Minor League Baseball Is In Trouble

I and lots of other sports commentators have focused a lot of attention on MLB and the MLBPA and their current confrontation regarding playing baseball in 2020.  What has gotten less attention – – insufficient attention – – is the plight of minor league baseball and its players.  Minor league baseball has encountered a perfect storm.  All the way back in 2019 when the word “coronavirus” was used only by a small coterie of virologists and biologists, MLB teams let it be known that they were going to reduce the number of teams affiliated with MLB clubs.  That is a big deal because affiliated teams put players on the field who are paid by the major league affiliate; lots of minor league teams do not have “player salaries” as their major expense item.

Then, MLB with the acquiescence of the MLBPA cut the baseball draft from 40 rounds to 5 rounds.  That means there will be fewer minor league/developmental players under contract with the major league teams and it may then be necessary for minor league clubs to spend a bit of “player salary money” in order to fill out a roster.

MLB has been paying minor league players at the rate of $400 per week since the time when minor league seasons should have opened but that commitment runs out on June 1st; only 9 MLB teams have indicated that they will continue those payments beyond that date meaning some of the minor league players will need to find other employment and give up at least part of their developmental processes.  For other players who might be able to hang on economically, MLB teams are in the process of releasing a couple hundred players.  Those moves are partly cost saving moves and partly a recognition that some of the players just are not ever going to help the MLB team win any games.

It is at least a 50/50 proposition that there will be no minor league baseball in 2020.  If the MLB proposal to the MLBPA to have major league rosters frozen at 40 – 50 players, there will be no need for MLB teams to have ready reserves in the minor leagues and without MLB financial support, the minor leagues would have to change the way they fund operations to exist in 2020.  There is not nearly enough time for that to happen.  As someone who enjoys minor league baseball and who tries to attend several games a season, I find that a gloomy conclusion; but it is one I cannot avoid.

I understand that MLB owners are going to have a lean year in 2020 no matter how the negotiations come out with the players’ union and why cost containment is more important in 2020 than it is in any “normal year”.  I also understand that MLB has a longstanding need to grow its aging fanbase and to attract “new blood” to the game.  The reduction in minor league baseball contracts the exposure of the game; the reduction of developmental players – – making a few hundred dollars a week – – shrinks the pool of potential future MLB stars.  The long-term implications for BASEBALL writ large of drying up a lot of minor league baseball are not good.

One minor league team is apparently looking at creative ways to generate some revenue in these days of “no baseball”.  According to a report at CBSSports.com, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins) have put their stadium up for rent on Airbnb. Here is the deal:

  • Cost is $1500 per night.
  • Accommodations can be for up to ten people.
  • Guests will have full access to the field, the home team clubhouse, a “large bedroom” and the batting cage/pitching machines.
  • Club house amenities include 2 flat-screen TVs, ping-pong table, and leather couches.

There will be a member of the Blue Wahoos staff on hand to provide security and logistical support for the night.  Obviously, the guests will need to bring their own food/beverages or have the evening catered.  I doubt that I would partake of such an offer, but it would not surprise me if the Blue Wahoos did not get at least a few takers.

Moving on …  For the first time in 124 years, there will be no Boston Marathon in 2020.  The event had previously been postponed from April 20 to September 14 as the coronavirus spread around the country last month.  Earlier this week, Boston mayor, Marty Walsh, did what politicians hate to do; he confronted reality and made an announcement that would not be popular:

“The traditional one-day running of the 124th Boston Marathon is not feasible this year for public health reasons.  There is no way to hold this usual race format without bringing large numbers of people into close proximity.

“While our goal and hope was to make progress and contain the virus and recover our economy, this kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on September 14 or any time this year.”

Thank  you, Mr. Mayor.  Thank you for candor and realism.  Thank you for incorporating science and public health factors into your decision making.

Tom Grilk is the CEO of the Boston Athletic Association – the organization that stages and provides the logistics for the Boston Marathon.  Like Mayor Walsh, his statement earlier this week reflects acceptance of reality:

“The spirit of Boston and the spirit of the Boston Marathon is to be strong and to be smart.  When necessity drives you in a direction you may not like, you have to have this strength, the wisdom and the guidance from public officials to do what is right.”

Thank  you, Mr. Grilk.  Might I say that it would be beneficial to the country if every decision regarding choices between public health and sporting events were made with your statement in the forefront of the decision makers’ minds.

Finally, since much of today had to do with money and economics, here is a related comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“A bat used by Lou Gehrig sold for $1 million. There is only one baseball bat in the world worth $1 million. It’s the one with a check for $999,000 taped to the barrel.”

  • Memo to Greg Cote:  That means the bat cost you $1000.  That is an awfully expensive bat too…

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



Groundhog Day – – The Movie

We have all been here before.  Sadly, we know that this will end somehow and somewhere, but we will have to trudge our way through well-traveled scorched earth to get there.  This coma-inducing scenario is a real-life version of the movie, Groundhog Day, engendered by COVID-19.

That less-than-lovely introduction relates to the potential for a truncated 2020 season in MLB.  The fact that any possible season in MLB would have to be limited to 80-90 games at the most is no one’s fault; the coronavirus outbreak is the sole author of that fact.  As of now, it would appear that logistical issues might be tractable regarding an MLB “Opening Day” in early July producing an 82-game season.  That is not ideal, but it could work – – except – – there are economic issues as there always are regarding MLB.

