Cam Newton And The Patriots

Back on June 19th, my rant was titled, A Tale of Three Quarterbacks; I opined on what might happen with Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Josh Rosen.  You can read it here.  I argued then that Cam Newton would be a logical fit with the Steelers; yesterday, reports appeared saying that Cam Newton had signed a 1-year deal with the Patriots that is laden with incentives and if they are all achieved, the contract would be worth $7.5M.

The reports regarding those terms cleared up one of the questions I had in mind when thinking about where Cam Newton might go; I wondered if he would “settle” for backup QB money; obviously, he was willing to do that.  Another major question in my mind was the degree to which Newton had recovered from two surgeries in the past two years.  Since he only played in 2 games in 2019, he has had ample “recovery time”, but there is always the uncertainty as to how much he will resemble the “pre-injured” Cam Newton when he hits the field again.  The engagement of this contract action with the Patriots would seem to indicate that the Pats and their medical people are satisfied that Newton is hearty enough to do what they want  him to do.

And that is the interesting question on the table now:

  • Cam Newton and Tom Brady are about as different as two successful NFL QBs can be.  The Pats’ offense for next to forever has been designed around Tom Brady who is an immobile, accurate short-range passer.  Cam Newton is mobile, agile, not nearly as accurate on short routes and a QB who likes to push the ball downfield more than once or twice a game.
  • So …  Are the Pats going to try to get Cam Newton to reinvent himself in the image of Tom Brady or are the Pats going to revamp their offensive approach?

[Aside:  Cam Newton had better come to realize quickly that he does not have a lot of speed burners at the WR position currently in New England and that he may need to stifle that part of his approach to the game.]

Obviously, I do not know which course of action Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniel will take with Newton – – and I am assuming here that Newton will indeed beat out Jarrett Stidham for the starting assignment.  Having said that, I do believe that those two men have already decided how they will use Cam Newton this year.  I do not believe for a moment that they signed Cam Newton without having a plan in mind that they will seek to implement.

One thing that is clear to me is that there will be a new avenue of offensive attack available to the Pats this year.  That would be the run-pass-option play.  I said above that Tom Brady is an immobile QB; picture in your mind the mobility of an Easter Island statue; Tom Brady is probably a step-and-a-half faster than that.  Cam Newton can run, seemingly likes to run and is quite effective running the football.  At the very least, the Patriots will have a dozen run-pass-option plays that might be inserted into a game plan for 2020 that simply were not there in 2019.

The addition of Cam Newton to the Pats’ roster seems to me to be a low-risk step by the Pats because it is a 1-year deal at backup money.  It is highly unlikely that Cam Newton will perform at the level he did in 2015 when he was the NFL MVP and took the Panthers to the Super Bowl.  Nonetheless, if his injuries are healed and he stay healthy, Newton is more than merely a capable QB; he is better than a lot of the QBs other teams will have under center in 2020.

At the same time, I am surprised by one aspect of this deal.  I would have thought that there would be some sort of team option included here just in case Newton does flash the sort of brilliance he did 5-7 years ago.  In that circumstance, it is logical that the Pats would want to have some sort of “hook” in Newton for one more season.  I doubt we will ever know how or why such an option never made it to the final deal.

Here is another unknown.

  • Does this acquisition mean that Belichick and his staff believe they have another shot at a Super Bowl this season?  If they do not, why not go with the much younger Jarrett Stidham to find out what he has to offer down the road for the team?
  • Or – maybe – does this indicate that Belichick and Company have already decided on that question?

The New England Patriots – and the AFC East as a division – have not been particularly interesting for the last decade or so.  We pretty much knew who would win the division and make the playoffs as soon as they kicked off in the season-opening game.  The reason for the lack of interest was the dominance of the Patriots.  As with many other aspects of life, 2020 is going to be a “different year”.

  • Are the Patriots – with the addition of Cam Newton – still the “Beasts of the East”?

For the record, even if the Pats do win the East and make the playoffs in January – assuming there are indeed playoffs in January – I do not think that the signing of Cam Newton puts the Pats at a level where they are equal to the Chiefs or the Ravens in the AFC.

Switching gears form a discussion of a former NFL MVP and Super Bowl QB to an undrafted free agent in this year’s draft, that undrafted free agent has demonstrated the value of an adage:

  • You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Jermiah Braswell signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals after the NFL Draft.  He has not yet reported to any of the team activities – – because there have not been any.  However, his coaches know one thing about him now.

  • He was arrested and charged with “operating a vehicle while intoxicated”  after he drove said vehicle into Lake Erie.

Finally, here is an observation by Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“A U.S. Olympic boxer was cleared when it was determined her banned substance happened because of sex. Her name: Virginia Fuchs.”

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



An Abnormal Time…

2020 has been anything but a “normal time” in history.  Considering the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economic disruption caused by that pandemic and the social upheaval ongoing here in the US, it is hardly difficult to understand how and why 2020 is an “oddball year”.  Normally at the end of June, this would be the way things were always meant to be in the sports world:

  • We would speak of the Triple Crown in the past tense.
  • In baseball, the focus now would be on who got snubbed for the All-Star Game.
  • We would now know the NBA and NHL champions for 2019/2020.
  • March Madness would be a fond memory.
  • NFL teams would be getting training camps ready to open.
  • Wimbledon would be underway.
  • The Masters and The US Open would be history.

Exactly none of that is part of the sports commentary in the US.  We do know about how MLB and the MLBPA have found creative ways to piss off baseball fans.  We know that the NBA has a plan to play its games in the “Orlando Bubble”.  We know that MLB has a plan to return to action – – but there are as many question marks involved there as there were back in mid-March before the league and the players got into their little spitting match.  The NFL steadfastly holds that it will start its season on time and play it out until the Super Bowl in 2021.   Meanwhile whatever life force oversees COVID-19 on Planet Earth seems to be saying:

  • “We’ll get back to you on all that…”

I am on record with the following positions:

  • I doubt that the NBA can maintain the “Bubble isolation” factor for every team and every player and every “essential worker” that needs to enter and exit the “Orlando Bubble” over the next 3 months.  I would like to be wrong in that skepticism, but I will need to be shown that I am wrong.
  • I am more doubtful that MLB can keep players and teams healthy under its health and safety protocols.  We already know that any sort of “record” set in 2020 will have an asterisk on it the size of a planet; so, how many MLB players on a single team need to be sidelined by COVID-19 to take it out of the running – – meaning that the expanded playoffs may have been diluted even further?
  • I cannot imagine a scenario wherein the NFL starts on time and plays a full 16-game schedule plus expanded playoffs plus a Super Bowl without major disruptions.

