Miguel Cabrera’s Milestone

MLB had a major feelgood moment over the weekend.  Miguel Cabrera hit his 500th career home run on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays and the Jays’ fans demonstrated a significant measure of class by giving him a standing ovation until he came out of the dugout to receive their acknowledgement.  Five hundred home runs may not seem so important given that three MLB players have hit over seven hundred home runs, but Cabrera’s blast puts him in rarefied company because Cabrera joins a list of only eight players who have hit 500 home runs AND have a lifetime batting average of .300 or more  Here is that list:

  1. Henry Aaron
  2. Jimmy Foxx
  3. Miguel Cabrera
  4. Willie Mays
  5. Mel Ott
  6. Manny Ramirez
  7. Babe Ruth
  8. Frank Thomas
  9. Ted Williams

There is good reason to keep an eye on Cabrera’s stats for the rest of 2021 and into 2022 because he is poised to join another all-time exclusive list of hitters.  As of this morning, he has collected 2,955 base hits.  Barring catastrophic injury, he will get to 3,000 hits probably in 2022.  [Aside:  He could go on a tear and collect the 45 necessary hits this season, but the Tigers only have 36 games left on the schedule this year; that would require him to get on base at the rate of 202 hits for a full season; he has only done that once in his career back in 2012.]  When he accomplishes that feat sometime early in the 2022 season, here are the six players waiting to welcome him to that exclusive club:

  1. Henry Aaron
  2. Willie Mays
  3. Eddie Murray
  4. Rafael Palmiero
  5. Albert Pujols
  6. Alex Rodriguez

One more “exclusive club” that Cabrera belongs to is a list of really good outfielders that the Miami – – née Florida – – Marlins had on their roster and traded away.  That list includes:

  • Miguel Cabrera
  • Marcel Ozuna
  • Giancarlo Stanton
  • Christian Yelich

Maybe that list of players traded away by the Marlins helps to explain the fact that the Marlins have had only one winning season in the last eleven years…

On Sunday night, MLB staged another oddity game; that was the annual Little League World Series Classic in Williamsport PA.  The purpose here is to have the game played in small-town PA at the time of the ongoing Little League World Series as an attempt by MLB to energize the next generation of its fanbase.  I know; that sounds great; moreover, I am sure that it got a resounding huzzah from the MLB execs when it was pitched to them as a glimmer of an idea.  In reality, that is a rather feeble effort.

If MLB wants to engage kids into its fanbase, might I suggest that they find ways to play a lot more games in the afternoon when kids might be more likely to be in attendance and to put a lot more games on TV in “baseball country” at hours of the day when kids are likely to be awake and tuned in.  Staging the game at night in Williamsport is like preaching to the choir.  The kids and parents involved with the Little League World Series are already baseball fans; MLB need not recruit them by having a pair of major leaguers show up to play next door to where the kids play.  Anyone tuning in at night to see a late game is already a baseball fan and that is not optimal viewing time for kids as the “next generation of baseball fans.”  So, the real question is this:

  • How many kids around the country tuned in to watch the Angels and Indians play a baseball game in a stadium other than the one the Angels and Indians would normally play in?

From my perspective, this was simply a televised night game in the middle of the regular season.  Kids who regularly watch regular season night games are already “hooked on baseball;” kids who do not watch those sorts of games have no reason to care about or tune into the one in Williamsport.

And speaking tangentially about the Little League World Series, I tuned into one of the games and was watching distractedly until I saw a manager challenge a call by the umpire and they went to instant replay.  In the Little League, they went to replay!  Doing a bit of research, I learned that they have been using a replay challenge system in the Little League World Series since 2010.  Here are the rules:

  • Each manager gets one challenge.  If the call is overturned, he gets another one.
  • In extra innings, each manager gets a challenge even if he lost one earlier in the game.
  • The last play of every game is reviewed on instant replay.
  • Every call is subject to challenge except called balls and strikes.

Finally, I will close today with an observation by former UK Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli:

“I feel a very unusual sensation  – – if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.”

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

 

 

Gloom And Doom Today…

I have commented on the decline – – even the demise – – of horseracing in the US many times before.  It appears as if we have another example of the decline about to break over the thing they used to call, “The Sport of Kings.”  It appears that Arlington Park in suburban Chicago will close its doors once the current meet is over in about a month.  The most telling indicator that the track will cease operations is that it has not applied for any racing dates in 2022.

Chicago is large market; the population in 2021 is in the vicinity of 2.7 million folks; counting the Chicago suburbs that number approaches 8.5 million.  Chicago is also affluent; the GDP of the Chicago area is third in the nation behind only NYC and LA.  So, there are lots of folks in the area and many of them have discretionary money to spend – – and racing in the area is on life support.

It is not just Arlington Park that makes me say that.  When horseracing was a big deal – – and even when it was in decline but still viable – – Chicago had three racing facilities.  Here is the state of play in 2021:

  • Sportsman’s Park:  It was the site of both thoroughbred and harness racing for years.  Someone thought it would show a profit if converted to an auto racing track; that did not work well at all.  The facility is now a shopping mall.
  • Arlington Park:  This was the “classiest track” in the area, and it offered the most famous race – – the Arlington Million.  Churchill Downs acquired the facility about 15 years ago and it has gone to seed since then to the point that when Churchill Downs had the opportunity to apply for a casino license at the track, it chose to buy in as a major partner in another casino site just down the road from Arlington Park.  Absent a deus ex machina, Arlington Park will likely become the site of another commercial/residential development.
  • Hawthorne Race Course:  This track features both harness racing and thoroughbred racing in different meets.  Basically, they have live racing on weekends (3 days a week), and they offer simulcast betting on races elsewhere the other 4 days/nights a week.  Hawthorne is not a top-shelf track; last night there were 13 harness races on the card; purses ranged from $3800 to $12K.  The average purse for the 13 races was $5992.31.