About 10 days ago, I wrote that MLB and the MLBPA have a history of shooting one another in the foot only to take a break in that behavior to shoot themselves in their feet too.  Every last issue between those sides becomes a matter of pride and honor.  The owners and the players’ union seem to be taking their cues from the partisans in Congress when it comes to finding compromises on issues that will actually produce positive change.  In other words, they don’t even try…

Here is a rough timeline of how we got where we are:

  • COVID-19 terminates Spring Training in medias res.
  • Players and owners agree that 2020 salaries would be pre-rated relative to the fraction of the 162 normal games that are played.  Hallelujah!  An agreement…
  • As it became apparent that some – most – of the games might need to be played in front of empty stadiums, the two sides diverged on that agreement.  Owners want players to share in the agony of reduced revenues; players do not.
  • Owners suggest a 50/50 revenue split with players.  That is awfully close to a salary cap and the MLBPA is dead set against a salary cap under any pretense.
  • Owners offer up a huge proposal that shaves salaries drastically for the highest paid players and not nearly so much for players at the low end of the pay scale.  [Aside:  This sounds a bit like a “tax the rich” proposal which I doubt the MLB owners would support in the political arena.]
  • Players are up in arms – – and we have been here before.

The union went ballistic over the latest proposal calling it nothing more than “massive pay cuts”.  Well, in large measure, they are right.  And it is also right that the MLB owners are looking at “massive revenue cuts”.

The owners posit that they will lose – cumulatively – multiple billions of dollars without those salary reductions.  Well, in large measure, they are right.  And it is also right that as business owners they are not entitled to be guaranteed to make tons of money every single season.

Now, it is time for the MLBPA to make its proposal.  If their position is nothing more than the pro-rated salaries agreed to a couple months ago, then there could well be a completely missed MLB season for 2020 and that is doubly bad.  Lost in the back-and-forth rhetoric here and the coverage based on calculated leaks on both sides is a sobering reality even beyond COVID-19:

  • The CBA between the owners and the union expires at the end of the 2021 season.

If the inability to compromise on economic and health related issues causes the 2020 season to disappear, the soon-to-commence next round of CBA bargaining will surely begin with a dark cloud overhead.  Want to make that an even more dire set of circumstances?  Suppose there is a “second wave” of COVID-19 next Spring that will wipe out some or part of the 2021 season and force some games to be played in empty stadiums…

Switching gears …  The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will begin play on 27 June; if nothing changes in other sports, it will be the first professional team sport to emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown(s).  The league will stage a “Challenge Cup Tournament” in the Salt Lake City area with no fans in the stands.  The tournament will involve 9 teams and 25 games, and every game will be telecast on CBS Sports Network. The tournament champion will be crowned on 25 July.

If MLB does not get its act together and there is no baseball in July, this could be a big plus for the NWSL.  There seems to be a much better labor/management situation in the NWSL; the two sides appear to have agreed on a detailed and comprehensive plan to test players before every match and all during the time they are housed in and “NWSL Village” in Utah.  Here is a public statement from the NWSLPA – the union representing the players there:

“The NWSLPA, working closely aside NWSL, is excited to provide players the opportunity to return to sport, while also securing compensation and other necessities to make sure players’ concerns, feedback and safety are at the forefront of all conversations.”

Do not hold your breath until you hear that kind of statement coming from the MLBPA or the MLB owners!

One prominent NWSL player – Alex Morgan – will likely not be part of this return to action since she delivered a child on May 7.  I would certainly call that an “excused absence”.  Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding that birth:

“U.S. soccer star Alex Morgan’s first child, due in April, actually arrived in May.

“Why, of course — added time.”

Finally, since I mentioned the movie Groundhog Day obliquely above, here is an idea for Hollywood.  Movie studios love to make sequels to successful movies; only rarely do the sequels live up to the standard set by the original successful work.  So, here is my idea:

  • Announce the release of Groundhog Day – 2.
  • When people get to the theaters and are settled in for the opening, just show the original move over again.

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



Football Musings…

Yesterday, I wrote about the possible return of college football in the situation that there might be no students on campus in the Fall, but the football team would be active and playing in games.  I am not so sure that is a good idea and I am confident that not every school administration would want to operate in that manner.  I think there is another aspect of college football that might be examined since COVID-19 has forced everyone to think about things we previously took for granted.

College football always was an in-stadium spectacle.  Picture in your mind a home game at Penn State where everyone is wearing white or a game in Gainesville, FL with tens of thousands of fans doing the “Gator chomp” or the “Sea of Red” in Memorial Stadium when Nebraska is playing at home.  That has been the image of college football for decades.  To be sure, those schools and those stadiums continue with those traditions in 2020 and will likely keep them going for the foreseeable future.

However, there are signs that college football’s image or its appeal might be changing in terms of its focus.  Consider two issues that have arisen in the last couple of years”

  1. At Alabama home games, school officials have considered tracking students who attend games to see which ones stay in the stadium for the entire game.  Yes, I know that it is only recently that the technology has been available to do this sort of thing on a large scale, but realize that 20 years ago, it would not have been necessary even if the technology had existed.  Coach Nick Saban “chastised” those students who left games early saying that he wanted them to be as committed to supporting the team as the team was committed to winning.  Off the top of my head, I do not know who the Alabama coach was 20 years ago, but I cannot imagine him even thinking such a thing let alone saying it.
  2. As alternative to the mental pictures I asked  you to contemplate above, please take a moment to picture a home game in the Mid-American Conference on a Wednesday night in late October/early November.  Even though the stadiums there are much smaller than the ones I suggested above, they are sparsely populated.  There are small student sections; the band occupies a bunch of seats and in the rest of the stadium, there is virtually no one.

