Wimbledon Withdrawls

Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka announced that they will not participate at Wimbledon this year.  Osaka said that she will be preparing to play in the Olympics for the host country starting on July 23rd ; Wimbledon will begin this year on 28 June and – presuming that Osaka would go deep into the tournament – would not end until 10 July for the women.  That would cut short preparation time and recovery time prior to the Olympics and – in reality – Ms. Osaka has no choice here; she must choose to represent Japan at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Nadal is a different story; he announced his withdrawal from Wimbledon saying that he was “listening to his body”.  Nadal just turned 35 a couple of weeks ago and lost in the finals of the French Open a week ago.  In “dog years”, Nadal is only 5 years old; in “tennis years”, he is a grizzled veteran.  My interpretation here is that Nadal recognizes that his body will no longer make it through the rigors of the “full tennis schedule” and he is now at the point in his career where he will have to pick and choose his appearances.

I think both players have made rational decisions; neither deserves criticism for their choice.

I ran across an item earlier this week that rang a distant bell, so I had to go looking for the backstory.  The report this week was that the women’s basketball coach at Detroit Mercy “left the university” and was replaced by one of the assistant coaches.  What I did not recall until doing some searching was that it was the Detroit Mercy women’s basketball team that quit on the season earlier this year and sent a letter to the Athletic Director there saying that the coach had abused them emotionally and that there were NCAA violations ongoing within the program.  They said they would not play unless the coach was removed.  At the time the letter was delivered, the Detroit Mercy women’s record was 1-13.

The school did not fire the coach; in fact, after investigating the charges outlined in the letter to the AD, the school found that “the most serious allegations were found to be false and unsubstantiated”.  So, at this point all seems right with the program – – except now the coach leaves the university and the explanation for that separation is that it was an “HR personnel matter” that had nothing to do with NCAA violations or student-athlete matters.

  • If this were a Star Trek episode, I believe the stage directions here would be for a close-up of Mr. Spock raising one eyebrow with a quizzical look on his face…

You can read an excellent summary of this less-than-clear matter here in a solid piece of reporting in the Detroit Free Press.  It seems to me that the bottom line is that the school and the team are going to start over and that nothing nearly resembling “the whole story” has been told by any of the parties involved.

The Super Bowl game is still almost 8 months away but there are reports that NBC, which has the telecast rights to the game next February, is already out selling advertising slots.  One report says that NBC is asking up to $6M per 30-second time slot for the most desirable positions within the game.  Last year, the prime slots cost $5.6M apiece; NBC’s asking price represents a 7% increase to the client.  Seven percent is more than the rate of inflation and/or the cost of living but it is not an increase that one might be tempted to call usurious.  Now it is time to cue the voiceover for one of those late-night infomercials:

  • But wait; there’s more…

According to one report that I read, NBC may also require an advertiser who wants one of the “prime slot positions” for the Super Bowl ad to purchase some advertising time during the Olympic Games, which is also going to be an NBC presentation.  If the Games in 2021 take place in their entirety, there will be 33 sports represented and here is a most inconvenient truth for NBC and any potential advertisers:

  • The majority of these 33 sports will not attract a TV audience too large to fit into a typical suburban high school gym.
  • The Super Bowl game will attract – in round numbers – 100 million viewers in the US.
  • That number will not be achieved if you add together all the viewers for all the events in archery, badminton, canoeing, fencing, handball, modern pentathlon, shooting, skateboarding and sport climbing.

You may recall that I wrote about a lawsuit brought in a Federal Court seeking to return the MLB All-Star Game because the suit alleged that the Constitutional rights of Atlanta’s business owners – small and large – had been violated.  The plaintiff there was an entity called the Job Creators Network and it sought an injunction from the court.

Well, since the All-Star Game is going to take place on July 13th, the court had to hear the matter expeditiously.  It did so and Judge Valerie Caproni threw the case out.  That is not so unusual; lots of cases get thrown out of court and every lawsuit has a winner and a loser.  But Judge Caproni was rather direct in explaining her decision:

“To say that the legal underpinnings of this lawsuit are weak and muddled is an understatement.  The plaintiff alleges that [MLB and the Players’ Union] were members of a conspiracy to violate JCN members’ constitutional rights … but I am still at a loss to understand how.”