In an affluent area of more than eight million folks, Hawthorne Race Course looks as if it will be the only game in town when it comes to horseracing.  The sport cannot command a more prominent presence in that sort of economic environment; that is another stark indicator that the sport is still on the decline and will soon pass into the realm of invisibility.

Moving on … but staying with the idea of gloom and doom, Rafael Nadal announced that he will withdraw from the US Open this year and that he will not be playing in any more tournaments in 2021 as he hopes to alleviate a recurring foot injury that has hampered his play off and on for the last several years.  Nadal will join Roger Federer on the sidelines for the US Open and for the rest of the 2021 season; recall that Federer announced his withdrawal from the US Open about a week ago and said that he would be having knee surgery to address his injury issues.

The world’s #1 ranked men’s player now is Novak Djokovic, and he too is dealing with injuries.  He withdrew from the mixed doubles tournament in the Olympics citing a shoulder injury and he has had several elbow surgeries in the past.  There is no reason now to assume he too will withdraw, but he does have “health problems” too.

The organizers and sponsors of the US Open strongly want Djokovic on the court in NY.  If all three were to have to skip the tournament, the event would probably be one of the biggest after-thoughts of the sporting year in 2021.

The last item today is not about gloom and doom in the present tense but about the potential for significant gloom and doom in the future for former NFL RB, Clinton Portis.  As of today, here is Portis’ status with “law enforcement:

  • A judge in Florida has ordered the arrest of Clinton Portis.  According to court records, he has failed to make a single payment of approximately $2k per month in child support since 2015.  The same court ordered him to pay up sometime in 2019 and – evidently – Portis still has not made a payment.  He now owes the mother of his child just under $150K plus interest.  Portis declared bankruptcy in 2015 but the court in Florida determined that he has the means to discharge this obligation.
  • Portis and five other former players are also charged in a criminal complaint alleging that he engaged in wire fraud, health-care fraud and conspiracy to commit both of those frauds.  The actions that lead to these charges relate to claims made to the health care benefits provider to former NFL players.  As I understand it, that plan helps NFL players and their families by giving them tax-free reimbursement for health care costs once they are retired.  According to the charges in the case, the accused players submitted false and fraudulent claims for more than $3M.  Similar charges were levied against seven other retired players, and they chose to plead guilty.  One has been sentenced to one year in the hoosegow.

Knowing nothing about Clinton Portis’ real financial status, I will say confidently that he will be shelling out money from somewhere to pay for his legal representation in the child support matter and in the criminal indictment.

Finally, having mentioned legal stuff and lawyers above, let me close with this definition of a lawsuit by author and journalist, Ambrose Bierce:

“Lawsuit, (n):  A machine which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage.”

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

 

 

What’s Old Is New …

Today we have an old story with a new twist.  The Arizona Coyotes – formerly the Phoenix Coyotes – may need to pack up and move.  First, let me give you a thumbnail sketch of why this is an “old story”:

  • The Winnipeg Jets of the now defunct WHA were taken into the NHL about 25 years ago and plopped down in Phoenix.  Even if you do not follow hockey, the fact that the sport is more completely known as ice hockey should give you an idea about the general public’s interest differential between Winnipeg and Phoenix.
  • The team owner declared bankruptcy and abandoned the team turning it over entirely to the NHL which had to run the franchise for about 5 years before it could find an ownership group willing to keep the team in Arizona.  The NHL has been fixated on having a “Sun Belt presence/national footprint” for a couple of decades.
  • The team has had a testy relationship with the city fathers in Glendale where their home arena is located; the team operates there on a year-to-year agreement.

And now the story takes a twist.  Reports this morning say that the city fathers in Glendale have told the team that the year-to-year agreement will not be renewed beyond the 2021/22 NHL season.  Moreover, the basis of that decision by the folks in Glendale demonstrates that the “interest differential” between Winnipeg and Phoenix for ice hockey events is real and should have been given more consideration more than a decade ago.  Consider these points from a report at CBSSports.com this morning:

  • Glendale is looking to host “larger, more impactful events and uses of the city owned arena.”
  • An economic consultant told the city fathers that concerts would be more economically impactful for the city as compared to hockey games.

Normally, when a franchise moves it is because ownership has gotten a sweeter deal somewhere else.  In this case, it is the city that has asked – ever so politely – that the team hit the road and take its act somewhere else.  According to that same report this morning, “somewhere else” could well be Tempe, Arizona.

  • Phoenix, AZ – – Strike One
  • Glendale, AZ – – Strike Two
  • Tempe, AZ – – ???

Switching gears to another sporting venture that does not generate huge local economic windfalls for hosts, here are two comments from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

Future watch: Miss the Olympics? Well, another one — the Winter Games from Beijing — begin in less than six months. Naturally, the coronavirus will continue to play a role for athletes and fans. In fact, the 2022 Games could serve as a Chinese homecoming for COVID-19.”

And …

Add Games: After following the river of red ink, countries are catching on that the Olympics aren’t worth the investment. Beijing’s only competitor for the Winter Festival was Almaty, Kazakhstan.”

Indeed, the postponement of the Tokyo Games until earlier this month jammed the Olympic schedule to the point that they might as well have started the torch relay from Tokyo to Beijing without bothering to douse the flame.  Notwithstanding the snub by the IOC, Almaty has a reasonable claim to viability as a Winter Olympics site.  Here is a fact-not-worth-remembering:

  • Of all the nation’s capitals in the world, Almaty is the second coldest one based on meteorological/climatological measurements.  Only Ulan Bator, Mongolia sports colder winters.

