More Kickers Than The June Taylor Dancers

Back in January, the Chicago Bears were in the NFL playoffs.  Their exit from the playoffs was very painful for the team and Bears’ fans; it was the infamous “double-doink game” where the game winning 43-yard field goal attempt “doinked” off the upright and then “doinked” off the crossbar before it fell to the ground and was declared “Not Good”.  Cody Parkey lost his job as the Bears’ kicker as a result of that play.

This week in one of the Bears’ team activities, they held a “kickers’ competition” – but this one was a bit larger than the typical kickers’ competition held by plenty of NFL teams.  This one had 8 kickers on hand – 4 of them were under contract with the Bears and 4 others were special guests I would assume.  Here they are:

  1. John Baron II (under contract)
  2. Casey Bednarski
  3. Chris Blewitt (under contract)
  4. Emmit Carpenter
  5. Spencer Evans
  6. Elliot Fry (under contract)
  7. Redford Jones (under contract)
  8. Justin Yoon

I feel good about the fact that I actually know where 3 of those kickers played in college.  I would also suggest ever so humbly that the circumstances that led to this 8-man kicking contest demands that the winner be someone named [Chris] Blewitt.

However, here’s “the kicker” [sorry about that one…] the coaches must not have been overly happy with the performances because:

  • Only Chris Blewitt and Elliot Fry were invited to stay on the day after the kickers’ audition – – AND – –
  • The next day the Bears traded a conditional 7th round pick to the Raiders in exchange for another kicker, Eddie Pineiro who played at Florida.

Yesterday, President Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Tiger Woods.  Generally, I pay little to no attention to such things; they seem to be glorified photo-ops to me.  So, I wondered how many “sports folks” had won this award and I can save you the Googling by telling you that Tiger Woods is the 33rd person from the world of sports to receive the award.  Who knew?

In doing that search, I happened upon the purpose of the award itself.  It seeks to recognize people who have made:

“… an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”.

When I read that statement, I had to then look at the list of 33 medal recipients from the sports world to be sure that Ted Williams was on the list given his stature in the world of baseball plus his two tours of duty as a Marine fighter pilot in WW II and then again in Korea.  Indeed, Williams got this award in 1991 presented to him by President George H. W. Bush.

Speaking of Ted Williams, I learned recently that he has been inducted into 3 different Halls of Fame.

  1. He is obviously and deservedly in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
  2. He is in the Marine Corps Hall of Fame for his service in 2 wars.
  3. He is in the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame (Hayward, WI).  Two of his fellow inductees there include Ole Evinrude (inventor of the outboard motor) and Izaak Walton (writer of The Compleat Angler in the 17th century).

Such is your trivia quota for the day…

I ran across an item from the world of “sports business” recently that reinforced my sense that pronouncements from that world are usually meaningless at best and self-serving to the max.  The NFL and FOX announced that there will be changes to the telecast of Super Bowl LIV to be played in Miami next February.  Here is the deal:

  • There will be fewer commercial breaks – – but each one will be a tad longer so that the same number of ads will make it to the air.

You got that right; the NFL and FOX thought that change was sufficiently noteworthy that it needed to be announced to the public about 9 months ahead of time.  One of the execs from the NFL raised her voice to say:

“For several years now, we have been working with our broadcast partners to make changes to our game broadcasts that are intended to improve the viewing experience.  We’ve seen positive results from these efforts.”

With that content-free addition to the announcement here, we can now proceed to the part where this really doesn’t matter even a little bit:

  • It turns out that the NFL has been using the “fewer breaks/longer breaks” format in playoff games for the last two years now.  There has not been any praise or protest – – and in today’s world that can only mean that no one cares enough to comment on the matter on social media.

Finally, I wonder if this Tweet from Brad Dickson will offend anyone from PETA.  If it does, that is an extra bonus in my mind:

“The upside to being a race horse: unlike the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl a couple years ago Maximum Security still thinks he won.”

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



The Derby Aftermath…

Honestly, after making my two futile longshot picks in the Kentucky Derby last week, I thought I would probably be finished writing about horseracing for at least a few months or until there was some new finding(s) in the investigation as to why so many horses have died at Santa Anita this year.  Then the Derby ended; then the objection was lodged; then the winner was taken down from first to a mile up the track; then …  So, here I am writing about horseracing again today.  [For the record, I did not have the $1 Superfecta that paid $51,400.10.  I missed it by only 4 horses.]

The owner of Maximum Security says that he will appeal the stewards’ ruling from Saturday even though Kentucky’s racing regulations say that the stewards’ decisions are final and cannot be appealed.  So, who knows what that is all about?  The stewards took about 20 minutes to make their decision; it was historic; no other Derby winner had been taken down for a foul within the race itself in the 144 previous runnings of the Derby.  And that 20-minute review process showed me something that horseracing should do routinely.

  • In the spirit of transparency, people should be able to see the stewards as they review the replays of the race and the times of the alleged fouls.
  • Moreover, the racegoers should also be allowed to hear the stewards as they interact with one another.  The fact that there is a camera in the room with the stewards looking at the screens they see means the technology to add audio to the transmission is well within reach.
  • Maybe if this practice becomes commonplace, there will be some benefit derived from the sturm und drang from last Saturday.

Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian Pilot last week; I totally agree with him here; so, let it be the final word on the 2019 Kentucky Derby:

“The mint julep, the signature drink of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, is a waste of good bourbon.”

Adding a tad of transparency to the stewards’ decision making will not resurrect the sport of horseracing, but it probably will not hurt the sport either.  There is something out there on the fringes of logic, however, that will not help the sport and might do it even more damage than it has suffered so far.  I am referring to something that is in the hopper for consideration by – – hold your breath here – – the United States Congress.  Indeed, Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) has introduced something called the Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2019.  The bill has 69 co-sponsors and has been referred to the House energy and Commerce Committee.  Here is the purpose of the bill:

“To improve the integrity and safety of horseracing by requiring a uniform anti-doping and medication control program to be developed and enforced by an independent Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority.”

