A Contagion In Cleveland?

John Beilein and the Cleveland Cavaliers “decided to go in different directions” this week.  The Cavs were 14-40 at the time of the rupture and there are plenty of reports out there saying that the locker room was in turmoil and players felt that they were being treated and coached as if they were in college and not in the NBA.  Not being in that locker room, I have no idea if that is the case – – and if it were the case, whether they ought to be coached as if they were in college.  The fact is that the Cavs aren’t any good and changing the coach is not going to turn this bunch of players into world beaters.

The fact of the matter is that the Cavs have stunk for a long time – – save for a few years when LeBron James was on the team.  James arrived in 2003 and the Cavs improved from 17-65 the year before he arrived, to a team that finished a game over .500 two years later.  However, from that point on, the Cavs have stunk when James is elsewhere; their combined record in those years up to the departure of John Beilein is 130-318 or a winning percentage of .290.  Let the record show that the Cavs have a history of ineptitude above and beyond the tenure of Coach Beilein.

Bob Molinaro had this observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot

Numbers game: Cleveland is a place where coaches go to be fired. With John Beilein out after 54 games, the NBA Cavaliers have had seven head coaches over the last 10 years. Ditto for the Browns.”

In light of Professor Molinaro’s observation, it seems to me that there are several possible explanations for such a circumstance:

  • Something in the Cleveland water supply causes coaches to fail.
  • An ancient civilization hexed the land there for eternity.
  • Ownership for the two franchises is well short of competency.
  • You make the call…

Maybe there is something to the possibility of a strange ingredient in the Cleveland water supply that causes off-center behavior beyond its coaches.  Browns’ OT, Greg Robinson is about to become a free agent; the Browns let it be known that they would not re-sign him for next year.  In my naivete, I would have expected Robinson to hit the weight room and go on a conditioning binge to set himself up for the best free agent deal he could muster.  Consider these entries on his résumé:

  • He is only 27 years old
  • He was a 1st round pick (by the Rams) in 2014.
  • In 6 seasons he appeared in 83 of the possible 96 games.
  • In 2019, his salary was $5.5M – – rather cap friendly.

Given that environment, I am sure that Robinson’s agent was thrilled to learn that Robinson and another man were arrested in Sierra Blanca, TX and officers found 157 lbs. of marijuana in their rental car.  A drug-sniffing dog pointed out the cargo and Robinson has been charged with a bunch of stuff including possession with the intent to distribute.  I guess you could say that his agent saw his bargaining leverage go up in smoke.

Here is the aspect of this case I want to watch for.  I wonder if the lawyer defending Robinson in this matter will try to spin the circumstances here by saying Robinson had no intention of distributing the marijuana; instead, he intended to throw a “really big party” to celebrate the signing of his new free agent contract later this Spring.  It would be interesting to see if the lawyer could actually say that without giggling.

Speaking of potential NFL free agents, I am intrigued by a report that says Robert Quinn might be a free agent and not retained by the Cowboys.  Something does not compute here.

  • Quinn will only be 30 years old next season; last year he led the Cowboys in sacks with 11.5 sacks in 14 games.
  • He has had double-digit sacks 4 times in his 9-year career and one All-Pro season where he scored 19 sacks.
  • Quinn has been traded twice in the last two seasons.  Once he fetched a 4th round pick (for the Rams) and then he fetched a 6th round pick for the Dolphins.

That seems like an awful lot of movement for what is statistically a proficient edge rusher in a time where NFL teams place a high value on edge rushers.  His salary in 2019 was only $6M.  I need to find a medium somewhere to connect me with Paul Harvey out there in the great beyond so that I can know “The Rest Of The Story”.

The NFL has proposed a 17-game schedule and an expansion of the playoffs as part of a new 10-year CBA; and in exchange for those concessions by the players, the cut of revenues going to the players in terms of  salary cap and salary floor would increase by 1.0 to 1.5 percent.  Estimates say this would put a total of an extra $5B on the players’ side of the table over the 10 years of the proposal.

Let me assume the numbers are real; I have no way to evaluate those sorts of projections.  The players have been solidly against the 17-game season idea; I don’t know if they would be as adamantly opposed to expanding the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams as they have been to extend the regular season.  The proposal here maintains Thursday Night Football games – something else the players say they do not like even a little bit.  Now, however, those negatives come wrapped with a $5B bow ($500M per year for 10 years) around them.  The next move(s) will be interesting to see…

Finally, let me close with another observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot about another basketball team having more than its share of difficulties this year:

Deep slide: At 3-12 in ACC play, Carolina will have to up its game to avoid finishing in sole possession of last place for the first time in school history. So, the talent level at Chapel Hill isn’t what it usually is — maybe only three future NBA players instead of the usual six or seven. But that’s where coaching comes in, doesn’t it?”

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

 

 

Some Good News And Some Not So Good News

Some numbers are in regarding XFL 2.0 in its second weekend of existence.

  • League-wide attendance was up slightly due in large measure to almost 30,000 folks showing up in Seattle to see the Seattle Dragons in their home opener despite the typical February rains in Seattle.
  • Average TV ratings over the four games dipped slightly but it was not a precipitous drop.

You can make of those numbers what you will.  I think the most important number from Week 2 comes from an Internet based sportsbook, Pointsbet.com.  According to the folks there, the betting handle for Week 2 games was up as compared to Week 1 games.  That is a big deal for two reasons:

  1. Much of football’s popularity in the US is driven by wagering.  A bigger handle in Week 2 is a good sign that people liked what they saw in Week 1 sufficiently to maintain interest in the games and to “have a little action riding on them”.
  2. Many bettors go out of their way to watch those games with “a little action riding on them”.  More wagering on more games should goose TV ratings and if TV ratings get to the point where TV becomes a reliable and significant revenue stream…

I saw almost all the Dallas/LA game on Sunday afternoon.  I could not find a reported attendance for that game, but it sure looked sparse to me – – like maybe fewer than 10,000 folks?  There is an interesting sports dynamic at work here.  The Rams are not coming close to filling the LA Coliseum; the Chargers have not been able to fill a soccer stadium that seats 30,000 folks and the team often plays to crowds where the visiting fans equal the number of Charger fans; now the LA Wildcats seem not to be drawing flies in that same soccer stadium.

