A-Rod Vs. The Yankees

PR people exist to make their clients look good in the public eye. Some “clients” present more a challenge for the PR folks; Josef Mengle would have been a “hard-sell” to the US public in the late 1940s and Alex Rodriguez is clearly a “hard-sell” to baseball fans today. Well, A-Rod’s “people” caught a small break yesterday when a public interaction turned out to make him look better than the folks he interacted with. What “geniuses” pulled off that less-than-likely event?

    The New York Yankees

According to reports in the NY Daily News and on CBSSports.com, the Yankees’ brass is torqued off at A-Rod yet again. This time, his outrageous behavior engendering the latest case of agita is:

    He showed up early for Spring Training and did not tell anyone he was coming early.

I tell you; that guy has some nerve showing up for work a couple of days early…

    Memo to NY Yankees: Unless you actually want this entire season to be a goat rodeo, you need to dial back your level of sensitivity to what this guy does peripheral to actual baseball games. You cannot take your outrage to DEFCON 1 in the event that he goes back for seconds at the salad bar or donates some money to a charity without telling you first.

During the NBA All-Star break, Kevin Durant made the news when he uncharacteristically went off on reporters. Here is how Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot summarized it:

“Feeling’s mutual: Before expressing regret this week for his All-Star weekend rant, Kevin Durant claimed that he only talks to media because he has to. I’d hazard a guess that many in the media only talk to athletes because they have to.”

Durant’s comments evoked recent memories of Marshawn Lynch at Super Bowl Media Day telling the assembled masses, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” I mention this because there are reports this morning that Marshawn Lynch has applied to the US Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the phrase “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”. The idea would be to put that phrase on various forms of apparel and then to sell said apparel via a website BeastModeOnline.com. I am not an economist but I believe the applicable term here is that Lynch is in the process of monetizing his Media Day statement.

Just in case anyone here is thinking of horning in on some of this action, Lynch has already gotten a trademark for “Beast Mode” so that would not be a way for you to insert yourself into the middle of this commercial enterprise.

Since I was on the topic of sports entrepreneurship, allow me to let you in on news that a group in Bloomington, MN hopes to organize a rugby match this summer featuring former NFL players against a team from Europe. According to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, the hope is that this exhibition match will provide the impetus to launch a professional rugby league here in the US in 2016. The proposed league would play in the summertime and the league concept is that rugby in the summer would provide US sports fans with a contact sport during that time of the year when football does not happen.

The exhibition game involving the English team from Leicester is scheduled for August of this year. Obviously, the emergence and ultimate viability of this pro rugby league in the US is a longshot and not something one should take out a second mortgage to invest in. However, it is an interesting idea and if the organizers can find a way to get that exhibition game on TV…

Here is a link to the full story in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

Yesterday, I told you to be on the lookout for the formulaic and banal stories that would certainly emerge from Spring Training this year. I forgot to point out one of the stories that will appear and when that story does appear you need to recognize that it presents a conundrum worthy of philosophical debate.

    At some point this Spring, you will read that “the pitchers are ahead of the hitters at this point…”

    So, ask yourself why the teams don’t have the hitters report to Spring Training before the pitchers and catchers.

    Then consider that if the hitters reported first, there would be no one to pitch to them…

Not only is the story predictable, there is no solution to the “issue” revealed therein. However, it does fill up space…

Finally, B.J. Upton says that henceforth he wants to be known by his given name, Melvin Upton, Jr. I am sure that Braves’ fans will call him anything he wants to be called so long as he improves on his batting average over the past 2 season in Atlanta where in 910 at-bats, Upton has hit .198. If he does not improve, they will likely call him names that will make “B.J.” a most welcome reversion.

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

Spring Training Starts…

The Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic parts of the US remain in the deep freeze; there is not even a hint of Spring as one looks at the landscape. Nonetheless, Spring Training has begun in Florida and in Arizona meaning that even as I am bundling up to go out and get the mail, there is a real and reliable harbinger of Spring out there. As alluring as the harbinger is, it comes with a price:

    For the next 6 weeks, baseball fans will be bombarded on a daily basis with reports from Spring Training that are formulaic and unimportant.

There is a harsh reality associated with Spring Training every year and somehow it has escaped the cognizance of newspaper sports editors for at least the last 60 years that I have been “following” Spring Training. Here is that harsh reality:

    Newspapers come out on a daily basis.

    Actual news emanating from Spring Training happens far less frequently.

Publishing daily “reports” from Spring Training makes no more sense than publishing daily reports on what the astronauts are doing on the International Space Station.

Reporters faced with deadlines for daily stories therefore fall back on standard themes:

    A player who was injured last year surely hopes to be healthy this year.

    A player who shows up 15 pounds heavier says this will allow him to stay stronger during the long season.

    A player who shows up 15 pounds lighter says this will give him more speed and will keep him stronger longer in the season because he is carrying around less weight.

    A player with a new fat contract from free agency just wants to win and it glad that all the hoopla associated with contract negotiations are behind him.

    A player whose contract will expire at the end of this year is intent on getting a new contract and/or using the upcoming season to demonstrate his real worth – by focusing on nothing but winning of course.

