Mix And Match Today…

Alongside reports that some NBA players might not want to report to the NBA’s “Orlando Bubble” to resume the season and begin the playoffs, the league has sent out to all of the teams a memo that details the procedures that would be in place inside “The Bubble” and at least some of the amenities to be provided there down to the level of “barbers, hair braiders, manicurists and pedicurists.”  Ben Golliver covers the NBA for the Washington Post and he reported on this league communication to the teams and thereby to the players.  Here is a link to his report; it is informative.

I assume the issue of pay has been figured out between the NBA and the NBPA by now.  However, since that issue arose to become a huge point in the MLB season-starting plans, I wish I knew what might happen in the following scenarios:

  1. For players on the 8 teams not invited to “The Bubble”, will they be paid the pro-rata share of their contracts for games not played?
  2. For players on the 22 teams invited to “The Bubble”, will they be paid their full contract value despite not playing a full 82-game season?
  3. For players on the 22 teams invited to “The Bubble” and who choose not to report there for whatever reason, will they be paid for games played by their teams (regular season and/or playoff games)?

[Aside:  Could it be that players on teams “uninvited” would be paid for games not played but players on “invited teams” who choose not to play would not be paid for games missed?  Let us just say that situation would be “counter-intuitive”.]

Moving on …  I was pretty confident the following issue would emerge in the current environment of social change/reform and I am surprised that it took as long as it did.  Barry Svrluga is an excellent columnist for The Washington Post; in today’s edition, this is the headline on his column:

“The Redskins’ name is the shameful statue of the NFL. It’s time to tear it down.”

You can read it here.

That issue has been dormant for three or four years and the current tone of the country is clearly in harmony with any call to make a name change there.  And of course, that brings the discussion directly back to Danny Boy Snyder who is on record saying that he would NEVER (I wrote it in caps as he said anyone should) change the team name.  So, how might all that play itself out?

  • He could change the team name and try to assume the mantle of one who has – finally – seen the light.  I think that is a low-probability event because two decades of his team ownership provides precious few examples of him being willing to admit – privately let alone publicly – that he has been wrong about anything.
  • He could be forced to change the team name.  There will soon be alluring calls for “fan boycotts”.  They would work if they could be widely applied AND maintained.  That has never happened in the past.  The NFL could apply pressure to get him to change the name.  The networks could apply pressure to get him to change the name.  He wants a new stadium in the District of Columbia so the pols there can apply pressure to get him to change the name – and can engage in virtue-signaling by doing so.
  • He can dig in his heels and keep the name as it is.  History has shown that he may not like the media affixing negative images to him, but that he is able to shake them off and maintain all the flexibility of concrete.

I have said this every time this controversy has come up – – going all the way back to the 1980s before Danny Boy Snyder graduated from college.  As long as the Washington Redskins team is a cash cow for its owner(s), there is no reason for them to make a change.  If and only if the stature of a cash cow for the owners can be changed will there be any logical reason for him to make such a decision.

So, as you read and hear about calls for a name change here – and I have no doubt they will take place – ask yourself how likely it is that the pressure being applied will change the status of the cash cow.  That has always been the turning point; I suspect that it will be the turning point this time around too.

There is “restart news” in tennis too.  The US Open will take place between August 31 and September 15 in NY but there will be no fans allowed in the stands.  That decision by Governor Cuomo came yesterday and allows planning for the staging of this major tournament to proceed.  As is the custom today regarding anything as complicated as a restart of competition, there is controversy over how it will be done.  Novak Djokovic has called the precautionary measures “extreme” and he told the Serbian state TV channel that he would “most likely” restart his participation on clay.  The US Open is not played on clay – – but the French Open is played on clay and it has been rescheduled to begin on September 20 which is less than a week after the finals of the US Open.

Here is one example of what is described as “extreme”.  The protocol suggested for the US open would allow a player to be accompanied by only one person; that could be a coach or a spouse or a Zen master.  Djokovic said that he needs at least a coach, a fitness trainer and a physiotherapist for himself to compete properly.  Commence controversy…

If Djokovic sits out the US Open, that would remove two of the three biggest men’s stars from the tournament.  Roger Federer announced recently that he is on the shelf until at least 2021 after undergoing a “surgical procedure” on his knee.  Moreover, the third men’s star in the tennis constellation, Rafael Nadal, said about two weeks ago that if you pushed him for an answer then as to his desire to go to NY to play in the US Open, his answer then would be, “No.”  Nadal did leave the door open for his participation if things “improve in the right way.”

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald channeled Carnac the Magnificent here:

Answer: A 1910 Shoeless Joe Jackson baseball card just sold at auction for $492,000.

Question: What makes you say some people don’t know what to do with their money?”

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



The NBA’s Turn In The Barrel…

As illustrated yesterday, whatever will try to pass itself off as the 2020 MLB season will be a cheap imitation at best and more likely a fraud.  There is no need to vent any more spleen over that outrageous situation until something more concrete happens to rekindle my revulsion.  But wait, there’s more…

Up until about 48 hours ago, it seemed as if the NBA had found a way to patch together a means to finish their “season-interruptus” from back in mid-March.  I thought the idea of inviting 22 of the 30 teams to participate in the finishing games of the season was a bit strange but I did like the idea of putting all the teams – players and coaches – in a bubble somewhere and testing them for the coronavirus every other day.  Those decisions were made carefully and with input from the NBPA.  It surely seemed as if there was a logical and potentially feasible path forward to finish a regular season and start the belated playoffs.

