History In The Making?

In the process of trying to follow the fits and starts of the potential move of the A’s from Oakland to Las Vegas, I neglected an important curmudgeonly duty.  The 2023 iteration of the Oakland A’s is a hot mess caught in the middle of a dumpster fire.

  • The season is almost 40% over and the A’s record is 12-49.
  • That is a winning percentage of .197.
  • For the season that projects to a final record of 32-130.

In baseball, the “Modern Era” is said to begin in 1900.  In the Modern Era, the worst record ever posted by a team in a season was that of the expansion NY Mets in 1962.  Those Mets went 42-120 over the season so if the A’s continue on anything close to their current trajectory, they will shatter that mark of infamy by a stunning margin.

In the entire history of MLB, the worst record ever was in 1899; the team was the Cleveland Spiders who went 20-134 for the season (winning percentage = .130).  But that record needs a giant asterisk because:

  • The owner of the Spiders also owned the St. Louis Browns.
  • He thought he could draw more fans in St. Louis with a good team.
  • So, he ‘traded” all the good players from the Spiders to the Browns.

Why might the A’s be able to eclipse the Mets’ record of futility this year?  Two current stats stand out here:

  1. The A’s run differential as of this morning is minus-212.  They have played 61 games; so, they are losing games on average by 3.48 runs.
  2. The A’s team ERA is 6.69.  The worst ERA in history was in 1930 when the Phillies’ staff pitched to an ERA of 6.60.

Bottom Line:  The A’s don’t score and they don’t get enough opponents out.

No one had high expectations for the A’s this year, but no one predicted a start to the season evidencing this level of ineptitude.  There are two teams for which there were high hopes in 2023 that have dramatically underperformed to date.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals:  Many folks assessed the Cards as the best team in a not-so-formidable NL Central Division.  As of this morning the Cards are dead last in that NL Central Division race at 25-35.  That puts them 7,5 games out of first place there and 2 games behind the Reds who are in 4th place.
  2. San Diego Padres:  Back in March, the Padres were seen as a team poised to challenge the Dodgers’ dominance in the NL West.  As of this morning the Padres trail the Dodgers – – and the D-Backs too – – by 7.5 games and the Padres are 5 games under .500.  The team is loaded with talent but seems not to be able to “put the pieces together” even though reports have it that the Padres have had three player-only meetings.

In the tradition here of looking at both sides of the coin, there are also two teams that have done surprisingly well to this point of the season:

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks:  Expectations for the D-Backs were not high in March; most prognosticators had them fighting it out with the Rockies for 4th place in the NL West.  As of this morning they have the same record as the Dodgers atop that division; both teams are 35-25 to this point of the season.  The Dodgers are winning by bludgeoning opponents; the Dodgers’ run differential is +55.  The D-Backs are winning by scraping by; the D-Backs run differential is only +19.
  2. Texas Rangers:  Before the season began, most folks had the AL West as a race between the Astros and the Mariners with the Ranges running a respectable third to those teams.  Right now, the Rangers lead the Astros by 3.5 games and have the second-best record in MLB – – behind only the Rays.  Even more than the Dodgers, the Rangers are winning by dramatically outscoring opponents; the Rangers have by far the best run differential in MLB at a stunning +152.

As noted above, the season is only about 40% in the books; so, these comments reflect more than the kinds of things one might see in the first month of a season.  But the baseball playoffs are still not in focus out there on the horizon; there is plenty of time for disappointing teams to right the ship or for over-achievers to come back to Earth.  The only “certainty” for the 2023 MLB season right now seems to be that:

  • The Oakland A’s will stink!
  • But will they stink to the point that they will “historically stink”?

Finally, Casey Stengel knows a few things about winning and losing in MLB.  So, let me close today with three of his observations:

“Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa.”

And …

“Most ballgames are lost, not won.”

And …

“Going to bed with a woman never hurt a ballplayer.  It’s staying up all night looking for them that does you in.”

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



Punishment – – But Where’s the Crime?

Recent reports say that the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver are “nearing the end” of the investigation into what all happened regarding Ja Morant and his second gun-waving incident, but the Commish says he does not want to disrespect the two teams in the NBA Finals by breaking news that would take attention away from those Finals’ combatants. If that were really the case, Adam Silver would not have even said what he did because what he said took attention away from the NBA Finals.

