The Future Of The CFL?

When I checked my email inbox this morning, I found a missive from Gregg Drinnan, former sports editor of the Kamloops Daily News and now the creator of the blog, Taking Note.  Several weeks ago, I asked him if he had heard any updates from the CFL about their plans for a 2021 season over and above the announcement of a truncated schedule assuming that health officials gave the league a green light.  In this morning’s email, he sent along a link to an article in the Regina Leader-Post by Rob Vanstone.

That article reports an interview with Jon Ryan who is a native of Saskatchewan, a lifelong fan of the Roughriders and currently the punter for the team.  He had long career as a punter in the NFL with the Packers and the Seahawks before returning to the CFL.  He is about to turn 40 years old, so his career is winding down and he has the benefit of time and perspective to bring to a discussion of the status of the CFL.

Ryan is concerned for the league’s survival for a couple of reasons.  The more immediate concern is the ability of the league to get the approvals necessary to stage their games with fans in attendance.  League officials have made it clear that fannies in the seats are essential for economic viability in 2021.  Presently, the Provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta have reopening plans that would accommodate CFL games; the bad news there is that only 3 of the CFL teams reside in those Provinces – – the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Calgary Stampeders and the Edmonton team formerly known as the Eskimos.

The other major concern voiced by Ryan is the cloak of secrecy surrounding talks between the CFL and the XFL after the XFL was bought out by a consortium led by Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson.  Ryan’s concern is that talks of mergers and partnerships might result in making the CFL less of a Canadian league.  There are fundamental differences between Canadian football and American football making the strategies and the plays themselves different.  [Aside:  I make no judgement on “better” or “worse” here; the games are simply “different” and both versions of football are entertaining to watch.]

Ryan has been a fan and a participant in both American and Canadian football; his roots and his heart are in the Canadian game; his business sense tells him that the American game has more clout.  But is the economic power that the NFL can wield also in the hands of the XFL?  Here are a few of Ryan’s remarks on that:

“I think the XFL has the potential to be a great league but, right now, some of the CFL teams are 100-plus years old and they’re potentially partnering with a league that has played 1 1/2 seasons over the last 20 years. It’s kind of an infant in terms of professional sports.”

And …

“To turn it [the CFL game] into a four-down game, I think that would trickle down and could potentially kill amateur football in Canada, which would be incredibly disappointing.”

Like Jon Ryan, I would also like to see the CFL survive in something like its current form – – including the planned addition of a team in Nova Scotia to be called the Atlantic Schooners.  The COVID pandemic killed XFL 2.0 when Vince McMahon shut down league operations, declared bankruptcy and sold off whatever assets the league had left.  I am not in favor of surrendering another league to a mutant virus.

The economic future of the NFL is not seriously in doubt.  In fact, one club is in the process of a major upgrade in its playing facility and using that opportunity to “give back” to the local community.  The Carolina Panthers are digging out the playing surface at Bank of America Stadium and replacing the turf grass there with a synthetic surface.  To do that, 5,000 tons of soil must be removed from the premises.  Think about it for a moment; where do you park 5,000 tons of soil?  Oh, and in case you were wondering, this amount of soil is approximately 4000 cubic yards in volume; that is more than most local gardening societies would use conveniently.

The Panthers found a way to get rid of that soil – – without creating a small mountain somewhere – – and to create goodwill at the same time.  Charlotte, NC is in Mecklenburg County, NC; the county government runs and maintains public athletic facilities for recreational use by the citizenry.  Consider that the soil being removed is well-prepared and well-maintained turf soil; this is not a bunch of topsoil mixed in with 5 times the amount of clay and rocks.  According to Mecklenburg County officials, the donated soil will be used as a top dressing for soccer and softball fields and possibly as a way to create from scratch a new cricket pitch.  [Aside:  Who knew that Charlotte was a hotbed of cricket enthusiast?]

Moving on …  Jared Veldheer has been an offensive lineman in the NFL since 2010; he has played for 5 teams over the course of his career.  Veldheer was a free agent in this offseason and is the subject of two announcements proximal in time:

  1. The NFL suspended him for 6 games for testing positive for a banned substance.
  2. Veldheer announced that he will retire and that the cause of the positive test was that he had taken a prescription medicine to counteract low testosterone levels in his blood due to a pituitary deficiency that he ascribes to “taking repeated blows to the head”.

I do not know about the linkage between pituitary deficiency and repeated blows to the head; you can search the Journal of the American Medical Association for that sort of info.  I do think, however, that there should be a way for players and the league to make a distinction between a “positive test” and a “positive test caused by a prescription med that a physician provides along with evidence of the condition to be ameliorated”.  It sounds as if both sides here are “in the right”, but the result is the end of a career.

Finally, here is a Tweet from humorist and cultural critic, Brad Dickson:

“Cicadas emerge from the dirt every 17 years, mate, and then die a few days later. You think your life sucks.”

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



Law And Order Today …

Diego Maradona was a great Argentinian soccer player – – and later the coach of the Argentine National Team.  He led Argentina to the World Cup Championship in 1986.  Of the field, he led a less-than-tranquil life; he was banned by FIFA twice for abusing drugs – – particularly cocaine.  He also overate significantly weighing close to 300 lbs. after his playing days were done; the remedy for his obesity was gastric bypass surgery – – not diet and exercise.  He was politically controversial too appearing with and supporting folks like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.  He made lots of money in his playing and coaching endeavors but seemed to run afoul of some tax laws; the Italian government claimed that he owed Italy more than 35 million euros in unpaid taxes there.  Diego Maradona died last November at age 60 under seemingly normal but unhappy circumstances.

In early November, Maradona was admitted to a hospital in Argentina for “psychological reasons” but soon after his admission to that hospital, he underwent brain surgery for a subdural hematoma – – a condition involving bleeding in or around the brain where the blood pools and exerts pressure on a part of the brain.  All seemingly went well; Maradona was released from the hospital and seen as an outpatient as follow-up to the surgery.  At the end of November, he suffered a heart attack and died.  His funerall was a major event in Argentina; his body lay in state at the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires.