So, how can we take even a bit of solace from all this even if it is only for a brief interlude?  Maybe the best way if to look back on an absurdity that was put forth since mid-March and to amuse ourselves with it.

Early on when MLB entertained the idea of starting up on June 1st, there was a debate about how many games would fit into its idea of a truncated season.  Scott Boras put out a “plan” for a full season that would extend into December where all late season games and playoffs and World Series Games would happen in neutral warm weather cities.  That is goofy enough, but he also had the World Series extending just beyond Christmas Day 2020.  My immediate reaction there was to ignore it as being way beyond idealistic and I put it into the bin of dusty memories.  And then I had a long “just catching up/checking in” phone conversation with a long-time reader of these rants…

He said that I had missed the point and that he was wondering if I was beginning “to lose my grip on delicious irony.”  Here is why:

  • If the World Series extended to Christmas, it would also be in play on 23 December and that is the celebration of Festivus.  As my good friend said, can you imagine a scenario on MLB where you had the “airing of grievances” – – many of which might be directed at Scott Boras himself – – just two days before Christmas?  Have the events of the last 3 months shown us that there are latent hostilities on both sides of the MLB squabble to make Festivus 2020 into an event only a tad more civilized than the Gunfight at the OK Corral?
  • My friend is correct; even Jerry Seinfeld and Jerry Stiller could not write a scene that might eclipse that one for “crash-and-burn potential”…

Meanwhile, Bob Molinaro had this observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

“Only kidding: At a time when some big earners are taking financial haircuts, ESPN notes that the highest-paid public employee in 40 states is a football or men’s basketball coach. Clearly then, the priorities of the other 10 states need adjustment.”

While that stat alone indicates that there is indeed a wrinkle in the space-time continuum in many states, I wonder how much more pernicious this could be.  Are there states where the Top 5 public employees in a given state are all football coaches and/or men’s basketball coaches?  Without doing any research here, I would not be even mildly surprised to learn that Dan Mullen, Mike White, Leonard Hamilton and Mike Norvell all make more in salary that does the governor of Florida.  So, might there be another coach in that state to fill out the “Top 5 Criterion”?

Finally, here is Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times filling us in on happenings in the life of Bob Uecker – the broadcast voice of the Milwaukee Brewers:

“’I’m doing what everybody else is doing, and that’s stay locked down, shut down and wear a mask if I do need one,’ the ex-catcher, 86, told ‘I went in the store a couple of weeks ago with a catcher’s mask, and they told me it was the wrong one. It helps when you get punched in the face, but that’s about it.’

“Punched in the face?

“’Yeah,’ Uecker said. ‘A lot of people are still living that saw me play.’”

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



Heads Up

Earlier this month, I was off the air for a week because my long-suffering wife and I were at our weekend house in Central PA.  The modem on our satellite Internet “contraption” died and we were without Internet access.  This weekend, we are going back there with two nominally effective solutions to that problem.  We only need one of them to work…

Paying tribute to Murphy’s Law, however, I may find myself in an “Internet-starved situation”.  Once again, I might be in an “unplanned time off the air”.

Just a heads up.

Stay safe and stay well, everyone…


MLB’s Safety Protocols Need Trust. Good Luck…

There was an article in yesterday’s Washington Post sports section and here is the headline “on the jump” as the article continued:

  • “MLB’s safety plan comes down to trust”

Well, that conclusion was just a tad jarring.  If I were given the task to come up with a list of adjectives that reflect baseball and its existence today, I think I could go through at least a hundred adjectives before I came upon “trusting” as a candidate for my list.  In the world of MLB, no one trusts nobody about nothing.  Let me do a reset here…

Back in mid-March, MLB halted Spring Training due to COVID-19 and the league and the union came to a “sort-of agreement” rather quickly regarding how an obviously disrupted 2020 season might unfold.  The time horizon for when that season might safely begin kept getting pushed back – – so what did the two sides do with that extra time?  Maybe start working on next year’s CBA negotiations?  No, they found ways to fight and dig themselves into entrenched positions over money.

The level of rancor increased exponentially as time went by and what did that accomplish?  Nothing.  Rob Manfred did what he could have done any time along the way and announced what the season was going to be and when it would start.  So, no change in a positive direction or even in some neutral space  – – but plenty of negative nonsense.  Good work guys!

I am loath to say things cannot get worse than they are because those jamokes might take it as a challenge and we could wind up with photographic evidence of Rob Manfred and Tony Clark mooning one another.  We do not need that – – just to be clear.

To say there is a lack of trust on both sides of the table is the understatement of the year.  That lack of trust on both sides demands that every detail must be ironed out on every item before anyone can move on to the next step.  Although both sides agree that the games need to start when they are safe, nothing can happen until they all sign on the dotted line describing who makes what decisions and who else has to sign off on them.  There is no clear path to a “trusting relationship”.

The sports media is complicit here – – to a lesser extent than the two negotiating sides to be sure but complicit still.  Instead of focusing on what needed to be done, the media focused its stories on the money squabbles and assigning blame for a lack of an agreement.  The much bigger picture was – and remains – how does baseball get back into the national discussion in a positive way and how does MLB get more people into the stadia and more eyeballs on televised games.  Those are the most important issues for BOTH the players and the owners, AND it is the untold story by the folks who cover baseball.

Here is something for everyone to focus on:

  • If baseball becomes less relevant than say hockey and/or soccer in the US, the owners will suffer, the players will never get 8-figure salaries and may be out of work entirely, and there will be little if any reason for there to be a jillion baseball writers/broadcasters.  If the baseball bus goes careening off the road, it is going to take all those folks with it.  Yet, none of those folks seem to care about the existential matters.

