A Sports Management Experiment

Back in early April, the Washington Wizards fired GM, Ernie Grunfeld; most Wizards fans – there are still a few of them around – figured it was about time.  Then, the Wizards either did not or could not find a GM to replace Grunfeld; they went through the Draft and through free agency with an Acting GM – the guy who was Grunfeld’s second-in command.  Yesterday, after more than 100 days in limbo, the announcement came about the new regime in Washington.  Let me tell you what the change is and then get to what it may mean.

The Wizards are owned by an entity called Monumental Sports and Entertainment.  Ted Leonsis is the major domo there.  The Washington Capitals also come under this umbrella as do some other sporting properties.  Yesterday’s announcement was a reorganization of not just the Wizards’ front office but all Monumental Sports and Entertainment.

  • They have created something they will call Monumental Basketball under that umbrella entity.  Monumental Basketball will be comprised of the Wizards, the Mystics (WNBA), the Capital City Go-Go (G-League) and District Gaming (the NBA2K video game team participating in esports).
  • They named Tommy Sheppard – the guy who has been the Acting GM for the last 3.5 months – as the GM of this new Monumental Basketball entity.  Joining him will be Sashi Brown who has NFL executive credentials as the chief planning and operations officer, Daniel Medina as the chief of athlete care, John Thompson III as leader of “athlete development and engagement” and Sashia Jones who has been with the Mystics as head of community relations.

[Sashi Brown’s “NFL executive credentials” include being the GM of the Cleveland Browns for almost two seasons while the Browns’ record sunk to 1-27.]

This is a new organizational structure for an NBA franchise; Ted Leonsis comes from the corporate world and has done lots of things “differently” over the course of his career in that world along with his time in the sports world.  Leonsis said that he had spoken with lots of folks over the past 3 months about what to do with the Wizards’ organization.  Here is an interesting quotation:

“The most interesting conversations I was having was with people with the league.  The leagues are now being filled with executives leading basketball operations that came from business.  So, I said, ‘Why can’t we do both?’  Why can’t we make big investments and go deep in basketball and then bring people into that tangential experience, but they’re really, really smart and they add a lot of value?”

Well, since no one has tried that before, that ultimate question has no answer yet.  Moreover, it may not have an answer for several years as one sees how the fortunes of the multiple entities under Monumental Basketball perform vis á vis their peers.  Leonsis heralds the diversity of this management team – in terms of race, gender and background expertise – as an asset for Monumental Basketball that is not present elsewhere.  Time will tell if that asset provides tangible returns or if that asset is only rhetorical.

Fans and local commentators tend to see this move as a plus.  After all, the standard NBA model of hiring a GM who hires a coach and letting those guys run the show the way they see fit has not worked at all for the Wizards.  The last time the Wizards – or the Bullets before the team changed its name in 1996 – ever advanced beyond the first round of the NBA Playoffs was in 1978/79.  Leonsis took control of the team after the 2010 season; since then the Wizards’ record has been 327-396; if the objective were mediocrity, the Wizards would be highly successful.  So, here is the deal as I see it:

  • Scenario 1:  This is Ted Leonsis thinking outside the box one more time.  He finally gave up on Ernie Grunfeld and in the process of making that decision he also began to think about other ways to organize the Wizards and that led him to think about the other basketball entities under his control.  He has had management successes in the past; this is an experiment worth trying; the Wizards may leapfrog the rest of the NBA in terms of innovative strategies.
  • Scenario 2:  After giving up on Ernie Grunfeld, Ted Leonsis tried to hire a new GM but was unsuccessful.  After using Tommy Sheppard as the Acting GM to run the Draft and free agency, he needed to do something more than just naming Sheppard as the GM going forward lest anyone ask what took him so long.  And thus was born this new structure that contains paeans to “collaboration” and “diversity” and …  This is a face-saving move for Leonsis and will quietly be deconstructed over time.

At the MLB Hall of Fame induction ceremony last weekend, there were 6 inductees.  That meant the people in attendance needed the patience of Job to sit through the introductory and acceptance speeches.  However, the folks who organized the day made a symbolic and strategic decision that worked perfectly:

  • Mariano Rivera – the only player elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame and the best closer in the history of MLB – spoke last.  He closed out the ceremony.


Finally, consider this observation by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A message in a bottle — dropped overboard by a teen boy in 1969 — finally washed up on shore in South Australia.

“In other words, aimlessly adrift at sea only two years less than the Toronto Maple Leafs.”

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



Politics, Sociology – – And Sports…

I really prefer to steer clear of political commentary and topics with a huge political overhang here, but Dan LeBatard put such a topic front and center last week on his daily ESPN Radio program.  Responding to the political rally in which President Trump’s supporters chanted “Send her back…” referring to a freshman member of the US House of representatives, LeBatard had this to say:

“It is so wrong, what the president of our country is doing trying to get reelected by dividing the masses at a time when the old white man – the old rich white man – feels oppressed, being attacked by minorities.”

And …

“And we here at ESPN don’t have the stomach for the fight.  We don’t talk about what is happening unless there is some sort of weak, cowardly sports angles we can run it through.”

That second quote refers to ESPN’s directive to employees that it is not their job to cover politics; they are an entertainment and sports network.

One bit of information you need to know as background for those comments is that Dan LeBatard’s parents came to the US as Cuban refugees more than 50 years ago.  And the other thing you should know is that the reaction to his commentary bifurcated into the two “camps” that you would expect here;

  • Camp 1:  You are hosting a sports show not a political or social commentary show.  Stick to your knitting and talk about sports; that is what your audience tuned in to hear.
  • Camp 2:  When a societal issue is important to you and you have a platform to make your views known, you have the right to do so and you have a responsibility to do so for the benefit of society at large.

