Baseball Musings …

Sometime in the last decade, the UK government wanted to commission and name an ocean research vessel.  Someone thought it would be a good idea to use an Internet voting system to let the people select the name of the ship; that was not such a good idea at all.  The Internet choice for the name of the vessel was Boaty McBoatface.  Sanity prevailed and the ship was launched as the Sir David Attenborough in honor of the English broadcaster and naturalist.  [For the record, a remotely powered submersible vehicle that can be launched and controlled from the ship was named “Boaty” possibly as a face-saving measure.]

I bring that up because of an item in Bob Molinaro’s column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Update: The Cleveland Indians are secretly narrowing their list of new names. Reportedly, the most popular choices on social media are Spiders, Guardians and Avengers. Ugh. Well, Spiders isn’t that bad.”

I hope that as the Indians’ braintrust works to find a new and more politically correct name for the team that they recall the Boaty McBoatface incident and keep the decision away from the Internet and/or social media.  Left to the devices of the Internet, the winning name could be the Cleveland Clodhoppers – – or worse.

Actually, Molinaro is right; Spiders is not that bad.  After all, the franchise was indeed named the Cleveland Spiders from 1889 to 1899; Cy Young played for the Cleveland Spiders.  And the Spiders in the 1899 season played an important part in the history of baseball.

  • The St. Louis Browns were also in the National League along with the Spiders and the Browns went bankrupt after the 1898 season.  The owner of the Spiders bought the Browns AND retained ownership of the Spiders.  [Folks back then had not yet learned to spell “conflict of interest”.]
  • The Browns were renamed the St. Louis Perfectos and because the owners saw more potential for attendance in St. Louis than in Cleveland, they arranged to “trade” all the good players from Cleveland to St. Louis.  Basically, the Spiders were a farm team for the Perfectos in the 1899 season.
  • The Spiders record that year was 20-134; they finished 84 games behind the first place Brooklyn Superbas that season.
  • In a “chicken/egg conundrum” the Spiders’ home attendance in 1899 was indeed awful; was the owner correct in transferring players to St. Louis or was the miserable attendance due to the woebegone team on the field?  The Spiders’ average home attendance in 1899 was a whopping 145 patrons!

Sticking with baseball for a moment, I have a bone to pick with some of the baseball writers.  Over the past 5 or 6 years, it has become a Spring Training ritual to find a top prospect for a middling team – or worse – and decry the fact that the team will send the poor young lad to the minor leagues for a month or so in order to manipulate his time in the major leagues giving the team control over the player before he is eligible for arbitration.  The first player I remember being the subject of such an outcry was Kris Bryant of the Cubs in 2015.

This year the poster-child for this “enslavement” was Jarred Kelenic a 21-year-old outfielder who was declared to be the #1 prospect for the year.  The franchise labeled as the “ne’er-do-well” in this saga was the Seattle Mariners who were painted as a struggling team that needed all the help it could get – – and Kelenic had a really good Spring Training with a .300 batting average.

The Mariners brought him up as soon as it was not possible for him to appear in enough games to make the 2021 season count as a full year toward arbitration eligibility and Kelenic was inserted in the starting lineup immediately.  All seemed well in Seattle; things appeared to be working out notwithstanding the fact that many felt Kelenic had been abused by the team.

Now, Jarred Kelenic is back in the minor leagues.  Over the last 21 games he was up with the Mariners here are his stats:

  • He was 5 for 75 (batting average .067) with 1 home run.
  • He struck out 24 times.
  • At the time of his demotion, he was hitless in his last 39 at-bats.

I do not intend to imply that Jarred Kelenic is some kind of stiff who cannot play baseball.  At age 21, the fact that he was able to hit .300 against Spring Training pitching says that he is indeed a top-prospect.  However, might it not be intellectually honest to hear from those who said that the only reason the Mariners “sent him down” was to gain financial advantage over him down the road?  It turns out – empirically – that he was not quite ready for the major leagues; he probably will be sometime later this season.

Let me stick to baseball for today’s topics…  The scandal of the moment is the extensive use of foreign substances by pitchers to increase “spin rate” which then enhances a pitch’s ability to change direction in flight.  This is not a new phenomenon; Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame based on his ability to throw a “doctored baseball” very well.  The difference today is that it appears as if most pitchers are using “sticky stuff” not just a handful.