What is the arc of baseball in recent history?  Well, we had a players’ strike that terminated a season and canceled a World Series.  Then steroids took over the game for at least 10 years and probably closer to 20 years.  [Aside:  We are not allowed to let go of that stigmatized time period because every year we get a recap of it when it is time to vote for the Hall of Fame and writers rehash the pros and cons of admitting or denying entry of various ne’er-do-wells to the Hall of Fame.]  And most recently we have the “sign-stealing epoch” where we know for sure that the Astros and Red Sox were guilty of foul play and most likely so too were half of the rest of the leagues.

Take a look at that arc of baseball and ask yourself this:

  • Is that history – marred with the bilious nature of how we got from mid-March to today – going to make you rush back to the ballparks?  MLB will certainly try to convince everyone that 2021 will be a season that represents a “return to normalcy”.  Are you buying that – – knowing that the current CBA expires in December 2020?

Return for a moment to that Washington Post headline that kicked this snowball over the cliff.  The MLB safety plan includes protocols for things like the team buffets in the clubhouse (individual drink bottles and not large multi-serve containers) and it mandates how players may lean on the padding on top of the dugout railing.  Seemingly, no stone is left unturned.  Except:

  • There are no detailed rules for players, coaches, and team staff to follow once they leave the stadium or the hotel or when they go home.
  • That is where the “trust” comes in…

There was a report in the St Louis Post-Dispatch in which an infectious diseases doctor tried to explain the challenges facing MLB in its return without even trying to consider a “bubble environment”.   The effectiveness of MLB’s safety and health plan will depend largely on baseball players making mature and rational decisions about their behaviors once they are away from the scrutiny of management.  That is not a loophole for the coronavirus to penetrate MLB; that is a giant rupture.

In addition to the sorts of challenges mentioned above, the Governors of NY, NJ and CT threw an interesting log on the fire this week.  Those states say they will require a 14-day quarantine on people entering those states from other states where COVID-19 is out of control.  Florida, Georgia and Texas are on that list as of today.  So, how can the Rays travel to NYC to play the Yankees and then the Mets under the MLB “regional standings proposal”?

Finally, here is a comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle from a few weeks ago:

“Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson? Boring. Give viewers the golf match they really want to see: Obama vs. Trump.”

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



The NFL “Loosens Up”?

Recently, I have commented on MLB and the NBA; so, let me spend some time on the NFL this morning.  MLB had their “training camp” interrupted and their Opening Day sacrificed to COVID-19; those folks took that opportunity to get into a pissing contest with the union representing their players that did little more than piss off the fans of baseball.  Meanwhile, the NBA worked hard to concoct a “Bubble” environment in which to reconstitute the final stages of its regular season in order to put on its playoffs.  The plan was good, but the coronavirus may have decided to raise the stakes on the game at the last minute.  So … what about the NFL?

Well, if you are something more than a posing Social Justice Warrior, you should be heartened by several actions taken regarding the Washington Redskins:

  1. The statue of George Preston Marshall – an unmitigated and unrepentant racist in his own time well before the present time – which stood outside RFK Stadium in DC has been taken down.
  2. The team has removed his name from the seating areas in the lower bowl of Fed Ex Field and replace his name with that of Bobby Mitchell.
  3. The team has retired Bobby Mitchell’s number.  Mitchell was the first Black player on a Skins’ roster and was there only because the Kennedy Administration demanded that Marshall integrate his team before it would be allowed to play in the newly constructed DC Stadium – – now known as RFK Stadium.

Sometimes, progress takes a while to show itself; and sometimes, it manifests in very stark contrasts.  This is one of those times for the Washington NFL franchise.  Now, the next phase of social awareness revolves around the team name itself – and that is a controversy that has been around for a long time so it might be ripe for some change?

Here is a fundamental multi-dimensional issue that needs to be resolved in the mind of Danny Boy Snyder:

  • George Preston Marshall was a racist by almost any standard you may want to set.  He made a change in his franchise only when he was looking down the barrel of a banishment by the Federal Government from a new stadium that would enrich his bottom line.
  • Danny Boy Snyder now can take a step in the direction of social change that is congruent with where the US is going in 2020.  Will he do that – and sacrifice the team name that he rooted for as a kid growing up in the DC area – or will he be a kick-the-can-down-the-road owner who could well be labelled as a racist in future time?
  • Will Danny Boy Snyder mature into Daniel M. Snyder …?

While we are in the conceptual space of the NFL and social movements, there would seem to have been a significant sea change in the NFL’s posture there.  Maybe it is just a change in rhetorical tone, but maybe it is also a change in philosophy too.  The NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, has publicly acknowledged the Black Lives Matter Movement – which is, frankly, not such a big deal – and in doing so has reached out to lend a hand to Colin Kaepernick should Kaepernick seek to return to the NFL.  I touched on some of the “football issues” related to such a return earlier this week.  However, the posture that Goodell is taking now demands scrutiny; is this a major vector heading correction by the league or is this just playing to the current audience with the hope that “this-too-shall-pass”?

Let me not mince words here.  Colin Kaepernick was fired from the NFL and not re=-hired for more than 3 years because he spoke out on an issue important to him in a way that was not congruent with the image that the NFL sought to build and maintain.  Now, if you take Commissioner Goodell’s words literally, Kaepernick would be welcomed back into the NFL as soon as a team chooses to sign him.  Is this a sea change for the NFL?  The reason I ask is that I can recall several other players who were “punished” in terms of fines and threats of suspension for expressions of their beliefs that ran afoul of NFL rules related to the NFL image.

I have not researched this so do not hold me to a standard where I have identified all of the cases that are similar to the ones below; these are the ones that come to mind with only a few moments or reflection.  The NFL has punished/”fined”:

  • Tim Tebow for wearing “John 3:16” as a graphic within his eye black.
  • Brandon Marshall for wearing odd-colored shoes to “raise awareness” for mental illnesses.  [Aside:  Anyone who needed to see Marshall in his odd-colored shoes to be aware of “mental illness” would probably have forgotten about it 15 minutes after that game went off the air.]
  • RG3 for wearing a T-shirt to a presser that said something on the order of “Know Jesus And You Know Peace”.
  • The Cowboys as a team for planning to have a decal on the star on their helmets to honor Dallas police officers who were killed in the pursuit of their duties.

