Football, Golf And Baseball Today…

I mentioned recently that the American Enterprise Institute had done a study analyzing the Wells Report which forms the basis for Tom Brady’s suspension. The appeal of that suspension will happen next week and Sally Jenkins had a column in yesterday’s Washington Post that you should read in its entirety. What she says is that the AEI report demolishes the factual bases underlying the Wells Report and it paints Roger Goodell into a corner of his own making.

Toward the end of the column, she notes that DeMaurice Smith said of the Wells Report when it was issued that it “delivered exactly what the client wanted.” That observation is absolutely germane here because it is fundamentally true. It underlies most if not all of the polls, surveys and studies with regard to public opinion and political/social issues. It also works here. And that fact leads me once again to wonder why the American Enterprise Institute studied air pressure in footballs in the first place. If they have a “client” here who paid for the study, it would be important for Roger Goodell – and the public – to know who that client is. If the two researchers just did it on their own, that changes markedly how I would weigh the credibility of the two studies/reports.

Next week could be interesting…

Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson are not household names and so it is inconvenient that they share the lead after the first round of the US Open shooting rounds of 5-under par 65. Therefore, more than a couple of sports websites this morning have headlines regarding the US Open that run along these lines:

    Tiger Struggles In Round One

Well, I should say so… Tiger Woods shot a 10-over par round yesterday; he shot 80. He trails the leaders by 15 strokes but more outrageous is the fact that he trails 15-year old Cole Hammer by 3 strokes. I was grazing through the channels last night and happened upon the FOX coverage of the tournament and was surprised to see the brown grass on the course so I tarried for a while. This course is very different than any that the PGA would employ; there is lots of sand; the undulations on the greens look as if they were used as scale models to build roller coasters; freight trains rumble by several of the holes every few minutes and shockingly, the trains do not obey the signals to be quiet given by officials.

There are actually a few interesting story lines going on here:

    Rickie Fowler shot an 81 and finished ahead of exactly one other player in the tournament.

    Only twenty-five golfers (out of 156 starters) broke par. In a normal PGA tournament, you can expect to find more than half the field under par after round one.

    Phil Mickelson continues to chase the “Career Grand Slam” here and he is still “in the mix” at 1-under par.

Tiger Woods’ playing non-competitive golf in a major tournament is no longer news. Currently, the cut line to make it to play on the weekend is at +2. To get there, Woods will need to shoot a 62 today. I hope you did not draft him for your fantasy golf team this week…

In baseball news, we are approaching Fathers’ Day and I have a four observations:

    The Astros are still in first place in the AL West. The Astros have won 5 in a row and currently sport the second best record in MLB.

    The Mets are still in first place in the NL East. The Mets are 4 games over .500 despite being outscored by 12 runs for the season.

    The Cardinals no only lead the NL Central, they have the best record in MLB by a 4-game margin. No, this is not the result of any hacking…

    The Phillies and the Brewers are the only teams winning less than 40% of their games and they are careening out of control as their seasons go down the drain. For the moment the Phillies are 1 game worse than the Brewers in the race to the bottom.

Before leaving on my “road trip”, I suggested that it was still early in the season but that A-Rod’s performance might just make him the Comeback Player of the Year. He has now collected his 2,999th base hit; when he reaches the 3000 mark he will join only 28 other players in the 125-year history of baseball to do that. For anyone else, that would be major news but given all of the PED use and the prevarication about that PED use and the yearlong suspension, it is difficult to celebrate that accomplishment to the degree that it was celebrated when someone like Tony Gwynn or Cal Ripken joined the club.

Nevertheless, A-Rod still belongs in the conversation for Comeback Player of the Year for 2015. He is hitting .278 with an OPS of .888; he has hit 12 home runs and driven in 34 runs in 216 at-bats at age 39 after sitting out all of 2014. If you look at the numbers without attaching those numbers to a name…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this baseball item (sort of) in the Seattle Times recently:

“Walmart is taking songs sung by Celine Dion and Justin Bieber off its in-store playlist after complaints from employees.

“But when it comes to assaulting the senses, why stop there? No more Phillies games on the TV sets!”

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

Congratulations To The Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors are the NBA Champions for 2014/2015 and they deserve the title. They were the best team all season long and came from behind in two playoff series to secure the championship. Moreover, they were the most interesting team to watch this season because of their style of play. The conventional wisdom has been that a “jump-shooting team” will not win a championship because when a jump-shooting team has a cold night, they have no other recourse. Well, the Warriors are a “jump-shooting team” and what they showed is that when they do not have cold nights – and when they shoot those jump shots as proficiently and in as great a number as they do, they can beat anybody. Congratulations to the Warriors…

However, what I want to talk about this morning is LeBron James. Let me put something squarely in the center of the table at the outset:

    LeBron James was the best player on the court in all of the NBA Playoffs.

    LeBron James is currently the best basketball player on Planet Earth.

Taking those two statements as self-evident, this demonstrates that basketball is a team sport. The Warriors had a much better team than did the Cavaliers despite the fact that the Cavs had the best player on Planet Earth. In fact, I would argue that the second best player the Cavs had at their disposal in the final series – Timofey Mozgov – would not start for the Warriors.

For those of you who were sentient and following sports in the 1960s, you have seen this opera play out before. Back then, it was the Warriors who had the best player on Planet Earth in Wilt Chamberlain and those Warriors routinely lost out to the Celtics who had the far superior team. As I thought about the comparison of Chamberlain and James and their team situations over this span of 50+ years, I realized that LeBron James needs to be considered in the same breath as Oscar Robertson when you think of great all-around players.