We have all read all of those stories a hundred times before and will read another 4 or 5 dozen of them again this year because there is nothing else to put in the papers. On most days, nothing of any import happens in Spring Training. It is the price we pay for that particular harbinger of Spring…

About a year ago, I created an entity that I called the “Just Go Away Club” and populated it with folks about whom and from whom I had heard enough. All I wanted was for them to Just Go Away; I did not wish them any harm; Just Go Away. [Aside: The rant that created that “club” was one of the casualties of the website crash, so I cannot link to it anymore. It just does not exist…] One of the charter members of that club was Lance Armstrong. I have refrained from commenting about him since then and paid only scant attention to anything written about him – until now. In the last couple of weeks, however, he made the news twice with happenings that are at least as outrageous as his PED induced cycling career ever was.

    Driving in the snow in Aspen, CO, Armstrong hit two parked cars. His first reaction was to concoct a story that his ladyfriend was driving not him. Amazingly, she agreed to take the rap for him at first. The falsehood unraveled and Armstrong pled guilty to reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident. Once again, Lance Armstrong demonstrated that he is a lying weasel and a manipulator of other people.

    An arbitration panel ruled against him saying that he needs to pay a promotions company $10M. In handing down the decision, the panel cited Armstrong as having an “unparalleled pageant of international perjury, fraud and conspiracy.” According to reports, Armstrong said he will not comply with the arbitration ruling which makes one wonder why he bothered to contest the action in the first place.

I had had more than my fill of Lance Armstrong a year ago; these two happenings in the last month or so only confirm my previous sense that the best thing Lance Armstrong can do is to Just Go Away!

When Tiger Woods announced that he was taking some time off from the PGA Tour because his golf game was not up to the standards of tournament golf, I wonder how many duffers around the country partaking of an adult beverage after a round at the local club looked at the other members of their foursome that day and said something along the lines of:

“Same with my game…”

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle left little doubt regarding what he thinks of Alex Rodriguez’ handwritten apology to the world:

“Nice of Alex Rodriguez to apologize for his ‘mistakes.’ Hey, at least he didn’t refer to his serial lying and cheating as ‘oopsies.’

“ ‘I take full responsibility,’ A-Rod said, falling back on the most overused and meaningless phrase in sports apologies. It usually means, ‘I’ve run out of people to blame.’ “

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

More NFL Stadium News…

It is purely a coincidence; I had – and continue to have – exactly no inside information on the matter. Yesterday, I mentioned that folks representing the San Diego Chargers had sent an unusually blunt and direct message to the stadium advisory board for the mayor of San Diego regarding the Chargers’ desire for a new stadium in the city of San Diego. Those kinds of talks between the team and the city had been ongoing for at least a decade but it seemed to me as if the Chargers were sounding a new tone in this particular communication. And then this morning, CBSSports.com reports that the Chargers and the Raiders have both decided that the talks with their home cities needs more than a gentle nudge. The teams have purchased a plot of land in Carson California and they say that if the teams do not have stadium plans in place and in motion by the end of the year, they will jointly build their own stadium on the site.

Here is a link to the joint statement released by the two NFL teams.

For those of you who are not geography majors, Carson California is south of downtown LA and west of Anaheim. It is not – geographically – a huge move for the Chargers; it is probably not much more than 100 miles. For the Raiders it would be a much longer move but the Raiders have done this before so they would be going to an area where they already have a residual fanbase. I cannot recall a situation in the NFL’s past where two division rivals would share a stadium but that is what would be in the cards if this plan were to move forward.

Major stumbling blocks to previous stadium ideas in So Cal has been the reluctance of the local politicians to fund the projects. If the early reports on this joint activity are accurate, this project would cost $1.7B and for now the idea is to finance this privately. That is the kind of deal I would hope the folks in So Cal can get behind because it might set a trend for the rest of the country…

I said yesterday that I had never been to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego and I have never been to the stadium in Oakland for a football game. I have been there to see baseball back in the early 1990s and I have to say that the stadium was starting to look a bit “threadbare” even then. With the reports of random sewage backups into locker room facilities hitting the papers last year in Oakland, I suspect that “threadbare” might have been the politest thing folks were saying about the facilities there.

I hope today’s news spurs some action on new stadia for both teams. It seems that both of then need one and it seems that they are prepared – on their own – to get a new one. They seem prepared to spend $850M each – plus whatever the cost of the land was – to achieve that end and that should give the two cities an idea of how they can put together plans to keep the teams in their current locales. That assumes of course that the cities want the teams to stay as opposed to political posturing regarding the importance and value of the team to the city.

Yesterday I said that in these matters, money talks and bulls[p]it walks. Well, as of this morning, it would seem that the Chargers and the Raiders have put some serious money on the table… Question for the local pols:

    Are you going to talk or walk?

Yesterday was the NBA trade deadline and it seems as if there was a flurry of activity moving players around amongst – mainly – marginal teams. The top contenders this year stood pat seemingly happy with the rosters they have already assembled. Two potential playoff teams made moves that improved both of them:

    The Heat traded for Goran Dragic from Phoenix. He is a quality point guard who can also score. He will not win the Heat a championship by himself but this trade might just be the beginning of the Heat’s rebuilding process.

    The Thunder got Enes Kanter and DJ Augustin – two players who can provide alternative scoring threats off the bench – and they got rid of Reggie Jackson who was not happy with his role in OKC and who was about to become a free agent.

Here in Curmudgeon Central, I was fascinated with the moves made by the absolutely irrelevant Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers have won 12 games so far this year and they managed to get worse by trading.

