Disturbing News Today …

I ran across a disturbing report yesterday from the ABC affiliate in Denver where the MLB all-Star Game will take place tonight.  Police in Denver arrested 4 men who had registered in a Denver hotel proximal to Coor’s Field after a hotel maintenance employee reported seeing “dozens of weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition inside one of the rooms Friday night”.  You can read the report from Channel 7 in Denver here.

The report says clearly that the conjunction of lots of weapons with ammo plus proximity to the All-Star Game venue plus the expected crowd of people led authorities to worry about a “Las Vegas-style shooting”.  In the body of the report there are several other items that would make me more than a little concerned:

  • All four men arrested had multiple charges filed against them.  All four were charged with “investigation of possession of a weapon by a previous offender”.  Not only were there elements similar to the “Las Vegas incident”, all of these me had previous records and were in possession of weapons, nonetheless.
  • Two of the four men had warrants for their arrest from jurisdictions other than Denver – – and they were in possession of weapons, nonetheless.
  • The FBI issued a statement saying that the Bureau was not aware of any threats to the All-Star Game and had no reason to believe these arrests had anything to do with the game other than the proximity.  [Aside:  I sure hope they were right on that point because if they had no reason to think there was a problem but there really was a plot to shoot up the crowd …]

Sports are entertainment for the fans who attend or watch the game(s) on TV.  They are – and are intended to be – a release from “the administrivia of life”.  When I hear about situations like the one in Las Vegas or this one here, I wonder to myself how humankind got to such a point…

After that sort of depressing or anger-inducing news, I feel a need to lighten things up a tad.  There is one source to go to whenever you want a chuckle and/or an oddball view of the world; that would be TheOnion.comLet me direct you to this “article” which will take you about 30 seconds to read under this headline:

‘We’re So Screwed,’ Says Detroit Lions Fan After Seeing They Got Matched Up Against Other Teams Again

At the end of the article, the fan is quoted as saying he looks forward to the BYE week this year.

Over at ESPN, the on-air talent seems to be hellbent on making statements that might be taken as racially biased.  Clearly, that ought not to be the intent of the network or the on-air talent, but there has been an unusual amount of it presented to the public view recently.  The most recent – – unless someone this morning has said something inflammatory – – came from Stephen A. Smith who opined that Shohei Ohtani was not and could not properly be the “face of MLB” because he chooses to speak through an interpreter.  I have a question to pose based on Stephen A Smith’s remarks:

  • More than a few people said similar things about the inappropriateness of players like Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson being the “face of MLB”.  When we confront that sort of thing today, we say it was “racially motivated” if we are being polite and “racist” if we choose to be less polite.  So, just how are these comment about Ohtani not of the same stripe?

For the record, I have read elsewhere that Ohtani speaks English well but uses an interpreter because he does not want to misspeak in idiomatic English.  I presume those reports are accurate but have no direct knowledge to the point.  Oh, by the way, just how is the “face of MLB” determined?  Is there a secret subcommittee of the Trilateral Commission that makes this determination?

The other current political correctness kerfuffle at ESPN – the one involving Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor – is kept smoldering by the continuing NBA Finals.  Reports say that ESPN and Taylor are in contract negotiations and that Taylor is seeking a contract that would pay here something close to what the network pays Stephen A. Smith – – who is arguably the “face of ESPN” at the moment.  Some folks have gone to the point of saying that either Nichols or Taylor will have to “leave town” when this is over and done with because the network cannot have both on staff.  [Aside:  How anyone might know this to be the case is never explicated.]  Rather than become part of that struggle, may I please pose another question here as a way to look at all this from another perspective:

  • Have you ever tuned in to ESPN specifically to see either Rachel Nichols or Maria Taylor do what it is that they do on the air?

For the record, I have not.  There are other studio hosts/reporters I want to see but neither Nichols nor Taylor comes close to being on my list.

Finally, apropos of nothing, let me close today with an observation by columnist/satirist, Mike Royko:

“The Super Bowl unites us.  It’s our substitute for war.  It’s our one unifying element, more so than even the World Series.

“Baseball isn’t violent enough and the games are too long.”

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

 

 

Congrats to Italy and Argentina…

Just as there was no joy in Mudville when Casey struck out, there is no joy in England today.  The English National Team made it to the Finals of the European Championship against Italy; the Three Lions led at the half but could not hold on.  The game went to penalty kicks and the English goaltender saved two of the five Italian tries.  But three of the English penalty kicks were unsuccessful and the Italians prevailed 3-2 on penalty kicks.  The game was played in London making it a “home game” for the English but “home field” has not been kind to teams in the European Championships over the years.  The last team to win the Finals on a home field was France in 1984.

Congratulations to The Azzurri – the Italian National Team – as European Champions for 2021.

In another bit of international soccer news, Argentina won the Copa America on Saturday with a 1-0 win over Brazil.  This was the first major championship win for Lionel Messi as part of the Argentine National Team.

Congratulations to the Argentine National Team as Copa America champions in 2021.

About a week ago, the NY Mets and the NY Yankees played a subway series.  As you might expect, tickets were hard to come by and when one could find access, the prices were steep.  No problem there; no big surprise – – so far.  Then, there was rain on the night of the opening game and here is what happened:

  • The game was announced as “delayed” and fans made their way to Yankee Stadium.
  • Fans were held in suspense for more than 2 hours – while indulging in food and drink and perhaps visiting the team stores – before they were told that the game has been postponed.  But wait, there’s more…
  • For the make-up double header, the games were each 7 innings in length AND there were separate admissions to the two games.