And …

“But whether small business owners as a group agree or disagree, are deeply divided or are agnostic on that issue, it is hard to see how MLB’s decision had an impact on the equal protection rights of small business owners as a group.”

To me, that sounds like a reasonable decision and one that clearly outlines the deficiencies of the plaintiff’s case.  My original conclusion was that we would hear no more about this until I read at the end of the report that – – JCN planned to appeal the ruling and continue the matter.  Sigh…

Finally, apropos of nothing, here is an observation from H. L. Mencken from more than 80 years ago.  Imagine what he might think about today:

“The typical American of today has lost all the love of liberty that his forefathers had, and all their disgust of emotion, and pride in self-reliance.  He is led no longer by Davy Crocketts; he is led by cheer leaders, press agents, word-mongers, uplifters.”

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



Handing Out Some Orchids And Some Onions Here

I need to offer thanks again to Gregg Drinnan for keeping me up to speed on the CFL’s plans to return to the field in 2021.  The league’s Board of Governors voted to have a 14-game season – – fewer games than normal – – that would begin on August 5th  with training camps to open on July 10th.  When players arrive, they will go through a quarantine period before practices and there will be no Exhibition Games.  Assuming that all goes well and the coronavirus does not re-emerge significantly, the CFL will end its season with a Grey Cup Game on December 12th in Hamilton, ON.  The CFL was dark for all of 2020; this is an important step for the league; hopefully, they can pull off the season with only minor glitches.

South of the border, the NFL took an interesting step with regard to managing the COVID pandemic.  The NFL announced some changes to its COVID protocols to include:

  • There will be in-person media interviews this year but not in locker rooms.
  • There will be fines of up to $50K for violations of protocols.
  • There will be minimal restrictions placed on vaccinated players.
  • Players, coaches and team staff members are all subject to these rules.

Importantly, these new rules/guidelines/protocols have been drawn up as the result of consultations between the NFL, the NFLPA and medical folks.  Many people like to refer to a need to “return to normalcy”; this is an example of a “return to rationality”.  Folks with specific knowledge (the medical folks) provided their expertise to the relevant parties (the league and the union) and the relevant parties worked together to get something done in a positive way.  Slow down here, folks; I need to catch my breath…

One feature of the new processes is that vaccinated players/coaches/staff members will need to be tested for COVID-19 only once every 14 days.  Unvaccinated players etc. will still undergo daily testing.  More importantly – to me – is the provision that vaccinated players will not be subject to quarantine based on contact tracing while unvaccinated folks can face quarantines of various lengths based on contact tracing and the degree of closeness of that contact.  What the NFL and the union have done here is to provide incentives – in the form of convenience – to players who have not yet taken the vaccine.

Since I firmly believe that vaccines work and since I am totally confident that there are no microchips in the vaccine nor is there any sort of magnetic interaction between the vaccine and the 5G cell phone radiation in the air, I believe this a positive step.  Players can still choose not to take the vaccine – – but if something “goes wrong” for them they will have a more stringent set of hurdles to jump over before returning to the team and/or the playing field.  Kudos to the league and the union for that.

I have not seen reports about the acceptance of the vaccine among the sports reporters who cover NFL teams.  There too, the league and the union have set up an incentive system to encourage vaccinations.  Vaccinated media members will have access to training facilities, sidelines and press boxes.  They will be allowed to interview players, coaches and team staff members face-to-face so long as social distancing is practiced.  Here too, media members can choose to take the vaccine or not take the vaccine as is their choice.

It seems as if I am handing out a lot of praise this morning and that is not the normal tone and tenor around these parts.  So let me now cast a quizzical and cynical gaze at an entry in the Sports Digest compendium in today’s Washington Post:

“Louisiana Lafayette’s Cajun Field will undergo $15M in renovations and improvements because of a local hospital providing the largest philanthropic gift in the history of the athletic department.

“Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center will receive naming rights in exchange for what Athletic Director Bryan Maggard called a ‘transformational gift’.”