    Michael Carter-Williams was last year’s rookie of the year. He is not a great player and likely will never become a great player, but he has shown that he is a competent NBA-quality player and that is a commodity in short supply on the Sixers’ roster. So, of course they ditched him…

    KJ McDaniels might get more than a few votes as the rookie of the year this year. He was undrafted and the Sixers signed him to a one-year contract making him a free agent after this season. [Aside: Should he win the award, I believe he would be the first rookie of the year ever to be a free agent that summer.] Evidently, the Sixers did not think this potential rookie of the year was important enough to keep around…

In my opinion, those two moves are merely the tip of the iceberg because the Sixers had a “mirror-image moment” yesterday. Let me explain. We all know of the famous “addition by subtraction” trades; teams dump a player who totes far more baggage than his contributions justify. Well, in every such transaction there has to be a “mirror-image moment” because the other team in the trade experiences a “subtraction by addition”. And the Sixers got one of those in JaVale McGee. Here is the trade in a nutshell:

    Sixers send the rights to Cenk Akyol to the Nuggets. Just in case you have no damned idea who Cenk Akyol might be, he is a 27 year old forward playing in the Turkish League who was originally drafted by the Hawks in 2005. He has never played in an NBA game. That is it; that is what the Sixers gave up.

    Sixers get JaVale McGee PLUS a first round pick either this year or next year plus the rights to Chukwudiebere Maduabum. “Chu” was originally drafted by the Lakers in 2011; he is 23 years old and currently plays in the Estonian Basketball League.

    The Sixers basically got a first round pick just to take JaVale McGee off the hands of the Nuggets. That is “subtraction by addition”.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this NBA insight in a recent column:

“Looks as if Kobe Bryant might miss the rest of the season with a shoulder issue. Doctors have ruled out that the injury occurred from excessive passing.”

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

A College Basketball “Instant Classic”

I have commented more than a few times on the over-exposure of college basketball on television and I do not intend to walk those remarks back even a little bit. Nonetheless, last night Duke and UNC presented everyone who tuned in with a magnificent display of basketball. If you did not happen to watch last night, keep an eye out for replays because you may be sure that ESPN will show it again as an “Instant Classic”. It deserves that label.

Duke led early; Carolina rallied and led by 9 with about 3 minutes to play; Duke rallied to tie the game; Carolina had a chance for the final shot but solid defense forced them to take a bad shot – and we were treated to overtime. It was a game of hustle and total effort; the only time you saw players just “standing around watching” was on the foul lanes as the foul shooter prepared to launch the ball. It was one of those games where you knew that one team had to win and the other had to lose but neither team “deserved” to lose the game – except for the fact that Carolina shot only 12-20 from the foul line in the game.

It was a GREAT game and I am glad to have been able to see it on TV…

Switching gears from basketball to football and from game action to the intersection of business and politics, the San Diego Chargers have resumed negotiations with the folks in charge in San Diego regarding a new stadium for the Chargers. These “negotiations” have been ongoing for so long that my first reaction to reading about new happenings there was along the lines of:

    Here we go again…

However, maybe this time it is a bit different because the Chargers assert that 25% of the tickets that they sell are to fans who live in the Los Angeles area. I have no idea if that is true, but surely the Chargers do draw some fans from “up north” and in 2015 the dynamic surrounding an NFL stadium going into the LA area is different than it has been in the past. Granted, not even a teaspoon of dirt has been moved to construct a stadium that would house an NFL team – or maybe two – in Los Angeles, but somehow the current push to put a stadium there seems to have more substance to it than did previous ones. The Chargers’ position is that they cannot stand by and allow teams to come into LA and to “gut the Chargers’ revenue streams” while the Chargers continue to play in Qualcomm Stadium.

I have never been to Qualcomm Stadium; I have driven by it and seen it from the road; that is the extent of my personal interaction with it. By reputation, Qualcomm Stadium is outdated and with inadequate parking. The Chargers have been complaining about this for years but everyone has managed to kick the can down the road for all of those years. Now, the Chargers’ position seems to be something along these lines:

    We want a downtown stadium in San Diego. If we cannot have that and if it looks as if there is serious movement towards an NFL stadium in LA, the Chargers may just have to be one of the tenants in that new NFL stadium in LA.

The Rams and the Raiders – both of which used to play in LA as did the Chargers back in the 1960s – are reportedly interested in a possible move to LA in large part because their stadiums in St Louis and in Oakland are “not so good”. With the Chargers rattling sabers about the insufficiency of their quarters, that puts at least 3 NFL teams “in play” for the sports business/politics dance. Strike up the band…

There is nine-member stadium advisory group in San Diego that was established by the mayor. It is the entity that interacts with the Chargers and nominally comes up with a proposal for the mayor and the other city leaders to consider – including a financing plan to pay for whatever they propose. According to an ESPN report, here is part of what the Chargers’ representative told that advisory group about a week ago:

“[The Chargers] have no intention of quietly participating in any effort to provide political cover for elected officials. … Simply put, we have no intention of allowing the Chargers franchise to be manipulated for political cover and we will call out any elected official who tries to do so.”

“The Chargers do not intend to waste years of time and millions of dollars on a proposal that city leaders simply do not have the capacity to actually implement. … In short, a proposal that looks good on paper should not be sufficient. What we all need is a proposal that our city government has the capacity to actually implement.”