Most folks know that Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double for an entire season. For the 61/62 season:

    Robertson averaged 30.1 points per game
    Robertson averaged 12.5 rebounds per game
    Robertson averaged 11.4 assists per game

Today, we get excited if a player achieves a triple double two or three games in a row; Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double while playing 79 games in a season. Moreover, the 61/62 season was not some statistical freak; Oscar Robertson was not a “one-hit wonder”. He flirted with season-long triple doubles for quite a while. In fact, consider these aggregate stats from the first 5 years Roberson was in the NBA:

    Robertson averaged 30.3 points per game for those 5 years
    Robertson averaged 10.4 rebounds per game for those 5 years
    Robertson averaged 10.6 assists per game for those 5 years

That one season was the only one where he had a triple double for the season, but he was damned close in all of the others too. All of this is a prelude to saying that LeBron James and Oscar Robertson both belong in the conversation when the topic is:

    Best All-Around Basketball Player Ever

For the record, I would add Elgin Baylor and Magic Johnson to the discussion for this accolade should the topic ever come up in a bar debate…

And that leads me to LeBron James’ pronouncement after Game 5 with the Cavs down 3-2 in the series where he said he was confident in the Cavs’ chances because he was the best player in the world. I do not recall any athlete in any major sport making such a self-proclamation in the past. However, I do not consider what James said to be braggadocious for the simple reason that I think what he said is absolutely correct. The reason his “confidence” was misplaced is that basketball is a team sport and he happened to be on the lesser team this month.

Speaking of the Cavaliers, Brad Rock had this item in the Deseret News recently suggesting that some folks in Cleveland may have taken some of the series a bit too seriously:

“Cleveland weatherman Mark Johnson was critiquing NBA playoff officiating during his broadcasts last week, even bringing in a weed trimmer to illustrate poor calls.

“Consequently, NBA officials are preparing to hit Johnson with a Flagrant 2 for incorrectly predicting sunny skies on President’s Day.”

Here is an unusual bit of news from college basketball. Ohio State and Michigan were both recruiting a high school small forward named Seth Towns from Northland High School in Columbus, OH. Naturally, Ohio State had to be one of his strong considerations; and of course, Michigan would love to “steal” the player from under Ohio State’s nose. Neither school got what they wanted here because Seth Towns committed to Harvard. He is obviously a good student and currently thinks he wants to be an engineer – entering freshmen in colleges everywhere change their minds about their ultimate major more often than not. Nevertheless, choosing Harvard is not a bad idea for any serious student because even if he changes his mind with regard to his major from engineering to medieval Norse music, he will likely find that Harvard can provide him with challenging educational opportunities.

Finally, Jimmy Fallon had offered an interesting analysis of NBA basketball as it relates to US society in general:

“Basketball is an important part of our lives. Without basketball, think of all the ridiculous-looking shoes we wouldn’t have.”

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

Home Plate Umpiring…

I am getting back into my routine of watching sports on TV after spending 3+ weeks on our road trip where sports watching was sporadic to say the least. I got to catch several baseball games over the weekend and noticed something about those games that ties into a “larger issue”. What I noticed is that home plate umpires seem to be getting worse at calling balls and strikes. I know that there are periodic cries for the umpires to call the strike zone that is in the rule book; frankly, I would welcome that change but what I seem to be seeing is more pernicious that that. Home plate umpires are not calling balls and strikes consistently.

During the annual cries for “calling the strike zone in the rule book” there are responses to those cries many of which go along these lines:

    Hitters and pitchers can recognize in less than an inning what this particular umpire is calling a strike in this game. Both the hitter and the pitcher will adjust and the game can proceed from there. There is probably a kernel of truth in that.

However, what I am seeing is that the strike zone does not only vary from umpire-to-umpire (game-to-game) but it varies inning-to-inning. Maybe I have just been unlucky and happened to tune in to see those games where the strike zone was randomly wandering all over the place – but I suspect that is not the case.

Let me be clear; I have no problem whatsoever with an umpire “expanding the strike zone” in a 13-2 game in the top of the eighth inning. It is time to wrap that one up and to get ready for the next game on the schedule. However, from what I see, there is no way to “expand the strike zone” because to expand it would require that there has been a stable/uniform strike zone since the first inning. I actually started to think over the last weekend that the umpire had pretty made up his mind what he would call on the next pitch before the ball left the pitcher’s hand – assuming of course that the ball did not bounce 3 feet in front of home plate or that the batter did not foul off the pitch.

Let me be clear about one more thing; I do NOT want to see any technological solutions to this issue. I want home plate umpires to get better at calling balls and strikes. For the moment, it seems to me that home plate umpiring has hit a new low – and the umpires are furiously digging to make the hole deeper.

This observation links in some way to the larger issue of baseball’s “pace of play”. I read a report that cited Elias Sports Bureau data and I will take that data as fully authoritative.

    The shortest nine-inning MLB game happened in 1919 (Giants/Phillies); it took 51 minutes to play that game. [Aside: I suspect someone was double-parked outside the stadium and nudged that game along at every opportunity.]

    The longest nine-inning MLB game happened in 2006 (Yankees/Red Sox); it took 4 hours and 45 minutes.

    From 1950 to 1970, the average game took 2 hours and 27 minutes.

    From 1980 to 1990, the average game took 2 hours and 39 minutes.

    Last season, the average game took 3 hours and 4 minutes.

