Southern California Blues

Santa Anita Park is a mess.  The racetrack has been one of the major horseracing venues in the US for the last 85 years.  Today, it is shut down while officials there try to determine why 21 horses have died there since about Christmas 2018.  The problem is not some equine virus that is spreading among the resident animals; the problem is the main dirt track where horses are breaking legs, ankles etc. such that the animals have to be euthanized.

All racing has been canceled at Santa Anita.  There had been some restrictions on racing and workouts recently and the track was preparing to get back to normal after an inspection of the track and some analyses had been done.  Then a 4-year old filly was “breezing” in a morning workout when she “sustained fractured seismoids” and had to be put down raising the number of horses in that condition to 21 in the last 10 weeks.  Those circumstances – a breezing workout for a mature horse – are not normally associated with fatal injuries.

The weather in southern California has been very unusual this winter.  The track received 11.5 inches of rain in February alone; normal rainfall for February is 3.74 inches.  In fact, in February of this year, the track got more than half of the average annual rainfall for that part of the world.  In addition, February saw abnormally low temperatures.  It is tempting to blame the climatological conditions there for these problems except for the fact that no rational linkage has been found.

The track had closed briefly at the end of February to allow for an evaluation by a consultant from the University of Kentucky whose specialty is racing surfaces.  He took soil samples at varying depths and did not find any flaws in the track composition, so training resumed.  Then came the death of the filly in a training session and the track shut down completely.

This is a situation that needs fixing quickly and reliably.  Santa Anita is not some rinky-dink track in suburban Beaglebreath, WY.  Santa Anita is slated to host the Breeders’ Cup races this November.  There is no way the owners of the horses who are eligible to compete at that level of racing are going to put their assets at risk on a racing surface that averages 2 deaths per week.

Maybe space aliens are beaming some sort of disruption ray at the southern California area because in addition to Santa Anita Park being a mess, the LA Lakers are also a mess.  Last summer when LeBron James took his talents to LA, most folks thought that the Lakers would return to the playoffs after a lengthy – for them – absence.  Only the biggest Lakers’ fanboys thought that they might make it to the NBA Finals this year, but a slot in the playoffs appeared to be in the bag.

As of this morning, the Lakers are in 11th place in the Western Conference; they are 6.5 games behind the LA Clippers who are sitting in the 8th and final playoff slot.  The Lakers have 17 games left in the regular season; making up that margin is not impossible – – but it sure does not look likely.

IF the Lakers miss the playoffs, it will be interesting to see what sort of analysis comes out of that circumstance.  Here are some possible threads:

  1. LeBron James has been in the NBA Finals for 8 consecutive seasons and a couple of those teams did not feature strong supporting casts for the best player on the planet today.  Ergo, this young group of Lakers must be a lot less than they were cracked up to be.
  2. LeBron James creates drama wherever he goes.  This young Lakers’ team could not handle the drama – – see how they fell apart right after the abortive attempts to trade for Anthony Davis engineered not by LeBron James but by LeBron James’ agent.
  3. LeBron James is a coach-killer except he could not get the Lakers’ owner to fire Luke Walton this year and so he did not put his full energy into the team this season.
  4. LeBron James has begun to feel the presence of Father Time.  His stats are still exemplary, but he missed 17 games this season due to injury and he no longer plays 40+ minutes every night and he plays even less defense than he has in recent years.

At the moment, I would lean toward the second thread above.  LeBron James has offered up plenty of passive-aggressive commentary about his teammates and coaches in the past and those comments have gotten former teammates to shape up lest they be the target of some upcoming passive-aggressive verbiage.  It appears that this Lakers’ roster has not reacted in the same way; this team plays as if they are afraid to hear what is coming next.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about a former Lakers’ superstar’s current situation:

“Shaquille O’Neal’s Big Chicken Shaq restaurant has unveiled an $8.29 Charles Barkley sandwich.

“OK, we’ll bite: It’s a healthy slice of ham on huge buns?”

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



Law And Order Today …

Three men have been sentenced in federal court as a result of the charges brought against them for paying college basketball recruits – or the families of those recruits – “improper payments” to assure that they attended schools sponsored by Adidas.  Two men will spend 6 months in federal prison – pending appeal of course – and the third will spend nine months there.  I have said all during the judicial process here that the US Government would not have wanted me on that jury because I have yet to be convinced that what these folks did was contrary to federal law.  It was indeed in direct opposition to NCAA rules and regulations, but I do not think that is what the FBI and the DoJ should be out to enforce.

In other “criminally connected news”, there is an ESPN report that expands on the Tim Donaghy scandal from about 10 years ago.  There is a long report at saying that the involvement of Donaghy in “gambling irregularities” was a whole lot more than was reported about 10 years ago.  This report says that he not only provided info to big time gamblers but that Donaghy himself was betting on games that he personally officiated.  This is a LONG piece and there are lots of internal links to other reports inside to corroborate and expand the information here.  I recommend that you read it in its entirety.

Buried in that piece is an interesting sidebar.  According to this report, when the FBI made David Stern aware of the results of their investigation, Stern’s major reaction was that he was angry/concerned that NBA’s Security Staff had not been the ones to make this finding.  While that may seem at first to be an improper reaction, I think it is very appropriate for the NBA Commish in such a circumstance.  Consider:

  • The NBA says that its Security Department provides for safety for players and fans; and, in addition, it works with federal and local authorities at the highest level to monitor any possible security issues”.
  • If the FBI is in the Commish’s office telling him about a referee being associated with known gamblers, David Stern must have been thinking along the lines of “What the Hell am I paying those guys to do, anyway?”