A couple of years ago, NFL teams were climbing over one another to move to LA.  The Rams’ ownership is in the final stages of constructing a new stadium that is rumored to cost somewhere around $4B.  However, as of now, the fanbase in LA has been lukewarm to the presence of pro football in town.

While MLB is in the throes of getting out from under a “cheating scandal”, there ought to be a bit of angst involved regarding the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament.  It gives me no joy to mention it because I believe that March Madness is THE single best sporting event of the year.  Nevertheless, there is just a bit of stink that is attached to what will be happening in mid-March.

Recall that FBI probe into the seamy underbelly of college recruiting.  That information and some convictions at trial have cast a bad light on some programs and coaches in the college game.  The problem is that the NCAA has not been able to take whatever information has been made available to the point that it can determine if and how it will enforce its own damned rules about recruiting student-athletes.  Here are some teams who have been associated with some “irregularities” in the recruiting business based on FBI investigations:

  • Arizona  18-7
  • Auburn  22-4
  • Kansas  23-3
  • LSU  18-8
  • Memphis  18-8
  • Oklahoma  16-10
  • NC State  17-9
  • South Carolina  16-10

I am NOT accusing all those schools of “cheating” when it comes to recruiting.  At the same time, I would not be gobsmacked to learn that all of them had dirty laundry in that area.  What I am saying is that there is a cloud hanging over all those teams and 4 of them are pretty close to shoo-ins for tournament berths while the other 4 teams could play their way in with strong showings over the next couple of weeks.  That is what I mean by there being a “bit of stink” surrounding the tournament as a whole.

Once again, put the blame and the onus where it belongs here – – on the super-sleuths in the NCAA who are only even-money odds to be able to find their ass with either hand.  Even with FBI information in hand, they have been unable to get themselves into a position where they are willing to enforce their own rules.  No one has asked them to do anything in the criminal prosecution realm; they have not found a way to do anything associated solely with their own hyper-restrictive rule book.

The NCAA makes the Keystone Kops look like a model of efficiency and effectiveness.  [I suspect that many folks here might be unfamiliar with these guardians of the public welfare from the silent film days so here is a link to a 3-minute You Tube compilation of some of their antics.]  With that level of competency in the “policing function”, what might be the chances that the NCAA keepers of wisdom might evolve a new set of recruiting rules that will eliminate the stink?  I think that’s about as likely as allowing an astronaut to telecommute from home.

Finally, the time spent here on the NCAA and its ineptitude led me to The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm for its definition of “Degree” – – that which all student-athletes put first in their priorities within their collegiate experience(s):

Degree:  A certificate of academic achievement awarded at the college level.  Comes in very hand when asking people if they want fries with that.”

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

 

 

Whoot … There It Is

The Kingston Trio told us the sad tale of Charlie on the MTA; he was “the man who never returned”.  Now, we seem to have a sports story that is just the opposite; every time I turn around, there it is again.  I am tempted to nickname the story “Whoot” because “there … it … is.”

Of course, I mean the sign-stealing saga in MLB.  I am beginning to believe that this opera is going to be with us for an entire MLB season before someone somewhere finds that magical silver bullet that will lay it to rest.  When the story first broke, it seemed like one where there were good guys in white hats and bad guys wearing Astros’ baseball caps.  Would that it were so simple…

Now that teams have assembled in Florida and Arizona for Spring Training, we face an interesting good news/bad news situation:

  • Good News:  People covering teams in Spring Training have something else to write about other than who showed up in great shape and who is working hard to make the team and who is hoping that a new team will provide him with a new start to his career.  Those cookie-cutter fluff pieces have been noticeably absent so far.
  • Bad News:  Everyone is asking every player in Spring Training what they think of what the Astros did.  Seriously, does anyone expect an opposing player to think it was a good deed?  What we have is a novel format for what has become a “Spring Training staple”.  It is already boring…

Recall back in the days when steroids were abundant in MLB locker rooms and the reporters covering the teams never asked about them or even alluded to their possible existence.  Many of those same reporters – and their successors in many circumstances – are pussy-footing around tough questions for opposing players who voice strong and unequivocal positions on this matter.  Let’s review the bidding:

  • Reports say that the Astros’ behaviors were an open secret around MLB and that more than a couple of opponents took note of trashcan banging and “coded whistling”.  That dates back at least to the 2017 season – and maybe further back just in the Astros’ case.
  • Question:  So, how come you said nothing about the matter for 3 years if indeed what was done was so horrific?
  • We’ve heard players say the Astros players “need a beating” and some have called for banishments; yet, for 3 years there was acknowledgement/acceptance of what was going on.  The Washington Nationals – a team in the other league – were so concerned about sign stealing in the 2019 World Series that they devised a complicated encoding system of their own to combat what they perceived as a “clear and present danger”.
  • Question:  Given that level of anger and the recognition the cheating might be ongoing, how come everyone kept this quiet?  Where were these “bold voices” for the last 3 years?  Why should they be given such credence and prominence now when their silence aided in perpetuating the scheme?