I do not pretend to be fluent in the language used in negotiations or diplomatic exchanges, but those words seem to me to be a tad more blunt that what I would expect. Granted they are not as direct as my translation would be:

    “This is not a game and the Chargers are not going to be yanked around by the crank. You got political problems; we got economic problems. You are not going to hide behind us. And, do not think that we will go along with some lame brained idea that will be DOA as soon as it shows up in City Hall. The bottom line is that money talks and bulls[p]it walks.”

Tiger Woods’ announcement that he was taking time off from PGA events simply changed the focus of the “Tiger Woods stories” that golf writers must be compelled to write by editors who have become addicted to Tiger Woods stories. Folks, Tiger Woods was once the best golfer in the world; for the last 5 years he has not been anywhere near that stature. In fact, if you look at the last 5 years alone and consider the amount of coverage in the media for Tiger Woods juxtaposed with his athletic accomplishments here is a sports figure that he has begun to resemble:

      Danica Patrick

Think about the amount of coverage per meaningful victory over the past 5 years and those two sports figures are coming closer and closer together.

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

A-Rod’s Mea Culpa…

In the wake of Alex Rodriguez’ handwritten apology to fans, the Yankees, major league baseball and all the ships at sea, commentators and columnists have posed the question:

    Do you believe him? – or –
    Should you believe him?

Personally, I do not think that either question here – or any other variants on this theme – rise to the level of interesting let alone important. A-Rod is going to show up in Spring Training; the Yankees wish that he will not pass his physical exam so that they can pay him off using insurance policy money instead of Yankee revenue; if he does “fail his physical”, you can be sure there will be legal challenges to that finding. The bottom line here is that my credence in his apology is irrelevant; A-Rod is almost assuredly going to play baseball this year despite what I or anyone else thinks about his apology. Therefore, I have not wasted any energy firing synapses in response to those sorts of questions.

The relevant baseball question regarding A-Rod is more along the lines of:

    Given his age, his rehab from significant surgery and his presumed drug-cleanliness, can A-Rod still play baseball at the major league level?

That question will be answered partially during Spring Training and then far more thoroughly in the months of April, May and June…

Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this comment regarding another sizeable MLB contract:

“The Detroit Tigers signed Victor Martinez to a $68 million contract. He’s planning to take half that money and buy Detroit.”

New MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred said he would be willing to consider a new approach for MLB toward legalized gambling on sports to include baseball games. In an interview shown on ESPN’s Outside The Lines, Manfred said:

“It’s important for baseball to give fresh consideration to the issue.”

Somewhere in the cosmos, Kennesaw Mountain Landis felt a twinge in his neck and had no idea why. Look, the only reason there is a job called Commissioner of Major League Baseball is the response of the baseball owners to the gambling scandal of a fixed World Series in 1919. Even after Landis supposedly “cracked down” on all such shenanigans, there is more than a smidgen of evidence to say that Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker may have colluded to fix a game or two years after Landis was in office to assure that it would never happen again. And of course, there is also Pete Rose and all of the “stuff” that surrounds his case…

MLB has joined with the NBA and the NFL in opposition to legalized sports gambling in New Jersey. However, Manfred’s statements here could indicate that he – like Adam Silver in the NBA – recognize that gambling on sporting events in the US is inevitable and legalization could have revenue implications for state and local governments not to mention the pro sports leagues themselves. Clearly, any new policy or any support for changes in the laws regarding sports betting would have to assure that baseball players could not wager on baseball games – just as football players could not wager on football games – keeping the “integrity of the game” on a solid footing.

Adam Silver says the NBA continues to oppose the New Jersey initiative to legalize sports betting because he favors Federal legislation on the matter. His point that if states individually make changes to set up sports wagering, there will be a hodgepodge of regulations; Silver says he favors a change at the Federal level providing a single set of rules. MLB has also opposed the proposed changes in New Jersey. Manfred’s statements here could indicate that he might join with Silver to seek some movement on this issue at the Federal level.

Good luck dealing with the US Congress. Getting those folks to agree that the sun came up in the east this morning might be a difficult task; getting those folks to agree that they – and/or their predecessors – were a bunch of asshats when they passed PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) back in the early 1990s will be a whole lot harder.

In that interview on Outside the Lines, Manfred also said that Pete Rose’s lawyers have contacted him regarding the possibility that Manfred might consider lifting the lifetime ban on Rose. My position on that action should be clear to any long-term readers here:

    If there is any evidence that Rose bet against a team that he played for or managed, he should never be reinstated under any circumstances.

    Absent that information, he should be reinstated BECAUSE MLB is the entity that keeps Pete Rose off Hall of Fame ballots with their rule that only eligible players may appear on the ballot.

    Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame because of what he did on the field as a player. If you doubt that, let me give you 4,256 reasons why he belongs there.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Rock of the Deseret News regarding player mix-ups:

“Eastern Conference [NBA] All-Star Paul Millsap told reporters his name is often confused with country singer Ronnie Milsap.

“Part of the problem, he said, is that he played in Utah with Ronnie Brewer.

“On a positive note, it’s unlikely anyone will mix up 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert with 5-foot-6 Rudy Ruettiger.”

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

Good Thing He Kept His Kidney…

Yesterday, I told you about the Preston football club fan in South Africa who offered to sell a kidney if it would get him a ticket to the Preston/Manchester United game in the English FA Cup. I assume he did not find a way to the game but that he did find a way to watch – or at least follow – the game. If so, the Preston fan probably had a few moments of euphoria early in the second half when Preston took a 1-0 lead. Unfortunately for him, that lead did not hold up and Manchester United won the game 3-1 to advance to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup tournament.

