College Basketball Coaches On The Move And Staying Put

Yesterday’s Topical Rant on the idea of paying collegiate athletes drew some interesting email responses.  One came from a journalist I have known for well over 50 years who liked the piece – although he thought it was long enough to have been able to be broken in two – and he particularly liked the idea of separating colleges from collegiate Athletic Departments as business entities that were taxable as opposed to non-taxable.  He did add one proviso to the separation of school and business entity as presented yesterday:

“Any college football player working for and being paid by the athletic department must fairly compensate any college cheerleader he shtups.”

I can endorse that addition to my idea on multiple levels…

The men’s college basketball coaching season of change is well underway.  I am not about to rave on or throw shade on the decision of Joe Flabeetz to leave the job as head coach at Whatsammata U to take on the more prestigious job as first assistant coach at Disco Tech.  If anyone here is severely interested enough in such changes to the coaching landscape in men’s college basketball, there are myriad other sites to patronize that will scratch that itch.  Having said that, there are several coaching changes that have happened since the Final Four games took place that seem interesting enough to comment upon.

Porter Moser left the job as the head coach at Loyola-Chicago and took the job as the head coach at Oklahoma once Lon Kruger announced his retirement from the coaching profession the week of the Final Four.  I find this interesting on several levels:

  • Moser had been the coach at Loyola-Chicago since 2011.  His teams made the NCAA Tournament twice in that time making it to the Final Four in 2018 and to the Sweet Sixteen this year.  In addition, his teams went to the NIT once and won the College Basketball Invitational Tournament in 2015.  I cannot believe there was any significant pressure on the part of alums to get him out of that position.
  • Moser’s record at a small mid-major school is the kind of thing that would give him entrée to a job at a “big time school”.  If he were “looking to cash in” on this year’s solid showing in the Tournament, I would have thought that his agent might have been fielding more than a couple of calls from bigger schools.

Porter Moser reportedly made $1M per year as the coach at Loyola-Chicago and the school was “thinking about” offering him a pay raise and an extension when Oklahoma got on the line.  I have not read any reporting on the details on his contract at Oklahoma, but I am sure of two things:

  1. It is more than $1M per year.
  2. It will not break the bank at Oklahoma’s Athletic Department.

Porter Moser is 52 years old; if he wanted to spend the rest of his career at Loyola-Chicago – – or schools of that ilk – – he would never be out of work.  This career choice says to me that he wanted to do more with his career than he could rationally accomplish at Loyola-Chicago because he took more money and more “exposure” in exchange for becoming the coach of an after-thought at Oklahoma.  Please do not try to convince me that men’s basketball is anywhere near the level of importance that the Sooner’s football team enjoys.  Porter Moser chose to take some added money to try to make Oklahoma basketball into something it has never been – – something the money-bags alums give a damn about from January until April.

Bonne chance, Porter Moser…

UCLA rewarded coach Mick Cronin with a contract extension through the 2026/27 season at $4M per year.  The Bruins began the Tournament as a play-in team and made it all the way to the Final Four losing on a half-court buzzer beater in OT.  That is the first time UCLA has been to the Final Four since 2008.  Well done, Coach Cronin.

Two other college basketball coaching decisions paint two distinctly different approaches to schools disciplining their coaches.  Sean Miller has been the head coach at Arizona since 2009; he was fired this week.  One of Miller’s assistant coaches from 2009 to 2017 was “Book” Richardson; he was one of the coaches caught up in the FBI investigation of illegal recruiting activities and plead guilty to charges of bribery and was sentenced in June 2019.  I have never thought that the FBI investigation was legit; I think what the investigation found was that Richardson – – and other assistant coaches – – violated almost every tenet of the NCAA recruiting rulebook but that it took a humongous stretch of logic to say it violated Federal law.  Notwithstanding my disbelief, “Book” Richardson is guilty of bribery and the world has known that since early in 2019 and had reason to suspect that it was the case as far back as 2017.

If “Book” Richardson is a felon, it seems fair to me to ask how it took at least 2 years and maybe as many as 4 years for the administrators at Arizona to figure out that Richardson’s boss – – Sean Miller – – might be associated in some way with those recruiting improprieties.  For whatever the reason(s), it took that long until Miller’s tenure as the head coach became sufficiently embarrassing for the school to buy him out and “go in a different direction”.  By the way, good luck to anyone who takes the job in the current environment; the NCAA will surely move at a snail’s pace from here on out to determine what else may have happened so that it can levy sanctions against the Arizona basketball program.  Anyone going there now has a steep uphill climb in front of him.

The situation in Kansas is almost a mirror image of the one in Arizona.  Head coach Bill Self was directly implicated by the FBI investigators but not charged and the NCAA has informed the school of 5 Top Level charges of rules violations against Self and the Kansas basketball program.  That sounds serious; so how are the Jayhawks’ administrators and alums dealing with that:

  • Kansas just made Bill Self a coach for life indicating in the contract extension that the coach would not be fired “due to any current infractions matter”.
  • “Coach for life” might not be taken literally.  The new contract is a sequence of 5-year contracts that roll over at the close of every year. That is not literally a “lifetime contract” but it is close.
  • What Kansas administrators and alums are saying to the NCAA is something like, ”We got our coach; we like our coach; you want to punish him or punish the school, go ahead.  We’ll be here when the punishments are history.”

The salary attached to this “lifetime contract” in the upcoming year is $5.7M.  Under the circumstances, I would hope that Bill Self’s agent did not spend hours pouring over and renegotiating  the “howevers” and the “moreovers” in the contract.

Finally, the last two items today recall a comment by the 18th century Scottish economist, Adam Smith:

“Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.”

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

 

 

Paying College Athletes?

I fear that this may not end well.  I suspect that some will accuse me of going over to the dark side and I know that I am going to take a position that is contrary to most of the sports columnists around the country who I like very much and who I follow.  So, I am prepared to be in the position captured by the final line in Frank Sinatra’s great song, My Way:

“Let the record shows, I took all the blows and did it my way.”

With the conclusion of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and with various athletes filing suit against the NCAA over a variety of economic situations, there has arisen a hue and cry for the NCAA to admit once and for all that its “amateur model” involving the noble and selfless “student-athlete participant” is nonsense.  There is merit in that “demand”, but I am not so sure that payments for college athletes is a good idea or a practical one.