Baseball has identified some things to try to “speed up the game” such as keeping the batter in the batter’s box instead of strolling around between every pitch. Yes, that will help a little. The fact that there are 2 minutes and 30 seconds between each inning – to air all of those commercials on the radio and TV outlets don’t you know – means that a nine inning game will have 17 such intermissions adding up to more than 40 minutes of elapsed game time. Those 40+ minutes are not going to be removed from the game so it remains baseball’s challenge to find means within the play of the game to “move things along”.

A stable and predictable strike zone – inning-to-inning for now but someday game-to-game also – could be a way to increase pace of play. Moreover, if that stable and predictable strike zone happened to be the one in the rule book, it would cause batters to be more aggressive and not run deep into every count. Now, how do you get the umpires on board with all of this…?

Michael Sam left the Montreal Alouettes’ training camp several days before the opening game of the CFL exhibition season. The team has put him on their “suspended list” and here is what the team General Manager, Jim Popp, had to say about Sam’s unexpected departure:

“There’s nothing to tell you. He wanted to go home, and that’s what he did. I don’t know why. When a guy wants to go home, they go home. He had some personal things to take care of.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he returns. I’m surprised he left. I was very surprised. If he doesn’t come back, I would think football’s over for him. He’s the one that has to face that. But I don’t think he doesn’t want to play football. That’s why he came here.”

I am going to practice mind-reading here even though I have acknowledged many times in the past that I have no ability whatsoever to read minds. I wonder if the constant scrutiny that Michael Sam has to endure and the microscope that examines his life have begun to get the best of him. I know the history of Michael Sam and of the attendant coverage that he creates out of whole cloth just because he is who he is. And now I have begun to wonder if that focus and that level of examination has gotten in the way of him becoming an honest-to-God professional football player.

Finally, here is important perspective provided by Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Bidding on eBay for a Detroit stadium urinal autographed by ex-Lions star Barry Sanders has surpassed $2,000.

“$2,000! Imagine what you could get for one signed by Whizzer White.”

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

Hear And Their

There are reports out today that the American Enterprise Institute – a Washington DC think tank – has conducted a study and found that the Wells Report on “Deflategate” is “seriously flawed.” I believe I had that one more than a couple of weeks ago but the imprimatur of the American Enterprise Institute is surely greater than mine.

I have no idea why the American Enterprise Institute would undertake such a study in the first place, but they did. The think tank has some history here; back when “Bountygate” was prominent in the news, the same two members of the Institute who did this study also did a study related to “Bountygate”. Here is a link to the current reporting on that study.

Last Friday, I got an e-mail from #1 son pointing me to some remarks made by Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly. In the aftermath of the academic dishonesty events at Notre Dame last year and the fallout from those events, Kelly said:

“I think we recognized that all of my football players are at-risk — all of them — really. Honestly, I don’t know that any of our players would get into the school by themselves right now with the academic standards the way they are. Maybe one or two of our players that are on scholarship.

“So making sure that with the rigors that we put them in — playing on the road, playing night games, getting home at 4 o’clock in the morning, all of the demands that we place on them relative to the academics and going into an incredibly competitive academic classroom every day — we recognize this is a different group. And we have to provide all the resources necessary for them to succeed and don’t force them into finding shortcuts.”

The comment from #1 son on these statements was that you have to give Kelly kudos for candor and not trying to sugar-coat the issues. I agree. Notice however that he specifies night games on the road where the team gets home at 4:00 AM. Indeed, that has to add academic stress to the players; and at the same time, those night road games are scheduled for purely economic reasons.

Charles Barkley extended his contract with TNT – and Turner Broadcasting more generally – through the end of the NBA season in the summer of 2025. According to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, here is how the deal went down:

    The President of Turner Broadcasting along with “other Turner Sports executives” went to Barkley’s home in Arizona.

    There they staged a “six-hour Italian feast” and managed to put away $1700 worth of wine and tequila.

    The next day these folks played a round of golf and presumably none of the execs giggled at Barkley’s – shall we say unorthodox – swing.

    Barkley then called his agent and told the agent to get the deal done.

I realize that Charles Barkley is a polarizing figure; personally, I find him far more entertaining than annoying. Ignoring the part of this report that indicates that gluttony and conspicuous consumption played a role in these “negotiations”, I also like that he made the deal himself and then told his agent to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. He seems to understand that the agent works for the player/announcer and not the inverse.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times took the news of how this contract extension happened and crafted this comment:

“TNT got Charles Barkley to renew his contract by tossing $1,700 worth of alcoholic beverages his way, Sports Illustrated reported.

“Which certainly gives a whole new meaning to Turner and hooch.”

Recently, I mentioned a couple of gastric calamities offered up to fans at MLB parks. Lest you think that minor league parks have dropped out of contention in this arena, consider these two menu items:

    The Wilmington Blue Rocks – the Carolina League affiliate of the KC Royals – offer a hot dog where the bun is a Krispy Kreme donut. As nasty as that sounds, it does get worse when you consider that two of the toppings available for the hot dog are bacon and raspberry jelly. Feed one of these to a 5-year old and he will be on a sugar high for 4 hours…

    The West Michigan Whitecaps – the Midwest League affiliate of the Detroit tigers – play in Fifth Third Ballpark just outside Grand Rapids. Should you venture there, you may see on the menu the Fifth Third Burger costing $20. Here is what you get for one portrait of Andrew Jackson:

      Five one-third pound burgers (Fifth Third Burger/five one-third pound burgers, get it?) with 5 slices of American cheese.

      Toppings/add ons include a cup of chili, salsa, nacho cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, Fritos, lettuce and tomato.