I know that price gouging has become commonplace in professional sports but someone in authority needs to issue an edict here:

  • When double-headers are 7-inning games, there is a single admission to both games.  If there are to be separate admissions, each game must be of the 9-inning variety.
  • So let it be written; so let it be done…

I was perusing Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Taking Note, and ran across these stats for Bob Gibson in the months of June and July in 1968.  That was the “Year of the Pitcher”, and MLB lowered the pitcher’s mound starting in 1969 to bring more offense into the game.  Gibson was the most dominant of the hurlers that year; here are his June/July stats:

  • 12 starts
  • 12 compete games
  • 12 wins
  • 8 shutouts
  • 6 runs allowed.
  • Drinnan added also, “0 pitch count worries”.

Two things came immediately to mind when I saw that.  First, I chuckled at the idea that any starting pitcher in 2021 would be allowed to stay in for 12 complete games in a two-month span.  Indeed, loads of starting pitchers do not throw 12 complete games in a four-year span anymore.  But second, I thought that it is probably unfair to pitchers today to hold them to a standard from 50 years ago – – just as it would have been wrong to think of Gibson’s achievements as “marginal” as compared to Cy Young in the deeper part of baseball history.

Today, the Mets’ Jacob deGrom is having an outstanding season.  His record is 7-2 and he has an ERA of 1.08.  Those stats are exemplary without any sort of qualification or comparison.  deGrom has only 1 complete game in his 15 starts in the three-and-a-half months of the 2021 season but that does not diminish him as a pitcher; it reflects a significant difference in the way baseball is played and managed in 2021.

When Bob Gibson was on his dominant streak in 1968 – or when Robin Roberts threw 28 consecutive complete games spanning two seasons in the 1950s – there was no managerial fear that Gibson or Roberts would have to face batters for a third time in a single game.  That fear is a byproduct of the analytics guys who did not exist in 1968.  None of this is of Jacob deGrom’s doing; he need not be held to a standard that does not exist anymore.

[Aside:  deGrom’s ERA of 1.08 is other-worldly but he has come close to this before.  In 2018, with 32 starts and 217 innings pitched, his ERA for the season was a miserly 1.70.]

Bob Molinaro had this comment obliquely about Jacob DeGrom in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

Skipping: The Mets’ Jacob deGrom, the game’s most dominating pitcher, can’t be bothered to attend the MLB All-Star Game. Neither can Houston Astros infielders Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, and who knows who else? That’s bad form, but the players are sending a message. All-star games are obsolete.”

I totally agree with Molinaro on this point.  The most damning part of his comment is that the MLB All-Star Game is the best of the lot by a significant margin – – and it too is obsolete and irrelevant.

Finally, since much of today’s rant dealt with NYC and its players/teams, let me close with a comment about New York by author Donald Barthelme:

“This muck heaves and palpitates.  It is multi-directional and has a mayor.”

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

 

 

Marketing, Promotion And Brand Ambassadorship

I have demonstrated here more than a few times that I would never have made a career in the field of marketing/promotions/advertising.  I also know that Oscar Levant once observed that there is a fine line between genius and insanity.  It was with all of that in mind when I read a report from Greg Wyshynski at ESPN.com with this headline:

  • “Rink Ice from Tampa Bay Lightning’s Amalie Arena used in limited-edition beer”

After clearing my mind momentarily of the wide variety of gross and disgusting “impurities” that might have found their way onto and into that ice I read the report thinking that it was a humorous piece.  It was not.

“Coors Light has used ice collected from the rink at Amalie Arena during the Stanley Cup Final to brew “Champions Ice,” a limited-edition beer. It will be available on tap in Tampa-area bars and in 32-ounce collectable crowlers starting the week of July 12 — including on the day of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup parade.”

The ice in question was shaved from the rink after Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals; it was shipped in cryogenic containers to the brewery in Colorado where the good folks at Coor’s “filtered out the unhealthy stuff” and brewed a batch of beer with that ice – melted into water to be sure – as part of the ingredient list.

I am not a beer connoisseur by anyone’s definition so the fact that I do not personally think Coor’s Light is even drinkable when brewed in its normal fashion may cloud my reaction here:

  • This offering is not enticing.  It is disgusting.
  • I would not drink this limited-edition beer with your mouth.

But hey … if you are a Lightning fan or someone who loves hockey and Coor’s Light, Mazel Tov!

Here is the link to Greg Wyshynski’s report…

I have avoided comment on the brave new world of “Name, Image and Likeness” (NIL) that has been thrust upon intercollegiate athletics by about a dozen state legislatures and by the Supreme Court decision in the Alston case that I did  I mentioned before.  The reason is that I am convinced that there are far too many twists, turns, speed bumps and open road ahead of everyone regarding NIL to make any short to medium term predictions as to what is going to happen.  The only thing I am confident in saying is that the collegiate athletics model of “amateurism” is dead.  There will be in the short term a tsunami of college athletes who become “brand ambassadors” for a variety of products and services offered to the public by businesses of all sizes.

Good for those college athletes; I do not begrudge them even a penny of what they might earn in those circumstances.  However, if you ask me then to conclude that this change is an unalloyed success for intercollegiate sports, my response is that I will have to get back to you in about 10 years for a grounded conclusion there.