At the core of any call – strident or nuanced – to “pay the players” is a sense of equity and fairness.  Some college athletes are part of an enterprise that brings in almost a billion dollars to the NCAA (March Madness) and when it is over and the lights go out, those athletes do not get even a minuscule piece of the action.  What is usually left unstated is that the writer or commentator thinks that lack of fairness is so outrageous that it must be fixed despite any other ancillary problems it may cause.  I have two reactions to these arguments:

  1. I agree that it is unfair to a point but not so great that it needs a radical fix.
  2. I think there are ancillary problems out there waiting to happen.

Let me start with the “fairness” argument.  USA Today says that Mark Emmert makes $2.7M per year; reports appear frequently about the salaries of coaches exceeding $5M per year; conference commissioners make$3-5M per year.  The money that the NCAA uses to pay Mark Emmert – – and the other moguls in NCAA HQs – – and the money that the schools and conferences use to pay those coaches and commissioners comes from the toils of two classes of college athletes:

  1. College football players
  2. Male college basketball players.

[Aside:  Yes, I know that a handful of women’s college basketball programs operate in the black but those are few and far between.  As a sport on the national level women’s college basketball is not a money-maker.]

Now, as soon as I recognize the fact that two sets of college athletes produce all the revenue that gets distributed, I think about “fairness” in an entirely different dimension.

  • Why should those college athletes have no say in the way the revenue is split up?
  • Why is it axiomatic that “their revenue” must go to support a fencing team or a synchronized swimming team neither one of which has a prayer of breaking even?
  • Why are football players and male basketball players “exploited” in the current system but not in a world where they generate the revenue and then some All-Knowing Guru of Fairness distributes that revenue to other sports?

The difference in the third case above is who does the “exploiting”.  If it is the NCAA and the coaches and the conference commissioners, that is proclaimed to be evil.  If it is the other college athletes and their coaches and conference organizers, that is brushed aside as “OK”.

Another problem I have with the “lack of fairness argument” is that some college athletes “exploit themselves”.  As the NCAA reminds us every March, only 2% of college athletes will ever play professional sports.  If the system were really rigged to the utter disadvantage of college athletes, most of that other 98% would wind up in menial jobs or in a state of homelessness.  The reason would be that the athlete did not take advantage of the thing that colleges give those athletes in exchange for their play:

  • Scholarships!

I am going to be using Georgetown University here in DC area as an example later so let me say here that a year of tuition, room, board, books and fees at Georgetown comes to $73K in round numbers.  So, a four-year scholarship there is “worth” almost $300K.  Many athletes on an athletic scholarship at Georgetown would not have been able to foot that bill, so it follows logically that those athletes are getting an opportunity to receive an education worth $300K; there may not be a direct “cash exchange” happening here, but the athlete is trading his prowess on a team for $300K-worth of education.  And the fact also is that some college athletes fail to take advantage of that opportunity and that failure is NOT the fault of the NCAA or the college.

I can hear the cries of “Wait a minute there” racing through the minds of readers at this point.  Some of those athletes come from disadvantaged neighborhoods and school systems and are not ready to avail themselves of a college education.  That is absolutely correct; and it has nothing to do with the “fairness” of the current system.  The situation caused by that unreadiness for college at age 18 is societal and not of the NCAA’s doing.  Moreover, the unreadiness of some athletes for a college education puts that athlete in a position where he either trades his services for something of minimal value to him or tries to go it alone in another field of endeavor.

Stop right here for another inconvenient truth (Hat tip to former VP, Al Gore):

  • The athletes in question here are not children; they are adults; they can vote; they can enlist in the military; they can purchase firearms.
  • Because they are adults, they are the ones making the choices here and choices made by adults have consequences.
  • In this case, the consequences often mean that a college athlete spends 4 years of his life – or maybe 5 – working in a revenue generating sport for a school where he does not get much benefit in return from the educational resources there.

I also believe that “paying the players” will have unintended consequences.  Georgetown University here in DC fields teams in 24 sports – – 11 men’s sports and 13 women’s sports.  If  you do not live around here, you may not know that Georgetown has a football team in the Patriot League in Division I-AA.  In the case of that football team there are no possible accounting shenanigans to be done to show that team is “at break-even”.  There are no 8-figure TV deals; attendance at home games might exceed 1000 fans occasionally, and tickets for Georgetown football cost $10.

Since any move to “pay the players” is not likely to generate a 20-40% increase in revenues as a result of that act, schools will have to figure out how they will cover a new cost.  In the case of Georgetown, men’s basketball would be safe; it brings in almost all the revenue for the athletic department.  However, the school administrators might look at the Georgetown football team and ask – – why are we paying those guys?

Football programs at lots of small schools could easily be in jeopardy.  There are about 130 colleges that play major college football in the US; there are 350 colleges that play NCAA men’s basketball in the country.  For those 220 colleges or so where football is a large expense with no real prospect of ever leaving the realm of “large liability”, ditching football could be a real and logical choice.

I picked football as the example here because it is the other sport where the “fairness” argument is applied by proponents of “pay the players”.  However, returning to Georgetown’s Athletic Department, consider the possible vulnerability of these activities in addition to football:

  • Men’s and women’s golf, lacrosse, rowing, sailing, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, cross country, track and field.
  • Baseball
  • Women’s basketball, field hockey, softball, squash, volleyball.

Now for some practicality…  The current legal issue on the front burner is called “NIL” standing for Name, Image and Likeness.  People say that athletes should be able to derive some cash directly to their personal exchequer when someone uses their name, image or likeness to promote an activity or a product.  It is nigh onto impossible to take the position that a player’s NIL does not belong to him/her and if one wants to ramp up the rhetoric you can quickly get to the point where restricting a player’s ability to manage NIL is a “restraint of trade”.  OK, so let me say that I have no problem whatsoever with giving athletes total control over their NIL and I want those athletes to keep every dime they can get for the use of their NIL.

At this point some readers are thinking that I am – maybe – not so unredeemable after all.  Well, maybe not.  You see, if college athletes’ NIL were turned into a free and open marketplace, the “fairness folks” would be unhappy very quickly.