I claim no expertise in medicine or in hospital administration, but a few thoughts came to mind immediately as I read those two paragraphs:

  • Why would a hospital want or need naming rights to a stadium?  Is advertising and promotion that significant for a hospital?
  • From the name of the hospital, I assume this is a church-related facility and therefore operates as a non-profit entity.  [I have no idea how to find out such financial info about a hospital but it sure sounds that way to me.]  So, why is a faith-based facility handing out $15M to a football stadium – – as opposed to something like cancer research or autism treatment or even upgrades to the hospital’s surgical capabilities?
  • The cynic in me thinks that if the hospital had $15M lying around after the hospital’s medical needs were funded and taken care of, perhaps they could think about the option of lowering some of their charges for care.  I guess not…

Now I feel more like my normal uncharitable self…

Bob Baffert is back in the news.  He has filed suit in a Federal court in Brooklyn seeking to have his suspension by the New York Racing Authority overturned.  The suit claims that he was denied due process when the NYRA issued the ban when Medina Spirit failed a drug test after finishing first in the Kentucky Derby.  The suit says that by banning him from NY tracks, he could lose horses assigned to him by owners and those horses would be worth “tens of millions of dollars”.

I would definitely need one of the lawyers who reads these things to chime in here, but my understanding is that “due process” must be afforded by government entities or institutions that act on the behalf of the government – – like a National Laboratory or something like that.  From a look at the NYRA site, it appears to me to be a private entity created by the racetracks and the folks that own and run the tracks.  If I am correct here, I guess I do not understand the reliance on “due process” in the lawsuit.  Whatever…  I am more confident about this next statement than I am about the previous one:

  • If Baffert had not had a dozen failed drug tests among his horses – – worth tens of millions of dollars no less – – over the past half year or so, he would never have been remotely in danger of a suspension.  The NYRA did not pull this action out of their figurative anal orifice; they may have been hyperbolic in saying they did this because of their reverence for the purity of the sport, but they did not pick Baffert’s name out of a hat to make their point.

Finally, since I mentioned advertising – by a hospital no less – above, let me close with two observations about advertising:

“Advertising may be described as the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it.”  Stephen Leacock

And …

“Advertising is the modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear the better.”  George Santayana

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



The Olympics And the Copa America

These rants debuted on the Internet in mid-2001.  Ignoring the occasional Topical Rant and the late-but-not-lamented Mythical Picks posted here, the Daily Rants comprise the bulk of the offerings.  Today marks the 4000th Daily Rant.  If this pace continues, I could reach 5000 in about 5 years.  Onward…

Living in the DC suburbs, the Washington Post is my local paper; I get lots of information and inspiration for the stuff I write here from the Post.  However, yesterday, the information for today’s rant came from the front section and not the sports section; that is not normally the case.  On the front page, there is a report from Tokyo about the sentiments in Japan as they get closer to the scheduled beginning of the Olympic Games.  There is frustration and anger there at the former Prime Minister who sought a one-year postponement of the Games last summer locking in this August as the scheduled date; there is frustration and anger with the IOC; there is frustration with the Japanese bureaucracy that has been amazingly slow to react to the COVID pandemic considering Japan’s status as a developed country with a stable economy.

As things stand now, the Games will go on – – but there will not be any fans from outside Japan in the stands.  There may – or may not – be people from Japan attending some of the contests at some of the venues; but they will be told not to cheer or shout, nor will they be allowed to eat or drink alcohol while in attendance.  Even the athletes will have a different experience as compared to other Olympiads; once the athletes have finished their performances, they will be told to go home instead of being able to stay on in the Olympic Village.

Japan has been slow to get a vaccination program going; there is a significant “vaccine-hesitancy in the country and the way things look now, most people under the age of 65 in Japan will not be vaccinated by the time the Games are scheduled to begin; official estimates say that 5-8% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated at this time.  Public opinion in Japan is not favorable toward the games nor to the government bureaucrats that have allowed this less-than-satisfactory situation to obtain.  And all of that puts a backdrop on a story that broke last week saying that 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers for the Olympics have let organizers know that they are not going to do what they had volunteered to do.