For now, it seems to be like the Wild West out there; athletes in minor sports are getting endorsement deals; businesses are signing on with players daily.  It is like one of the verses in the song Creeque Alley by the Mamas and the Papas:

“And everybody’s gettin’ fat ‘cept Mama Cass…”

Is this how things will continue to proceed?  Perhaps – – but probably not.  Boom and bust is a commonplace scenario in the world of economics so I have no idea how this will look in 2030 and I suggest that lots of the “analysis” offered up today is more speculation and extrapolation than it is real analysis – – because there is not enough data to analyze yet.

Let me just throw out a couple of things that might happen to cause changes in plans:

  • Joe Flabeetz is the star RB for Disco Tech.  Joe signs a deal with a local car dealership; his pitch is that their cars run even better than he does.  In a TV ad, he is standing by one of the vehicles bedecked in his Disco Tech uniform.  Disco Tech wants a piece of the action here because it is their uniform not his.
  • Suzy Flabeetz (Joe’s twin sister) is the captain and leading scorer for her school’s basketball team.  She knows that her days as an athlete are going to end once her senior year is over; she is not going to make it as a pro basketball player.  She is looking to some sort of NIL deal that will go beyond the end of her college days and she discovers Only Fans where she sets up her own channel, charges subscription rates and posts sex tapes there.  The school decides it does not want to be associated with such behavior and expels Suzy.

I am not saying any of the above – let alone all the above – is going to happen; I am saying that low probability events happen every day and some of those low probability events have long lasting/widespread effects – – e.g. the guy who ate the bat for dinner in Wuhan.

I suspect that whatever form NIL economics takes in the future the Power 5 schools and the ones with rabid and wealthy boosters are going to do better than the smaller schools in Division 1 and Division 1-AA.  The rich will get richer until and unless there is some sort of modulation of behavior – – which is what the NCAA purportedly was there to do and seems to have done so poorly.

Finally, since I mentioned Oscar Levant in passing above, let me close with something he once said to an obnoxious person he had been introduced to:

“I’m going to memorize your name and throw my head away.”

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

 

 

Ups And Downs …

The NHL awarded this year’s Stanley Cup last night.  The Tampa Bay Lightning repeated as champions beating the Montreal Canadiens 4 games to 1.  I tuned in just after the Lightning had gone ahead 1-0 in the second period; the Canadiens did not go quietly in the third period but the Lightening defense – – and specifically the goalie – – were excellent.

  • Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Lightning …

The European Championship soccer match is set.  England needed extra time – – we call it overtime here in the colonies – – to beat Denmark 2-1.  That win advances England to play Italy in the Finals on Sunday.  The game will be a “home game” for the Three Lions taking place in Wembley Stadium.

  • Congratulations to the English and Italian national teams …

Roger Federer had a much less enjoyable day yesterday.  He was matched against Hubert Hurkacz – seeded 14th in the Wimbledon draw – – in the quarterfinals of the championship but was dispatched in straight sets 6-3, 7-6, 6-0.   Roger Federer is 39 years old; in tennis terms, he is pushing Methuselah’s record.  He has won Wimbledon 8 times in the past; it would be unseemly if this were his last appearance there to have his final set be 6-0.

  • Bonne chance, Roger Federer …

Earlier this year, the CFL and the folks who now own the defunct XFL 2.0 announced that they were going to seek a “meaningful partnership” between the organizations.  Yesterday, came an announcement from CFL Commissioner, Randy Ambrosie, that the talks have ended without an agreement.  Here is the meat of his announcement:

“Our talks with the XFL exploring the potential for collaboration and innovation have been positive and constructive.  While we remain open to finding new ways to work together in the future, we and our XFL counterparts have jointly decided to not pursue any formal arrangements at this time.”

Translation:

  • We could not figure out a way for both sides to make money out of a partnership.

Earlier this week, Albert Pujols became only the 4th player in MLB history to accumulate 6000 total bases for his career.  The other three players on that list are:

  • Henry Aaron
  • Willie Mays
  • Stan Musial

Congratulations to Albert Pujols; that is good company you are with …

With the Opening Ceremonies for the Tokyo Olympics 15 days away, it now appears that the games will begin at a time when the Japanese government will be acting in a newly declared State of Emergency.  CBSSports.com reported yesterday that Japan has had rising numbers of COVID infections over the past several months and that trend has the government there poised to issue a new emergency proclamation that is expected to last for at least the duration of the Olympic Games.  The emergency status might bar local fans from attending Olympic events; current restrictions already have banned international fans from the venues.  Therefore, it is possible that the Games could go on without any fans in attendance; supposedly there is to be a meeting between the organizers and the IOC and government representatives in the next few days to resolve this.

Three pandemic related stats have alarmed public health folks in Japan:

  1. The number of new COVID-19 cases in Japan this week is the largest number of new cases since the week of May 13th.
  2. More than half of the new infections this week are in Tokyo – – where the Games will take place.
  3. Only 15% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated as of today.

Moving on …  The Los Angeles Dodgers did something unusual yesterday.  They canceled – not postponed, canceled – Trevor Bauer Bobblehead Night which had been scheduled for August 19th.  Recall that Bauer is on a 7-day suspension by MLB as it and local police investigate actions that might lead to criminal charges related to domestic violence.  In addition to canceling that promotional event which would have taken place 6 weeks from today, the Dodgers also removed all “Trevor Bauer merchandise” from its online store.

Not having access to any information about the incident(s) in question or the investigations(s) in progress, I would look at that action by the Dodgers as one of two things:

  1. The team is acting “in an abundance of caution” because it recognizes that the allegations here are rather smarmy and the team figures that it can put that merchandise up for sale in the future if this turns out to be a tempest in a teapot.  Or …
  2. The Dodgers have gotten sense that this smarmy problem is not going away quickly, and they need to begin to dissociate the “Dodgers’ brand” from the matter as soon as possible.