  • Trevor Lawrence could bank some serious coin for his NIL to promote products, events or causes.
  • Joe Flabeetz – the third string offensive guard on an 0-12 college team somewhere – and/or his fiancée, Betty Bopf – a cross country runner at the same school might have to pay someone to use their NIL for any reason.
  • I would want all of the “fairness folks” to sign a waiver of their right to be outraged at this inequity before opening NIL to a free marketplace because that inequity will happen immediately.

There are also rumblings that Congress might assert itself here and do some legislating.  In the pantheon of problems to be solved in the US in 2021, college sports legislation is pretty far down on the priority list.  Moreover, the Congress has a record of dealing with sports that is less than stellar.  I will only point here to PASPA – passed in 1992 – to minimize gambling on sporting events collegiate and professional which was declared to be unconstitutional and removed from the books.  Does anyone need a repeat performance from the Congress anything like that?

Everyone – me included – decries the NCAA’s ridiculous regulations on what athletes may receive as benefits from schools in the recruiting process and in the days on campus.  Remember, the NCAA once revised the rule saying that recruits could be offered breakfasts including bagels WITH cream cheese because the rule before that denied the addition of cream cheese.  We just shake our heads at the pettiness and the ineptitude of the folks writing rules like that.  So, now think about what might emanate from the US Congress on the issue of “pay the players”.  It would not surprise me to learn that any US Government set of regulations would equal or exceed the ones in place by the NCAA and the government regulations will need to be narrowly written because the “agency” in the government responsible for oversight there will need to report to Congress at least annually.

I said above that I did not think this situation was so dire that it needed a radical remedy immediately.  However, if the Congress is bound and determined to punch this tar baby (Hat Tip to Joel Chandler Harris and Uncle Remus here), let me outline a radical proposal:

  • Define into law that any collegiate sporting event that charges for admission or receives a dollar of revenue from broadcast rights, naming rights or promotional benefits shall be divorced from the college in question and put directly in the Athletic Department associated with that college.
  • Then, define into law that every Athletic Department associated with a college is a business and it is separate from the college.  That business is taxable and will file business tax returns with the IRS like any other business.  Those filings will need to be audited too.
  • Make it such that colleges cannot spend money on sports; only their private enterprise Athletic Departments can do that.  And then – – wait for it – – define any contribution to any Athletic Department for any purpose such that the donor cannot claim it as a charitable contribution on the donor’s tax return.  Colleges can still get donations for building libraries or laboratories but not for building field houses.  Donors to colleges would be able to take a charitable deduction; donors to Athletic Departments would not.

I really have not turned to the dark side, but I remain unconvinced that the calls for “pay the players” is much more than virtue signaling.  Let me leave you today with two observations by folks much more insightful than I:

“The only difference between a cynic and a realist is whether or not you agree with him.”  (Mark Twain)

“If my film makes one more person miserable, I have done my job.”  (Woody Allen)

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

 

 

Maybe The Jets Have “A Plan”?

I may have spoken too soon yesterday in my assessment that the NY Jets got “a meager return” for Sam Darnold in the trade with the Carolina P{anthers.  Maybe the new guys in charge of football with the Jets – – Joe Douglas as GM and Robert Saleh as head coach – – have a plan to change the fortunes of the team and the basis of that plan does not require the appearance of a Fairy Godmother every month or so.  The Jets also brought in a haul of draft picks from the Seahawks in the trade then for Jamal Adams.  Over the next two years, the Jets have plenty of “draft capital”; now the question will be how effectively will they use those assets.

  • For 2021, the Jets have two first-round picks, one second-round pick, two-third round picks, one fourth-round pick, two fifth-round picks and one sixth-round pick.
  • That is a total of 9 draft picks this year…
  • For 2022, the Jets have two first-round picks, two second-round picks, one third-round pick, two fifth-round picks and three sixth-round picks.
  • That is a total of 10 draft picks next  year….

If the plan for the Jets is to “get young” and develop young players into a formidable team at a bargain-basement cost against the salary cap, the Jets would seem to be on track to try to accomplish that.  Before anyone reminds me of my complete lack of mind-reading skills, I acknowledge that situation and I still wonder if that is “The Plan” for the current incarnation of the NY Jets.

Readers will surely recall that I am not a fan of relying on “draft capital” to rebuild a team.  I assert that the draft as it is set up does not favor the worst teams all that much and I notice that scouting reports/evaluations often do not reflect performance in the NFL.  I have suggested here several times that NFL teams place a higher value on high draft picks than I think is warranted.

Let me focus here on the first pick overall in the NFL draft over the past 22 years – since Peyton Manning went first overall and had a Hall of Fame career.  These are not random picks from the first round nor are they the first-round picks by a single team; these are the players taken before any other players in that draft class.  So, how did that work out for the teams holding that pick?

  • 1999:  Tim Couch  Browns  – –  Marginal career at best
  • 2000:  Courtney Brown  Browns  – –  Injury riddled career.
  • 2001:  Michael Vick  Falcons  – –  Pro Bowl 4 times; a good selection.
  • 2002:  David Carr  Texans  – –  Mediocre career at best
  • 2003:  Carson Palmer Bengals  – –  Pro Bowl 3 times; a good selection.
  • 2004:  Eli Manning  Chargers  – –  Two Super Bowl rings; an excellent choice.
  • 2005:  Alex Smith  Niners  – –  Pro Bowl 3 times; a good selection.
  • 2006:  Mario Williams  Texans  – –  Pro Bowl 4 times; a good selection.
  • 2007:  JaMarcus Russell  Raiders  – –  Bust, plain and simple.
  • 2008:  Jake Long  Dolphins  – –  Pro Bowl 4 times; a good selection.
  • 2009:  Matthew Stafford  Lions  – –  Very good QB but not enough to make the Lions good.
  • 2010:  Sam Bradford  Rams  – –  Mediocre career at best
  • 2011:  Cam Newton  Panthers  – – NFL MVP in 2015; an excellent choice.
  • 2012:  Andrew Luck  Colts  – –  Pro Bowl 4 times; retired early; excellent choice.
  • 2013:  Eric Fisher  Chiefs  – –  Solid performer; a good selection
  • 2014:  Jadeveon Clowney  Texans – –  Good not great player; a decent selection
  • 2015:  Jameis Winston  Bucs  – –  Never lived up to his press clippings.
  • 2016:  Jared Goff  Rams  – –  Team gave up on him after 5 years.
  • 2017:  Myles Garrett Browns  – –  Pro Bowl twice already; a good selection.
  • 2018:  Baker Mayfield  Browns  – – Jury is still out…
  • 2019:  Kyler Murray  Cards  – –  Jury is still out…
  • 2020:  Joe Burrow  Bengals  – –  Jury is still out…

Considering that this list represents THE BEST college football player available in that year according to the drafting gurus for about half of the NFL, I do not see nearly enough “excellent selections” or “game changer for the franchise” entries on this list.  I guess it is nice to have the chance to draft THE BEST player available in a given year, but the execution of that option indicates to me that it is not nearly as tangibly valuable as it is made out to be.