So, is the “Mea Culpa” offered in the Kaepernick situation a sign that players have more freedom to represent causes important to them during games – – or is the Kaepernick “Mea Culpa” a one-off that is expedient in the current social climate?  As is usually the case in such situations, I must declare that I do not read minds and so I do not know.  But I will find it interesting to see how all of this evolves over the next months/years.

And by the way, even if the league is willing to allow the players a ton more latitude in terms of uniform and representational messages related to social issues, are there limits beyond which the league is not willing to go?  Let me present a few “hot-button issues” and ask purely rhetorically if the NFL might tolerate a player message:

  • Favoring – or opposing – abortion?
  • Favoring – or opposing – sanctions against a foreign country?
  • Favoring – or opposing – a candidate in an election year?
  • Favoring – or opposing – legislation pending in the Congress or possibly a Supreme Court nominee?

The watchword of the day in lots of sports journalism has to do with “player empowerment”.  While I always try to evaluate what anyone – athlete or not – has to say about an issue in light of his/her credentials to speak on the issue, the current social norm seems to be that if someone is “famous” for one thing, that make him/her qualified to opine cogently about anything.  I do not buy into that thinking for even a moment; but it is extant in the land.  I will be interested to see the extent to which the NFL loosens the leash on its players when it comes to “in-game demonstrations” regarding causes that are important to the players.

Finally, having spoken of “empowerment” let me present a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Empowerment:  The feeling of being imbued with a sense of one’s own power.  A bogus concept popularized by self-help gurus whose best-selling books generate enough profits to give them empowerment up the yin yang.”

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



The NBA Restart In The “Bubble”

I have expended a lot of words about the MLB situation over the past several days so I‘d like to avert my eyes from that train wreck today and gaze upon the NBA and its planned restart in its “Orlando Bubble”.  Just so you can appreciate the complexity of setting something like this up for the first time ever, the NBA circulated a “health and safety protocol” to all the teams last week.  That protocol was 113 pages long.

As the protocol was in the final stages of editing/printing/sending, the coronavirus figuratively sent a shot across the bow of the NBA.  New cases  of COVID-19 in Florida this week are running three times higher than they were back in April/May and – more importantly – new cases of COVID-19 in Orange County – where the “Orlando Bubble” will exist – were also up significantly.  Here is the issue in a nutshell:

  • If the “Orlando Bubble” were like Biosphere in the sense that no one and nothing goes into or out of the “Bubble” once it is closed down and everyone and everything inside has been tested to be coronavirus free, there’s no problem. 
  • That is not the case with the “Orlando Bubble”.

The teams will be staying in Disney-provided quarters and that means all of the services of housekeeping and food preparation and all of the “administrivia of life” will be done by Disney folks – – and they will go in and out of the “Bubble”.  Media members covering the league and the games will not be quarantined in the “Bubble” either.  You get the point; the “Bubble” is going to be penetrated every day; and if you think about it, bubbles do not persist once subject to penetration.

The NBA protocol puts great faith in the testing and isolation procedures it will have in place in Orlando once the players arrive there.  Initial workouts for teams will be in the home areas and while there, players will be tested AND they will also be allowed to go about a normal existence until the teams finally assemble and head to Orlando.  Players can participate in protests and other social events without the need for supervision or reporting.  Here is what that means:

  • 22 teams with a total retinue of 35 people will arrive in Orlando within a short period of time.
  • Those 770 people will be tested/screened and put in isolation for up to 48 hours.
  • From the outset, the sanctity of the “Orlando Bubble” will depend on there being no false negatives in those 770 initial tests…

There were some players who thought they would not report to the “Bubble” because they felt it was more important for them to devote time and effort to the ongoing social justice reform movement in the country at the moment.  Time will tell how many of them make that choice, but that is another wrinkle in the smoothness of the NBA restart.  Additionally, players are not required to report back to there teams for whatever reason they may have.  Already two players, Davis Bertans (Wizards) and Trevor Ariza (Blazers) have announced that they will not participate in the Florida games.

Please do not infer that I think the NBA made a bad decision when they came up with the concept of the “Orlando Bubble”.  At the time they made the decision, it seemed as though they had found a way to resume their season, put together a playoff tournament and crown a champion for what is hopefully a unique set of circumstances for the league.  The issue is that conditions have changed.  Back when this plan was hatched, Florida had two appealing health statistics going for it:

  1. The absolute number of COVID-19 cases in the state was small relative to other states of similar size.
  2. The number of new cases per day was relatively constant.

Today neither of those conditions obtain and that increases the possibility that the virus can get inside the “Bubble” through the exchange of people and objects across the barrier that creates the “Bubble”.  What looked like a sturdy bridge for the NBA to get from cancelled games to a playoff now might be a rickety one.  Hopefully, it will stand the test.

I mentioned that some players may choose not to play in the “Bubble games” to continue their efforts to forge social change in the country.  As sure as I am that the sun came up this morning, there will be folks who label players making that decision in less-than-positive ways.  I certainly think that would be wrong; these are adults who are facing a serious dilemma in their lives.  Neither choice they might make is improper or counter-productive; they must have the latitude to make their own decision and then for everyone else to accept it and move on.

Having said that, here is something I do not understand:

  • I do not understand how playing in these NBA “Bubble games” prevents those players from using their celebrity status to push for social reforms.
  • In fact, I do not understand how playing in these “Bubble games” even detracts from players abilities to push for social reforms.

Presumably, one or more of the players who choose to opt out for this reason will make the case that allows me to understand here…

Finally, here is Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle and his assessment of the decision to resume the NBA season in Orlando:


“The NBA is about to bubble down in Florida.

“But why Florida? Apparently, there were no leper colonies available.”

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



Maybe Baseball Is Back…

The headlines on sports websites this morning proclaim that MLB is going to impose a schedule for its 2020 season even in the absence of an agreement with the MLBPA.  If you are a diehard baseball fan – – or if you are simply tired of hearing about how these two entities cannot agree with each other on anything – – you may take those headlines as unadulterated good news.  I am indeed tired of hearing about the intransigence of both sides here, but I cannot make myself stand up and cheer at this outcome.

Let me give you two sentences from one report at this morning:

“Manfred is expected to schedule a 60-game season provided the two sides agree on health and safety protocols, and the players are able to report to spring training by July 1. MLB asked the MLBPA to agree to both conditions by 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday.”