Here is my problem:

  • There is merit to the positions taken by both camps.  If I tune into the Dan LeBatard Show on ESPN Radio, I do so with the intent of hearing about sports and/or some sort of wacky happening somewhere that has some tangential connection with sports.  If I want to listen to social/political commentary, I can easily find it on NPR on my radio.
  • In many cases where a sports commentator veers off into social/political commentary, I always ask myself what credentials that person brings to the discussion other than a live microphone.  That often ends the “controversy” for me as I proceed to ignore much of what is said.  However, in this case, Dan LeBatard is a first-generation American born of immigrant parents; he has background that lends credence to his feelings.

The controversy here is magnified by the ESPN policy of “sticking to sports”.  As is often the case when there is an intersection between sports and sociopolitical issues, Sally Jenkins provided a very reasoned and dispassionate perspective in the Washington PostHere is a link to her column from 20 July; I recommend that you read it in its entirety.

There is an adage that says, “In for a dime; in for a dollar.”  This isn’t a poker game, but I will reference that adage and turn to one more issue where sports and politics intersect these days.  In the wake of the USWNT’s World Cup win and their fight for equal pay, it did not take long for a Presidential Candidate to take up their cause.  Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) grabbed onto that equal pay cause and expanded it to say that there need be an examination of the pay inequity that exists between the NBA and the WNBA.  Senator Klobuchar has enunciated some reasonable positions and proposals as part of her campaign to be the Democratic nominee in 2020.  However, the idea that there needs to be some sort of pay equity balancing between the NBA and the WNBA is patently ridiculous when one compares the revenue generated by the two entities.

Over and above the business aspects of that debate, it should not be forgotten that the WNBA was formed by the NBA and bankrolled by the NBA through at least a decade of red ink for the WNBA.  There is a reasonable argument to be made that the WNBA would not exist in the form that it does today without the “largesse” of the NBA and former Commissioner, David Stern.

There is another complicating factor in the “equal pay” contretemps ongoing between the USWNT and the US Soccer mavens.  There was an extensive report in the LA Times written by Kevin Baxter about a week ago that makes the case that the “equal pay” controversy is much more complicated than it has been made out to be.  At one point, Baxter points out that the women are currently paid more than the men’s team is paid under certain circumstances.  Here is a link to that LA Times report; once again, I suggest that you read it to get a deeper understanding of the issues that will hopefully be resolved in mediation very soon.

Finally, I have had enough serious stuff today; so, here is a Tweet from humor writer Brad Dickson to lighten the mood a bit:

“Now that the Wallendas have walked across Times Square on a tightrope they’re planning their next, even more dangerous stunt: to check it at a resort in the Dominican Republic and stay for a full week.”

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



NBA Matters…

CBSSports.com had a report yesterday that former NBA All-Star and former Utah Jazz long-term coach, Jerry Sloan, is dying of Parkinson’s and dementia.  Jerry Sloan was the coach of the Utah Jazz from 1988 to 2011.  Here are some overviews of that coaching career:

  • In those 23 seasons, the Jazz had exactly 1 season with a .500 record.
  • In those 23 seasons, the Jazz had exactly 2 seasons with a record below .500
  • The Jazz made the playoffs 15 consecutive seasons from 1989 to 2003
  • His record with the Jazz was 1163 – 675

Jerry Sloan is in the Hall of Fame as a coach and certainly deserves to be there.  For me, Jerry Sloan was also the kind of player I loved to watch as a younger fan.  He was a defensive stand-out making the NBA First Team All-Defensive Team 4 times.  Never did I see him play at anything less than 100% effort in all his years with the Chicago Bulls as a player.

Jerry Sloan never possessed physical skills that were the equals of those of many of his contemporaries in the NBA from the mid-60s through the mid-70s.  However, it is interesting to contemplate how great some of today’s players might become if they played with the intensity and focus that Jerry Sloan put forth on the court when he was in the game.

Boy, I wish that the CBSSports.com story turns out to be wrong…

Let me stay with the NBA for a moment here…  In all the major US sports, there are a handful of team owners who stand out as negative examples regarding what a successful and fan-friendly owner ought to be.  Here are some examples:

  • In MLB “recent history” consider Marge Schott
  • In current MLB, consider Peter Angelos
  • In NFL “history” consider Jerry Wolman
  • In NFL “recent history” consider the Al Davis of the current millennium
  • In the current NFL, consider Danny Boy Snyder

In the NBA, however, there is only one gold standard that spans the history of the league.  That would be James Dolan – owner of the NY Knicks and Madison Square Garden.  James Dolan does not merely annoy/irritate Knicks’ fans; James Dolan infuriates them, insults their intelligence, and dips ever deeper into their pockets for his own financial benefit.  Other than that, he’s a great owner…

I do not have the time or the inclination to list all of the atrociously stupid decisions that the Knicks’ management has made in the last couple of decades, so let me just hit the high notes here:

  • The Knicks thought singing Jerome James to a long-term deal was a good idea.
  • The Knicks saw trading to acquire Carmelo Anthony was a good idea.
  • The Knicks hired Isiah Thomas to run the operation and that turned out to be a disaster on several fronts.
  • The Knicks hired Phil Jackson to “fix everything”.  Then, after it was clear that Jackson’s “vision” getting the team nowhere, the Knicks extended his contract before firing him and paying him the extended money he was owed.
  • The Knicks banned one of their former star players – – Charles Oakley – – from Madison Square Garden because he dared to say publicly that James Dolan did not know what the Hell he was doing and ought to sell the team.