So, why is this relevant now?  Well, last week, the NY Post reported that seven people who were involved in and responsible for caring for Maradona last November are going to be charged with premeditated murder.  Officials looking into the matter claim to have uncovered “deficiencies and irregularities” in the care provided.  After reading that report, three unusual things jumped out at me:

  1. It is a giant leap from “medical malpractice that leads to a patient’s demise” to “premeditated murder”.
  2. It was only about 3 weeks from Maradona’s original admission to the hospital until his death and in that short period of time 7 people decided to conspire to kill him and then pulled it off.
  3. The report contained no information regarding a motive for this crime.

The surgeon who performed the surgery on the subdural hematoma is one of the seven folks being charged in the matter.  A psychiatrist and a psychologist who were involved in the initial parts of his hospitalization treatment are also charged in this matter along with nurses a   nursing administrator and another doctor whose specialty was not identified.

The investigation that led up to these charges began at the behest of Maradona’s children who claimed that the surgeon was responsible for Maradona’s deterioration and death soon after that surgery.  A board of medical examiners decided that the surgeon and the folks acting as caregivers for Maradona “acted in an inappropriate, deficient and reckless manner” in his treatment.  It is not clear if there will be one trial for the seven accused people or seven separate trials.

There is another story out there these days about another medical professional with charges hanging over his head.  Based on allegations by 10 female athletes who said that the former director of sports medicine there had engaged in “inappropriate touching”, San Jose State officials performed an internal investigation of its athletic department and Scott Shaw who is the person identified as the alleged “inappropriate toucher”.  That investigation “substantiated” the claims by these former athletes with many of the allegations dating back more than 10 years, but at least two of the incidents allegedly happened in 2017.  That is important because there is a 5-year statute of limitations hanging over these sorts of criminal behavior.

Obviously, one must adhere to the presumption of innocence here, but it is interesting to note that the based on the university’s investigation, the athletic director was removed from her position and “reassigned” to a fundraising position not associated with the athletic department.  As they used to say in the Mazda commercials:

“Sum-pums up…”

And now, the latest news is that the FBI has entered the case and is doing its own investigation.  You may recall that the FBI was also involved in uncovering lots of facts involving Larry Nassar’s inappropriate behaviors at Michigan State and as a team doctor for the US Women’s Gymnastic Team.  My gut tells me there will be more news about these more recent allegations forthcoming…

So, staying on the track of allegedly criminal stuff associated obliquely with sports, the scene for this next situation is a middle-school football game in Wisconsin last Fall.  A woman was arrested and charged with trespassing and resisting arrest when she refused to leave the premises because she refused to wear a mask at the game when the school district required attendees to be masked.  Supposedly, when she refused to “mask up” and was told to leave the premises, she refused; when a police officer told her she was under arrest, she resisted to the point where he used his TASER on her to subdue her and remove her from the premises.

Officials offered the woman a plea deal.  The resisting arrest charge would be dropped in exchange for a guilty plea to trespassing.  Under the deal, she would serve a year of “non-contact probation” meaning no middle-school football games for that year.  She turned down the deal and now her attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the case entirely. Middle-school football must be a pretty big deal in that part of Wisconsin…

Finally, here is a Tweet from Brad Dickson from earlier this week:

“Bob Dylan turns 80 today. Scary thing is he’s at an age where a lot of men begin to be difficult to understand.”

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



NFL And NBA Issues Today …

Ever since the NFL Draft, there has been a flurry of journalistic activity surrounding the issue of where Julio Jones will play football in 2021.  There have been multiple “insider reports” on the subject; there have been tons of “listicles” suggesting what the best fit for Jones might be; there have been columns suggesting trades that the Falcons might make with the “Whomevers” to acquire Jones.  It has become a little cottage industry within the world of NFL coverage.

From the top, let me say clearly that I have no inside information here nor can I realistically structure a trade that might actually happen to pry Julio Jones from the Falcons.  However, there are two NFL teams that might want to give serious consideration to finding out what Jones’ price might be:

  1. Green Bay Packers:  If even half of the rhetorical gas offered up regarding the source of dissatisfaction between Aaron Rodgers and the Packers is true – – i.e. he wanted more assets in the pass catching corps – – trading for Julio Jones ought to put some salve on that butthurt.  Julio Jones is going to be in the Hall of Fame one of these days.  Five times in his ten-year career, he has averaged more than 100 yards per game receiving.  Last year, he played in 9 games – – hamstring injury sidelined him for the others – – but even so he averaged 85.7 yards per game and 15.1 yards per catch.  If Rodgers wants a big-time asset at WR, Julio Jones would fit that bill.
  2. New England Patriots:  My thinking here is that the Pats’ WR depth chart is simply a mess.  In alphabetical order, their WRs of note are Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers.  Let me just say that array of pass-catchers will not cause any defensive coordinator to lose even a moment’s sleep.  Julio Jones would provide the Pats with something important for the offense above and beyond his pass-catching ability.  What the Pats’ offensive braintrust can count on is that Jones will draw the double coverage meaning they can call plays for those other folks knowing it will be single coverage.

Jones has been a Pro Bowl selection 8 times and has been a first team All Pro twice in his career.  He says what he wants now is “to win”.  [Aside:  I am still waiting for the first athlete or coach to say that what they REALLY want is to lose.]  The Packers and the Patriots provide places where winning has been commonplace over the past decade or so and both teams seem to me to have reasons to seek out his services.

Moving on …  I read a report by Michael Grange at Sportsnet Central that contained this paragraph:

“It’s widely believed the NBA will expand for the first time since rounding out to 30 teams in 2004 partly to recoup losses from the pandemic. Returning to Seattle as part of the process is almost a given (with Las Vegas as the other likely city) now that the arena issues that led to the Supersonics leaving for Oklahoma City in 2008 have been resolved.”