NBA TV ratings have been trending down for the past couple of seasons; they are not disastrous by any means, but they are not holding fast let alone growing.  Various commentators have ascribed the decline to things like:

  • LeBron James fatigue – – his teams are always on TV and always in the playoffs.
  • Backlash from an audience segment that did not appreciate being bombarded by  Black Lives Matter messages.

I surely do not know why the ratings have been falling; and, perhaps, reasons akin to those above are significant contributors to the decline.  However, I think there are two other factors that have an impact here and I do not see them being part of the normal discussion:

  1. College basketball is hugely over-exposed on TV.  Here in the DC area, it is commonplace to find as many as 25 college basketball games on various cable TV channels on a Saturday.  That creates “viewer-fatigue” very quickly and with “viewer-fatigue” comes a lesser degree of familiarity with college players who are the fuel for new NBA attractions.
  2. The cost of attending an NBA game is staggering.  In times when folks are having difficulty making mortgage payments, the idea of a father taking a couple of kids to see an NBA game on a non-school night is a budgetary challenge.  This situation has obtained for quite a while, and I wonder if the growth of new fans from a young age has been stunted because of it.

Finally, since I cribbed two comments from Bob Molinaro above, let close with another of his observations:

On pace: First estimated to be out five to 12 weeks after foot surgery, it appears that Colts quarterback Carson Wentz could be behind center for Week 1 of the NFL regular season. Which, given his history, puts Wentz on a fast track to his next injury.”

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

 

 

Farewell To Jackie MacMullan…

There was an announcement yesterday that Jackie MacMullan would be retiring from ESPN at the end of August.  There have been a series of “cutbacks” and “right-sizings” at ESPN over the past year or two, and the network went out of its way to say that this decision was MacMullan’s and not management’s.

MacMullan has been with ESPN for about 10 years after a successful career as a sportswriter for the Boston Globe.  The two ESPN programs I associate with her are The Jump and Around the Horn.  I read somewhere in the flurry of coverage of this announcement that she had appeared on Around the Horn almost nine hundred times making it appropriate that her final official act for ESPN will be an appearance on that program on the final day of this month.  [Spoiler alert:  She is going to “win” that day so she can say goodbye at the end of the program.  And, I am good with that.]

Jackie MacMullan has been a class act every time I have seen her on ESPN, and I used to enjoy her Boston Globe columns.  She has shown that she can be critical of individuals without being cruel or mean-spirited.  From my perspective, this is a loss for ESPN as a reporting entity.

Bonne chance, Jackie MacMullan.  Thank you for your good works; you have been enlightening and entertaining at the same time.  That is a sweet exacta to hit…

Moving on …  The NCAA could not find anything in its rule book(s) that would allow them to levy punishments on the Baylor football program for the sexual assaults and the cover-up of those assaults over a period of about 5 years.  There was nothing in the tomes of rules, regulations, and precedents to cover “inappropriate human behaviors.”  Not to worry, though, the NCAA rule book does have some provisions that seem to show that the football program at Nebraska has been “dirty.”

The NCAA super-sleuths are on the case and the crux of the violations seem to fall into two categories:

  1. Impermissible practices
  2. Improper use of “analysts” as “coaches.”

Oh, the horror of it all.  If proven, how can any student or faculty member at the University of Nebraska look at themselves in the mirror without assuming a measure of guilt by association.  Surely, the school will be calling in grief counsellors…

The “impermissible practices” have to do with allegations that the Nebraska team held workouts and practices at a time when the NCAA declared that there could be none due to COVID-19 shutdowns and protocols.  Maybe – and I do mean only maybe – this could be a minor infraction for the rules mavens to investigate in that it might be construed as a way for the Nebraska team to gain a measure of on-field advantage over teams that did not practice at all during the quarantine period.  If someone were to go down the path of “gaining an on-field advantage,” one would quickly come face-to-face with the fact that Nebraska went 3-5 last year and finished fifth in its Division in the Big 10.  So, whatever advantage that might have accrued to the team certainly did not manifest itself in a big way once they teed the ball up and kicked it off.

The “improper use of analysts and coaches”  is a testament to rule makers running amok with their control levers.  I am not totally clear on the “charges” here, but I will explain them as best I understand them.

  • The Nebraska team employs “analysts” who are not permitted to be involved in “coaching.”
  • One of the “analysts” was delegated responsibility for special teams – – but the rules state that “analysts” are not permitted to have direct contact with players.  Analysts can only have direct contact with the head coach and the assistant coaches.

According to the report I read regarding this investigation, there is “video evidence” of the practices and there is evidence that this “analyst” was talking directly to players.  Also, according to the report I read, the head coach, Scott Frost, has hired a lawyer to represent him in his dealings with the NCAA here.

If the report of the “video evidence” is correct, then the existence of the improper practices ought to be something that can be dispensed with in a matter of moments.  Either the videos are real with verifiable time stamps, or they are not.  I suspect that this five-minute conundrum will be the subject of multiple hours of interviews and cross-checks before the NCAA investigators send up their evidence to the NCAA Committee that will rule on the case months after seeing the evidence.

The other alleged infraction is – to steal a favorite word of H. L. Mencken – pure buncombe.  If the decision makers at the NCAA are actually interested in regulating the sport and the schools in a meaningful way, those decision makers would ask the rule writers a couple of direct questions

  • What unimaginable horror were you trying to avoid when you made the distinction between “analysts” and “coaches”?
  • Was there any danger of a tragic outcome once the “analyst” spoke directly to a  player and not to the player through the mouth of an assistant coach?