Out of the blue, Murphy’s Law demanded jurisdiction.  How dare the NBA assume that it had everything under control – – everything, that is, that can humanly be controllable.  Over the weekend, there was a conference call involving a reported 80 NBA players.  According to reports, there was a large sentiment expressed there that a return to work by NBA players – who are predominantly Black – would detract from the attention being given to social reforms that need attention in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

Kyrie Irving is the most vocal of the star players who do not want to report to the bubble in Orlando to finish out the season and Kyrie Irving has a platform from which to assert his position because he is the vice-president of the NBPA.  While I may not agree that the act of NBA players reporting to play games in Orlando would detract from the efforts to effect social reform, I think I can understand how Irving might come to that conclusion.  However, I think Irving’s logic went off the rails when he reportedly told the conference call this:

“There’s only 20 guys actually getting paid, and I’m part of that.  Let’s not pretend there’s not a tiered system purposely to divide all of us.”

“…a tiered system purposely to divide all of us”?  Really?  The NBA and its owners have created in a calculated way (”purposely”) a pay scale in the league that hinders players from standing for and pushing for social reform?  I am going to need a lot of tutoring and a lot of real evidence – not just arm-waving rhetoric – to get to that place on the scale of understanding.  It is not that I think the NBA owners are too good and too noble to do anything like that; it’s that I don’t think they could pull it off even after they thought up the system and agreed to implement it.

  • [Aside:  The messenger here is also not a perfect representative.  Kyrie Irving has voiced some “controversial” beliefs such as the time he said he believed the Earth is flat.]

Here is a link to a report at CBSSports.com that will give you a transcription of the remarks from about a half-dozen players who were involved in that conference call.  There are clearly differences of opinion there regarding the righteousness of reporting to Orlando.

Frankly, I think that the NBA players should be equally focused on a different aspect of reporting to the bubble in Orlando.  Back when Florida “reopened” from its stay-at-home status, the number of new COVID-19 cases per day in Florida fluctuated around 750 per day.  That is not great – – but Florida is a big state so one can convince oneself that the contagion might be difficult to encounter.  Here are some latter data for the number of new cases for the State of Florida since reopening:

  • June 12 – – 1,902
  • June 13 – – 2,581
  • June 14 – – 2,016
  • June 15 – – 1,758

I am not channeling Chicken Little here; the sky is not falling.  At the same time, it is fair and logical to say that the numbers of new cases in Florida while it was “shut down” were a lot more attractive than the numbers are today.  I understand that NBA players are young and as a general rule to not have any of the underlying conditions that are dangerous when the coronavirus attacks; but by the same token, they are young men with families to take into consideration as they make their decision(s).

My guess is that most of them will report to Orlando and play.  But there will be twists and turns along the way before all their bags are packed…

Meanwhile, the NFL and the NFLPA are reportedly discussing possible changes to the Exhibition Season with the idea of making it shorter in 2020.  The foundation of this idea is that some players may not be ready even for Exhibition Games this year due to the lack of structured conditioning programs and classroom preparations this off-season.  This situation has the potential to invoke the adage:

  • “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.”

Imagine if it took a pandemic to make a permanent change to the NFL schedule that reduced the number of meaningless Exhibition Games from 4 to 2.  That would mean the pandemic was not an ill wind.  Ruminate on that!

Finally, here is a Tweet from Brad Dickson, formerly with the Omaha World-Herald:

“A driver is retiring because NASCAR is banning Confederate flags. I only hope this news doesn’t harm the image of NASCAR as a sport of sophisticated, worldly, intellectual free thinkers.”

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



Baseball On The Brink

And now for something completely different…  Sorry if that conjures up memories of Monty Python and sketch comedy; that is not what is going to happen here.  I doubt that anything to follow today even borders on “funny”.  What is “completely different” today is a report on the first ever Curmudgeon Central Opinion Poll.  Before I get to the poll and the responses let me explain why I did this for the first time, now.

  • I never did anything like this before because I never thought that there would be a large enough sample in terms of the respondents to come up with anything meaningful.
  • Last week, I had a sense that MLB and the MLBPA were on track to make the 2020 baseball season into a horrible train wreck.  [Aside:  I thought it would drag on a bit longer before hitting the skids; I did not think it would happen this week.]
  • I wanted to be informed of the views and perceptions of people that I have known for years – people I respect for their intelligence and insight – who are full-blown baseball fans.  I was not worried about sample size or finding a representative cross-section for the poll.  I only wanted to hear from smart people who are fans of baseball.  [Aside:  If you want to dismiss this effort by saying that I am trying to live in an echo chamber, you are free to do so.  That was not my intent and the results to be presented below do not seem to support that assertion.]

My “polling methodology” was about as basic as you can imagine.  I sent the same email to 12 people who are readers of these rants and who I have known to be baseball fans for a long time.  The shortest acquaintance I have had with anyone on the “polling roster” is 24 years.  Here is the email that I sent to each of them:

“I want to pose a question/challenge to you.  I will use the ‘result’ in a future Sports Curmudgeon rant without identifying you in any way. If you don’t want to answer, that’s OK too.

“Give me 3 simple declarative sentences to describe what you think of the MLB owners and/or the MLBPA in the midst of their negotiations regarding a restart for the 2020 MLB season.

“If you want to elaborate on any of those 3 simple declarative sentences, please feel free.

“Thanks in advance.”

I got 9 responses from my 12 inquiries; and rather than try to pretend that one can do statistical analysis on a sample size of 9 people, what I intend to do here is to categorize the responses and then present them for anyone to interpret as they will.  Since some of the responses made essentially the same point, I have merged some of those answers.