Frankly, I was unaware of this widely believed sentiment in the NBA, but it does make some sense.  Back before the NBA regular season began, Mark Cuban said that the Mavs would lose $100M over the course of this season if the attendance restrictions that were in place back in December continued to obtain for the entirety of the regular season.  That did not turn out to be the case as attendance restrictions were eased in the time between last December and today, but it is probably safe to say that NBA owners operated “in the red” for the 2020/21 regular season.

Let me do some back-of-the-envelope calculating here:

  • About 5 years ago, Steve Ballmer bought the LA Clippers for $2B.
  • Since then, the Rockets sold for $2.2B and the Nets sold for $3.2B.
  • If the NBA “charged” new ownership groups $1.5B apiece for two expansion franchises, the league would take in $3B.
  • If the league office does not take a significant cut from this “income”, each of the 30 existing teams would get a check for $100M.
  • Does that number sound familiar…?

That “math” suggests that there is a “quick fix” available, but I think there are caution flags as well.

  • Caution Flag #1:  The NBA is already terribly unbalanced.  When the regular season began in December 2020, it was well understood that only a handful of the teams had realistic chances to make it to the Finals.  Moreover, there were significantly more than a handful of teams where even rosy predictions would involve winning half of their games.  Adding two expansion teams will not make the unbalanced nature of the NBA better; it will make it worse.
  • Caution Flag #2:  Closely related to the caution flag above is the inexorable fact that regular season NBA games are not events; they are occurrences.  Most of them really do not mean anything and with a minor injury here or a load management situation there, fans – in the arena or watching on TV – cannot count on seeing their favorite star players on any given night.  It has been a while since I paid real money to see an NBA regular season game live and in person; it is simply not worth the cost.  And it is the absence of fans that leads to Mark Cuban projecting a $100M loss for the Mavericks at the start of the  2020/21 regular season.  Adding two expansion teams will only exacerbate this problem because they will be 5 years old before they draw even a smidgen of national interest or attention.

Finally, since today’s rant concerned itself with the NFL and the NBA, consider this remark from Dwight Parry of the Seattle Times linking those two leagues:

“Michael Jordan’s only known game-worn North Carolina basketball jersey sold at auction for $1.38 million on May 8.

“Imagine, then, what a once-opened Rob Gronkowski textbook from Arizona might fetch.”

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



Captain Obvious Makes An Appearance Today

Some things are patently obvious.

  1. If you overeat, you gain weight.
  2. If it is raining outside, you are likely to get wet.
  3. People with the most birthdays live the longest.

Well, the NBA just added one to that list:

  • LeBron James will not be suspended for violating the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

It seems that LeBron attended a promotional event for a product he represents, and the league knew about it and let him play in the “play-in game” against the Golden State Warriors.  The official explanation is that “the event did not rise to a threat level of virus spread.”  Whatever floats their boat…  Let me be clear about this:

  • The NBA is not going to suspend Lebron James from the playoffs or require him to be in quarantine for a week or so unless he tests positive for the coronavirus 3 or 4 times in succession as do a half-dozen of his teammates along with his family with whom he has had close contact for the past 10 days.

In another report that relates to something patently obvious, Jim McMahon told a radio station in Cleveland that Bill Belichick is a [bleeping] liar.  The basis for that assessment comes from actions in 1995 when Belichick was the coach of the Browns and McMahon was briefly part of the Browns’ team.  Here is the obvious part:

  1. Bill Belichick is a football coach.  The ability to lie – and be convincing about it – is an essential skill for all successful football coaches.
  2. Coaches lie to players – while recruiting them or while “coaching them up”.
  3. Coaches lie to reporters – about game plans, injuries, the abilities of the next opponent and even the coach’s personal plans.
  4. Coaches lie to team owners about team assets and liabilities.
  5. Coaches lie to fans.  If a football coach spent one month speaking and writing only the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, he would be drummed out of the profession permanently.

Jim McMahon was in the world of football until he was 37 years old; he played in high school, college and the NFL.  He is 61 years old and just now he has concluded that one of his coaches lied to him?  Stop the presses … we have a News Flash.

One more recent report says that former Eagles and Chiefs assistant coach, Eugene Chung, was told in a job interview during this offseason that he was “not the right minority”; Chung is of Korean extraction and he played in the NFL for 5 seasons prior to embarking on a coaching career.  On one hand, it is shocking to think that someone with sufficient authority to make a hiring decision in 2021 would utter such a thing; how dumb is that?  On the other hand, the most common synonym for “minority” in the world of the NFL is African-American and not Korean-American.  The Rooney Rule was hammered out with the Fritz Pollard Alliance and not with the Syngman Rhee Alliance.

The Boston Globe has a full article on this happenstance and on Asian-American experiences in the sports world in the US.  You can find it here; it is worth two or three minutes of your time.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that baseball would be experimenting with some rule changes in the minor leagues with several of them intending to increase the number of stolen base attempts.  The thinking is that an attempted steal adds action to the game without necessarily adding time to the game.  Well, there are some early results, and it is interesting to note that the way baseball set up the “experiments” it is possible to view the changes in isolation to see which “succeeded” and which other ones “did not succeed”.

  • In Low-A games, the pitchers are limited to two “step-offs” and/or “Pick-off attempts” per plate appearance.  Stolen bases in those games are up from 0.83 per game in 2019 (there was no minor league baseball in 2020) to 1.42 stolen bases per game this year.  Seems as if that rule change has been effective.
  • In High-A games, the pitchers are required to step off the rubber before throwing to any base.  Stolen bases in those games are up from 0.80 in 2019 to 1.41 stolen bases per game this year.  Seems as if that rule change has been effective also.
  • In Triple-A games, the bases are slightly larger – – an 18-inch square versus a 15-inch square.  Stolen bases in those games are up marginally from 0.63 per game in 2019 to 0.83 stolen bases per game so far this year.  The degree of “success” here is less pronounced than in the lower-level games.
  • In Double-A games, the only rule change has to do with limiting “The Shift”.  It is not clear that the positioning of the infielders should have any significant effect on stolen base attempts or success.  And, in fact, so far this year the change has been negligible.  There were 0.76 stolen bases per game in 2019 and so far this year there have been 0.78 stolen bases per game.