Finally, since today is the 55th wedding anniversary for my long-suffering wife and me, let me close with two observations by Groucho Marx:

“Hollywood brides keep the bouquets and throw away the grooms.”

And …

“The husband who wants a happy marriage should learn to keep his mouth shut and his checkbook open.”

Fortunately, my long-suffering wife and I have survived without either of those conditions having obtained …

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

 

 

Some Drama Here And Some Drama There…

The NBA Finals got off to an exciting start last night.  Both teams had their best player hobbled a bit, but that only added some amazement to the game.

  • Chris Paul (shoulder) had 32 points, 4 rebounds and 9 assists for the Suns.
  • Giannis Antetokounumpo (knee) had 20 points, 17 rebounds and 4 assists for the Bucks.

The Suns have never won an NBA Finals and the fans in Phoenix Suns Arena were clearly hyped for this game and this series.  From a TV vantage point, it appeared as if more than half the crowd was on their feet for the entire first quarter of the game.

The TV presentation of the Finals – on ABC – has an unhappy undertone.  Rachel Nichols who has been a mainstay of ESPN’s coverage of the NBA for several years now (ESPN and ABC are both owned by Disney) has been removed from the telecasts as a sideline reporter.  That is not a big deal at all because the sideline reporters never make or break a telecast.  The dark aspect of her removal is the basis for the action in the first place.

Over the weekend, the NY Times reported on an audio recording of Rachel Nichols disparaging one of her colleagues, Maria Taylor, who is Black.  The recording was purportedly a phone conversation between Nichols and someone else and Nichols was unaware that she was being recorded.  In that conversation, Nichols said that a plum assignment given to Taylor was because ESPN was “feeling pressure on diversity”.  That plum assignment was as the host of the NBA Finals pre-game show that Nichols had done in the past.  Here is part of that conversation:

“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world; she covers football, she covers basketball.  If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy long-term record on diversity (which by the way I know personally from the female side of it) like go for it.  Just find it somewhere else.  You’re not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.”

Let me be clear here; I have no attraction to or animosity toward either Rachel Nichols or Maria Taylor.  If ESPN promoted either of them to the role of “top dog on SportsCenter”, I would shrug my shoulders and change my viewing habits not at all.  If ESPN decided to “go in a different direction” with either or both of them, I would shrug my shoulders and change my viewing habits not at all.  I have no favorite in this kerfuffle.  But I do have a problem with someone leaking that recorded phone conversation to the NY Times.  In terms of trustworthiness, I trust that person as far as I can throw a piano with one hand.

The Azzurri – the Italian National Soccer Team – will be in the Finals for the European Championship on Sunday.  They will face the winner of today’s match between Denmark and England.  The Italian team has been a serious participant in international soccer over the years but in 2018, the Azzurri did not even make it to the World Cup tournament.  To use a Biblical description of “disappointment”, that exclusion from the World Cup caused a significant amount of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

Yesterday, Italy beat Spain (another international powerhouse) on penalty kicks.  The score was tied 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes and the score was the same after a 30-minute overtime period.  That set up the penalty kick phase and Italy prevailed there 4-2.  An Italian commentary on that victory putting the Azzurri in the Finals was:

  • Gli Azzurri sono al loro posto 

Google Translate says that means “The Azzurri are in their place”.  They are where they belong.

The opponent for Italy next Sunday will bring an interesting story of its own to the pitch.  Earlier in the tournament, the Danish player, Christian Eriksen, collapsed on the field and suffered cardiac arrest in a game against Finland.  Only immediate and professional attention to his condition saved his life; he was lying on a soccer field with his heart stopped – – and he made it through.  Eriksen has had surgery to implant a defibrillator in his body “to help prevent future heart episodes”.  There are all sorts of storylines to be attached to a final game between Italy and Denmark.

Should the English prevail today and play for the Championship against the Italians, there will be a tide of history to confront.  England is the home to the Premier League which has a fanbase that is as crazed as any fanbase anywhere.  With the Premier League dark until mid-August, the English passion for futbol is focused on the National Team – the Three Lions.  England is always a presence in international soccer but here is a sobering stat:

  • Since England won the World Cup in 1966 – 55 years ago – it has never made it to a final game in a major international tournament.

People there have referred to this absence from finals competitions as “55  years of hurt”.  Somehow, I think that narrative is going to express itself in today’s game no matter the outcome.

Moving on …  I have tried to avoid commentary on the Aaron Rodgers/Green Bay Packers “feud” this summer simply because I think the story had been done to death about two months ago.  Earlier this week, however, there was milestone that came and went without fanfare.  According to an agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA last year, players could opt out of either last season or this season based on concerns about COVID-19.  Last year, 67 players took that option; the deadline for opting out this year was on July 2nd; according to reports on NFL Network, no players opted out for 2021.

There had been speculation that Aaron Rodgers would do that because – depending on which speculative report you read – he could “save” tens of millions of dollars in fines and clawbacks if indeed he does not play for the Packers this year because he is under contract to do so.  Well, that did not happen so all those speculation pieces were of marginal interest and no value.  The Rodgers/Packers situation remains the same:

  • If Aaron Rodgers is to play NFL football this year, he will do it for the Green Bay Packers unless the Packers trade him elsewhere.
  • Aaron Rodgers can choose not to play, but he cannot trade himself.