And the current investigative report ought to send a shiver down the spinal column of current NBA Commish, Adam Silver.  The Tim Donaghy mess is 10 years old; Donaghy has been tried, convicted and has already served his time in jail; he is out and about as we speak.  For those intervening 10 years, the good folks in the NBA Security Department have not been able to come up with the information that is contained in the ESPN report.  So, the idea that must have floated through David Stern’s head way back then should be front and center once again:

  • What the Hell do these guys get paid to do, anyway?

I officiated basketball for 37 years.  To be sure, I never got anywhere near the level of officiating an NBA or a college basketball game; but I probably did 3,000 games of one kind or another.  Even though I never consciously sought to determine the outcome of any game I was involved with, I know for certain that I could have manipulated that outcome if I had chosen to do so.  No one should read the ESPN report and think that this is some sort of fantasy world.  A referee who has a direct financial interest in the outcome of games for which he is the official can win 75-80% of the bets that he makes on those games manipulating either the spread result and/or the Total Line result.

The data in the ESPN report is not probative, but it is more than mere “eyebrow raising”.  And it needs to be put into the context of the NBA’s constant opposition to expansion of sports gambling up until the US Supreme Court said that the law the NBA sought to uphold at any cost was unconstitutional.

  • Could it be that part of that strong opposition came from a recognition that the NBA Security Department is simply not up to the task of maintaining what the NBA likes to call “the integrity of their games”?

The NBA plays 1230 regular season games – – many of which are meaningless.  The sportsbooks in Las Vegas and on the Internet do not make any distinctions about meaningfulness; they will take action on all 1230 of them.

  1. Do I believe that a significant fraction of those games has the outcome manipulated by referees whose motivation is financial gain from the manipulated outcome?  NO!  The NBA regular season is not rotten to the core.
  2. Do I believe that a game here and there has a manipulated outcome and that it is one or more of the officials assigned to the game that is doing the manipulating?  Yes.  The information in the ESPN report tells me that all the “infrastructure” is in place to effect such manipulation and that if done without getting greedy that manipulation can go undetected for a LONG time.

Shifting gears …  The world’s #1 bridge player, Geir Helgemo of Norway, has been stripped of some titles he won and has been suspended from competitive bridge for about year because he failed a drug test.  Evidently, he showed elevated levels of synthetic testosterone and a female fertility drug.  Because the “bridge folks” have agreed to follow the World Anti-doping Agency rules about drug testing, that led to Helgemo’s suspension.  If you expect me to try to explain how elevated testosterone levels – synthetic or natural – provide one with some sort of advantage in playing bridge, I am certainly going to disappoint you here.  This makes little to no sense to me…

Finally, since today’s rant focused on law breaking and rule breaking and drug test failures, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Police were called when two women, 86 and 79, came to blows over seating arrangements during Bingo night at a retirement home in Rideau Lakes, Ontario.

“Because it was Canada, both returned to action after serving five minutes for fighting.”

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



Home From Arizona…

So, I saw 3 Spring Training games in the Cactus League in the last week.  They used the 20-second pitch clock; none of the pitchers appeared to have suffered any physical or psychic damage.  And, it would appear – based obviously an a VERY small sample – that it does speed up the game a bit.  Here is one datum:

  • In a game that encompassed 8.5 innings, there was a total of 17 runs, 23 hits, 2 errors, 4 batters hit by pitches and a couple of walks i.e. lots of base runners. In addition, there were two mid-inning pitching changes.
  • That game took 3 hours and 20 minutes to play.

The pitch clock is turned off when there are runners on base.  However, I think that part of the value of the clock is that it gets pitchers in the rhythm of getting the ball back from the catcher and getting ready to do something with it other than holding it in the glove while taking a stroll around the mound.  When the clock was in use, many was the time the pitcher began his wind-up with about 10 seconds left on the clock.

In another game we saw, the final score was 1-0.  There was a total of 7 hits in the game with no errors and only 1 base on balls.  That game took 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete.  Granted, this is Spring Training and not the World Series; the pressure is far less than it will be once the regular season is underway.  Nevertheless, I think the “imposition” of the pitch clock is not nearly the end of Western Civilization as we know it – – despite what some of the players may say.

Obviously, the baseball news over the time I have been gone was the ending of the Bryce Harper soap opera.  Our long national nightmare is over; we can go to sleep now knowing where Harper will ply his trade for the next 13 years.  That venue will be Philadelphia where I am not so sure things will be all peaches and cream between now and 2032 when the deal expires.  Just remember that Philly fans got on Mike Schmidt’s case enough that he unloaded on a reporter in another National League city calling the Philly fans a “mob scene” and worse.  The reaction was so strong that he needed to wear a wig and sunglasses on the field in batting practice when the team came home.

Mike Schmidt was the best third baseman in the history of baseball; he had led the Phillies to a World Championship and to another World Series.  But Schmidt was not beloved in Philly because he was not a “blue collar guy”; he was aloof/cerebral/detached.

  • Memo to Bryce Harper:  This is what you signed onto with no opt out clause in your 13-year contract.  I hope I am wrong, but I think you are going to experience a totally different relationship with the fans in Philly from what you are used to with the fans in DC.  Mazel tov…

That signing presumably puts an end to the Phillies’ dealing in this off-season.  Prior to this signing, the Phillies traded for Jean Segura (from the Mariners) and for JT Realmuto (from the Marlins) and signed free agents David Robertson and Andrew McCutcheon.  They were indeed busy over the winter.

Personally, the two best moves in the MLB offseason to my mind were:

  • Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt.  The Cardinals have needed a top-shelf bat in the middle of their order for a couple of years now and Goldschmidt is just that.
  • Rockies sign Nolan Arenado to an 8-year contract extension for a total of $260M.