Some folks have equated this “Sticky Stuff Scandal” to the Steroid Era.  I think there is a difference that needs to be recognized.

  • In the Steroid Era, hitters and pitchers used steroids to gain some sort of advantage.  Hitters probably benefited more, but there was a balancing of the scales to some degree.
  • In the “Sticky Stuff Scandal”, it is one-sided.  Only the pitchers derive benefit here.

That distinction does not mitigate the current situation, nor does it make a resolution “critical to the integrity of the game”.  What needs to be done is for baseball to begin to enforce its written rules – you cannot put any foreign substance on a baseball and use it during a game – as stringently as it seems to enforce its unwritten rules.

Finally, since today was all about baseball, let me close with this thought from musician, Oscar Levant:

“Ballet is the fairies’ baseball.”

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



Football Stuff In June?

Last week, the NY Post reported that Amazon wants to hire Al Michaels away from NBC to do NFL play-by-play on Thursday Night Football.  Recall that Amazon will take over the rights to the full season of TNF as of the 2022/23 NFL season.  According to the Post report, if that sort of deal cannot be done, then Amazon would also be interested in Joe Buck or Ian Eagle to be their play-by-play lead broadcaster.

All three of those gentlemen are currently under contract with other networks as of this morning; Michaels will call the Super Bowl this year on NBC with Cris Collinsworth; Buck is the #1 guy at FOX and Eagle is the #2 guy at CBS.  This is the final year of the contract between Michaels and NBC; so, a bidding war for his services might evolve.  Al Michaels is 76 years old meaning two things:

  1. He could opt to retire after calling the Super Bowl in February 2022 – – although there have not been any reports/rumors that he is considering doing that.
  2. Whatever networks signs him up to do games starting next season, the contract will not likely be a 10-year deal.

The common narrative regarding NBC Sports is that Mike Tirico – who jumped ship from ESPN’s Monday Night Football assignment – is ready in the bullpen to take over the NBC Sunday Night Football job from Michaels starting next year.  If that is indeed how the NBC pooh-bahs want the cards to fall and if Al Michaels indeed wants to “stay in the biz”, then a deal with Amazon makes a ton of sense for everyone.

[Aside: If Tirico takes over for Michaels next year, that will be the second time he has done so.  In 2005, Al Michaels ended a 20-year run on Monday Night Football; in 2006, Mike Tirico along with Tony Kornheiser and Joe Theismann took over the MNF broadcast booth.]

Speaking obliquely about the NFL, there was this headline on one of the Internet sites late last week:

  • NFL Reportedly Eyeing 18-Game Season

Let me just say that headline did not grab me and make me think there was a News Flash hidden in the article that would follow it.  Of course, the NFL would like an 18th game; it will expand revenues because as of 2021, the NFL has not hit the saturation point for its fanbase.  If the NFL were to stage an 18-game regular season, it would not dilute the other 17 games; it would represent an augmentation.

Such is not the case with the other two major sports in the US.  Both MLB and the NBA have regular seasons that are as long as they can meaningfully be; the same is true for college basketball and college football.  No one is suggesting that MLB expand its schedule from 162 games to 170 games so that teams can either start in March or so that the World Series might extend closer to Thanksgiving.  Lots of folks – me included – have suggested that the NBA regular season be cut back significantly from 82 games because far too many regular season games are merely dates on a calendar with nothing compelling about them at all.  [Aside:  By the way, some games that fans might look forward to get diminished at the last minute and without warning when a visiting super-star player decides to take a “load management day”.]

The barrier the NFL must cross to get to an 18-game schedule has nothing to do with the calendar or fans’ ennui; what the NFL must do is to get the NFLPA on board.  Players have been opposed to added games ostensibly because of the added wear and tear on their bodies.  I am not minimizing or denying that position, but I am not so sure that the union could be convinced to take a more positive view of that circumstance if:

  • A larger share of NFL revenue went to players’ salaries by altering the formula that calculates the salary cap – – and/or – –
  • Rosters were expanded – – and/or – –
  • There were 2 BYE Weeks for each team in the season – – and/or – –
  • Exhibition Games were cut from 4 games to 2 games (or even 1 game).