According to an Associated Press report, the Olympics in Sydney back in 2000 had 40,000 volunteers who provided about $60M worth of services for the organizers.  It was not clear from the report why the games in Tokyo would need 80,000 volunteers but losing more than 10% of that “free labor” so late in the game cannot make life any easier for organizers.  Bob Molinaro reacted to the resignation of volunteers with this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Future watch: Should the Tokyo Olympics go on as planned? Seven weeks before the lighting of the flame, 10,000 Japanese volunteers voted with their feet, walking out on unpaid jobs. But at this late date, it’s full- speed ahead.”

On an inside page of the front section of yesterday’s Washington Post there was a story with the following headline:

  • As virus rages on, Brazil braces for international soccer matches

Just to give you a flavor of the report, here is the first paragraph:

“RIO DE JANEIRO – Most Brazilians don’t want it.  Major sponsors have fled.  Even players balked at the idea.  But ready or not, the Copa America, one of Latin America’s most important sporting spectacles, is coming to town.”

The pandemic situation in Japan is not good; they lag badly in vaccinations.  The pandemic situation is Brazil is much worse; Brazilians face a third wave of infections and rising death rates.  In soccer-crazed Brazil more than 60% of Brazilians oppose hosting the tournament; one Brazilian senator has called this the “championship of death”.  Brazil is home to a variant of the coronavirus that appears to be more transmissible than the dominant one here in the US.  The presence of that variant has created this “third wave” of infections which has resulted in 70,000 new cases per day in Brazil.  The idea of crowds forming during and after matches with low vaccination rates and a highly transmissible virus is not appealing to public health professionals.

Once again, politics comes into play.  President Jair Bolsonaro has a very low approval rating at home.  When other Latin American countries said they would not host this year’s tournament, Bolsonaro stepped into the vacuum an announced – unilaterally – that Brazil would take on the task.  Here is the way he explained his decision:

“The Copa America will happen in Brazil.  From the beginning I’ve been saying in regard to the pandemic:  I’m sorry for the deaths, but we have to live.”

Here is some of what teams and players face regarding this year’s Copa America:

  • Venezuela left three players home when they tested positive for COVID.  After arriving in Brazil, another 8 players plus 3 coaches tested positive.  The team sent them home and “called up” 15 new players for the squad.  Venezuela lost its first game yesterday to Brazil by a 3-0 score.
  • Bolivia had 3 players and 1 coach test positive after arrival in Brazil.  The rest of the team is in quarantine instead of at practice.  Bolivia’s first game in the tournament is later today against Paraguay.

I often point out in these rants that the intersection of sports and politics is usually bad news.  The two examples above would seem at first glance to be an intersection between sports and the pandemic – – but the political dimension in both situations makes the two a three-train collision.  Such a mess…

Finally, since today’s rant has been about the pandemic, let me close with Mark Twain’s observation about health:

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”

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



Odds And Ends At The End Of A Week

Because I had asked Gregg Drinnan about any CFL scuttlebutt he might run across, he sent me an email saying that a CFL-insider had Tweeted that the league informed its players’ union that an announcement would come on June 14 and that announcement would commit the CFL to a season starting on August 5th.  That would be a truncated season – – but remember that last year the CFL was dark.  My response was that I hoped the announcement would be a positive one and asked if Drinnan thought the CFL could survive a second consecutive “dark year”?

Here is Greg Drinnan’s response to that query:

“I still think there will be issues getting American players over the border and into quarantine. And the stuff will hit the fan if they get Americans here and then end up with positive tests.

“I’m someone who thinks there always will be a CFL, even if we were to lose another complete season. Keep in mind that it likely wouldn’t be around in its present state (well, in its 2019 state) if not for the TV contract with TSN. But places like Winnipeg and Regina have new stadiums that need tenants. . . . I also think that in the long run this will be good for the CFL in terms of getting their financial planning back in order. In my opinion, the teams were spending too much money, especially when you consider the size of the American player pool.”