For simplicity sake, I will break down the responses into 4 broad categories:

  1. Responses that are more favorable toward MLB and the owners
  2. Responses that are more favorable toward the MLBPA and the players
  3. Responses that speak to the sport of professional baseball as a whole
  4. Responses that call for a pox on both houses involved here.

Let me begin with Responses More Favorable to MLB and the Owners:

“With or without an agreement, Manfred needs to make [a season] happen for the good of the game.  MLB and the MLBPA would be foolish not to find a way to get onboard – they (MLBPA) will have plenty of oppt’y to press their points in the future but if they’re not playing, it won’t matter.”


“Blake Snell is a bleeping idiot.  He’s not risking his life going out to play a game that any kid dreamed to be part of.  The medical staffs will insure that there will be preventative measures to protect the team and the players.  The police, fire and hospital workers are the heroes.  They deserve the big paycheck.”


“[The MLBPA] is focused only on the problems in 2020.  It does not seem to realize that the health of baseball as a business is beneficial to players in the future.”

Moving along to Responses More Favorable to the MLBPA and the Players:

“The owners have negotiated in bad faith by making the same proposal three different ways, but couching the same monetary result differently in terms of number of games, pay and benefits.”


“The owners’ demands for payroll concessions from players while crying about $640,000 in losses per game played is disingenuous when they refuse to share financial information which might justify that claim.”


“Their economic self-interests are all the owners care about.  Their economic self-interests are paramount with the players, although health concerns will have significant importance for the young players with families if playing baseball becomes a reality in 2020.”


“[MLB and the owners] have negotiated as if there will be no seasons in 2021, 2022 or 2023.”

Next up are Responses that Speak to the Sport of Professional Baseball as a whole:

“The public views the back-and-forth offers and counteroffers with mounting apathy.  The chance to play a meaningful number of games is fast disappearing.  A radically shortened schedule will lead to a ‘winner’ having no legitimacy and tarnished with a giant asterisk.”


“If there is no consensus to start the season in the next several weeks the game is dead.  There are/was 42 million Americans out of work in the last three months.  Joe Flebleezt (stole that from you) does not want to hear that the players are going to lose a certain percentage of their multi million dollar contracts to play 60 games a year instead of 162.”  [Aside:  The least you could have done is to spell Joe Flabeetz’ name correctly.  😊]


“Both the owners and the players are destroying the golden goose by failing to make obvious concessions that would permit an agreement and their stubbornness will have financial and fan loss repercussion that will damage the game for a decade or more.”


“The inability of the two sides to reach an agreement without acrimony is not at all surprising. Very little ever changes in baseball. Labor strife was baked in to the culture in the earliest days of the professional game. Unchanging, uncaring, the game is destined to join horse racing and boxing in the category of irrelevant sports.”


“In the broad sense of what American society is dealing with, in all its iterations, the MLB season is relatively insignificant and largely irrelevant to a large segment of the population.  However, the citizens are in dire need of SOME level of distraction and Baseball would miss a golden opportunity NOT to fill that need.”

Lastly, here are Responses that Call for a Pox on Both Houses:

“The fans are again being taken for granted by both players and owners.”


“The only thing they agree on is not to talk to each other.”


“[Bleep] all of them!  [Aside:  I realize this is not a declarative sentence because the verb is in the imperative mood, but I think you get the intended meaning.]


“The owners are greedy and the players are greedy.  Think about the people who pay your salary.  I’m permanently out if this is not resolved.”


“The fans are of very little concern  to either owners or players.”


I sent my email request out last Wednesday, four full days before the negotiations reached the stage we find them in today.  The union has refused another MLB proposal; and this time, the union said there will be no more negotiations because it is time for MLB to tell the players when and where to report for whatever season MLB puts on the schedule.  I was “prescient” inquiring when I did; the responses were “prescient” in anticipating where all of this wound up.

What we have now is sort of a work stoppage.  It is not a strike because the players now have declared that they want to play; it is not a lockout because MLB can simply announce the time and place where games will begin again.  However, this is an interruption in the normal course of business for professional baseball that goes beyond the intervention of the coronavirus; the cause of this interruption is a dispute over pay and working conditions – – which are traditionally the terrain of labor/management disputes.  If there is a noun for this kind of a labor/management situation, I do not know what it is.

However, there is a historical context to apply here.  Back in 1994 when the World Series had to be canceled because the players refused to finish the season past the middle of August, the future of baseball was in jeopardy.  It took the ruling of a future Justice of the US Supreme Court to “save baseball” and get the game back on the field in late April of 1995.  [Aside:  For the record, I do not believe that Sonya Sotomayor “saved baseball”; but indeed, her ruling was the event that broke the logjam that existed in 1994-1995.]  Fans were not happy; some blamed the owners; other blamed the players; everyone blamed someone or something for the lack of baseball – – and lots of fans “vowed” to stay away forever.  Through pure serendipity, MLB and the MLBPA had a savior waiting in the wings.

  • As the 1995 season began, one of baseball’s – – nay one of all of sports’ – – “unbreakable” records was in the line of fire.  And in September 1995, Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played when he played in his 2131st consecutive game in the Orioles’ home park in Baltimore.

Ripken’s pursuit of that “unbreakable record” dominated the narrative of baseball in 1995 in a totally positive way; and when he broke the record, it was almost as if the strike/lockout from the previous year had never happened.  Subsequent to that “life-saving event”, MLB carried on into the heart of the PED/Steroid Era; and once again, fans were enthralled by the homerun antics of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa when both of them broke Roger Maris’ longstanding record of 61 homeruns  in a single season in 1998.