The NFL wants more games because the NFL knows they can sell those games to networks or streaming services such as Amazon.  The networks and streaming services want more games because networks can sell time to advertisers and streaming services can sign up more viewers with NFL games on their menu.  The NFLPA can hold out and refuse to play an extra regular season game for physical/injury reasons and be on totally solid ground.  Or they can use their position to do some hard bargaining – not loud and confrontational bargaining – to get a sweeter deal.  Stay tuned…

One more tangential NFL issue if I may …  It is now a week shy of 11 months since the Washington Post broke the story about the alleged sexual harassment of the Redskins’ cheerleaders and the “toxic work environment” that existed for women in the front office of that organization.  The team hired Beth Wilkinson to do an independent investigation; when more allegations came forward, the NFL assumed control and oversight of Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation.  Back at the time of the Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell said that the report was almost finished.  [For those of you keeping score at home, the Super Bowl was 4 months ago.]

If you go to Wikipedia and read the biography of Ms. Wilkinson there, you will probably come away with the idea that the investigation she was hired to do into the happenings within the Washington Football Team’s Front Office is not nearly as complex as ones she has led into criminal matters in the past.  When I read the biography, I thought this task would be like a walk in the park for someone of her background and her accomplishments.  Therefore, I cannot believe that she is still investigating or that she is still polishing the prose in her report.

If I am correct, the report and its findings – – and perhaps some recommendations? – – are now and have been for some time in the hands of The Commish.  I do not pretend to speak for others, but let me say this clearly:

  • I am not going to forget about the allegations made in the Washington Post stories.
  • The longer this goes on – – now that Ms. Wilkinson has had time to do the competent job we should expect from someone with her credentials – – the more it smells of a cover-up.
  • The history of the last 50 years seems to have convinced me that the cover-up is even worse than the crime.

Finally, let me close out today with an observation by English humorist, P. G. Wodehouse:

“The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.”

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



Burned At The Stake…

Heresy is frowned upon; heretics are never held in high esteem.  I know that the concept of heresy applies to the ream of religion but there are secular behaviors that similarly go against declared orthodoxies such that the behaviors are not viewed benevolently.  I think I am about to commit a sports heresy.  So be it…

  • I have had it up to my earbrows with LeBron James.

There – – I said it.  Now let me tell you how I arrived at this position of darkness.  It began with a minor discomfort when James left the Cavaliers in 2010 to create the first player-manufactured super team. It seemed a bit  cheesy to me; I wondered why they stopped at agglomerating only three star players and did not keep going and get seven or nine.  It would be even easier to win with that many star players…

The return to the Cavaliers in 2014 followed by the second defection to the Lakers in 2018 were similarly discomforting but less so because I had seen that act before.  And the discomfort was assuaged to a large extent because it was enjoyable to watch LeBron James play basketball.  In case anyone has missed this news:

  • LeBron James is a GREAT basketball player.

My discomfort began to inch upward in the modern era of social media where LeBron James is a constant presence often making pronouncements on issues where maybe – – just maybe mind you – – he may not have as great an understanding as his greatness on a basketball court.  Many of his social media pronouncements boil down to a message something like this:

  • If you do not agree with me, you need to go and educate yourself.

Then, after winning the NBA Finals last year in the “Orlando Bubble”, LeBron James told folks after the game that he “demanded respect” for the Lakers and for himself for enduring the rigors of the “Orlando Bubble”.  I was surprised that the Bubble worked as effectively as it did and I am glad that I was not required to have spent months in such an environment; but in a time of pandemic, living in that bubble so you can play basketball and make tens of millions of dollars in the process is not exactly heroic behavior.  Oh, wait…  Am I incapable of understanding?

During this year’s NBA playoffs, there have been several outrageously bad behaviors by fans with regard to players.  One such incident happened in Philly where a fan dumped popcorn on the Wizards’ Russell Westbrook.  From about 2500 miles away, LeBron James took to the social media airwaves to chime in and demand fans’ respect for players and called for the league to see to it that respect was paid.  [Aside:  Respect is given on a personal basis and it is difficult to demand it without making whatever is offered a bit tainted.]

And then the dam broke…  After the Lakers lost to the Suns in the first round of the NBA playoffs last week, LeBron James walked off the court without congratulating the Suns for winning saying that he needed to get a head start on his “treatment”.  Respect is earned; sportsmanship is a given.  LeBron James’ lack of sportsmanship earns for him the withholding of the respect he repeatedly says he wants.