James Dolan is not merely some rich kid who found himself in the ownership position of this franchise; James Dolan – to Knick fans – is “The Enemy” – – or at the very least, “The Bad Guy” in a long-running serial wherein the Knicks never succeed.

Take a look at the Knicks’ “strategy” over the past season:

  • They traded away Kristaps Porzingas – their best young player by a mile-and-a-half – because he was unhappy with his contract situation.  That trade got them Dennis Smith, Jr. who is a good player but not a very good player nor nearly a great player.  Plus, it got the Knicks a ton of salary cap room that they planned – less than privately – to use on at least one if not two free agents this summer.
  • They also tanked the 2018/19 season to get – hopefully – the overall #1 pick in the Draft to take Zion Williamson.  That did not work.
  • The Knicks and their cap space got exactly none of the myriad top-shelf free agents that changed teams this summer.  They wound up spending their money on bargain-basement free agents such as Julius Randle and even lesser lights.  Top-shelf free agents never gave the Knicks an interview opportunity.

Of course, James Dolan’s underlings who run and manage the Knicks on a day-to-day basis must shoulder a lot of the blame for the current malaise of the franchise.  At the same time, folks have to realize that there is one single continuous presence that connects all the dots in all the scenarios that have unfolded here and that presence is James Dolan.

I am not going to waste my time telling Knicks’ fans to keep their voices up urging Dolan to sell the team.  Such advice would be about as useful as directing a eunuch to a whorehouse.  However, I would offer this suggestion to fans of the Knicks – – or fans of the Orioles in MLB or the Skins in the NFL:

  • Your odious and incompetent owner enjoys two things – – the profits he gets from his sporting enterprise and the social stature that he obtains simply by being the owner of that sporting enterprise.
  • You – and the rest of your cohort fans – cannot realistically deny him his profits.  It would take a moron to lose money given the business situations of those teams and none of those owners are morons.
  • You can, however, deny him social stature.  Whenever the owner shows up at a game, if everyone in the stadium/arena would stand and point to him and chant “Ass – – Hole” – instead of “Air – – Ball” – that might make his social stature a bit less lofty.  Doing this on a nationally televised game – – such as the Knicks’ guaranteed game on Christmas Day – – would certainly get the sports media talking about the fan “uprising” …

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News had the opportunity to cover the Utah Jazz under Jerry Sloan and he had a comment recently that pertained to the NY Knicks.  Ergo, he is the perfect way to end today’s rant:

“A restaurant in Thailand is encouraging patrons to climb into a coffin so they can experience ‘death awareness’.

“Or they can just attend a Knicks game.”

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



Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

There is a famous logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc.  That translates from the Latin to “After that, therefore because of that”.  It is the basis of many superstitions such as growing a “playoff beard” because so long as a player is growing it, the team stays in the playoffs.  The most obvious example of this as a logical fallacy would be this:

  • Roosters crow just before sunrise – – therefore – – roosters crowing causes the sun to rise in the morning.

I mention this because it was only two days ago when I commented on the WNBA allowing two of its players to continue to play in the league despite domestic violence allegations against those players.  Today comes news that one of those players has now been suspended.  Let me be clear; my rant from 48 hours ago did not have anything to do with the suspension announced yesterday.

Let me fill in the details of the allegation and charges levied against Riquna Williams, guard for the LA Sparks.

  • On 29 April 2019 – – before the WNBA season began – – Ms. Williams was arrested and charged with assault on one individual and the threat of violence against another individual involving a firearm.
  • The arrest report says Ms. Williams forcibly entered a Florida home and struck her girlfriend, Alkeria Davis, multiple times.  Two men on the scene broke up the fight between the two women whereupon Ms. Williams took a gun from her car, placed it on the hood of her car pointed at one of the men and said “you’ll get all 18” – – referring to the number of rounds in the magazine of that firearm.
  • The case is wending its way through the judicial system; Ms. Williams has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.  Until yesterday, she was playing full-time for the LA Sparks.

As I said previously, Ms. Williams is innocent until proven guilty.  Period.  Nonetheless, imagine that the same behavior was exhibited by an NBA guard before the start of next NBA season and that the NBA guard continued to play in an uninterrupted mode until about the All-Star Break which is about the same fraction of the season that Ms. Williams was able to play for the Sparks this year.

Because there is potential victimhood on both sides of this equation – the alleged aggressor is a woman and not a male athlete – the union representing WNBA players has immediately filed a grievance on behalf of Ms. Williams asserting that she has not yet had sufficient time to defend herself against these charges that she denies having committed.  The union wants the league to continue to “look the other way” while the judicial processes take their course.  If – I SAID IF – it turns out that Ms. Williams did exactly what was alleged in the arresting officer’s report, I shall not hold my breath until the union says that it is sorry to have taken the side of a felonious abuser in this matter.  It is possible for “both sides” to act more precipitously in matters such as these.

The league suspension is for 10 games – – not a suspension until the justice system plays itself out.  And therein lies a possible way to handle situations akin to this one;

  • When a player is arrested and charged with crimes, the player can and should be suspended with his/her pay placed in escrow.  If the player is found innocent or if the charges are dropped by the prosecutors, then the player is immediately reinstated, and he/she gets the entirety of the escrow account plus accrued interest.
  • If the player pleads out to lesser charges, he/she may be reinstated – – depending on the severity of the “lesser charges” – but in any case, 90% of the escrow account would be paid to the league as a fine.
  • If the player and the accuser reach a settlement, that is a form of admission of some guilt in the matter so 50% of the escrow account will be forfeited.
  • If the player is found guilty of the crime, he/she loses all the escrowed account plus then should serve a suspension that counts against any future earnings.

These provisions – if entered into a CBA – would make it in the best interest of an innocent athlete to get the process over with as soon as possible and not drag out the process until the next off-season.

