50 sky divers who would come dropping into the coliseum.

“Each skydiver would be dressed up in the regional costume of a state, and he would land in the coliseum in the order in when his state became a United State.

“When all this got cleaned up, Shoat said, United States Senator Pete Rozelle, the ex-commissioner of the NFL who invented the Super Bowl, would be driven around the stadium in the car that won last year’s Indianapolis 500.  At the wheel would be Lt. Commander Flip Slammer, the fifteenth astronaut to walk on the moon.

“Riding along behind the Indy car, Shoat said, would be two men on horses.  One would be Commissioner Bob Cameron on Lurking Funk, the thoroughbred which won last year’s Kentucky Derby.  And on the other horse, Podna (the horse Boke Kellum pretends to ride in his TV series) would be the current president of CBS, a guy named Woody Snider.

“Finally, Shoat said, the teams would be introduced and two thousand crippled and maimed soldiers on crutches and in wheel chairs and on stretchers would render the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’

“Shoat told us the halftime was like to run forty-five minutes.  It would be a long one at any rate, “which might be a good thing if we got some scabs to heal up,” he said.

“The length of the halftime, Shoat said, would depend on whether CBS would decide to interrupt the Super Bowl telecast with a special news report on the earthquake which might still be killing chinks with its fires and floods and tidal waves.

“’I never knowed a dead chink, more or less, to be more important than a football game,’ Shoat said.  ‘But maybe if a whole gunnysack of ‘em got wiped out, it’s news.’

“Shoat said it was too bad we would all have to miss it but the Super Bowl halftime show was going to be even more spectacular than the pregame show.

“He said there would be a water ballet in the world’s largest inflatable swimming pool, a Spanish fiesta, a Hawaiian luau, a parade stressing the history of the armored tank, a sing-off between the glee clubs of all the military academies and an actual World War I dogfight in the sky with the Red Baron’s plane getting blown to pieces.

“The final event of the halftime, he said, would be an induction into the pro football Hall of Fame of about twenty stud hosses out of the past including our own Tucker Frederickson, the vice president of DDD and F.  United States Senator Pete Rozelle would preside, Shoat said, along with Camille Virl, the actress, and Jack Whitaker, the CBS announcer.  When the induction ceremony was over, Shoat said, Rozelle, Whitaker and Camille Virl would lead the inductees in singing a parody on the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ which was written by somebody in the league office.  The title of it, he said, was “The Game Goes Marching On,’ and he understood it might make some people cry.

“Shoat said CBS hoped the whole stadium would join in the singing since all 92,000 people would have been given a printed copy of the lyrics.

“The last thing in the halftime would be some more birds.  While the stadium was singing this song, Shoat said, several thousand more painted-up birds would be released and they would fly in such a way overhead that the likeness of Vince Lombardi, the great old coach, would appear.

“That was all that was discussed at the meeting.”

I have read that passage at least a dozen times in the past and it still brought a smile to my face as I typed the words here.  I really hope you similarly enjoyed it

Finally, let me close with a couple of memorable quips/observations attributed to Dan Jenkins:

“Here’s all I know about Dubai: It’s one of those somewhere-over-there places where they make sand.”

And …

“I quickly discovered that trying to go play golf while living in Manhattan was about as easy as trying to grab a taxi while standing out in front of Saks Fifth Avenue in the freezing rain on the last shopping day before Christmas.”

And …

“The golf ball has no sense at all, which is why it has to be given stern lectures constantly, especially during the act of putting.”

Rest in peace – – and Godspeed – – Dan Jenkins…


Yet More Bryce Harper News

Silly me.  I thought that when Bryce Harper finally signed a contract with an MLB team, he would cease to be the “headline of the day” until such time as he actually did something on a baseball field that affected the outcome of an actual baseball game.  Actually, Harper followed up the news of his signing with two stories that made headlines.  The first story came from the Westgate Sportsbook in Las Vegas; they posted the odds for players to win the MVPs and the Cy Youngs in both leagues.  Harper led the way in the National League.  Let me list the players with the lowest odds in all of these categories and offer a couple of comments:


  • Bryce Harper PHI 7-1
  • Nolan Arenado COR 8-1
  • Paul Goldschmidt STL 10-1
  • Kris Bryant CHC 12-1
  • Manny Machado SDP 15-1