We shall soon see what Joe Douglas does with that picnic basket full of picks and what Robert Saleh does to turn those guys into NFL caliber players.

Every year, I take my watching of regular season college basketball games plus the tournament games to come up with a “Sleeper Pick” for the NBA Draft.  If I said I had even a 20% hit rate on those “Sleeper Picks” I would be stretching the truth. There were two “Sleeper Picks” that turned out well; Fred Van Vliet has been a solid point guard for the Raptors over the past 5 seasons and Matisse Thybulle has been a valuable bench player for the Sixers since the acquired him in 2019.  Undaunted by the possibility for continued embarrassment, I have 3 names to offer here – – the reason being that two of them are underclassmen and may not enter this year’s draft.

  1. Dexter Dennis – Wichita St.:  He is an excellent defender particularly out at the 3-point line.  He is a junior and has eligibility left.
  2. Neemias Queta – Utah St.:  he is listed at 7’0” and 245 lbs. and I believe that.  He is an excellent ball handler and interior passer.  His offensive game needs some work, but it is hard to “teach” a 7-foot player to dribble the ball effectively.  He is a junior and has eligibility left.
  3. Lucas Williamson – Loyola-Chicago:  He has above average skills as a ball handler, shooter, defender and rebounder.  However, he is not “great” in any of those dimensions…  He is a senior and will be draft-eligible this year.

Finally, apropos of nothing, here is a Tweet from humorist Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World-Herald:

“There’s a truck in my neighbor’s driveway reading ‘Two Men and a Snake.’ It’s either a plumbing contractor or the world’s worst petting zoo.”

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

 

 

Baylor Wins The National Championship

Congratulations to Baylor as the NCAA men’s basketball national champions for 2021.  Their win over previously undefeated Gonzaga last night was dominant and authoritative; that was not a “fluky win”; the better team on the court won the game.

With a little less than 12 minutes to play in the first half, I wrote on my notepad that Baylor led by 15 points, was totally dominant and that the “winner tonight is not in doubt”.  There were two important areas where Baylor dominated:

  1. Three-point shooting:  Baylor made its first six tries in a row and shot 10 for 23 from outside.  Gonzaga hit only 5 of 17 tries.
  2. Team defense: Gonzaga got few open shots all night long; and uncharacteristically, they turned the ball over 14 times.

People today lament the extinction of species; they say that the white rhinoceros is about to join the passenger pigeon and the wooly mammoth as things you can only see in a museum after a lot of taxidermy.  I want to report that something else is about to be declared extinct:

  • The three-second violation:  On one play in the first half, I counted out 6 seconds in the lane and was halfway to 7 seconds with no whistle.  In the second half, I had another count at 5 seconds.

When Roy Williams retired, folks were wondering who – within the UNC basketball family – would get the call to succeed him.  I mistakenly wrote here that the UNC tradition of naming former players or assistant coaches started with Dean Smith; that is wrong.  The tradition started when Frank McGuire left UNC and his assistant – – Dean Smith – – took over the program.  Well, now we know; Hubert Davis has been hired as the head basketball coach at UNC.

Davis played 4 years at UNC graduating in 1992.  He played in the NBA for 12 seasons and has been an assistant under Roy Williams at UNC since 2012.  He is the first Black man to be the head coach at UNC and joins a noticeably short list of Black head coaches at any of the “blue-blood basketball programs” in the US.  If my “blue-blood list” contains Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UNC and UCLA, then Davis is only the fourth Black man to have a head coaching job at any of these schools.  Tubby Smith was the head coach at Kentucky more than 40 years ago and UCLA was led by Larry Farmer and then Walt Hazzard in the 1980s.  That’s it, folks; that’s the list.

Another big announcement from yesterday was the NY Jets trading QB, Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers.  In return, the Jets will receive:

  • A 6th round pick this year.
  • A 2nd round pick and a 4th round pick next year.

Considering that Darnold was the third pick overall in the 2018 Draft, that seems like a meager return for the Jets, and it puts them squarely in the business of drafting a QB in the upcoming Draft.  Currently the two QBs on the Jets’ roster are James Morgan and Mike White and you are free to ask in both cases, “Who’s he?”

The Panthers’ QB situation is even more interesting because of this trade.  Last year, the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater as a free agent to a 3-year contract worth $63M.  Bridgewater did not light up the league – – but he did not throw up on his shoes either.  So, is he still the starter there or has the Panthers’ braintrust decided to move on?  Bridgewater’s contract should not make it difficult to move him if that is what the Panthers decide to do.

To some extent, I think Darnold has gotten a bum rap in NY.  Hear me out; I am not going to try to make him into some tragic figure who has been wronged for his entire career.  Sam Darnold has started 38 games in 3 seasons with the Jets; his record in those games is 13-25.  He has missed 10 games over the course of his career and – – if I have counted correctly – – the Jets are 0-10 when someone else starts at QB.  My conclusion is that he was a young QB learning the pro game on a bad team and that he made them significantly “less bad” when he was on the field as opposed to when he was on the sidelines.

I recognize that storyline will not play in NYC – – but I think the Panthers got a good deal here if what they choose to do is to work with Darnold and Bridgewater as a tandem so that both men can improve their skills.  Sam Darnold will be all of 24 years old when he reports to the Panthers’ minicamp in June; it is too early to give up on him as a bust.