Why is my displeasure with LeBron James a heresy? Well in the world of sportswriters and commentators, criticism of LeBron James – – and even his cohorts – – is difficult to come by.  I can understand the reluctance to risk the wrath of “The Chosen One” – – self-proclaimed no less – – by someone who is a beat writer for an NBA team or one of the vaunted “NBA Insiders” with one of the sports journalism heavy hitters.  What seems to have evolved is a circumstance where the thought of saying that LeBron James might – – I said MIGHT – – be wrong or petty with regard to any subject of inquiry from social conditions to quantum mechanics is verboten.  Sorry, my years as a basketball official taught me to call what I see – – and what I see here is a man who:

  1. Is a GREAT basketball player.
  2. Is staring down the declining  years of his career on the court.
  3. Is looking to be influential in fields other than basketball without the same level of recognized greatness in those fields other than basketball.

Sports journalists should be on the track to chronicle LeBron James’ achievements and failures related to basketball.  For some of his other business ventures – – like the soon to be released Space Jam; A New Legacy – – there is also plenty of room to report on successes and failures.  However, when he ventures into social commentary or how the NBA should deal with unruly fans, his voice is no more authoritative than the player sitting at the end of the bench for the worst team in the league.  Moreover, just because LeBron James makes a pronouncement and takes a position on something other than basketball or his business ventures, it is not axiomatic that it is correct.  It is equally possible that his pronouncements are totally irrelevant.

Religious heretics suffered horrendous fates long ago and I am not even talking about the wars that have been waged based on religious differences among various peoples continuing to this day in places from the Middle East to India/Pakistan.  A thousand years ago, someone “convicted” of heresy would be burned at the stake; 500 years ago, witches were persecuted for beliefs that were not within common orthodoxy and they too were hunted, tortured and killed.  I do not expect any such punishment to descend on me for my heresy here – – but I also do not expect lots of folks to offer vocal support either.

Let me put a minor change into some song lyrics from Jim Croce:

“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape

You don’t spit into the wind

You don’t tug the mask off that old Lone Ranger

And you don’t call out “The Chosen One.”

Finally, since heresy is inherently in conflict with faith in the realm of religion, let me close with this observation about faith from H. L Mencken:

“Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”

That sentiment would probably have gotten Mencken ignited back around 1200 AD.

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



Cleaning Up For The Week…

Picking up where I left off yesterday …  I said earlier in the week that a reader sent me an email telling me that 353 players had declared for the NBA Draft but the list I found only had 127 players listed.  That statement got me three different links from three readers showing that indeed 353 players think they might be drafted by an NBA team sometime in July.  [Aside:  The presence of those 3 links also demonstrates that my Google searching skills are imperfect!]  So let me do a bit of math here:

  • The NBA has 30 teams; the Draft has two rounds.  At most 60 players will hear their name called out by Adam Silver or some other NBA factotum.
  • Ergo, 83% of the names on the “Eligible List” will be disappointed.  But wait, there’s more…
  • Only first round picks get contracts with guarantees.  First round players get 4-year deals with the first two years guaranteed with years 3 and 4 as team options.  Second round players get no guarantees unless their agents can wriggle one out of the drafting team.
  • Ergo, about 91% of the names on the “Eligible List” will be sure not to draw a paycheck from an NBA team next year.

Lots of young men are going to get a lesson in reality pretty soon …

Next up is the Belmont Stakes.  The race will happen tomorrow and indeed it will not have any horses trained by Bob Baffert in the starting gate.  Baffert’s suspension by the NYRA was put into a strengthened condition earlier this week when the second sample test results on Medina Spirit came back with an even higher level of betamethasone than the first test sample which landed Baffert on the suspension list.  As I mentioned before, banishing him from the Belmont Stakes is significant but there is a bigger hammer held by the NYRA.

Summer and Fall racing in NY are a big deal at Saratoga and then again at Belmont Park where lots of Graded Stakes races leading up to Breeders’ Cup invitations take place.  [For the record, the Breeders’ Cup will be at DelMar on November 5 & 6.].  Owners of top-shelf horses might consider changing trainers if staying with Baffert hurt the chances of their horse getting into the Breeders’ Cup.