Not to get too theological here, but I believe God invented the “delete button” specifically for the purpose of expunging this set of rules and regulations from the NCAA’s books.

Finally, since I stole a word from Mencken above, let me close with one of his pronouncements:

“Democracy is grounded upon so childish a complex of fallacies that they must be protected by a rigid system of taboos, else even halfwits would argue it to pieces.  Its first concern must thus be to penalize the free play of ideas”

[Aside:  Substitute “NCAA governance” for “Democracy” in the above statement…]

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

 

 

A Day Of Baseball …

Here in Curmudgeon Central, it is not uncommon to take note of failures and wretchedness.  So, the lead paragraph of this morning’s report in the Washington Post of yet another loss by the Baltimore Orioles compelled me to read on carefully.  Here is that lead paragraph:

“The 2021 Baltimore Orioles are historically bad.”

The American League has been around for 120 years.  Until last night, no AL team had ever had more than one losing streak of 13 or more games in a single season.  Last night the O’s lost their 13th in a row after losing 14 in a row back in May.  Moreover, the losses in this streak have not been of the “heartbreakingly close variety.”  These 13 games were lost by 87 runs; that is 6.7 runs per game; last night’s loss was by the nail-biting score of 10-0.

[Aside:  The O’s are historically bad in the AL; over in the NL, the D-Backs have lost 13 games in a row twice this season too.]

A look at the standings for MLB this morning confirms the poverty of the situation in Baltimore.  Not only do the Orioles have the worst record in MLB (38-80), but they have also been outscored by 218 runs over the season.  The next worst team in that category would be the Pittsburgh Pirates who have been outscored by “only” 182 runs.  The Orioles’ pitching staff has already given up 693 runs in 118 games (5.9 runs per game!); only 3 other MLB teams have given up 600 runs or more.

A few other oddities from the MLB standings this morning:

  • The Yankees are 16 games over .500; yet their run differential for the season is only +24.  Meanwhile in the AL East, the Jays are 8 games over .500 with a run differential of +121.
  • The White Sox are cruising in the AL Central leading the division by 11 games.  However, the Sox are only 29-28 on the road.
  • The Mariners are over-achieving this year and they are 8 games over .500 in mid-August.  However, their run differential is minus-45.
  • The Rangers’ road record this year is abysmal at 14-45 as of this morning.
  • The Braves lead the stunningly mediocre NL East by 2.5 games today.  Interestingly, the Braves are 6 games over .500 on the road and only 2 games over .500 at home.

The Misfortune Team of 2021 is probably the San Diego Padres.  With a record standing at 12 games over .500, the Padres would lead or be in contention in every other division in MLB.  In the NL West, they are 12 games behind the division leading Giants and 8 games behind the second place Dodgers.  Moreover, the Padres have produced their record despite a plethora of injuries that have put key players on the Injured List for this year:

  • Fernando Tatis Jr. has been on the 10-day IL three separate times in 2021.
  • Blake Snell has been on the 10-day IL twice in 2021.
  • Yu Darvish is currently on the 10-day IL for the second time in 2021.
  • Eric Hosmer was on the IL for 8 days in 2021
  • Mike Clevinger has missed the entire season after Tommy John surgery.

Sticking with baseball, the Field of Dreams game was a TV ratings success story and according to reports it “blew up on social media.”  Not being a connoisseur of social media, I assume that to be a positive happenstance and not an injurious one.  MLB is not known for its proclivity to “tease its audience” even a little bit and it ran true to form here.  Yesterday, it announced that there will be another Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, IA in 2022 and that the Chicago Cubs would take on the Cincinnati Reds in that game in August.

Dyersville is a town of about 4,000 folks; MLB is not trying to lure the citizenry there into baseball fandom as a way of growing MLB revenue.  However, the state of Iowa is interesting to MLB because of its geography.  Iowans can be close to Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and even KC if they live in the southwestern part of the state.  So, enticing fandom among Iowans as a class is a plus for MLB and it should be noted that the White Sox played in Dyersville in 2021 and the Cubs will be there in 2022.

I wonder, however, how long the bloom will stay on this rose. MLB has done mid-season “specialty games” before.  Recall the games in Williamsport, PA during the Little League World Series in recent years.  [Aside:  Not surprisingly, those games in small-town PA involved the Phillies, Pirates and Mets.]  This year, two AL teams – Cleveland and LA – will meet in this mid-summer spectacle.  There was also a game played at Fort Bragg 5-10 years ago for no ostensible reason.

So, MLB has one ongoing mid-summer oddball game in Williamsport PA on the schedule and now is scheduling a second one in Dyersville, IA.  These sorts of things can lose their luster quickly; the safety net for MLB is that the stadiums they are played in are so small that MLB need never worry about a “sparse crowd;” if need be, the MLB Front Office could fill the stands with their immediate families.  But this is the kind of thing that can go from nostalgic and interesting and heartwarming to trite and annoying quickly.  So, where is MLB’s next “mid-summer oddity game”?  Cooperstown, NY?  Are there any facilities near to where Negro League teams played their games back in the 30s and 40s?

Here is an idea:

  • Cancel the All-Star Game and the nonsense that accompanies it.
  • Take the 3-day break in the schedule and play one game in Dyersville on the first day, one game in Williamsport on the second day and one game in Cooperstown (?) on the third day.
  • Then go back to playing baseball “normally.”

Finally, I shall close today with an observation about cynicism by George Bernard Shaw:

“The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.”

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

 

 

Tim Tebow And Urban Meyer…

The Jags released Tim Tebow after one live trial at tight end in an exhibition game.  That failed audition came after an 8-year gap in his NFL career where Tebow spent his athletic energy trying to be a baseball player for the NY Mets; that did not work either.  However, before tossing dirt on Tebow’s sporting grave – and heaping a measure of scorn on top of the disturbed soil – one should remember that Tebow was the QB for two national championship teams at Florida in his college days.  While he was able to dominate as a college player, he never really looked as if he would be an NFL QB and the reason for that is that professional football is a different game from college football.