Hopefully, there will be positive news on the front coming next week …

Here in the US, Sunday Night Football is a TV-ratings monster; it has been the highest rated show on the air multiple years in a row.  NBC is making a change in the coverage associated with SNF this season.  NBC signed Rodney Harrison to a new 2-year deal with alterations in his duties.  Previously on the studio show, Football Night in America, Harrison was in studio with his cohorts.  Starting this year, he will be replaced in studio by Drew Brees and Harrison will participate and report from wherever the game site for the week happens to be.  The rest of the crew for the studio show will remain intact – – Mike Tirico, Tony Dungy, Chris Simms and Mike Florio.

Earlier this week, there was an article on CBSSports.com with a headline that identified 4 players who should pull their names out of the NBA Draft Eligibility pool.  As I have noted here before, there are almost 6 times as many players in the pool as there are draft slots to be filled.  Approximately 290 of the players “in the pool” will “come up dry” so to speak.  And the analysts at CBSSports.com could only identify 4 guys who should get out?

It would be interesting to try to know the motivations and the expectations of some of the players who have declared for the NBA Draft this year.  I realize that for many players in college basketball, a career in the NBA has been a goal and a dream for – probably – more than a decade.  I also realize that many college basketball players have been sweet-talked to in recruiting situations and in game prep situations by coaches and assistant coaches and former coaches.  [Aside:  I could have said the coaches had lied to the players along the line but that would be too harsh, so I chose to call it “sweet-talking”.]

The players who had declared for the Draft are 19-22 years old – generally – and most of them have never experienced the harsh reality of a candid and totally objective assessment of their playing abilities and playing potential.  One can “blame the players” for having an inflated sense of self-worth here but that is unreasonable; these are barely chronological adults and deep self-awareness at that age exists in only a small fraction of humanity.  [For the record, when I was 22 years old, I thought I might just win a Nobel Prize in chemistry one of those days.  Yeah, right !!]

If there is indeed “blame” to be doled out here, I think it must be directed mainly toward the adults who have interacted with these young players.  Most parents do not tell their kids:

“Hey, you’re really good – – but keep it in perspective kid, you’re not goanna make it as far as the NBA.”

Coaches seeking to recruit these players – or to motivate them once they are members of the coach’s team – probably do not harp on this message:

“What makes you think there are any NBA scouts here in the audience to watch you play?  They have better things to do.”

I could go on and make up other “conversations” that never happened even though there may have been a time or two when sitting down with the player and trying to give him an unvarnished view of reality would have been a good and proper thing to do.  If most of the players in the Draft pool can be seen as “delusional”, part of their “delusion” has been foisted upon them and reinforced by adults around them.

Just in case you think I am being too harsh on coaches who come in contact with young basketball players as they are coming through the system, let me clue you in on one high school coaching staff thatl seems to have represented the dregs of the barrel.  Sweet-talking players is disingenuous and is a veiled form of self-interest on the part of the coach.  Those are not admirable traits, but they are understandable behaviors given the circumstances.  However, those ignoble behaviors are paragons of virtue compared to a staff of high school football coaches in Ohio who have all been fired for – allegedly to be sure:

“… forcing a player to eat pork — which goes against his religious beliefs — as punishment for missing a voluntary workout.”

Supposedly the player – who is Jewish – missed a “voluntary” workout in the team weight room.  The school statement regarding the firing of the coaching staff called it a “misguided attempt to instill discipline” when the player was forced to eat an entire pepperoni pizza as his punishment.  All I can say is that I suspect Rod Serling is looking down on that situation and asking himself how he missed that plot line for a Twilight Zone episode.

Finally, let me close with an observation from the noted satirist, Jonathan Swift, that may relate to those players in the NBA Draft pool who will end up undrafted:

“Happiness is the perpetual possession of being well deceived.”

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



CFP Expansion On The Horizon?

Earlier this week, the NY Post reported that there is momentum building to expand the College Football Playoff.  I was not particularly surprised to read that; there is money to be made by adding playoff games and the college football mavens are not allergic to making more money by any stretch of the imagination.  However, what was a big surprise is that the Post said the favored option now is to expand from a four-team playoff to a twelve-team playoff.