Moreover, Baffert’s position as the top trainer in the country will be hurt by the decision this week by Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) to ban him from racing at any of their facilities for 2 years.  That means no Baffert-trained horses can be in the next two Kentucky Derbies.  CDI owns – in addition to Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY – the Fair Grounds, Turfway Park, Presque Isle Downs and Arlington Park.

I also mentioned before that some bettors who would have cashed large tickets on the Kentucky Derby had Medina Spirit not won that day were suing Baffert and his corporate stable entity.  I have no idea if that suit will ever be heard but one aspect of the suit is that it seeks to be heard under the umbrella of provisions provided by Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).  The plaintiffs claim that they assumed the race would be fair and competed under the rules provided by the track, but that Baffert knowingly evaded those rules thereby denying those bettors the winnings they should have had.  Somehow, even a person like me who knows nothing about the law can appreciate that it is not a good thing to be found guilty of anything covered by a law known as RICO.

This is an important step for horseracing.  Bob Baffert has been a hugely successful trainer in the US for the last decade, but he has also skated around the edges of the rules without significant sanction recently.  I read one report that said he has had 30 “medical violations” in his career and the positive test on Medina Spirit was the 5th such violation in the last 13 months.  More than a few folks have suggested that he got off with minor slaps on the wrist because of his fame and his success; I do not know if that is the case, but it has that appearance.

Horseracing is a sport/industry that cannot exist without gambling and bettors; people will not pay money to go to a racetrack to watch a bunch of horses run around an oval track without having “a little something” on the outcome.  Without the betting handle, there would be no purses to offer to owners and trainers.  Betting is vital to the sport – – and betting requires the bettors to be confident that they are not going to be duped by the process.  I do not have nearly enough information to know how or why Baffert’s horses have had these “medical violations” nor do I know that said “medical violations” were instrumental in those horses winning some races.  Nonetheless, I think it is a positive move by the horseracing industry to mete out significant punishment here to a top-shelf trainer as it probably would to a guy who trains horses that usually run in $5K claiming events.

For the record, I do not like either of the top two horses in the Morning Line for the Belmont Stakes tomorrow.  My two horses for the race are Rock Your World (9 to 2) and Hot Rod Charlie (7 to 2).  I doubt that I will be suing anyone if that Exacta Box does not come in.

Moving on …  There was a report yesterday that the USFL is coming back in 2022.  The teams will be in the cities where they were back in the 80s and the league will play Spring Football starting after the Super Bowl next February.  There have been many Spring Football leagues over the years; the USFL was the most successful of them.  However, there is something here that gives me pause:

  • The “plan” is for the XFL to play next Spring also.  I say “plan” because much of the happenings regarding the XFL and its re-emergence as XFL 3.0 takes place in the dark.
  • Assuming that both leagues try to play next spring, the USFL and the XFL each had 8 teams.  If both seek to keep their franchise structure intact, that will mean filling out 16 football rosters beyond players in the NFL.
  • To provide for injuries, I would estimate that a minimum of 50 players would be needed per team – – and probably closer to 60.  So, at a minimum, these leagues would need to find 800 more “pro-level players” than are currently on display in the NFL.
  • I have no doubt there are 800 football players who will want to be part of either league should it be an actual going concern.  But finding enough players who are of pro-caliber will not be an easy task for either league.

Finally, I will close out this week with two entries in The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Idealist:  A person who foolishly believes you are above screwing him or her over.”

Idiot:  See Idealist.”

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



Big News Today – And A Carryover For Tomorrow

Political reporters often refer to the “Friday news dump”.  The idea there is that public figures wait until late on Friday to dump bad news so that folks who are focused on weekend activities might not notice it as much as if it were done on normal weekday.  I do not know that there is an analogy in the sports world, but I can assure you that yesterday’s news release was voluminous – – and not on a Friday.  I probably will not get to all if it in this rant; my question for the morning is the order in which I should take them.

I think the biggest news from yesterday is that Mike Krzyzewski will retire from coaching Duke basketball after this season.  Just some overview stats:

  • He has coached at the college level for 46 years – – 5 at Army and 41 at Duke.
  • His overall record is 1170-361 for a winning percentage of .764.
  • He has been inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame (twice), the US Olympic Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
  • He has won 5 NCAA Championships and 5 Olympic Gold Medals.