What I found interesting about the news of Tebow’s release is that his former college coach – Urban Meyer – is now the coach of the Jags and is the guy who must have signed off on releasing his former college QB.  This will be Urban Meyer’s first year at the helm of what has been a pretty miserable franchise for the last several years.  And more than a few people have mused that it may be difficult for Meyer and his “football formula” to make the transition from the college game to the NFL game.

Several highly successful college coaches have failed to make that transition.  Chip Kelly’s move from Oregon to the Eagles, then to the Niners and then back to the college ranks at UCLA is probably the most recent example.  Other top-shelf college coaches who did not “make the jump” include:

  • Bud Wilkinson – he dominated college football in the 1950s; his days with the Cardinals were barely mediocre.
  • Steve Spurrier – he never did quite enough “coaching ‘em up” in the NFL; his two years with the Skins were painful to watch.
  • Nick Saban – he dominates college football today; he did not dominate much of anything with the Dolphins.

However, before casting gloom and doom on Urban Meyer’s efforts in Jax, consider that there are examples of collegiate coaches who went on to have successful NFL careers as head coaches.  Here are ones that come to mind:

  • Paul Brown:  In his first two seasons at Ohio State, his teams were 15-2-1 with one national championship.  The next year, he lost players to the military draft and also lost football games.  As coach of the Cleveland Browns his teams appeared in 7 NFL championship games in the 1950s and won 3 of those games.  He is in the NFL Hall of Fame.
  • Pete Carroll:  His first stint as a head coach in the NFL was undistinguished; but after a successful decade or so at USC, he took over the Seahawks and turned them into constant winners going 112-63-1 with 2 Super Bowl appearances and 1 Super Bowl win.
  • Jim Harbaugh:  As a college coach at San Diego and then at Stanford, Harbaugh’s record was 58-27; neither school was exactly a “powerhouse football factory.”  Then in 4 seasons with the Niners his teams went 44-19-1 with one Super Bowl appearance and two other appearances in the NFC Championship Game.  [Aside:  Harbaugh’s return to the collegiate coaching level at Michigan has been less-than-fully-successful.  He seems to have experienced some difficulty in going back to the “lower level of coaching.”
  • Jimmy Johnson:  After a so-so run at Oklahoma State, he got the head coaching job at Miami where his teams went 52-9 and won a national championship over a 5-year span.  He then got the job as the head coach of the Cowboys and – thanks to the Herschel Walker trade – was able to go from a 1-15 record in 1989 to consecutive Super Bowl victories in 1992/93.  He is in the NFL Hall of Fame.
  • Bobby Ross:  He had success at the college level at Georgia Tech – shared a national championship with Colorado there – and at Maryland.  In the NFL, he managed to get the Chargers to their only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.  [Aside:  He also spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Lions, but an argument can be made that those years were somewhere between college-level coaching and full-scale NFL coaching.]
  • Dick Vermeil:  His college career consisted of only 2 seasons at UCLA where his teams went 15-5-3.  He was hired to resuscitate a bleak Eagles’ franchise and in 7 seasons there he had the team in the playoffs 4 times and in the Super Bowl once.  Then he retired for 15 years doing color analysis for college football and returned to coach the Rams for 3 seasons with a Super Bowl win.

As I was thinking about people to put on this list, I was of two minds regarding one name:

  • Barry Switzer:  From 1973 to 1988, Switzer was a major force in college football at Oklahoma winning 3 national championships and 12 conference titles.  His time in college football was quite different from the NFL game; his teams ran the wishbone offense – something that never showed up on Sunday afternoons.  In 1994, he returned to the sidelines as the coach of the Dallas Cowboys after Jimmy Johnson was fired by Jerry Jones.  And there is my balance point.  Switzer had a successful 4-year stint with the Cowboys winning a Super Bowl in 1995, but he took over a team that had already won back-to-back Super Bowls.  The other coaches on this list who I assert “made the adjustment to the pro game,” had to do so with far less of an initial roster.  You make the call…

Finally, apropos of nothing, I shall close with a thought from Mark Twain:

“Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.”

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

 

 

More On NBA Tampering

About a week ago, I wrote about tampering in the NBA and gave the two examples that came to my mind of what the NBA considered to be tampering and the punishments they meted out.  I said then that I would not be surprised if someone added to my list of examples.  Well, the reader in Houston – a font of knowledge of sports history and stats – provided the following in an email:

  • “The Heat were discovered to have tampered with Pat Riley in the mid-1990s by negotiating with Riley while he was the head coach of the Knicks. The Heat settled and avoided league-imposed penalties, by compensating the Knicks with $1 million and their first-round draft pick in the following season.
  • “The NBA fined the Hawks, Rockets, and Kings in the mid-2010s for tampering. The Hawks talked of the possibility of signing Chris Paul and Dwight Howard to prospective season ticket holders, the Rockets published an offseason preview to prospective season ticket purchasers with scouting reports of players currently under contract to other teams, but who would become free agents that summer, and Michael Malone spoke about reuniting with Chris Paul when introduced as head coach of the Kings.
  • “The Raptors were fined when Drake asked the crowd at a Toronto concert in 2014 to show Kevin Durant, who was in attendance, what it would be like to play in that city. Drake was an “ambassador” for the Raptors at the time.
  • “The league fined Phil Jackson in 2014 when he spoke about the Knicks’ interest in hiring Derek Fisher as head coach while Fisher was still under a player contract with the Thunder. Fisher was still hired by the Knicks a few days later.
  • “Mark Cuban was fined in 2015 for speaking publicly about agreements the Mavericks had made with Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan during the moratorium. Cuban was also fined in 2010 for comments about LeBron James, as was Steve Kerr when he was GM of the Suns.
  • “Daryl Morey of the 76ers was fined late last year in response to a later deleted social media post Morey made regarding Harden while he was still with the Rockets.”