College football remains an “in-stadium spectacle” in many places but it is not the rock-solid entertainment that it used to be; there are cracks in the façade.  Schools, conferences and the NCAA have taught college football fans that it is no longer necessary to go to the stadium to enjoy the game.  As has happened in the NFL, the improvements in television picture quality along with the proliferation of games available in conjunction with the creature comforts present in your average man cave have created a different class of college football fan.  This different class is just as passionate about the games and the schools – – but (s)he evokes that passion somewhere other than in the stadium.  I don’t see that trend reversing any time soon; in fact, if colleges have to find ways to play in empty stadiums or ones where social distancing is enforced, there is a good chance that this trend will be enhanced in 2020.

Let me be clear; I am not trying to be like the prophet Jeremiah here; I am not “predicting” the destruction of college football.  What I am saying is that college football has been slowly evolving in the past 10-15 years away from a purely in-stadium event and that trend will continue to happen.  Since the college football mavens are going to be forced to think about things differently in 2020 anyway, perhaps it would be smart if they looked at this trend to see how they might make college football even stringer once COVID-19 is but a less-than-fond memory.

There is a report the morning that an investment bank hired by the XFL has twenty bidders at the moment who have signed non-disclosure agreements as a prelude to negotiating with the bank to buy the XFL out of bankruptcy.  Vince McMahon had been rumored to be angling to buy back the XFL for “pennies on the dollar” as part of these bankruptcy procedures, but he has asserted in court that he is not going to make such a bid.

Reports this morning say that there is a “robust market” for whatever remains of the XFL.  Given the lack of success for “Professional Spring Football” over the years, I am surprised that there are twenty entities out there ready to take on that challenge.  According to reports, some of the potential buyers are considering presenting the XFL on television in 2021 in a “12-week tournament-style TV experience”.  Please do not ask me to elaborate further on that matter because – like  you – I await an explanation too.

Finally, here are two comments from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times relevant to football’s in-stadium experience:

“At Fark.com: ‘Michigan governor says no full stadiums this fall. Or as the Lions call it: Sunday.’ “

And …

“Ohio State, among its contingencies amid the coronavirus pandemic, is bracing for football games in its 102,780-seat stadium with socially-distanced crowds of 20,000-22,000.

“In other words, they’d schedule a Buckeyes home game and a Rice home game breaks out.”

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



Reopening Sports…

The focal point of just about every discussion regarding US sports in late May 2020 relates to the question of how they will reopen – – or in the case of the NFL, will it open on schedule.  It should be clear to anyone who reads these rants that I would be part of the demographic that wants sports “back to normal” and it would certainly be easier for me to find things to write about if there were games happening.  Notwithstanding that fundamental prejudice, I do wonder about two aspects of our collective experience over the past10 weeks or so:

  1. Will sports fans rush back to their previous behaviors regarding “their teams” as soon as the seasons begin again – – or have a significant number of those fans learned that they can live without live sports?
  2. Recognizing that the pandemic has claimed almost 100,000 American lives as of this morning and that the pandemic has put at least 35 million people out of work, have a significant number of people come to view the “essential nature” of sports very differently?

I suspect that fans will return to sports relatively quickly in terms of watching on TV.  Live attendance will probably be a completely different thing varying from league to league.  If MLB returns to empty stadiums, fans will not have a choice regarding attending or staying home.  If the NBA plays their games in Orlando as a “hub city”, fans in Phoenix are less likely to show up than they would be for a “pre-COVID-19 home game”.  But I do think that televised games that matter – – real live games that count in the standings – – will draw good audiences on TV.  I think those broadcasts will provide fans with an opportunity that they recall fondly in an environment where other entertainment options are not as easily available as they used to be.

It appears as if the NBA and the NHL are making progress toward reopening their seasons.  Players and owners seem to be willing to negotiate and compromise on things like playing conditions, health issues and economics.  As of this morning, I am less sanguine about MLB and the MLBPA showing any meaningful interest in compromising on anything.  Those two sides seem willing to acknowledge jointly that the sun sank in the west last evening – – and not much else.

The NFL and college football are different stories in that their seasons have not been interrupted; the question there is along the lines of can they begin on time – – and if so, can they continue to play out a season without spreading the virus to an unacceptable level.  It seems that the economics in the NFL is self-healing; as revenues for teams declines, so does next year’s salary cap; the teams’ major expense item – – player salaries – – are tied directly to revenue.  When there are labor management issues regarding NFL games, it would seem to me that the focus will be on players’ health and safety

College football has another wrinkle to it.  Administrators will need to consider if the school can field a football team under the circumstances that the campus at large is closed to students.  I think it is a long haul for those folks to do that because:

  • Closing the campus to students would be a decision made in recognition that the health and safety of the student body is better served by not having them in great numbers on campus.  Schools will not close down for no good reason.
  • If in an abundance of caution, admins close the campuses but then allow a football team to practice and play, what responsibility might those admins have forsaken when a player or coach comes down with COVID-19.  I would not be surprised if liability lawyers have not already begun to hone their arguments for cases that would arise there.