There was a cryptic/incomplete story coming out of Montreal over the weekend saying that the Montreal Alouettes had released QB, Johnny Manziel.  Given the fact that Manziel’s stats last year were hardly eye-popping (106 for 165 for 1290 yards with 5 TDs and 7 INTs), his release is hardly shocking.  However, there was a twist to the news release:

  • The CFL has said it will not register any contract between Manziel and another CFL team; that means Manziel is banned from the CFL.

So, here is what the Alouettes’ GM had to say about this:

“We are disappointed by this turn of events. Johnny was provided a great deal of support by our organization, in collaboration with the CFL, but he has been unable to abide by the terms of his agreement.  We worked with the league and presented alternatives to Johnny, who was unwilling to proceed.”

Not knowing anything about the “terms of his agreement” with the CFL, it is impossible to do anything other than speculate about where the “violations” in the terms arose.  I prefer not to get into the “guessing”/”speculating” business here so I will simply note that Manziel’s performance and personal conduct made him persona non grata in the NFL; now he has been kicked out of the CFL; there are probably some AAF teams that might give him a look (the one in San Antonio is close to where he played college football) and the XFL 2.0 will come into existence next Spring.  The trend here is not his friend…

Speaking of troubled souls, Cowboys’ DE, Randy Gregory, has been suspended again – – this time for an indefinite period.  It is his 4th suspension since coming into the NFL in 2105.  Once again, the suspension is due to a violation of the NFL substance abuse policy; the last suspension was for 1 year; this suspension is for an indefinite period.  Gregory has been in the NFL for 4 seasons; in those 4 seasons he has only appeared in 28 games.  His problems have not been injuries.

Finally, this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times tells me all I need to know about the situation involving Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers:

“Disgruntled Antonio Brown and the Steelers have agreed to part company.

“In other words, AB’s gone from wide receiver to split end.”

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



Baseball Stuff Today

Yesterday’s big news was the contract extension signed by Nolan Arenado with the Colorado Rockies.  The deal replaces Arenado’s current contract which had one year to run with an 8-year deal worth $260M – that is $32.5M per year if you don’t have access to a calculator right now.  It has a full no-trade clause and an opt-out clause for Arenado after the third season (2021).  Arenado is 27 years old; he has led the National League in home runs three times in his career.  Last year he hit 38 home runs, drove in 110 runs and posted an OPS of .925.  And he is no slouch in the field either.  From my perspective, he has another important asset that he brings with him to the field:

  • To this point in his career, he has been low maintenance and has produced no soap opera level drama.

And that brings me to the masters of baseball drama – – Bryce Harper and Scott Boras.  Yesterday, there was a headline in the Washington Post that read:

“Arrieta knows Harper’s dilemma”

I am not providing a link here because the headline is the portion that is important.  The dilemma is posited as getting a fair and reasonable deal from his perspective on one hand and getting into Spring training to “get up to game speed and build team chemistry” on the other hand.  Would that I thought it was nearly so noble.

I think there is a more insidious way to look at Harper’s current situation where he can only work out by himself and not be with his future teammates.  That insidious view goes something like this:

  • Scott Boras has been doing the agent-thing since Harper graduated from high school saying that he was a transformational player who comes along once in a lifetime.  That is what Boras is supposed to do.
  • Bryce Harper has come to believe that sort of narrative – even when faced with the reality that there are other players in MLB who are as good as he is in some cases and better than he is in other cases.  He is an exceptional talent; he is not a once in a lifetime player.  Put into less polite terms, Scott Boras’ agent-speak has pumped sunshine up Bryce Harper’s ass.
  • Scott Boras has an agenda to work here.  He let it be known that Harper might be worth a $400M deal about 2 years ago.  Now as a free agent, it is pretty clear that he will not get that big a deal and now Boras needs to deliver a deal that is record-breaking just to maintain the “Boras Mystique”.
  • The dilemma Bryce Harper faces in this scenario is much more basic.  He has to decide if Scott Boras works for him or if he works for Scott Boras.  No matter what happens, he will be making enough money to change the lives of his progeny and this progeny’s progeny for several generations.  Sometime soon, he must decide who works for whom in his relationship with Scott Boras.

I enjoy reading much of the statistical analyses published at – particularly the ones related to sports and to politics.  I do not pretend to have a solid understanding of all the math that underpins many of the features there, but I have faith in the statisticians there to get the calculations right.  Earlier this week, a reader here sent me a link to an article there by Nate Silver with this headline:

“Relievers Have Broken Baseball. We Have A Plan To Fix It.”

This article does not focus on the effect a parade of relief pitchers has on the length of games or the pace of play; this article focuses on a statistical analysis of what happens to offensive stats in MLB when teams bring in what Silver dubs “OMG” pitchers.  OMG in this case stands for One-inning Max-effort Guys.  Getting through a lot of stats and math here, offense is stifled in this circumstance and the way teams set up to be able to implement this strategy is to carry 12 or 13 pitchers on the MLB roster and then use minor league call ups and the injured list creatively to assure they always have enough of those sort of guys in the bullpen for every series.

Silver’s proposed solution is interesting.

  • Each team should be limited to carrying 10 pitchers on its 25-man active roster, plus an Emergency Pitcher.

The Emergency Pitcher is an interesting concept.  He is not a guy on the 40-man roster; he is signed on to come in and pitch in games that have gotten out of hand or if the starter is injured or it is long extra inning game.  Moreover, when the rosters expand and teams have 40 players available in September, he would require any called up pitcher to throw at least 60 pitches in any game appearance.

Here is a link to the article.  If you are a baseball stat fan, you will like this one.

Relievers Have Broken Baseball. We Have A Plan To Fix It.