There are two live hand grenades in those two sentences:

  • “Provided the two sides agree to health and safety protocols” flies in the face of the reality that the two sides have been unable to agree on anything else.
  • “…asked the MLBPA to agree to both conditions by 5 p.m. on Tuesday,” is a deadline already passed without agreement.

Because the 2020 baseball season will forever be viewed as a bastard stepchild, no one really “won the negotiations”.  In a small sense, the owners “won” the bit about season length; they will lose money without fans in the stands, so they wanted as few games as possible.  The original owners’ proposal was for 48 games; the players countered with 114 games.  Purely coincidentally of course, those two proposals just happen to add up to 162 games which is a normal baseball season.  The stage was set for a compromise of 81 games if the two sides could shoe-horn that number into a calendar window.  But no … Manfred is expected to set us a 60-game schedule.  Fewer games = smaller losses for the owners.

Balance that small “win” for the owners against the fact that they will not get expanded playoffs this Fall meaning less revenue from media rights sales.  Fewer playoff games = smaller revenues for the teams.

The MLBPA took a loss – potentially a big one – keeping expanded playoffs from happening.  The owners were offering a 50/50 split of those playoff revenues and that sort of split is far in excess of what MLB currently spends on player salaries.  With upcoming negotiations needed for a new CBA, that would have been a nice bargaining chip for the union to have had on its side of the table.  But no…

Speaking of those upcoming negotiations for a new CBA, watch for this dynamic to play itself out over the winter – – with or without a second wave of COVID-19:

  • Claiming rightly that they lost money in 2020, owners will be very parsimonious with free agent offerings.
  • Someone somewhere – – I would not be surprised if Scott Boras were involved – – will mention “collusion”.
  • That will get the serious negotiations off on the right foot – – NOT!

Rather than drill down into the fine grain here to anoint a “winner” in this mess, let me focus on a more landscape sort of view.  MLB attendance has been down for the past several years; in 2019, MLB games drew about 1 million fewer fans than they did the year before.  MLB is not about to go bankrupt, but dwindling attendance is never a good sign.  I believe that part of the problem here is that the game now has a systemic flaw that it did not have in the past.

  • The average game takes about 3 hours and 5 minutes.  Every attempt to cut that down significantly has either been rejected by either owners or players and/or has been tried to no avail.
  • Homeruns and strikeouts are way up.  In both cases, the plate appearance that produces either outcome does not put the ball in play meaningfully.
  • There is far too much “dawdling”.  There is no sporting term that should have to be applied to the stalling tactics on display far too often.
  • “Tanking” has become acceptable baseball.  There have always been teams that spent less than other teams on players and lost games because of that.  Today, teams intentionally shortchange salaries to lose on purpose over several years’ time to harvest top draft picks.

Those four “negative elements” of MLB’s product today set in juxtaposition with the reality that ticket prices are high and parking/concession prices are highway robbery should explain at least a part of MLB’s attendance declines over the past several seasons.  On top of that, the omens for MLB attendance are not great:

  • In 1995 – after the truncated 1994 season that had no World Series – attendance dropped more than 20%.  Yes, one can attribute the 2020 “short season” to COVID-19, but no one will think of this year as a time when labor and management worked together to make things as good as they could be under the circumstances.  Fans will stay home next year even when the stadia are open for business.
  • The US economy has taken a significant hit in 2020.  The last time something of similar magnitude happened was the 2008 financial crises and baseball attendance dropped in the three years following that event.
  • Go all the way back to the Depression in the 1930s when attendance numbers were much smaller than today to begin with and you will see attendance decline as much as 35% year over year.

Here are my two indicators for just how badly the owners and the union have damaged baseball as an economic entity:

  1. What is the relative handle for Daily Fantasy Baseball at those gambling sites in the truncated 2020 season and then in the first several months of whatever the 2021 season turns out to be?
  2. How many season-long fantasy baseball leagues will be resurrected in 2021 as compared to 2019?

Instead of trying to figure out who won this labor management confrontation and who lost it, consider that the winner may have scored a Pyrrhic victory and that the game of baseball in the US is the unintended victim of the squabbling.

Finally, some cold-hearted logic from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Tony Hawk was in the news, but I didn’t care enough to Google why. Something about a 52-year-old man on a skateboard makes me sad.”

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



Team Sports Are In Trouble In the US

A curmudgeon is a crusty old coot who is skeptical about just about anything that has a positive or joyful sense to it.  I will plead guilty to much of that but today I want to add another less than loveable characteristic to my online persona.  Today, I am also going to be the bearer of some ominous news.

  • I am beginning to think that there will be no meaningful team sports in the US for the rest of 2020 and that condition may extend into 2021 based on the availability of an effective, reliable and widely available vaccine for COVID-19 – – or at a minimum a similarly effective, reliable and available therapeutic.

This line of gloomy thinking began at the end of last week.  As MLB and the MLBPA staggered toward a situation where each might grudgingly accept conditions under which to play a shortened 2020 season, COVID-19 raised its hand in the back of the classroom and reminded everyone that it is still here.  The first report last week said that 8 members of the Phillies – – 5 players and 3 “others” – – tested positive at the team’s Clearwater, FL Spring Training facility.  Obviously, the Phillies closed the facility and stopped whatever activities were ongoing there.

A report in USA Today over the weekend said that 40 “players and staff members” around MLB tested positive for COVID-19 last week.  Already, the idea of starting a regular baseball season on 19 July has been ruled out and the tentative “Opening Day” is now set for 26 July.  Let me put on my curmudgeon’s skepticism hat here; that sounds awfully optimistic to me.

In addition to the cluster of positive COVID-19 tests in the Phillies’ facility, there are reports of positive tests in the Blue Jays’, Yankees’, Astros’ and Giants’ facilities.  MLB has closed all facilities, and teams – other than the Blue Jays – will return home and conduct Spring Training 2.0 in their home cities.  The Blue Jays face a double whammy.  Their facility in Florida is closed but they cannot just “go home” because there are travel restrictions in place going to and from Canada – – as well there should be.