The second question above relates to the way we view sports as part of the essential infrastructure of our society.  One thing we know for sure is that the nation can survive for about 10 weeks without the major US sports.  What I don’t know is if our recent sports-free experience has changed a lot of minds about how “essential” the games are and how “essential” it is to pay a football or basketball coach $5M a year or more and how “essential” the games are that it would be OK to risk the health of the players even if they played in empty stadiums.

The NCAA President – Dr. Mark Emmert – said emphatically that the idea of closed campuses with active football programs and games was not happening.  This does not happen often, but I am in total agreement with Dr. Emmert on this one.  The problem here is that the NCAA is not on totally solid ground here.  The Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big-10, Big-12, SEC and PAC-12) dominate college football and they could choose to bolt from the NCAA on the “football side” and agree to tolerate the NCAA on the “basketball side”.  [Aside:  If the Power 5 conferences leave the NCAA, do not be surprised if all of them expand to have 16 teams in each of the conferences.  That act would permanently divide major college football into the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”.]

I do not have answers here; I do think these are the sorts of issues that will be interesting to watch over the next several weeks – and maybe in the case of football over the next couple of months.

By the way, before I sign off from this issue:

  • Can you think of a dozen things in society that are less “essential” than about 35 of the college football bowl games that are played between December 20 and December 31?

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Eccentric:  The type of unconventional, idiosyncratic, oddball character with whom it is utterly unbearable to spend even five minutes in the same room, but whom we somehow find uplifting and inspiring when they are the fictional subject of a two-hour movie.”

[Aside:  I always thought that a person was “eccentric” if he/she was worth $100M or more but that same person was merely “weird” at a lower net worth.]

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



Rest In Peace Jerry Sloan And Eddie Sutton

If the adage is correct that bad things happen in threes, then the death of top-flight coaches has completed a triad.  Don Shula died a couple of weeks ago.  Last Friday, Jerry Sloan, who coached the Utah Jazz for 23 seasons and amassed more than 1200 wins in the NBA passed away.  I remember Jerry Sloan as a player for the Chicago Bulls in the early 70s; he was a tenacious defender.  His Jazz teams with Karl Malone and John Stockton made the pick-and-roll a staple item for NBA offenses that carries on until today.

Rest in peace, Jerry Sloan.

In addition, Eddie Sutton died over the weekend.  His career was at the collegiate level where his teams won more than 800 games.  He took four different schools to the NCAA tournament and had Oklahoma State and Arkansas teams in the Final Four.

Rest in peace, Eddie Sutton.

Also over the weekend, there were reports that Ryan Leaf was arrested in California and charged with “misdemeanor domestic battery”.  I am not sure what the details of the incident are, but he is out on bail and his next court appearance is not until late September.  Ryan Leaf has not had an easy road in his life.  He was the overall #2 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft – – right behind Peyton Manning – – but his NFL career was marginal to put it as kindly as possible.  After the NFL, he has battled drug addiction and various other criminal charges.  Recently, he appeared to have gotten his life in order and was hired by ESPN as a college football color analyst.   I only heard him do one game, but I thought he had found himself a career niche that would work for him.

I do not intend to prejudge the outcome of these charges, but I cannot conjure up a set of circumstances where any of that advances his career as an on-air talent with ESPN…

Over the past couple of weeks, a lot of attention focused on The Last Dance.  Given the dearth of sports options on TV over the last couple of months, I tuned in to Episode 1 and thought it was OK – – but nothing more than that.  I watched part of Episode 2 and an even smaller portion of Episode 3 until I admitted to myself that despite the rave reviews the series was getting, I did not particularly like them.  I saw nothing beyond the very early part of Episode 3.  Obviously, I am not representative of the viewing public and because people watched in great numbers and continue to discuss points made in the series, there are going to be copycat productions.  Two such imitations have already been “announced”:

  1. LeBron James has a TV/movie production company – Uninterrupted – and that company is going to produce a documentary on the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal.  I have not seen a production schedule or a target date for this project to be completed, but I can say confidently that I am already tired of it.
  2. Also in the works is a 9-part documentary on the career – – to date to be sure – – of Tom Brady.  I will not care about that one either.  However, I will note here before it ever shows up as a viewing option that The Last Dance was a 10-part series and the Brady-documentary is supposed to be only a 9-part series.  What’s up with that?

My guess is that we are in the early stages of a new fad in sports programming for television.  I think this will continue until the American public cries uncle after someone produces a 5-part series that starts with the working title:

  • The Man, The Myth, The Mediocrity – – Joe Flabeetz

The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) is another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics caused the USOPC to lay off 51 employees, furlough an additional 33 employees terminate 23 temporary employees and give buyouts to 40 other workers.  The USOPC had expected to take in something close to $200M this summer as its share of the TV deal for the Tokyo Games; obviously, that is not happening and that means belt-tightening is the order of the day for the USOPC.

If you add up the numbers of employees “let go”, it comes to 147 folks; according to reports, the USOPC cut its workforce by “roughly 20 percent”.  That means the workforce prior to the cuts was around 750 people.  I know that USOPC runs training sites for athletes in Lake Placid, Colorado Springs and San Diego and I realize that keeping those sites up and running requires staff.  Nonetheless, I wonder why it takes 750 people to deal with games that basically happen once every two years…

Finally, here is an observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Update: Korean baseball broadcasts seemed like an amusing diversion a week or so ago. But in my household, the fad has run its course. Just can’t relate.”

