Quiet Time In The NFL…

The NFL will move into a “quiet time” in terms of on-field events even as the commissioner and Tom Brady and the NFLPA begin the process of appealing Brady’s 4-game suspension coming out of Deflategate. OTAs and mini-camps are over; reports say that every high draft pick for every team looked good at those events. Of course, they take place in shorts and not in pads so the high picks had damned well better look good there or the GMs who made the picks need to be looking for other lines of work. I mention that because there were a plethora of reports about how good Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariotta both looked with their new squads. And that got me to thinking:

    When quarterbacks are taken with the overall #1 pick AND the overall #2 pick in the draft, it seems that one does pretty well and the other flames out.

That is just a gut feeling from recent happenings and so I did a tad of research – nothing like what Dan Daly might do at profootballdaly.com to be sure – and here is what I came up with:

    2015 Jameis Winston #1 and Marcus Mariotta #2: The jury is out and should not render any verdict before 2019.

    2012 Andrew Luck #1 and RG-3 #2: Preliminary results say that Luck is the significantly better QB but neither career has run its course yet.

    1999 Tim Couch #1 and Donovan McNabb #2: McNabb was clearly the better pick here. Oh and by the way, in 1999 another QB, Akili Smith, was taken with the overall #3 pick and he was the worst of the trio.

    1998 Peyton Manning #1 and Ryan Leaf #2: There is simply no comparison here…

    1993 Drew Bledsoe #1 and Rick Mirer #2: Bledsoe played for more than a decade and went to the Super Bowl with the Pats; Mirer played well as a rookie but never really was more than a journeyman.

    1971 Jim Plunkett #1 and Archie Manning #2: In this case both QBs played well. It took Plunkett a while – and a change of scenery from New England – to blossom; Archie Manning played very well for a series of Saints’ teams that were significantly short on talent. Oh and by the way, in 1971 another QB, Dan Pastorini, was taken with the overall #3 pick. Interestingly, it was Pastorini’s broken leg that gave Plunkett the opening to start and to lead the Raiders to a Super Bowl victory in 1981.

    1954 Bobby Garrett #1 and Lamar McHan #2: I have to admit I had to look both of these guys up. Garrett was drafted by the Browns but played the 1954 season for the Packers. That was his only year in the NFL. McHan played in the NFL for 10 years with four teams. His stats were not stellar but he clearly had the better NFL career.

Only in the 1971 Draft did both of the QBs taken at the top of the draft do well in their pro careers – with the caveat that RG-3 may improve to the point where he adds the 2012 Draft to that list. Three times, the player taken #1 overall had a significantly better career than the player taken #2; twice the player taken #2 overall had the significantly better career.

What does this portend for Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariotta? Probably nothing. However, it is “quiet time” for the NFL and that allows one’s mind to wander a bit…

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had these two cogent NFL observations recently:

“Static alert: Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has every right to seek a long-term contract, but by complaining that he’s making only $12.8 million and threatening to hold out, he’s violating the first rule of rich people – no whining on the yacht.”

And …

“In passing: Johnny Manziel says he’s ditching his immature, look-at-me ‘money sign.’ Maybe he’s just realizing that there would be no sense in flashing it from the bench.”

In general, I am at the point where I am looking forward to the start of the football season with one minor hesitation. When the NFL games are on for real, that means the NFL Network is prone to put Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders on the same set with both of them in possession of live microphones. Let me just say this…

    If there were such a thing as Crimes Against Syntax, Michael Irvin would have long ago been indicted, convicted and sent to 10 years of diagramming sentences.

    When he and Deion are on the same TV set and I am sitting on my couch with the remote in my hands, the TV set is in danger of having the remote arrive at the screen traveling at a significant velocity.

Finally, here is a college football related observation from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald:

“According to a World-Herald breakdown, NU [Nebraska University] is paying Bo Pelini $29,490.91 per week, $737.27 per hour, $12.29 per minute or 20.4 cents per second to not coach. For comparison’s sake, we only pay our state legislators $12,000 per year to not work.

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

Cut The Complaining…

As golfers finished the US Open, several of them vented their spleen about the course conditions. Ian Poulter used Instagram for his criticism; Billy Horschel just dropped his words of wisdom in front of the TV cameras. Look, I am all in favor of free expression but this kind of griping annoys me about as much as the condition of the golf course and its greens seems to have annoyed various golfers.

    Everybody played the same course. It is not as if any individual golfer had to putt on “horrible greens” while others putted on billiard tables.