      The Fifth Third Burger contains 300 grams of fat and “weighs in” at 4800 calories. Anyone who eats the entire thing alone and in one sitting will get a free T-shirt.

Just a guess, but the free T-shirt will be one size larger than the one the diner wore into the ballpark.

Finally, Brad Rock had this item in the Deseret News recently indicating that he has probably attended some Nick Saban press conferences:

“Alabama coach Nick Saban’s daughter married her childhood sweetheart last week and celebrated by holding the reception at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“The event included fireworks and a ride in a Rolls-Royce.

“Asked afterward how the ceremony went, Saban allegedly said, I’ll have to look at the film.’ “

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

RIP Dusty Rhodes…

Sitting down at the keyboard this AM, one of the first things I came across on CBSSports.com was an article reporting that former pro ‘rassler, Dusty Rhodes, has died. Rhodes was a young kid just starting his career about the time I stopped following pro ‘rassling and given the shortened lifespan of many pro ‘rasslers I was glad to see that he had made it to age 69 before passing on.

RIP, Dusty Rhodes…

The next report that caught my eye said that Terrell Owens thinks he could make a comeback in the NFL if a team were willing to give him a shot. Owens is 41 years old – and would turn 42 during the upcoming NFL season – and his last appearance on the field in an NFL game was in 2010. As with many news items, it can always be worse… Imagine if T.O. gets a call from a team inviting him to training camp; you just know that within 3 days there would be a report that Brett Favre was considering a return to the NFL also…

    Memo to NFL Coaches: I am never in favor of “blackballing” anyone. Nevertheless, consider the circus you might create if you have T. O. in your locker room – and the mega-circus you might create if it tempted Brett Favre to start up the “Will he/Won’t he” wagon again.

Two institutions that rarely generate any positive response from me – the US Congress and the NCAA – have intersected in a news item today. Four members of the House of Representatives – two Democrats and two Republicans – have introduced legislation that would create a 17-member Presidential Commission for Intercollegiate Athletics. According to reports, this commission would “examine college sports issues such as the education of athletes, how the sports are financed, health and safety, and due process in infractions cases.” Oh swell…

Look, I cannot possibly be totally opposed to anything that either spanks the NCAA or holds it up to ridicule. At the same time, this proposed legislation also points to the fecklessness of the Congress. Consider:

    Do we need a Presidential Commission to reveal that some – probably many – schools cut academic corners when it comes to athletes who play “revenue sports”? Seriously, if anyone needs this, he/she has been living in a cave for the last 60 or 70 years.

    Do we need a Presidential Commission to reveal that some – probably much – of the financing for college athletics is “off the books”?

    Do we need a Presidential Commission to look at the health and safety issues of collegiate sports? In fact, if the courts rule that college athletes are actually employees of the schools, would not that be OSHA’s responsibility?

    Do we need a Presidential Commission to ponder the presence or absence of due process in infractions cases? Unless I missed the point in my civics classes in junior high school, I think that is what the judicial branch of government is supposed to do.

Moreover, if Congress creates the Presidential Commission, that would give the Congress the opening it would need to hold periodic hearings on these matters in the guise of “oversight” on the commission they established to oversee college sports. I need that like a giraffe needs a clarinet.

    Memo to these 4 Congressthings: Congratulations on your bi-partisanship here. Now, try applying that bi-partisanship to something that actually matters to the country.

The venue for home games by the Arizona Coyotes is back in the news. Recall that the NHL took over the franchise to keep it in Arizona rather than let a buyer move the franchise to “southern Ontario”. Part of the deal was a favorable least arrangement with the city of Glendale Arizona to keep the team there. That deal calls for the city to pay the Coyotes $15M a year to play in the arena; I would call that a “favorable lease”; how about you? Now, it seems that the city is running a projected $7M deficit for the year and can resolve that issue by abrogating the lease deal; the city fathers just voted to do just that.

Of course, this is going to wind up in court and will not be settled posthaste. It is not as if the Coyotes are going to have to find frozen ponds on which to play their games – which is a good thing because frozen ponds tend to be hard to come by in Arizona. However, this is an opportunity for the NHL to recognize that hockey is not nearly as economically viable in the “Sun Belt” as it is in many other parts of North America. Just as the Coyotes should have been moved when the league had to take over the franchise about 5 years ago, a franchise that needs to be paid by the city to play in the city’s arena needs to be moved today. So where might it go?

    The best idea would be to move the franchise to Canada where the league draws a disproportionate amount of its revenue because there is a much more extensive and solid fanbase there. The Coyotes began their existence as the Winnipeg Jets – but Winnipeg has found itself a team to replace the one that left.

      Quebec City: They have been without an NHL team for about 25 years since the Nordiques left to become the Colorado Avalanche.

      Hamilton: This is a more specific name for “southern Ontario”, but it might work.

      Regina or Saskatoon: The league has no franchise in Saskatchewan and the NHL has been adamant that it needs a “national footprint”. I leave it to folks far more knowledgeable about Canadian geography and economics to decide if either city would make sense.

    If, for reasons known only to Gary Bettman and the powers-that-be in the NHL, the franchise must remain in the US.

      KC: It has an underutilized modern arena waiting for a tenant.

      Seattle: It really wants an NBA team more than an NHL team but this could be a way to have a tenant in whatever new arena they want to build there while the NBA keeps them dangling.

      Portland: They support a basketball team and a team in the WHL rather well…

Finally, I missed this this item whilst on vacation but Bob Molinaro had it in his column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Quick hit: Johnny Manziel was in the news this week for throwing a water bottle at a young dope who was heckling him as he hung out with friends in Dallas. It’s the most attention one of Johnny Football’s tosses has attracted since the Browns drafted him.”