For the record, I watched about 5 innings of one game here in Curmudgeon Central and gave up on it.

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



Superdome Naming Rights

A couple of days ago, ESPN.com had a note that the naming rights deal for the Saints’ Superdome stadium was coming to an end and that Mercedes Benz opted not to renew the deal.  The Superdome is owned by the State of Louisiana, but the Saint’s lease gives them the authority to negotiate any naming rights deal(s).  Everything here was amicable; the ESPN piece simply said that the Saints were looking for a new naming rights “partner”.

There was nothing important about that announcement; I sort of filed it away in the recesses of my brain as a “Fact Not Worth Remembering”.  Then, yesterday afternoon I received an email from Gregg Drinnan formerly the sports editor for the Kamloops Daily News and now the author of the Taking Note blog.  It sent me back to the ESPN.com piece where I found this statement from the Saints Senior VP for Communications:

“The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is a globally iconic building that brings a tremendous valuable future for a naming rights partner.  As with the philosophy of the Saints organization and the stature of the building, it will serve to represent our city, state and region as a leader to better our community, to be a more than just a naming rights opportunity, but a real partner, just as Mercedes-Benz was. And in that partnership, the goal will be to bring positive change to our region, our city and state, through a number of initiatives.”

As I said, the original piece had nothing particularly noteworthy in it; that statement is pretty much what you would expect to hear along with that announcement.  So, here is what Gregg Drinnan sent to me; he does not know how or why he got a copy of it, but it does provide a change of tone for the naming rights issue:

“Hi – I wanted to reach out following news that the New Orleans Saints are seeking a new naming rights partner for the Superdome. One of the world’s leading adult webcam sites, Stripchat is aiming to penetrate the sports world and is announcing a bid of up to $15,000,000 for the naming rights to the Superdome. We’d like to name it the “Stripchat Superdome” and for it to the home to the future Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

“Check out the offer here (SFW link), and below – https://www.dropbox.com/sh/dnl3v0l0pgvblnl/AABM8kX4EpCNlG4tuwAPv5OAa?dl=0

Max Bennett

Stripchat Communications Director

“In our opinion, New Orleans is the party capital of the United States. It’s always been synonymous with nightlife and entertainment. It comes alive at night, with people wandering the neon-hued promenade of one the most famous nightlife strips in the world – Bourbon Street. Aside from being known for its rich Cajun cuisine, array of alcoholic drinks (The Sazerac, brandy milk punch, Pimms Cup, Vieux Carre, the French 75, the Hurricane, and of course, the Hand Grenade) and beads, New Orleans is synonymous with football. More specifically, the New Orleans Saints.

“I’d like to think that we here at Stripchat embody some of New Orleans’ character and flair. As one of the world’s leading adult webcam sites that averages over 60 million visitors per month, we know a thing or two about having a good time. We have been looking into penetrating the sports world and think this is a wonderful opportunity to do so by announcing a bid of up to $15,000,000 for the naming rights to the Superdome. We’d like to name it the “Stripchat Superdome” and for it to be home to the future Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

“Who Dat?

“ Bon Temps rouler.”

Now I need to refile that “Fact Not Worth Remembering” as “Don’t Forget The Saints Naming Rights Business”.  Oh, by the way, it did not escape my notice that the folks at Stripchat say they have been “looking into penetrating the sports world”.  That is at least a double entendre in this context…

Over in the world of baseball, MLB and the Players’ Union are in the process of working out the details for starting what will be a truncated 2020 season at best.  There are 3 things that will certainly happen in the next week or so:

  1. MLB will try to focus attention on all the revenues they have already lost in 2020 and how revenues will surely be below normal for the rest of 2020 with reduced levels of attendance.
  2. The Union will try to focus attention on the fact that the players are the ones taking a potentially fatal risk here and that while the owners may stand to lose some money, the players could lose their lives or the lives of a family member.
  3. A large fraction of baseball fans will not care about the rhetoric here and simply want the two sides to get to an agreement so there can be baseball games.  [Aside: I am already at this stage of caring about all this.]

Tom Glavine was the player representative for the Union back in 1994 when a work stoppage in August canceled the World Series and about a dozen games at the start of the 1995 season.  He took a lot of heat back then.  Earlier this week he spent time with Steve Hummer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and that interview is chronicled here.  I suggest you read it in its entirety.

Glavine has a special perspective on the delicacy of the negotiations that will be ongoing now and he has what I think is cogent advice for the players to consider.  He says that if there is not baseball because the economics cannot be worked out, the fans will blame the players.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times recently:

“Onetime Cardinals first baseman Mark Hamilton has just become, at age 35, Dr. Mark Hamilton.

“In other words, he’s gone from ‘take two and hit to right’ to ‘take two and call me in the morning.’”

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





NFL Diversity Options

Two days ago when I was railing against the NFL proposal to reward teams that hired minority head coaches and/or GMs with enhanced draft order positioning, I tried to make the point that progress toward some sort of racial/ethnic balance in that area had to come from the owners individually.  They are the ones who do the hiring and firing; they need to come to a point where they modify their own behaviors; the NFL as an entity cannot make them do those things.

The next day, there was a story on CBSSports.com that enhances the point I was trying to make.  Sam Quinn is a basketball writer for that website and his article linked here concerns the overt racism displayed by former LA Clippers owner, Donald Sterling.  His behaviors were sufficiently odious that the NBA forced him to sell his franchise.  According to Quinn’s article, former Clippers GM, Elgin Baylor, asserted in a lawsuit against Sterling that he wanted the organization run like an old southern plantation – – all Black players doing the work with a White head coach directing their actions.