  • Mike Trout LAA 3-1
  • Mookie Betts BOS 4-1
  • Aaron Judge NYY 10-1
  • Alex Bregman HOU 12-1
  • Jose Ramirez CLE 15-1

NL Cy Young:

  • Max Scherzer WAS 5-2
  • Jacob deGrom NYM 7-2
  • Aaron Nola PHI 7-1
  • Clayton Kershaw LAD 12-1
  • Noah Syndergaard NYM 15-1

AL Cy Young:

  • Cory Kluber CLE 7-2
  • Chris Sale BOS 4-1
  • Luis Severino NYY 7-1
  • Justin Verlander HOU 12-1
  • Carlos Carrasco CLE 15-1

A few comments about these listings.

  1. The odds-on Mike Trout dropped to 2-1 the day after they were posted when someone bet $4000 on Trout to win the Award at 3-1 odds.  Money does move the line…
  2. The Westgate Sportsbook oddsmaker said the reason Harper was the clear favorite in the National League was that he would be playing in a “Little League park” and that he should post huge numbers there.  The dimensions of the stadium in Philly and Washington are very similar so I am not sure I understand that sentiment.
  3. That is an awfully big jump in odds from Mookie Betts at 4-1 down to Aaron Judge at 10-1.
  4. I think Clayton Kershaw’s days as a Cy Young Award caliber pitcher are in the past; he will still be a good pitcher but not to that level.
  5. The Indians have two pitchers in the “Top 5” regarding the AL Cy Young Award plus Trevor Bauer as a starter.  Not a bad rotation at all…

And then, Bryce Harper got himself involved in a kerfuffle with the management of the LA Angels when he said he would like for Mike Trout to come and join him in Philly when Trout’s contract is up with the Angels.  People want to know if that is tampering which poses some interesting questions:

  • Can “tampering” apply to players as opposed to teams and team management?
  • How would tampering rules apply to players if the players involved were brothers?  Or father and son?
  • If Harper had privately called Mike Trout such that no one knew about it until months after the fact, does that make the alleged tampering less severe or more severe?

As I understand the rules in baseball regarding tampering, the punishment is a fine.  Bryce Harper just signed a deal that guarantees him $330M.  Leading up to this contract, my estimate is that Harper made $50M; I could be off by 10% there.  Nevertheless, there is no reasonable fine that MLB might levy that would have any meaningful adverse effect on Bryce Harper’s exchequer.

Moving on …  The NY Post reported that Jason Witten will leave ESPN and the Monday Night Football booth to return to the Dallas Cowboys and play tight end once again.  I thought Witten had promise as a TV analyst, but he did not grow into the job very much as the season rolled on; many commentators were highly critical of his performance and they have rejoiced at this news.  The question for ESPN now is where will they go with an announcing team for MNF?

  • The word is that ESPN covets Peyton Manning in the booth.  I think he would be interesting to listen to during a game, but I think he might demand that he never have to call a game where Eli was playing – – and ESPN is not really able to offer such a “guarantee”.  [Aside:  That is not “inside info”; that is just a sense that I get when I listen to the two brothers talk about one another.]
  • There is work for ESPN to do over the summer.  Joe Tessitore has to exhale and do some calming down between plays.  Every 6-yard run off tackle is not worthy of hyperventilation.
  • Booger McFarland might become a top-shelf analyst; he is knowledgeable and casually funny.  However, ESPN must put the “Boogermobile” in the garage and lock the door on that baby.  Booger needs to be in the booth interacting with his broadcasting partner(s).

If I were the ESPN decision maker here, I would look at the football folks already on TV in various places and here would be my order of preference:

  1. Louis Riddick:  Measured, rational, intelligent commentary.  He is “anti-bombastic”.
  2. Deion Sanders:  Colorful, entertaining, candid.  A latter-day Howard Cosell?  Maybe not that outrageous…
  3. Steve Young:  Cerebral, analytical and candid.

Finally, here is a comment on college football recruiting from Mike Bianchi in the Orlando Sentinel:

“In the span of a week, FSU has lost two big-time football recruits — not to Alabama, Ohio State or Georgia but to MARYLAND! This is like losing a ‘Battle of the Bands’ to Insane Clown Posse.”

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



Southern California Blues

Santa Anita Park is a mess.  The racetrack has been one of the major horseracing venues in the US for the last 85 years.  Today, it is shut down while officials there try to determine why 21 horses have died there since about Christmas 2018.  The problem is not some equine virus that is spreading among the resident animals; the problem is the main dirt track where horses are breaking legs, ankles etc. such that the animals have to be euthanized.