You can read the bill itself and see where it stands in the legislative process here:

The Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority cited above would consist of the following membership:

  1. The chief executive officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
  2. Six individuals selected by the United States Anti-Doping Agency from among members of the board of the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
  3. Six individuals selected by the United States Anti-Doping Agency [who represent the racing industry and equine medicine]

For those who complained about the length of the 20-minute process involving the stewards at the Derby last Saturday, please recognize that it sometimes takes the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) a couple of years to decide if an athlete’s urine sample contains enough of a banned or unknown substance to warrant a disqualification.  If you want to understand why the processes here take as long as they do, please check out the USADA Adjudication Process here:

There is indeed a problem in horseracing with medications and performance enhancing drugs and the like; there has been said problem for decades.  Why the co-sponsors of this bill believe that the same folks who have cleaned up the sport of track and field – – and several other sports to be sure – – so certainly are the ones to rely on here is something only a Congressthing might understand.

Another way to look at this situation is through the prism of the now declared unconstitutional law related to sports betting.  Walk through this with me, please:

  • In 1992, Congress passed PASPA making it illegal to bet on college and pro sports.
  • PASPA was declared unconstitutional in 2018.
  • Does anyone – even a Congressthing – believe for even a nanosecond that sports betting stopped illegal gambling on sports in the US between 1992 and 2018?
  • So, why would a rational person think that the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 will resolve the doping problems related to the sport and/or instill integrity into the sport from 2019 into the future?

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Bank:  A place to enjoy waiting in line when you can’t make it to the post office.”

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



Derby Picks – For What They’re Worth…

The Kentucky Derby will happen tomorrow.  With 2 horses scratched, the field will be 19 horses this year.  Favorites have dominated the Derby for the last 6 years, but for a while there it seemed as if longshots would win every time out.  I am not thrilled by any of the favorites this year so here are two longshots for anyone who is betting on this race to consider for exactas and other exotic bets:

  1. By My Standards – First in the Louisiana Derby last time out
  2. Spinoff – Second in the Louisiana Derby last time out.

Reports yesterday said that ESPN will not replace Jason Witten as part of the Monday Night Football announcing team.  Witten is returning to the Cowboys’ roster and by all accounts ESPN had conversations with Peyton Manning to join the MNF team; when those conversations did not go anywhere, the decision was made to revert to a “two-man booth”.  I think that is a good way for ESPN to go.

Joe Tessitore is good on play-by-play; and if, somehow, he – and the ESPN overlords – can find a way to meter out his hyper-enthusiastic calls such that they only happen on big plays, I think he can become a top-shelf announcer.  More importantly for me, is that this move gives Booger McFarland a level of prominence he has not had in the past.  I believe that Booger McFarland is very good now and will blossom into a star in the sports broadcasting cosmos.  He is insightful; he is candid, and he has a natural sense of humor.  This move will get him in the booth and out of that stupid “Boogermobile” that ESPN used for most of last season.  [Aside: Whoever thought up that idea and whoever else “green-lighted it”, should be made to wear dunce caps and sit in the corner for 2 hours.]  Personally, what I would do now with the Boogermobile itself would be to dismantle it; put the parts in a steel container and jettison the whole thing into the Marianas Trench.  But that’s another issue…

There is an interesting – to me – angle to the assignment of NFL color commentators by the networks.  This year will be the final year of Tony Romo’s contract with CBS; he will be the announcers’ version of an unrestricted free agent.  Moreover, his tenure with CBS has been an unmitigated success.  I have to think that there will be a bidding war for his services for all the networks that carry NFL games – – except for NFL Network itself.

Added to that potentially intriguing set of circumstances that will unfold at the end of this NFL season, Peyton Manning has not said he has no interest in announcing and every network that carries NFL games would want him if he ever hinted at being interested.  So, there are two huge names and personalities out there overhanging all the existing announcing teams for NFL games.

The Super Bowl will be televised by FOX this year so Tony Romo’s last game for CBS under his current contract will be the AFC Championship Game on January 19, 2020.  Meanwhile, this summer, Peyton Manning will host a 5-part series celebrating the 100th “birthday” of the NFL – not a game announcing position to be sure but a “television-related activity”.  As they say in the business, stay tuned and don’t touch that dial…

I read a report recently that a school district in Central New York will not use any pesticides on any of the athletic fields in the district.  Folks there have run across some “organic stuff” that will be applied to the fields and that will supposedly take care of all the pests that might be associated with large grass fields in that climate zone. How ecologically friendly is that?

I wonder why they don’t take the next rather obvious step here and end the use of mowing equipment whose 2-cycle engines spew all sorts of environmental nasties into the air.  For the cost of a bit of fencing the school district managers could get a few goats and turn them loose on the field to let Mother Nature really take over there…

The under-achieving Washington Nationals fired their pitching coach, Derek Lilliquist, earlier this week.  To be sure, the Nats’ staff – and very particularly the bullpen staff – has been butt-ugly awful so far this year.  How much of the blame belongs to Lilliquist is up in the air as far as I am concerned.  Let me explain:

  • The Nats signed Trevor Rosenthal as a free agent reliever in the offseason.  In six prior seasons with the Cardinals, Rosenthal recorded 121 saves and an ERA of 2.99.  Not exactly Hall of Fame numbers, but reasonable ones for a guy whose slot was “8th inning bridge to the closer.”
  • In his first four appearances with the Nats, Rosenthal failed to get a single batter out.  His ERA was infinite for those games.
  • Rosenthal’s stats as of this morning go like this.  He has been in 7 games; he has thrown a total of 3 innings; he has given up 12 earned runs on 7 hits with 9 walks and 5 wild pitches.  His WHIP is 5.33.

Someone will have to explain to me how it is Derek Lilliquist’s fault that a pitcher who only threw 14 wild pitches in 6 years and 325 innings with the Cardinals has now thrown 5 wild pitches in 1 month and 3 innings with the Nats.  Moreover, will someone explain why it took until this week to discover that Rosenthal “has a virus” and needs to go on the 30-day IL so that he can get in some rehab work at the minor-league level?  The pitching coach makes those sorts of decisions?

I have my own explanation for the Nats’ under-achievement from 2018 and into the first month of 2019 and none of it has to do with Derek Lilliquist and his abilities or shortcomings as the pitching coach.  Please remember, the same guy that signed Trevor Rosenthal also hired Derek Lilliquist in the first place.

