Sunday, April 24, 2016

Laissez les bons temps rouler

This week I'll be absent because I'm road-tripping to New Orleans with my better half. It's my ninth year in a row to JazzFest. We'll probably post a photo online at some point of us standing in front of the Andrew Jackson statue in Harriet Tubman Square.

Cubs, Cubs, Cubs

They're everywhere. They're printing Jake Arrieta no-hitter-themed t-shirts-- a first as far as I know.'s full-time Cubs beat reporter, Jesse Rogers (that position exists?), has a story posted about how the Cubs are preparing for more no-hitters this year. Their top three pitchers could pitch a no-hitter "any night," according to pitching coach Chris Bosio. They even have a no-hitter protocol. Saturday wasn't "any night" for one of those three as John Lackey gave up six runs in five and two-thirds innings, seeing his ERA balloon to 4.97. Put your money on Arrieta.

Manager Joe Maddon is baseball's new bad boy, challenging with righteous indignation Busch Stadium's essentially-logical prohibition against t-shirts with the word "sucks" on it. What he doesn't seem to understand is that the rule is in place by the Cardinals at their ballpark to protect against t-shirts aimed at the rival Cubs. How else, after all, would you describe a franchise that hasn't won a World Series in 108 years? And t-shirt manufacturers know this.

Today's ESPN site has no less than ten Cubs stories posted. One subject is Maddon's charity-focused t-shirts. (The guy wears more clothing depicting his own image than anybody I've ever heard of-- and he recently stripped away the Cubs' dress code. Is he so obsessed with his appearance because his counterpart in St. Louis is a matinee idol?) Other story subjects are Javier Baez's new "maturity," John Lackey's thumping at the hands of the Reds, Arrieta, the Cubs' epic run at baseball's single-season record for no-hitters (so far they lead the Majors with one), four more stories about Arrieta and one about his catcher, and one about Kyle Schwarber's Charlie Brown-like existence watching the team chase the pennant while he hobbles around on crutches. (Fear not about Schwarber, Small Bears. Adam Wainwright returned from a torn ACL after only four months last year, and, if there's one thing Schwarber knows, it's conditioning.)

It's only April 24th. How much more can the Cubs possibly give us?

Monday, April 18, 2016

April sports

This is the best time of year in sports. October is great also-- a chill is in the air and the Cardinals’ second season begins, but you’ve gotta choose April now as the tops because the NFL is such an unholy presence. (Pro football side note: Do I regret resigning from my 12-year-old fantasy football league after the Rams bolted to LA in January? Order up the DVD for “Concussion” and look for your answer.)

The NBA has a nice thing going-- I mean if you don’t give a lick about franchise parity, and as a casual fan, I don’t. The Golden State Warriors have made the professional game as beautiful as it’s ever been, at least since the ABA folded. They erased the ’95 Bulls in the record book with 73 regular-season wins this year, and isn’t it just like Chicago sports fans to root against that? As if something that happens more than 20 years after the fact has a bearing on the evaluation of an earlier accomplishment. As if record-breakers don't pay homage to the old record-holders just by reviving the memory.

I’m partial to San Antonio though. The Spurs are the St. Louis Cardinals of the NBA in that the media actively roots against their consistent excellence and their star-free system. As an added plus, they’re my age, so I’ll root for them if and when the NBA gets its preferred match-up in the Western Conference Finals. Don’t sleep on LeBron either. The Warriors were too much for Cleveland in last year’s NBA Finals, but he’s got a better cast surrounding him this year, and nothing currently lacking or fading in terms of legacy motivation. As he explained last year, he’s the best player in the world, and that’s worth something.

As for Kobe Bryant, I was never a fan. He was the type of player the sporting press tries to perpetually convince us has personality, but I never detected any. I have a fantastic record of attending NBA games and just missing the greats, however. I went to a Bulls game at the old stadium in 1986 during Michael Jordan’s second year. He was not yet a player for the ages, but he was out with a broken leg. I saw the Celtics in Milwaukee in 1988, and Larry Bird spent the duration of the game in uniform, but lying on his stomach on the endline indulging his unaligned back. At the Staples Center last April, Kobe was on the injured list for the Lakers and didn’t helicopter in for the particular contest that I attended. That means the best basketball players I’ve ever seen play in person are Dirk Nowitzki, Julius Erving, and Allen Iverson. Oh… and Jeff Hornacek at dear old Iowa State.