Here is one potential design for a 12-team playoff:

  • Five slots go to the champions of the Power 5 Conferences.
  • One slot goes to the highest ranked Group of 5 Conference champions
  • Six slots are at-large and at the discretion – whimsy? – of the Selection Committee.
  • The top four ranked teams get a first-round BYE; then everyone plays on.

This expansion – indeed any expansion even if only to 6 teams – will address one of the criticisms of the current structure:

  • Since its inception, there have been 28 teams involved in CFP games.
  • Four schools – Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma – have occupied 20 of those 28 game slots.

And there is the rub…  The whole idea of an elite playoff “tournament” – the four best teams in the country squaring off against one another – is to present a football product of three exciting and high-quality football contests.  That has not happened over the 7-year history of the CFP; there have been 21 games and only 6 of them have been decided by 7 points or less.  More telling is this breakdown:

  • There have been 14 semi-final games; 3 of them were one-score games.
  • There have been 7 championship games; 3 of them were one-score games.

So, adding more “preliminary games” is somehow going to add to the top-shelf quality of the TV product and will likely produce more close contests?  I do not get that at all…  I do acknowledge that smaller schools that are not traditionally football powerhouses can rise up and pull off a huge upset.  The folks in Ann Arbor surely recall less than fondly a visit by Appalachian State back in 2007 where the Mountaineers beat the Wolverines 34-32.  I know such things can and do happen – – but not regularly.  After all, that happened 14 years ago; and it still stands out as an oddity – like a giant pimple on the face of a movie star on the red carpet on Oscar night.

I feel the need here to recall a famous bit of analysis by Damon Runyon:

“It may be that the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong – but that is the way to bet.”

I am not opposed to expanding the CFP; giving some other teams access/exposure to the playoff format is a positive move.  But I think a 12-team field will add a lot of window-dressing as opposed to quality games.

Whilst on the subject of college football, there is a sad and macabre situation unfolding at VA Tech.  Isi Etute is a freshman there and is a 3-star recruit as a linebacker; he enrolled at VA Tech in January 2021.  Etute was arrested and charged with second-degree murder; according to prosecutors, here is what happened:

  • Etute was on Tinder and connected with “Angie” on that dating site.  Allegedly, they agreed to meet in person for a session of oral sex.
  • Upon meeting, Etute learned that “Angie” was a 40-year-old male and at that point Etute “lost it” and punched the man and kicked him in the head once the man was on the ground.
  • Etute left the scene; the man’s body was discovered 2 days later.

[None of the above has been proven in court yet; these remain allegations as of today – – other than the demise of the 40-year-old male.  He remains dead.]

VA Tech issued a carefully crafted public statement about this incident.  Two things stood out from that statement:

  1. Etute has been suspended from the football team.  [I should hope so…]
  2. Etute was a freshman majoring in “Human Development” prior to his “interim suspension” from the school.  [Human Development … Really?]

Moving on …  Ron Rivera is taking a proactive position with the WTFs in their minicamp.  He brought in a “vaccine expert” to address the team trying to enhance understanding of the vaccine available for COVID-19.  Rivera said in general terms that about half of the team roster has been vaccinated.  He is certainly not going to mandate vaccination nor will he direct – or even suggest – that players avoid the vaccine; he is presenting them with expert information to let them make an informed decision about “getting jabbed”.  Kudos to Ron Rivera…

Here is an indicator of why “education” might be necessary here.  According to reports, Montez Sweat – defensive end for the WTFs – sees no reason to take the vaccine because:

  • He does not have COVID, so he sees no reason to treat COVID.  If he contracts COVID, then he will treat it.

The logic there is impeccable – save for one detail.  Vaccines do not treat a disease; vaccines seek to prevent the recipient from getting it in the first place.  Education is important…

Finally, since I referred to Damon Runyon earlier, here are several of his other observations:

“Life is tough, and it’s really tough when you are stupid.”

And …

“Always try to rub up against money, for if you rub up against money long enough, some of it may rub off on you.”

And …

“[Christy] Matthewson pitched against Cincinnati yesterday.  Another way of putting it is that Cincinnati lost a game of baseball.  The first statement means the same as the second.”

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



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………