Thanks to the reader in Houston for the illumination.  Interestingly, the rules about tampering apply to owners, coaches, scouts, and players.  So far, we have examples involving team officials, owners, and coaches – – but not players involved in tampering.  If you believe that players have never been involved in such behaviors, you probably also believe that Instagram is an app that puts your grandmother on speed dial…

I was channel surfing yesterday in search of an interesting sporting event which immediately put any NFL Exhibition Game out of bounds.  On ABC I found the opening game in La Liga for FC Barcelona – – their first game without Lionel Messi in about 15 years.  That was interesting enough to get me to put down the remote but there was an added incentive.  The announcers for the game were Ian Darke and Steve McManaman and I genuinely enjoy that announcing duo.

Ian Darke does play-by-play and he does it in a minimalist style that I find easy to listen to and a style that is in contrast with too many of today’s play by play guys who simply will not shut up for even an instant.  For those of you old enough to remember Ray Scott as an NFL play by play guy, Ian Darke is similarly frugal with words.

Two other refreshing things about this duo are:

  1. They are not given to hyperbole.  When a player makes and completes a pass to a wide-open teammate who then gets a clear shot on goal, they do not stray off into the world of “great” and “amazing” and “fantastic” as descriptors.  They say enthusiastically that it is a “lovely ball” and focus attention on the outcome and not the act itself.
  2. They are not averse to critical commentary.  I am not aware of Ian Darke ever playing soccer, but he has been announcing it for almost 40 years; McManaman played professional soccer for 15 years for Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid in addition to being on the English National Team for 8 years.  They know good play and they know poor play; they know good officiating and they know poor officiating.  Best of all, they tell you what they are seeing on the pitch both good and bad.  It is a level of candor that simply does not exist in most US television sports presentations.

For the record, Barcelona won yesterday’s game over Real Sociedad by a score of 4-2.  ESPN and ABC are both owned by Disney Corp and ESPN has signed up for television rights to La Liga for the next several years.  I hope that means that I get to watch more games with Darke and McManaman on the microphone.

In tennis, Roger Federer announced his withdrawal from the upcoming US Open and said that he will undergo knee surgery because that is his only “glimmer of hope” that he might be able to compete at the highest levels of tennis in the future.  Federer is 40 years old; in tennis that is paleolithic.  Evidently, the surgery he will endure will go beyond a “nip here and a tuck there.”  Federer said in an Instagram posting that he will be “on crutches for many weeks and out of the game for many months.”

Last year, Federer had two arthroscopic procedures done on his knee; based on his announcement yesterday, those were not sufficient to alleviate whatever problem exists within his knee.  He is realistic about the upcoming procedure:

“ … don’t get me wrong, I know how difficult it is at this age right now to do another surgery and try [a comeback].  But I want to be healthy.  I will go through the rehab process, I think, also with a goal while I am still active which I think is going to help me during this long period of time.”

Finally, since I mentioned my TV viewing from yesterday, let me close with this comment from Groucho Marx:

“I must say I find television very educational.  The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a good book.”

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

 

 

Friday The Thirteenth …

Greetings to all on the only occurrence of “Friday the Thirteenth” in 2021.  Let us hope that the Fates choose to let us of easily today instead of dropping an entire year’s worth of misfortune on the world today.

Earlier this week, racehorse trainer, Jorge Navarro, got a personal dose of bad news.  Navarro pleaded guilty to charges involving a scheme to give horses performance-enhancing drugs.  The Federal prosecutors in this case say that Navarro and about twenty other folks were an international cabal that used drugs to speed up horses for specific races.  The plea entered here was part of a plea deal and there is one aspect of that deal which has me scratching my head:

  • Navarro agreed to pay restitution of $25M “reflecting winnings obtained through doping”.

That is a lot of restitution to be sure, but to whom will it be paid?  There is no way to identify the bettors who lost their wagers to the souped-up horses that Navarro put on the track.  If the idea of “restitution” is to compensate victims of the criminal activity, I wonder how that $25M is going to be split up…

Another bit of dirty laundry seems to have come out of the washer with far less dire consequences than one might have imagined.  Recall the sexual assault incidents at Baylor that went unreported, uninvestigated and covered up between 5 and 10 years ago.  That is the set of circumstances that made coach, Art Briles radioactive and cost him the job there.  Well, the NCAA finished its investigation into the matter having taken a leisurely track through the miasma there.  Here are the salient results from the investigation:

  • While the NCAA found the actions at Baylor to be ”unacceptable,” it also found that none of the sexual assaults or interpersonal violence incidents violated any NCAA rules.
  • The NCAA report signals that Briles’ radioactivity has not completely decayed over the past 5 years saying, “The head coach failed to meet even the most basic expectations of how a person should react to the kind of conduct at issue in this case.”
  • Evidently while meandering around in the muck and mire here, the NCAA super-sleuths found some other minor infractions that led to Baylor football being fined $5K, serving 4 years on probation and undergoing some recruiting limitations.