At first, it sounds like a reasonable plan; get the teams out of those facilities where there is obviously a COVID-19 presence, deep clean those facilities and have the home field facilities sanitized as the teams reassemble there.  Here is a bucket of sand to throw into those gears:

  • Last week, the States of Florida, Texas, Arizona, California and the District of Columbia saw COVID-19 cases increase by more than 10% over the week before.
  • California, Florida and Arizona all are reporting record highs for new COVID-19 cases over the last week – – and the numbers are continually climbing not levelling off.
  • Eleven MLB teams – more than one-third of MLB – play in those 5 jurisdictions noted above.
  • Those teams will arrive “home” to train and play in places where COVID-19 is in ascendance and not in decline.

My first thought on this matter was that the “COVID-19 problem” would be limited to team sports.  The problem there is the necessary proximity of players and coaches to practice and to play their games.  COVID-19 is highly contagious even before a person demonstrates symptoms and that means it only takes a single infected player or coach or clubhouse worker to bring the virus “in house” where it has the chance to spread widely before it is detected by a test.  What makes that sort of thinking even more ominous is that baseball – – where we have seen viral entry and spread – – is a game that tends to allow for social distancing for much of the time.  It is an imperfect social distancing to be sure, but it is a lot better than the conditions under which football or basketball or hockey take place.

Back in March, the NBA shut down its operations entirely when one player – ONE player – tested positive for COVID-19.  In last March, the number of known/active cases for COVID 19 in the US was less than 75,000 and there had been about 1500 deaths ascribed to COVID-19.  The latest data I can find says that COVID-19 cases in the US now total more than 2.2 million and that there have been approximately 115 thousand deaths.  So, what is the NBA considering today?  Reopening their season-interruptus in a bubble environment in Florida – – one of those States where case numbers are on the rise.  Do those two actions make any sense to you once you juxtapose them?  They do if dollars and cents take precedence over health and safety concerns.

College football provides us with a living and breathing example of Karma in all her splendor this morning.  Recall back in April when Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State said he wanted his football program back to normalcy on May 1st – – that didn’t’ happen – – and Dabo Swinney proclaimed that he was 100% certain that there would be a full and normal college football season in the Fall.  Last week we learned that 23 players on the Clemson football team which was in the process of getting ready to start training for that full and normal college football season in the Fall tested positive for COVID-19 and needed isolation.  Obviously, I want every one of those players to recover fully.  AND, I also want to sit back and smile as I see Karma have its way with Dabo Swinney for the moment…

The COVID-19 “problem” is not limited to Clemson.  According to reports:

  • 30 players at LSU require isolation
  • Kansas St. reported 8 positive tests
  • Oklahoma State – Mike Gundy’s program – has 3 players who tested positive
  • Alabama has “several players” that tested positive
  • Houston has 6 positive tests and has shut down all voluntary training activities.  [Aside:  It is sort of interesting to see an institution shutting down “voluntary activities”.  Makes me wonder how “voluntary” they were…]

Folks, these are just some of the major college football programs affected by the virus; there are lots of lesser programs reporting positive tests, but I want to limit the space consumed here.  The problem facing college football programs is an economic one in addition to a health and safety one.  Testing for COVID-19 is not cheap; the best I can figure, the test kit plus the cost to analyze and report the findings is around $50 per test.  Let’s do some math:

  • A major college football team has about 100 players with 15 coaches and 50 support staff.  Let us consider that the testing population for a college football team is 165 people.  [Trust me, the numbers come out even that way.]
  • Ideally, you would want to test everyone in the facility associated with the team daily to isolate a carrier of COVID-19 ASAP – – but we know that is not going to happen so let me assume that they test everyone on a rotational basis every 3 days.  They will therefore perform 55 tests per day.
  • If organized workouts begin on 15 July and extend until December 1 – – most teams will not play significantly past December 1 unless they play in a meaningless bowl game – – that means the time span for testing is 139 days.
  • So, 139 days times 55 tests per day times $50 per test comes to $382,250.

I am sure that major college football programs can find that kind of money in their official budgets or in their “off-books budget” – – but what about the fringe programs?  Remember, plenty of those “fringe programs” need to sign up to get shellacked by one or more of the major programs every year just to get a big payday to cover normal expenses.  Those “fringe programs” do not have $382,250 just lying around in some sort of slush fund.

The NFL is surely better prepared to incur significant testing and safety costs to allow its season to proceed.  Owners will lament their “losses” which need to be put into context:

  • Over the past several years, every team has done budgetary and fiscal projections for future revenues and expenditures.  Owners are smart and successful businesspeople; that is what they do to be successful.
  • Even at the end of the 2019 season – – and assuredly prior to that time – – owners and teams projected operating profits of “X” dollars for 2020.
  • With the reality that there may be plenty of games – if not all the games – with no fans in the stadium, revenues will be down meaning projected profits will be down.
  • With unanticipated costs for testing now being necessary, expenses will be up meaning projected profits will be down even further.
  • We only get to see the books for the green Bay Packers because they are “publicly owned” so we will never REALLY know if any other team has a revenue statement for 2020 that is the same as the one we will eventually see for the Packers, but my GUESS is that most if not all of the teams will still show a positive cash flow for 2020 – even if they may find a way through accounting legerdemain to declare a “loss for the year”.
  • To be sure, the profit I am envisioning here will be a lot less than the “X” dollars that were projected for 2020, but it will not be the end of the world for the billionaires who own the teams.  Ignore the flood of crocodile tears that are sure to be coming…

Dr. Anthony Fauci has become a “celebrity scientist” throughout the course of this pandemic.  Because my educational background is also in the sciences – – but not medicine or epidemiology by any means – I appreciate his ability to explain underlying conditions that go along with glib assertions such as “create a bubble for teams to live in.”  Here is something Dr. Fauci said in a report from CNN:

“Unless players are essentially in a bubble and insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day, it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this Fall.  If there is a second wave [of COVID-19 cases] which is certainly a possibility and would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

Important concepts in Dr. Fauci’s comment above are “insulated from the community” and “tested nearly every day”.  Are those conditions really feasible for an NFL season that runs for more than 6 months for playoff teams?  I don’t think so…

While team sports in the US are in trouble over the short term, I am a bit more optimistic about individual sports – – but I do not think they are totally immune to COVID-19 “interventions”.  Just this morning there are reports that Bulgarian tennis star, Grigor Dimitrov tested positive for COVID-19.  That announcement came after Dimitrov took part in a tennis exhibition in Croatia with other players including Novak Djokovic.  While tennis is a sport where viral transmission during a match is far less likely than it would be in a football or basketball game, this incident shows that COVID-19 can have a direct effect on an “individual sport”.