Fernando Tatis, Jr. injured himself swinging the bat yesterday.  He took what anyone would call a “healthy swing” and collapsed in pain at the plate; he was removed from the game and subsequent examination determined that he had a “shoulder subluxation” as a result of that swing and miss.  A subluxation is a partial dislocation; with that swing and miss, Tatis managed to partially take the ball of the ball and socket joint that is the human shoulder and partially remove the ball from the socket.

My knowledge base for orthopedic injuries has now been exhausted but it would surely seem to me that this kind of injury would take more than a couple of days to heal – – particularly since when he returns to the game Tatis, Jr, would be swinging a bat at pitches as a mandatory part of his play.  This is not good news for Padres’ fans…

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Working title for a documentary about MLB managers’ worst umpiring nightmare: ‘Angel’s In The Infield’.”

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

 

 

Baseball History …

Before I get to Saturday night’s Final Four games and tonight’s championship game, let me begin with baseball history.  Last week, I mentioned that MLB will be experimenting with some rule changes in minor league games and two of the rules seek to increase the number of base stealing attempts to add more action to games.  I said MLB needed more players like Tony Gwynn who stole more bases in 5 separate seasons than he struck out in those seasons.  I received an email from the reader in Houston which provided historical perspective here:

            “Talking about small ball, this may be comparing apples and oranges, but HOFer 5’6″ ‘Sliding Billy’ Hamilton who played mostly in the latter part of the 19th century with the KC Cowboys of the American Association and the Phillies and Boston Beaneaters of the NL had 914 stolen bases and only 362 strikeouts over a career spanning 14 seasons. He had more stolen bases than strikeouts in every season, but his last. On a side note, he scored over 100 runs in 11 seasons, including the MLB record of 198 in 1894.

“Please note the modern steal rule was put into place in 1898. Before then, any time a runner took an extra base (such as advancing to third base from first on a single) he was awarded a stolen base. But even after the revised recount, he still had more stolen bases than strikeouts during his MLB career.

“For most of us, it was Luis Aparicio who heralded in a new era of base stealing in the 1950s, an era that saw the feats of Maury Wills, who broke Ty Cobb’s single season record in 1962. Cobb had the long-standing career mark of 892, which seemed unapproachable until Lou Brock came along. Brock surpassed Cobb’s career total in 1977. Breaking Cobb’s mark suddenly brought “Sliding Billy’s” name back into the news. When Brock surpassed Cobb, suddenly there were some of us students of the game who rose to say, ‘Not so fast, my friend. How about ‘Sliding Billy’.’

“Hamilton was in the record books with his 937 steals, even if set apart as a pre-1900 figure. And the pre-1900 barely explained his total. As I mentioned above, from 1886 to 1897, stolen bases were awarded for any number of base running advances. Still, no one ran up a total like ‘Sliding Billy’ did. He was the best at what he did; the best of his era. In his first two years with the Phillies, 1890 and 1891, he had 102 and 111 steals, (in only 123 and 133 games, respectively), even as altered by modern research.

“Apart from his superlatives in stolen bases (his total was revised from 937 to 914 by MLB about 40 years ago), he had a .344 career batting average and a career OBP of .455.”

As always, thank you to the reader in Houston for historical perspective here.  I will now amend my remarks from last week to say that MLB needs more players like Tony Gwynn AND “Sliding Billy” Hamilton…

Moving along to the Final Four games.  There’s yin and there’s yang; there’s rationalism and there’s empiricism; there’s happy and there’s sad.  Saturday night I saw two college basketball games and one was exciting and interesting while the other was a dud.  Baylor/Houston was the dud; it was a mismatch from the start.  Baylor led by 25 at the half; then they took their foot off the gas and waltzed home never being threatened.  I made two notes during this game:

  1. The way Baylor is playing in the first half, they could beat the Indiana Pacers tonight.
  2. Lots of pregame focus on Houston’s Dejon Jarreau but he has been neutralized here.

The Gonzaga/UCLA game was exactly the opposite; it was well-played; it was close from start to finish; it went to overtime and would have gone to a second overtime but for the half-court buzzer beater that sent Gonzaga on to meet Baylor tonight.  [Aside:  I would characterize Jalen Suggs half-court shot as “an answered prayer”.]  I made three notes during the game:

  1. These officials are not calling traveling violations tonight – – on either team.
  2. Johnny Juzang is ready for the NBA.  He pushes off every time he drives to his right and he pushes off about 50% of the time he drives to his left.
  3. Pregame I heard/read that Cody Riley would have trouble guarding Drew Timme.  Riley looks awfully good to me.

The lines on tonight’s game are a bit surprising to me.  Gonzaga is a 4.5-point favorite which is not a surprise.  However, Gonzaga is -200 on the Money Line and Baylor is +175.  Both of those numbers seem big in an absolute sense given the short spread on the game.

I did not see nearly as much college basketball this year as compared to previous years; but given what I saw, I thought Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan were the three best teams.  When Michigan forward, Isaiah Livers went down with an injury, I downgraded my opinion of Michigan; I believe the two best teams are on stage tonight.

Both coaches must be commended for the way they have grown their programs.  Mark Few has been at Gonzaga since the 1999/2000 season; his “worst season record” in that time has been 23-11; overall, the Zags under his leadership have gone 630-124 (.836).  Gonzaga was a solid program when he took over;   The Zags had gone to a post season tournament in 5 of the previous 6 season under Dan Monson and Dan Fitzgerald; Mark Few took it from there.

Scott Drew faced an entirely different situation when he went to Baylor.  The program had just gone through the “Dave Bliss Affair” where one player murdered another player and Coach Bliss tried to cover it all up.  I wrote about that mess back in 2003; here is a link to that rant if you want to refresh your memory.

When Scott Drew took the job, more than a few folks were convinced that he was committing career suicide.  Notwithstanding the fact that he had only 7 scholarships to give out for his first two years at Baylor, he had the Bears back in a post-season tournament in his fourth year there.  His overall record at Baylor is 353-213 (.624) despite going 17-53 in his first three years at the helm.

Two good teams and two good coaches tonight.  Sounds perfect to me…

Finally, one of the teams – and its fans – will end tonight “heartbroken”.  Therefore, let me close today with that definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Heartbroken:  A state of overwhelming sadness; most commonly experienced by adolescents who do not yet have the emotional distance to grasp just how many more times they are going to get screwed over like this by the time they are twenty-five.”