Ms. Williams’ grievance matter will go before an arbitrator.  Here are two questions that I would have for the union attorney representing Ms. Williams were I the arbitrator:

  1. Other than the fact that Ms. Williams is a dues-paying member of your union, why do you believe her side of this story as opposed to the allegations of the victims here?
  2. What new knowledge of this incident do you have that the police do not have – – and if you have such information, why have you not shared it with the police?

Now you know why I would never be agreeable to either side as an arbitrator for such disputes even though I have had some experience in similar matters in my professional life prior to retiring and taking up Internet ranting…

Switching gears …  Many people have been predicting the demise of football as evidence rolls in that concussions and head trauma have serious effects on players later in life.  According to many of these seers, the way football will wither on the vine is that there will not be sufficient numbers of players at the high school and college levels to support the NFL’s “habit” and that mothers around the country will prevent their sons from playing football.  It is the sociological outcome of the old song:

  • “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be [Dallas] Cowboys…”

In a report in the Toledo Blade earlier this month, there may be a first sign that such a trend may be building.  Toledo Christian High School will have to try to play “8-man football” this season because only 15 kids turned out for the football team at the school – – and 5 of those 15 players were rising freshmen.  Eight-man football is a thriving sport in nearby Michigan where 77 schools field 8-man teams and there are state level tournaments at the end of the season for “8-man football” as well as “11-man football”.

Finally, since I began today with the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and how it sometimes is used to justify superstitions, let me close with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Belief:  An absolute certainty that something is true.  Can range from one’s opinion as to whether there is a God to the firm conviction that space aliens are sending coded messages through your fillings.”

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



RIP Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker

Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker died earlier this week in Virginia Beach.  He was run over by a car as a pedestrian.  Whitaker was an Olympic Gold Medalist in 1984 – a boxing teammate of Evander Holyfield – and as a professional he was lightweight and welterweight champions.

Rest in peace, Pernell Whitaker…

I sent an e-mail to Gregg Drinnan thanking him for posting one of Jim Murray’s classic columns about DelMar racetrack.  In his response, he alerted me to a situation that is playing out in Canada today; I was totally unaware of this until his note arrived.  Here is the message:

“Big controversy up here right now that you may not be aware of. Calgary Stampede wrapped up Sunday. All told, the chuckwagon races claimed six horses. . . . Check out Calgary Herald or Calgary Sun websites. . . . Animal rights people going crazy. Stampede people and rodeo fans in full damage control.”

Indeed, the letters to the editor published lately in the Calgary Sun show the emotions running high on this issue.  Here is a link to some of those letters:

ESPN is in the news today with two recent announcements;

  1. The newest member of the ESPN college football announcing roster is Ryan Leaf.  Yes, that Ryan Leaf.  He has battled and seemingly overcome his addiction issues and has been working in the “sports media” field for a while on a local basis.  He will be paired with Clay Matvick on play-by-play as he does color analysis for some college games on the ESPN family of networks.  [Aside:  I must confess that I do not know Clay Matvick from a clay pigeon.]
  2. In October, ESPN is planning to launch a new podcast whose purpose will be to focus on sports news with in-depth analysis and discussion by a varying group of participants dictated by the topic.  The idea is to bring thoughtfulness and intelligence to bear on sports topics.  This sounds like podcast I might subscribe to – – if I can get #2 son to show me how to do such a thing.  This link will tell you more about this new upcoming programming:

At the recently concluded SEC Media Day, the SEC Commissioner, Greg Sankey, linked together sports betting and the mental health of athletes.  Since I did not see an immediate connection there, I went to find out how he made that linkage.  Sankey is firmly opposed to any sort of in-game wagering (which is coming to most sports) and to proposition betting (which has existed for decades with regard to many sports including college football).  He forges the link between sports betting and mental health along this axis:

  • Athletes may experience more pressure/anxiety in attempting a field goal in football or a 3-point shot in basketball knowing that the success or failure of such an attempt could change the betting outcome of the game.

I understand that Commissioner Sankey would prefer never to have a farthing be wagered on a college football game involving an SEC team.  Notwithstanding that strong preference, the reality is that loads and loads of dollars and dollar-equivalents have been and will continue to be wagered on SEC games.  Now considering that reality, let me offer two scenarios here and then pose a question related to ‘mental health”:

  • Scenario 1:  Team A leads Team B 21-20 with 5 seconds left to play.  Team B is attempting a field goal from the 35-yardline; the kicker has made field goas from as long as 50 yards in this season.  If the field goal is good, Team B wins; if the field goal is not good, Team B loses.
  • Scenario 2:  Team A is favored to beat Team B by 7 points.  Team A leads Team B by a score of 26-20 with 1-minute left to play and Team A is about to attempt a 35-yard field goal to put them up by 9 points.  Given the time, a made field goal almost assuredly gives Team A the win; a made field goal also gives Team A an excellent chance of covering the spread.

Given those scenarios, why does the kicker in Scenario 1 (no bets on the game) feel any more or any less pressure than does the kicker in Scenario 2?  It seems to me that any attempt to score points in an athletic contest involves pressure and produces anxiety if the attempt is unsuccessful.  Conversely, a successful attempt produces joy/exhilaration/etc.  I think Commissioner Sankey is off his tether on this issue.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“According to Le’Veon Bell’s 911 call, the last time the Jets running back saw those two ‘girlfriends’ who allegedly stole $500,000 of his stuff, he was leaving for the gym and they were still naked in his bed.

“In other words: Bares 2, Jet 0.”