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

Corruption in FIFA – Seriously…

You may be certain that the FIFA bribery allegations and arrests were not big news in places like Cody Wyoming and/or Red Lodge Montana. Moreover, in some of the places we stayed, the “cable TV” available did not carry ESPN as one of the channels. [Aside: To be fair, one did have ESPNU on the menu but that channel did not have the “FIFA business” high on its list of featured events.] So, I have been trying to put together how all of this has unfolded since I got home. Some of this is from memory, so I do not pretend that I have every detail nearly correct.

This all starts with my clearly prejudicial assumption that FIFA is an organization that exists in the same level of shadiness and corruption as the IOC. I am certainly not alone in that thinking but if you would like to take 13 minutes out of your life to watch and listen to a blistering summary of FIFA’s venality, I recommend you follow this link and watch John Oliver skewer – and then barbecue – the organization in this monologue. I promise you will laugh while you are watching but then you will feel disgust in the aftermath.

I am still not clear why the FBI and the US Department of Justice are the entities involved in these indictments/allegations when the people were arrested in Switzerland and are foreign nationals. Nonetheless, it would be a wonderful situation if that were the only part of this mess that escaped my understanding. Now, with that confusion at the basis of these remarks, here is what I think has led us to where we are:

    A long time ago – not in a galaxy far away but here on Earth – FIFA awarded the World Cup Tournament in 2018 to Russia and the one in 2022 to Qatar. The Russia award was slightly controversial but Russia was already scheduled to host the 2014 Winter Games so most folks figured they could pull it off. Almost no rational thinker considered the Qatar selection within spitting distance of reasonable.

    Soon after those events – and amidst non-specific suggestions that payoffs influenced the Qatar selection process – a senior official of FIFA was caught with his hand in the till and banned from any involvement in football for life. It seems to me that this put some blood in the water…

    FIFA needed to do damage control and hired a US firm to do an investigation of bribery and corruption within FIFA. I remember that these folks were to report to the FIFA Ethics Committee which is something I consider to be an organic oxymoron. The investigators delivered their report to those upstanding folks and then got into a spitting contest with the Ethics Committee when their report was summarized and given to the media. The investigators claimed that the summary was not quite what they had found. My guess is that all of that background takes us up to about the Summer/Fall of 2013.

    Now we have these bribery and racketeering allegations against FIFA senior officials pending and the whole mess led to the resignation of the newly re-elected major domo of FIFA, Sepp Blatter. He was not one of those arrested but to borrow a phrase from about 40 years ago, it sure seems as if he is an “unindicted co-conspirator”. Lots of folks would love to find out what did he know and when did he know it. [Hat tips to the Watergate Grand Jury and to Senator Howard Baker, R- Tenn.]

The most visible high-ranking FIFA official these days is Jerome Valcke and he has said that the process of soliciting bids for the 2026 World Cup will cease while all these legal matters are floating around. That is probably not a bad idea – especially since one report tied Valcke himself to a $10M funds transfer involving a bank in NY. In what has to be something straight out of the theater of the absurd, Barrack Obama, Vladimir Putin and David Cameron actually took public stances on this entire matter.

    Memo to those three World Leaders: There are major problems in the world for you to work on. Don’t sweat the small stuff…

Now let me speculate for a moment and assume that the Qatar selection for 2022 comes up for “review” within whatever the new structure of FIFA becomes. A change of venue from Qatar could be a financial boon to FOX Sports. FOX has the US TV rights in 2022 and games played in Qatar do not map well into US viewing time slots. Imagine for a moment that FIFA changed the venue and put the games in Brazil again – as a way to use the new stadiums there for things other than bus parking lots. Brazil games are a lot more “time friendly” for FOX than Qatar games would be and “more time friendly” equates to “more ad revenue”.

I suspect that the major European soccer entities would also want to find a way to move the games from Qatar because the current FIFA thinking is to play those games in November/December due to the climate in Qatar in the summer. European leagues would have to interrupt their seasons in 2022 for a month creating a scheduling nightmare for many teams and leagues. My guess is that the European leagues would be happy to play the 2022 games on the moon if they were held in the summer months.

Why this is a DoJ matter and how we got to the point where the FBI convinced the Swiss authorities that FIFA execs needed to take a “perp walk” still eludes me. But it could be a fun ride from here on out…

Meanwhile, the Women’s World Cup Tournament has begun in Canada with an expanded field this year. Not surprisingly, some of the newcomers did not fare well against established teams in the opening round. Germany beat the Ivory Coast 10-0. That is not quite as bad as losing a college football game 222-0 (as once happened) but it is close.

Finally, a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from a while ago:

“Big week for rehabbing Marlins ace Jose Fernandez. He faced live batters in practice for the first time since his surgery, and also became a United States citizen. Fernandez is proof that in America anything is possible, particularly if you can throw 97 mph.”

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

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog

After three and a half weeks on the road, I am back home once again. The reason I know I am home is contained in a comment I recall but not the author of the comment:

“Home is where you can say anything you like cause nobody listens to you anyway.”