Finally, here is a Tweet from Brad Dickson:

“There’s a new bill in the Kansas Legislature establishing the polka as the official state dance. How the hell did the Nebraska Legislature miss this one?”

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



The Raiders Have A Home – – For Now

It appears as if one of the plot lines in one of the sports soap operas of 2019 has come to a resolution.  A TV station in the Bay Area announced late yesterday that the Oakland Raiders would play their home games in the Oakland Coliseum for 2019 “at least”.  The Raiders’ lease on the stadium expired a week or so ago and their new playpen in Las Vegas is nowhere near ready for action.  So, the Raiders were starting to look like the Vagabonds even getting an overture jointly from Tucson, AZ and Birmingham, AL to be their “split home” for 2019.  Now there is no need for that…

According to KNBR, the Raiders and the folks in Oakland who manage the Coliseum temporarily put aside the lawsuit filed against the Raiders and the NFL attesting that the entire process of moving the team to Las Vegas was bogus and reached an agreement for the team to play in Oakland this year – – with an option to play there again in 2020 in case the Las Vegas stadium schedule continues to slip.  According to the reports:

  • The Raiders will pay the Coliseum folks $7.5M for the 2019 season.
  • The Raiders will pay the Coliseum folks $10.5M for the 2020 season.

We know that one of the Raiders’ home games (against the Bears) will be played in London this year.  That means the Raiders will play 7 regular season games in the Coliseum and presumably 2 more exhibition games there.  [Let’s not get carried away and think about potential playoff games in January 2020, OK?]  That means the Raiders are paying $833.3K per home event in 2019.

I guess that is a good deal for both sides.  That seems like a relatively meager sum for the Raiders to pay considering that they did not have a deal in hand for 2019.  On the other hand, that is $7.5M more money in the Coliseum’s coffers than the building would have generated over the course of 2019.  So, it appears to be settled; the Oakland Raiders will again be the Oakland Renters for 2019 – – at least.

Christian Hackenberg’s football career continues to circle the drain; he was benched at halftime of last week’s AAF game; and yesterday, Memphis coach, Mike Singleterry, announced that Hackenberg will not be the starter this week for the Memphis Express.  In the first half of last weekend’s game, Hackenberg went 8 for 14 for 88 yards and 2 INTs.  I saw much of that first half and he looked about as bad as those numbers would imply.  Overall, in two-and-a-half games here are his numbers:

  • 32 for 62 for 277 yards with 0 TDs and 3 INTs.

Hackenberg was a second-round pick (by the Jets) in 2016 after playing 4 years at Penn State.  He never came close to living up to that lofty draft status; he never saw the field in a real NFL game in 2016 or 2017.  Then last year he bounced around from training camp to training camp stopping in Oakland, Philly and Cincy before being cut from the Bengals’ practice squad around Halloween.  Maybe that elevated position in the NFL Draft was more of a curse than a blessing?

By now, I’m sure you have seen photos of the exploded sneaker that led to Zion Williamson’s “Grade 1 knee sprain”.  Photos of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” did not get wider distribution than the exploded shoe has gotten.  Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times succinctly put perspective on what that shoe might mean for Nike’s reputation in the future:

“Introducing Zion Williamson’s new Nike sneaker: The Open-Air Jordan.”

According to a report in the NY Post, there could be a new model for sports journalism kicking in this year.  Here is the deal:

  • Yahoo Sports will create something called the Queens Baseball Club.  It will provide inside coverage of the Mets specifically for Mets’ fans.  It will have access to batting practice and “insider experiences”.  The Queens Baseball Club will rely on coverage by 3 dedicated reporters/writers and the idea is to create a community of Mets fans that use the online mechanism as its place for interactions.
  • Members of the club will pay a monthly fee to participate.  The NY Post report says the cost will be $4.99 to $5.99 per month.
  • Here is the most unusual aspect of this venture.  Yahoo Sports will pay the Mets a fee to have the insider access that makes the venture possible in the first place.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but that indicates to me that the coverage one might read from the Queens Baseball Club might be very different from what one might gather from other news outlets in NYC.
  • The overall Yahoo Sports plan is to replicate this model in other cities and with other teams.  The initial focus will be on MLB and NBA teams.

Color me skeptical here – – or maybe I just follow sports differently from other folks.  We have here in the DC area something that is like what the Queens Baseball Club could turn out to be except there is no monthly membership dues to pay.  Until last summer, Danny Boy Snyder owned and operated one of the sports radio stations in the DC area and several other radio operations in the far-flung suburbs of this area.  In addition, we get to see one show written and produced by the Skins themselves on the regional sports network here in addition to several other programs that provide viewers with nominally “inside info”.

The TV programs are simply unwatchable; the coverage of the team is fawning when it is at its most “analytical”.  The radio stations were similarly “less than realistic” when covering the Skins but as proof that anything can be made worse, the radio programming actually got worse once Danny Boy sold the whole radio operation to new ownership about 6 months ago.  In any event, I cannot see myself paying money – even something as paltry as $5 a month – if my “inside info” is coming to me through news media that is a business partner with the team they are “covering”.  Hey, I refuse to watch figure skating; other people find it enthralling.  Chacun a son gout.

Finally, let me close today with another observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Megan Marie, 35, of Kansas City says she posts pictures of stunning panoramic views from her hiking adventures – featuring her naked backside in the middle of them – as a way to make her exes jealous.

“Which certainly qualifies her as an outdoors buff.”

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



Not A Lot Of Uplifting Stuff Today

The saddest bit of news on the sports wire this morning is a report from yesterday that Syracuse basketball coach, Jim Boeheim, hit a pedestrian with his car in the last snow event on the east coast and the pedestrian is dead.  According to reports, Boeheim submitted to a blood alcohol test and the results showed 0.00% alcohol; if one is to go looking for a “positive” here, I guess that will have to do.