Will any of this translate into changes at the MLB level?  Predicting the motivations of MLB owners and players – who would have to approve any rule changes of this sort – is something akin to tea-leaf reading.  And I do not drink tea…

Finally, apropos of nothing, here is an observation from playwright Noel Coward:

“People are wrong when they say that the opera isn’t what it used to be.  It is what it used to be.  That’s what’s wrong with it.”

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



Weekend Happenings…

Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship yesterday; it was his sixth win in one of golf’s major tournaments.  Even though there are few golfers to have achieved that level of success, that sixth major victory is overshadowed by the fact that Mickelson is 3 weeks short of his 51st birthday today.  Prior to yesterday, the oldest golfer ever to win a major was Julius Boros who was a mere 48 years old, and that “record” had stood since 1968.  According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the sportsbooks there took a beating as a result.

The odds on Mickelson winning the PGA prior to the tournament ranged from 200-1 to 300-1 depending on the book.  As the tournament proceeded, the odds kept dropping but here are some of the payouts that caused “six figure losses” for the sportsbooks:

  • William Hill had 2 bets on Mickelson of $100 at 200-1.
  • DraftKings had a bet of $1000 on Mickelson at 300-1 and another bet of $364 at 250-1.
  • Westgate only had 15 bets on Mickelson prior to the tournament and its largest payout was on a bet of only $18 at 250-1.  The Westgate says they broke even on the tournament.

The next major golf tournament is the US Open which will happen in late June.  It is the only major tournament Mickelson has never won in his career and coming off this win, the head of the Westgate sportsbook estimates that the odds of him winning will start at 50-1 – – not 250-1.

Moving on …  Everyone here knows that I hold Sally Jenkins in high regard as a writer and as a thinker.  However, her column in yesterday’s Washington Post makes a case against the argument she puts forth.  Sally Jenkins and I think alike when it comes to viewing the NCAA as a bunch of venal, money-grubbing parasites and her column yesterday makes a case that the NCAA “sold out” women’s sports in the TV deal that the NCAA reached with CBS and Turner Broadcast Network.  Indeed, the championship events in women’s collegiate sports get short shrift from the TV execs but looking at some numbers makes the case that giving those events short shrift is exactly what those execs should do from a purely business perspective.

TV execs buy broadcast rights in the expectation that those events will draw lots of eyeballs.  So, when Sally Jenkins leads off her column citing the NCAA softball tournament with these facts, you get a sense of the standard set:

“The NCAA softball tournament began this weekend, and the audience for it on ESPN will average more than 1 million viewers per game with the championship series apt to commend almost twice that.   And yet the competitors don’t have a place to shower because the NCAA treats them as ‘less than an afterthought’ as one coach told The Washington Post.”

There is no men’s collegiate softball tournament out there to make a direct comparison, so I had to cobble together some comparable data:

  • There was no College World Series last year but in 2019 the tournament averaged 1.96 million viewers.  That means it played to double the projected audience for this year’s softball tournament.
  • The 2019 Little League World Series averaged 1 million viewers for the tournament.  That is about what the ongoing softball tournament will average.  The collegiate women are not nearly as exploited as the Little Leaguers.  The softball participants do not have to hold bake sales to raise money for transportation to and from the game venues.

There is another economic comparison that is stark:

  • The NCAA women’s basketball championship game last month had 4 million viewers; that is the biggest TV audience for that event since 2014.  Interpret that datum as an indicator that women’s college basketball is on the upswing.
  • The NCAA men’s basketball championship game last month had 16.9 million viewers; that is the smallest TV audience for that event since 1982.  Upswing or not, a “large” TV audience for the women’s championship game was less than 25% of the “small” audience for the men’s championship game.

TV execs are not philanthropists nor are they social activists.  They exist in a competitive world of their own where success is measured in ratings because ratings drive the prices they can charge to advertisers on their broadcasts.  It turns out that the NCAA and the folks at CBS and Turner came to a deal where broadcast rights to March Madness were packaged with rights to other NCAA championship events as well.  One might see that as “selling those other events down the river”; or, one might say that some of those “other events” got a good deal being associated with television rights in the first place.  After all, women’s college basketball and softball are much more lucrative events for television than some other NCAA championships – – for men or women.  Think fencing and/or synchronized swimming …

Over the weekend, another boxing match was announced; I doubt it will reverse the decline that the sport has been in for the last 30 years or so, but it looks to be a real fight and not a celebrity event or something involving a “YouTube sensation”.  Manny Pacquiao will fight Errol Spence, Jr. in August in Las Vegas.  Pacquaio is 42 years old; he has a record of 62-7-2; his last fight was in July 2019.  Spence Jr. has a record of 27-0 with 21 KOs.  The bout will be for these three titles:

  1. WBA Super Welterweight (held by Pacquaio)
  2. WBC Welterweight (held by Spence, Jr.)
  3. IBF Welterweight (held by Spence, Jr.)

Finally, Dwight Perry demonstrated some marketing skills with this commentary in the Seattle Times:

“Browns running back Nick Chubb will soon have his own breakfast cereal, called ‘Chubb Crunch.’

Some other possibilities:

Ricky Williams: Weedies

Sidney Crosby: ForeChex

Philadelphia fans: Jeerios.”

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



Yogi Berra Has A Message For Baseball

Yogi Berra is famous as a Hall of Fame baseball player and as a person whose verbal malaprops made him a comedic figure.  MLB and the MLBPA should pay attention to one of Berra’s alleged statements:

  • “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Baseball is at – or very near – a fork in its path as part of the US sports landscape; the owners and the union have to decide the direction they want to take.  Most importantly, they are really must take the same path because there is no baseball without owners and there is no baseball without players.  Let me get that on the record here from the start; neither of these two entities can exist for long without the other.