Like tennis, golf is an individual sport that also lends itself to social distancing and intermittent mask wearing.  Last week, the PGA Tour had one of its players, Nick Watney, test positive for COVID-19.  While it is probable that Watney contracted the virus in some venue other than on the golf course, the fact that he did bring it to the course – and to the facilities at Hilton Head where the tournament was contested – means that vigilance is necessary.  The PGA conducted testing on 11 people who came in contact with Watney over the weekend; fortunately, all 11 came back with negative tests.  There is no guarantee that will be the case the next time a golfer tests positive.

Sports like bowling and diving and figure skating lend themselves to precautionary measures for COVID-19.  However, I wonder if those sports have sufficiently deep pockets to pay for any sort of extensive testing that might be necessary should an outbreak happen in their midst.  This is a complicated mess at its absolute best.

Entities such as the NBA and the NHL and to some extent the NFL have declared that they have found a formula by which then can create a “bubble” for their teams and then real  games – sans fans in the stands – can happen on a regularly scheduled basis.  I hope they are right but with every new revelation about how many positive tests there are here and there and everywhere, my skepticism gland goes hyperactive.  Remember, the Phillies thought they had their players in a bubble in Clearwater FL.  Turns out that “bubble” was closer to a “bobble”…

Since I referred to Dr. Anthony Fauci above, let me close today with a thought from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times relevant to another piece of the good doctor’s advice:

“Disease czar Dr. Anthony Fauci has advised against playing baseball deep into October.

“No problem, said the Seattle Mariners.”

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



A Tale Of Three Quarterbacks

With profound apologies to Charles Dickens, today’s rant is a tale of three quarterbacks.  Two are at loose ends while the other one is technically still on the job – – but tenuously.  Let me take them in alphabetical order so that no one may draw an inference here that is unintended; I will begin with Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick was last seen in an NFL game in 2016 and that season was not a good one for him or the Niners.  He started 11 games; the Niners’ record in those games was 1-10-0.  To be fair, the Niners stunk as a team in 2016 ending the season at 2-14-0.  Nonetheless, coaches now looking at his “most recent game film” are not going to see high productivity.  It is difficult to conjure up a situation where a team would sign him and name him the starter at the press conference called to announce the signing.

And there could be a rub – – for a few reasons:

  1. Kaepernick has been to the NFC Championship Game twice and the Super Bowl once.  Is he content to be a back-up somewhere?
  2. More importantly, is he willing to sign for “back-up money”?
  3. Given Kaepernick’s off-field and sideline behaviors in the past, he will be the focus of media attention wherever he signs.  Does a team want its back-up QB to be a center of attention/distraction?

Assuming he is in physical condition to play NFL football, there are lots of teams that could sign him and say legitimately that they had just upgraded their back-up QB situation by a lot.  I would anticipate that teams who show interest in working him out and possibly signing him would be ones with established starters and realistic playoff aspirations who would want Kaepernick as an insurance policy.  Two teams that fit that description are:

  • Seattle Seahawks:  Russell Wilson has started 143 consecutive games for the Seahawks and is clearly going to be the starter there.  The backup is Geno Smith and Anthony Gordon is the other QB on the roster.  Seattle has a legitimate shot at the playoffs and Kaepernick is an upgrade at “back-up QB”.
  • LA Rams:  Jared Goff is the starter for the Rams but there is not much “in the bullpen” in terms of reliable NFL talent.  The #2 guy on the depth chart this morning is John Wolford whose most positive professional days were with the Arizona Hotshots in the late-but-not-lamented AAF.  Also on the roster are two undrafted free agents, Bryce Perkins (UVa) and Josh Love (San Jose St.).

The second quarterback who is also at loose ends this morning is Cam Newton.  Like Colin Kaepernick, Newton has been to the Super Bowl and Newton was the NFL MVP in 2015.  The first two questions that are relevant to Colin Kaepernick above apply directly to Cam Newton as well.  He has a third “issue” that teams have been unable to resolve for themselves due to the COVID-19 mess.

  • Newton injured his shoulder in 2018 and it required surgery.  He came back in 2019 and played 2 games before injuring a foot which also required surgery.  With travel restrictions and team activity restrictions, coaches and GMs have not been able to get him examined by team physicians or to work him out.  Obviously, no one wants to sign “damaged goods”.

On the assumption that Cam Newton is healthy and that he is willing to be a back-up QB somewhere, I think the team for him is:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers:  The Steelers’ starter, Ben Roethlisberger, also started only 2 games last year before suffering an elbow injury that required surgery.  Roethlisberger will be 38 years old this season coming off that injury.  The current QBs on the roster behind Roethlisberger are Mason Rudolph, “Duck” Hodges and Paxton Lynch.  A healthy Cam Newton can beat out that trio and it is not axiomatic that Ben Roethlisberger will be able to start 16 games this year…

The third quarterback is on a roster; Josh Rosen has a job as of this morning.  Right now, he is positioned behind Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa with the Dolphins.  Assuming that Tua is healthy, he will be the guy to go in for starter Ryan Fitzpatrick if needed; Rosen will be the odd man out.  And that is strange since he was taken as the overall #10 pick in 2018 and is only 23 years old.  Yes, his rookie season with the Cardinals in 2018 was a hot mess; but the fact is that the Cards were also a hot mess in 2018.