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

 

 

Closing Out A Busy Week…

Well, that did not take long.  COVID-19 exhibited its ability to impact the MLB season on opening day.  The Nats/Mets game was postponed because of a positive COVID test within the Nats organization and subsequent contact tracing implicating five players who were in close contact with the positive player.  According to reports, that was what got the game called but subsequent reports said that the Nats now have at least three players who have tested positive.  Based on negotiated agreement between MLB and MLBPA the names of players who test positive or are under scrutiny per the COVID protocols will not be revealed, confirmed or denied.  However, if indeed the Nats have a minimum of three players who are positive for the virus, the likelihood that they will be playing at full strength any time soon is small.

Yesterday, I mentioned that MLB will be experimenting with a couple of rule changes in the minor leagues this year with an eye towards increasing the number of base stealing attempts.  Those comments prompted an email from a former colleague who provided an interesting set of stats.  Here is the pertinent part of his email:

“Baseball wants stolen bases to go up and strikeouts to go down … What they need are more players like Tony Gwynn.  Gwynn was in the league for 20 years and in 5 of those years he had more stolen bases than strikeouts.”

Tony Gwynn was a great player, but I never realized that, so I went to baseball-reference.com to check and my former colleague is 100% correct; the seasons in question here are 1984-87 and 1989.  For his 20-year career Gwynn had 319 stolen bases and 434 strikeouts.

The NHL fired one of its officials, Tim Peel, for a comment he made within range of hot microphone saying that he was looking for a way to penalize the Nashville Predators early in a game against the Detroit Red Wings.  The penalty appeared to be a ticky-tack call and after the fact the hot microphone recorded Peel saying:

“It wasn’t much, but I wanted to get a [bleeping] penalty against Nashville early.”

Peel has been officiating NHL games since 1999; there is no way I can convince myself that he failed to know two things:

  1. That sort of comment must not be made even in jest.
  2. If he actually had that thought in his mind, it was time for him to find another line of work.

I have mentioned here several times that I did a lot of basketball officiating many years ago.  I learned about the problems caused by snide comments the hard way.  Let me recount the story here.

This was a local recreation league game for boys 11 and 12 years old.  I walked into the gym and saw two teams warming up – – one wearing green shirts and the other wearing a different color that I do not remember.  I took off my jacket and saw the guy who was in charge of the recreation league sitting by the scorer’s table, so I went over to say hello.  I also said something very close to this:

“So, what is the line on tonight’s game?  Do we have our money down on Green or ‘whatever the other color was’?  Looks like a good night to cash a bet…”

His response was something along the lines of:

“Green is the play tonight…”

Now in the exact moment that we had that exchange, the mother of a player on the other team happened to be walking by and overheard us.  She thought we were being serious and became incensed that there would be a situation where the referees and the league organizers were “fixing games”.  She said she would report us to the city officials who oversaw the entire recreation department.  I tried to tell her that it was a joke and that there was no “fix” in for the night and that I did not know of any local bookies who would take bets on 11- and 12-year-old boys basketball games.  None of that allayed her fears; when the Green team did win the game that night, I knew this would not just dry up and blow away.  Sure enough, the city recreation director called the league organizer and me in for a “fact-finding meeting”.

It all worked out in the end for me because the absurdity of the scenario I had painted in my snarky remark was a sufficient defense that no hanky-panky was going on.  But I learned a different lesson then about what an official can say about the game in front of him and/or the game he did the night before.

Tim Peel lost his job with the NHL which is about as severe a penalty as possible in this matter.  Unfortunately, I have to think it is justified because even a hint of motivation on the part of an official to make a call that is based on anything other than the events just witnessed by the official strikes at the integrity of the contest.  The NHL lives on because its players, coaches and fans do not believe the games are fixed; the NHL business model does not coincide with the WWE business model so the NHL cannot tolerate “complicit officials”.  I have no idea if Tim Peel’s words and actions struck at the heart of the NHL’s game integrity, but the NHL cannot take a chance on something like that.

Roy Williams announced his retirement from the position of head coach for the UNC men’s basketball team yesterday.  Williams is in the Hall of Fame hanging up his whistle after 33 seasons and 903 victories.  UNC basketball has been a program that has maintained a lineage back to Dean Smith who started there as an assistant coach in 1958 and then was the head coach from 1961 to 1997.  Since Smith retired, the UNC head coaches have been:

  • Bill Guthridge – – longtime assistant coach under Dean Smith
  • Matt Doherty – – played under Dean Smith for four years at UNC.
  • Roy Williams – – assistant coach under Dean Smith for 10 years

I have no inside information on who might be on the list to replace Coach Williams but noting the “pedigree aspect” of UNC hirings here, I will only mention that Jerry Stackhouse is in the coaching business at Vandy…

Finally, just as COVID-19 inserted itself in toe the MLB season yesterday, the virus has also maintained a presence in the NBA regular season as well.  Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times took note of one such intrusion:

“The Warriors were left without any big men for a game against Memphis after Kevin Looney joined James Wiseman on the NBA’s COVID-19 restricted list.

“Obviously they’re not centers for disease control.”

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

 

 

Baseball Starts Today

We do not engage in April Fool pranks here.  The sportswriting standard for such things has been set beyond the creative levels achievable here; George Plimpton’s article in Sports Illustrated in 1985 about the Mets’ rookie phenom Sidd Finch has never been approached let alone topped.  If you are too young to know about Sidd Finch, Google will enlighten you…

My educational career and my professional career were centered on the physical sciences.  Nonetheless, here in Curmudgeon Central, the findings and the definitions of astronomy do not hold sway when it comes to the seasons of the year.  Neither do the feelgood stories of folklore prevail when it comes to my anticipation of Spring.  Let me be clear:

  • Punxsutawney Phil can wake up or drop dead on 2 February as far as I am concerned when it comes to the anticipation of Spring.  Here in Curmudgeon Central the single determinant of an imminent Spring is when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.
  • I know all about the vernal equinox and when it happens – – but Spring really starts on Opening Day of the MLB season.  And in 2021, that day is today!