Finally, speaking of pitching woes, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Seven consecutive Mets batters reached base via walk or hit by pitch in the fifth inning against the Twins last week, the first to do it since:

  • “a) the Yankees, in 1994
  • “b) 2,178 Little League teams, just 24 hours earlier.”

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



RIP Gino Marchetti

Gino Marchetti passed away earlier this week at the age of 93.  Marchetti was a Hall of Fame defensive end who was on those Baltimore Colts teams in the 1950s that won two consecutive NFL championships – including the sudden death game in 1958.  Marchetti was a dominant “edge rusher” before that term was coined.

In addition, Marchetti and his teammate Alan Ameche founded a chain of fast food hamburger drive up restaurants called Gino’s.  Back then, you went to Gino’s to get this new-fangled dish known as Kentucky Fried Chicken – – before the Colonel found ways to open his own restaurants.  Gino’s was eventually bought out by Roy Rogers who in turn was bought out by McDonald’s.

Rest in peace, Gino Marchetti…

Last year, as the Miami Marlins were in the process of stripping its roster down to its bare bones, they traded Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers.  Yelich merely won the NL MVP last year leading the league with a .326 batting average and an OPS of 1.000.  In return the Marlins got Lewis Brinson and three other living beings.  It was always going to be difficult for the Marlins to come out even in this trade given Yelich’s MVP status last year, but things took a turn for the worse this week when Brinson was sent down to the minor leagues.  It was not a quick hook…

Like Yelich, Brinson played the outfield in the National League all last year.  Unlike Yelich, Brinson’s numbers were bad no matter how you look at them:

  • In 109 games last year, Brinson hit .199 and posted an OPS of .577.
  • He had 76 base hits and struck out 120 times in 2018.

The month of April 2019 was not a good one for Lewis Brinson.  Here are some of his numbers as he goes down to AAA New Orleans:

  • In 27 games this year, Brinson hit .197 and posted an OPS of .510.
  • He had 15 base hits and struck out 28 times in 2019.

Back when the trade was struck, some of the Marlins’ commentary compared Brinson to Ronald Acuña, Jr.  It surely looks as if Brinson is not going to live up to anything resembling the stature of Acuña or Yelich and this trade certainly is not a great launching point for the career of Derek Jeter as a baseball executive…

Ever since Peyton Manning retired after winning the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos in February 2016, the Broncos’ QB situation has been stranded at the intersection of chaos and mayhem.  Here are the people that have started at QB for the Broncos in the last 3 seasons:

  • Case Keenum – 16 games
  • Paxton Lynch – 4 games
  • Brock Osweiler – 4 games
  • Trevor Siemian – 24 games

The Broncos have also had guys on their roster for the last 3 seasons who never started a game; so, it is not as if there has not been a parade of potential replacements for Manning at the position.  As of today, it seems that John Elway is taking the shotgun approach to finding a competent starting QB; the so-called “quarterback room” in the Broncos’ training camp will need to house a throng.

  • The Broncos signed free agent, Joe Flacco.  Barring some sort of accident that results in dismemberment, Flacco will be the starter for the Broncos in September.
  • In the second round of the draft, the Broncos took Drew Lock (Mizzou)
  • Holdover QBs from 2018 on the roster are Kevin Hogan and Garrett Grayson.
  • Then, this week, the Broncos signed undrafted free agent QB, Brett Rypien (Boise St.) – the nephew of former Skins’ QB, Mark Rypien.

Speaking of QB prospects, I like the fact that the NY Giants took Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick in the draft last week.  It is not because I think Jones is a sure-fire franchise QB who will be a star in the NFL for more than a decade, nor is it because #2 son went to Duke and Jones is a “Dookie”.  I like that pick because it is very likely to adjudicate the chasm of opinion that exists about Jones’ fitness for having been selected that high in the draft.

Giants’ GM Dave Gettleman has taken a lot of heat – enough to melt steel, don’t you know – over the pick.  Myriads of commentators and draftniks have put his football IQ somewhere on the scale between stumblebum and village idiot.  Gettleman has doubled down saying that he loves the pick and that his vision will be “vindicated” in 5 years.  And that is why this pick is such a good one for people like me who are happy, willing and able to sit back and see how things manifest themselves over time – – unlike fans of the NY Giants who want certainty and instant positive results.

The spectrum for the righteousness of Gettleman’s decision to take Daniel Jones at #6 seems to be bounded on one end by “Stroke of Genius” and  by “The Greatest Football Cataclysm Since Art Schlichter” on the other end.  Grab yourself a cold one; put your feet up; sit back, and watch…

Finally, speaking of making difficult decisions, here is an observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Alabama publicists’ biggest concern this spring: Is Nick Saban’s hip-replacement surgery considered an upper- or lower-body injury?”

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



Basketball + Football + Baseball Today

The second game of the Warriors/Rockets NBA playoff series last night was a lot more interesting than the first one.  There was less flopping and less bitching and moaning to the officials last night and both teams shot much better from the 3-point line as compared to Game 1 where it was brick after brick after brick.  The Warriors took a 2-0 lead in the series 115-109 but this game was always in doubt.  Game 3 on Saturday night in Houston should be a good one.

