A Mishmash Today …

I try to keep politics out of these rants, and I am completely incompetent when it cones to dishing out political advice.  Nevertheless, I feel sufficiently strongly about a minor current issue in the political realm that I will go out on a limb here.

After the LSU/Iowa game to decide the Women’s NCAA basketball championship, our First Lady suggested the possibility that both teams should be invited to the White House.  A subsequent statement from the White House said that there would be invitations for LSU as the women’s champion and for UConn as the men’s champion, but it made no mention of Iowa or San Diego State.  Here is my position:

  • The practice of inviting champions in the sports world to the White House has run its course. 
  • I think President Biden should set a new trend in motion and not invite any sports figures to the White House for a meaningless photo-op.
  • The last thing we need is to expand this practice which approaches the level of existential nihilism to runners-up.

The plaintiff rests, Your Honor …

The MLB season is only a week old; it is far too early to do any sort of projection about the season, but a few items do stand out:

  • The pitch clock is working.  So far in 2023, the average game time is 2 hours and 38 minutes.  According to CBSSports.com, that is the shortest average game time since 1984.  Last year, the average game took 3 hours and 3 minutes.
  • There has already been a game played in less than two hours.  There was only one such game in all of last season’s 2430 scheduled games.
  • The limitations on “The Shift” seem to be working too.  Offense is up in 2023 as compared to 2022.  Last year in the first week of the season the OBP for MLB was .312; this year it is .323.  More offense means more action on the field in shorter game times.  Hard to complain about any of that.
  • The larger bases introduced this year were intended to encourage more base stealing adding to the action on the field.  So far, that seems to be the case.  Attempted steals are up slightly and the fact that a higher percentage of that increased number of attempted steals are successful portends a continuation of that early trend.

Looking at the early standings, a few things stand out:

  • The Twins have given up only 11 runs in 6 games even in this environment of more offense in the games.
  • The Red Sox have played 6 games and the total number of runs in those games was 73 or just over 12 runs per game.
  • The Royals are 1-5 on the season but their run differential is only minus-9.
  • The Phillies are 1-5 on the season and their run differential is a whopping minus-24.
  • The Rays are 6-0 on the season and their run differential is +31; they are winning their games by an average of more than 5 runs.
  • The Orioles are 3-3 on the season and their run differential is zero.  Talk about a team in perfect balance…

Switching gears …  Back in early February, the Dallas Mavericks acquired Kyrie Irving from the Nets.  The Mavs were in 6th place in the NBA Wet at the time with a record of 30-26, and some folks suggested that the pairing of Irving with Luca Doncic could give the Mavs a shot at the #1 seed in the NBA Western Conference playoffs.  In terms of offensive firepower, the tandem of Irving and Doncic is formidable indeed, but the rise of the Mavs has not exactly followed.  As of this morning, the Mavs would not even be in the play-in portion of the NBA playoffs.

Since acquiring Irving, the Mavs are 8-16.  Those 24 games represent about 30% of a full NBA season; so, I think we are outside the realm of extrapolation from a small sample size as one clearly should not do with the MLB stats cited above.  But there are two disturbing trends at work here:

  1. The Mavs do not defend well at all.  Neither Irving nor Doncic is even an “average defender”.
  2. This is Irving’s third consecutive team that has been better without him as compared to with him.  Surely, neither the Celtics nor the Nets would want him back.  Irving is in the final year of his contract; Mavs’ owner, Mark Cuban says he wants to sign Irving for “the long term”.  Really …?

The Masters gets started today.  I will check in periodically over the weekend because it is a milestone event on the sports calendar.  There is an interesting new bet available this year.  You can wager on whether an LIV Golf pro will win the Masters or not.  Current odds are 6-1 if you bet that the person to put on a green jacket over the weekend is with LIV Golf.

Finally, I shall close today with these words from Mark Twain:

“Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.”

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



Congratulations To the UConn Huskies

The UConn Huskies won it all last night.  Since January 1, 2023, UConn has scored 80 or more points in 9 games; San Diego State “held” the Huskies to 76 points but UConn showed impressive balance by putting on a defensive display of its own; the Aztecs only shot 32.1% from the floor because uncontested shots were few and far between.  At one point in the first half, San Diego State had turned the ball over 6 times and had only made 4 field goals; there are not a lot of paths to victory under those circumstances.  UConn won six tournament games to claim the championship and they won all six by double digits.

Anyone who has been reading these rants for a while must know that I love the NCAA Tournament.  It is because I love it that I am worried about it.  I have this nagging sense of doom that the combination of the “transfer portal” plus “booster pools of NIL money” are going to ruin college basketball and therefore the NCAA Tournament too.  Basketball is much more easily influenced by the transfer portal than is college football; as few as two transfers can change a school’s basketball fortunes; getting four major transfers will become the gold standard of the off seasons.  Yes, there were always “blueblood programs; now the disparities are going to be even worse.

I hope I am wrong here.  However, I feel like Cassandra from Greek mythology.  She had the gift/curse of being able to see the future and at the same time, no one ever listened to her when she prognosticated.

Another college basketball story unfolded over the weekend.  Bob Knight was hospitalized and then released to home care over the last several days; he is reportedly resting at home this morning.  Knight is 82 years old so any news about him that involves the word “hospital” must be taken seriously.  Bob Knight is about as polarizing a figure as there is in the world of college basketball but even his most severe critics must concede that he was an outstanding coach.