Finally, since I mentioned the English national soccer team above, let me close with an observation about the English people by author, Margaret Halsey:

“The English never smash in a face.   They merely refrain from asking it to dinner.”

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

 

 

Lots Of Questions Today…

The NBA Finals begin this evening; the series will be interesting featuring a cast of characters who have little to no previous history in the Finals.  The TV ratings will be interesting too for several reasons:

  • The big TV markets are on the sidelines.  Phoenix is the 11th largest TV market per Nielsen and Milwaukee is the 35th largest.  [For reference, Milwaukee is larger than West Palm Beach but smaller than Columbus, OH.]
  • The number of “TV homes” in these two markets combined is about half the number in Los Angeles (#2 in market size) and about 40% of the number in New York (#1 on the list).
  • Question:  How will the abundance of “new faces” affect the ratings?  Will people tune in to see these “new kids on the block” or will they spend their sports TV time elsewhere?

Joey Chestnut set a new world’s record in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4th.  Chestnut ate 76 hotdogs – and buns too of course – in the 10-minute event.  Here is a task for historians and observers of societal/cultural trends:

  • At exactly what point did gluttony cease to be one of the seven deadly sins and become a sport?

Shoei Othani made the MLB All-Star Game as a pitcher and as a position player this year.  Someone asked me at a July 4th party if Babe Ruth had ever done that.  My answer was that he probably had not because I knew that there were no All-Star Games at the time when Ruth was pitching and playing the outfield; those days were in the teens and early twenties while the All-Star Game was not invented until 1933.  Technically my guess was probably correct but here is a nugget of baseball history from 1933:

  • Babe Ruth was in the twilight of his career; he was 38 years old and would be out of baseball at the end of the 1935 season; but he did make the AL team as an All-Star in 1933.  He hit .301 for that season and had an OPS of 1.023; his credentials as a position player were solid.
  • Babe Ruth also pitched in the 1933 season.  He started 1 game for the Yankees that year; he pitched a complete game and the Yankees won.  However, he gave up 5 runs in that contest giving him an ERA of 5.00; I doubt that performance would have earned him a spot on the squad as a pitcher.  Moreover, Ruth’s pitching appearance came on October 1st, 1933, in the final game of the season; so, he was clearly not selected to the All-Star team as a pitcher.

I spent plenty of time in my last two rants focusing on some “bad boys” and their behaviors.  Here, I would like to focus on one of the good guys – – Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot.  Here are two items from a column there last week:

Hoop du jour: It’s commendable, but not surprising, that only one or two out of all the WNBA players have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Women are just smarter. Also, more considerate of others. This is only the most recent time the socially conscious WNBA has raised its game.”

And …

In contrast: Speaking for the dumbest sex, Buffalo Bills anti-vaxxer, anti-masker Cole Beasley tweeted, ‘I may die of COVID, but I’d rather die actually living.’  What a drama queen. One who sings in the key of me. The comic irony of NFL players avoiding vaccine needles is that in their line of work, they get shot up more often than race horses.”

Kudos to the WNBA players on this issue.  I did not realize that their vaccination rate was as high as it is; would that more folks would emulate that behavior.  And, raspberries to Cole Beasley.

Look, I understand the idea that this is an issue of personal freedom and that one can view this as an assault on the temple of one’s body.  And if that is the way you feel, let it ride; no one is going to make you take the COVID vaccine.  So, why the imperative to bray about your taking a stand against something that is not going to happen in the first place?

Oh, and one more thing.  Beasley said he would “rather die actually living”.  Might I take a moment here to note that everyone dies that way all the time?  It is difficult to die if one is not living prior to dying.  Hmmm…

One of the great foot-in-mouth moments came in 2014 when Dabo Swinney said he would quit coaching at Clemson if the players were being paid:

“We try to teach our guys, use football to create the opportunities, take advantage of the platform and the brand and the marketing you have available to you. But as far as paying players, professionalizing college athletics, that’s where you lose me. I’ll go do something else because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is.”

Swinney is early on into a 10-year deal with Clemson potentially worth $92M that he signed in 2019.  I am going out on a limb here, but I suspect that the recent actions that will pay some Clemson players to play football there are not going to force him to “go do something else.”

Finally, since I quoted Bob Molinaro above, let me close with another of his observations:

Chattering class: Wimbledon’s TV coverage suffers from too much in-match palaver. The broadcast teams won’t allow the drama to breathe or any point to finish without redundant commentary. Tennis players prefer silence; maybe tennis viewers would too.”

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

 

 

Do We Need A Theme Song Here?

Last Friday, I wrote about the whitewashing of the NFL’s investigation into the “toxic culture” in the Front Office of the Washington Football Team.  If only 20% of the allegations made there are true, there were some bad boys resident there.  Today, I am going to chatter about a couple of other “bad boys” leading me to wonder if I should consider adopting the theme song from the TV show, Cops:

“Bad boys bad boys
Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do
When they come for you…”

MLB suspended Dodgers’ pitcher, Trevor Bauer, for 7 days with pay as it investigates allegations made by a woman seeking a temporary restraining order against Bauer.  A judge heard the charges and granted the restraining order and both MLB and the local police are investigating what happened or did not happen in the events that led to the seeking of the restraining order.  This imposition of what would be called “paid administrative leave” in a workplace less visible than an MLB team is indeed an action that is addressed and sanctioned in the existing CBA between MLB and the MLBPA.  However, it is limited to a 7-day period and any extension beyond that point would require concurrence by the union.