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



The Sound Of Silence …

Sometimes silence is very loud.  There is a situation in the sporting world today where the silence is very loud indeed.  A WNBA player has been accused of domestic violence by her wife and the reaction of the team and the WNBA is to have that player continue to play while they investigate.  According to one report, Natasha Howard allegedly stabbed her wife, Jacquline Howard.  In a separate incident, another WNBA player Riquna Williams stands accused of domestic violence from an incident about 6 months ago and Ms. Williams continues to play WNBA games as well.

  • Ms. Howard is innocent until proven guilty.  Period.
  • Ms. Williams is innocent until proven guilty.  Period.

Ms. Williams was accused of a violent interaction with her ex-girlfriend about six months ago.  That incident resulted in charges of burglary with assault and battery and aggravated assault with a firearm.  Ms. Williams has plead not guilty to all charges here and the case is proceeding through the court system.

Neither the WNBA nor the individual teams in the WNBA have any legal responsibility to suspend either player here but the WNBA has the authority to choose to do so.  It has not taken that option in either case.  And that is where the silence comes into the picture:

  • Where are the protestors and demonstrators who always say that the victim must be heard and believed and respected in such situations when the aggressor is a male athlete?

Natasha Howard is a former WNBA All-Star.  Imagine if this were an NBA player of “All-Star stature” who stood accused of such behavior and who just continued to play on.  Riquna Williams’ case is further along in the justice system and the charges there are chilling to say the least and she just plays on.  Do you think there might be an outcry if this were an NFL or an NBA player in that situation?

There are many situations where the decisions reached in the justice system and the decisions reached in the “court of public opinion” are not congruent.  That could be a powerful argument for the WNBA and for the individual teams to wait until all the facts become known in the courts before issuing punishments.  However, that argument would never hold water in a matter where an NFL or NBA player threatened a woman with a firearm or allegedly stabbed a woman.  In that case, there would be an outcry in the press and in demonstrations and in threats of boycotts and …  Here, there is silence on the part of the advocates for victims and the protestors and – most importantly – on the part of the reporters who champion victims’ rights when the aggressor is a male.

Hopefully, this next item will be a tad more upbeat – – but in the end it may not.  Saratoga opened its annual summer meeting in upstate NY last week and Del Mar will open its summer meeting “where the surf meets the turf” in CA this week.  I have always said that there are the two best racetracks and race meetings in the country and it’s a shame that they have to overlap – – but that is how it is.  The sport of horseracing needs thee two meetings to accomplish two things for the sport this year:

  1. Provide the racing fans with topflight races involving some of the best thoroughbreds in training that reveal good wagering opportunities for bettors.
  2. Take the focus of the attention paid to horseracing now away from the horrendous events at Santa Anita over the past 6 or 7 months.

Based on previous race meetings, the two tracks will almost certainly accomplish the first task above.  The second one …?

While the baseball world focused on the MLB All-Star Game recently, ESPN reported on a happening in a far less visible baseball All-Star game.  MLB and the independent Atlantic League have an agreement whereby new rules and new game management procedures will be tried out in the Atlantic League.  Essentially, MLB is paying the Atlantic League to be the equivalent of a “baseball Petri dish” to try out “new stuff”.  The Atlantic League All-Star Game rolled out one of the “new things”; it used a computer umpire to call balls and strikes.  There was still an umpire at home plate, but he had an earpiece that gave him the computer’s call when he then announced to the players and fans.  [Aside:  The home plate computer umpire was not there to make safe versus out calls at home plate or to judge half-swings by batters, so a human was still required in that position.]  The umpire is also there to make the call himself if the system misses the pitch or does not make a call; in essence, the home plate umpire is the “fail-safe system”.

The Atlantic League announced that it would use “Robot Umpires” in all its games in all of its parks starting in a few weeks.  The season for the Atlantic League runs through the third week of September so there will be more than a few games using the radar/computer system to call balls and strikes for analysis at the end of that season.  Perhaps in the future, fans will have to modify their cry to “Kill the umpire!”.

  • How about “Jam the radar!”

Finally, Greg Cote had this grim but accurate observation in the Miami Herald over the weekend:

“Ice Cube’s Big3 basketball league is underway. That’s where old former players try to show a disinterested NBA they’ve still got it. It’s called the Big3 because ‘Has-Beens On Parade’ sounded a bit harsh.”

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



Wimbledon Finals

I tuned in about 5 minutes late to watch the Ladies’ Final at Wimbledon over the weekend.  Serena Williams was a heavy favorite to win her 24th Grand Slam Tournament and I thought it would be worth the 60-90 minutes it would take to see her achievement.  I pretty much had the time estimate right; the match lasted an hour, but the winner was Simona Halep in straight sets, 6-2 and 6-2.  History was not made in this Finals match – unless you count the fact that this is Halep’s first win at Wimbledon – but hers was a dominant performance, nonetheless.

I was much later tuning into the Men’s Final at Wimbledon; it was the beginning of the third set when I looked in.  This match was anything but a one-sided domination; Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer “traded haymakers” for the next three sets and the outcome was in doubt until the last “game” of the final set.  The final scoring summary for the match was 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 (7-3).

Congratulations to Simona Halep and Novak Djokovic.  I enjoyed watching both of these Final’s matches…

Former Mets’ pitcher and current baseball TV analyst, Ron Darling, wrote a book called 108 Stitches: Loose Threads, Ripping Yarns, and the Darndest Characters from My Time in the Game.  In that oeuvre, Ron Darling had some less-than-wonderful things to say about his former Mets teammate Lenny Dykstra.  According to the book Dykstra went into full racist-mode against “Oil Can” Boyd who was a starter for the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series between the Mets and the Sox.  Dykstra proceeded to sue Darling for defamation of character saying that Darling made up the whole story.