If there are any “baseball saviors” out there waiting to rescue MLB from a sports nadir in 2021, I cannot tell you who or what they might be.  Maybe Joe Flabeetz will play in the 2020 truncated season of 50 games or so and wind up hitting .420 for the “season”.  At least, that would generate some controversy and some interest in baseball history that might carry over into 2021.  Sorry folks, that is the best I can come up with…

Until and unless both the owners and the players’ union can come up with better answers to issues such as:

  1. Revenue sharing:  The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Astros, Cubs and Phillies all have the highest projected payrolls for 2020.  They also all play in big markets with plenty of baseball tradition.  That is fine – – but the fact that they can afford to outspend the other 22 teams in MLB is not fine.  MLB needs meaningful revenue sharing similar to what the NFL has had in place for about 50 years.  And as I have argued here before, a salary cap plus a salary floor for every team would make a lot of sense.
  2. Penalties for tanking:  The fact is that too many teams had positioned themselves in 2020 to try not to win a championship.  The Mariners, Orioles, and Tigers in the AL are not trying; you might include the Red Sox here given their trade of Mookie Betts for a ham sandwich and you might have included the Indians too if they had been successful in trading Francisco Lindor as had been rumored.  In the NL, you can write off the Giants, Marlins and Pirates.  If you include the Rockies who were looking at the possibility of trading away Nolan Arenado, that will bring the suspect list up to nine teams.  That means 30% of the teams in MLB were not even going to try to be “winners” in 2020.
  3. Service-time manipulation:  The current CBA has a humongous loophole in it that allows owners to keep young players ineligible for arbitration for an extra year.  That loophole is so large that you can drive a phalanx of buses through it, and it can save the owners tens of millions of dollars.  Guess what?  They exploit that loophole with relish as they should.  Do not blame the owners here; blame the players’ union negotiators for acquiescing to a set of procedures that is so blatantly exploitable to the detriment of the players they were nominally there to represent.

Folks, this situation would have to be a whole lot more organized and constrained to be described as a “hot mess”.  My perspective is that no matter which side you might choose to align with here, that side has feet of clay, the brains of a starfish and an excretory aperture at both ends of its alimentary canal.  There are no heroes; there are only greedy, mendacious predatory beasts – – on both sides.

Why is this worse than 1994 and 1995?  Well that is simple.  In addition to the lack of some outside event/player to capture the attention of everyone who ever liked baseball in the past, here is something that 2021 is sure to have:

  • Lots more acrimony as the spillover product from this year’s inability to find a way to play a truncated season that neither side could have predicted or avoided or desired.  And the current Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out at the end of the 2021 season and will have to be renegotiated.  Oh, swell…

Professional baseball has been around for about 150 years in the US and – – amazingly – – the owners and the players have not yet come to recognize the fact that they need each other in order to sop up the $11B in annual revenues that MLB generates today.  No one will pay money to watch the owners play baseball against one another; no one will pay nearly $11B for the players to perform on a semi-organized barnstorming tour.  Why is that so obvious to me and not to the combatants here?

I really want to be wrong about this, but I think MLB and the MLBPA have done a slow walk in lockstep onto the edge of a precipice.  Moreover, if there are any adults in the room and those adults have been silent to this point, the situation could become catastrophic unless those adults jump to their feat and yell the negotiating equivalent of:

  • W … T … BLEEP … are you blockheads doing?

Leaders get the credit when things go in a positive way for their organizations and leaders need to take the blame when things go south while they are in charge.  So, let me just say:

  • Thank you, Rob Manfred.
  • Thank you, Tony Clark.
  • You have provided generations of future students studying to get an MBA with a top-flight case study on how not to handle negotiations.

Finally, as if this has not been sufficiently gloomy so far, here is an item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Fair warning: If the MLB season ever gets up and running, baseball media maven Tom Verducci anticipates ‘more pitching changes, less offense.’ Oh, goody.”

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



More Tone-Deafness…

Earlier this week, I wrote about the tone-deafness of Drew Brees and the way that his remarks about NFL anthem protests did not fit into the fabric of the conversation regarding police practices vis á vis the minority community at the time.  I doubt that anyone reading these rants was not aware of the controversy those remarks had created before reading any of my remarks.  Today, I want to tell you about another tone-deaf individual that you might not know about.

Wauwatosa, WI is a suburb west of Milwaukee; there are no eastern suburbs of Milwaukee because that would be Lake Michigan.  One of the business enterprises there is a gym called Anytime Fitness.  One of the personal trainers employed there exhibited his tone-deafness in the following way:

  • He posted a sign in the gym depicting a workout that the trainer was using as a “challenge” to gym patrons.
  • That challenge consisted of distance measured stretches on a rowing machine alternating with intervals of burpees [or squat-thrusts as they were called when I was doing gym exercises].  It is a long list of alternating rowing and “burpeeing” workouts with a time goal of 35 minutes and 29 seconds posted.  Sounds harmless so far – – unless you try to meet that challenge and pull a muscle or endure a “cardiac event”…  Here is the rub.
  • On the same whiteboard where this challenge routine was written there is a graphic.  That graphic consists of a depiction of a man on one knee and the graphic is drawn with a black magic marker.  That is not horrible but wait, there’s more…
  • There are words written on the white board too and they say:
  • “I Can’t Breathe” 
  • And
  • “Don’t you dare lay down.”

All I can do here is the channel Dick Enberg and say, “Oh my!”  As you may imagine, this mis-timed posting of a workout in a gym has received a ton of attention and the trainer who created the posting and the graphics has been put on leave by Anytime Fitness and according to a company statement that trainer’s “employment status is under review”.