According to the police, the victim had been involved in an accident on an Interstate near Syracuse; and that for some reason he was out of his car and on the roadway instead of on the road shoulder.  Probably, no one will ever know what led up to that situation.

Another recent college basketball happening – – of far lesser import than anything involving a loss of life – – was the injury to Zion Williamson in the Duke/UNC game earlier this week.  Let me say from the outset that I have a purely personal, shallow and selfish reaction here:

  • I hope Zion Williamson recovers quickly and to 100% capacity because I very much enjoy watching him play basketball.  In addition to his competence on a basketball court, he is entertaining to watch.

A large segment of the “Sports Commentariat” is that the NCAA is at fault here for exposing Williamson to this hazard while not allowing him to be paid for his efforts.  The refrain is well known:

  1. The coaches make millions…
  2. The schools rake in millions …
  3. The shoe companies pay millions – except none goes to the player…
  4. All the risk falls on the player; all the dollars fall elsewhere.

The reason that refrain is so well known is that all of it is true.  And that has led many sports commentators to use this situation to bash the NCAA which oversees intercollegiate sports at the top level.

Anyone who has read these rants for a while knows that I refuse to take a back seat to anyone when it comes to contempt for the NCAA’s hypocrisy, cluelessness and fecklessness.  They are not blameless here; they are the ones who steadfastly defend the position that collegiate sports should adhere to some sort of “amateur model”.  Nevertheless, the real villains in this piece are the NBA owners and the NBPA.

  • The current CBA between the league and the players was negotiated in 2017 before Zion Williamson was eligible to play college basketball.  That CBA codified the eligibility to play in the NBA such that it created the entirety of the “one-and-done” environment.
  • Please note that Zion Williamson was also denied any participation in those negotiations that now govern his basketball existence because he did not own an NBA team nor was he an NBA player.  No one “in the room at the table” represented the interests of players who would come later such as Zion Williamson.

Few people who pay attention to college basketball would argue that Zion Williamson would be unable to compete in the NBA as of this moment – – but he is not allowed to do so because of the actions of the NBA owners and the NBPA.  If you feel compelled to find a villain here to slather in blame, go to the source of the problem.

In a recent interview, someone asked LeBron James about the Lakers’ push to make the playoffs this year.  As of this morning, the Lakers have the 10th best record in the Western Conference and only 8 teams make the playoffs; the Lakers have 24 regular season games to play and they are 2.5 games out of 8th place in the standings.  LeBron James responded to the questioning with something very predictable and at the same time very revealing.  He said:

  • He was now fully activated to make sure the team pushed ahead to make the playoffs.
  • He said that he preferred to delay that sort of full activation until later in the calendar to have that intensity peak during the playoffs but that he “activated” earlier than usual this year because of the realities of the standings.  [That is a paraphrase and not a quotation]

I have said for years that NBA regular season games prior to mid-March are tepid events; anyone who knows anything about basketball can tell the difference between a game in December and a game in the playoffs involving the same two teams.  Here, you have the best player in the league telling the world that his focus and his energy in those earlier games was not what it will be going forward from here.  There is no conjecture about this anymore; you now have it out there in plain view from an unimpeachable source.

  • Fans who went to Lakers’ games this year paid full price to see the team – – and received partial “activation”.
  • Advertisers who paid to sponsor Lakers’ telecasts this season paid full price for those time slots – – and the team put forth partial “activation”.
  • Thank you; I’ll start to pay “real attention” to the NBA in late March and into the playoffs when everyone is at or near full “activation”.

Here is the lead paragraph from a story in the Washington Post.  This is not a source that also reports on alien beings on Saturn that beam thought control waves to the Earth; this is the paper of Woodward and Bernstein:

“Paris 2024: Electric Boogaloo? When the Olympics get underway in the French capital five-plus years from now, break dancing may be part of the program.”

In addition to break dancing, the organizers also propose adding skateboarding, climbing and surfing to the competition.  I just know that the organizers of the original Olympic Games in 776 BC would be proud to see these competitions if they could beam into Paris in 2024 from wherever they are in the cosmos.  Here is a link to the Post story if you want to take a deep dive into nonsense.

Finally, I guess this is the time to ask what else might be added to the Olympic Games after breakdancing becomes a staple.  Here are three possibilities:

  1. Synchronized crocheting
  2. Paper clip stringing
  3. Team farting

“Faster, Higher, Stronger” – – Indeed.

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

Taking Issue …

Bob Molinaro’s “Weekly Briefing” column is in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot on Fridays.  I often use one of his briefing points – or “Briefs” – as a way to provide a concise statement and comment on something in the sports world.  Sometimes, however, Professor Molinaro and I disagree; and in those circumstances, I prefer to present his point and offer a rebuttal.  Such is the situation today.  Here is one of his “Briefs” from last week:

“Move on: Slow to panic or fire head coaches, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a reputation for being the NFL’s model franchise. Had. Maybe they can start to regain it by moving on from disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown and free-agent running back LeVeon Bell, giving Mike Tomlin a chance to reboot an underachieving team that needs a shake-up.”

I take issue with the implication here that the under-achievement by the Steelers is somehow divorced from the performance of Mike Tomlin as the coach.  Yes, I know that he has won a Super Bowl for the Steelers and that his record over 12 years with the Steelers has him winning 65% of the games; those results are not an accident; Tomlin is an excellent coach and he has worked with the team’s front office constructively to evaluate and develop talent.  I stipulate all of that.