The accusation made by the woman now in possession of that restraining order dealt with participation in and solicitation of “rough sex” between the parties.  She asserts that she consented to sex with Bauer but that she did not consent to the behavior which she characterizes as sexual assault.  In her statement to the court, she asserts that she was subject to strangulation, punches to the head/face and sodomy.  It came as no surprise when I read that Trevor Bauer denies the accusations and will contest them.  Should you want the details of the accusation, you can find them reported here.

Based on what has come to light so far, this is going to be a classic case of ‘He said…/she said…”  In such circumstances, there are only two people who know what happened physically and emotionally before, during and after the event(s) in question.  Notwithstanding the inability for outsiders to know what transpired, there will be plenty of speculation on the matter.  Since I have no idea what happened or did not happen, I would prefer to focus on two other aspects of this matter:

  1. What happens next Friday when the 7-day suspension with pay runs out?  It would be unusual for a matter of this kind to be resolved by the police in 7 days and I am hard-pressed to imagine that MLB’s “investigation” would be so thorough in a 7-day period as to be conclusive one way or the other.  So, what do the leaders of MLB and the union do at that point?  It seems to me that any position taken by MLB next Friday could blow up in its face AND any reaction by the union – concurrence with MLB or opposition – is also a potential stink bomb.
  2. I understand that Bauer would want to clear his name in  matter like this one if indeed he is not a “bad boy” here.  The “He said…/she said…” structure of the matter makes that a most difficult undertaking.  So, absent criminal charges arising from the seeking of the restraining order, why contest the restraining order?  It does not seem as if there is a basis for a long-term relationship of any kind between the two parties, so why contest the order and keep the story alive?

The other “bad boy” for today is Josh Gordon; he has applied to the NFL for reinstatement from his indefinite suspension from the NFL in 2019.  Josh Gordon’s NFL career has been a tortured one indeed; it has taken more twists and turns than a plate of linguini and if that plate of linguini is adorned with clam sauce, the individual clams could represent speed bumps along the path.  I will just try to hit the high points – or low points if  you prefer – here:

  • The suspension in 2019 was for violation of the NFL substance abuse and performance enhancing drug policy.  He was reinstated briefly in December 2020 but suffered a “setback” almost immediately after the reinstatement and it never allowed him to show up on a playing field.
  • In 2019, he played for the Pats and the Seahawks before being suspended.  If I count correctly, that would have been his fifth instance of running afoul of the NFL policy on recreational and/or performance-enhancing drugs and/or running afoul of “team rules”.
  • Gordon was drafted by the Browns in 2012; he led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013 despite his having been suspended from the first two games of that season due to “drug issues”.  However, from that point through the end of the 2015/16 season, he only appeared in 11 games due to various suspensions and rehab events.
  • In one instance, Gordon applied for reinstatement, and it was denied because he failed a drug test while in the process of seeking reinstatement.

I think you get the drift here…  Josh Gordon is a very talented football player who either cannot or who chooses not to live by the rules that govern his eligibility to express his talents.  Such circumstances are not unique to the NFL or its players; there are limitations on behaviors – personal and professional – on lawyers, doctors, law enforcement officers, CPAs and so on.  Should Roger Goodell decide to reinstate Gordon once again, I believe he would be a free agent since it seems to me that his last contract with the Seahawks has run its course.

Josh Gordon as a free agent might be interesting to observe.  There is no doubt about his skill as a WR – even though he is now 30 years old.  Equally, there is no doubt that he is not a player who can be counted on as being allowed to suit up and play “on any given Sunday”.  I would find it interesting to see which teams would be think about adding him to their locker room.

Finally, in keeping with today’s theme about “bad boys” let me close with an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times – – and let me use this opportunity to wish Dwight Perry well and hope for his imminent return to the paper with his column Sideline Chatter:

“Steelers CB Justin Layne got arrested in Ohio for felony transportation of a gun, speeding (89 in a 60-mph zone) and driving with a suspended license.

“Even worse, he gets to tell it to a judge in the state the rival Browns and Bengals play in.”

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

 

 

A Dark Day For The NFL

Well, it did not take quite a full year for the NFL to act regarding allegations made by former female employees of the Washington Football Team regarding a “toxic culture” in the Front Office there and some awfully sleazy allegations that border on calling some folks “peeping Toms”.  Yesterday, the NFL announced that it has fined the team $10M – which the league will beneficently donate to charity – and simultaneously, the team announced that Danny Boy Snyder will not be the team CEO any longer because he is turning over those duties to his wife Tanya Snyder.

To be clear, no individual was suspended by the league for even a day nor was the team penalized in any way related to performance – – such as losing a draft pick or two.  The penalty here has two dimensions:

  1. A monetary dimension
  2. A cosmetic change to the team’s “wiring diagram”.

That’s it; that’s the list…

In September 2020, Forbes estimated the value of the Washington NFL franchise to be $3.5B.  That means the NFL fined the team to the tune of three-tenths of one percent of its value.  Ten million dollars is a lot of money in normal life; ten million dollars is petty cash in the world of NFL franchises and their owners.  Make no mistake; this is not even a slap on the wrist; this “penalty” is the equivalent of having your mother wag her finger at you and telling you not to do whatever it was that get her angry in the first place.

The investigative report done into the allegations here found the team’s Front Office workplace to be “highly unprofessional” – – particularly for women.  You can read about the first wave of allegations made by 15 women as documented by the Washington Post  last July here.  After you take a moment to do so, I want to pose a few questions when you get back.