On December 1st, 2021, – a little over 6 months from now – the extant CBA signed by the owners and the union will expire.  If someone suggests that this is no big deal because a new CBA is not really needed until around February 1st when preparations for Spring Training kick into high gear, consider the environment that exists today.  Other than certainties governed by physical laws – – night follows day, things fall down to the ground and not up into the air, you get the idea – – the owners and the union agree on just about nothing.

In this time frame where both sides should be marshaling and honing their arguments in favor of various sections/clauses in the CBA to be hammered out, it is rather clear that there is a preference to look backward as a way to flick the scab off a prior wound that certainly seemed to have been healing quietly.  Consider:

  • Just last week, the MLBPA filed a grievance against the league asserting that MLB did not bargain in good faith last year to play as many games as possible in the shortened 2020 season.
  • The grievance seeks an award of $500M which approximates what players would have earned had the season been 20 games longer than it was.

Two facts jump out at me from those statements:

  1. Of course, it would have been possible to play more than 60 games last  season; I cannot fathom how one would assert it was impossible.
  2. Unless I am a mind reader – or the panel of arbitrators that will decide tis grievance has one – I do not know how it is possible to know if the bargaining was done in good faith.

I have no interest in going back to look over the “facts” there; as far as this matter is concerned, I want it to be resolved quickly either by some sort of settlement between the parties or by a fast-paced hearing by the arbitration panel who makes its ruling quickly.  Moreover, I do not care even a little bit who might prevail in this matter; just get it over and done with. 

[Aside:  this three-person panel is a mirage.  One person is picked by the union, the other is picked by the owners and the third person is someone both parties agree to accept in the role.  I would say the odds of a unanimous decision either way are prohibitive; the decision of the mutually appointed arbitrator will be the decision that carries the day.]

The reason I take the position that speed is important here is simple.  So long as this $500M matter is pending, it is a Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the negotiations that need to happen in order to get a new CBA without a work-stoppage.  And given the state of animus that exists between the union and the league, there will need to be plenty of time available to those negotiators to get to a deal.  With that as an overlay, let me be as clear as I can on this next environmental factor:

  • If the two sides cannot reach an agreement in time to start Spring Training and also the regular season in 2022, both sides are dumber than some jamoke who thinks Mount Rushmore is a rock band.
  • Fans had “other things” on their minds last  year; there was a pandemic and a Presidential election.  The 60-game season seemed concocted, and it was not really until late in the playoffs that fan interest came to life.  In that social environment, the owners and the players waged a PR battle that delayed the start of the season – – and perhaps the length of the season? – – when people in lockdown situations would have liked to be able to see MLB on TV.  Brilliant!
  • This year, fans are showing more interest – – but in many venues, attendance is severely limited.  As more venues open to greater percentages of capacity, some astute marketing should be able to get fans revved up for this year’s playoffs.
  • Notwithstanding merely fans’ cumulative interest in baseball games, there is a general economic overhang here.  Even with various waves of government relief checks, there are lots of people – and families – who are in economic trouble not wholly of their doing.  A spitting contest between the billionaire owners and the millionaire players will not sit well with people living paycheck to paycheck – – if the have paychecks – – or with people dealing with eviction processes.

I have argued here many times involving many sports that owners and unions get crosswise with each other over things that should not be deal-breakers.  The owners and the union are partners in presenting a product that people like enough to do two things:

  1. Come to the ballpark and spend some of their discretionary money on.
  2. Watch it on TV in sufficient numbers that networks pay handsomely for broadcast rights.

That is why billionaire Steve Cohen bought the Mets.  That is also why players are getting guaranteed long-term deals in the $350 – 450M range.  Steve Cohen and his fellow owners will not make money if either of those two conditions above does not obtain; baseball superstars like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout and Francisco Lindor will not make a third of what their contracts are worth if either of those two conditions above does not obtain.

The thing that makes the most sense – meaning it is one of the least likely things to happen early on – is for the owners AND the players to tell the CBA negotiators to put a lid on their personal egos and get a deal done that neither side loves but one that both sides can live with.  The negotiations cannot be a pitched battle over every semi-colon in the CBA; the two sides must walk down the same path in the future – – preferably hand-in-hand but I would settle for them merely being in step with each other.

I am on record here as one who hates the DH.  Do no try to change my mind.  However, putting the DH into the National League is not sufficiently horrid to me that I would let it stand in the way of a CBA.  Players do not want expanded playoffs because the way the owners want it structured will line the pockets of the owners far more than it lines the players’ pockets.  I get that.  I also get that making that a sticking point jeopardizes a lot more money that flows to the players than could be recouped in expanded playoff money for the next 50 years.

There are lots of issues to be ironed out; each one cannot become a hill to die on:

  • Service time manipulation
  • Setting up an international draft
  • Tweaking the arbitration procedures for player salaries
  • Pandemic-induced rules (7-inning doubleheaders and “ghost runners” on second base in extra innings)

Those issues just come off the top of my head; surely there are others; the goal must be to resolve them and not to fight pitched battles over each of them.  After the $500M arbitration grievance is resolved one way or the other, the two sides will need to come together rather quickly and get down to productive negotiating.  That will be much easier for the side that wins the $500M arbitration as compared to the side that loses that arbitration.  But somehow all of that had better come to pass because here is the worst outcome:

  • MLB and the MLBPA come to that fork in the road hellbent to prevail in the next round of CBA negotiations to the point that the desire is to crush “the other guys”.
  • In that circumstance, the two sides take the fork in the road – – but each takes a different path.
  • If you like baseball and if you care about baseball as a major item in the US sports landscape, that is what you do not want to have happen.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry about one of the issues that faces MLB in addition to all the upcoming CBA negotiations:

“For perspective’s sake, soccer’s ill-fated Super League lasted about 48 hours — or roughly a dozen Yankees-Red Sox games.”