All racing has been canceled at Santa Anita.  There had been some restrictions on racing and workouts recently and the track was preparing to get back to normal after an inspection of the track and some analyses had been done.  Then a 4-year old filly was “breezing” in a morning workout when she “sustained fractured seismoids” and had to be put down raising the number of horses in that condition to 21 in the last 10 weeks.  Those circumstances – a breezing workout for a mature horse – are not normally associated with fatal injuries.

The weather in southern California has been very unusual this winter.  The track received 11.5 inches of rain in February alone; normal rainfall for February is 3.74 inches.  In fact, in February of this year, the track got more than half of the average annual rainfall for that part of the world.  In addition, February saw abnormally low temperatures.  It is tempting to blame the climatological conditions there for these problems except for the fact that no rational linkage has been found.

The track had closed briefly at the end of February to allow for an evaluation by a consultant from the University of Kentucky whose specialty is racing surfaces.  He took soil samples at varying depths and did not find any flaws in the track composition, so training resumed.  Then came the death of the filly in a training session and the track shut down completely.

This is a situation that needs fixing quickly and reliably.  Santa Anita is not some rinky-dink track in suburban Beaglebreath, WY.  Santa Anita is slated to host the Breeders’ Cup races this November.  There is no way the owners of the horses who are eligible to compete at that level of racing are going to put their assets at risk on a racing surface that averages 2 deaths per week.

Maybe space aliens are beaming some sort of disruption ray at the southern California area because in addition to Santa Anita Park being a mess, the LA Lakers are also a mess.  Last summer when LeBron James took his talents to LA, most folks thought that the Lakers would return to the playoffs after a lengthy – for them – absence.  Only the biggest Lakers’ fanboys thought that they might make it to the NBA Finals this year, but a slot in the playoffs appeared to be in the bag.

As of this morning, the Lakers are in 11th place in the Western Conference; they are 6.5 games behind the LA Clippers who are sitting in the 8th and final playoff slot.  The Lakers have 17 games left in the regular season; making up that margin is not impossible – – but it sure does not look likely.

IF the Lakers miss the playoffs, it will be interesting to see what sort of analysis comes out of that circumstance.  Here are some possible threads:

  1. LeBron James has been in the NBA Finals for 8 consecutive seasons and a couple of those teams did not feature strong supporting casts for the best player on the planet today.  Ergo, this young group of Lakers must be a lot less than they were cracked up to be.
  2. LeBron James creates drama wherever he goes.  This young Lakers’ team could not handle the drama – – see how they fell apart right after the abortive attempts to trade for Anthony Davis engineered not by LeBron James but by LeBron James’ agent.
  3. LeBron James is a coach-killer except he could not get the Lakers’ owner to fire Luke Walton this year and so he did not put his full energy into the team this season.
  4. LeBron James has begun to feel the presence of Father Time.  His stats are still exemplary, but he missed 17 games this season due to injury and he no longer plays 40+ minutes every night and he plays even less defense than he has in recent years.

At the moment, I would lean toward the second thread above.  LeBron James has offered up plenty of passive-aggressive commentary about his teammates and coaches in the past and those comments have gotten former teammates to shape up lest they be the target of some upcoming passive-aggressive verbiage.  It appears that this Lakers’ roster has not reacted in the same way; this team plays as if they are afraid to hear what is coming next.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about a former Lakers’ superstar’s current situation:

“Shaquille O’Neal’s Big Chicken Shaq restaurant has unveiled an $8.29 Charles Barkley sandwich.

“OK, we’ll bite: It’s a healthy slice of ham on huge buns?”

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



Law And Order Today …

Three men have been sentenced in federal court as a result of the charges brought against them for paying college basketball recruits – or the families of those recruits – “improper payments” to assure that they attended schools sponsored by Adidas.  Two men will spend 6 months in federal prison – pending appeal of course – and the third will spend nine months there.  I have said all during the judicial process here that the US Government would not have wanted me on that jury because I have yet to be convinced that what these folks did was contrary to federal law.  It was indeed in direct opposition to NCAA rules and regulations, but I do not think that is what the FBI and the DoJ should be out to enforce.