There are lots of people calling for greater punishments from the Commish in this matter.  As I have said here before, you can ding the Commish for trading immunity for information in the MLB investigation if you like.  That does not change the fact that he gave such a guarantee; and now that it is a given, he must not renege on it.  So, what might he do for “added punishments”?  Here are three things that come to mind:

  1. Suspend Astros’ owner Jim Crane for at least 1 year.  Even if he was as pure as the driven snow when it comes to the cheating mechanics in use, he should be suspended for handling the orchestrated Astros’ Mea Culpa! event with all the grace and aplomb of a sack of wet goat shit.
  2. Double the share of the gate that goes to visiting teams in Houston for the next 2 years.  This hits the Astros in the pocketbook over and above the $5M fine it already received which is the largest direct fine that can be levied by the Commissioner under MLB’s Bylaws.
  3. All members of the Astros 2017 roster will not receive any of the playoff shares awarded to winning teams for the next 5 years.  Playoff shares go to the teams and the teams then decide how to divide them up.  Players who got playoff and World Series shares in 2017 did so under “clouded circumstances” and they should therefore not be eligible for any such shares for a time in the future.  If the Red Sox investigation shows similar irregularities in the 2018 playoffs and World Series, the same should apply to the Red Sox roster from 2018.

It will be interesting times in the offices of the MLBPA if the Commish decides to add some sort of punishment to players on the Astros or Red Sox.  The union must fight to protect its members on those two teams to assure that all is done in accordance with the CBA; if the union does not do that, there really isn’t much purpose for a union.  At the same time, there are other members of that same union who are calling for those added punishments – including suggestions that the Astros “need a beating”.  How might the execs in the MLBPA choose to represent those other members calling for retribution against their union brothers?

Finally, it was no great surprise to find this item in Dwight Parry’s Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times:

“When it comes to baseball lexicon, the Astros’ trash-can antics certainly give ‘bang-bang play’ a whole new meaning.”

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

 

 

Bits And Pieces …

The NBA season began on 22 October 2019; that was 120 days ago.  Now, the NBA season gets serious; teams have played about 54 of their 82 regular season games (close to two-thirds of them) merely to set up the “drama” generated by the final stage of the season to determine which half of the league will make the playoffs.  And people are wondering why the NBA’s TV ratings are sagging…

Here is a fact that creates a “facepalm situation”; it comes from minor league baseball where the Nashville Sounds will begin their 23rd season in the Pacific Coast League along with rivals in Memphis, Iowa, Oklahoma City, Wichita, Omaha, San Antonio – – you get the idea.  Do they even teach geography and/or map reading in school anymore?  Some of those places have not been anywhere near the Pacific coast since the breakup of Gondwanaland.

Deion Sanders told Dan Patrick in an interview that he thinks the Pro Football Hall of Fame has diluted itself with inductees that do not belong there.  Without using the phrase specifically, he alluded to the idea that the Hall of Fame may be morphing into the “Hall of Very Good Players”.  Here is part of what he said to Dan Patrick:

“What is a Hall of Famer now?  Is it a guy who played for a long time?  It’s so skewed now.  Once upon a time, a Hall of Famer was a player who changed the darn game, who made you want to reach in your pocket and pay admission to see a guy play.  That’s not a Hall of Famer anymore.  Every Tom, Dick and Harry, they’re a Hall of Famer. They let everybody in this thing.  It’s not exclusive anymore, and I don’t like it.”

I have to agree with Deion there – although I must say that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is not nearly as diluted as is the Basketball Hall of Fame but that is another story.  Perhaps part of the problem lies in the fact that the Pro Football Hall of Fame demands the induction of between 4 and 8 people each year.  [This year’s centennial class is a one-time exception.]  If voters were to apply the “Deion Sanders Standard”, there could easily be years where finding four players would be impossible.

I realize I am about to use a word that is loaded with negative connotation, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame exists under a quota system for selecting its new members.  That Selection Committee – as qualified and as well-intentioned as it may be – must come up with a minimum of 4 inductees every year and every time they are forced to “stretch” to find someone who did not “make you want to reach in your pocket and pay admission to see him play”, they lower the bar a little bit.  Then, by comparison, more players of lesser stature seem qualified…

About a month ago, Bob Molinaro had this item in his weekly column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot about voting for Halls of Fame:

Quick hit: I don’t know why voters for the baseball and pro football halls of fame find this so difficult to understand, but any former athlete who falls under the category of a ‘borderline’ candidate simply doesn’t belong. No self-respecting hall of fame should enshrine borderline.”

I do not understand why there is the arbitrary 5-year waiting period before a Selection Committee – no matter the sport – can consider a candidate.  Maybe that waiting period is part of the issue here?  Let me explain.  Peyton Manning retired at the end of the 2015 season; his first year of eligibility will be in the next cycle of voting.  At that time, someone will ask:

  • Isn’t he a shoo-in for induction this year?

My answer would be:

  • Of course, he is – – and he should have been a shoo-in for induction for the last several years too.

I assert that Peyton Manning meets the “Deion Sanders Standard” and that some – not all – of the Hall of Fame inductees between the time of Manning’s retirement and now do not meet that standard.  So, why did he have to wait?

And please, do not get me started on the dilution of statistical standards for middle infielders in MLB…

In terms of “roster moves”, two bottom-feeding teams made the news regarding players with name recognition.  The Skins parted company with CB Josh Norman.  The former first team All-Pro signed on with the Skins 4 years ago as a free agent; he got a 5-year deal worth $75M and never played anywhere near an All-Pro standard in Washington.  Some have suggested that his skills did not match the type of defense the Skins were playing during his time there; if correct, that says an awful lot about the processes by which the team built their rosters in the past.  It would not take a Hall of Fame caliber GM and coach to figure out that paying $75M to a player who does not fit into your defense makes little to no sense.  Whatever…  Josh Norman is now 32 years old and will be looking to sign on elsewhere.  His résumé will intrigue some team somewhere – – former All-Pro who may have been misused …

Meanwhile, according to reports, the Bengals are willing to work with Andy Dalton and his agent to engineer a trade for the veteran QB.  Dalton was taken by the Bengals in the second round of the 2011 Draft and he will be 33 years old in the middle of next season.  He has been selected to the Pro Bowl 3 times and his record as a starter in Cincy is 70-61-2.  Dalton’s contract has him taking up just under $18M for 2020 on the salary cap whereupon he will be a free agent.  Those are not ideal financial conditions to peddle in trade negotiations, but Dalton looks more viable to me as a potential starting QB than several of the free agents out there.  That might be an interesting situation to follow.