I think there is an important comparison to make here.  After Drew Brees said what he did, lots of NFL players reacted in the moment and in character to his remarks.  Malcom Jenkins posted on one of the social media sites a video where he spoke from his heart and his gut to the point that he came to tears.  Others reacted and spoke or wrote in plain English what they felt/thought about what Brees said.  It does not matter if you agree with what those players said about Drew Brees in that moment, but it was absolutely clear that what they said and wrote on social media was real and genuine.  Please compare those reactions to the ones that emanate from Wauwatosa in this matter.

`           Here are statements from Self-Esteem Brands and Anytime Fitness:

“One of our publicly-stated commitments to antiracism work is to bolster training efforts for our franchise owners to lead with empathy, love and respect.  This incident makes it clear that we have work to do in this space; immediately, we are sharing this incident with our franchise owners worldwide as an example of what not to do, why it is offensive and what locations should be doing instead.”

As in the “Brees Incident”, it does not matter if you agree with this statement or not, consider if this sounds like something those brand executives would say in any normal discourse – – or if this was conjured up in a session with folks from “Legal” and “Public Relations”.

In a separate statement, the execs also said:

“This experience has further galvanized our commitment to antiracism education within our franchise network.  To our employees, franchise owners, members and  communities – especially those who are black, Indigenous and people of color – we deeply regret today’s events and we will continue to learn from these experiences.  Our commitment to eliminating racism within our business is stronger than ever.”

As above, it is hard to disagree with any of the words or sentiments here – – but does anyone speak that way?  For that matter, does anyone write that way unless they are “putting out a statement” with the intention of putting out a fire?

Here is a link to a report from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about this incident where you can read more about the matter.  Also included, of course, are statements issued by local political leaders who reflexively seized the opportunity to do some virtue-signaling.

Moving along…  The Carolina Panthers signed XFL QB, PJ Walker to a one-year contract and Walker got a signing bonus of $150K.  Walker played his college football at Temple and he was there when Matt Rhule was the head coach at Temple.

In addition, the Carolina Panthers signed former Vikes and Saints QB, Teddy Bridgewater to a 3-year contract that has $33M guaranteed and could be worth as much as $63M.  I really hope that Coach Rhule does not try to portray what happens in Panthers’ training camp as a free and open competition at the QB position.

Oh, and the Panthers also have Will Grier – a 3rd round pick from Florida in 2019 – on the roster…

Finally, let me close today by asking if this ever occurred to you:

  • How did the people on Gilligan’s Island stay so happy episode after episode after they ran out of whatever supply of toilet paper they had on board?

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



A Time Of Change – – Both Good And Bad

As more parts of the US begin to “re-open” despite a still large number of known COVID-19 cases, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back and see if there might be a bright spot or two that will emerge from the country’s lockdown – – at least as it may apply to the sports world.  It is hard to imagine that anything organic to individual sports like MLB or the NBA or the NHL which had schedule disruptions could have been a “bright spot”, but maybe if we look just a bit more deeply, we can find a nugget or two.  The danger here is that as we dig more deeply, we might find some fetid remains as well.  We shall see…

When sports went dark back in March, the TV networks had to scramble to avoid having test patterns [Google is your friend, youngsters.] and/or dead air fill the screens nationwide.  They resolved that issue by following Warner Wolf’s directive:

“Let’s go to the videotape.”

That solved TV’s immediate problem, but it left execs and producers with time on their hands to think up “innovations”.  Those good folks came up with three of these and I want to put them into three familiar categories:  The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

  • The Good:  The idea of putting microphones on baseball managers/coaches could be an interesting innovation providing added insights into game strategy and dugout atmosphere.  There will need to be attentive monitors of that audio feed and it will be important to silence those microphones when a manager/coach goes nose-to-nose with an umpire over a “blown call”.  [Aside:  Dr. Fauci would not approve of that sort of face-to-face shouting even if the participants were wearing masks.  Just saying…]  I do not need to hear any “commentary” from players or among players, but from managers and coaches it might be interesting.
  • The Bad:  The idea of using mannequins – or worse yet blow-up dolls – as faux fans in the stands so that it “looks better on TV” is more than just a bad idea.  It is a stupid idea.  The collective of humankind saw its total intellectual capital diminished when that idea was first vocalized.
  • The Ugly:  I assume you are wondering at this point what might be worse than something that drains the inventory of human intellectual capital.  Well, the idea of piping in crowd noise because there are no live fans to provide spontaneous crowd noise would fit that bill.  The compelling thing about sports is that it is real; what is happening on the field or the court or the pitch or the ice is not some fakery or fantasy; it is there and it is happening in real time.  Piping in “fake noise” destroys that compelling element.

There was a time 60-70 years ago where there was a thing called a “reconstructed baseball game” as a radio program.  If you saw the movie Bull Durham you saw an announcer sitting in a studio getting a news feed pitch by pitch from the stadium and using sound effects and fake crowd noise to make it seem to the listener that they were hearing a real broadcast.  Those reconstructed games were commonplace until about the early 1950s in MLB but it was always easy to tell which games were “live” and which were “reconstructed” – even to a kid who just wanted to listen to a game on the radio.

  • Memo to TV Execs:  Do not screw around with the reality and the authenticity of the sports you are paying to  televise – unless you lump pro ‘rassling in with the concepts of “sports” and “authenticity”.  The only analogy I can come up with here if you do that is that you will be pissing in the soup.

Along similar lines, the NFL – a sport whose regular season/playoff season was not immediately impacted by all of the COVID-19 trauma – made some changes to the way it did its business and made some rule changes that will go into effect when the NFL returns to live action.  It would be ever so convenient if I could categorize those changes in the same three categories as above – – but I cannot honestly say that any of the changes classify as The Ugly.  So, I will have to settle for a simple delineation of good and bad.