The second game of the Celtics/Bucks NBA playoff series last night was a mirror image of the first one.  In Game 1, the Celtics defense smothered Giannis Antetokounmpo and dominated the game winning by 22 points; the score reflected the Celtics’ dominance.  In Game 2, things were close at the half – Bucks led by 4 points – and then came the deluge.  There was a stretch in that third quarter where the Bucks outscored the Celtics 28-2 and coasted from there to a 25-point win.  For Game 3 in Boston, the oddsmakers have the Celtics as a 1.5-point favorite; toss a coin here…

As the federal trial related to college basketball recruiting practices continues to reveal “irregularities” that the NCAA super-sleuths never knew existed, the NCAA actually did something constructive regarding another collegiate sport.  The NCAA revised some of the football rules in favor of increased player safety.  For every ton of contempt one should heap upon them for being unable to enforce their own arcane recruitment rules, give them a couple of pounds of respect for the football safety decisions:

  1. When a play involving possible targeting is under review, the officials must now either confirm the call or overturn the call.  No longer can they “let the call on the field stand”.  [Good change]
  2. Players will not be allowed to hit an opponent with a blind-side block if the blocker “attack[s] an opponent with forcible contact.”  The result will be a 15-yard penalty – – and it could involve targeting also.  [Lots of ambiguity in “forcible contact” here…]
  3. Overtime rules have been changed.  After 4 OTs conducted as they have been in the past and if the score is still tied, teams will run alternating two-point conversions instead of offensive possessions from the 25-yardline.  Also, there will be two-minute rest periods between the second and third overtimes and another two-minute break after the fourth overtime.  [Probably will affect less than a half-dozen games a year.]
  4. On kickoff returns, teams will no longer be allowed to use a “two-man wedge formation”.  [I presume there is data to suggest this will reduce injuries; therefore, it is a good change.]

Speaking of rule changes, MLB is experimenting with rule changes in a different way.  MLB has “partnered with” the Atlantic League – one of the country’s independent baseball leagues – to try out some changes that could have a significant change to the game.  [Aside:  I suspect that “partnered with” translates simply to “MLB has tossed a wad of cash in the direction of the Atlantic League.”  Whatever…]  The independent leagues are rarely avenues that players follow on their way to the major leagues, but the quality of play is above college baseball and compares to the low minor leagues.  Most of the experimental rules are aimed at speeding up the game; some others intend to increase the number of balls put in play and total scoring.  Here is a sampling:

  1. Time between innings is 1 minute and 45 seconds.  In MLB it is 2:00 for locally televised games and 2:45 for national games.  Players and pitchers need to run from the dugout to their positions to loosen up.
  2. Radar will be implemented to assist home-plate umpires in calling balls and strikes; the umpires will wear an earpiece to “get advice”.
  3. There are no defensive shifts allowed.  There must be 2 infielders on either side of second base when the pitch is delivered.
  4. The size of the bases will be increased from 15”X15” to 18”X 18”.  [Aside:  I am not sure I understand why this is important, but what the heck…]
  5. There are no mound visits by managers, coaches or players allowed.  Period.

Those five rule changes are dramatic departures from the way the game has always been played, but those five are nothing as compared to a sixth experimental change that will come to pass in the second half of next season in the Atlantic League:

  • The pitcher’s mound will be moved back 2 feet; it will then be 62 feet and 6 inches from home plate.  [Two dozen baseball stat geeks just passed out as I typed those words.]

The idea behind that experiment is simple.  If every team has a pitcher or three who can approach or exceed 100 mph on his fastball, that increases strikeouts and suppresses scoring.  There is no real way to put a “speed limit” on fastballs so maybe the way to accommodate this “problem” is to move the mound back and give hitters a tad more time to read the pitch.

Let’s do some math:

  • A baseball traveling at 100 mph is traveling at 146.7 feet per second.
  • At the current mound distance, it arrives at home plate in 0.41 seconds.
  • With the mound moved back, it would arrive at home plate in 0.43 seconds.

That difference is small enough that I am glad to see that MLB is doing some experimentation to see if it matters at all before trying it in MLB because someone thought it was a good idea.  Another thing I hope someone pays attention to is the effect this change might have on breaking ball pitchers.  With an extra 2 feet to play with, some sinker ball pitchers might be able to start their sinker chest high and have it drop below the knees by the time it gets “into the hitting zone”.

Finally, since I was mentioning baseball below the major league level here, please consider this item from Dwight Perry’s Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times recently:

“Some well-meaning baseball parents trying to dry off the infield for their sons’ high-school game in Ridgefield, Conn., poured 25 gallons of gasoline onto it, lit it — and got only 15-foot flames and a $50,000 tab to remove contaminated soil for their efforts.

“In other words, third base wasn’t the only hot corner at Governors Field.”

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



Cognitive Dissonance

Kevin Blackistone is a sports columnist for the Washington Post in addition to being one of the rotating panelists on ESPN’s Around the Horn program.  His columns are usually about things in sports that are apart from games and strategies; importantly, his columns are always well-written and thought provoking.  However, his column here, takes me to a place where worlds collide and where some cognitive dissonance occurs.

Blackistone is aghast that Clemson football coach, Dabo Sweeney, just signed a 10-year contract with Clemson for a total of $93M.  For the record, I am not “aghast”, but I do wonder where all of this is going to end because it surely seems out of control to me.  When you read the column, you will see that Sweeney has also found ways to monetize his name and some of his motivational sayings – things a football player would not be allowed to do.  Blackistone decries the fact that the coach and the school are getting rich while the players are unpaid for their labors.

As everyone here knows, I am not in favor of paying college athletes.  At the same time, I don’t think any coach in any collegiate sport is worth $9.3M per year and I think that every college and university should be taxed on all the revenue that comes in through college athletics.  It is an industry associated with universities; it is not the fundamental mission of that university.

However, here is where I get to the “world’s colliding” …  Blackistone takes the revenue generated by Clemson football last year and divides that number by the number of Clemson scholarship players.  The result is $611,764 per player and Blackistone labels that as “fair market value”.  If that is the case, then those football players are hugely “underpaid” since all they get is a full tuition scholarship out of the deal.  But time out for a moment:

  • Apply that same logic to the Clemson women’s rowing team or women’s cross-country team.  If you divide revenue generated there by number of participants to determine “fair market value” you will get a trivially small number.  Any scholarship athletes there are being hugely “overpaid”.
  • Moreover, the law says Clemson cannot just get rid of those “money losing” / ”economically inefficient” sports.  Title IX will not allow that.

I do not read minds, but I am positive that Kevin Blackistone does not want to revoke Title IX.  However, its existence makes it the case that those football players who are “underpaid” are – at the same time – providing some of the funding that allows the women on the rowing team to compete.  Here is the dichotomy:

  • The NCAA rules create the situation where the players do not get paid – beyond a full tuition scholarship – but the coaches earn regal sums.
  • Federal law creates the situation where the players do not get paid – beyond a full tuition scholarship – and part of the money they generate for the university goes to fund other sports.