This announcement comes on the heels of Roy Williams’ retirement at UNC a couple of months ago.  I said when Williams retired that it would be difficult to follow in his footsteps; the same situation will obtain in Durham for Jon Scheyer who will take over the Duke job next Spring.  This selection is analogous to UNC’s selection of Hubert Davis as Roy Williams’ successor.  Scheyer is a former Duke player and has been an important assistant for the Blue Devils since 2013.

The history of “following a legend” into a job is not glorious.  In fact, many people do not know who followed legends such as:

  • John Wooden
  • Dean Smith
  • Bear Bryant
  • Bud Wilkinson
  • Vince Lombardi
  • Don Shula
  • [Hint:  One of these “successors” made the Hall of Fame on his own; and still, many folks cannot identify him without resorting to Wikipedia.]

I think the Athletic Director at Duke and the administration there did a smart thing in naming the successor proximal to Coach K’s announcement of impending departure.  That decision eliminates about 9 months of speculation as to which of the  former Duke players now in the coaching business might get the nod – – and there are more than a handful of them out there.  The transition can be much smoother this way.

One more comment here …  Some reports have speculated that the instability caused by the new NCAA rules on transfers and the transfer portal played a significant role in both Roy Williams’ and Mike Krzyzewski’s decision to step down.  Until I hear that from either man himself, I will refrain from ascribing motives here.  John Feinstein wrote an excellent column on his association with Coach K in the Washington Post;  I commend it to your reading.

Next up is what seemed as if it would be the “big story of the day” until Coach K’s announcement.  Danny Ainge is leaving the job as “head of basketball operations” with the Boston Celtics and Brad Stevens is taking over that position leaving the Celtics head coaching job vacant.  In his new position, Stevens will be in charge of hiring his replacement; that does not happen every day.  There had been reports that Stevens had been hugely stressed by the “Orlando Bubble experience” last summer – – as I would surmise was the case for plenty of folks there.  Stevens has been the coach of the Celtics since 2013; he is 44 years old; he has plenty of “basketball future” ahead of him.

There is an irony that these two stories emerged on the same day.  Over the past few months there have been more than a few columns written speculating that Brad Stevens would be the person to succeed Coach K at Duke.  If you Google, “Brad Stevens Duke” you will find a plethora of links to columns and video bits discussing that eventuality.  And then on the same day, Coach K announces that he is stepping down while Brad Stevens is moving up from the bench to the Celtics’ front office.

Moving on …  I said that I would keep track of the MLB players on the Injured List and the number of days on the IL by those players and how much they earned while on the list.  The season began on 1 April, so I went and checked as of June 1.  The season is between 25 and 30% over and here are the data:

  • Number of players on IL = 463 (265 are pitchers)
  • Cumulative days on IL by the players = 12,571  (Average stay = 27.1 days)
  • Money earned by players while on IL = $243,959,242

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World Herald, that relates to the MLB Injured List:

“Two small planes collided over Colorado & miraculously nobody was hurt. Meanwhile every year at least one major league baseball player misses half the season after injuring himself with a can opener or dental floss.”

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



Get Well Wishes…

Regular readers here know that I frequently use a clever observation or play on words from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times as a closing item to these rants.  He writes a column called Sideline Chatter every weekend now; but in the past, that column ran as often as 5 days a week.  Perry keeps track of the number and last I heard it was slightly more than 4,000 entries.

The column will be on hiatus for a while as Dwight Perry deals with a medical issue.  I just wanted to take this as an opportunity to wish him a speedy and full recovery.  I will be checking for the return of Sideline Chatter regularly.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, there is still uncertainty surrounding the CFL season in 2021, but one “open question” involving the league came to a resolution yesterday.  The Edmonton team – the one ever so indelicately named the Eskimos since 1949 – have changed their name to The Edmonton Elks.  The team colors of green and gold will remain, and the new team logo is a “modernistic” rendition of a bull elk.  The fans participated in the selection of the new team name having been asked to select it from a list of 7 names – all being alliterative with the letter “E” – in an open survey.