Finally, an item from Dwight Parry in the Seattle Times:

“Siba the Standard Poodle bested Bourbon the Whippet to take Best in Show honors at the 144th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

“So much for our sheepdog schnauzer parlay.”

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

 

 

Hits And Misses …

          With two weeks of XFL 2.0 games in the books, I have seven brief observations to make about the league:

  1. I like the pace of the games with the 25-second play clock; the games are good for television.
  2. I do not like the fact that the XFL has doubled the number of sideline reporters doing the games; sideline reporters are as useful as a trombone player in a duck blind.
  3. A big plus for XFL 2.0 is the absence of any cheerleaders.  They add about as much to a telecast as do the sideline reporters.
  4. Putting a mic on the QB is interesting; letting viewers hear some of the offensive and defensive play calls is also interesting – – but overdone.
  5. Only two teams (DC and Houston) have competent QBs.  Next time you think your favorite NFL team is overpaying its backup QB, remember that these XFL QBs are the next best available.
  6. Tackling is very poor in the XFL; my guess is that more than a handful of these guys got released by NFL teams because they cannot tackle effectively.
  7. There is a broadcasting difference between “dead air” (very bad) and “announcers’ silence to let the scene speak for itself” (usually very good).  The announcers on XFL games need to shut up every once in a very long while.

The Astros’ sign-stealing business simply will not go away.  The latest plot twist involves players and commentators opining that the lack of punishments for Astros’ players who participated in the cheating is insufficient sanction.  Commissioner Rob Manfred is made out to be the bad guy there.

It is not typical for me to praise sports commissioners (or the NCAA for that matter) when it comes to policing their sport; but in this case, Rob Manfred was between a rock and a hard place.

  • Faced with allegations of cheating he could not ignore, he had to determine what happened and who was involved before he could hand out punishments.
  • Lacking subpoena power to compel testimony under oath, he could offer immunity in exchange for amnesty or he could try to break down the baseball code of omerta.  That leads to the current situation which is …
  • Having chosen the immunity option, which is what has given all the current critics most of the information they have on which they base their criticisms, he absolutely cannot pull a bait-and-switch and renege on his immunity pledge.

By the way, as obvious as it is that the Astros were cheating in their video enterprise(s), I cannot find any rule in the MLB Rule Book that specifically says what they were doing was against the rules in 2017.  That does not exonerate the Astros; that does point to a loophole in the rules.

It should come as no surprise that do-gooders found an opportunity here to engage in virtue signaling related to the Astros’ stiuation.  There is a report that two Little League teams in California will not use the Astros team name or team logo starting this season.  Two reactions:

  1. I am not the least bit surprised that this noble gesture took place in California.
  2. That level of opprobrium heaped on the Astros’ team will surely cause them to see the improprieties of their ways and to repent.

On a much more positive MLB note, lots of players get invitations to Spring Training as “non-roster invitees”.  Most of these folks do not make a major league roster and then must decide if they want to be a minor league player of if it is time to move on to another phase of their life.  However, last year the Mets invited Pete Alonso  to Spring Training as a “non-roster invitee” and all he did was to hit 53 HR and win the Rookie of the Year award.  So, I took a glance at some of the “non-roster invitees” for this year.  It is a mixed bag…

  • Braves – – Felix Hernandez  – – Yes, THAT Felix Hernandez.  Are there any innings left in that arm?
  • Brewers – – Shelby Miller  – – He has had injury plagued seasons for the last 3 years and his record over the last 5 years is an underwhelming 12-38.
  • Cubs – – Brandon Morrow – – He did not pitch last year; he will be 36 years old in July.  He was effective in relief from 2016-2018.
  • Mets – – Tim Tebow – – He won’t make the regular season roster, but he is worth a ton of publicity as long as he is with the Mets’ organization.
  • Phillies – – Mickey Moniak – – He was the overall #1 pick in the MLB draft in 2016 and is currently only 21 years old.
  • Rangers – – Sam Huff – – No, not THAT Sam Huff; that Sam Huff is 85 years old these days…
  • Rockies – – Ubaldo Jimenez – – He is 36 years old; he last pitched in 2017; the last season where he pitched to an ERA less than 4.00 was in 2013.

Finally, Antonio Brown is about the business of apologizing to anyone and everyone about his “off-center” behavior(s) over the past couple of years as a means of getting another shot at playing in the NFL.  Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel linked Brown’s “apologia” to the other burning story of the day:

“I’m not saying Antonio Brown is going overboard with apologies, but I think he just said, ‘I’m sorry,’ for the Houston Astros stealing signs.”

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

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day.  Somehow in the present US, the tradition of Valentine’s Day as an occasion to honor romantic love got linked to the decapitation of a priest who is also the patron saint of epilepsy almost 1800 years ago.  Happy Valentine’s Day anyway…

Yesterday saw the public humiliation of the Houston Astros as they publicly apologized for the sign-stealing fiasco.  The unmitigated cynic would say that they were sorry only for getting caught; of course they are sorry it all came to light – but maybe some of the folks there might realize what they did went beyond the normal and accepted forms of sign-stealing that exist in baseball.  I’m willing to accept that as a possibility despite having listened to some of the blandest apologies imaginable and a question-and-answer interchange that was even less illuminating than a typical Congressional hearing.