There are plenty of inequities there; the football – and basketball – players are the ones on the short end of the stick.  But leaning on a flimsy concept such as an athlete’s “fair market value” is not the path to any sort of remedy.

Moving on …  The first month of baseball is in the books.  There have been some early surprises and as the calendar turns to May tomorrow, here are some things I will be looking for:

  • The Boston Red Sox lost 8 of their first 10 games this year and the Tampa Bay Rays have started the season by posting the best record in MLB.  As of this morning, the Rays are 7.5 games ahead of the Red Sox.  I will be looking to see how that lead holds up towards the end of May…
  • Fernando Tatis, Jr. has been a major factor in the Padres first 29 games posting a batting average of .300 and an OPS of .910.  Given the hype, we should expect Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. to give the Blue Jays a kick-start starting about now.  I will be watching to see how these guys play over the next month or so…
  • The rash of injuries suffered by the Yankees to this point in the season is a huge statistical outlier.  Yet, the Yankees are only 2 games behind the Rays in the AL East.  I will be watching the Yankees to see how they keep things together until at least some of the “regulars” get back to the status of playing more than “simulated games” or “rehab assignments” …

There is another MLB “situation” I will be watching simply because I do not understand why it has not been resolved already.  There are several “good teams” out there who need bullpen upgrades to have a shot at being a “really good team” this year.  Just in the NL East, that situation seems to obtain in Atlanta, Philly and Washington.  At the same time, Craig Kimbrel is still unsigned as a free agent; and while he may not be Mariano Rivera, Kimbrel is an awfully good relief pitcher.  Quo vadis, Craig Kimbrel?

Finally, Greg Cote had this item in the Miami Herald about another MLB relief pitcher:

“Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly strained his back while spending five hours minding the boiling crawfish at a Cajun party for teammates. I blame the Dodgers. His contract prohibited skydiving and motorcycle racing but said nothing of minding boiling crawfish.”

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



Win Totals, Euclid And Yellow Journalism?

Last week, the Westgate Sportsbook in Las Vegas posted lines for all the Week 1 NFL games.  This morning, bettors can find the OVER/UNDER win totals for every NFL team at the Westgate.  Remember, this is not necessarily how the oddsmakers think the teams will finish; this is their first attempt to get balanced action on as many teams as possible.

  • The Pats have the highest number at 11 wins.  Some of that is a recognition that the Pats will likely dominate their 6 divisional games and that they will win more than a couple of game outside their division.  However, it is also a recognition that the betting public loves to bet on “front-runners”; and the Pats have been at or near the front of the NFL pack for almost 20 years now.
  • At the bottom of the scale, you will find the Dolphins and the Cardinals at 5 wins.  Josh Rosen was the Cards QB last year and was just traded to the Dolphins; I suspect that he is less than thrilled to see the Westgate’s appraisal of his once and future teammates.
  • In an homage to NFL parity, the Westgate has 16 teams – – half the league – – with projected win totals between 7 games and 9 games.

With the NBA embarked on the second round of its playoffs, let me comment on one of the teams that was sent home in the first round.  I know it will not be pleasant for some readers to think back to their days in geometry class in high school; Euclid is not a real popular guy; think about it; how many people name their kids Euclid?  Anyhow, let me remind you of one of the fundamental axioms of geometry:

  • The whole is equal to the sum of its parts.

When I think about – or watch – the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seems to me that the whole team is less than the sum of its parts.  Euclid and his buddies say that cannot be the case, but consider:

  • Russell Westbrook is an indefatigable triple-double machine.
  • Paul George was a serious contender for NBA MVP for much of the NBA regular season.
  • Steven Adams is no slouch down in the post.
  • Jerami Grant, Markief Morris and Dennis Schroeder are solid NBA players.
  • Billy Donovan is an accomplished coach – – maybe he isn’t Phil Jackson or Red Auerbach, but he knows basketball.

Yet somehow, with that core of players and coaching, the Thunder have been eliminated in the 1st round of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.  In the last three years, the Thunder’s regular season record was 144-102 (winning percentage = .585).  In those same last three years, the team’s record in their first-round losses is 4-12 (winning percentage = .250).  Maybe Euclid can explain that to me…

Last week, I mentioned some of the issues and challenges that face the sport of horseracing.  Over the weekend, I got an e-mail from a reader who said that it seemed as if the sports media was “kicking the sport when it is down” with lots of negative publicity.  He offered some examples.  I reject the idea that the news about the spate of horses breaking down at Santa Anita in the last 2 or 3 months is “kicking the sport when it is down”.  The number and frequency of those breakdowns is well above the level where it is news no matter what the popularity of the sport.   The NFL is not “down and out” by any means, but if two or three players collapse and die in training camp in July, you may be sure that there will be plenty of analysis and coverage of those incidents.

He did send along two other connections to stories about horseracing that he thought were given larger play than they might have gotten a decade ago.  Since I had not been aware of either one prior to his missive, I cannot comment on how widespread the coverage has been.  Let me put a precis of the two stories here to see how many readers here are aware of these negative incidents:

  1. A jockey at Gulfstream was suspended for 60 days for “continuous careless riding”.  Evidently, the jockey had been suspended for a shorter time before this and had several disqualifications since the suspension and had been called in a reprimanded for careless riding.  One incident involved horses falling and serious injuries to two other jockeys.  When it happened yet again, they suspended the jockey for 60 days.
  2. A jockey at Oaklawn Park (that is in Arkansas for those who do not know) was also suspended for 60 days for deliberately whipping an opposing jockey in a race.  Evidently, there was “video evidence” and welts/bruises on the leg of the jockey on the receiving end of the whip strokes that led the stewards to this conclusion.

As I said, I was unaware of either incident, so I do not know if these reports were sufficiently widely known to be considered “piling bad news onto the sport of horseracing”.  I will say that there were details provided here that were far more detailed than what might have been simple announcements of the suspensions in the past.  Stewards at racetracks have a dilemma here.  Transparency is a good thing for stewards to seek; at the same time, exposing anything that can appear to be a “seamy underbelly” for the sport does not help the sport.