I got an email this morning from a reader saying that 353 players have entered their names onto the NBA Draft List.  I went online to look at the list but the one I found only had 127 names on it.  No problem: the fact is that only 60 players are going to be drafted so one of two things should happen:

  1. A lot of players should come to grips with the reality that they are not going to be one of the draftees and take their name off the list and go back to play another year of college basketball – – assuming they have not hired an agent which would make them ineligible to return to school.
  2. Continue to live in a delusion until such time that the only real choice for a basketball contract is somewhere in Europe or Australia – – or Neptune.

MLB decided to move the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in response to the passage of a law in Georgia that involved voting procedures and was controversial to say the least.  Not surprisingly, that action is now being challenged in court; frankly, I am a bit surprised that it took this long for that to happen; the MLB decision to move the game was in early April.  Not only is MLB named as a defendant, but so is the MLBPA; this suit has those two entities working in concert to deprive citizens in Georgia some of their Constitutional rights.  [Aside:  If so, that might be the only thing those two entities have agreed on and worked together on constructively in the past several years.]

The plaintiff in the case is an organization known as Job Creators Network (JCN); it is an organization that opposes government rules and regulations which interfere with “the economic freedom that helped make this country prosperous”.  I am not able to explain how the MLB decision to move the All-Star Game involved such interference, so I shall leave that to the legal eagles involved in the case to resolve.

JCN has asked the court for 3 things as far as I can tell:

  1. It wants an immediate injunction requiring the MLB All-Star game to be put back in Atlanta to be played at Truist Park.  [No surprise here…]
  2. It wants an award of $100M because that is the economic loss JCN claims will be incurred by people in Georgia – – mainly the Atlanta area – – from the movement of the game.  [I would have the same level of faith in this number as I do in estimates of the “economic benefit” to a city/country for holding the Olympics.]
  3. It wants an award of $1B in punitive damages for doing such a dastardly deed.  [I guess this falls into the category of “Go Big Or Go Home”.]

The filing is a lengthy one.  I do not pretend to understand at least half of the claims or the basis offered up as support for those claims, but let me try to summarize a layman’s overview:

  • The movement of the All-Star Game will inflict economic damages on business in Atlanta – – big businesses and small ones.  The losses are not merely the absence of revenues that would be taken in during the days surrounding the game itself but also represent some sunk costs incurred by businesses as they planned for the event.
  • Moreover, state and local government entities will be harmed by lower-than-anticipated tax revenues based on the relocation of the game.
  • In one part of the filing, JCN refers to the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and alleges that MLB and the MLBPA violated that law.  The KKK Act says that individuals and private entities may not conspire to deprive other citizens of Constitutional rights.  As I recall American History the Ku Klux Klan were private individuals and they did seek to deprive other citizens of their Constitutional rights – – but it is far from clear to me how MLB and the MLBPA have behaved in a manner that is “KKK-like”.  The lawsuit contends very directly that MLB and the MLBPA ““plotted, coordinated, and executed a common plan and conspiracy to cancel the All-Star Game in Atlanta with the intent to injure and deprive residents and businesses of Atlanta, Georgia of their Constitutional rights.”  [I am way over my head here; I shall not try to explain that.]
  • In another part of the filing, JCN claims that the relocation has racial overtones.  Atlanta has more Black people than Denver and therefore more Black people will incur economic losses – and the loss of Constitutional rights? – because of the move.  [Having visited both Atlanta and Denver, I am certain that the population difference cited here is accurate…]
  • There are several parts of this lawsuit that make it seem as if MLB and MLBPA are an extension of the Nationals and State governments because of things like taxpayer funding for stadiums.  [I have no idea why that is an important point to make but JCN makes it several ways so there must be some relevance here.]

Finally, since I started today with news about Dwight Perry, let me close with one of his observations in the Seattle Times:

“Warriors treymaker Steph Curry and his wife Ayesha appeared on ‘Sesame Street,’ joining Elmo, Cookie Monster and Grover to promote eating a healthy breakfast.

“This episode, one assumes, was brought to you by the number ‘3.’”

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



Lots Of Strange Stuff Today …

What is going on with fans at games?  Without an exhaustive search on the Internet the following incidents come off the top of my head:

  • A fan in Philly dumped popcorn on Russel Westbrook.
  • A fan in Boston threw a water bottle at Kyrie Irving.
  • A fan in NY spit on Trae Young
  • A fan streaked the field at a Washington Nationals’ game
  • A fan charged the court at a Wizards’ game.