In other “criminally connected news”, there is an ESPN report that expands on the Tim Donaghy scandal from about 10 years ago.  There is a long report at saying that the involvement of Donaghy in “gambling irregularities” was a whole lot more than was reported about 10 years ago.  This report says that he not only provided info to big time gamblers but that Donaghy himself was betting on games that he personally officiated.  This is a LONG piece and there are lots of internal links to other reports inside to corroborate and expand the information here.  I recommend that you read it in its entirety.

Buried in that piece is an interesting sidebar.  According to this report, when the FBI made David Stern aware of the results of their investigation, Stern’s major reaction was that he was angry/concerned that NBA’s Security Staff had not been the ones to make this finding.  While that may seem at first to be an improper reaction, I think it is very appropriate for the NBA Commish in such a circumstance.  Consider:

  • The NBA says that its Security Department provides for safety for players and fans; and, in addition, it works with federal and local authorities at the highest level to monitor any possible security issues”.
  • If the FBI is in the Commish’s office telling him about a referee being associated with known gamblers, David Stern must have been thinking along the lines of “What the Hell am I paying those guys to do, anyway?”

And the current investigative report ought to send a shiver down the spinal column of current NBA Commish, Adam Silver.  The Tim Donaghy mess is 10 years old; Donaghy has been tried, convicted and has already served his time in jail; he is out and about as we speak.  For those intervening 10 years, the good folks in the NBA Security Department have not been able to come up with the information that is contained in the ESPN report.  So, the idea that must have floated through David Stern’s head way back then should be front and center once again:

  • What the Hell do these guys get paid to do, anyway?

I officiated basketball for 37 years.  To be sure, I never got anywhere near the level of officiating an NBA or a college basketball game; but I probably did 3,000 games of one kind or another.  Even though I never consciously sought to determine the outcome of any game I was involved with, I know for certain that I could have manipulated that outcome if I had chosen to do so.  No one should read the ESPN report and think that this is some sort of fantasy world.  A referee who has a direct financial interest in the outcome of games for which he is the official can win 75-80% of the bets that he makes on those games manipulating either the spread result and/or the Total Line result.

The data in the ESPN report is not probative, but it is more than mere “eyebrow raising”.  And it needs to be put into the context of the NBA’s constant opposition to expansion of sports gambling up until the US Supreme Court said that the law the NBA sought to uphold at any cost was unconstitutional.

  • Could it be that part of that strong opposition came from a recognition that the NBA Security Department is simply not up to the task of maintaining what the NBA likes to call “the integrity of their games”?

The NBA plays 1230 regular season games – – many of which are meaningless.  The sportsbooks in Las Vegas and on the Internet do not make any distinctions about meaningfulness; they will take action on all 1230 of them.

  1. Do I believe that a significant fraction of those games has the outcome manipulated by referees whose motivation is financial gain from the manipulated outcome?  NO!  The NBA regular season is not rotten to the core.
  2. Do I believe that a game here and there has a manipulated outcome and that it is one or more of the officials assigned to the game that is doing the manipulating?  Yes.  The information in the ESPN report tells me that all the “infrastructure” is in place to effect such manipulation and that if done without getting greedy that manipulation can go undetected for a LONG time.

Shifting gears …  The world’s #1 bridge player, Geir Helgemo of Norway, has been stripped of some titles he won and has been suspended from competitive bridge for about year because he failed a drug test.  Evidently, he showed elevated levels of synthetic testosterone and a female fertility drug.  Because the “bridge folks” have agreed to follow the World Anti-doping Agency rules about drug testing, that led to Helgemo’s suspension.  If you expect me to try to explain how elevated testosterone levels – synthetic or natural – provide one with some sort of advantage in playing bridge, I am certainly going to disappoint you here.  This makes little to no sense to me…

Finally, since today’s rant focused on law breaking and rule breaking and drug test failures, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Police were called when two women, 86 and 79, came to blows over seating arrangements during Bingo night at a retirement home in Rideau Lakes, Ontario.

“Because it was Canada, both returned to action after serving five minutes for fighting.”

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



Home From Arizona…

So, I saw 3 Spring Training games in the Cactus League in the last week.  They used the 20-second pitch clock; none of the pitchers appeared to have suffered any physical or psychic damage.  And, it would appear – based obviously an a VERY small sample – that it does speed up the game a bit.  Here is one datum:

  • In a game that encompassed 8.5 innings, there was a total of 17 runs, 23 hits, 2 errors, 4 batters hit by pitches and a couple of walks i.e. lots of base runners. In addition, there were two mid-inning pitching changes.
  • That game took 3 hours and 20 minutes to play.