My expectation in situations such as this is that some sort of “financial accommodation” is reached between the parties and everything just recedes quietly into history.  It appears that is not going to happen here.

Darling’s lawyers just filed a motion with the judge hearing this case to dismiss the entire matter.  Here are two points made by Darling’s lawyers:

“Dykstra is a classic libel-proof plaintiff, whose reputation is so bad that he simply cannot be defamed.”

And …

“[Dykstra’s] overwhelming and uncontradictable public record evidence by authors, journalists and Dykstra himself in an autobiography demonstrates on the basis of his own misconduct and words and the public record of them Dykstra has already placed an ‘irremovable stain and permanent cloud’ on his own reputation.”

The reference above to Dykstra’s autobiography, House of Nails, is interesting because in that book Dykstra admits that he has engaged in blackmail/extortion at points in his life.  The quoted part above about an “irremovable stain and permanent cloud” on Dykstra’s public reputation comes from the assertions made in Dykstra’s lawsuit that started this entire exchange.

Next up … Len Dykstra will claim that he was misquoted in his autobiography about that extortion stuff.  That will be an interesting thing for the judge to contemplate…

Last week, there was a report out of the talks between the NFL and the NFLPA regarding a new CBA that the NFL owners have not given up on the idea of an 18-game regular season.  According to reports, the current proposal – presumably tailored to accommodate the players’ lack of interest in such an expansion – is that no player would be allowed to participate in more than 16 of the 18 games.  This is a bad idea on multiple levels:

  • Let me use the LA Rams as an example.  Twice in an 18-game season, Rams’ fans – and their opponent’s fans – would not get to watch Jared Goff play.  Instead they could see Blake Bortles or Brandon Allen or John Wolford play QB.  If the Rams’ opponent also opted to sit the starter in that game, you would have the moral equivalent of another NFL Exhibition Game counting toward playoff status.
  • Much of the dominance of the NFL in the US sports landscape centers on the wagering possibilities and the wagering interest.  Randomly inserting subs into lineups cannot enhance the “wagering experience”.  When I was growing up, this sort of behavior was referred to as “pissing in the soup”.

The lure here – obviously – is that an 18-game season will generate more TV money because there will be more games to put on TV; there is nothing more behind such a proposal.  Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope math for a moment.

  • The schedule would increase by 12.5%.  Let’s assume that means TV revenue would also grow by 12.5%.  [It could grow by a bigger percentage since new TV deals will be coming up in a couple of years, but hold that thought…]
  • Almost half of that revenue would require the salary cap – and salary floor – for every team to go up by the amount of the increase.
  • Assume for a moment that the salary cap comes from the TV money.  Currently, that cap is set at $188M.  That means the salary cap would go up by $11.75M per team just due to the added TV money.  That is money in the players’ pockets for every year that the 18-game season continues to exist.
  • And, don’t forget, the owners pocket the same added $11.75M because they get to keep the “other half” of the added TV revenue.

I have proposed this before, and I think my idea is a better one if the league wants to go to 18 games and the players want some accommodation regarding injuries and fatigue.

  • Play 18 regular season games AND give each team 2 BYE weeks.  That extends the regular season by 3 weeks.  The accommodation for that is to start the season one-week earlier than current scheduling; eliminate the useless empty week in the playoff schedule and move the Super Bowl back one week in February.
  • Any team playing on Thursday night will get one of its BYE weeks the week before that Thursday night game – – except for the first one of the year of course.
  • Eliminate the rule about dressing only some of the squad for each game.  Everyone on the roster who can walk should be dressed for the game; they do not have to be used, but they should all be available.
  • Using players on the “practice squad” should also be allowable and the two sides need to address how to compensate any “practice squad players” who are pressed into service in a real game.

My proposal here only applies if the lure of that TV money is too much for the two sides to ignore.  I am perfectly happy with the 16-game season as it stands.  The only change I would make there is putting in the 2 BYE weeks per team which would allow the “Thursday night participants” to avoid the dreaded 3-day turnaround for regular season games.

Finally, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

“Countdown:  Switching from sport to religion, there are only 8 more Sundays until the first NFL Sunday.”

That reminds me; I gotta get cracking on those NFL season predictions…

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



NBA, MLB And NCAA – – Alphabet Soup

There was another NBA trade yesterday involving top-shelf players.  The Houston Rockets acquired Russell Westbrook from the OKC Thunder in exchange for Chris Paul, 2 first round picks and the Thunder’s option to switch first round picks in 2 other years.  Adding up all the Thunder’s trades this offseason, I believe they now have 7 additional first round picks – over and above the ones they would naturally get every year – between now and 2026.  My guess is that if the Thunder scouts and GM know what they are doing, the Thunder ought to be awfully good by 2028.

I also think that the Rockets resolved an internal problem with this trade.  Paul and James Harden appeared to have a conflict going on in Houston and if the team was going to have to choose between them, then it was Paul that had to go.  Given Paul’s monstrous contract, trading him was not going to be an easy pull; getting a top-shelf player in return is a big plus for the Houston braintrust.

Beyond that, this trade makes little sense to me.

  • James Harden and Russell Westbrook both need the ball to be the excellent players that they are.  There is only one ball in play in a game.
  • Unless the Thunder has a way to trade Chris Paul on to some other team that wants a short-term solution at point guard, I have no idea what the Thunder think he can do with what is left of the squad in OKC.