You can keep the Masters of the Professional Golf Association. Neither the athleticism nor the art of golf impresses me. Like anything, you can be the most successful at golf with a lot of hard work and discipline, but does anybody think that the great names in golf would be known at all if there were a level playing field across ethnic and socio-economic boundaries. Three sports need to be considered the headliners when it comes to racism. Number one is swimming. African-Americans weren’t even allowed in most public swimming pools until the Jackson Five started recording. Number two and three are golf and tennis. I’m putting them together because they both have been lily-white country club sports in which even one or three African-American participants have been capable of rendering the old record book as meaningless.

One black golf father, Earl Woods, and one black tennis father, Richard Williams, basically decided they would prep their children for greatness in these almost-exclusively white institutions, instead of steering them to traditional sporting avenues for blacks, and the results have been 14 Major PGA championships and 28 Grand Slam tournament singles championships. That leaves swimming. All it will take is for one Tiger or Serena to dive into the Olympic pool and that’ll be the last anybody ever heard of old Michael Phelps. You see, it’s always about opportunity. And swimming’s Serena won’t get a pass from society for doing recreational drugs like Phelps did.


Blues and Blackhawks-- Blues up two games to one in their best-of-seven. This series means a lot more to me now that the Rams are gone.


The Cardinals and Cubs also begin three tonight at Busch. Lackey pitching for the Cubs in the first game. Heyward bringing his .205 batting average into a start for the Chicagos in right field. We’ll see which team’s core is “fading.” Boooooooooo.


Usually, when a 100-win baseball team gets ousted by one of the league’s runners-up in a five-game playoff series, the debate shifts on to how the first-round best-of isn’t long enough for the real winner to prove out. Not with the Cubs-Cardinals last year, no how. The sports media, instead, declared the team with three playoff wins in 13 years to be a new empire. The sabermetricians this year projected the Cubs as twelve game favorites over the team that has won the division three years running and gets its best pitcher back for a full season. Vegas put the preseason odds on the Cubs as World Champs at 6 to 1, the Cardinals 16 to 1 (that's called a value pick). I guess that’s why none of the casinos seem to be going broke. I’m relatively certain that 95% of your North American wagerers wouldn’t even know an Almedys from a Hazelbaker.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The echo chamber

Could it be? Does the radiant Rosario Dawson read this blog?

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Weekend elements

The media has no idea how to deal with Bernie Sanders. The man doesn't posture. They think they have a gotcha question for him by asking how he would break up the big banks. His answer is exactly right: The banks will decide how to do it. You give them a size and they find a way to meet it.


Favorite political story of the week: Bill Clinton explains the 1994 Crime Bill, and Hillary's portrayal of underage "superpredators" to Black Lives Matter activists. It seems the protestors have been defending drug sales and murder.


Go to YouTube and watch clips from Donald Trump's Comedy Central Roast in 2011, then listen to Hillary supporters complain about her being called "unqualified" by her primary opponent. What a fight we're all in for.


FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson is the television event of the year-- a massively entertaining vehicle. And Sarah Paulson, as Attorney Marcia Clark, deserves to be a lock for Best Actress. Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance were also knockouts as attorneys Darden and Cochran, respectively. (What man working is better than Vance?) Since the show is actually an anthology series, future seasons will be new stories, but I have no idea how they will ever top season one.


Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber is out for the year. I don't have the details, but it's possible he got wedged in a bathtub.

Because he's fat.


Iowa State junior basketball player Monte Morris has decided to continue the volunteer part of his hoops career. The nation's leader in assist-to-turnover ratio his first two years, and a three-year veteran of the NCAA Tournament will return for his senior season.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Person to Person

I conducted a little cultural survey at work today, but I didn’t mean to. Not really. The department I joined nearly a year ago participates in the national celebration of “Name Yourself Day.” Have you heard of it? I hadn’t. But there it is anyway on the internet. And the post office was still open.