The NY Post quoted Silver saying the following prior to the tip-off in Game 1 of the NBA Finals:

“We’ve uncovered a fair amount of additional information.  We probably could have brought it to a head now, but we’ve made the decision that it would be unfair to these players and these teams to announce that decision in the middle of this series.”

Maybe I am too dumb to grasp the significance here, but I have no idea what sort of investigation is so important here.  Since the police have not charged Morant with possession of an unregistered handgun – – which is sort of obvious in both of his “flashing incidents” captured on cell phone video – – I must assume that he is licensed to own the gun and to carry it on his person.  If that assumption is correct, then Ja Morant has not broken any laws, nor has he done anything other than demonstrate that he is an immature young man who appears to lack self-control.

So, how does an investigation into that sort of stuff lead the Commissioner to say:

“I don’t think we yet know what it will take to change his [Morant’s] behavior,”

Adam Silver is an adult who ought to realize that he is not going to change Ja Morant’s behavior until and unless Ja Morant is open to having his behavior changed.  Silver can suspend him and not allow him to participate in any NBA activities thereby taking away Morant’s source of income.  Maybe that would convince Morant to be open to changing his behavior; maybe not.  But I wonder why Adam Silver seems to think that it is his responsibility to change Ja Morant’s behavior and why he thinks he might succeed in that endeavor once he tries.  Meanwhile:

  • Memo to Ja Morant:  When you are out and about with your entourage, collect everyone’s cell phone and put them in your pocket so they cannot take videos of you.
  • And do not video yourself.
  • You’re welcome!

Moving on …  Tom Brady is in the process of seeking NFL approval to buy a minority interest in the Las Vegas Raiders and that has created speculation that he might be the QB for the Raiders starting in September.  Brady continues to deny this and there would be hurdles he would have to cross to get approval to be an owner/player, but those hurdles are not insurmountable.  Brady continues to assert that he is “retired for good” and that he is not interested in another “unretirement”.  Here is what he had to say on that matter:

“But I’m looking forward to my broadcasting job at Fox next year.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity ahead with the Raiders and we’re in the process of that along with the other different things that I’m a part of professionally and in my personal life.”

And …

“Just spending as much time with my kids as I can and seeing them grow up and support the different things that they have going on, and that’s a very important job. And I take them all pretty seriously.”

I am on record saying that I do not believe that Tom Brady will be a great color analyst for NFL games on TV.  Obviously, he knows the game extremely well and he is clearly bright and articulate; those are fundamental elements that go into being a great color analyst.  However, I think there are two factors that work against him and the second of those factors is reflected in his statements above:

  1. Tom Brady has been in hundreds of press events after games and proximal to training camp activities.  As I have watched many of them, I never got the impression that Brady was enjoying himself.  Some folks love being on camera and behind a microphone; Tom Brady does not look like one of those sorts of folks to me.
  2. More importantly, Tom Brady says he wants to be with his kids as much of the time as possible.  Well, NFL color analysts don’t get a lot of “home games” where they can spend multiple weekdays at home with their families.  Moreover, NFL color analysts do not just “helicopter in” for the broadcast(s) on Sundays; the preparation and production meetings often begin on Thursdays meaning he will be away from his kids most of the week from around Labor Day until late January of the next year.

I think that is a tough exacta to deal with.  I don’t think he will be doing something he loves to do, and I think that something will take him away from his kids more than just a little bit.  As that “exacta” begins to manifest itself, it would not be shocking if Tom Brady came to the personal realization that TV was not his calling in life.  And if that happens, his performance will deteriorate simply because people rarely do well when they do not like what they are doing.  This is not a knock on Tom Brady; this is simply not the way human beings are wired.

Finally, I woke up this morning with this quotation in my mind for no apparent reason.  So, let me close with it even though it has nothing to do with anything above.  It is from General George S. Patton:

“Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country.  He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

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



NBA Finals Start Tonight

The Nuggets and the Heat will tip off for Game 1 of the NBA Finals tonight at 8:30 EDT.  The recently concluded Eastern Conference Final series was a TV monster for the NBA setting more than a few records for audience size along the way.  Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals averaged 11.3 million viewers and that number had to be drawn down to some extent by the blowout in Game 7 meaning some fans turned the game off before it ended.  I suspect that the Finals will have difficulty living up to that standard as a TV property even though I expect that the audience size will be significant.