Over the past couple of seasons, however, the Steelers organization has not been as tightly organized as it has been in the past.  In the past couple of years, the Steelers have had:

  • An assistant coach run onto the field in a playoff game and get in the face of an opposing player – – without a penalty to be sure
  • The drama of LeVeon Bell and his contract dealings
  • Members of the offensive line publicly calling out Bell for not reporting to the team
  • Ben Roethlisberger go on the radio and make unusual statements to include an announcement that he might retire after a mid-season loss
  • Antonio Brown recording and posting on social media internal locker room happenings
  • Antonio Brown torching the team and the front office for playing favorites.

At some point, the head coach must be part of this dysfunction; his job involves leadership and consensus building within the team.  Mike Tomlin is a fiery guy who often wears his emotions on his sleeve; and it seems that he has – in the past – been very successful in letting players have a long leash.  Maybe the leash was too long, and this is the Steelers’ price to pay for it?

The Steelers are a team in turmoil and that situation will continue to obtain if Bell stays there or if Bell moves on.  It will also continue to obtain with or without Antonio Brown in town.  It will continue to obtain until Mike Tomlin becomes the adult in the room and makes it clear that jobs and playing time for the team depend on some sort of personal discipline on the field and off the field.  I think Bob Molinaro gave him a pass here…

Here is another of Professor Molinaro’s “Briefs” from last week:

“Recycled idea:  Not an original thought, but if the NBA wants to do away with tanking it should get rid of the draft.  Allow college players to sign with whomever they wish after taking into account which franchises provide the best fit and opportunities.  Selfishness over playing time would keep the top prospects from flocking to a select few teams.”

If I were confident that the final sentence above would prevail, I could think about giving this a try.  However, I wonder if the lure of playing time would be strong enough for a prospect to look at teams like the Pistons – playing home games to 74% of capacity this season – or like the Timberwolves – playing home games to 79% of capacity this season.  Contrast to those teams the nine different franchises that are playing to home crowds of 100% capacity – or ever so slightly more with the approval of the local fire marshal of course.

It would not take too many seasons where a downtrodden team – – say the Pelicans once Anthony Davis takes a hike – – where none of the top college or international prospects choose to go there descends into a talent abyss.  Attendance will similarly crater and then the team will not be as able to bid for veteran free agents to help climb near the edge of the abyss such that college talent will consider going there.  I think this idea – recycled or not – is Russian Roulette for franchises.

Please do not infer any malice or ill-will from the comments above.  This is simply a situation where Bob Molinaro and I disagree.  Nothing more…

Changing the focus here…  There are times when I just shake my head in disbelief at how tone deaf/out of touch some people can be in the world today where social media makes known boneheadedness.  The NY Post reported this week that a high school cheerleading team in Wisconsin came under censure for team awards handed out at the end-of-year banquets.  According to the report, the team gave out the usual awards for “Hardest Worker” and “Most Improved”.  No problem there; those are standard fare at such convocations.

HOW-EVAH, for the last 5 years or so, the team also gave out the “Big Boobie Award” to the girl with the largest breasts and the “Big Booty Judy Award” to the girl with the largest butt and the “String Bean Award” to the skinniest cheerleader.  I am trying to put myself in the mindset of the genius who thought this up in the first place, but I can’t get there.  Add to that befuddlement the idea that someone would continue to do something like that for about 5 years and my brain is gyrating inside my cranium.

The ACLU has been central to putting a stop to such nonsense.  [Aside:  While I completely agree that these behaviors are outrageous, they do not fit my definition of a violation of civil liberties – – but that is a quibble.]  Lest anyone think I am making this stuff up, here is the link to the report in the NY Post.

Finally, MLB seems to be right in step with the current trend toward inoffensive language formulations and Dwight Perry took note of that recently in the Seattle Times:

“Major League Baseball will henceforth refer to its disabled list as its ‘Injured list’.

“So what’s next, getting the list sponsored by Hertz?”

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



Financial News Today …

The Alliance of American Football (AAF) may be only two weeks old in terms of on-field action, but the league has already undergone a huge transformation. reported yesterday that the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL, Tom Dundon, made a $250M investment in the league and will become its chairman.  There had been some reports that the AAF was in dire financial straits and that this money was a “bailout” of sorts; the AAF denies that reporting.  The following statement from Dundon would seem to indicate that this influx of cash was not a desperation measure:

“I’m impressed with The Alliance’s stunning growth in-stadium and across TV, mobile and social media in just these first few weeks.”

The inaugural weekend for the AAF was a TV success.  It went head-to-head with an NBA regular season game featuring James Harden and the Rockets – – and the AAF game drew more viewers.  If the TV ratings for the second weekend have been released, I have not seen them yet.

Dundon’s investment has to put the AAF on safe footing for now.  Obviously, the biggest expense for the league is player salaries.  So, let’s do some math:

  • There are 8 teams with 43 players on each roster.  Given injuries and the like, let’s say each team has 50 players on the roster for the season.  That is 400 players.
  • Let’s pretend for a moment that all the teams keep all their players for the entirety of their 3-year contracts.  That won’t happen of course, but if players lost are replaced by other players with the same standard contract, the financial burden is pretty much the same.  So, each player over the 3 years of their deal is going to earn $250K.
  • That means the total salary paid to all the players in the league is about $100M over the first 3 seasons.  Mr. Dundon’s investment of $250M would seem to cover that expense nicely.

The other big financial story from yesterday was the Padres’ signing of Manny Machado to a 10-year contract worth $300M – – with a opt-out clause after 5 years.  I have never been a fan of 10-year deals – – because such a large fraction of them turn out to be albatrosses around the necks of the franchises that sign on to them – – but this one just might make a bit of sense.