MLB returns to action after its All-Star break and there are several things to pay attention to for the rest of this MLB season – – in addition to the record of your favorite team:

  • When a team loses 100 games in a season, its winning percentage is .383.  As the second half of the season begins, there are 5 teams in MLB with winning percentages below .383 for the first half of the season.  Four of those five teams are in the AL (Baltimore, Detroit, KC and Toronto).
  • Two teams (Baltimore and Detroit) have run differential stats that are frightening.  The O’s run differential is minus-165 runs; the Tigers run differential is minus-159 runs.  The third worst team (Royals) are only at minus-90 runs.  Scary…

MLB will have only one trade deadline this year and that will be on 31 July.  There will not be any phony waiver deals in August as there have been in the past.  I think this is a good move by MLB; it makes the GMs earn their keep instead of being able to buy their way out of mistakes and misfortunes up until Labor Day.

I don’t want you to get the idea that there are only negative things to pay attention to in MLB for the rest of the season.  Here are some very positive things that could happen:

  • The division race in the NL Central is great right now.  The Cubs are in first place and the Reds are in the basement there.  Nonetheless, the separation between first place and last place is only 4.5 games.  Is any team here going to make break from the pack or will this one go into September with all 5 teams having a shot?
  • Winning a Triple Crown is a rare thing.  The last player to do that was Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and before that it was Yaz in 1967.  This year, there are 3 players in the NL who are contending for that honor.  Cody Bellinger is hitting .336 with 30 HRs and 71 RBIs.  Josh Bell is hitting .302 with 27 HRs and 84 RBIs.  Christian Yelich is hitting .329 with 31 HRs and 67 RBIs.  Keep an eye on all three …
  • The Tampa Rays continue to play excellent baseball despite having the lowest total payroll on Opening Day of this year.  The Rays are 52-39; they are in the “first wild-card slot” today; they project to win 93 games this year.  Notwithstanding their on-field performance, the Rays continue to have difficulty at the gate.  They rank 29th in average attendance drawing only an average of 15,484 fans per game.  That is a shame; the local fans are missing out on some fine baseball…

Yesterday, I ran across a story that demonstrates that the NCAA continues to have rules that do not make sense in all situations.  Here is the start of the AP report:

“Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt committed a minor NCAA violation earlier this year by tweeting out his congratulations when the high school he attended won an Alabama state basketball title.

“Pruitt tweeted ‘Congratulations Robi Coker and Plainview High School on back to back State Championships! #2muchblue #PLV’ on March 1. The tweet was deleted 37 minutes later, after a compliance official noted that it constituted an impermissible endorsement of a high school team and its coach.”

A college football coach congratulating the high school basketball team where he went to high school for winning two consecutive state championships and mentioning the coach of that team in the process of offering the congratulations constitutes a “Level III violation” of NCAA rules.  Would it be the same if he congratulated the marching band from his former high school for winning two straight state championships?  How dumb is this?  It is NCAA-dumb!

Finally, I got this one from a former colleague:

“A golfer walks into the pro shop and asks the golf pro if they sell ball markers. The golf pro says they do, and they cost $1.00. The guy gives the golf pro a dollar.

“The golf pro opens the register, puts the dollar in, and hands him a dime to use as the marker.

“This economic model is also used by governments.”

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



RIP Jim Bouton

Jim Bouton passed away at the age of 80 this week.  His career in MLB was ordinary; he won 62 games and he lost 63 games; his career ERA was 3.57; after an 8-year gap in playing, he tried a comeback that lasted part of the 1978 season.  What distinguished Jim Bouton in “baseball legend” was the book he wrote, Ball Four.  If you have not read Ball Four and you are a baseball fan, you should do so.

The book stems from a written and audio diary that Bouton kept during his season with the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969.  [Aside: The team would move to Milwaukee and become the Brewers in 1970; the Pilots were a sorry bunch.]  In those days, there was little if any interest shown by baseball writers to describe/expose the behaviors of baseball players in any venue other than on the field.  Ball Four changed that.

Rest in peace, Jim Bouton.

As the Green Bay Packers prepare to open training camp in about 2 weeks, the competition to be the guy who stands by and watches Aaron Rodgers play QB for the packers comes down to DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle – – an undrafted free agent out of E. Kentucky and UConn – – and Manny Wilkins – – and undrafted free agent out of Arizona State.  Only a malevolent Act of God is going to put any of them under center for the Packers in 2019.  However, that did not stop DeShone Kizer – who was the backup QB last year – from telling PackerNews.com that he thinks he will be a starter for the Packers and will be the MVP of the Super Bowl in that role one of these days:

“I have all the confidence in the world that when I’m playing my best ball there’s no one who can stop me.  For me to compare myself to another backup quarterback who’s in or a tryout guy who comes in would be dumb of me in the sense that I would be limiting myself because I don’t see myself as a career backup in this league. I don’t see myself as Aaron Rodgers’ backup for the final era of his career. I see myself as a future Super Bowl MVP. That’s the goal that I want to head toward. That’s the level I want to play at. Therefore, if I’m competing and focused in on the backup competition, then once again, I’m limiting myself.”

It seems to me that there are two ways to react to that statement:

  1. DeShone Kizer is a young man with a specific goal in mind for his athletic career and he is keeping his attention and focus on that long-term goal and not on details or on short-term obstacles that may be in his way.  Good for him…
  2. DeShone Kizer is suffering from what Alan Greenspan once labeled “irrational exuberance”.  As a starter in the NFL, Kizer’s teams are 0-15; his career completion percentage is 53.1%; he has thrown 11 TDs and 24 INTs in his career.