    Everybody had a chance to see/walk the course before the tournament. It is not as if they thought they were playing Pebble Beach and were suddenly dropped in on Chambers Bay.

    No one forced any of the complainers to play. If the conditions were so awful, why did they come back for the second round on Friday – or even finish their first round on Thursday?

Frankly, the reason I like the US Open and the British Open are that they do not always take place on a course that has been manicured to make scores low. When a ball goes in the rough; you have to look to find it; in a PGA event, if the ball goes into the rough, that means it is not sitting atop grass that all has been cut to the same length and is all pointing in the same direction.

I will probably watch some of the upcoming British Open but I will probably not watch even a minute of the PGA Championship where the only real challenge to the contestants will be to keep the ball out of the minimal water hazards.

There have been a couple of marginally interesting happenings related to the Arizona Coyotes and their contretemps with the city fathers in Glendale. Recall that the city voted to abrogate the lease deal with the Coyotes which had the city paying the Coyotes $15M annually to stay in town and play in the Glendale arena.

    1. Moody’s Investment Services made favorable comments about the city’s move to get out from under that lease deal. Moody’s is one of the sources of bond ratings and bond ratings determine the interest rate that the city will need to pay in order to borrow money. Here is what Moody’s had to say:

    “Voting to cancel the 15-year arrangement is credit positive because it reduces the city’s costs related to professional sports enterprises and provides additional resources for critical services.”

    A rough translation would be along the lines of:

      The city needs to spend money on critical services and the fact that it is spending so much on sports enterprises (hockey and spring training baseball facilities) means they do not have enough to pay for those critical services. That is not financially smart. So, the city acted intelligently to get to a position where they can fund critical services without having to borrow lots of money to do so.

    2. The majority owner of the Coyotes, Andrew Barroway, opted to take a lesser share of the franchise. Reports say that other partners in the enterprise will buy the share that he wants to get rid of. The timing of this announcement is interesting because Barroway only acquired the majority interest in the Coyotes only about 6 months ago. Moreover, he has had previous interest in buying into the NHL having unsuccessfully trying to buy the New York Islanders when they were previously on the market. One has to wonder about just how critical that city payment to the Coyotes is with regard to the solvency of the franchise…

It is “Rumor Time” in the NBA as players get some time off and front offices begin to think about how to restructure teams. The Lakers are the subject of lots of rumors – probably because the Lakers played uncharacteristically badly last season. We do know for certain that the Lakers will draft second in the upcoming NBA Draft. Beyond that, here are some of the “rumors” floating out there. Recall that Kobe Bryant is expected to play one final season in LA next year according to Lakers’ GM, Mitch Kupchack:

    1. The Lakers may want to acquire Rajon Rondo from the Dallas Mavericks but there are also stories that the Houston Rockets may want Rondo too.

    2. The Lakers may be trying to get Dwayne Wade to leave Miami and come to LA to join up with Kobe Bryant. That would have been a dynamite pairing in 2011; given the recent injury history of both players, that Lakers’ roster might lead the league in “games missed by starters”.

    3. If Kevin Love “opts out” of his contract in Cleveland, conventional wisdom is that this child of So Cal will strongly consider going home to play there. That puts the Lakers squarely in the middle of any such speculation about Kevin Love.

The best way to weather the storm during “Rumor Time” is to sit back and wait to see what actually happens and then analyze the possibilities. I am confident, however, that no matter how much the Lakers and their fans might wish for it to happen, Magic and Kareem will not be coming back to suit up in the purple and gold next year…

Finally, here is some sage financial advice from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“A pair of sneakers Michael Jordan supposedly wore in a game in 1984 is expected to sell for $50,000 or more at auction. I’d spend that for a pair of old sneakers only on the assurance I’d find a blank check for $49,995 stuffed in one of the shoes.”

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

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………

Cards Hack The Astros – Initial Thoughts

The big sports story of the moment is the “hacking” of the Houston Astros’ computer systems/databases by folks employed by the St. Louis Cardinals. I put quotation marks around “hacking” here because if the reports out there are correct, this is not equivalent to what was done to break into the Sony databases. It seems as if the Astros’ GM – formerly with the Cardinals – had a favorite set of passwords that he used when with the Cards and he did not change them when he moved on to the Astros. Well, if you know someone’s passwords, it is not exactly “hacking” to get into the systems.