You make the call…

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald told us of the Miami Corporate Run last week and how it was going to clog traffic in the city.  Here he gives us the results of that event:

“Miami Corporate Run draws 27K: The annual Miami Corporate Run drew 26,698 pavement pounders from 882 companies, and the men’s and women’s winners were Dan Nestor and Ana Villegas. It was believed to be the first time in the history of running that a footrace was not won by somebody from Kenya.”

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



RIP John Havlicek…

John Havlicek died earlier this week.  When I was starting my experience as a college basketball fan, he was on a great Ohio State team that included Jerry Lucas, Larry Siegfried and – first off the bench – Bob Knight.  After that, John Havlicek was an integral part of the Boston Celtics’ teams in the 1960s which dominated the NBA.  What I always liked about John Havlicek was the way he played; he never “dogged it” even for a moment; he was always into the game in addition to being in the game.

Rest in peace, John Havlicek.

With the first round of the NFL Draft consigned to history, you can find a jillion columns this morning giving out grades to the various picks.  Please read any or all of them as “space filler” and not as a conclusion based on principles which are grounded in certitude.  As I mentioned yesterday, I did not have my notes from last year to check, but there were about 4 players taken in the first round that I do not remember noting from my TV watching last year.  Of course, the OL from Alabama State was one of them; the Hornets are not a staple on the TV menu here in the Northern Virginia area.

Moving from hope and extrapolation into something more imminent and real, please consider the semi-final round in the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs.  Bob Molinaro had this to say about those match-ups in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“The Final Four in the NBA East – Bucks vs. Celtics and Sixers vs Raptors – is a tossup. Should make for fun viewing.”

The Bucks have been the best team from start to present in the NBA this year while the Celtics have had a yo-yo season.  When the Celtics are “up”, I can see them winning everything; when the Celtics are “down”, I wonder how they could possibly get to the second round of the playoffs.  That series will be fun to watch…

Meanwhile the Sixers/Raptors series will be interesting on the court and off the court.  The Raptors will have to deal with the deeply-rooted perception that the team is never as good in the playoffs as they are in the regular season.  The Raptors have been in the playoffs 11 times in team history.  Three times they finished first in their division and lost in the first round of the playoffs; in the last two years, the Raptors were swept out of the playoffs in this same conference semi-final round.  Meanwhile, the Sixers have to demonstrate to their fans that “trusting the process” through those meager years from 2013 to 2017 was worth that trust.

Here is another observation from Bob Molinaro that invites a comment:

“With the Kentucky Derby little more than a week away, the media favorite is Omaha Beach, with Roadster and Game Winner also picking up healthy support. So goes my deep dive into the Run for the Roses. But what do any of us know? And unless Mel Kiper Jr., starts discussing the 40 times of these thoroughbreds, most of us remain contently clueless about the Churchill Downs field. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Horse racing is such a holdover from a bygone era that it probably should be ignored, if not protested. Why should helpless horses risk their health for our idle amusement? And what’s even the point of racing animals in the 21st century? If people want to gamble, there are plenty of easier ways to lose money.”

I agree completely that horseracing is a “holdover from a bygone era”; there was a time when virtually every major newspaper had a racing beat writer – – and that assignment was one of the plum assignments to be had in the sports department.  That is not nearly the case today; most papers do not even list the daily entries for the local track let alone devote real estate on the sports pages to the race charts at the local track.

I also agree that “there are plenty of easier ways to lose money” for those who are so-inclined to gamble.  I guess the attraction is that betting on the ponies is the form of sports betting that gives the gambler the fastest feedback/results.  If I bet on the Kentucky Derby, I am likely to know for sure if I have a winning ticket or a losing ticket in slightly more than 2 minutes.  If I were to bet on a baseball game on the first Saturday in May, I would not know if I “had a winner” for several hours.  The same thinking can apply to football games, basketball games, NASCAR races, boxing matches, soccer games, hockey games, darts tournaments – – you get the idea.

The fact is that this rapid-but-not instant gratification is not enough to grow the sport of horseracing.  I think there are 3 reasons that create this situation;

  1. While horseracing provides rapid determination of winning and losing, there is a sameness to just about every horse race.  That sameness means that fans who are not inclined to wager on the races are not sufficiently intrigued by the event itself to attend the races or to watch them on TV.  I have said in the past that horseracing is sort of like sex; it is great as a participation event but not nearly as interesting as a spectator event.
  2. The rapid-but-not-instant gratification is not as concrete as it may seem.  Yes, the Kentucky Derby will only take about 2 minutes to run, but the race before the Derby will have been well more than an hour before the Derby horses beak from the starting gate.  The Derby will provide a festive atmosphere and a certain grandeur that the casual fan can find interesting and attractive; that same delay between races on a random Thursday afternoon at Prairie Meadows Race Track in Iowa is just a tad less “riveting” …
  3. There are upsets – longshots – in horseracing to be sure.  However, there are few if any “miracle finishes” that will keep fans who are not betting on the races or small-time bettors keenly interested in the late stretch run for most races.  In the NFL we have seen “The Miracle at the Meadowlands” and plenty of basketball games turn on the success or failure of a buzzer-beating shot.  If “your horse” is 10 lengths back with a 16th of a mile to run, the fact is that he is not going to win absent a warp in the space-time continuum.

I would not go so far as Professor Molinaro to suggest that horseracing should be protested or banned.  You can look at the horses as helpless animals who must do something strenuous and even potentially dangerous simply for our amusement and feel some sort of moral pangs about that.  At the same time, consider that without horseracing as an “industry” there would also not be a breeding “industry” and those animals would not be part of our ecosystem.  Thoroughbred racehorses have no practical value to humankind in the 21st Century other than to race; they cannot “pull a plow”.  So, it seems to me that if we start to mosey down the path of protesting or banning horseracing, we would likely have to do something very similar to events like the Westminster Dog Show.  And I certainly do not want to be a passenger on the train going down that track.

Finally, let me conclude this week of rants with a groaner from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times.  Honestly, the man has no shame…

“In one of the stranger sights in English soccer last season, an Aston Villa fan threw a cabbage at beleaguered manager Steve Bruce during a 3-3 draw with Preston North End.

Apparently, he thought his team should’ve been ahead.”