  • The Good:  I really liked the “decentralized NFL Draft” better than the huge convocation of folks into a single venue.  I doubt we will see that very often down the line because of the revenue the mass convocation produces, but it was a great innovation.
  • The Good:  The NFL got rid of the rule allowing replay to be used to review pass interference calls – or non-calls – which had been in place on a one-year trial basis in 2019.  The problem with the rule was not its intention; the problem is that the rule was not enforced well at all and created more animosity league-wide than did the Saints/Rams playoff incident that engendered the rule in the first place.  Good riddance…
  • The Bad:  For the second year in a row, the NFL tabled a rule change that would eliminate the onside kick and replace it with a single play of 4th and 15 to determine if the “kicking team” would retain possession of the ball.  The league is on a dilemma here; they changed the previous onside kickoff rule to enhance player safety; that is a tough terrain on which to beat a retreat.  The problem is that the current rule makes it almost impossible for an onside kick to work.  The NFL needs an infusion of imagination to change things here.

With regard to onside kicks in the NFL, I ran across this stat attributed to Michael Lopez who is the Director of Data and Analytics for the NFL.  I figure he is an authoritative source…  According to his stats, over the last two years since the new onside kick rule has been in effect teams that have tried an expected onside kick in a regular season NFL game have a combined record of 0-104.

Obviously, teams trying an expected onside kick are trailing when they do that; one should not expect the results to be anywhere near .500.  Nonetheless, with the new onside kick rule in effect, the onside kick has been relegated to a status politely described as “Useless”.

  • Memo to NFL Owners:  Find a way to modify the current onside kick rule; it’s not working…

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about a baseball story that has receded into memory as the league and the players continue to squabble over money:

“Three teams — the Astros, Red Sox and Mets — fired their managers in the aftermath of Houston’s sign-stealing trash-bangers.

“Or, more precisely, they canned them.”

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



The Baseball Calamity

Yesterday, I said that MLB owners and players continue to find ways to annoy each other.  Yesterday brought another proposal from the union – one for an 89-game season with players receiving full pro-rated pay.  Nothing on the surface of that proposal sounds outrageous but it was guaranteed to be shot down by the owners; and therefore, it was a waste of time.  And time is beginning to run out on MLB – – even though the sport is fiercely proud of the fact that it does not have a clock to determine the end of its games.

Here is what could have happened if the two sides had made a deal two weeks ago:

  • Players could be reporting to “Spring Training 2.0” and getting physical exams today.
  • Baseball practices and activities could begin tomorrow.
  • Spring Training games could happen next Monday.
  • Faux Opening Day could be July 4th, 2020.

Think of the hoopla of Baseball Opening Day AND the Fourth of July comingled…  Baseball would be the top story of the day and there would not be much competition in the US for major sports for at least a month.  It would not save the 2020 season, but it might salvage it.  But the two operative words here for such a potentially rosy future are:

  • NOT … and … HAPPENING

The impasse appears to be straightforward.  The owners want players to take a pay cut beyond merely pro-rating their salaries over fewer games than the normal 162 games; the union will not accept any deal that has any pay reduction beyond pro-rata salaries for fewer than 162 games.  I am not interested in taking sides here but I would like to suggest a few ideas that both sides need to consider when they get past this petty squabble and settle down to engage in World War III next year as the existing CBA expires at the end of the 2021 season.

First and foremost, the most important thing that both sides need to do is to recognize that every last fart and whistle up for negotiation is not worthy of a pitched battle.  The two sides may not be “besties”, but each side needs the other side.  I do not know what it will take for the lunkheads on both sides to grasp that unalterable fact but someone far more eloquent than I needs to get that message through to them.  As they sit down to reach a new CBA, they need to keep this thought in mind:

  • The objective here is to find a way to share $11B per year this year and – if we stop shooting ourselves and each other in the foot – more money than that in each of the following years.
  • That should not be a Herculean task!

I am going to do some back-of-the-envelope math here; it is not accurate, but it is illustrative.  According to the data I can find, 3 MLB teams were projected to have a total payroll for its 25-man roster over $200M for 2020 while 12 teams were projected to have a total payroll less than $100M.  The range from top to bottom was $202M to $46M.  My estimate is that the MLB average is $135M per team.  For the 30 teams, that puts the “total salary cost” around $4B.  That is a lot of money – – but it is also only 36% of the projected revenue of $11B.

I believe that a major breakthrough for the players would be to negotiate a salary cap with a salary floor.  I know the MLBPA has stayed away from anything like a salary cap since the days of Marvin Miller and look where it got them:

  • 12 teams – 40% of the teams in MLB – are paying players to show up but have no intention of trying to win anything.
  • Only 36% of total revenue goes to player salaries.  Great negotiating union guys on that one…

So how about this for a starting point when you consider a salary cap/floor structure:

  • The salary floor for every team would be $150M.  That is roughly 40% of total revenue.
  • The salary cap for every team would be $180M.  That is roughly 50% of total revenue.

Please note that total player salary would go up under this model because those 12 teams with payrolls under $100M would have to sign players – along with a couple other teams – and there is a linkage of the cap and the floor to total revenue for the game which puts the owners and the players on the same side when it comes to “growing the game”.

Oh, by the way, salary caps are not inimical to player compensation.  I will use the NBA and the NFL as examples.  A whole lot of basketball and football players make generational wealth in shorter careers than do baseball players.  By not tying player compensation to a percentage of revenue, the MLBPA has created a situation that is fundamentally illogical:

  • Since owners can choose to spend or not spend whatever they want without any restrictions, the union has put a “bunch-of-billionaires-that-we-do-not-trust-as-far-as-we-can-throw-a-piano” in charge of how much players will earn.
  • The union agreed to a system where owners who spend “too much” have to pay a “luxury tax” but owners who refuse to spend can sit their with their thumbs in their ears and rake in some dough.