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



Feel Like A Broken Record Today …

As if on cue, Corey Kluber added to the total number of no-hitters in the 2021 MLB season last night beating the Rangers 2-0.  That makes 6 no-hit games for the year just one short of the modern record for a season,  [Aside:  If you want to start an argument, suggest that we have already seen 7 no-hitters this year because of the 7-inning no-hit game thrown by Madison Bumgarner that will not go in the record books as a no-hitter because of the truncated length.]

No-hit games in baseball are fun to watch; they are inherently a good thing for the game.  However, Mark Twain’s adage applies here:

“It is possible to have too much of a good thing.  Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right.”

The reason no-hit games are fun to watch is because they are – or at least have been – rarities.  There is a fundamental difference between an “event” and an “occurrence”.  So far in 2021, MLB has seen almost one no-hit game per week.  No-hitters are close to losing their status as “events”.

Why is that happening?  There have been 4 no-hitters in the 14 days between May 5th and May 19th; there have been entire MLB seasons without 4 no-hit games.  [Aside:  In fact, there have been 19 seasons in MLB since 1900 without a single no-hit game – – assuming I have counted correctly.]  Let me offer up a few stats; baseball loves stats:

  1. As of this morning, MLB teams average 7.82 hits per game.  Only once in modern baseball history have batters been less successful in getting base hits and that was in 1908.  [Aside:  As of today, the Seattle Mariners as a team are batting .199; the Mariners have been the victims of two of this year’s no-hitters.  Seems like a correlation there …]
  2. As of this morning, batters were striking out 8.92 times per game.
  3. As of this morning batters were hitting a combined .236 for the season.  If that persists, it will be the lowest combined batting average since the dead ball era.

Purists will point to “The Shift” as a contributing factor – and they may be correct.  One other oddity for 2021 is that MLB quietly changed the way the ball itself is manufactured over the winter.  Seemingly, MLB wanted to deaden the ball a tad; maybe they over-achieved?

Changing the subject …  Returning to another story that has been the basis for recent commentary here, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) has suspended Bob Baffert pending the outcome of the investigation in Kentucky regarding Medina Spirit testing over the limit for betamethasone after the Kentucky Derby.  The suspension bars Baffert from running any horse in any race in New York and it applies to any assistant trainers in his employ.  As things stand now, none of the horses in Baffert’s wide-ranging operation is eligible for the Belmont Stakes on June 5th.

In announcing the suspension, the head of the NYRA sought to stake out the moral high ground:

“In order to maintain a successful thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants.  That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing.”

He went on to cite the recent history of Baffert-trained horses failing drug tests in California and Arkansas as part of the reason for this suspension.  It seems clear to me from his statement that he is not going to lift this suspension unless he is forced to do so or unless Baffert is cleared of any wrongdoing in Kentucky.  I am a bit surprised that I have not read that Baffert and his legal team have sought a temporary restraining order against the NYRA to prevent them from enforcing this suspension.  While I totally agree that Baffert needs to be punished for the fact that too many of his horses “accidentally” turn up testing positive all over the country, I wonder how and why it is the purview of the NYRA to do the punishing when the instances cited here have nothing to do with racing in New York.

It would seem to me – – hardly an expert in legal matters – – that Bob Baffert needs to have this suspension defined and resolved rather than having it be a continuing thing.  Even if he cannot run any horses in the Belmont Stakes, that is hardly going to shake the foundation of his racing enterprise.  However, the focus of racing in the Summer and Fall is very much aligned with New York racing:

  • Saratoga’s  summer meeting runs from July 15 through September 6.  If I count correctly, there will be a total of 29 graded stakes races at Saratoga this summer (9 Grade III, 8 Grade II and 12 Grade 1) and there are plenty of races for up and coming 2-year-olds in the meet.  If Baffert cannot run any horses there, that could hurt his racing enterprise.
  • Belmont’s fall meeting runs from September 18 through November 1.  In that meet, there will be 7 more Grade I stakes races plus 7 other races that are qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup this year.  [Aside:  The qualifying races are set up on a “win and you’re in” basis; these are important events in the racing world.]  If Baffert cannot run any horses there, that will hurt his racing enterprise.

This confrontation involves two of the heavyweights in the horseracing world.  Given the public stances taken by both sides, it will not be easy for either one to appear to “back down” on this matter.  For that reason, I suspect that this matter could wind up being decided by a judge and my guess is that his ruling will have nothing at all to do with picograms per milliliter of betamethasone – or anything else – detected in the bloodstream of Medina Spirit or any other equine creature.

Finally, since I mentioned Mark Twain above, let me close with two of his other observations about life:

“Get your facts first.  Then, you can distort them as you please.”

And …

“The trouble ain’t that there are too many fools, but that the lightning ain’t distributed right.”

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



2021 – – Year of the Pitcher ???

Spencer Turnbull of the Detroit Tigers threw a no-hitter last night.  That event is noteworthy because:

  • It is the 5th no-hitter of the 2021 season which is only 7 weeks old.
  • The record for no-hitters in a season is 8; that was in 1884.
  • The “modern record” for no-hitters in a season is 7; that has happened 3 times all since 1990.
  • The victims last night – the Mariners – have been on the short end of a no-hitter twice in the last two weeks.  Both of those no-hitters were at home for the Mariners and the last time that happened in MLB was in 1923.

In baseball lore, 1968 was the “Year of the Pitcher”; the rules mavens decided to lower the pitching mound starting in 1969 because of pitching dominance.  It looks as if 2021 might be another “Year of the Pitcher”.  A quick look at box scores from last night in my edition of the Washington Post gives a hint as to why there may be so many no-hitters this year.  Far too many teams had multiple players in their lineups yesterday batting below .200 – – and I am not  including pitchers who usually hit below the Mendoza Line.