In addition, Quinn recounts that Sterling almost negated a trade because it would put a white player, JJ Redick, on the Clippers squad.  You should take a moment and read that article because it drives home an important point related to “diversity issues” when it comes to sports.

  • If an owner harbors racially based thoughts, (s)he is likely to act on those racially based thoughts.
  • Offering marginal incentives for him/her to change those thoughts is not likely to change those thought patterns.
  • The league as an entity does,  however, hold the “ace of trump” in this game; it can force the owner to sell the team in order to save the league public ridicule – – but that is really the only card that the league has in its hand.

I purposely used the gender-inclusive pronouns above because Donald Sterling is not alone as a team owner forced to sell the team because of embarrassing racial actions.  Please recall Marge Schott as the owner of the Cincinnati Reds and some of her comments about Black players and in support of Adolf Hitler.  If you need to refresh your memory, you can find one of her obituaries here; it chronicles the high points and low points of her life.

The NFL does not have an owner with a public record of racial/ethnic misbehavior that approaches either Donald Sterling or Marge Schott; it is nowhere near a point where one or more owners need to be called out and threatened with being forced out of the league.  That is why the only real option the league has is to encourage owners to be more expansive in their searching for head coaches and GMs.

Switching sports …  The Triple Crown races this year are in total disarray.  Normally, by 21 May the first two legs of the Triple Crown would have been run with the Belmont Stakes looming as the third race in the series at a mile and a half – – often the longest race that any of its contestants ever run.  Here is the degree to which the COVID-19 outbreak has upset this annual tradition:

  • The dates of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness have been postponed.  Tentatively, the Derby will take place on Labor Day weekend and the Preakness will be on a Saturday in October.  The Belmont Stakes is scheduled to take place on June 20 at Belmont Park but will likely be without fans in the stands.
  • Note that the order of the events is upended too.
  • And – – for some reason – – the folks who put on the Belmont Stakes have decided to run the race this year at a mile and an eighth instead of the normal mile and a half.

If a horse manages to win this year’s version of the Triple Crown, there will need to be an asterisk in the record books…

Finally, Dwight Perry had these suggestions for some MLB public service announcements as we endured COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions:

Proposed MLB public-service ad slogans for endorsing stay-at-home edicts during the pandemic:

  • You’re safe at home.

  • Lay off the curve.

  • Don’t even think about leaving the yard.

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



A Logical Fallacy

Today I have a perfect example of the logical fallacy known as:

  • Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

That is Latin for “After that, therefore because of that”.  Just because one thing happened before another thing in time does not mean that the first event caused the subsequent event.  And here is proof that this is a logical fallacy:

  • Yesterday in the morning, I wrote here that the NFL was about to change the so-called Rooney Rule in a way that I thought was wrong-headed.
  • Yesterday afternoon, the NFL owners chose to table the proposal to make that change.

Both statements are absolutely correct.  It is also absolutely correct that there is no causal relationship between the two statements.

Here is another example where correlation does not prove causation – – but in this case there may be at least a few threads that link the two events to each other.

  • Only a couple of weeks ago, the Governor of NY and the Governor of CA saw no way to hold large sporting events in their states.  Gov. Newsom in CA said that football might be possible by Thanksgiving.  Now, both Governors have done a 180-degree turn on that issue and are open to the idea of limited and controlled circumstances for sporting events in NY and CA.
  • MLB and the NBA have supposedly considered playing all their games in one confined geographical area to limit the need for travel and to minimize exposure of players and coaches to multiple areas of the country.

Both of those statements are absolutely correct.  The major shift in position for the Governors of NY and CA might have been caused at least in part by the ruminations of MLB and the NBA because the Governors of AZ, FL and TX all extended welcoming greetings to those leagues.  Since I cannot read minds, I cannot know that the potential loss of sports revenue from NY and CA if games are played but not in those states played any part at all in the decision making.  But I can convince myself that it could have…  It is always a good idea to heed the words of Deep Throat:

“Follow the money.”

Speaking of football and money, there are reports that the CFL as a league is in financial trouble.  The CFL Commissioner, Randy Ambrosie, testified in the Canadian Parliament that the CFL is in danger of folding if it does not get some relief from the Canadian government.  One rep0rt said that the CFL may need up to $150M in relief if its entire season is canceled.  CFL teams generate most of their revenues from the live gate and sponsorships; there are media rights deals in place, but those deals are nowhere near what the NFL takes in for media rights.  Therefore, if teams must forego games – or play games with no fans in the stands – and if teams must begin to refund money paid in advance by season ticket holders, the financial squeeze is on.

Many of the CFL players are US citizens and many reside in the US during the off-season.  That fact presents the CFL with two special problems:

  1. As of today, the border between the US and Canada is closed to non-essential travel due to COVID-19.  It is not clear how “essential” football players might be regarding border crossings.  The current closure extends to June 21; the CFL regular season was scheduled to start on June 11.
  2. At least some of the money that Parliament might extend to the CFL would be used to pay players on the CFL rosters.  There could easily be a reluctance on the part of Parliament members from places where there is no CFL team to funnel Canadian tax dollars to US citizens via a CFL team.