Of the 8 teams in the quarterfinals, 5 are in the Premier League. Two of the “underdog teams” play each other in the next round meaning that it is a certainty that there will be at least one “underdog team” in the semi-finals at Wembley Stadium. Preston North End shall not be one of them…

I also mentioned recently that players and owners in MLS were at loggerheads over a new CBA. Here is some data I ran across that relates to the contract dispute.

    MLS is about to start a new TV deal that will bring the league $720M in TV revenue over the next 8 years.

I knew that MLS had gotten itself a new TV deal but I did not know any of the parameters. Looking at an average of $90M per year coming into the league coffers starting with this season, it is not surprising that the players want to have a way to share in bounty. The rub seems to be that the players believe that a path to free agency is the only way for them to get a share of the bounty while the owners do not share that belief. A little more than 2 weeks remain until the MLS season is scheduled to open.

If you are a student at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan and you are also a soccer fan, you have an interesting course offering available to you. You can take a course – and get credit for it too – in Cristiano Ronaldo Studies. The course examines:

“…Ronaldo’s rise to global iconography and the social and personal repercussions emanating from his rise.”

I could not even come close to making that up…

Staying with soccer for one more item a team in the top Italian league – the Serie A – has been sold for 1 euro. As of this morning, that comes to $1.13. To make this situation even stranger, the sellers of the team also paid 1 euro to purchase the squad about 3 months ago. The club, Parma, is not doing well on the pitch this year. In 23 games, their record is 3-18-2; that puts them squarely in last place in the Serie A table. According to one report I read, the players have not been paid since last July.

Now, news reports say that debt collectors have shown up at the team facilities to repossess assets because of the outstanding debts including unpaid taxes and wages. The repo guys seized two vans and a car which seem unlikely to take care of the unpaid taxes – forget the unpaid wages – amounting to $100K euros. The new owner, Giampietro Manenti says that he has arranged for bank transfers to pay the players their back wages. Notwithstanding that assurance, it would surely appear as if Parma is destined for relegation this year given that it stands 11 points short of the relegation line as of today and it has only earned a total of 11 points in the 23 games played to date.

Remember Maurice Clarett? After the tumultuous times surrounding his attempt to become an NFL player, Clarett spent time in jail and was released in 2010 and given 5 years’ probation. A few weeks ago, he was released early from his probation and the judge doing that said that Clarett’s probation had been a “truly, truly wonderful success story.” Since getting out of jail, Clarett has sought to become a role model for youth and has done a lot of community work with and motivational speaking to that audience. Whatever he is doing must be having positive social outcomes for a judge to make those sorts of remarks at the occasion where he released Clarett from probation earlier than scheduled.

Congratulations to Maurice Clarett. There was a time about 10 years ago where he seemed to be an irredeemable meathead. Obviously, he has altered his life vector into a far more positive and productive area.

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had a column recently tallying up the various “challenges” facing the folks in Rio who need to host the Summer Olympic Games about 18 months from now. Here is the link to that article; it is not lengthy and I suggest you read it in its entirety,

There are plenty of problems but the one facing the athletes who will compete in those events that will be staged in Guanabara Bay seem to be the most daunting. Rio dumps raw sewage into that bay and even though the organizers promised to remedy that situation back when bidding for the games, that is not going to happen. As disgusting as that may be, it does get worse; scientists have recently found a drug-resistant strain of a “super bacteria” residing in Guanabara Bay. Oh swell…

Just in case you were thinking of going to Rio to attend some of the events next summer, consider this paragraph from Professor Ostler:

“If you hate gun control, you’ll love Rio. In an average year that city, population 6.5 million, has one-third the number of homicides of the entire United States, population 320 million. Rio’s violent crime is on the rise as police paving the way for a safe Olympics crack down on drug gangs, which crack right back with increased ganginess.”

Finally, a comment from Mike Bianchi in the Orlando Sentinel:

“How ironic that two coaching giants — Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian — died within a week of each other. Smith helped innovate NCAA basketball; Tark helped innovate NCAA compliance.”

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

Another Little League Mess

The Rev Jesse Jackson found it necessary to insert himself into the discussion of stripping the Chicago Little League team of its United States Championship. Jackson wondered aloud if this was about boundaries or if this was about race. Given what has been reported, it surely seems as if the adults in charge of that tournament team knowingly went outside the limits of their district to recruit players for the team in the tournament. One report said that one of the kids lived about 10 miles outside the boundaries of the district. There is no evidence that the kids on the team participated in the external recruiting but one does have to wonder how they never noticed that there were kids on the tournament team they had not seen during their normal Little League season.

Therefore, it is pretty clear to me that there was some skullduggery going on with regard to the roster. And so, I would like to respond to Rev Jackson’s wondering aloud about this being about boundaries and not race. To respond, allow me first to present some words by the Rev Martin Luther King, Jr. from the “I Have A Dream” speech:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The adults in charge of that Little League team cheated. I do not think that cheating is a race issue but I do think it is a character issue. I choose to judge those people on the basis of their character as evidenced by their behavior. Sadly, those adult cheaters with character flaws all their own behaved in a way that caused a bunch of kids to lose something they obviously treasured.

Later today, Manchester United meets Preston North End in the FA Cup tournament in England. The Preston Lilywhites are a League One team from the Lancashire area and they have a rabid fan who lives in South Africa. This fan – named Michael Jackson – seemingly puts an exclamation point on the statement that the word “fan” is short for “fanatic”. According to reports, here is what Jackson said about finding a way for him to get from South Africa to Deepdale – where this game will take place:

    He offered to sell a kidney for a chance to see the game.