It’s one of those annual "fun" days designed to promote a certain industry or make cubicle work less tedious-- along the lines of National Heimlich Maneuver Day or National Say Something Nice Day (both June 1st, incidentally). It's supposed to be on April 9th, but that falls on a Saturday in 2016 so here we are. My name choice was one I feared would be much too obvious for the day's outline, perhaps even aped by one of my other seventy-some colleagues. But my goodness, that calculation was entirely off. It took until almost three o’clock in the afternoon before I found somebody that recognized the reference I was making, and even then, these two ladies both told me it only “sounds familiar” until I filled in the missing information. The name I chose was “Dick Whitman.”

So it’s your turn. Do you know it? It's the disguised real name of the central character on AMC's Mad Men, Emmy’s Outstanding Drama Series for four straight years from 2008 to 2011, and a TV series that ended less than a year ago to some substantial fanfare. It’s been called by some, in fact, the greatest television series of all-time. You wouldn’t know it, though, to work with the group I work with. Knowing me, it won’t surprise you to hear that most of the guesses I had directed back at me today were along the lines of: "So is he a baseball player?” Jeesh. I’m glad I didn’t go with my second name choice-- Bob Benson. Google it.

The research here is completely anecdotal, but I think it’s another morsel of evidence of the epic divide today between what’s considered culturally-significant by professional critics and writers, and what is truly popular with mass audiences. I’m certain that Dick Whitman was even a cross-over reference on 30 Rock, but then that’s another multiple-Emmy-winning show that nobody watched. For all its accolades, Mad Men's highest-ever audience for a single episode was 3.54 million people ("A Little Kiss" in 2012). Meanwhile, the CBS police procedural drama CSI: Retirement City: Navy Forensic Criminals of Interest, averages more than 15 million, I think.

TV was not like this in the 1980s. The internet and the avalanche of digital entertainment options had not yet fragmented audiences for the remainder of time. Critical darlings then dotted Nielsen's Top Ten. There was also a lesser aesthetic divide in musical tastes. I don't know where I'm going with this, and I don't know why I was so frequently rankled today as I went nearly entirely unidentified. (Don Draper dreamed of this sort of anonymity.) Several other Name Yourself participants also employed obscure references, but do they really expect us to know Dune characters, or video game avatars. This is Mad Men, Emmy's favorite for nearly a decade. It's in the friggin' zeitgeist. And I didn't just pick a character's name from a TV show I liked. I picked a fictional name that symbolizes the concepts of assumed identity, ambiguity, alter ego, even rebirth and reinvention. Name Yourself Day wasn't a competition, but I should have won!

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Make Baseball Profitable Again

Happy Opening Day, a tad late. You’ll have to forgive me. The Cardinals season always extends until at least mid-October, and so the off-season can feel short. I use all of it. I’ll be raring to go well before the Cards complete their two-city, Jupiter, FL to St. Louis excursion through Pittsburgh and Atlanta. By the time the Clydesdales make their appearance on Monday, and Hall of Famers Red, Lou, Gibby, Ozzie, Bruce, and Whitey bounce from the flatbeds of the red Ford pick-ups, dressed in their bright red sport jackets, the season will have arrived.

Just a note about the extraordinary popularity and robust financial health of America’s-- and the world’s-- greatest sport. Molly Knight, the author of last year’s book, “The Best Team Money Can Buy,” describing the modern-era Los Angeles Dodgers, provides insight in Chapter One into how the National Football League actually comes nowhere close to matching Major League Baseball in economic prosperity. Commissioner Goodell's No Fun League is not even in the same ballpark, if you’ll pardon a popular American expression that might seem a little out of left field.

In 2012, when the Guggenheim Group, starring superstar minority investors Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson, purchased the Dodgers for $2.15 billion, virtually all observers, whether they be sporting, financial, or amateur, thought the price was outrageous. The group had paid fully three times the amount at which Forbes magazine had valued the franchise. What those people didn’t realize was that baseball’s television revenue was about to surge towards heights unseen by any entertainment industry anywhere. Eighteen months later, Time Warner agreed to pay the Dodgers $8.35 billion for the rights to broadcast their games for the next twenty five years. Bam-o.

The NFL stands in second place. The league's highly-lucrative TV deal with traditional networks CBS, FOX, NBC, and ABC/ESPN certainly promotes parity between teams in profit (MLB has more parity on the field), and it has rewarded the NFL with an unprecedented visibility on football Sundays and Mondays (and sometimes Thursdays and Saturdays), but for sheer dollars, thanks to television, radio, and internet advertising, Major League Baseball is King Ball.