  • Let me say that yesterday’s questioning by the media was uninspired.  Perry Mason’s place as an icon of incisive interrogation is in no danger this morning.
  • Let me say that the answers provided by the Astros owner were as unresponsive as Jimmy Hoffa would be should someone find him this afternoon.

The poohbahs in MLB want ever so much to put a lid on this mess – – but that is not going to happen anytime soon.

  • There is still the Commissioner’s “investigation” of Red Sox involvement here.
  • There are rumors out there that when Carlos Beltran arrived in Houston, he told the Astros’ folks that they were behind the curve in terms of sign stealing (Beltran had been with 6 teams in addition to the Astros).
  • We know that the Cardinals have been involved in electronic cheating since one of their guys hacked into the Astros’ database of personnel several years ago.  (Ironically, the victim of that hack was Jeff Luhnow who is a central figure of this current mess.)
  • One player has alleged that the White Sox were doing similar things as far back as the 1980s.
  • Drip … drip … drip.

Here is real question for Commissioner Manfred as of today:

  • If you discover that a team – or a group of players/coaches within a team – are engaged in another “unacceptable” sign-stealing scheme three months from now, will they be banned from baseball for life?

If the Commish will not answer that question with an unqualified “Yes!”, then this problem will not go away.  Even if he does answer in that fashion, it may resurface in the future, but a waffling answer here almost guarantees it will come back to bite MLB in the fanny somewhere down the road.

But hey, yesterday’s Meae Maximae Culpae could have been worse.  Here’s one way:

  • As each member of the press corps got up to identify their affiliation and ask their nominally penetrating question, there could have been someone in the back banging on a trashcan in a coded way to “indicate the upcoming question”.

Come to think of it, if the Astros’ brass had done that, it might have been the most memorable part of yesterday’s “event” …

Another bit of fallout from the sign-stealing scandal is that a former MLB pitcher is suing the Astros in Federal Court alleging that their sign stealing cost him his MLB career.  Mike Bolsinger filed his suit in Los Angeles, and he is demanding a jury trial there.  [Aside:  Be sure to eliminate all Dodgers’ fans from the jury in the voir dire process.]  He is asking for the Astros to donate the $31M the team in aggregate earned from winning the World Series to “charities that focus on the betterment of children’s lives in Los Angeles and that assist elderly retired pro ballplayers who face financial turmoil.”

Having exactly no legal expertise at all, I have no idea if this suit will survive the almost certain “motion to dismiss” that will come from the Astros’ representatives; but if I were a young attorney in LA, I would not be anxious to take on this case on a contingent fee basis.

In NFL news related to actions involving the Commissioner’s Office, Myles Garrett has been reinstated by Roger Goodell.  Garrett was indefinitely suspended about halfway through last season after the infamous “helmet-swinging fracas” between him and Mason Rudolph.  His $50K fine for his part in that incident was upheld proximal to the time of his reinstatement.  Garrett has maintained from the start that Rudolph called him a stupid N-word and that is what triggered his aggression.  Rudolph just as vehemently denies doing any such thing.  So, that settles all that business…

By all accounts, that violent outburst is out-of-character for Garrett; nonetheless, it happened and there is no ambiguity about the degree of purposeful violence involved in the incident.  Garrett and the Browns will play Rudolph and the Steelers twice next year.  [Aside:  Steelers’ fans hope that Ben Roethlisberger will be the QB for those two games and not Rudolph.]  I would definitely circle the first of those games on the calendar once the NFL releases the official schedule for the 2020 season.

Finally, a note about the upcoming weekend from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Idle thought: With the NBA’s All-Star weekend upon us, I’m old enough to remember when the slam-dunk contest was a curiosity worth a look.”

And, I’m older than Bob Molinaro.

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

 

 

Tanking …

Yesterday, I mentioned that MLB was considering expanding its playoff participation to 14 of is 30 teams.  I said that was a bad idea and I continue to believe it is a bad idea.  Some folks are trying to make the case that expanding the playoff possibilities will make it less attractive for teams to tank a season or two as a rebuilding step.  That sounds good – – but it is poppycock.  In an expanded playoff situation, the target for slipping in as the 7th best team in either league would be 85-87 wins.  That is outside the range of possibility for a team that has decided that it needs to rebuild via a bunch of high draft picks over a year or three.

Let’s look at last year; in the AL, the seventh team was the Cleveland Indians and they won an astonishing 93 games and missed the playoffs.  The Royals, Orioles and Tigers won fewer than 60 games; is it reasonable to suggest they would have been focused on that #7 playoff slot any time past May 1st?

In the National League, things were a bit different.  The seventh team in the playoffs would have been the NY Mets who won 86 games.  That result would have generated some late season interest among fans of the Mets, Cubs and D-Backs who made it to the wire separated by only 2 games – – but the bottom of the NL had 4 teams with 71 or fewer wins.

Rather than try to take this bad idea and try to adorn it with glitter that it does not deserve, please identify this for what it is.

  • It is a cash grab – – and there is NOTHING wrong with that.

MLB is a business; it is not a philanthropic entity; it is not a charity; it is not a humanitarian organization.  It is a business, and businesses exist to make a profit.  See; it’s not that difficult to speak truth here.  With that out of the way, you can begin to think about all the other details of this proposal and how they will increase or decrease your interest in the baseball playoffs in September/October.

And by the way, if in fact the suits in the MLB executive suites want to reduce the reflex of bad teams to decide to tank a year or three, let me offer a suggestion that will pucker up a few alimentary canal egresses there:

  • There needs to be a salary floor for every team’s opening day roster and a weighted average floor for the team salary throughout the season.