    He offered to ride a giraffe for a chance to see the game.

    He said he would swim from South Africa to the River Ribble – that river flows through Preston in England for those who are not geography majors.

League One is two levels below the English Premier League where Manchester United competes but Preston is solidly in fourth place in League One where there are 24 teams. I presume that Michael Jackson – the Preston fan and not the entertainer – will find a way to watch this game in South Africa unless of course he is astride a giraffe and riding north toward Deepdale, England at kickoff time…

I knew this was going to happen and I was on the lookout to see which team would pick up on it first. However, Gregg Drinnan found it first and had this item in Keeping Score last weekend:

“Minor league baseball’s Akron Rubber Ducks will play host to Brian Williams’ Pants-on-Fire Night on April 27. You know you’ve made it when a baseball team is honouring you with a special night.”

The date for this promotion is important because April 27 is National Tell A Story Day. Here are some of the antics scheduled for that evening:

    There will be an on-field variant on the game “Two Truths and a Lie”. This game will be called “Two Truths and a Brian Williams”.

    Fans will have a chance to audition for the job of a TV news anchor between innings and the winning contestant – presumably by a vote of the folks in attendance – will have his audition tape sent to NBC.

    A pair of pants will be set on fire on the field.

According to an official with the Rubber Ducks, they wanted to hold this event on “National Liars Day”. Unfortunately, National Tell A Lie Day is April 4 and that is before the start of the Ducks’ AA season in the Eastern League. I do believe, however, that a special ceremony for National Tell A Lie Day will be held in the US Capitol rotunda on that day…

Speaking of prevarication, here is a nightmare scenario for you to contemplate:

    They have established a World Series of Liars Poker and you have made it through the field of thousands of entrants to the final table.

    You are one of eight folks at the final table and your opponents are:

      Lance Armstrong
      Alex Rodriguez
      Brian Williams
      Dan Rather
      Two US Senators
      One political campaign manager.

I doubt you stand a chance…

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald channeled Carnac the Magnificent recently:

“Answer: The 50-and-over Champions Tour event in Boca Raton ends Sunday.

“Question: And you thought watching golfers in their prime was dull!?”

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

Dysfunction In Cleveland…

Before I begin today, may I please air a pet peeve? Full disclosure, I am a shareholder – very minor – in the company that provides electricity to this part of the US. Now, notice the date today; we are in the middle of February; this is the 44th day of the year; it has been 50 days since Christmas. In our local area, there are still several homes where people still have their holiday decoration lights turned on every night. It is time for one of two things to happen:

    Take down the lights and the candy canes and wire frames holding lights in the shape of a reindeer.

    If some unusual happening forces you to delay said deconstruction, pull the plug on the lights.

Whenever you consider the 32 teams in the NFL on some scale or dimension, there must be a team at the top and the bottom of the list. Over the last decade or so, if I asked you to name the “Most Dysfunctional Franchise” in some kind of poll format, my guess is that three teams would be certain to garner lots of votes and wind up as the “Top Three” – albeit in this case the “Top Three” would really be the “Bottom Three”. In alphabetical order, those would be:

    Jacksonville Jaguars
    Oakland Raiders
    Washington Redskins

Yes, other teams would get votes too. Today, I am wondering if the Cleveland Browns are actively trying to crash this party and soar to the top of this list. No, I have no idea what might motivate them to do that; but when you look at events that have happened within and around the Browns’ organization since the end of their season, it makes me wonder…

    In no particular order, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had a long sit-down with head coach Mike Pettine and asked out of the last two years of his contract with the Browns. He did not resign nor was he fired; he convinced the organization to let him walk.

    Readers here know that I do not believe Kyle Shanahan is a budding offensive genius, but in this case the Browns replaced him with the guy who used to be the QB coach for the Raiders. Seriously. This is the guy whose tutelage produced the excellence we have come to associate with Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor.

    WR Josh Gordon may face a yearlong suspension for violation of the terms of his probationary status when he came off his last suspension involving substance abuse.

    QB-in-waiting Johnny Manziel entered rehab. Manziel’s publicist made the announcement and did not specify what malady this particular flavor of rehab sought to cure, but speculation has surrounded alcohol abuse given the myriad photos of him partying in alcohol-infused locales.

    Browns’ GM, Ray Farmer, found himself in NFL hot water allegedly for texting the Browns’ former QB coach on the sidelines during games. Even though I have said I have no idea why that might be against the rules, the allegation is that those text exchanges were about the quality of quarterback play and about personnel decisions. Question: Is that the reason Kyle Shanahan wanted out? Question: If the texts were about “quarterback play”, is that the reason Browns’ free agent QB, Brian Hoyer, seems cool to returning to the Browns?