I see this result as a mirror image of another case where everything seems to be reversed.  In short, this case involves behaviors that are criminal but not violations of any NCAA rules.  At the end of the day, the attorney representing Art Briles could and did issue a statement claiming that his client was “completely exonerated” and that the report “cleared the way for Mr. Briles to return to coaching college football.”  Wow…

Now recall the cases where federal prosecutors found violations of federal law in the practice of paying basketball recruits money under the table.  Those actions were violations of NCAA rules, but the Feds convinced juries that the payments to recruits were actions that defrauded the universities where the recruits enrolled.  Talk about mirror images…

Having spoken of Art Briles and his days at Baylor, that leads me to note that one of his major recruits there was RG3 who won the Heisman Trophy in 2011.  Griffin has just signed a contract with ESPN to be a football analyst and reports say he will be part of ESPN’s coverage of both college and NFL football.  Throughout his playing career in the NFL, Griffin has shown himself to be bright, telegenic, and enthusiastic with a sense of humor.  He has all the elements it takes for success on TV; now the trick will be for him to develop those talents into a desirable persona on camera.

When I read about his signing with ESPN, the first thing that came to mine is that ESPN televises a lot of Big-12 games; and as a Baylor grad, RG3 might be a natural addition to the broadcast booth for Big-12 games.  Now, after reading about the NCAA report, I am rethinking that position.  Griffin was at Baylor when some of the alleged assaults happened meaning some of his teammates were perpetrators.  To be sure, there have never been any allegations that Griffin engaged in any of those activities in any way, but I now wonder if putting him in the booth to be part of a Baylor football telecast so soon after this NCAA report hit the streets is a good idea.  It will be interesting to see what ESPN does there.

Griffin spent his early career in the NFL with the Washington “NFL Team That Shall Not Be Named.”  He is not the only QB from that franchise who is embarking on a broadcasting career this week.  Alex Smith has also signed on with ESPN according to reports and the network plans to use him in studio as an NFL analyst on various ESPN programs.  Using as a guide their on-camera presence and demeanor during playing days, I would say that Griffin and Smith are totally different.  Smith has always been measured and analytical when on the microphone.  The similarity of their background as QBs in Washington and their proximal signings with ESPN will make for interesting comparisons as they pursue their broadcasting careers.

One more broadcasting note, this morning…  Nate Burleson is leaving Good Morning Football on NFLN to be part of CBS This Morning.  Burleson will continue to do small bits with Good Morning Football as well as appearing on NFL Today on CBS on the weekends.  One report said that if James Brown were to retire, Nate Burleson would be the betting favorite to replace him on NFL Today.  But Burleson’s major line of work will be CBS This Morning which is a mainstream news program and not a sports show.

I have liked Nate Burleson from the first time I saw him on TV about 5 years ago.  I think he and Phil Simms carry NFL Today and their contributions are far more insightful and more cogent than the mostly predictable offerings from Bill Cowher and Boomer Esiason.  I have not read any reports about who will replace Burleson on Good Morning Football or even if NFLN will continue to have four people as co-hosts on the program.  Personally, I think RG3 would be a good fit for that program – – but he is part of a different network as of today.

Finally, I shall close today with a comment about actors and casting by Alfred Hitchcock:

“Disney, of course, has the best casting.  If he doesn’t like an actor, he just tears him up.”

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

 

 

Consider This To Be A Cease And Desist Letter

Sports Curmudgeon  8/12/21

 

Yesterday’s rant focused on formulaic reports emanating from NFL training camps with an emphasis on a relatively new line of such stories over the past several years – – reporting on progress or lack of progress in contract extension negotiations.  In addition to the sorts of things mentioned yesterday, there is a new line of reporting that I hope will be unique to 2021.  Here is the storyline:

  • Joe Flabeetz tests positive for COVID-19 and/or Joe has previously said that he has not taken the COVID-19 vaccine for any of a variety of reasons.
  • Joe returns to training camp after the separation called for in the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
  • The first report is not about how he did at practice but about what he said when asked if he would now take the vaccine.

If the storyline ended with Joe’s answer to that question – either yes, no, maybe or it is none of your business – I would be fine with that.  The problem is that the reports all go off into predictable realms:

  • If Joe says yes, then why did it take him so long?
  • If Joe says no, then does he realize how he is potentially jeopardizing his family members or “the team.”
  • If Joe says maybe, then reporters take that as a license to ask the vaccine question repeatedly.
  • If Joe says it is none of your business, then he is being a petulant, spoiled, entitled brat.

Those storyline paths are well trodden; we really do not need any more of them.  I realize that I may step on some toes here, but I want to talk about COVID vaccines and vaccinations today.  My education is in the physical sciences; I have a PhD in physical chemistry (from LONG ago); I am not a medical professional nor an epidemiologist.  My science education has convinced me of a specific reality:

  • Many of the workings of life and of the universe are only partially understood – – and yet they can be counted on to behave in a predictable and reliable manner.  Gravity is one such thing; no one quite knows how – or why – gravity works, but every building, road and bridge relies on it behaving tomorrow exactly as it has since people began to observe it as a force back in the 1650s.

The nature, behavior and mechanisms of viruses in general – and of the COVID-19 virus specifically – are not perfectly understood.  Nonetheless, they are understood sufficiently that the various vaccines that have been developed can and do reduce the chances of getting infected and the chances of harboring the virus such that you can pass it on to others and the chances that the vaccine recipient will get a severe case of COVID-19 and die.  Controlled tests using known and reliable procedures have shown those facts over and over.

Because the virus and its mechanism are only partially understood, the vaccine is not perfect; it is not as reliable as gravity, but neither are many other things that people rely on with their lives:

  • The welds holding the wings on an airplane are not perfect – – but we fly on airplanes.
  • Dams sometimes burst with disastrous results – – but we continue to build them and rely on them.
  • Sunscreen reduces the chance of contracting skin cancer; it is not perfect as a prevention by any means – – but people are still well advised to use it.