And those are the folks who will try to perpetuate that sort of gestalt next year because the idea of a “salary cap” is as appealing as kimchee ice cream.

I said yesterday that there was a lot of cheese to be shared among owners and players.  I will not be surprised if the two sides do not find a way to dig themselves into positions that both diminish the amount of cheese to be shared AND arrive at a distribution model that is heavily tilted toward the owners.

I have more to say on this subject – – probably tomorrow.

Until then, consider this observation from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle regarding sports on TV during the COVID-19 isolation:

“The ESPN documentaries on Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong were interesting. Now how about a documentary or two on people who become superstars without being bullies and jerks? Just to show the kiddies that it can be done that way.”

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



Contributions From Readers…

Readers often send me emails containing nuggets of information that I did not know and probably would never have run across; some of them are sufficiently off-center and I share those with everyone else.  Such was the case last week – although I did not discover the communiques until yesterday afternoon.  Here is the salient part of an email from a former colleague who has been reading these rants for more than 20 years:

“I know that [Kurt] Vonnegut is a favorite of yours.  Did you know that he used to write for Sports Illustrated?  That is what this blog post says.”

Indeed, I love Kurt Vonnegut’s stories; and no, I had no idea he ever wrote for Sports Illustrated and until I checked out the link provided in the email, I could not imagine him writing about sports.  This is the link provided in the email I received; it is very brief; if you go and check it out, you will see why Kurt Vonnegut’s career at Sports Illustrated was very brief and you will see why I remain skeptical that he had any future as a sportswriter.

And, I got another email from another reader with a football stat that I would never have gone looking for – – let alone run across.  I have not verified these numbers, but I present them here as they were sent to me:

  • In the history of the NFL, only 11 QBs to start an NFL game played college football at Michigan.
  • Tom Brady has started 283 games and won 219 of those games.
  • The other 10 QBs from Michigan to start games in the NFL have combined to start 372 games and they won only 183 of those games.

I am surprised that Michigan has only produced 11 starting NFL QBs over the last century; and even knowing Brady’s “GOAT Status”, I am surprised at the disparity between his numbers and those of his fellow Michigan alums.

The NBA has the framework for its return to action.  The idea is that 22 of the 30 NBA teams will assemble in Orlando, FL and play 8 regular season games starting on July 31 to set the playoff brackets.  Then playoffs will happen in pairings of 7-game series until there is a champion crowned for the 2019/2020 season.  If that final series goes the distance, the seventh game would take place on October 12.

Part of that schedule plan is that the next NBA season would start around December 1 and lots of people have focused on how little down time the two teams in the NBA Finals would have between the end of a series in mid-October and the need to start training camp in early/mid-November for the ensuing season.  One of the reasons driving the NBA to start on December 1 is that they do not want to have their playoffs run so late that they go up against the Tokyo Olympics next summer.  Those Olympic Games will start on July 23, 2021.

As usual, I prefer to look at the NBA’s scheduling wizardry differently.  I look at the fact that teams will convene in Orlando on July 7 and the two teams in the final series will be there until at least early October.  That means those players will be “isolated” in Orlando, FL in a “Disney World environment” for 3 months.  Why do I think that is not going to turn out to be an ideal situation for those players and coaches…?

  • [Aside:  I recognize the attractiveness of the facilities available in Orlando to house the players and coaches and to provide a proper venue for the games.  I also recognize that August and September are active months in the “hurricane season”….]

Meanwhile, in MLB, the owners and the players’ union continue to find ways to annoy each other and to make a return to the field – with or without fans in the stands – look less and less likely.  The two sides need now – – and have needed for many years truth be told – – an intervention from people who love the game meaning that those people have to love both flawed institutions.  MLB is a business that has $11B in annual revenue; that is a lot of cheese.  And these two sides cannot get past their joint pettiness to find a way so that every one of them can “dip their beak” into the $11B bounty.

I believe the roots of this go back to Curt Flood and his lawsuit that overthrew the reserve clause and instituted the concept of free agency.  Make no mistake, I think what Flood did was right, proper and beneficial for baseball as a game.  Having said that, the way it all came down set in motion a sequence of labor negotiations that have swung like a pendulum and left significant scars on both sides.  If Rob Manfred called Tony Clark and suggested they have dinner together tonight, I would not be surprised if both men brought food tasters with them.  That kind of distrust must stop sometime or MLB as we have come to know it is not going to exist.

Like the NBA, the NHL and the NFL, the owners and players in MLB need to recognize a simple foundational fact:

  • The two sides – despite their distrust and their enmity – can only enjoy the benefits of $11B in annual revenue if they act as partners in the business of staging a media funded “reality show”.

If the show ceases to go on, both sides lose.  Remember the 1994 World Series?  Of course you don’t, because there was no World Series in 1994.  And if the jamokes on both sides today do not find common ground to build an agreement as to how to play a truncated 2020 season AND to come to an agreement quickly in 2021 on a new CBA without putting fans through another ego-driven opera next year, MLB could be facing a permanent decline.

In the immortal words of Snuffy Smith – – and Barney Google too – – “Time’s a wastin’”

Finally, consider this item from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times:

“South Korea soccer club FC Seoul got fined $82,000 after about 20 sex dolls — all wearing masks and some holding signs — were substituted for live fans in the stands a 1-0 win over Gwangju FC.