One of the things I accomplished in my not-so-abundant free time on the road trip was to finish reading Dan Jenkins’ “semi-memoir” (his description) His Ownself. Anyone who has read these rants for any length of time now knows that I think Dan Jenkins is a brilliant writer and this book is as good as anything he has written before. If you want a fast read that is completely enjoyable, I cannot recommend His Ownself highly enough. Here is a link to where you can get it:

Speaking of Dan Jenkins, much of his writing career and his life has focused on golf. This year, a 15-year old from Dallas – just down the road from Fort Worth where Jenkins grew up and began his career – will play in the US Open. Cole Hammer shot two rounds to a total of 132 in final qualifiers to make it into the field. I have a hunch that Cole Hammer and Dan Jenkins will meet at the event…

There are a few surprises in the baseball standings at this point of the season; some of the surprises are positive and some are not:

    Positive: The Minnesota Twins are only 1 game behind in the AL Central race.

    Not Positive: The Seattle Mariners are 6 games under .500.

    Positive: The Houston Astros lead the AL West by 2 games.

    Positive: The Texas Rangers are in second place in the AL West.

    Not Positive: The “Moneyball” Oakland A’s are dead last in the AL West.

    Positive: The Mets lead the NL East by a half-game.

    Not Positive: The Reds are 5 games under .500.

Here are three more things to glean from the baseball standings as of this morning:

    The White Sox are 3 games under .500 despite having been outscored by 57 runs in their 57 games this season. By comparison, the Indians have the same record as the White Sox and the Indians have scored exactly as many runs as they have given up.

    The Phillies are in the midst of a dumpster-fire season. In 60 games, they have been outscored by 85 runs (worst differential in MLB by 27 runs) and they are a miserable 7-22 on the road.

    The Texas Rangers, on the other hand, are 20-12 on the road and only 11-15 at home.

The Milwaukee Brewers are stinking it up on the field this year (dead last in the NL Central with the emphasis on the word “dead”) but their fans can expect culinary delights when they venture out to Miller Park. Here are a couple of the options fans may contemplate:

    Inside The Park Nachos: This is taco-seasoned ground beef on a stick crusted with Doritos crumbs slathered with nacho cheese and sour cream and a dollop of dipping salsa.

    Pulled Pork Parfait: The name is alliterative – and a bit disgusting at the same time. The dish consists of alternating layers of mashed potatoes and pulled pork drenched in gravy and chives. I would need a highly trained sommelier to recommend the proper wine to have with that bad boy…

    The Beast: Just the name ought to make one check out other menu items for the sake of the well-being of one’s alimentary canal. This concoction is a sandwich served on a pretzel roll which is a good start. However, inside that pretzel roll, they put a bratwurst that has been stuffed with a hot dog and then wrapped in bacon. Just to complete the gastric disaster, they cover it all in sauerkraut and onions. Be sure to have industrial strength Maalox on hand for the 7th inning stretch if you eat this one.

Finally, a baseball note from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“Angel Pagan says his back got out of whack from sleeping on a too-soft mattress. You’ve got a glass back, you make $9 mil a year and you can’t spring for a new mattress?”

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

Playing Perry Mason This Morning…

The Preakness will happen later today. Favorite American Pharoah drew the #1 post position; and at Pimlico, that is not an advantageous draw. In a short field, it will not necessarily be as bad as it would be in a full field, but the post draw does add a marginal level of interest to the race. Lest you think I am being too critical of the Preakness Stakes, consider this item from Bob Molinaro’s column yesterday in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Horsing around: The Preakness is a day away. There’s still time to pretend you care.”

For the record, that comment comes from a native of Baltimore…

Now that Tom Brady has decided to appeal his 4-game suspension and Roger Goodell announced that he will personally hear that appeal, let me outline here what I would emphasize in the appeal if I were representing Tom Brady. The obvious disclaimer here is that I am not a lawyer and there is no way that Tom Brady or his representatives would seek my opinion here, but this is the broad outline of the points I would try to make.

    I would avoid any hint of an argument that would make it seem that I considered Ted Wells to be biased in his investigation on the basis that the NFL paid him. Ted Wells is by every report an experienced and highly regarded attorney; and unless there is video evidence of him doing something untoward and prejudicial in the matter, I would not go down that road even an inch.

    I would point out, however, that Ted Wells did not have subpoena power to command documents/records nor were any of the folks he spoke to subject to perjury or cross-examination. That does not nullify what he found but it does weaken the degree to which his findings can be taken as undeniable facts. Wells himself supports this argument because all he could bring himself to say over his signature and therefore with his reputation on the line were things like “more probably than not” and “generally aware of” in his findings.

    I would stress the amateurish – almost Keystone Kops – way that the league measured the pressure in the footballs at halftime. They used two gauges which did not agree with one another on even a single ball that was measured. Moreover, the difference in readings was as much as 0.4 psi – which happens to be 40% of the acceptable pressure range for footballs in a game (12.5 – 13.5 psi).

    I would apologize for Brady’s agent’s commentary that the NFL and the Colts engaged in a “sting operation” unless – once again – I could present video evidence to show same.

    I would argue that by all NFL precedents, this suspension is excessive. A comparison of the suspensions of other players relative to what they did – and the degree of certitude that they actually did what they did – is pretty easy to construct.

    I would point out that Ted Wells’ characterization that Brady did not aid in the investigation by making his phone records available to him is more a statement of pique than substance. First, that lack of subpoena power forces Wells to deal with that possibility from the start. Second, in a previous NFL disciplinary matter, another star QB, did not share his phone records with the investigation and did not suffer a 4-game suspension. (See Brett Favre and his “sexting incident” where his penalty for failure to cooperate was a fine of $50K.)