Jerry Brewer is a national sports columnist for the Washington Post, and this is his lead paragraph for a column in today’s sports Section:

“During these NBA Finals, basketball will have to be enough. There are no championship-collecting icons to obsess over, no dynasties to dissect, no obvious pizazz to entice casual followers to join the avid. It’s just the Denver Nuggets and the Miami Heat — two teams full of substance but lacking garnish — ready to give the sport what it needs, even if some of the audience may not want it.”

He’s right.  This series will be about basketball on the court and not about grand philosophical considerations.  Both teams play sound, fundamental basketball and you are not going to see any players on the court “dogging it” for very long because both coaches will pull any player doing so.  This will be a steak and baked potato type of Series not a chateaubriand and scalloped potato type.

Switching gears …  Think back about a year or so to the story about wealthy parents trying to buy their kids’ way into prestigious schools by getting a coach of a minor sport to tell the admissions people that the kid was a potential athlete.  The involvement of various celebrities gave the story panache and when those minor celebs plead guilty to various charges the story was refreshed and imprinted on peoples’ minds.  Well, a recent twist in that story seems not to have gotten nearly the same amount of “splash coverage”.

It turns out that two men chose not to plead guilty to a variety of charges and went to trial.  A jury convicted them of a whole bunch of things and the defendants appealed that conviction.  A US Court of Appeals recently ruled 3-0 to set aside all the charges against one defendant and all but one charge against the other defendant.  [Aside:  The conviction that was upheld was for filing a false tax return.]

That whole investigation and set of charges for violating Federal Laws always struck me as an edifice balanced on a knife edge.  It never occurred to me that the US Congress in its infinitesimal wisdom would have even tried to legislate what a parent could or could not do regarding college admission applications.  Of course, because the presumed ne’er-do-wells in this case were either very rich or had celebrity status, this generated public agita and the process went forward.

I am going to say something here that sounds very elitist.  I do not intend it to be elitist, but I do believe that it is American reality in 2023:

  • Kids with rich parents have specific and tangible advantages over kids with poor parents in many arenas – – including college admissions.  That may offend sensibilities but that cannot be made illegal.

Allow me to give a specific example here.  Phil Knight is the co-founder and “Chairman-Emeritus” of Nike.  Forbes says that his net worth is $41.7B.  Knight is an alum of the University of Oregon and according to reports he has donated more than $1B to the University of Oregon for things such as the renovation of the school library and the construction of a law school facility.  In addition, his gifts to the school also funded major athletic department projects.

Now, imagine for a moment that Phil Knight has a grandchild – – gender does not matter here – – and that child decides to apply for admission to the University of Oregon.  Imagine the applicant is simply that – – an applicant – – with no outstanding athletic or academic prowess in evidence.  The kid is a good student, (s)he has not had any police run-ins; (s)he is the classic alter ego of your friendly neighborhood super-hero.  Question:

  • What are that child’s chances for acceptance by the University of Oregon?

The answer is 100% – – and there is nothing wrong with that.  The difference between my hypothetical here and the celebrated cases from about a year ago is that Knight did not make those contributions with a specific grandchild’s admission in mind – – even though he virtually guaranteed such a result absent a felony conviction for the applicant.  What those rich parents from a year ago are actually guilty of is stupidity.  Instead of trying to pay off some minor sports coach or athletic department factotum to get an edge in the admissions process, they should have dug into their wallets and made a six-figure donation to the school’s general fund.

Stupidity is not against the law – – and if it were, the biggest growth sector of the economy would be in prison construction.  The US Court of Appeals thinks that is the case.  The judge writing for the decision to set aside the convictions also said:

“Nothing in this opinion should be taken as approval of the defendants’ conduct in seeking college admission for their children.  We do not say the defendants’ conduct is at all desirable.”

Finally, having mentioned stupidity above, let me close with this assessment by Albert Einstein:

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

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