  • The Yankees had 5 players hitting below .200 yesterday.
  • The Mariners had 4 players hitting below .200 yesterday.
  • The Cubs, Pirates, Rangers, Twins and White Sox had 3 players hitting below .200 yesterday.
  • The Cardinals, Giants, Mets, Marlins, Orioles, Royals and Tigers had 2 players hitting below .200 yesterday.
  • The total for yesterday was 40 players batting below .200.  No wonder we have had so many no-hitters in 2021…

Speaking of the Tigers, this morning finds them somewhere other than in the position of having the worst record in MLB.  Today, that “honor” today belongs to the Twins who are 1 game behind the Tigers in the AL Central.  But the Tigers are on-track for another bad year; as of today, they project to a record of 62-100 for the season.  Obviously, the Tigers did not lose anywhere near 100 games in 2020 because the season was only 60 games long last year.  However, in the 3-year stretch from 2017 through 2019, the Tigers lost a total of 310 games.

The Tigers have been in a “rebuilding mode” since 2016 and it seems to have taken an awfully long time.  Maybe they should rebrand themselves as the Detroit Romans – – the team has not been rebuilt in a day.  Just a thought…

Moving on …  The NY Post reported last weekend – and it has been confirmed this week – that Marv Albert will retire as the voice of the NBA on TNT at the end of the Eastern Conference Playoffs this season.  Albert is 79 years old; he has been doing play-by-play for a little more than 50 years; he has been an inductee in the basketball Hall of Fame for 25 years.  His voice and his style are instantly recognizable – – in the same mode as other broadcasters such as Vin Scully, Harry Carey, Harry Kalas and Mel Allen.

Most folks associate Marv Albert with basketball and the NY Knicks, but his career has been broader than that.  He has done plenty of hockey and boxing in his career; he was also the radio play-by-play guy for Monday Night Football for a while.  Marv Albert has earned whatever leisure time he will enjoy in his retirement days.

Interestingly, his “partner” at TNT these days – Chris Webber – has also left TNT.  There had been rumors of a contract hassle between Webber and the network but there had not been any reports of the situation becoming rancorous or confrontational.  Nevertheless, Webber and TNT parted company and he was replaced on the final TNT game of the regular season by Reggie Miller as the color guy with Marv Albert.  Chris Webber had been part of the TNT lineup since 2008.

So, TNT has some work to do as it needs to create a new #1 broadcast team for its basketball coverage next season.  I have a suggestion for the folks in the corner offices of TNT in Atlanta:

  • Ian Eagle did March Madness games with Grant Hill and other March Madness games with Jim Spanarkel this year.
  • Both pairings were excellent.
  • Pick one –  – but do not waffle and think about creating a 3-man team here.

There is a strange story out and about this morning.  Former Wake Forest head basketball coach Dino Gaudio has been an assistant at Louisville for the past 3 seasons; reports today say that he has been federally charged with trying to extort the University of Louisville.  According to charging documents, Gaudio is alleged to have threatened to reveal that the university violated NCAA rules regarding recruitment videos for potential basketball players.  According to the charges, Gaudio wanted 17 months salary in a lump sum payment in exchange for his silence.

This alleged extortion took place in March of this year; Gaudio’s contract with the university expired in April; Gaudio’s contract with the university was not renewed.  Hmmm…

Finally, former US Senator, John McCain, explained the difference between bribery and extortion in Washington this way:

“I don’t think it’s bribery; I think it’s extortion.  Bribery, you know, is when the person that’s giving the money does it voluntarily.  What it is in Washington is extortion because they all ask for the money.”

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



Horseracing Catches A Break – – Maybe

I consider the fact that Medina Spirit lost in the Preakness Stakes to be a positive outcome for horseracing as an “industry” and for generic sports fans who may not be into race handicapping.  Had Medina Spirit won the Preakness, we would have been bombarded with 3 weeks of spleen venting in favor of and opposed to recognition of Medina Spirit as a potentially  “worthy Triple Crown winner”.  We have been spared that rhetorical  excess and should be thankful for that.

Let me be clear that I harbor no animus at all for Bob Baffert.  Having said that, I do believe that he has skated on rules transgressions that should have been punished more harshly over the past couple of years for two reasons:

  1. He is easily recognizable and is one of the “faces of racing” in the US.
  2. He can afford top-shelf lawyers who can make life miserable for any set of track stewards or state racing authorities that might seek to punish him the way any other trainer would be punished.

Baffert and “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons are the only trainers ever to win the Triple Crown; each has done it twice; there is no denying Baffert’s skills and accomplishments in his field.  However, he is also a magnet for controversy and potential scandal over the past couple of years; and horseracing does not need any sort of “race-fixing overlay” atop the Triple Crown any more than Dick Vitale needs an excuse to gush over any player who dunks a basketball in a televised game.

There is potentially some continued “negative drama” that will carry forward based on the Kentucky Derby victory by Medina Spirit and the subsequent positive test for a regulated anti-inflammatory in its bloodstream.  I read that four bettors on the Derby have filed suit in Federal Court in California against Baffert personally, his racing company and the owners of Medina Spirit.  In that suit they charge that Baffert et. al. are guilty of racketeering and fraud because:

  • If the doping is confirmed, Medina Spirit would be stripped of the win and its owners would have to return the $1.86 million winner’s purse.
  • However, bettors who bet against Medina Spirit would get no relief; anyone who bet on Medina Spirit would get to keep the money they collected from the track or sportsbook and anyone who bet on the newly declared winner, Mandaloun, would be left out in the cold.

When I first read about this, my thought was along the lines of “Good Luck!”  I wondered if a court would even bother to let this get to a trial stage; it seemed so much like sour grapes that I did not think a judge would want his/her name attached to a proceeding of this type.  However, the word “fraud” in the allegation here gave me pause because it was not long ago when the Department of Justice convinced jurors that colleges were victims of fraud because shoe companies bribed top shelf players to go to that college where they might assist the school in winning basketball games.