Personally, I believe the odds are so tilted in favor of vaccination that I was early in line to “get jabbed” when my age group was given access to the vaccine last February.  Moreover, I believe that everyone who is of an age where the research has shown sufficient rates of efficacy and safety should “get jabbed.”  Having said that, I think it is wrong to be a “Vaccine-Crusader” just as it is wrong to be a “Vaccine-Know Nothing.”

I have to suppress a laugh when I hear an athlete say that he has not taken the vaccine because he needs to “do more research on the topic.”  If he tried to do a double-blind test on several thousand random citizens out of his basement, he would probably be arrested for practicing medicine without certification.  He is not going to “do more research;” he is either going to use that a justification why he continues to avoid vaccination, or he means that he will continue to search on the Internet for information that supports his decision not to be vaccinated.

My problem is that the reporters writing these stories know that this is the case.  There is no reason to write about it again; it has already been done to death.  If a reporter wants to be a “Vaccine-Crusader” here, he/she should be pestering the NFL and the NFLPA about why they do not agree to make COVID-19 vaccinations a sine qua non for NFL employment.  If a reporter just wants to write a story about the ignorance or the stubbornness of a specific athlete who has refused the vaccine, then just say that specifically and move on.  Stop pretending that there is any “news information” in a report that the athlete is “continuing to ponder the question of inoculation.”

I said above that I hoped that 2021 would be the only year we would have to deal with this particular narrative.  That is an aspiration; I would hope that COVID-19 is not a matter of concern by the time the 2022 sports calendar begins with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training.  I certainly would not bet that to be the case – – but I can hope it is the case and I can hope that we will have much less formulaic coverage in 2022 if need be.

Finally, let me close with an observation from playwright and satirist, Karl Kraus, which seems appropriate today:

“Stupidity is an elemental force for which no earthquake is a match.”

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

 

 

The Dog Days of August

Technically, the Dog Days of August end today.  The phrase is meant to denote the time of the year when the heat and humidity in the Northern Hemisphere is at its most uncomfortable level; statistically, those meteorological conditions tend to improve starting tomorrow until we get to winter, and we all freeze our butts off.  In the world of sports, there is a different meaning to the phrase, “Dog Days of August”.  Basically, it means that while we are sweltering in the heat and humidity, there is a dearth of juicy sporting attractions to take our minds off our discomfort.  Consider:

  • There are no collegiate sports of note happening now.
  • The NHL and the NBA can only provide the distraction of free agency.
  • MLB is ongoing but has not yet reached the drama of pennant races and the stretch drive.
  • The CFL season just began – but it is a minor diversion for many US sports fans.
  • The NFL is in “training camp stage” and is putting on Exhibition Games.

That is pretty thin gruel for sports fans – and it does not present folks who spend time commenting on sporting happenings with a cornucopia of things to talk about.  Here is an item from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald that summarizes all that needs to be said about NFL Exhibition Games:

“There is little worse in sports than NFL exhibition games, and a reminder poured forth in Pittsburgh’s 16-3 yawner over Dallas in a Hall of Fame Game bereft of star players. Full preseason Week 1 is this week with 16 scrub-filled games spread across Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”

And so, without meaningful game stories and/or game preparation stories to offer up, far too many writers/commentators turn to formulaic stories that come out around this time of the year each and every year.  Here are some of the generic tales:

  • Veteran free agent signee, Joe Flabeetz, is in the best shape of his career as he tries to rekindle the magic he had two seasons ago with a former team.
  • Rookie phenom, Sam Glotz, is taking it one day at a time as he learns the nuances of the pro game.
  • Injured star player, Joe Bopf, is making steady progress in his rehabilitation from surgery and expects to be ready by Week 1.
  • New defensive coordinator, Bob Alooey, wants his players to be more aggressive this year and to play downhill – – even though the field is level.

You get the idea; you know you have read a hundred stories like that in prior years and you have probably read at least one of them already this year.  There is a genre of common story threads that seems to have evolved over the past several years that was not there 40 or 50 years ago.  That genre would be insider reports on contract negotiations for extensions for key players on various teams.  Will he sign?  Will he “bet on himself”?  What did the team offer?  What  is his demand that is hanging up the deal?  Will negotiations continue after the season starts?  I have already gotten tired of those stories and the season will not begin for another month.

I view all the contract stories that involve “insider reports” based on unnamed sources with about the same level of credulity as I give to the keynote speeches at the national conventions by our two political parties.  Every once in a while, there is a nugget in there of something interesting and/or revealing but for the most part it is manipulated prose at the very best.

I know this will never happen because there is a need to fill space in physical newspapers and a need to keep visitors engaged on websites, but here is how I would like to see all these stories about ongoing negotiations for contract extensions handled:

  • Name every source.  If the source will not give permission for that, consider that the information he gave to the writer is slanted at best and certainly not the whole truth.  In that case, do not report it at all.
  • Don’t take sides.  If the reporter takes sides, the reporter become spart of the story and not the reporter of the story.  If that story cannot be written, publish nothing.
  • Save energy for when it counts – – write about the reality of the signed contract extension when it happens if it ever happens.

So, at this time of the year, if you are reading something related to the NFL, you are probably in a position where you pick your poison when you decide on which link to click.  Personally, I am at a point where I ignore most of the “training camp highlights and headlines” and I absolutely ignore any sort of report on the progress or lack of progress toward a contact extension for a player.

Finally, to demonstrate what I mean by having a dearth of things to write about in these Dog Days of August, consider this headline from yesterday at CBSSports.com in the world of college football:

  • LSU’s live tiger mascot, Mike VII, is fully vaccinated against COVID-19

The prosecution rests, Your Honor.

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