    News reports have surfaced saying that Browns’ owner, Jimmy Haslem, meddles in the football side of the Browns’ operation. That may have been a good thing for the Browns back when Paul Brown was a part owner in the 1940s and 50s; Brown was a football coach and he knew a bit about football. Jimmy Haslem has none of the football-cred of Paul Brown. By the way, look at my list of “Top Three” dysfunctional teams above and note that two of them – the Raiders and the Skins – had “meddlesome owners” over much of the previous decade…

If Brian Hoyer were to choose to sign elsewhere as alluded to above, that would leave the Browns with Manziel and Connor Shaw at the QB position. In 4 games last year, Manziel demonstrated that if he has a lot of progress to make if he is ever to become a journeyman QB at the NFL level. Here is his stat line for 2014:

    18-45 for 185 yards 0 TDs and 2 INTs (for all or part of 4 games)

Shaw played one full game for the Browns last year and put up this stat line:

    14 – 28 for 177 yards 0 TDs and 1 INT

I mention those stats because of the reports that Hoyer wants to go elsewhere in free agency and that fuels rumors that the Browns might want to “trade up” to get Marcus Mariota in the draft. Normally, rumors of that kind are benign but the Browns have managed to put a sinister twist even on that rumor. Mariota has hired a trainer/training firm in San Diego to help him prep for the Combine and for team workouts after the Combine. His trainer is an employee of that firm but it is widely suspected that he is going to be hired by the Browns to be the QB coach for the Browns under the new offensive coordinator. This situation would allow the Browns to have contact with Mariota prior to the Combine when no other team is allowed to do so. As I said, even a harmless rumor can have a dark side this year if the Browns are involved.

By the way, even though I liked what I saw when I watched Marcus Mariota play last year, the practice of trading up to snatch a QB in the draft has not been a good strategy in recent years. Three instances come to mind – surely someone can find others if they want to expend the energy to do so – and none of the three recent instances has been a huge success for the team trading up:

    Jags traded up to draft Blaine Gabbert
    Ravens traded up to draft Kyle Boller
    Skins traded up to draft RG3

Oh yeah, the Browns traded up to get Manziel just last year too…

As things stand today, the Browns hold the #12 and the #19 picks in the 2015 Draft. That will not allow them to trade all the way up to #1 in the Draft to be sure of getting Mariota; it will take much more than that…

Finally, words of wisdom from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“A World Cup sailing race just ended in Miami. That reminds me. Officials of the 2016 Rio Olympics say the water to be used for sailing there is filled with raw sewage that cannot be cleaned in time. Question: ‘Do I really want a gold medal that badly?’ ”

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

RIP Jerry Tarkanian

Jerry Tarkanian died yesterday. During his time on the bench, I was convinced that he was a cheater and a slimeball. However, I did have to admire his defiant attitude and behavior with regard to the NCAA as an institution. On balance, though, I did not think highly of him. Nonetheless, I prefer not to rejoice in the passing of any person who is not a heinous human being – and Jerry Tarkanian was hardly in that category.

RIP, Jerry Tarkanian…

Speaking of basketball coaches, reports say that George Karl will take over as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings right after the All-Star break. Karl is a certified basketball lifer and he is a very good coach. He has turned sorry-assed franchises in to respectable franchises in the past; the man knows what he is doing. So this is a prime catch for the Kings, right?

Unfortunately, I have to answer that with “Maybe”. Consider:

    The Sacramento Kings franchise has been around since the dawn of the NBA – and even before that truth be told – residing in cities such as Rochester, Cincinnati, KC/Omaha, KC (by itself) and now Sacramento. This peripatetic franchise has won the NBA Championship exactly 1 time and that was in 1951. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, the Rochester Royals were winning the NBA championship about the same time that President Harry Truman was in the process of relieving General Douglass MacArthur of command in the midst of the Korean War. This franchise does not have a winning tradition.

    The current – and newly minted – owner of the Kings is an impatient man who believes that he has great professional basketball insights. It appears to me that he is a guy who will plant a crop of vegetables and then pull up each plant once a week just to be sure the roots are developing and then put it back in the soil. Months later, he will be surprised when his crop yield is below normal… In short, he seems to be what Danny Boy Snyder would be like if Danny Boy bought and NBA team.

Bonne chance, George Karl…

By now you must have heard about how the team that won the US Little League Championship last summer had that title vacated because they used ineligible players from districts that were not the same as the team playing in the tournament. Just a few comments:

    The kids did not do this; adults nominally in charge did this. Why not punish the adults in a way that does not punish these kids who went out and won games on the field?

    On the other hand, who is to say that the Chicago team would not have been eliminated several rounds earlier absent the “out-of-district ringers”?

    Once again, overzealous and less-than-honorable adults screwed up what ought to have been a wonderful experience for the kids on their team and for the opponents of that team. If I were to learn that those adults suffered some horrible setback in life, I do not think I would be moved to tears.

I have been a constant and vocal critic of the commercialism of the Little League World Series for more than a decade. I think Little League is a great thing; I played Little League baseball as a kid; the team from our district made it to the Little League World Series once back in the mid-50s (without any participation on my part to be sure). A childhood friend made the team that went to the Little League World Series that year; he passed away last year but he often spoke of that event as an important week of his life. The Little League World Series is a big deal and ought to be a big deal – FOR THE KIDS. The problem is that it has become far too big a deal for parents, coaches and television execs. Anyone who claims to be a concerned advocate for “exploited college athletes” needs to focus their attention on the Little League World Series if he/she wants to see what a young exploited athlete looks like.

One of the bedrock principles here in Curmudgeon Central is that just about any situation can be made worse if you just try a little bit. In that spirit, let me tell you how the folks who pay the money to televise the Little League World Series can go to the folks who nominally run the show and make it worse:

    ESPN offers the Little League mavens an extra “six-figure amount per year” if the powers that be arrange to put on a Little League Home Run Derby.

How horrific an idea is that? Do you doubt for a moment that the Little League mavens would turn down the scratch?