So, today’s rant will be devoted entirely to baseball and the upcoming season.  It is a day of renewal that we were denied last year…

In the 2020 truncated season, MLB existed with more than a handful of “special rules”; some of them will be carried over into 2021; some others will be sent to the minor leagues on an “experimental basis”.  So, here is some of what we can expect in the 2021 season:

  • Last year, the DH was used in all MLB games.  This year, that practice will revert to previous times; the DH will be used in AL games and in interleague games played in AL stadiums.  That’s all…  [I hate the DH, so I like this.]
  • Last year, rosters were expanded to 30 players for a while and then shrunk to 28 players for a while before settling down to 26 players for the duration of the 60-game season.  This year, that roster expansion will go away; teams will have 26-man rosters in 2021 and will expand to 28 players when September arrives.  [I see no reason for roster expansion in 2021.]
  • Last year, double-headers presented 7-inning games nominally to minimize exposure of players/managers/umpires to one another.  That rule will carry forward to 2021.  [I do not like this rule but can live with it – – if the rule dries up and blows away in 2022 when there will hopefully be no pretense that it is “beneficial”.]
  • Last year, MLB games that went to extra innings began each extra inning with a man on second base.  That rule will carry forward into 2021.  [I hate this rule; this is only better by a tiny margin than determining the winner of an extra inning game by holding a Home Run Derby contest between the two teams.  Yuck!]
  • Last year, MLB “contracted” the minor leagues eliminating about 40 teams that had affiliations with MLB teams.  The minor leagues have been re-shuffled and fans in lots of towns/small cities now have a much dimmer view of MLB than they did two years ago – – but the owners think they know what they are doing.  On a positive note, MLB is going to use minor league baseball games to test some potential rule changes for the future.  That may not be a perfect situation, but it is methodical and rational.
  • In Triple A minor league games, they will use larger bases.  Instead of the bases that are 15 inches on a side, the games in Triple A baseball will use bases 18 inches on a side.  The idea is that this will encourage more base stealing attempts which might add some action/excitement to more games. [This rule change is one of “wait and see” for me.  I am neither excited about it nor opposed to it.]
  • In Double A minor league games, they will impose a limit on “The Shift”.  For Double A games, the team in the field “must have a minimum of four players on the infield, each of whom must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt.”  MLB has also signaled that if this rule increases the number of base hits/runners on the bases, it may then be expanded to “require two infielders to be positioned entirely on each side of second base” later in the Double A season.  [I am of two minds here.  MLB needs more in-game action involving baserunners and base hits; MLB also should not reward hitters who cannot figure out how to get on base against a shift that opens half the infield to them.]
  • In Single A games (High-A to be specific) pitchers will be required to “disengage the rubber prior to throwing to any base, with the penalty of a balk in the event the pitcher fails to comply.”  This is another rule modification that might increase stolen base attempts – – but I am not sure how it will achieve that end.  [I guess this can’t hurt but I do not see any huge benefit either.]
  • In Single A games (Low-A to be specific) MLB will experiment with robot umpires to call balls and strikes.  [This is worth a try since human umpires simply will not call the strike zone that is in the rule book that the umpires are there to enforce.]  AND in Single A games, pitchers will be limited to two “step offs” and or “pickoff attempts” per plate appearance.  Obviously, this also relates to a desire to increase stolen base attempts and to speeding up games.  [I do not know if I like this or not; let me get back to you on this one.]

`           In addition to these codified rule changes/ rule adoptions for 2021, MLB is also going to try to “crack down” on pitchers doctoring baseballs.  The focus is supposed to be that they will be strict about pitchers using “foreign substances” as a way for them to enhance “pitch movement”.  In addition to getting umpires focused on this issue – – which umpires have fundamentally ignored for about 100 years or so – – MLB will be using stats on things like spin rate for pitches and relying on “Gameday Compliance Monitors” that will keep tabs on players not in the open dugout who might be involved in getting foreign substances onto baseballs that will find their way into games.  These Compliance Monitors are sort of like MLB’s version of the Safety Patrol many of us encountered in our elementary school days; they are going to be the ones who sound the alarm if there is a violation of the rules…  Pardon me while I snicker.

Last year, there was no live attendance at games on “Opening Day” which did not happen in the Spring as interpreted by Curmudgeon Central or any knowledgeable astronomer.  In fact, there were no fans in stadiums until the playoffs began in October.  This year, various sites will be hosting fans in the stands on Opening Day.  Things vary from city to city based on the orders of State Governors around the country.  Here are two comments from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot to give you an idea of the state of play:

“In wide-open Texas, the Rangers are planning for a full house at Globe Life Field for opening day, with masks required for all fans except when eating or drinking. Who isn’t always eating or drinking at a baseball game? The Rangers will go to reduced capacity with social distancing for subsequent games. So a full house is fine to start, but not so much later? Follow that? Because I can’t.”

And …

“Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that sports venues will be allowed to open in his state at 50% capacity. Judging from the Baltimore Orioles’ 2019 attendance figures, this is about 30% more than what’s needed at Camden Yards.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had another view of the restrictions – or lack thereof – on stadium attendance in Texas:

“Gov. Greg Abbott has lifted all COVID-19 restrictions in the Lone Star State, meaning the Texas Rangers’ home opener might be a sellout.

“The rules there are now so lenient that even catcher’s masks aren’t mandatory.”