    Finally, I would hint that the punishment for Brady – and for the Pats by extension – is colored by the previous Spygate incident and that such a linkage is improper:

      a. Because Brady had no part in stealing the signals according to the findings at the time

      b. Even if he did have a part in stealing those signals, this is an unrelated matter and therefore added punishment would be the equivalent of “piling on” for the Spygate matter which the NFL did not put in Brady’s lap at the time.

I want to be clear here. I am not a New England Patriots’ fan; I have never lived anywhere in New England; I admire Tom Brady for his on-field accomplishments to the same degree that I admire Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw and John Unitas among others for their on-field accomplishments. If you want to interpret all of this through the prism that I am some kind of a fanboy, I cannot stop you from doing that. All I can tell you is that in the harsh light of reality, I am not a fanboy.

In the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson maters, I supported what the NFL – and Roger Goodell – did. Granted in the Ray Rice matter, it took some time for the league to try to impose a penalty stiffer than a 2-game suspension. Many others called for Roger Goodell’s head on a plate; back then, here is what I wrote about the evolving Ray Rice Episode.

My support then for the league and for Roger Goodell was based on the degree of certainty I had in the wrong-doing of Ray Rice; I had seen “conclusive video evidence”… There is nothing even remotely close to such a level of certainty in this entire matter. That is not Ted Wells’ fault, but it is the fault of the NFL for taking “more probably than not” and “generally aware” as a sufficient basis to “drop the hammer”.

Finally, just in case you were worried that hyperbole might be on the wane, CBS announced that Super Bowl 50 – to be telecast on CBS next February of course – will be “the most historic broadcast event of all time”. Really? Have the suits at CBS forgotten already about Katie Couric’s colonoscopy and that time Judge Judy had to interrupt and scold one or both of the “litigants” in her “court” and/or the final episode of My Mother the Car?

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

Two Cities…

Let me start this morning with a tip of the cap to Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; … it was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.”

No, I am not going to talk about soccer in Europe. Rather, those words applied to the sense of optimism and the sense of despair felt by baseball fans in two American cities during the last offseason. In Cleveland, there was reason for optimism. The Indians won 85 games last year only 5 games behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers and only 4 games behind the wild-card KC Royals, who just happened to make it to the World Series. Jonah Keri covers baseball at Grantland.com and he picked the Indians to win the AL Central. Sports Illustrated went one up on Professor Keri and put the Indians in the World Series for 2015. About now, the fans in Cleveland are looking at their 2015 “spring of hope” turning into a “winter of despair”.

As of this morning, the Indians record stands at 12-21; only the imploding Milwaukee Brewers have a worse record in all of MLB. The Indians are 9 games behind the Royals in the AL Central and are in danger of losing touch with the race. Making matters a lot worse – and recognizing that the season is young and the situation has time to change –, the Indians are 6 full games behind the Minnesota Twins. The breakdown of the Indians’ record provides little solace; they are 7-16 in games against AL Central opponents and only 6-12 at home. Their Cy Young winner from last season just won his first game of the year this week and their dismal record stands in spite of the fact that six players are hitting .288 or higher and three players have an OPS higher than .850.

The Indians’ 6-12 record at home has to be ominous but perhaps a small part of that dismal record has to do with playing at home in Cleveland. Last year, the Indians were contenders for the AL Central title and for the wild-card slot for virtually the entire season. Nonetheless, the average crowd in Cleveland was only 17,746. The only team close to that meager an average attendance was Tampa Bay which does not draws fans even when the team is in first place and the Rays were not in first place for much of 2014. The Cleveland attendance in 2014 was pathetic. So, with the “spring of hope” and predictions of good times coming, how have the Indians drawn so far this year?

    In 18 games so far this year (22% of all the home dates on the schedule), the Indians are drawing 15,540 folks per game. That is more than 2000 fewer fans per game than the full season average from last year.

    To be fair, Cleveland attendance usually increases as the summer arrives. Nevertheless, this is not much of a “home-field advantage”.

In another major league city, Philadelphia, there was little reason for optimism over the winter. The Phillies only won 73 games last year finishing last in the NL East a measly 23 games behind the Washington Nationals. The team traded away one of its aging stars, Jimmy Rollins, over the winter but did not get back a phenom; Cliff Lee’s arm troubles were worrisome in the winter and became problematic when they showed up again in Spring Training. The team has bloated contracts it cannot move and the team offense that was suspect over the winter has shown itself to be worse than anemic in 2015. Consider:

    The Phillies have exactly 1 position player (Freddy Galvis) batting over .300 and his OPS is .815.

    Chase Utley has gotten off to such a bad start (.118/.209/.403) that three pitchers on the team have better batting stats so far.

    The Phillies sent 3B, Cody Asche down to AAA to learn to play left field which leaves open the question of the future of former wunderkind, Dominic Brown.

The roster is a mess; the team record so far this year is 13-23; the team will have to pick up the pace to win 60 games for the year. Last year, the Phillies’ average home attendance was 29,924 which is pretty good for a team that never had a prayer of making the playoffs. In 19 home dates this year, the Phillies are still drawing an average of 26,106 to the park every night. Philly fans have not abandoned this team – – yet. However, last winter’s despair has carried over into this spring and will surely remain over the summer months. By August, it should not be difficult to walk up to the ticket window and get a ticket for the game that night.

Since I was talking about ticket-buying and attendance figures above, let me switch sports for a moment. In July, the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame will welcome the arrival of Brett Favre and the team will retire his number. Given the less-than-fully-amicable parting of the way between the team and their former QB, this is a good thing. The Packers decided to open this event up to more fans than were going to be able to fit into the Hall of Fame structure; and so, Lambeau Field tickets were offered up so that fans could come and view the ceremony on the video screen at Lambeau. The agenda for the evening calls for Favre to make a cameo appearance at Lambeau “on his way” to the dinner and ceremonies for the evening.