“So what’s next, EPL clubs using inflatable hooligans?”

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



RIP Wes Unseld

Sorry for the interruption.  My long-suffering wife and I planned to spend last week at our weekend home where the Internet connection is via satellite.  We arrived to find the modem dead.  We could not acquire a new modem last week, so these rants were not possible.  We are back in Northern Virginia now and the ranting can resume.

I missed the opportunity last week to proclaim “Rest in Peace” for Wes Unseld.  I remember seeing him play in college at Louisville and for the Washington Bullets – now Wizards – for many years.  He was the exact opposite of “flamboyant”, but he was indeed a great basketball player and by all accounts a great human being.

Rest in peace, Wes Unseld.

The sports event of last week had to be the statement by Drew Brees that he could never agree fully with someone who disrespected the flag/national anthem and the subsequent reaction(s) to that statement.  Those words dredged up all the feelings and opinions regarding the “Colin Kaepernick Conundrum” from several years ago amid the outcry over the death of George Floyd and the reaction(s) to that event.

What Drew Brees said was certainly insensitive and out of tune with current events.  At the same time, I think some of the “analyses” of what he said and what it may portend for his future were a tad over the top.

I suspect that psychologists/psychiatrists have a word to define the condition I am about to describe because I cannot believe that it is not found in humankind everywhere:

  • It is perfectly possible for one person to hold more than one view in his/her mind with comparable conviction/commitment simultaneously.

Think about it for a moment.  I hope that everyone who reads this is repulsed by the events that led to George Floyd’s death and supports two consequences of those actions:

  1. The perpetrator(s) should be charged and tried for their actions.
  2. The event should lead to criminal justice/police reform in the US as it regards to equal treatment for people in minority communities.

AND, I suspect that at least some of the people who are reading this are ALSO upset with seeing the US flag disrespected.  Those two things are only marginally related unless one is in the midst of a Gestalt Therapy session.  They are more directly connected when the environment is dealing with police brutality and the recognizable person making a comment related to these matters is an NFL QB.  The reason is that former NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, tied those two things together several years ago with his protest of kneeling during the National Anthem on the sidelines of NFL games.

  • [Aside:  When Kaepernick began his protest, I said then that I fully supported his cause and his objectives but that I thought he had chosen a bad way to voice his protest because I thought it would be misconstrued by some people as being “unpatriotic”.  I would like to have been proven wrong on that point…]

What Drew Brees said was “tone deaf” in the context of what is ongoing in the US over the past two weeks.  However, what Drew Brees said was not racist; he did not say he endorsed disparate treatment for African-Americans.  What he said was that he would not agree with anyone who disrespected the US flag.  As I have watched news programs over the past week, I have seen tens of thousands of people who are protesting inequality without “disrespecting the US flag”.  These two things simply are not mutually exclusive.

Back when I said that Colin Kaepernick had chosen the wrong vehicle for his protest, I suggested that the right venue for his protest was on the steps of the local police stations where reform was needed or possibly on the steps of the city hall in that town.  That is where many of the demonstrations are taking place now and – if news reports are accurate – that is the kind of demonstration that has gotten the attention of lawmakers who are in a position to make the kinds of changes that Colin Kaepernick and these current demonstrators seek.

Hopefully, the “Drew Brees portion” of this saga is over.  Equally hopefully, there will be significant and positive changes in the criminal justice system forthcoming soon.  It is not difficult for me to hold both aspirations at the same time.

Switching gears…  Last year, Lenny Dykstra sued former teammate, Ron Darling, for defamation of character; the case was being presented to the Supreme Court of the State of New York in New York County.  Darling wrote a book and in there claimed that Dykstra had shouted racial epithets at “Oil Can” Boyd during the 1986 World Series.  The suit claimed that this defamation of character was done to intentionally inflict emotional distress on Lenny Dykstra.

Last week, the judge in the case – the Honorable Robert D. Kalish –  threw it out and ruled for Darling.  He ruled that Lenny Dykstra is “libel-proof”; Dykstra is such a widely known jerk that his reputation cannot be made worse by announcing that he used racial epithets.  Here is part of the judge’s reasoning for his ruling:

“Based on the papers submitted on this motion, prior to the publication of the book, Dykstra was infamous for being, among other things, racist, misogynist, and anti-gay, as well as a sexual predator, a drug-abuser, a thief, and an embezzler. Further, Dykstra had a reputation—largely due to his autobiography—of being willing to do anything to benefit himself and his team, including using steroids and blackmailing umpires . . . Considering this information, which was presumably known to the average reader of the book, this Court finds that, as a matter of law, the reference in the book has not exposed Dykstra to any further ‘public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace,’ or ‘evil opinion of him in the minds of right-thinking persons,’ or ‘deprivation of friendly intercourse in society.’”

His Honor did not stop there. Later in his opinion, he said this for the record:

“Given the aforesaid litany of stories concerning Dykstra’s poor and mean-spirited behavior particularly toward various groups including racial minorities, women, and the LGBTQ community—this Court finds that, as a matter of law, the reference cannot ‘induce an evil opinion of [Dykstra] in the minds of right-thinking persons’ or ‘deprive him of their friendly intercourse in society,’ as that ‘evil opinion’ has long existed.”

If you would like to read the entirety of this judge’s ruling, you can find it here.

Finally, since much of today’s rant relates tangentially to the way police officers do their job, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times from several weeks ago:

“Police in Vero Beach, Fla., arrested a 25-year-old woman who stripped down to her underwear in the middle of a street and started swinging a golf club.

“Befuddled officers couldn’t decide which covering she needed the most — a straitjacket or a green jacket.”

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