Let me step back and wait for the cries of “WTF?” quiet down in the MLB Front Office.  Now, take a look at the 2019 Opening Day payrolls for the teams.

  • The Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees were all between $221M and $229M
  • The Marlins, Orioles, Pirates and Rays were all between $64M and $76M.

The Rays shocked the world last year and made the playoffs; those other three teams were never in the running for a break-even season let alone a playoff spot and that was obvious very early on.  [Aside:  The combined payrolls of the Marlins, Orioles and Pirates last year was about the same as that of the Cubs who had the 3rd highest payroll on Opening Day.]

The way to incentivize teams to give each season an honest effort is to make every team invest a minimum amount of money in the players on their roster.  Looking at numbers for 2020, the projected average for MLB is $129M for Opening Day payroll.  The extremes are almost obscene:

  • Yankees $245M
  • Dodgers $291M
  • Astros $206M
  • Pirates $49M
  • Marlins $46M
  • Orioles $45M

[Aside:  The Orioles will pay Chris Davis $21.1M this year meaning that the other 24 players projected for the Orioles Opening Day roster will make a total of $24M.  If that is not tanking, I don’t know what is.]

I do not mean to pick on the Pirates, Marlins and Orioles here; there are 11 of the 30 MLB clubs with Opening Day payrolls less than $100M for 2020.  As long as there is any form of revenue sharing and it is acceptable via the CBA to allow teams to have that large a disparity in payrolls, tanking is going to happen – and adding another level to the playoffs is not going to stop it.

Tim Cowlishaw is probably most widely known as one of the talking heads on ESPN’s Around the Horn.  In “real life”, Cowlishaw is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and a good one.  Recently, he had a column devoted to the proposition that the voting process for the Hall of Fame in MLB and in the NFL has gotten out of hand.  He suggests that perhaps having writers be the voters for such honors is not the best system.  I cannot do that column justice with a precis here so let me encourage you to read it in its entirety here.

Buried in the middle of this column is a sentence that shocked me and made me go looking to confirm its validity:

“… if you think there’s an issue with the current voters, who put in the time poring over more numbers than anyone ever imagined would be available, look back into the early days of the Hall of Fame.  Joe DiMaggio made it on his fourth try!

Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone complain about a player being “snubbed” for any level of honor in any sport.  Joe DiMaggio did not get 75% of the vote until his fourth try; in his first year on the ballot, he only got 44% of the vote.

Finally, here is Tweet from syndicated columnist Norman Chad:

“XFL’s LA Wildcats fired def coordinator Pepper Johnson after one game. Like Jerry Glanville once said, the XFL stands for Not For Long. (Betting Tip: Take the Wildcats next week – they’ve never lost two in a row.)”

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

 

 

Money, Money, Money…

Today is another day filled with sports reports that involve the intersection of sports and money.  Let me start with MLB where the NY Post reports that the execs there are considering expansion of the playoffs from 10 teams to 14 teams.  The playoffs would consist of the three division winners and four wild card teams.  The team with the best overall record would be the one to get a bye in the first round of the league playoffs.

There is money to be made here from increased numbers of playoff games on television.  Having said that, this is a horrible idea.  There are only 30 MLB teams and this plan would put virtually half of them in the playoffs.  There are lulls in the 162-game regular season as it is, but this will drain excitement from those games not add to the significance of many of them.  The “threshold” for a playoff slot could be as low as 85 wins in the regular season; is that what I need to see in any sort of playoff format?

The NFL is also considering a change that will goose their revenues a bit; the league is considering extending flex scheduling to Monday Night Football once they get into negotiations with networks on new broadcast rights deals.  There was a time when the Monday night game was a really big deal; it is now second in terms of “special-ness” to the Sunday night game partly because the NFL has done flex-scheduling with that Sunday night game for late season contests.  That means that NBC and the other partners have some degree of control over what game is played at which time of day as the games take on more and more playoff significance.  The Monday night game has never been part of that discussion.

Giving the holder of the Monday night rights a bit more control over what game it puts on has to increase the potential value of that rights deal to the network.  On a Monday night in early December, a Monday night game between two teams with 4-9 records as they kick off is a ratings dud.  It may have looked like an interesting pairing back in June when the schedule was finalized, but it looks like a giant cow pie in early December and the Monday Night Football folks can’t do anything about it.

That is the upside.  Here is the downside…  Let’s imagine that the game that has been flexed from Sunday to Monday has 65,000 fans who have purchased tix to the game.  It would be annoying – and moderately inconvenient – if those fans thought that their tix were for a game that kicked off at 1:00 PM but had been flexed to Sunday night where kickoff would be 8:30 PM.  For many fans, that would be no big deal; but if a father was planning on taking his 3 kids to that afternoon game, the switch to a late-night scenario might be a problem.  Also, for the person who must be at work early on Monday, that could be a problem.

Now add to the scheduling inconvenience, a change of the day of the game as well as the time of the game.  If only 5% of the fans are inconvenienced sufficiently to be angry over the “flexing” that represents 3250 upset fans.  And among the upset fans would surely be the ones for visiting teams that booked flights and hotels to travel to see their home team play a road game.  That is a loyal fanbase the league ought not seek to disaffect.

On a more positive note, MLS and the MLSPA have reached an agreement for a new CBA that extends over 5 years.  According to reports, the new agreement has several advances for the players:

  • Expanded free agency – players eligible at age 24 with 5 years in MLS
  • Increased salary levels and salary flexibility for teams.  Minimum salary level will increase by 56% over the 5-year term of this CBA
  • More charter flights for away games.  The minimum number of charter flights will quadruple over the period of this CBA.