The Dodgers televise all 162 of their games on Time Warner Cable and SportsNet LA. That's approximately three hours per game, plus pre-game and post-game fanfare that amounts to about five hours of targeted audience programming nearly every day for six months. Plus, you have potentially more than 20 post-season games per year, on national broadcasts for either FOX and TBS, and profit from the league's service, MLB Network. Before the Dodgers even get a whiff of the playoffs each year, they have netted $334 million.

Compare that haul to that of the NFL’s most lucrative team, the Dallas Cowboys, who play only 16 games a year, and four post-season games at best (as if), all with an extraordinary number of eyeballs fixed, but again limited to likely fewer than 20 contests, and sharing its TV money equally with all of the other NFL teams besides. The Cowboys do not have the freedom to negotiate separately for a TV deal, as each MLB team does. So, yes, MLB has become more of a regional product than the NFL, but not because of financial limitations, but because of how extraordinarily profitable it has proven to be to sell your product to a entity with a primary focus on the local level. It's a fascinating business model. You can sell jerseys and caps to dedicated fans, but on television, you're getting paid even for eyes that aren't on the game.

The Dodgers’ top man, Mark Walter, defending the size of his receipt for the Dodgers, has claimed that the Cowboys would have to rake in one hundred dollars in beer and T-shirt sales per fan per game at Texas Stadium to be worth as much as the Dodgers. Nobody’s going to be holding any bake sales for the Cowboys, but, relative to baseball's titans, they can’t compete with the just the extraordinary number of total advertising hours in a post-DVR, post-TiVo, post-internet streaming world in which only sports contests are still watched in real-time by TV viewers.

Now, not every MLB team has the TV package that the Dodgers do, obviously. Or the New York Yankees. Or the LA Angels. But the boom is also just beginning. Many of the old rights agreements have not yet expired. When the Dodgers' $334 million-per-year deal went down two years ago, the small-market Cardinals were making only $25 million annually in media revenue. Their turn at bat came during this past off-season. The new deal between the team and its long-time cable TV partner, Fox Sports Midwest, will deliver more than a billion dollars to the club between 2018 and 2032. At least 16 of the 30 MLB clubs now also own a direct stake in the entity that broadcasts their games.

As a football fan, my TV options sucked for the last fifteen years. As a St. Louis Rams fan living only six hours away in the Central Iowa TV market, I'll bet there weren't six games in the last decade that I could watch in my home, choosing as I did, never to prescribe to the NFL Network. The putrid Rams played sixth fiddle to the Bears, Packers, Vikings, Chiefs, and Broncos, and were never given prime-time showcases on Sunday or Monday nights. Oh well, the NFL took care of that problem for me in January.

Anyway, like I said, Happy Opening Day to everybody. It's not yet a federal holiday, but Cards' great Ozzie Smith and Budweiser began a petition drive two years ago to make it one. Don’t let anybody tell you that the sport, or its major leagues, are dying. All the sports leagues are businesses, first and foremost. This one's still the king of the land, and the gap may actually be growing.

Friday, April 01, 2016


Hillary Clinton says she doesn't support a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. That's a critical distinction, we're told, between her and the Republicans' "big bad," Mr. Trump. But she supports the wall between Israel and Palestine. In February, she also said that the U.S. needs to help Israel "develop better tunnel detection technology."


During the same month, a poll finds that 51% of Americans support the Donald's plan to prohibit Muslims from entering the United States, and another finds that 50% of Israeli Jews want Palestinians expelled from their country. As Hillary has told us, "The alliance between our two nations transcends politics."


Trump's recent foray into Christian fundamentalism has not been without its missteps. He's apparently as confused as I am about one thing... If abortion is murder, why in the world would women not be punished for getting one? Doctors deserve prosecution, no anti-choice activists seem to question this. Women should be at least accessories to murder if they authorize this action. Roe v. Wade has led to enough legal abortions to be compared by some to the Holocaust or to American slavery, how about some prosecutions? Or maybe it's not really murder? Maybe there is a difference? Like I said, I'm confused.


What have we discussed here before about public records and formal admissions" getting dumped on a Friday afternoon so that they can be buried by the news cycle over the weekend?