I never understood then how that was “fraud”; to this day I do not understand how that was “fraud”; had I been on the jury, there would not have been a unanimous finding of “fraud’ in the cases.  Therefore, I must not understand the nuances of “fraud” as they pertain to lawsuits.  So, I stepped back and wondered how all of this might play out in a court.

I have never spent a day of my life in law school; but I do know that in legal settings there is an important place for precedents.  A former colleague who is an active horseracing fan and bettor – he did not have Medina Spirit  or Mandaloun in the Derby – told me that it was only a couple of years ago where a bettor sued a trainer and owner of a harness horse in the circumstance where the horse was declared the winner only to have been detected as being “doped” after the bets had been paid out.  In that case there was a settlement prior to trial – – but that tells me that the court did not tell the litigants to get out of the courthouse and do not come back with something so trivial as to demean the stature of the court.  So, maybe the case against Baffert and the horse’s owners might grab the attention of a Federal judge.

The essence of the suit – – as I understand it – – against Baffert and the owners of Medina Spirit is:

  • Horseracing is a business enterprise that relies on bettors to survive and flourish.  [No argument there…]
  • Bettors assume that horses in a field of participants are all in compliance with track and state regulations – – such as medications.  [A fair – but probably naïve – assumption.]
  • Given that wagers were paid out on Medina Spirit who tested in opposition to medication limits, bettors on Mandaloun who may be declared the winner of record were defrauded of the winnings they will never receive.  [Color me skeptical here.]

Hey!  It’s a long-shot – – but so was Medina Spirit who won the Derby at odds of 12-1.  If I were betting on the outcome of this suit, I would bet that there is a settlement long before this ever goes to a trial.  But I am not a lawyer; so, what do I know?

Finally, since there will be plenty of attorneys involved in the ultimate resolution of this lawsuit, let me close today with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Lawyer:  A job in which 97 percent of those practicing it somehow manage to give the entire profession a bad name.”

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



A Mishmash Today

Just as the reader in Houston put me onto a website that keeps track of how much baseball players make while they are on the injured list – not playing baseball – he also provided me with a way to track the same thing in the NBA.  Since the regular season ended yesterday – – were you able to handle all the drama and excitement of the final weekend of games? – – I thought I would present you with some data on that subject.

The website tracks players who were on the injured list, players who have been designated as “rest” meaning they got “approved leave” from the team and players who missed games for “personal” reasons.  The number of injured players and games missed by those injured players dominate here as does the salary earned so I will not do the breakout here; I will provide totals only:

  • Number of games missed by players = 6,319
  • Salary earned while not playing = $906,171,634

The website is listed by player and category.  If you want to see how much your favorite player earned while not playing, follow this link.

With the end of the NBA regular season in hand and the play-in portion of the NBA playoffs about to begin, please consider this comment from Dwight Perry’s column last week in the Seattle Times:

“So, which NBA team will be the first to hoist a ‘2021 Play-In Champion’ banner next season?”

Congratulations to Sam Houston State for beating South Dakota State 23-21 in the NCAA Division 1-AA football final game to earn the national championship.  The game was close all along and it was won on a TD pass in the final minute for a come-from-behind win.  The game suffered from horrible weather in the first half causing a 1-hour delay while the teams cooled their heels as lightening strikes were observed around Frisco, TX where the game was played.

Last week, I said that I had already heard enough about a couple of sports storylines but that they would continue to be beaten to death.  One was the Tim Tebow saga of signing on as a tight end with the Jags.  Well, I was right on that one.  Since I said there was nothing of note to report/comment on, here is what has happened:

  • The Jags continued to negotiate with Tebow, and he had not signed as of yesterday morning.  That lack of a contract was considered newsworthy.
  • Various people have made statements about the “rectitude” of this entire matter.  Please do not ask me why because I wonder why anyone thought it was important to report such commentary.

While trying to avoid this entire matter until something real happened – – like Tebow signed a contract or there was an announcement that this was not going to happen despite all the sturm und drang that had preceded it – –  I ran across a link to an article with this headline:

“Gene Simmons defends Tebow from backlash to potential NFL return”

That headline drew me to the article – – as is the purpose of headlines – – for a couple of reasons:

  1. I wondered who Gene Simmons is and why his perspective mattered.
  2. I wondered what the “backlash” was all about.

After reading the article, I now know who Gene Simmons is, but I still do not have a clear understanding of why his opinion on this matter is any more interesting than Joe Flabeetz’ opinion on this matter which I know to be uninteresting.  As to the backlash, it has to do with Tebow getting a potential shot at a position on the Jags while Colin Kaepernick cannot get a comeback try in the NFL.

The comparison there is pretty thin gruel in my mind.  Yes, both men earned their fame by playing quarterback and yes, both men famously genuflected on the sidelines during football games.  After that, the analogies get more and more tenuous.  As I said last week, I wish that the only report I read about this matter relates to the terms of the contract that Tebow eventually signs  with the Jags.  After that, sports commentators can fall all over themselves dissecting how well he performs in agility drills at the Jags’ minicamp in June.

Albert Pujols has found another job in MLB – – not a lot of controversy on that move yet – – and he will not need to move far if at all.  Pujols was released by the Angels a week ago and over the weekend reported that he had signed on with the Dodgers.  His contract with the Dodgers is supposedly for the MLB minimum which currently is $570.5K per year.  Pujols was under contract with the Angels for $30M this year and he will collect the balance of that from the Angels with only that minimum salary as an offset.

The Dodgers have suffered injuries to first basemen this year and obviously hope that Pujols can increase his performance at the plate from the .196 batting average he posted in his time with the Angels.  The Dodgers currently sit in 3rd place in the NL West a game-and-a-half behind the Padres and two games behind the Giants.

Finally, here is Dwight Perry again on Albert Pujols’ release by the Angels:

“Albert Pujols, just released by the Angels, grounded into an MLB-record 403 double plays in his career.

“Instead of having a street renamed in his honor, maybe he should be awarded his own 643 area code.”

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