I admire Kizer’s obvious determination to be the best and to achieve the pinnacle of the QB profession.  There would be little reason for a team to carry a backup QB whose career objective was to stay on in that job for the next 10 years and never get his jersey dirty.  At the same time, I have to say that his prior performance makes it hard to imagine him as a Super Bowl MVP.  Here is an analogy:

  • I could give an interview to CrankyCommentators.com one of these days and tell the world that I see myself as a Pulitzer Prize winner for sports writing.  [Aside:  Is there even such a category?]  Moreover, because I see myself achieving such a stature, I don’t worry about what others think of my current and previous rants here.
  • There is nothing wrong with having goals and aspirations – – unless one prevents oneself from recognizing that “it ain’t likely to happen” which would then turn those goals and aspirations into self-delusion.
  • For the record, I doubt that any mental health expert would conclude that I have a bagful of self-delusions about my writings.

The NBA free agency period generated lots of “blockbuster news” and that has to be good news for the NBA execs.  However, I think the NBA execs – and the NBPA leaders – need to think about the processes that are generating this news.

Clearly, the biggest story was the Kawhi Leonard signing with the Clippers combined with the trade that brought Paul George to the Clippers too.  Those two have yet to put on a Clippers jersey and participate in a single practice session but the focus on sports radio yesterday was that both could become free agents together in 3 years and move as a tandem to some other team then.  [Aside:  Maybe that’s the year I’ll win my Pulitzer Prize too?]  The folks who run the business of professional basketball – and that includes the NBPA – need to wonder if some aspects of NBA free agency are getting out of hand.

The NBA thrives because of TV money and the TV money flows because people watch NBA basketball games – not because of news in the free agency period.  What seems to be happening now is that people have started to focus on player movement and super-team creation more than they pay attention to much of the NBA regular season games.  That is a trend that the NBA execs and the NBPA leaders should want to nip in the bud.  Anything and everything that distracts from or diminishes attention to real NBA games is a threat to economic growth for the league.

Finally, apropos of nothing, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Batman:  A comic book crime fighter whose on-screen persona went from campy and irreverent in the 1960s to brooding and damn near suicidal in the twenty-first century.  Of course, this may or may not say anything about where we are headed as a species.”

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



Questions In Search Of Answers…

Let me begin today with a situation that poses a simple question:

  • What is wrong with this picture?

Issa Thiam was born and raised in Dakar, Senegal and wound up as a basketball player at Rutgers University.  Back in March of this year, he was arrested and charged with a variety of crimes involving an assault on a woman one of which involved a knife and a threat to kill the woman with said knife.  Even while law enforcement officials were investigating and processing this matter, Rutgers opted to dismiss Thiam from the team.  Last year, appearing in 25 games, Thiam averaged 3.8 points per game and 2.3 rebounds per game; we are not talking about the school dismissing a lottery pick caliber player here.

There is nothing particularly unusual about this matter so far – unless you consider the original alleged activities that got the police involved in the first place.  However, about a week ago, things got curious.  Thiam appeared in court with a plea deal that would obviate any jail time for him; the details of that agreement are not important here.  The judge in the case refused to accept the plea agreement after questioning Thiam and the judge ruled that Thiam could not adequately participate in his defense because he could not adequately communicate in English.  [Aside:  Dakar, Senegal in in Francophone West Africa and Thiam’s native language is Wolof.]

The case was held over until the end of the month when the plea deal will be reviewed again with a certified Wolof interpreter present in the court.  Sounds like a victory for Lady Justice, right?  Here is the question, though:

  • Thiam was a junior at Rutgers when the alleged assault occurred.  How did he achieve junior class status as a student-athlete if he cannot adequately communicate in English?

While I am in the mode of recounting press reports that raise questions that remain unanswered, let me move to the University of Arizona.  The school announced that it intends to “upgrade the football experience” for its fans.  Various surveys and consultants have identified some things that the school might do in and around the stadium to make things more enjoyable for the folks who attend games there.  Who can possibly argue with this?

Looking over the press release that announced this effort, I came across some of the “usual suspects” for improvement whenever this type of upgrade is undertaken:

  • Improved food choices and food quality…
  • Beer and wine sales in the stadium…
  • An expanded and more luxurious Skybox…
  • Yada, Yada and Yada…

Then, there was an unusual entry on the list of improvements to the football experience planned for the University of Arizona:

“The port-a-potties on the stadium’s ground level will be replaced with first-class restroom trailers.”

Let me be clear here.  There is nothing enjoyable about a port-a-potty above and beyond the relief it provides when Nature calls.  Anything short of designating a “men’s tree” here and a “women’s shrub” there would be an upgrade.  However, the press release language makes me pose this follow-up query:

  • What are the features that make a “restroom trailer” into a “first-class restroom trailer”?

In all likelihood, I don’t really want to know the answer to that one…

I got an e-mail from a reader referencing the fact that I like to have fun with team mascots/nicknames.  His nephew has decided to attend Heidelberg University in northwestern Ohio.  Heidelberg is a Division III school and the mascot/nickname is the Student Prince.  Clever, no?  So, I wondered who their traditional rival might be to see if there might be a connection there.  That was a surprise.

Heidelberg University is part of the 10-team Ohio Athletic Conference.  There are several schools there with interesting mascots/nicknames.  In addition to the more common nicknames such as Otterbein University Cardinals and the Capital University Crusaders, consider some of these other schools:

  1. John Carroll University Blue Streaks
  2. Muskingum University Fighting Muskies
  3. Ohio Northern University Polar Bears

And, for my money, the best of the all …

  • Wilmington College Fighting Quakers – a tad oxymoronic, no?

The Ohio Athletic Conference may be Division III in athletics, but it is top-shelf in terms of creative team names…

Finally, since I mentioned port-a-potties and upgrades thereto above, here is a tangentially related item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Ignas Dovydaitis, 11½ months old, outcrawled 24 rivals over a 5-meter carpeted track to capture the annual baby-racing competition in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“The winning secret, insiders say, is resisting the urge to pit for a new diaper.”

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