Here is a link to a report in the Washington Post with more of the details of this new CBA if you are interested.

The last “money issue” I want to talk about today relates back to the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal – with the expectation that time will reveal that they were not the only team to do such a thing.  The folks who run sports entities often resort to rhetorical flourish when they refer to “the integrity of the game”.  MLB has a problem on its hands, and it is not going to be easy to rid itself of that problem with a wave of the hand and a few punishments handed out to managers and execs followed by rhetorical flourish.  Major League Baseball has a history of cheating; it is well known, and it has been explained away in the past as isolated incidents of “gamesmanship”.  Let me hit a couple of highlights all of which come decades after the Black Sox scandal in 1919:

  • The movement of the outfield fences by Bill Veeck depending on which visiting team was in town.
  • Turning the base path between first base and second base into a sandpit or a watery bog when Maury Wills came to town.
  • Pitchers using spitballs, shine balls, scuffed balls and the like over long and storied careers.
  • Team owners colluding to frustrate the free agency process – – and getting caught to the tune of about $300M.
  • PEDs – – ‘nuff said.
  • Electronic sign-stealing and “codebreaking”.

In addition to the common thread of “cheating”/” breaking the rules” here, the other common thread is that the only time a significant punishment was involved was in the “collusion crisis” in the 1980s.  All the rest of these “cheating” incidents were glossed over – – and the current one is about to be glossed over as soon as the Commish announces whatever he found regarding the Red Sox activities were regarding the current crisis.

MLB is right to worry about “the integrity of the game” because it has ignored cheating scandals in the last century to the point where the next “attempt to get an edge” by some player or team is not going to be a big surprise.  There is a ban on betting in baseball; that is why Pete Rose is out of baseball; that is why the owner of the Phillies back on the ‘40s had to sell the team; there is a punishment with teeth in it and even that cannot guarantee compliance.  A slap on the wrist here will not have any deterrence effect at all – and that will be a big problem for MLB.

Finally, here is a Tweet from syndicated columnist Norman Chad:

“HOUSTON ASTROS FEBRUARY SCHEDULE:

Feb. 22: First Grapefruit League game vs. Nationals

Feb. 16: Spring training officially begins

Feb. 11: Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 10: New sign-stealing tech support staff orientation”

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

 

 

XFL 2.0

XFL 2.0 launched over the weekend.  There are some positives and some negatives attached to that statement, and I want to go over some of them.  Of the 4 games on the air, I watched about 9 quarters of the 16 available; here are some observations:

  • Plus:  Attendance looked reasonable for two of the games.  The DC/Seattle game played in a stadium that seats 20,000 looked virtually full. [Announced attendance was 17,125.]  The NY/Tampa game played in the Meadowlands had a similar announced attendance, but the crowd looked bigger than that on TV.
  • Minus:  The TV commentators need to focus on the games in front of them and maybe an interesting storyline or two.  The constant references to “novelty” and “revolutionary” got very old.
  • Plus: The games demonstrated competence for players and coaches.  This was not helter-skelter sandlot football.  At the same time, this is definitely minor-league pro football and not something that is a hair’s breadth away from the NFL product.
  • Minus:  There are FAR TOO MANY on-field interviews with players and coaches and just about anyone involved with the game on the sidelines.  And with players mic-ed up, the folks manning the “dump button” need to be far more alert in the future.
  • Plus:  PJ Walker is the QB for the Houston Roughnecks.  He was running around out there looking like DeShaun Watson of the Houston Texans.  I suspect he will be a fan favorite there.
  • Minus:  A couple of the TV commentators got a bit loose with their language and required the use of the “dump button”.  I am certainly no prude, but that is totally unnecessary.
  • Plus:  Some of the innovative rules for XFL 2.0 are good ones.  I like the league’s PAT options; I really like the transparency of the booth reviews; the pace of the game is better than the NFL or college football.

If you are interested, here is a link to a report at CBSSports.com that will explain many of the rule differences between XFL 2.0 and the NFL – or college football.

To some degree, the long-term viability of XFL 2.0 will depend on its acceptance by bettors.  Notwithstanding the impurity brought to the game by low-life gamblers, the fact is that a large measure of the NFL’s dominance of US sports is due to the widespread use of the games as a vehicle for wagering.  I don’t know how bettors will view XFL 2.0, but if it turns out to be a big deal, then the league has an avenue toward “growth” over and above “survival”.

Dwight Perry acknowledged the importance of gambling to the new football league obliquely in the Seattle Times last weekend:

“Sure sign you might have a gambling problem: You missed Super Bowl LIV because you were at your XFL fantasy-league draft.”

Professor Perry is not all that far off.  One of the banner ads on an Internet sports site over the weekend invited me to sign up for Daily Fantasy contests involving XFL 2.0.  Seriously…

Allow me to interrupt this rant with an important notice:

  • Memo to Iowa:  The Chiefs beat the Niners in the Super Bowl by a score of 31-20.  Thought you would like to know the final result …

Regarding the MLB sign-stealing scandal, Henry Aaron last week said that everyone involved in the cheating should be banned from baseball for life.  That is a harsh position to take but it is not an outrageous one.  The underlying principle of MLB’s ironclad rule about betting on games is the defense of “the integrity of the game”.  Well, “integrity” also takes a significant blow when teams – or players or managers or whomever – find ways to cheat to affect the outcomes.  The “integrity of the games” need not be tied solely to the winners or losers of wagers; the “integrity of the game” has a fundamental tie to the statistical outcomes of those games.  I am not convinced that Henry Aaron’s call for a lifetime ban from baseball is appropriate here, but I am sure of two things:

  1. Even though the Commish promised immunity for players who provided information in MLB’s investigation, there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that those players who actively participated in the cheating – and benefited from it – are immune from any and all punishment.
  2. The person making the call for a lifetime ban is Henry “Bleeping” Aaron.  This man has been in and around baseball for about 70 years; he is an ambassador for the game; his opinion(s) command attention simply because they are his opinion(s).