Rosen does not bring a gaudy résumé with him to any job interview but I wonder why the Dolphins would want to keep him as the #3 guy when they should be able to trade Rosen for a contingent draft pick and then sign some guy who gets cut late in the Exhibition Season to fill the shoes of the “quarterback-never-to-be-seen-on-Sunday”.  Here are two teams with playoff aspirations who might consider making a deal with the Dolphins for Rosen:

  • Minnesota Vikings:  The backup behind Kirk Cousins is Sean Manion who has been in the NFL for 5 seasons seeing sporadic action and – – get this – – has never thrown a TD pass in his career and whose average yards per pass attempt for his career is 3.4 yards.  Behind him is Nate Stanley (Iowa) who was taken in the 7th round of this year’s NFL Draft and has never taken a snap with an NFL team.
  • Tennessee Titans:  The Titans make this listing because Marcus Mariota – last year’s back-up – signed on with the Raiders as a free agent.  This morning, the Titans have Logan Woodside listed as the #2 QB.  He was a 7th round pick in 2018 and had a brief showing with the San Antonio Commanders in the late-but-not-lamented AAF; he has been on the Titans’ practice squad, so he presumably “knows the system”.  The other QB listed on the Titans’ depth chart is Cole McDonald who is also a 7th round pick (in 2020) out of Hawaii.

Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities with a string of comparisons.  One of them was:

“… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

Back-up quarterbacks always provide hope for NFL fans; they are often the most popular player on a team if the team is not doing well.  However, back-up quarterbacks usually see action on Sunday out of despair.  Either the starter has to miss time with an injury, or the team is taking a nosedive and the coach is grasping for straws.  There is an interesting parallel to Dickens’ description there.

Finally, here is a key observation by Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“A 2-year-old colt named Fauci finished second at Belmont Park’s belated opening day of racing, by 4¾ lengths.

“Or for you social-distancing fans, roughly 38 feet.”

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



More Labor/Management Stuff Today …

Reports yesterday said that Rob Manfred and Tony Clark met face-to-face in Phoenix at Manfred’s request and that they may have adopted a joint framework that might lead to an agreement sometime soon to produce a major league baseball season in 2020.  Given the proclivities for both sides to self-immolate, it is too soon to say that “the end is in sight”; but that status is a whole lot more optimistic that the one that existed 48 hours ago.  What happened?

  • We can hope that some adult(s) in the room on either/both sides got the floor and forced everyone to look at the situation rationally asking if the non-negotiations had gotten things to an optimal place.
  • We can hope that Rob Manfred and Tony Clark both realize that carrying through on where this situation was as of Monday night would tarnish any positive reputation either of them might have had 6 months ago.
  • We can hope that no player and no owner will take to Twitter any time soon to bash “the other side”.
  • We do not know what happened; we can hope that whatever it was leads us to a positive end.  But in the end, we must sit and wait some more…

One rumor coming out of this session – – and let me stress the word “rumor” – – is that MLB wants the union to agree to expanded playoffs (16 teams) in both 2020 and 2021.  I hope that is not the case for two reasons:

  1. Baseball does not need more than half of its teams in the playoffs this year or next year or in any other year.  That is simply a bad idea.
  2. If the players were to agree to this and then the country faces a major resurgence of the coronavirus in late September this year obviating the 2020 expanded playoffs, that will be a point of friction between MLB and the MLBPA next year as they try to get to a new CBA.  Do not try to tell me that “reasonable people” will recognize there was the intervention of an outside event; there are no “reasonable people” here; look at where we are and how we got here!

By the way, I did read one report that said this was the first face-to-face meeting between Manfred and Clark since June 7th.  Assuming that is the case, would it not be a good idea for some reporter to ask both men a seemingly obvious question:

  • What took you so long?

It has been a while since I wrote about the NFL and its dogged focus on starting its season on time and proceeding as if the coronavirus was merely an historical oddity.  You may be certain that my hope is for the NFL to be right on that point; my rational brain says they are overly-optimistic – – but then again, my rational brain would have had MLB starting on July 4th with both sides fully content with the way everyone had dealt with the coronavirus.  So much for my rational brain…

Let me assume that the NFL does indeed start on time – the week after Labor Day – having come through a reasonable time in training camps such that half the league is not on the injured list by Week 3.  If that happens, this would be my expectation:

  • The stands will be empty – – or at the very least socially distanced to make them completely different from what we have come to expect of an NFL game.
  • The TV ratings will go through the roof.

The sporting public in the US has been without meaningful live sports since mid-March; the NBA playoffs in empty arenas will have a significant absence of immediacy; people will still be pissed at MLB and/or the MLBPA for all of those shenanigans over the past month or so.  And then the NFL – – the 800 lb. gorilla of pro sports in the US – – can ride in to the rescue with real games played when they were supposed to be played by players who are fully prepared to play those games.

Here is the question that I think is interesting.  Suppose public health reasons prevent the NFL from starting on time in early September.

  • How should the NFL try to play its version of a truncated season?

The date and the place for the Super Bowl are set.  Moving the Super Bowl to another venue or to change the date in the same venue by a couple of weeks is not a trivial undertaking.  So, what ought to be the NFL contingency plan?  [Aside:  For the record, the Super Bowl is scheduled for 7 February 2021 in Tampa, FL.]

Presumably, the NFL will have “gone to school” on the mess created in MLB and the natterings associated with the NBA efforts to put its season back together.  If the NFL does not have a contingency plan in place that has at a minimum the acquiescence of the NFLPA, then shame on Roger Goodell and everyone else along Mahogany Row in the NFL offices in NYC.

Remember, the NFL playoffs for this year – and presumably for time immemorial – will include 14 teams not just 12.  That means two extra playoff games for the league in January and the TV ratings for those games should be very large meaning a nice boost in league revenue which translates into a nice boost in the salary cap for each team.

MLB and the MLBPA showed us that 20 years or so of “Labor Peace” and an agreement to try to “expand the playoffs” to get more TV money into the exchequer is not necessarily a harbinger of a “smooth transition”.  The NFL and the NFLPA really do need to “go to school” here to avoid a congruent disaster.

There are reports out there saying that Dr. Anthony Fauci says that MLB should not play games late into October because the combination of a “second wave of coronavirus” combined with playing outdoors in cold weather could be a health hazard.  Excuse me, if that is a serious concern and a thinly veiled “recommendation” from the nation’s leading epidemiologist, can someone explain to me how the NFL can possibly finish off a regular season with games in November/December in venues such as New England, Buffalo, NYC, Philly, Pittsburgh, Cleveland …  You get the idea.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times from a while back:

“Red-faced Target officials apologized after four Twin Cities stores offered ‘Minnesota Badgers’ onesies for sale.

“No word on how the fresh shipment of ‘Green Bay Vikings’ kiddie shirts is selling in Milwaukee.”

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