Switching sports …  MLB has no salary cap; it has something called a “Luxury Tax” which is more complicated that I would want to try to explain here.  Basically, if a team’s payroll is over a certain total value, it must play an additional tax on the overage and the percentage of the tax increases as the disparity increases plus the tax increases if a team is over the luxury tax line in sequential seasons.  With that backdrop, I read that the NY Mets had an Opening Day payroll of $334.2M which is way over the line and so the Mets also had to pay $110.9M as its “Luxury Tax”.  [Aside:  Luxury Tax money is used as a revenue sharing pool for the so-called “small market teams”.]

That Luxury Tax figure caught my eye because I thought there were probably a half-dozen teams whose total Opening Day payroll was not as much as the Luxury Tax payment by the Mets.  After only a few moments of searching, I learned that I was incorrect:

  • There is a full dozen teams whose total Opening Day payroll is less than $110.9M.
  • 40% of the teams in MLB have a total payroll less than the Mets’ Luxury Tax assessment.
  • The lowest team payroll on Opening Day belonged to the Oakland A’s; that total payroll was $42.4M.
  • For comparison, the Mets signed Justin Verlander to a 2-year contract in the off season at an average annual salary of $43.3M.

And that is why MLB needs a salary cap plus a salary floor…

Switching gears …  Remember back in the Fall of 2022 when a couple of guys were accused of cheating in a fishing tournament on Lake Erie by stuffing fishing weights into the stomachs of fish they caught during the tournament?  Well those anglers avoided a trial on several felony charges by pleading guilty to cheating (a fifth-degree felony in Ohio) and unlawful ownership of wild animals (a fourth-degree misdemeanor in Ohio).  Here is what they get in exchange for their guilty pleas:

  • One of the defendants will forfeit his bass boat to the Ohio Dept of Natural resources and that boat is worth $100K.
  • Both will have their fishing licenses suspended for up to three years.
  • Both will be on probation for six months and any sort of criminal behavior could get them sent to jail for up to a year on these two charges.
  • Prosecutors dropped more serious felony charges such as attempted theft (presumably of the $28,000 prize for winning the fishing tournament) and possession of criminal tools (not sure what these were).

These two gentlemen had won a string of tournaments that were characterized as “unprecedented” which could lead to the conclusion that they had engaged in this sort of behavior in the past.  However, there was no evidence of cheating then so nothing about previous tournaments was part of this prosecution.

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

Year:  Three hundred and sixty-five days.  Or, as it is known in Montana, half an hour,”

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



Men’s and Women’s College Basketball …

Briefly today …  I got the matchup I wanted to see coming out of the men’s semi-finals on Saturday night.  I have no connection to either school but the reason I wanted to see these two play for the championship is because I want to see UConn’s offense against San Diego State’s defense.  The line for the game has UConn as the favorite by anywhere between 6.5 points and 8 points; that is a pretty hefty number for a Final Game …

I must admit that I did not think the Aztecs were going to catch up to – – let alone get ahead of – – the Owls for much of the second half of that game on Saturday night.  They demonstrated outstanding poise in the end game and that poise led them to a slot in the Finals tonight.

I watched the women’s final game on Sunday between Iowa and LSU.  The game was a blowout for much of the time so it afforded me the opportunity to focus in minor things instead of watching offensive vs. defensive maneuverings on every possession.  Two things came from that focus on minor things:

  1. Let me just say that the officiating in the game was sketchy.  The technical foul on Caitlan Clark can be justified in the rulebook; the technical foul on Caitlan Clark for doing what she did is never called in a real game unless there has been “difficulty”: in the game prior to that call and the call is made to restore order.  Such was not the case on Sunday.
  2. When comparing men’s basketball and women’s basketball, the very obvious difference is the amount of action above the rim in the two versions of the game.  There is another difference that is related to the obvious one.  Interior defense in the women’s game is far less effective than it is in the men’s game.

ESPN says that the Women’s Final Four averaged 4.5 million viewers and that represents an audience increase of 66% as compared to last year.  The Final Game on Sunday had 5.5 million viewers.  All expectations have the men’s ratings and viewership declining in 2023 and the excuse given is that there are no nationally prominent teams involved – – like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA, UNC …  We shall see what the numbers for tonight’s final game are like.

Much had been made about the fact that secondary market process for tix to the women’s Final Four in Dallas were higher than for the men’s Final Four in Houston.  I suspect there are two factors that contributed to that reality:

  1. The women were playing in a basketball arena and the men are playing in a football stadium.  There are about 4 times as many seats available for the men’s games; the “supply side” of the Law of Supply and Demand may apply here.
  2. One team in the women’s Final Four (LSU) is not hugely distant from the site of the women’s Final Four; it is about a 6-hour drive.  None of the schools in the men’s Final Four are nearly as proximal to Houston; it is about a 18-hour drive from the Miami area to Houston – – and that is the closest campus.  The “demand side” of the Law of Supply and Demand may apply here.

Finally, here is an entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Human:  Any of a species of hominids that insist on using the highways, grocery stores, banks and post offices as the same freaking time as you.”

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