The good news here is that the team did not use this opportunity to gouge the fans and dip even deeper into their pockets. Tickets cost $4 – that is not a typo; that was Favre’s number that is about to be retired – and the money will go to Favre’s charity foundation, Favre 4 Hope. According to reports, the Packers sold 67,000 tickets in less than 24 hours.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter, in the Seattle Times:

“Sign hoisted by a Milwaukee Bucks fan, after Chicago jumped to a 3-0 lead in their NBA playoff series: ‘But you still have Cutler.’

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

The Smell Of Affirmation In The Morning

It is nice to receive affirmation; it is doubly nice when said affirmation comes from a columnist that you think is in the upper echelon of writers on a particular topic. That is how I feel this morning. Let me do a reset here…

For at least 25 years, I have said that the Preakness Stakes having to take place at Pimlico made the Preakness into – at best – a third rate event. I have said that Pimlico was antiquated and outdated; it is. I have said that Pimlico is in a part of town that is anything but “top-shelf”; it is. I have said that on my visits there I had to look to find a horizontal surface at the track that was not sticky to the touch; I did. I likened the ambience at Pimlico to an “upholstered toilet”; that was unkind to every upholstered toilet on the planet.

Forget the pageantry and the relatively new infield tradition of drunkenness and public sex; Pimlico needs to be imploded – or at the very least to get a visit from the wrecking ball that used to fascinate Maynard G. Krebs. [Google is your friend.] And now, after about 25 years of being a voice crying in the wilderness, I am joined in the chorus by none other than Andy Beyer who I consider to be the best racing writer practicing the craft today. In this column in the Washington Post, Professor Beyer says that the Preakness should be moved to a modernized Laurel Race Track and Pimlico should be razed. He is absolutely on the mark here…

Several weeks ago, Charlie Walters said in a column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the Minnesota Wild needed to win their first round Stanley Cup playoff series in order to show a profit for the season. Talk about cutting it close in the world of budgeting… In any event, here are some of the data he presented:

    A sell-out crowd at the Xcel Center (17,954) turns a profit for the game of $1.3M for the team.

Assume his numbers are exactly correct. That means the team turns a profit of $72.40 per person – over and above the cost of putting on that specific playoff game such as paying the concession workers and the people who prepare and maintain the ice and the cost of utilities and etc. I think that number is interesting because the average cost of a ticket to an NHL game might be close to $70 all by itself.

Let me move to a couple of baseball notes here. The Yankees continue to refuse to pay A-Rod for his 660 HR achievement because they contend that they have an option to market that achievement and they choose not to. Fine. A court or an arbitrator will decide if they have to pay up or not. Nevertheless, it sure does seem as if the Yankees are being “cheap” here.

The team contends that A-Rod’s PED use makes their marketing of his HR achievement tenuous at best. Perhaps that is true. On the other hand, marketing that achievement will cost them $6M. Now, the Yankees are also scheduled to hold a ceremony later this year in Yankee Stadium where they will retire the number of Andy Pettite. The team is promoting that event – at no cost to the team close to paying Pettite $6M – and when you look at Pettite and A-Rod in juxtaposition you see two players who both admitted to using PEDs on more than one occasion.

A cynic might look here and see that the difference is that marketing the “Pettite event” does not cost the team any cash on the barrelhead while marketing the A-Rod achievement will cost the Steinbrenner Brothers $6M. That makes the Yankees look “cheap” and Papa George Steinbrenner will not be happy with that situation wherever in the cosmos he may be.

Many folks thought going into the season that the Boston Red Sox starting pitching was questionable at best. Well, so far this year, the Sox pitching staff as a whole – starters and relievers – has been well beneath “questionable”. And what did the Sox do to deal with that situation:

    Trade for Cole Hamels? No.
    Bring up their top pitching prospects? No.
    Lure Roger Clemens out of retirement? Thankfully, no.

What they did was to fire their pitching coach, Juan Nieves, who was the same pitching coach upon whom everyone lavished heaps of praise when he guided the Sox pitching staff that won the World Series. That was in 2013 which means Nieves got really dumb really fast…

According to some reports, Barry Bonds is considering filing a “collusion lawsuit” against MLB alleging that he was blackballed after the 2007 season and after he had – for all practical purposes – the BALCO Mess in the rear view mirror. Obviously, I have no idea if the owners colluded to keep him out of the game but if – I said IF – they did, I would hope that the owners learned a lesson from history. Back in the 80s, the owners lost a couple of costly “collusion lawsuits” because there was a paper trail of memos/messages/whatevers among them on the subject of “keeping free agent salaries low” for that particular season. As I recall, part of that paper trail also tied the office of the Commissioner into the cabal and that paper trail cost the owners something in the neighborhood of $300M.

So, IF the owners orchestrated a plan/scheme to keep Barry Bonds out of baseball – thereby depriving him of a way to make a living – one would have to think that they were smart enough also to get rid of any incriminating documents/text messages/voicemails/e-mails/whatevers. Could they be so dumb as to have neglected to cover that trail…?

Finally, here is a social commentary from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“WNBA stars Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson were arrested in a domestic-violence incident. It’s about time women in sports other than Hope Solo chipped in. Male athletes have been bearing the brunt of the idiot burden for far too long.”

Professor Cote must not have noticed that Griner and Johnson more than made up for their squabble because the two of them were married in the last week or so. Love conquers all…

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