I enjoy CFL games; often the CFL Friday night game is more interesting than other Friday night sports offerings on my cable system and I tune in.  For purely selfish reasons, I hope that Commissioner Ambrosie is successful in finding ways to keep the CFL afloat; it has been around for longer than the NFL and it provides an interesting alternative football experience.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times recently:

“May 13 marked the 35-year anniversary of O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby serving as the groomsmen in ex-football star Ahmad Rashad’s wedding.

“Just for the record, O.J. was the best man.”

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



Rooney Rule 2.0

Last week, I mentioned that I had read somewhere that Tom Brady had been the favorite in 74 consecutive games but that streak was in danger because the Bucs are 4.5-point underdogs to the Saints in this year’s season opener – – assuming there is a season and that the opener is played on time.  The reader in Houston sent me an email yesterday afternoon with a significant expansion on that situation:

“The last time Brady was not favored in the regular season was Week 2 of 2015 when the Pats were 1-point dogs on the road against the Bills, and they ended up winning, 40-32. Since that day, Tom has not been an underdog in the regular season, a streak only Steve Young/49ers came close to between 1993 and 1997 (my spread records go back to 1977). During that span, Young/49ers were the favorite in 63 straight games.

“Currently, the second longest player/team fave streak is Brees/Saints standing at 9 games, going into the 2020 season.”

He also pointed out in his email that the Patriots were underdogs for a game against the Cardinals during Brady’s 4-game suspension in 2016.  Yet one more time, thanks for the explanation to the reader in Houston.

The NFL is poised to make some changes to the so-called Rooney Rule as early as this afternoon.  There is a growing recognition that the current rule mandating that teams interview at least one minority candidate for any head coaching or GM vacancy is not producing the sort of results that were envisioned when it began.  The idea now is to incentivize teams not for interviewing candidates but for actually hiring them.  If a team hires a minority head coach, and keeps him on, that team can move up 6 spots in the third round of a draft and if they hire a minority GM, that would be worth moving up 10 spots.  [Aside: Yes, the “move-ups” can be combined if a team hired both a minority GM and head coach.]  In addition to the “draft incentives” other changes are:

  • Teams must now interview at least two minority candidates for any vacant head coach or GM position.
  • Teams must now interview at least one minority candidate for any vacant coordinator position.

I know this is a horribly incorrect thing to say, but I really do not like the idea of these changes.  It is not that I deny the obvious lack of minority head coaches and GMs in the NFL nor is it that I have the slightest objection to the presence of minorities in those positions.  My problem(s) with these changes are far more generic.

First, “Rooney Rule 2.0” would provide an incentive for teams to hire someone based on race or ethnicity.  Simply stated, that is merely a wrinkle on the idea that a team would hire someone solely based on that person’s skin color or ethnicity.  I am sorry; but I find both of those situations to be wrong.  Personally, I do not think it is “progress” to correct a “wrong” with another “wrong”.  To accept that as a way toward “progress”, I would have to believe that the end justifies the means – – and I do not.

Let me state my fundamental principle for any hiring decision – in this case specifically for NFL coaches and executives:

  • Race and/or ethnic background should never be part of the hiring decision.

The fact that race and/or ethnicity has been a significant part of NFL hiring decisions in the past does not make it right to institute a rule that would codify just such behavior in the future.  Oh, and by the way, would the hiring of a white woman as a head coach or as a GM get an even bigger incentive since that legally protected class is even less represented in those positions?

Moreover, if this rule is in place over time, it will penalize teams that made good hiring decisions that happen to be white males.  The Patriots and the Chiefs have not had to make a coaching change for a long time because they hired coaches who have been successful.  So, they never get the opportunity to “move up” in the draft because their coaches are successful?  What kind of perverse universe does that make sense in?

Let me game the system for a moment.  Bill Belichick is the head coach and the GM in New England.  If the Pats hire a minority to be the “GM” but (s)he does nothing but sit at the dais during press conferences, is that worth a 10-spot move up in the Draft?

The fact that decision makers in the NFL are even considering this change identifies the core of the problem; those decision makers do not want to admit it, but this sort of thinking lays it bare.  The stark reality is this:

  • Hiring decisions for head coaching jobs in the NFL and for GM jobs in the NFL are made by the owner – or in the case where a GM “hires a coach” the reality is that the choice is approved by the owner. 
  • White men do not materialize into those positions using the “beam me up, Scotty device”; white men get those jobs because the owners put them in those jobs.
  • The “problem” is that the 32 owners are the “problem”.  They can identify it every morning when they look in the bathroom mirror to brush their teeth.  It is staring back at them.

Until and unless the NFL owners individually decide to change their way of doing business, we can look forward to a “Rooney Rule 3.0” sometime down the road.  This situation cannot be solved by Roger Goodell or his successor(s) or the Fritz Pollard Alliance or the NFLPA.  Those folks can be advocates for change – but they cannot effect change.  In fact, I believe that the very act of proposing such a modification to the Rooney Rule is evidence that those folks realize that they cannot effect change here.

By the way, the Cleveland Browns are not the NFL poster children for this issue.  In very recent history, the Browns have had 2 minority head coaches (Romeo Crennel and Hue Jackson) whose combined record with the team was 27 – 76 – 1.  The Browns have also had 3 minority GMs/Front Office folks (Andrew Berry, Sashi Brown and Ray Farmer).  The Browns demonstrate to me the rather obvious situation that can be simply stated as:

  • Dysfunctional organizations are dysfunctional because they make dysfunctional decisions.  Forest Gump might say that dysfunction is as dysfunction does.