Everything that precedes this point in the rant simply must take a backseat to the fact that MLB is going to begin “when it is supposed to begin”.  There are no “gimmick starts” in Japan or anywhere else; MLB will start on time, all at once, as it should be.  Importantly, every fan of every MLB team needs to recognize this unassailable truth:

  • As of this morning, every MLB team has a “Magic Number” of 162 to win their division.  Hope springs eternal – – in the Spring when baseball starts…

Now, before I get to my swami-like predictions for the upcoming season, let me suggest 4 storylines that I need not hear about any more as the 2021 season unfolds:

  1. I am more than merely tired of former players who lament the state of the game today.  Enough already!  If you do not like baseball anymore, please find something else to do with your time and then have the decency and grace not to tell us what that new thing is.  I too liked “old-time baseball” with its 2-hour games and lots of .300 hitters.  The fact of today is that baseball is a different game now and if you do not like it, please have the grace to let those of us who do enjoy ourselves.
  2. Let it be that the truncated 2020 season has put an exclamation point on repeated references to the “sign stealing scandal” in Houston.  It happened; it was shameful; it should never happen again – – although we know it will – -; we all agree on all of that.  Now can we move on please?
  3. I am way beyond tired of players getting a giant case of the red-ass when other players “show them up”.  If a pitcher does not want to see a hitter slow-trot around the bases after a home run, don’t give up a home run.  If a batter does not want to hear a pitcher yell at  him after a strike out, hit the damned ball.  MLB players are chronological – – and nominal – – adults.  Is it too much to ask of them to act like an adult?
  4. The MLB replay system is a major impediment to pace of play and more than an annoyance to fans.  Every close play in a game results in the manager checking with his “eyes in the sky” about challenging the play or not.  Meanwhile players stall to give him the time he needs to get that “intel”.  The entire replay system – – and even the idea of using replay at all – – needs a thorough re-examination by all the folks associated with MLB, the MLBPA and the MLB Umpires Association.

Because it is not yet clear how MLB will structure its playoffs this year – – will it be the expanded version with 16 teams as it was in 2020 or will it revert to 10 teams as it has been in the recent past? – – I will not even try to structure the playoffs here.  Nonetheless, here are my prognostications for the 2021 MLB regular season:

  • AL East:  The Yankees are the best team here by a comfortable margin- – unless Gerritt Cole and another starter get hurt.  Will the Rays be able to keep up with the Yankees over a 162-game schedule?  I don’t think so.  The Blue Jays improved over the winter significantly and should seriously contend for a wildcard slot.  Heck, if the Yankees suffer a lot of injuries, the Jays just might come on and win the Division.  Who knows what the Red Sox are doing with their roster over the past couple of years?  Other than JD Martinez, no one in that line-up is “scary”.  Just pretend the Orioles are not there and spend the year wondering why they have not been relegated to the minor leagues.
  • AL Central:    Losing Eloy Jimenez for the season prevents the White Sox from being the odds-on favorites in the Division.  Which version of the Twins will show up this year; the run scoring machine from 2019 or the ho-hum team from 2020?  The Indians pitching staff is solid, but they may struggle to score.  Both the Royals and the Tigers look to be over-matched here.
  • AL West:  The Astros lost George Springer in free agency over the winter and that cannot help the team.  But I still think they have the best team top to bottom in their Division.  Maybe the A’s can make the Astros sweat it out a bit, but I doubt it.  Maybe this is the year that the Angels break through and get a wild-card slot in the playoffs?  Or will Mike Trout win the MVP (for the 4th time) and be home in October?  The Mariners, and the Rangers are merely along for the ride in this Division.
  • NL East:  The Braves are young and very good – – assuming their starting pitching remains intact.  The Mets got a lot better over the winter acquiring Francisco Lindor.  [Aside:  The loss of Robinson Cano to a 162-game suspension for PEDs might be a blessing in disguise for the Mets.]  The Nats’ starting pitching with Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin at the top of the rotation is formidable.  The Marlins were a surprise last year; lightening is not going to strike twice in the NL East in 2021.  The Phillies’ bullpen let them down a lot last year; they made changes there but how significant those changes are remains a mystery.
  • NL Central:  The Cardinals got a lot better when they acquired Nolan Arenado; the question in St. Louis is the starting pitching.  If everything breaks right for either the Cubs or the Brewers, they could make things interesting here – – but it is difficult to see how all that happens.  The Reds will be better this year than in recent years, but they are also-rans.  Let us not even think about the Pirates; their season in 2021 might give tanking a bad name.  Ke’Bryan Hayes is the Pirates’ rookie third baseman and they offered him an extended contract before he played a full season at the MLB level; he turned it down.  So, he is a good player and a smart player too…
  • NL West:  There is a two-team race in this Division – – the Dodgers and the Padres just might be the two best teams on paper in all of MLB for this year.  The Dodgers are solid at the plate, on the mound and in reserve.  The Padres have Tatis and Machado as a one-two punch plus a solid starting rotation.  The Giants, D-Backs and Rockies are playing for third place here.

Of course, here in Curmudgeon Central there is always an eye for failure or the potential for failure.  So as things get underway for the 2021 season, an important question here is this:

  • Can there be an epically bad team this year?

I doubt that any MLB team will ever sink below the level of incompetence shown by the Cleveland Spiders in 1899.  That team posted a record of 20-134 which is a win percentage of .130.  There were some roster shenanigans associated with that team that would not be tolerated today, so I will ignore that level of ineptitude.

MLB went from a 154-game season to a 162-game season in 1961.  Other than last year, that has been the modus vivendi MLB for the last 60 years.  So, over that span, here are the worst records (with win percentages) posted by teams:

  • Mets (1962): 40-120 (.250)
  • Tigers (2003): 43-119 (.265)
  • Orioles (2018): 47-115 (.290)
  • Tigers (2019): 47-114 (.292)

Note that two of the four worst records since MLB went to 162 games per season happened in the last two full seasons of MLB.  Moreover, the Tigers and the Orioles who only won 47 games in their seasons of ignominy do not appear to have made significant changes since they stunk out the joint in recent seasons.  But wait, there’s more…

The Pirates have traded away or bought out a bunch of players and the projected salary for the 26-man roster on Opening Day is $41.7M according to Spotrac.com.  The AVERAGE projected salary for a 26-man roster on Opening Day for MLB in 2021 is $120.5M.  I know that Pittsburgh is a small market; nonetheless, it appears as if the team is not even going to try and be competitive in 2021.  Baseball fans in Pittsburgh need to circle September 6,7,and 8 on their calendars:

  • The Steelers’ season will not have started yet.
  • The Pirates are at home hosting the Tigers for a 3-game series.
  • Both teams could be vying for the worst record in MLB for the season.
  • Both teams could appear on the list of futility above after 2021.
  • Tix will not be hard to come by for these games…

Finally, here is one more observation by Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding various moves by MLB teams in the off-season:

“And, in news about free agents, the Blue Jays signed George Springer, the Phillies signed J.T. Realmuto and the Royals slammed the door on Prince Harry’s possible return.”

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