Moving from the idea of Little League where kids between the ages of 9 and 12 – unless your name is Danny Almonte – play baseball, I want to take a look at a semi-pro team in Japan called the Ishikawa Million Stars. This team just signed as a player-manager 56-year old Julio Franco. Yes, that Julio Franco. He is the guy who holds the record in MLB as the oldest player to hit a home run (he was 48 when he did that) and the oldest player to hit a grand slam (he was 47 when he did that). Franco’s career in MLB started in 1982 and ended in 2007.

The Million Stars play in a six-team league called the Baseball Challenge League. One of the players on the Million Stars is a 23-year old female knuckleball pitcher named Eri Yoshida. It is close, but she is about young enough to be Franco’s grand-daughter in addition to his teammate on the field…

Finally, an interesting rhetorical question from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Coral Springs High won the state title in competitive cheerleading. Question: Do cheerleading teams have cheerleaders?”

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

Sports And Politics Intersect Today…

I try not to inject politics into these rants for several reasons to include:

    I doubt anyone needs to hear my political views.

    I prefer to keep the comments here on a level of civil discourse.

    Pointing out the inane stuff in sports is more difficult than pointing out the inane stuff in politics.

Nevertheless, some of today’s items involve the collision of sports and politics and so you are going to hear a smidgen of my political views and I hope that any comments on this rant will reside in the realm of civility. Let me start with an item in President Obama’s Budget Proposal recently sent to the Congress. Not surprisingly, the Budget calls for expenditures and for changes in the tax structure to pay for those expenditures. Forget the macro-picture here, there is an item buried in the “tax reform section” that relates to sports and I like it a lot.

The proposed change – highly unlikely to be enacted sadly – would make it a lot more difficult for states and localities to build stadiums for professional teams and their owners. Without going into the details, most of the stadiums that have been built in the past 20 years or so would run afoul of the criteria set out by President Obama’s Budget Proposal to allow the issuance of tax-free municipal bonds as a way to pay for the stadiums. Of course I like this idea; it is half of something I suggested back in the late 1990s when stadium building threatened to reach epidemic proportions.

In addition, the proposal would tighten the loopholes that now exist which allow the Niners to build Levi Stadium pretty much on their own and operate it pretty much on their own and keep the revenue from all the events in the stadium pretty much on their own – but have the city listed as the actual owner of the stadium such that the Niners pay no local taxes on the real estate. How cozy is that?

Local governments need the concept of municipal bonds and their exemption from Federal Income Tax to fund local capital improvements. The tax-exempt feature allows small cities to raise money at low interest rates because bond holders keep all the interest they earn and do not have to pay a portion to Uncle Sam every April. Without that feature, interest rates for many small cities could double and their debt burden would become much more onerous.

Forget the stuff in the other 1500 pages of the latest Budget Proposal; I would not even pretend to have read it nor would I understand the implications of most of the items in there. This proposal is a good one; it ought to be enacted. The chances that it ever sees the light of day are minuscule…

You can read more about this subject here.

The other item involving sports and politics today originates in the Congress and so you may anticipate that I will hold it in low regard. And you would be correct in said anticipation… Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) reintroduced a bill to reimpose a Federal ban on wagering via the internet. Moreover, Sen Lindsay Graham (R-SC) indicated that he would introduce similar legislation in the Senate. Let me reset the stage here…

    About 4 years ago, the DoJ issued an opinion/finding (I am not sure of the proper legal term here) saying that the Wire Act of 1961 applies only to Internet wagering on sports and not on other forms of gambling. Chaffetz’ legislation would ban it all.

Anyone who has read these rants for more than a month or so has to realize that I support the idea of sports wagering and – even though I choose not to do things like play online poker – I support the idea that adults should make that choice for themselves. Yes, some people will abuse that privilege and be damaged by their gambling activities but that is not a reason to ban it for everyone. Think about it; some people abuse prescription drugs. Should we ban the use or even the possession of prescription drugs because a few idiots abuse them?

I have at least one other objection here. I doubt that this can be enforced. We have tried Prohibition; that did not work at all. We have had a “War on Drugs” for at least 40 years now and no one can possibly believe that drug usage and drug abuse has vanished from society. Gambling is in the same category; people are going to do it despite its “legality”. If you doubt that, you must also believe there are no local bookmakers in all of those state where local bookmaking is illegal. Wanna buy a bridge…?

Not surprisingly, there is big money behind this legislation and it comes from folks who have large financial interests in casino gambling. They are acting on enlightened self-interest and nothing more. Do not allow them to play the smoke-and-mirrors game with you by telling you that they are most interested in protecting the children from the evils of gambling which will necessarily be visited on them if you can do this over the Internet.

You can read about the proposed legislation here. I want you to note a rather large omission from the statements made by Rep Chaffetz and supporters regarding the proposed legislation.

They do not mention a ban on Internet participation in fantasy sports.

Just in case you wonder why they might not mention that and just in case you think it has not yet occurred to them, here is the reason:

    There are millions of sports fans who play fantasy sports and use the Internet as the vehicle for that activity. Fantasy sports is gambling. If politicians vote to ban fantasy football or fantasy baseball, they are going to suffer a backlash from a LARGE constituency. Hence, no mention of that here…

Finally, here is Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times putting two and two together…

“Q: What do the Seahawks and NBC anchor Brian Williams have in common?

“A: Both would’ve been better off staying on the ground.”

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