The Browns are not dysfunctional because of the race or ethnicity of their coaches and GMs; the Browns are dysfunctional because they have made bad choices over the years regarding players, coaches, team philosophy and the like.  They have mixed in some minority folks along the way, but that did not cure the dysfunctionality because that exists at a higher level in the organization.

Consider the Skins for a moment.  For the last 20 years, the Skins have had white men as head coaches and GMs.  Two of those white head coaches had won a total of 5 Super Bowls – but they left Washington as failures.  Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan did not “get stupid” all of a sudden and forget how to coach a football team.  The Skins lack of success – like the Browns’ lack of success – has much less to do with the race and ethnicity of the coaches and GMs than it does with the organizational dysfunctionality around those men.

Finally, having spent a lot of time today discussing dysfunction, let us see what The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm has to say about it:

Dysfunctional:  Impaired in some way, often as regards the family unit.  A term much overused by a whole generation of the self-absorbed middle class, who seem to have no qualms about looking a deeply scarred abuse survivor in the face and saying that they, too, grew up in a dysfunctional family because mom and dad never gave them the emotional permission to realize their own uniqueness.  It’s all Oprah’s fault.”

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



Rest In Peace, Phyllis George

Phyllis George died last week.  The arc of her life was unique.  She was Miss America in 1970; she was a reporter and studio host for The NFL Today on CBS alongside Brent Musburger, Jimmy the Greek and Irv Cross; she was the First Lady of Kentucky; she was the anchor for CBS Morning News; she was an entrepreneur.  Other than that, she led a quiet existence.  Brad Dickson Tweeted this brief statement to let people under the age of 40 know about Phyllis George:

“Phyllis George – who was Erin Andrews before Erin Andrews was, only a lot better – has died.”

Rest in peace, Phyllis George.

I have no interest in participating in any discussion related to the Second Amendment and/or gun control – – but I suspect that a bunch of folks involved with the NFL would like to put some restrictions on players and guns.  Here is what happened in the last 4 days:

  • Quinton Dunbar (CB, Seahawks) and DeAndre Baker (CB, Giants) were arrested in Florida charged with armed robbery.
  • Cody Latimer (WR, Skins) was arrested in Colorado on “assault and weapons charges”.
  • Ed Oliver (DT, Bills) was arrested in Texas on charges of DWI and “gun violations”.

As is to be expected, the 4 teams associated with these players have issued statements that they are gathering information about the incidents that they have been in touch with the players and the players’ lawyers and that they are in “wait-and-see mode”.  I suspect however, that at least a few folks associated with those 4 teams have uttered the phrase “WTF” when informed of these arrests.

The 2020 MLB Draft is going to be limited to 5 rounds – in the past it went on until all the teams passed in a round.  Putting a limitation on the number of players selected makes sense when you also consider that MLB is in the process of finalizing an agreement with Minor League Baseball to reduce the number of minor league teams affiliated with each MLB team.  Fewer minor league teams require fewer minor league players; that is not a difficult concept to grasp.

At the same time, teams need to recognize that some rather good players were selected in rounds well beyond Round 5 of previous Drafts.  The one that leapt to mind was Mike Piazza; I thought he was taken in the 50th round; I was wrong; he was taken in the 62nd round of the 1988 Draft.

Here are three other players whose MLB careers earned them induction into the Hall of Fame but who did not make it into the top 5 rounds of the Draft in the year they were selected:

  • Nolan Ryan – – taken in the 12th round in 1965
  • Ryne Sandberg – – taken in the 20th round in 1978
  • John Smoltz – – taken in the 22nd round in 1985.

I am sure there are myriad examples akin to these, but I am not in the mood to do the necessary searching to find some more this morning.

The MLB/Minor League Baseball negotiations have their foundations in economics; limiting the Draft is economically driven.  I have come to expect such activities to relate to economics, accounting, finances and the like.  What I do not like to see – and what I saw too much of in the recent off-season that extended into the time when baseball’s regular season should be underway – are baseball decisions that are rooted in economics.

It will take a lot of arm-waving and statistical legerdemain to convince me that the Mookie Betts trade to the Dodgers was based on anything other than economics/cost control by the Red Sox.  Over the winter – and possibly still – there were reports related to:

  • The Cubs considering trading Kris Bryant
  • The Indians considering trading Francisco Lindor.
  • The Rockies considering trading Nolan Arenado.

In previous years, MLB rosters held 750 players at one time.  Let me be clear; the Top 5% of active MLB players would be 37.5 players.  I assert that Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor and Nolan Arenado are all in that Top 5%.  Moreover, every one of those players in the Top 5% of MLB is under 30 years old this morning.  The idea of trading any of them – except possibly one for another – makes no baseball sense.

I would have thought that the Red Sox would be the last team to trade a star player for economics reason given their history in 1919 when they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees.  Supposedly, the Sox owner at the time used some of the money to finance a Broadway play that did not enjoy along run.  The future of the Yankees with Bab Ruth on the team is known to every baseball fan.

Finally, let me close today with two observations from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Squeamish baseball fans will want to avert their eyes as owners and players resume a financial battle over the 2020 season that could test the boundaries of mutually assured destruction.”

And …

In closing: Let’s end on a brighter note. Did you see that Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez are no longer involved in the purchase of the Mets? Who says baseball isn’t producing uplifting stories?”

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