All these incidents have happened in the last 10 days or so; therefore, let me repeat the question:

  • What is going on with fans at games?

Over the last year or so, I experienced telecasts of games without fans in attendance and/or with significantly reduced attendance.  Those games lacked some of the energy that I normally associate with a sporting event; I am sure owners of teams are happy to see fans in the stands from an economic standpoint; I thought it would be a positive thing to have fans in the stands from an entertainment perspective.  But these recent events are too much to bear.  If this is what fans and players must accept as part of the “fan experience”, then we need to look at a new model for staging athletic competitions.

I have read that some folks believe the isolation imposed by the pandemic increased the level of intensity in many sports fans and we are now seeing that increased intensity play itself out.  I have no idea if any of that is true, but I must admit that I am skeptical.  The problem is that I do not have an alternative hypothesis to throw into the pot here because this is aberrant behavior at the very least.

I understand that reporters do not name the perpetrators here to deny them even a “moment of fame”, but I wish there were a way to find out the blood alcohol level for the ones who are caught and arrested by the police – – such as the streaker at the Nats’ game.  Just a thought…

And while I am on the subject of aberrant behavior, Braves’ outfielder, Marcel Ozuna, was arrested for domestic abuse over the weekend; he has posted $20K bail and is out and about but under a court order not to have any contact with his wife.  According to police reports, officers arrived at the house to find the door open; and when they went in, they witnessed Ozuna attempting to strangle his wife.  If you want all the details here, Google is your friend.  The couple is in the process of divorcing – not such a surprise to me given what happened – and it will be interesting to see the degree to which the wife will cooperate with police and prosecutors regarding these charges.

Marcel Ozuna was already on the Injured List with a couple of broken fingers and was expected to be out for several weeks when all this happened.  MLB and the MLBA have a negotiated “Domestic Violence Policy” in place so Ozuna could be looking at a significant interruption in his career.  My understanding of the MLB policy is this:

  • The Commissioner’s Office investigates all allegations of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse involving folks associated with MLB. The Commissioner may place an accused player on paid administrative leave for up to seven days while allegations are investigated, and players may challenge any decision before an arbitration panel.
  • The Commissioner decides on the appropriate discipline, with no minimum or maximum penalty under the policy. As above, players may challenge any decision to the arbitration panel.

In February of this year, Ozuna signed a 4-year deal with the Braves for $65M – – plus a team option for a fifth year at an additional  $16M.  I will not even hazard a guess as to what sort of suspension Rob Manfred may hand down here, but the criminal aspect of this case could have a significant impact on Ozuna’s career.  I have to believe that his contract has a clause in it that relates to the player maintaining himself as a person free of prison such that he can perform for/with the team.

Meanwhile, in the world of tennis a strange story has unfolded.  Naomi Osaka announced on social media last week that she will not be giving any interviews or participating in any news conferences at the French Open.  She said then that she was doing this for her “mental health”.  Tennis officials were not pleased and fined Osaka $15K for skipping one of the press conferences and supposedly threatened to default her from the tournament if she continued to stiff her “press obligations”.  So, Osaka simply withdrew from the tournament.

I have read in several places that players at the major tennis tournaments are “required” to make themselves available to the press when they are requested.  I do not know the source of that “requirement”, but it would seem to me that the tennis pooh-bahs might want to rethink a requirement that causes the #2 women’s player in the world to drop out of one of the most important tournaments of the year.

Somehow, this situation needs some calm and rational thought.  Wimbledon is only a month away and that is another major tournament where players are going to have to speak to the press if they are requested – – and after this you can bet that Naomi Osaka will be requested.  So, what is the direction here?  More confrontation?  Some sort of accommodation?  A change in the basic rule about press access?

I think part of the problem here is that the basic rule is antiquated.  There was a time when the sport of tennis needed the press coverage to generate interest in its tournaments and its players.  With social media what it is today, the press coverage is nice; but it is not nearly as vital as it used to be; remember, in this case, it was Osaka who announced on social media that she would be skipping press events; she did not need any reporters to do that job for her.

Finally, let me close with this entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Intimidating:  Using fear to browbeat or coerce.  A tactic often employed by Marine boot camp instructors, Mafia enforcers and people trying to sell you a quality pre-owned Kia.”

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