  1. With Machado and Eric Hosmer, who signed a long-term deal with the Padres last year, the team should improve markedly over its 66-96 record from last year.
  2. The Padres’ farm system is regarded as one of the best in MLB.  If 3 or 4 of those prospects mature in the next year or two and make it to the Padres’ 25-man roster, they will provide the team with talent at a low cost for about 4-5 years.
  3. That means the Padres have the opportunity to make a run at the playoffs in the next 5 years or so without having to sign onto another humongous free agent contract if they want to take that route.
  4. The Padres are the only major sport in town.  Even with last year’s dismal record, the Padres drew more than 2 million fans to their home games; they ranked 17th out of 30 MLB teams in home attendance.  If the team evolves to become a contender, there is plenty of potential to increase attendance significantly.  On average, Petco Park was only 63% full last season.

MLB teams all find ways to have special days in their seasons where they celebrate something related to the team.  Sometimes they bring back the living members of the roster that won the World Series 40 years ago; sometimes they honor a player who just got inducted into the Hall of Fame.  We have all seen and heard about these celebratory events.  Interestingly, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a celebration event planned for this season – – on May 18th to be exact – – that might put a lot of pressure on one of the current D-Backs’ players for that night.  Here is the deal:

  • On May 18, 2004, D-backs’ pitcher and Hall of Fame inductee threw a perfect game in Atlanta against the Braves.  This year will mark the 15th anniversary of that accomplishment.
  • On May 18th 2019, the D-Backs will have Randy Johnson in the house.  The first 20,000 fans to show up will get a Randy Johnson “figurine” featuring the starting lineup for his perfect game 15 years ago.
  • They will show some video highlights; there will obviously be some speeches; I would not be shocked to learn that Randy Johnson tossed the ceremonial first pitch of the night.

So, a good time will be had be all; this is an unadulterated feelgood moment – – unless of course you are the starting pitcher for the D-Backs on May 18th 2019.  After all the hoopla about a perfect game on this date, the starting pitcher takes the mound for the top of the first inning; think there is any pressure?

Finally, there is an AAF franchise in Salt Lake City where Brad Rock of the Deseret News plies his trade.  Here is one of his observations in his Rock On column from about a week ago:

“A Detroit Free Press article on the fledgling Alliance of American Football called it ‘The eight-team league, based in eight warm-weather cities …’

“Salt Lake a warm-weather city?

“Yeah, maybe … if you’re from Detroit.”

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



The New Orleans Pelicans Are A Mess

The New Orleans Pelicans fired their GM, Dell Demps, over the weekend.  Demps was a central character in the soap opera that ensued once Anthony Davis demanded a trade from the Pelicans [Hint – hint: to the Lakers] and that trade never happened.  Then the team toyed with the idea of sitting Davis out for the rest of the season to prevent injury and preserve his trade value over this summer – – but the NBA threatened huge fines for the team and for all practical purposes vetoed that idea.  Then Davis played in a game just before the All-Star break and “injured his shoulder”; he left the game and the arena before the game was over.

[Aside:  He must have been catching a flight to Lourdes because he was miraculously able to play in the All-Star Game last Sunday.]

The team owner – Gayle Benson who also is the person running the New Orleans Saints in the NFL – was reported to be enraged that Davis left the building in mid-game.  So, she fired Dell Demps.  It is not clear to me how that event became the straw that broke the camel’s back; but then again, I don’t own or run an NBA or NFL franchise.

Anthony Davis is a top-shelf basketball player; if anyone want to have him become the “face of their franchise”, I suggest he is ill-suited to that task.  During All-Star week festivities, he sat for a live interview and denied that he asked for a trade or that there was a list of preferred teams to which he would like to be traded if he had – in fact – asked to be traded.  [Aside:  Try not to get lost in the contrafactual subjunctive mood here…]  Then he said he would be willing to play for “any of the 29 teams” in the NBA because all he wants to do is win.

  • Translation #1:  I want to play for any team in the NBA other than a team that plays its home games in the State of Louisiana.
  • Translation #2:  Every other team in the NBA wants to win and could possibly win – – except for this sorry-assed franchise that I have been stuck with for the last six-and-a-half years even though they are paying me about $25M per year to lead this sorry-assed team to victory.

Having heard that interview, I can see why Davis wants to play for the Lakers.  There is no way he will have to be the face of the franchise there so long as LeBron James and Magic Johnson are there.  If he goes to LA, he can focus on playing basketball – – something he is perfectly capable of doing.

Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry has had to stand in front of the press for the last couple of weeks and field questions about all of this.  On the night when Davis left the building early, he probably had reached his limit in terms of trying to put some perspective on all this; he referred to the situation the team found itself in as “a dumpster fire”.  Give Alvin Gentry an award for candor…

As Spring Training progresses for all the MLB teams, there are still lots of free agents out there who have not signed contracts; it seems that everyone is waiting to see what happens with Harper and Machado to break the logjam.  Indians’ pitcher Trevor Bauer signed a 1-year deal with the Indians and said he would do so again next year; he suggested that the whole free agency situation could be resolved if everyone got 1-year contracts.

Somewhere in the cosmos, Charles O. Finley – the former bodacious owner of the Oakland A’s – is smiling knowingly.  Back in the 1970s when free agency was brand new, lots of people were forecasting gloom and doom.  Only the rich/big market teams would be able to afford the star players who exercised free agency; the league would become unbalanced and non-competitive; you get the idea…  Charlie Finley always thought about baseball differently than his fellow-owners; he said that the way to keep salary demands under control was to be sure there was an abundance of supply during every free agency period.  It’s called the Law of Supply and Demand

His idea was that every team should bid for player services with 1-year contracts.  That meant every player was a free agent every year; there would never be a year when there was only one or two stud starting pitchers out there to exploit a bidding war.  [There is no need to point out here that this idea has more than a few shortcomings, but the underlying principle was offered up as a way for management to limit the “outrageous demands” that free agents were making.  And this was before Scott Boras got into the agent business.]