Now that you have refreshed your memory about the first wave of allegations – – remember these were augmented about a month later when more women came forward – – ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • If the findings of the investigation were serious enough to merit a seemingly large fine, should you not conclude that at least some of the charges levied by these women were found to have had some merit?
  • Now, if even a few of the allegations were found to be real, how come there are no suspensions?  Would not the NFL want to disassociate itself with people who engaged in behaviors such as the ones alleged by these women?

So … either the NFL took the investigative report and found it to be “frivolous” but figured that it had to do something that looked dramatic so it fined the team 0.3% of its value or the NFL took the investigative report and found at least some of the allegations to be credible and decided to make it look as if they were acting in a way to assure such behavior would never again darken the doors of the institution and gave us a meaningless fine and a cosmetic change in the team hierarchy.

Here are four significant problems with the NFL’s current position:

  1. The league – as of now – will not make the investigative report public even in a redacted form.  That leaves the door open for anyone who wants to cast aspersions on the report or the league’s action(s) based on the report to have at it.
  2. The league punished the New England Patriots with a nominal fine AND the loss of a draft pick based on flimsy evidence in Deflategate.  It also suspended some folks. So, the questionable air pressure in a football is more important to the league than sexual assault on women and “peeping Tom” activities?
  3. The allegations leveled last summer were sufficient for the team to fire two individuals named as “perpetrators” and for the then Director of Communications to decide to retire about 24 hours after the story hit the papers.  So, based on the current status, we should conclude that they are the only bad actors here?  Really?
  4. At least one allegation made involved Danny Boy Snyder directly.  The league announcement of what it calls the conclusion of this matter does not even mention that “trivial matter”.

To my mind, the most telling and troubling aspect of this matter is that the league will not release the report done by Beth Wilkinson and that the league is now trying to frame its decision in light of this overview statement:

“Wilkinson was not specifically tasked with confirming or rejecting any particular allegation of inappropriate conduct …”

Excuse me?  Then how come it took a  year for the league to get the report and decide to take “action”?

Please take another moment today and read Sally Jenkins’ column in this morning’s Washington Post.  If you have the idea that I find the NFL’s position on this matter less than honorable, you should see what Ms. Jenkins has to say.

Finally, at the heart of this sordid mess is the issue of equal treatment of women in the workplace.  So, let me close with this observation by the French novelist, Honoré de Balzac:

“Equality may perhaps be a right, but no power on earth can ever turn it into a fact,”

To which I add – – “Especially if they don’t even try.”

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

 

 

Retirement – And Getting Paid For Not Working…

MLB teams have been playing for 3 months in 2021; the season is almost half over.  As I have done on the first day of previous months, I want to present some cumulative numbers regarding MLB’s Injured List.  So, for the first 3 months of the 2021 season:

  • 566 different players have spent time on the Injured List
  • 327 of those players were pitchers
  • Those players spent a cumulative total of 20,431 days on the Injured list.  (Average stay on the IL is 36.1 days.)
  • Players have collected a total of $381,728,917 while on the Injured List.  (Average salary collected is $674,433)

If you want to slice and dice this data in some different ways, here are some more data:

  • The Houston Astros have paid the most money to players on the IL ($21.0M).
  • The KC Royals have paid the least money to players on the IL ($1.5M).
  • The NY Mets and the San Diego Padres have both placed the largest number of players on the IL (14 different players).
  • The Boston Red Sox and the Oakland A’s have both placed the fewest players on the IL (4 different players).
  • The San Diego Padres’ players on the IL have spent the greatest number of days on that list (979 cumulative days).
  • The Oakland A’s players on the IL have spent the fewest number of days on that list (171 days).

And speaking of players being paid not to play baseball, today is – unofficially of course – Bobby Bonilla Day.  Every July 1st until 2035.  Bonilla will collect $1.19M today from the NY Mets as a deferred payment for a contract buyout in 2000.  Nice work if you can get it …

Here in the DC area, today marks the passing of an icon.  Thomas Boswell retired as of yesterday; he will no longer be writing sports columns in the Washington Post – something he has been doing for the last 52 years.  Since I have lived in the DC area for 51 years and have subscribed to the paper for all that time, I have been a more than frequent consumer of Boswell’s output.  I would break down his columns into 3 categories:

  1. When he was writing about baseball – either the local team or the sport itself – he was as good as there was.  He loved baseball and he recognized parts of the game that were not apparent to me.  He educated and he entertained paragraph by paragraph.
  2. When he was writing about the local NFL team, he provided an important service to the reader.  He did not spend his time focused on a single aspect of a game or a “key turning point” in the last game; he offered insight and opinion into something larger and more relevant to the team or the league itself.  However, I never got the sense that he loved football nearly as much as he loved baseball.
  3. When he was writing about any other sport, the prose was excellent, and the insights were still there.  However, I always got the sense that he would have preferred to be writing about a baseball topic, but the boss said he needed a column on whatever today’s subject was.

The Washington Post has had some excellent folks write columns over the years including Richard Justice, Dave Kindred, Tony Kornheiser, Shirley Povich and Michael Wilbon.  Thomas Boswell can now take his place in that table of Post alumni in a seat of honor.

Currently, the sports staff at the Post has Kevin Blackistone, Jerry Brewer, Sally Jenkins and Barry Sverluga as its lineup as columnists.  I follow and I enjoy all four of those journalists; at the same time, I have to say that the four of them have a large void to fill with Boswell’s retirement.