The pitch clock is turned off when there are runners on base.  However, I think that part of the value of the clock is that it gets pitchers in the rhythm of getting the ball back from the catcher and getting ready to do something with it other than holding it in the glove while taking a stroll around the mound.  When the clock was in use, many was the time the pitcher began his wind-up with about 10 seconds left on the clock.

In another game we saw, the final score was 1-0.  There was a total of 7 hits in the game with no errors and only 1 base on balls.  That game took 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete.  Granted, this is Spring Training and not the World Series; the pressure is far less than it will be once the regular season is underway.  Nevertheless, I think the “imposition” of the pitch clock is not nearly the end of Western Civilization as we know it – – despite what some of the players may say.

Obviously, the baseball news over the time I have been gone was the ending of the Bryce Harper soap opera.  Our long national nightmare is over; we can go to sleep now knowing where Harper will ply his trade for the next 13 years.  That venue will be Philadelphia where I am not so sure things will be all peaches and cream between now and 2032 when the deal expires.  Just remember that Philly fans got on Mike Schmidt’s case enough that he unloaded on a reporter in another National League city calling the Philly fans a “mob scene” and worse.  The reaction was so strong that he needed to wear a wig and sunglasses on the field in batting practice when the team came home.

Mike Schmidt was the best third baseman in the history of baseball; he had led the Phillies to a World Championship and to another World Series.  But Schmidt was not beloved in Philly because he was not a “blue collar guy”; he was aloof/cerebral/detached.

  • Memo to Bryce Harper:  This is what you signed onto with no opt out clause in your 13-year contract.  I hope I am wrong, but I think you are going to experience a totally different relationship with the fans in Philly from what you are used to with the fans in DC.  Mazel tov…

That signing presumably puts an end to the Phillies’ dealing in this off-season.  Prior to this signing, the Phillies traded for Jean Segura (from the Mariners) and for JT Realmuto (from the Marlins) and signed free agents David Robertson and Andrew McCutcheon.  They were indeed busy over the winter.

Personally, the two best moves in the MLB offseason to my mind were:

  • Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt.  The Cardinals have needed a top-shelf bat in the middle of their order for a couple of years now and Goldschmidt is just that.
  • Rockies sign Nolan Arenado to an 8-year contract extension for a total of $260M.

There was a cryptic/incomplete story coming out of Montreal over the weekend saying that the Montreal Alouettes had released QB, Johnny Manziel.  Given the fact that Manziel’s stats last year were hardly eye-popping (106 for 165 for 1290 yards with 5 TDs and 7 INTs), his release is hardly shocking.  However, there was a twist to the news release:

  • The CFL has said it will not register any contract between Manziel and another CFL team; that means Manziel is banned from the CFL.

So, here is what the Alouettes’ GM had to say about this:

“We are disappointed by this turn of events. Johnny was provided a great deal of support by our organization, in collaboration with the CFL, but he has been unable to abide by the terms of his agreement.  We worked with the league and presented alternatives to Johnny, who was unwilling to proceed.”

Not knowing anything about the “terms of his agreement” with the CFL, it is impossible to do anything other than speculate about where the “violations” in the terms arose.  I prefer not to get into the “guessing”/”speculating” business here so I will simply note that Manziel’s performance and personal conduct made him persona non grata in the NFL; now he has been kicked out of the CFL; there are probably some AAF teams that might give him a look (the one in San Antonio is close to where he played college football) and the XFL 2.0 will come into existence next Spring.  The trend here is not his friend…

Speaking of troubled souls, Cowboys’ DE, Randy Gregory, has been suspended again – – this time for an indefinite period.  It is his 4th suspension since coming into the NFL in 2105.  Once again, the suspension is due to a violation of the NFL substance abuse policy; the last suspension was for 1 year; this suspension is for an indefinite period.  Gregory has been in the NFL for 4 seasons; in those 4 seasons he has only appeared in 28 games.  His problems have not been injuries.

Finally, this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times tells me all I need to know about the situation involving Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers:

“Disgruntled Antonio Brown and the Steelers have agreed to part company.

“In other words, AB’s gone from wide receiver to split end.”

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