None of that is to try to justify what folks with the Cards allegedly did. If I find a key to your house in a parking lot and I wait until you are gone to let myself in, my entry into your house is not justified. I do not know if that analogy would hold water in the legal realm, but that seems to be a valid comparison for here.

Because the Cardinals have been a very good team for a very long time now, fans of opposing teams are experiencing a sense of schadenfreude. That is a fun sensation for a while; what is more important is to learn about what happened and to assess its implications and then move on to some kind of resolution.

I will refrain from schadenfreude for now until the legal folks decide whether they are going to charge anyone high up in the Cards’ organization with a crime in the matter. Unlike some other baseball cheating scandals, this one also seems to violate Federal Law – the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 as amended. This seems to me to be a case of corporate espionage at the very least. For me the key question now is:

    Who in the Cards’ organization knew what – and when did they know it?

It may not matter to the FBI and the DoJ whom they indict in this matter and what position those folks held in the Cards’ organization, but it matters to me. If the Cards’ GM knew this was going on and turned a blind eye, that makes this a whole lot worse. If an underling told him that (s)he thought (s)he could break into the Astros’ databases because (s)he thought (s)he had the passwords and he gave a nodding approval, that makes it even worse than a whole lot worse. From an overview perspective, there is a significant difference between a “rogue IT guy” doing this and “executive suite involvement.” Both situations are bad; one is outrageously bad.

Commissioner Rob Manfred seems to be doing the right thing here. He has said MLB is cooperating with the FBI in the investigation – I should hope so! – and he has not jumped the gun with regard to punishments. Moreover, he is not going to need to hire an investigator to weed out what happened. The FBI with subpoena power and needing to interrogate people who may choose to have their own legal representation will provide him with better information than a private investigation could. When the FBI and the DoJ are done, he can act. At the very minimum, there are going to be some folks banned from ever working in baseball again.

Taking a longer view, I find it interesting to try to place this hacking incident into the landscape of baseball scandals. In a sense, this is signal stealing on steroids which may be an apt description given baseball’s history with steroids. I am not a baseball historian by any measure, so consider what follows as something a high school kid might write for his junior thesis and not what a professor might write for a peer-reviewed journal.

Scandals that were worse than the current “hacking” investigation seems to be:

    The Black Sox Mess in 1919: This involved fixing games in the World Series. Surely we can agree the current mess is nowhere near as bad as that.

    The ’51 Giants stealing signs from their scoreboard: Stealing signs happens; denying that it does would be stupid. However, sign stealing at the level that the Giants practiced it was an affront to the game and surely affected a pennant race and a World Series participant. That was worse than this mess.

    BALCO/Biogenesis: These illegal and corrupt activities affected the stats that form part of the foundation for baseball’s history. I cannot see how the current mess will come close to doing that.

    Racism: After integration in the 40s, baseball still suffered outrageous racism in the form of death threats to Henry Aaron as he approached Babe Ruth’s home run record and in the form of Marge Schott as a franchise owner. The current mess is not good, but it is not nearly as pernicious as racism.

Scandals that were bad but not as bad as this one looks to be:

    The 1980’s Free Agency Collusion: This was not cheating to win games; this was cheating to save money. It was a stupid idea and it was even more stupidly executed. In the end it did not save money; it cost owners $300+M.

    Pete Rose: There is no evidence he bet on games involving his teams nor that he bet on games while he was playing. His jail sentence was for tax evasion which is not a baseball scandal.

Since this investigation is not yet finished – and often these Federal probes take a lot of time – there will be plenty of time for folks to ruminate on where this scandal fits into the landscape of scandals in the sports world outside baseball. Surely, someone will try to draw a comparison between this matter and “Deflategate”. There is an attractive reason to do so in that the Cards and the Pats are top-shelf teams/franchises and it might be fun to demonstrate their feet of clay. When you read that kind of thing, consider it nonsense. Even under the most nefarious scenario you might imagine for “Deflategate”, no one is in danger of going to jail based on the air pressure in a dozen footballs. Someone – some ones – here might do some time.

No matter how all of this shakes out, there is a baseline issue that Rob Manfred will have to deal with. Someone in the Cardinals’ organization cheated; there is no way to sugar-coat that. Someone used an improper – seemingly illegal – means to gain an advantage for the Cardinals that an opponent (the Astros in this case) did not have access to. I do not see any way around coming to the conclusion that cheating is involved here. Now, if the “integrity of the game” and the “best interests of baseball” mean anything other than bluster, Rob Manfred is going to have to take some definitive action(s) when we get to the bottom of all this.

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………