There are 1200 players on MLB rosters at any given time plus minor league players that are in development stages with the various teams.  Imagine for a moment that every Halloween about 2000 real and aspiring baseball players all became free agents at once.  Then imagine the demolition derby that would ensue as 30 MLB GMs and front office gofers fanned out around the country to sign the players they wanted at prices they wanted with secondary plans in hand to go after other guys if the preferred guy signed elsewhere.  Put a little background music to that and you would have the 21st century version of the Keystone Kops.

Last week there were reports that the Boston Red Sox would have a rotating cast of announcers to do their radio broadcasts.  Former Mets’ play-by-play guy, Josh Lewin, is on the menu; so is Sean McDonough along with Red Sox staple, Joe Castiglione.  These guys will divide up the 162 games along with a mix-and-match group of color commentators.  It was one name on the list of “part-time color guys” that caught my attention.

  • Chris Berman

When Berman did baseball play-by-play on ESPN, I thought that was his weakest area of performance.  As a color analyst, he might be interesting.  Some of his broadcasting hijinks can become tiresome; but with him only on some of the time for Red Sox games, he could be interesting to listen to.

Finally, Dwight Perry took notice of Chris Berman’s part-time return to the broadcasting booth with this comment in the Seattle Times:

“Look who’s back, back, back in the booth.

“Former ESPN icon Chris Berman will be among the rotating stable of announcers calling call Red Sox games on WEEI Radio this year.

“Mookie ‘Gentlemen, Place Your’ Betts and Mitch ‘This Land Is’ Moreland refused comment.”

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



The Kaepernick Case Is Now Kaput

Clearly, the big event of the weekend was the news of a settlement in the lawsuit involving Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and the NFL.  That settlement involves a confidentiality agreement and as of this morning there are no reports that the agreement or the settlement documents have been made available to anyone in the press.  Notwithstanding that fact, the narrative goes like this:

  • The NFL caved because they did not want certain information to come to light at trial.  The fact of the settlement is a de facto admission of its guilt in the case and they paid a huge amount of money to Kaepernick and Reid to keep it quiet.  [Aside: I have heard/read commentators say the settlement was as low as $20M and as high as $80M.]

In order to settle a civil lawsuit, the signatures of the parties on both sides of the matter are required.  The prevailing narrative does not allow for the possibility that Kaepernick and Reid were not nearly as certain in their own minds that they would prevail and decided to take the bird in hand when the NFL made an offer just to put this matter to bed.  Please note; I am NOT saying that is what happened.  What I am saying is that until someone reveals the agreement itself, then that someone does not know what he/she is talking about either.

Here is what I know:

  1. The argument that Kaepernick is without a job in the NFL because he was suing the league is no longer valid.
  2. The confidentiality agreement limits everyone’s free expression on this matter and that limitation means any and all proclamations regarding the settlement are pure speculation.

Switching gears to another matter that is not in the courts yet but involves Title IX.  The US Department of Education is investigating whether the entity in the State of NY that makes the rules for high school softball is discriminating against women when it makes and enforces a rule prohibiting metal cleats for the sport.  The fulcrum of the investigation is that baseball players can wear metal cleats; baseball is predominately played by males; softball is predominantly played by females.  Ergo …

According to this report from Newsday, the investigation was sparked by a complaint to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights last Fall.  In NY as currently mandated by rule, softball players wear “molded cleats” which are essentially the same shape as the metal cleats worn by baseball players except the softball cleats are made from rubber.

I realize that the following statements will demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have a preponderance of Neanderthal DNA in my body; nonetheless:

  1. It is good to see that the important areas of gender discrimination in US society have been resolved and that the battle lines are now focused on the composition of cleats used in softball versus baseball.
  2. It is also good to know that the recent shutdown of the US Government has been resolved to the point that the folks in the US Department of Education can give full and proper attention to this matter.

Regular readers know that I pay exactly no attention at all to the recruiting wars that go on regarding high school basketball and football players.  I have said that concocted events like National Signing Day are frivolous at best.  So, I won’t even pretend to know a tenth of what happens within those “ranking services” that assign levels of potential excellence to potential collegiate athletes.  I don’t know because I don’t care.

However, there is an interesting story out there that one of those ranking services was taken for a ride and the service was convinced that a high school player in Knoxville, TN was worthy of a 3-Star ranking.  The service proclaimed that the 6’ 6” 315 lb. offensive lineman was a 3-Star prospect and that prompted phone calls to his high school coach from Georgia Tech.  The problem is that the player in question – he does exist – is actually 5’ 7” and 220 lbs.; the information in his recruiting profile is pure fiction.

This story in USA Today fills in the details.  The NCAA estimates that 1.1 million kids play high school football and that less than 100,000 of them play college football.  That is a severe winnowing process.  It is also indicative of the amount of resources a ranking service would need to be able to assign 5 levels of gradation to the next crop of potential college football players.  The fact that a recruiting profile could be created and promulgated on this player/prospect without anyone at the service noticing that he might not be quite the size indicated in the report would tell me that no one ever saw him play even a single down for his high school team.

  • Breaking News:  We interrupt this daily rant to bring you news just in to Curmudgeon Central.  The player in Knoxville fictionally represented to be a potential offensive lineman in college football is now engaged to Manti T’eo’s former girlfriend.  Nuptials will be conducted in Narnia sometime later this year.

Finally, here is a word from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“A charter bus carrying the Stanford track team to a meet caught fire near downtown Seattle and, after all 31 passengers escaped, was totally engulfed in flames.

“Suggested title for the team’s 2019 highlight video: ‘Chariot’s afire’.”

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