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



Hockey, Football And Baseball …

About 60 years ago, Dinah Washington sang:

What a difference a day makes…

Here in the DC area, hockey fans are lamenting what a difference a year makes.  In 2018 – after more than 40 years of frustration – the Capitals won the Stanley Cup and they partied all over the area.  For once, Mighty Casey had not struck out.

The Caps had developed a bad history in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  When they took a series to a 7th game – whether home or away – the Caps always seemed to invent a way to lose that game.  It was so regular an occurrence that Tony Kornheiser, in his days as a Washington Post columnist and local sports radio talk show host, came to call the Caps:

  • The Choking Dogs of April

All that negativism was supposedly washed away in the plentiful libations from Lord Stanley’s Cup last year.  And then last night happened…

  • Playing at home, the Caps led the Hurricanes in Game 7 of their playoff series.  The Caps led 2-0 after one period and led 3-1 late in the second period.  Ultimately the game went to Double OT and the Hurricanes won the game 4-3 breathing life into those old memories of the Choking Dogs of April.  It is not a happy day in the DC area.

#2 son was at the game last night.  His text messages reflected significant concern about the way the game was going when the Hurricanes scored a short-handed goal in the second period.  He also predicted OT before the game was tied in the third period.  Given the record of his texts and the outcome last night, #2 son should Google “Cassandra” as a way to reconcile what he saw and felt last night…

The Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoff last year in a maelstrom of controversy and intrigue among players.  LeVeon Bell was holding out; he is now off to play for the Jets; Antonio Brown had taken his talents – and his temper – to the Raiders courtesy of a trade; that leaves Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin and Juju Smith-Schuster as the remaining soap opera cast members in Pittsburgh.  Seemingly, the Steelers are happy with this arrangement because they just extended Ben Roethlisberger’s contract by 2 years and gave him a signing bonus of $37.5M.  In total, the contract extension adds $63M to Roethlisberger’s bank account – assuming it all plays out as designed – and will carry through the 2021 season in which Roethlisberger will be 39 years old.

Behind Roethlisberger on the Steelers’ depth chart this morning are:

  • Josh Dobbs
  • Mason Rudolph

The Steelers have acted to secure their QB of the present and near future with this contract extension; looking at that depth chart, the Steelers need to pay close attention to their QB of the future situation.  If they are convinced that one of those guys is “The Guy” to take over the helm, they are in good shape.  If they are not so convinced…

The Toronto Blue Jays have called up Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.; he will make his MLB debut against the Oakland A’s tomorrow.  If you believe in genetics, this kid ought to be an offensive presence in the Jays’ lineup.  His father, Vladimir Guerrero, is in the Hall of Fame with some gaudy stats:

  • In a 16-year MLB career, he hit .318 with an OPS of .931.
  • He hit 449 HRs and drove in 1496 runs scoring 1328 runs on his own.
  • He was an All-Star in 8 seasons; he was MVP in 2004.
  • He led the AL in intentional walks 4 consecutive years.

Vlad Jr. had been hitting .367 for the Buffalo Bisons in the AAA International League…

Soon after the NFL released its schedule for 2019, the Westgate Sportsbook in Las Vegas posted lines for all the Week 1 games.  Forget that the Draft has not yet happened nor is there any inkling as to what kinds of injuries might occur during Training Camp/Exhibition Games; the lines are up.  I am not going to regale you with all of them here, but there are 4 that have an angle to them:

  1. Skins at Eagles – 8 (46.5):  This could be an interesting attempt to find a “middle bet”.  If you take the Skins +8 here and then something bad happens to the Eagles in the run-up to the season, the line could drop a few points setting up the chance to win both bets if you later take the Eagles “minus something less than 7 points”.
  2. Chiefs – 5.5 at Jags (52.5):  Andy Reid’s teams tend to start fast …
  3. Lions at Cardinals “pick ‘em” (49):  I doubt that I would want to bet this game in April 2019 or in September 2019.
  4. Broncos at Raiders – 2.5 (43):  Jon Gruden returns to Monday Night Football – – fortunately not as the color analyst…

Finally, Greg Cote had this comment in the Miami Herald last weekend about an event in Miami that will take place today:

“Miami Corporate Run on deck: The annual Miami Corporate Run clogs/hits downtown streets this Thursday evening. Last year’s run drew 28,265 entrants from 850 companies. Hey you all: Less running, more working!”

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



NFL 2018 Predictions – The Post-Mortem

I must be losing it in my old age; things are getting pretty loose down here in Curmudgeon Central.  Let me explain briefly:

  1. My plan for today was to do my annual NFL Draft Preview where I go through all my notes from last season’s college football viewing.  I even thought ahead to the short time I would have to write it getting back from Ireland late on Tuesday and having to have it done by Thursday.  I took my notes with me so I could start the sorting process that has to happen before I can piece together the Draft Preview.  Then I proceeded to leave all those notes in the seat pocket in front of where I sat on the aircraft flying back to the US.  Ergo, there will be no Draft Preview for this NFL Draft.
  2. While in the process of “regrouping” in terms of setting up a writing schedule, it came to mind that I never did the Post-Mortem on my NFL predictions for the 2018 regular season.  Normally, I do that in January; this year I totally forgot to do it.

And so … the best I can do today is to lament the loss of all those college football notes and move on to doing the Post-Mortem that I should have done about 3 months ago.  And by the way, if I lose my car keys and find them in the refrigerator sometime next week, I will be really scared that I am losing it.