Bonne chance, Thomas Boswell…

The debacle of the European Soccer “Super League” has had an interesting bit of fallout.  One of the teams that intended to break away from UEFA to participate in the Super League was Liverpool from the English Premier League.  The team was obviously surprised by the vehement opposition of its fanbase to the club’s intention to be part of that renegade league and the folks who own the club – Fenway Sports Group – clearly saw a need to mend a lot of fences.

The owners have agreed to have fans represented on the Liverpool Board of Directors and Fenway Sports Group has pledged to pay any costs or fines levied against the Liverpool Club itself and not charge those costs to the club.  The team fan club will create a Supporters’ Board which will meet with club officials periodically and the chairman of the Supporters’ Board will attend the main Board of Directors meetings to assure fan interests and thinking are represented.

When I first read about this, I thought it was clever window dressing manufactured by a communications specialist on staff.  However, the club is also adding to the Liverpool articles of association a written agreement with the fan support group – the Official Liverpool Supporters Trust – assuring that fan representation on the teams Board of Directors will survive even in the event of the sale of the team by Fenway Sports Group.  It will be interesting to see how this amalgamation works out and if it provides a model for other sports franchises.

Finally, since I mentioned Thomas Boswell’s retirement above and having been happily retired for 20 years now, let me offer a couple of things relative to that situation:

  • Being retired is like having two six-month vacations every year.

And …

  • A great thing about retirement is that Fridays are no longer the best day of the week.

And …

  • I don’t want to.  I don’t have to.  You can’t make me.  I’m retired.

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

 

 

Justifying Justify’s Failed Blood Test

I have had a nagging suspicion that Bob Baffert had gotten special treatment – – kid gloves actually – – in previous incidents where his horses had improper substances in their blood after a race.  Obviously, I had no evidence; but his fame and his success seemed to be “factors” whenever racing authorities closed one of his cases.  In this morning’s Washington Post, there is a report by Gus Garcia-Roberts based on “confidential records” obtained by the Post.  These are not the Pentagon Papers, but they are records from the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) as that body investigated 2018 Kentucky Derby winner, Justify, and his failed drug test at Santa Anita prior to the Derby.

Here is the lead paragraph from a lengthy – and well written – report:

“In 2018, as star trainer Bob Baffert led his thoroughbred Justify to the Triple Crown, California regulators embarked on a secret effort to exonerate Baffert after the horse’s positive test for a banned substance, according to confidential records obtained by The Washington Post that fully detail the saga for the first time.”

The most damning part of this report in my mind is that as this investigative process proceeded, the CHRB rewrote its own rules so that they would be more lenient regarding Justify’s blood test and to the possible avenues for its appearance in those blood analyses.  You can read the report at www.washingtonpost.com.

Currently, Baffert is suspended from racing in NY for 2 years; he is contesting that suspension in court.  I do not understand the legal issues involved nearly well enough to pontificate on how it might turn out.  However, if the NY racing mavens have not done anything that is illegal, it would be a good thing for horse racing as a sport to come down hard on a highly successful trainer who has a history of bending – and sometimes breaking – some of the fundamental rules of racing in place to make the sport fair.

Switching gears …  The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin on 23 July; that is a mere 3 weeks and 2 days from today.  As of this morning, things are “GO” for the Games.  There is still some apprehension among Japanese people about holding the games in a time when COVID is not under greater control in Japan, but it seems as if organizers and the government in Japan believe the Games can be handled safely.

Vaccination rates in Japan are not good; as of yesterday, only a little more than 8% of the population of Japan were fully vaccinated.  Two factors have hindered progress there with regard to vaccinations:

  1. There was governmental bureaucratic infighting that went on for a few months putting Japan well behind the rest of the developed countries in terms of acquiring large numbers of doses of the various vaccines.
  2. Now that vaccines are available, officials there face an existing Japanese law that says only licensed physicians and RNs may administer shots.  That is a restriction to be sure, but it is magnified by the fact that Japan had a shortage of health care workers even before anyone ever heard of COVID-19.

For anyone planning to travel to Japan with the hope – but not nearly any certainty – of seeing some of the competitions there, this is what the CDC offers as guidance:

  • The coronavirus risk in Japan is considered HIGH.
  • Make sure you are fully vaccinated before traveling to Japan.
  • Unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Japan.
  • Because of the current situation in Japan, all travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.

Moving on …  Here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“CARL NASSIB: Finally! NFL Has first openly gay, active player: The Las Vegas Raiders defensive end is a journeyman 28-year-old with his third team in five years. But this week, forever more, Carl Nassib was to be defined for his history making more than his football. Not since Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 has sports had a more groundbreaking ‘first.’”

I have exactly no problem with Carl Nassib’s sexual preferences.  I am not shocked, titillated nor offended by his proclamation.  I do take issue with Greg Cote on three far less “exciting” points in his comment than Nassib’s announcement itself:

  1. Wasn’t Michael Sam openly gay when he was drafted by the Rams in 2014 and when he spent a  year with the Cowboys?
  2. I think the comparison with Jackie Robinson is a real stretch.  Blacks were not permitted to play in the major leagues until Robinson came along; gay men were not barred from the NFL – and potentially lucrative careers there; gay men only needed to keep their gayness  quiet.  Neither situation is a good one, but what Black men faced regarding baseball 75-100 years ago was far worse because Black men could hot hide or disguise their skin color.
  3. I believe the real situation that deserves the description “forever more” is the time when there will be no such announcements of sexual preference by athletes, celebrities, politicians or “ordinary Joes” simply because it does not matter enough to merit an announcement.

Finally, let me close today with a comment from Mae West that seems appropriate:

“Those that are easily offended should be offended more often.”

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