In terms of stature regarding baseball, I was trying to think of the half-dozen or so people who might be on the same level of “authority” as Henry Aaron.  Here is my list; if these folks also believe that a lifetime ban is appropriate, then I would have to reassess my position.

  • Bob Gibson
  • Derek Jeter
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Willie Mays
  • Cal Ripken
  • Mariano Rivera
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Carl Yastrzemski

Finally, as I mentioned last week, people will use the storyline related to where Tom Brady will play football next year as filler until such time as he signs a contract for next year.  Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel expressed his opinion for the line of thinking that has Brady playing for the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2020:

“Not to be mean, but putting Tom Brady on the Bucs would be like putting the Mona Lisa in Room 217 of the Red Roof Inn.”

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

 

 

Football Tidbits Today

#2 son provided me with the following tidbit.  Kyle Shanahan was on the sidelines for two of the biggest 4th quarter comebacks in Super Bowl history – – but he was on the “wrong sideline”.  He was the offensive coordinator and play-caller for the Falcons when the Pats rallied from a 28-3 deficit to win the game in OT; this year, he was the head coach for the Niners who led by 10 points in the middle of the 4th quarter and lost by 10 points in regulation.  Combining those games, here is a stunning statistic:

  • In those two Super Bowl contests, from the time when there were 10 minutes left to play in the 4th quarter until the game was over (the Pats game went to OT), the teams with Kyle Shanahan calling the plays were outscored 46-0.

That is a head-shaker to be sure.  Shanahan deserves plenty of blame for his failure to run the ball and eat up some clock in the Pats game, but I am not so sure his play calling was seriously in question last weekend.  That stat is a serious indictment on the defensive coordinator and the defensive players in those two games.  The Falcons’ defense was simply gassed at the end of their game and the Niners’ defense gave up all of the big plays it would surrender for the day in the final minutes.  Amazing statistic…

Speaking of NFL defenses and defensive coordinators, the Raiders fired their defensive coordinator, Brenston Buckner, and hired Rod Marinelli to take that job.  The basis for that hiring and firing decision is simple; Marinelli was with Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay as the Bucs’ defensive line coach when the Bucs won the Super Bowl there in January 2003.  Putting that aside for just a moment, here is why this move is surprising:

  • Marinelli is 70 years old.  I doubt that anyone sees him as any sort of “innovator” on defense.
  • Buckner became the Raiders’ defensive coordinator in 2019.  He inherited a defense that was last in the NFL in sacks (13) and put a defense on the field last year that recorded 32 sacks.  That may not be an eye-popping total, but it is a 146% increase year-over-year.
  • Marinelli’s most recent stint in the NFL has been as the defensive coordinator for the Cowboys – and no one would point to the Cowboys’ defense over the past two seasons as a model for all other teams to try to emulate.

Buckner was not “at loose ends” for long.  He must be held in some level of esteem around the league because he was hired by the Cardinals to be their defensive line coach in about 24 hours.

Division 1-A college football is a significant step down from the NFL and when you get to the bottom levels of Division 1-A college football one may need a parachute to get from the NFL to that level.  The UConn football program has been a low-level bottom feeder for several years now – and it just might be getting worse. Here is how bad it was in 2018:

  • UConn gave up 50.4 points per game and 617.4 yards per game.

In 2019, UConn was 2-10 with those wins coming against Division 1-AA Wagner College and bottom-feeder-supremo, UMass.  Channeling the guy on the infomercials who hawks Oxi-Clean:

But wait!  There’s more…

Now that the NCAA has introduced the “transfer portal” to facilitate the processes by which a student-athlete can move from one school to another, there is an easy way to keep tabs on how many players may or may not be “on the move”.  A recent report at NBCSports.com said that 23 players on the UConn roster had entered the transfer portal.  A look at the 2019 UConn roster yields some interesting information:

  • If I counted correctly there were 100 players on the roster for 2019.
  • There were only 10 seniors on the team; not a lot of folks hung in there for 4 years of Husky football.
  • Now according to the report, 23 other players have entered the transfer portal.  Assuming they successfully find a way out of Storrs, CT, that means 33% of last year’s team will not be there next year.
  • If you are a player in the transfer portal who was not a starter or a player who got significant time last year, how might that player be viewed by other Division 1-A schools?  I would not be busting my butt to take on players who were starters from that team let alone bench jockeys.

UConn is leaving the AAC to join the non-football Big East Conference.  So, in addition to having a questionable roster for football, it is going to have to feel its way through the thicket of being an independent football team at the Division 1-A level – – or downgrade to Division 1-AA.  Here are the seven Division 1-A football independents for 2020:

  1. Army
  2. BYU
  3. Liberty
  4. New Mexico St.
  5. Notre Dame
  6. UConn
  7. UMass

New Mexico State, UConn and UMass bring no glory at all to that list…

Randy Edsall is the head coach at UConn and is in his second stint there.  He took over in 2017 after a 6-year hiatus from the school.  In those 3 seasons since his return, the Huskies cumulative record has been 6-30.  I would say things are looking bleak inside the football program at UConn.

Finally, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot this week.  Given the amount of commentary surrounding this topic, I find myself in complete agreement with him:

Brief rant: I guess something’s wrong with me. Otherwise, I’d have a stronger reaction to the Super Bowl halftime show put on by two middle-aged women. But I don’t. For me, it was neither great nor controversial, perhaps because I was barely paying attention. But so many things media and people find spectacular or objectionable just aren’t. It’s tiresome.”

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