Back in early September 2018, I made predictions about the records for all 32 NFL teams and about coaches on the hot seat.  What I will do here is to review those predictions and to give myself grades as if I were back in high school to see how I did.  Let me start with the coaches on the hot seat:

  1. I said Jason Garrett was on the hot seat and that he might get the axe if the cow boys continued to be mediocre.  The Cowboys won the NFC East and Garrett is still the head coach there.
  2. I said Adam Gase could not survive another 6-10 season in Miami.  Well the Dolphins went 7-9 and even that was not good enough.  Gase is out in Miami and newly ensconced as the head coach of the Jets.
  3. I thought that Jay Gruden needed to be 8-8 or better to survive into this season.  The Skins went 7-9 and that was good enough to keep him on.
  4. I said that John Harbaugh needed to win enough games to make the playoffs to survive into this season.  The Ravens won the AFC North division and made the playoffs and Harbaugh is still on the job in Baltimore.
  5. I said that Hugh Jackson could not survive inflated expectations for the Browns in 2018.  He was fired halfway though the season when the Browns were playing like – – the Browns.
  6. I said that Vance Joseph needed to win more than 5 games and be competitive in the losses to survive.  The Broncos won 6 games, but Joseph was fired.
  7. I said that Dirk Koetter was in trouble in Tampa because Jameis Winston had not developed the way he was supposed to under Koetter’s tutelage.  The Bucs went 5-11 and Koetter is gonzo.
  8. I said that Marvin Lewis was perennially on the hot seat but that he was probably safe for last year because he got a contract extension.  The Bengals went 6-10 but played like a hot mess for much of the season.  Lewis was “kicked upstairs” and Zac Taylor will take over on the sidelines.
  9. I wavered on Todd Bowles.  I thought that the Jets’ over-achievement in Bowles’ first year would earn him one more year given that he was going to start a 21-year old QB and that I thought the Jets would win 7 games in 2018.  The Jets won only 4 games and Bowles is gone.

Those predictions are not perfect by any means.  However, 5 of the 8 on the list are indeed gone and two of the others, Garrett and Harbaugh, won their divisions last year so they have been retained.  My assessment of Bowles’ survivability was incorrect because I vastly over-rated the Jets’ potential in 2018.  I think these predictions merit a B +.

In the AFC West, I had the Chargers as the division champs with the Chiefs in second place with both making the playoffs.  The Chiefs won the division and the Chargers finished second and they both made the playoffs.  I underestimated both teams; I had the Chargers winning 10 games and the Chiefs 9 games; in fact, both teams won 12 games.  I had the Broncos winning 8 games; they won only 6 and I had the Raiders winning 5 games while the team actually won 4 games.

There was lots of hype last year surrounding the Raiders in Year One of Jon Gruden 2.0; please note that I did not buy into that and pretty much got the Raiders’ record right for the year.  Overall, I’ll give myself a B – for the AFC West.

In the AFC South, I had the Texans winning the division at 11-5.  That is EXACTLY what happened.  I also said the Titans would finish third in the division at 9-7.  That too is EXACTLY what happened.  For the other two predictions, things did not quite work out as well:

  1. I said the Jags would take a step back from their playoff run in 2017 but that they would still make the playoffs here as a wild card.  The Jags did not just take a step back; they came totally unglued and finished the season at 5-11.
  2. I said the Colts would finish last in the division at 5-11.  What happened was that the Colts finished 10-6 and got a wildcard slot in the playoffs.

In this division, I got two of the teams perfectly right and was not in the same area code with the other two predictions.  That outcome deserves a solid C.

            In the AFC North, I had the Steelers winning the division at 10-6 followed by the Ravens at 8-8.  Actually, the Ravens finished 10-6 while the Steelers missed the playoffs at 9-6-1.  I thought the Bengals and the Browns would finish at 5-11.  The Browns went 7-8-1 and the Bengals went 6-10.

Nothing here was exactly right – – but none of these predictions was totally off the reservation.  I’ll give myself a C – here.

In the AFC East, I had the Pats winning the division at 12-4; they won the division at 11-5.  I had all the other teams in the division finishing under .500; that happened too.  I thought the Bills would be the worst team in the division; the Jets finished last – – and got their coach fired in the process.

Other than the order of the also-rans here, I pretty much had this division scoped out.  I’ll give myself a B here.

In the NFC West, I had the Rams winning the division at 12-4; they won the division at 13-3.  I had the Niners finishing a distant second at 8-8; then Jimmy G. tore up his knee early in the season and the Niners finished at 4-12.  I had the Seahawks at 7-9 but they played very well and finished at 10-6 earning a wildcard playoff slot.  At the bottom, I had the Cards at 4-12; they finished 3-13 and will draft first tomorrow night in the 2019 NFL Draft – – unless they trade down.

I came pretty close to the right records for the top and bottom of the division and missed badly in the middle – – the Jimmy G injury played some role in that outcome I do believe.  Overall, I think a D is the proper grade here.

In the NFC South, I had the Falcons winning the division at 12-4 and having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Let me be kind and say that did not come close to happening.  I had the Saints finishing with the same 12-4 record which is pretty close to the Saints’ 13-3 record in 2018.  I had the Panthers at 6-10; they finished 7-9 and I had the Bucs at 4-12; they finished at 5-11.

Given the huge missed call on the Falcons, the best grade I can assign here is a D.

            In the NFC North, I had another huge miss.  I had the Packers winning the division with a n 11-5 record.  The Packers limped in at 6-9-1 and got the coach fired in the process.  I had the Vikes finishing second with the same 11-5 record.  The Vikes were 8-7-1 which is closer to my prediction than the one for the Packers; but still…  I had the Bears finishing above .500 at 9-7 but running third in the division.  The Bears went 12-4 and won the division.  The only thing that was close to correct was exactly correct; I had the Lions finishing at 6-10 which is EXACTLY what they did.

Notwithstanding that prediction for the Lions, the only grade possible here is an F – because the scale does not go any lower.

Finally, in the NFC East, I had the Eagles winning the division at 10-6; they finished second at 9-7.  I had the Giants finishing second at 8-8; that was not even close.  I had the Cowboys also at 8-8; the Cowboys won the division with a 10-6 showing.  And, I had the Skins with 5 wins and they actually won 7 games.  The only thing to crow about here is that I said the NFC East as a division would finish at 31-33 – – and that is EXACTLY what the teams did cumulatively.

I think a grade of D for the NFC East is all that I deserve…

And so, to summarize, there were 9 grades to hand out.  In order they were:

  1. B +
  2. B –
  3. C
  4. C –
  5. B
  6. D
  7. D
  8. F
  9. D

That boils down to an embarrassing 1.78 ‘Grade Point Average” which would not be sufficient to maintain my eligibility for NCAA competition.  As I said at the beginning of the predictions back in September 2018:

“Prediction is difficult – – particularly when it deals with the future.”

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