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Baseball...Get Your Freakin' Act Together!!!
[Posted Sun. p.m.]
*Folks, frankly, there are far more important things in this country going on right now than Bar Chat, and most of you know I view my prime responsibility as chronicling the news, both financial and geopolitical, week in and week out for 21+ years unlike anyone else in the WORLD. I’ll save my prime commentary for that other column I do, the one I sign, but I have a few tidbits below regarding the state of our society.
Understand that with this column, I’m in no way going to be insensitive to everything else we are facing, but it’s still a job and I’m going to do it. Though some days, especially the last few months, there is far less enthusiasm. It’s not like I’m a high-salaried type like I was on Wall Street. And so we move on….
La Liga and Ballon d’Or Quiz: Hey, I have international readers too. Actually, I think more than half these days for that other column. La Liga, Spain’s top football division, has been in existence since 1929, interrupted for three years, not by World War II, but by the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39. 1) Since the 2004-05 season thru 2018-19, Barcelona has won 10 titles and Real Madrid 4. Name the other champion in that period. 2) Since 1929, who has more titles, Barcelona or Real Madrid? 3) The Ballon d’Or is the annual award for the commonly accepted best football player in the world. Since the 2008-09 season, name the only three winners of it. Answers below.
The Players Association has a soft deadline of tomorrow, June 1, to deliver a response to MLB’s proposal for restarting the season Independence Day weekend (spring training, part II commencing June 12-14).
But it certainly appears the players will have nothing on Monday, which means the two sides you’d think have no more than about a week to sit down and hammer out a deal.
As the New York Post’s Joel Sherman puts it:
“A fruitful 24-48 hours would change everything. But the sides are fighting about money, and the relationship is bathed in distrust, especially from the players toward the owners. Owners want the players, who already know they will lose their salaries for games not played in 2020, to take another financial haircut from their prorated salaries, which would total around $800 million. The owners say they need this reduction because of lack of revenues from not having paying spectators.”
Frankly, there’s no cause for optimism that I see.
Bill Plaschke / Los Angeles Times
“Baseball is doing it again, the former national pastime behaving like a national joke, only this time it’s serious. This time baseball might not recover no matter how many steroids it injects. This time baseball could lose America for good.
“As the country slowly reopens in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, in hopes of restarting their seasons, the NBA is putting on a full-court press and the NHL is skating hard into the corners.
“Baseball, meanwhile, is engaged in a bench-clearing brawl with itself.
“The owners don’t want to return unless they can give some of their best players about a 75% pay cut. The players don’t want to return unless the owners keep an original promise to prorate their current salaries for games played.
“Amid a national economic nightmare, baseball is billionaires bickering with millionaires. Baseball is surplus fighting with excess. Baseball is badly in need of a sanitary wipe.
“ ‘We made a proposal to the union that is completely consistent with the economic realities of our sport,’ said the league office in a statement this week.
“The Major League Baseball Players Assn. responded with, ‘The proposal involves massive pay cuts and the union is extremely disappointed.’
“At any other time, in any other setting, this would be the usual stuff of sports labor strife. You hear it, you shrug, you understand it’s all part of the dance.
“But in this environment, they sound like idiots, and it looks like suicide. If baseball is truly willing to hand its summer spotlight to the NBA and NHL by surrendering to hubris and arrogance, then baseball as a major league in this country is done.
“If the owners and players are really willing to let the 2020 season disappear for reasons based strictly on money – and not health and safety – then baseball’s already failing national perception goes bankrupt.
“Who do they think they are, football? Don’t they realize the extent of their declining popularity? Don’t they read the polls, or the ratings, or, heck, just look in the stands?
“In a 2018 Gallup poll, only 9% of adult chose baseball as their favorite sport to watch, ranking third behind football’s 37% and basketball’s 11%. Ranking fourth was soccer with 7%, but here’s guessing the huge and growing popularity of the international game has since moved soccer up.
“Then there’s the human poll known as attendance, which has been declining for nearly 10 years. Baseball attracted about 68.5 million fans in 2019 after drawing nearly 80 million a dozen years earlier.
“With the length of games, slowness of pace and lack of individual creativity, baseball is increasingly hard to watch, especially on TV. While the local cable markets do well, the national appetite is slowly dying, turning baseball into essentially a regional sport….
“The problem is not just how many people are watching, but who is watching. According to MarketWatch, the average age of baseball viewers is 57, with only 7% of viewers under 18.
“Baseball needs to attract younger fans, which means it needs to get smarter and savvier. In this pandemic, that means being first. Baseball needs to be the first sport to play again, the first sport to help heal this country, just like it’s done after nearly every war or crisis in the last century. Baseball needs to seem important and relevant again, and that won’t happen with its owners and players engaging in tired old maneuvers.
“The owners refusing to dip into their deep pockets for a more equitable salary arrangement with players won’t cut it.
“Yet Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer’s tweet won’t cut it either: ‘After discussing the latest developments with the rest of the players there’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions.’
“The owners trying to use the pandemic to change a salary structure that could lead to a player-dreaded salary cap won’t cut it….
“One of the reasons for the NBA’s great success is the teamwork between the owners and players. There is a real sense that they’re all in this together, and that makes for a stronger brand whose consistent entertainment value appeals to all fans.
“The baseball owners and players are too busy constantly fighting to realize that most seriously bruised is their collective image….
“Seriously, just shut up and play ball.”
Mike Vaccaro / New York Post
“This is different.
“We of a certain age still bear the scars of past labor wars, all sports. The World Series was called off in 1994. The entire NHL season of 2004-05 was canceled, every inch of it, as if the calendar were simply wiped clean. The official NFL record book is littered with names of scabs who crossed picket lines and played in actual games during the 1987 season.
“Those were awful times to be a sports fan, angry times, helpless times. Strikes and lockouts are always ugly, no matter where they happen. Subway strikes have sent commuters walking across bridges. Sanitation strikes have ransacked city sidewalks. Newspaper strikes have helped dwindle the number of papers in New York from 10 to three. They cause damage. They cause hard feelings. Somehow, when they’re over, we move on.
“This is different, and not only because baseball’s owners and its players are conducting this stare down in the midst of a pandemic, with 40 million people out of work, with 100,000 dead, with people desperate to reclaim their lives and their livelihoods. That makes it bad enough, yes. People have little patience for millionaires fighting billionaires anyway; now it has simply changed to zero tolerance.
“But this is beyond that. By its own admission, baseball has been flailing. Its own commissioner, Rob Manfred, has scrambled to come up with ideas – some interesting, some idiotic, a lot of others in between – to make baseball more appealing, even before all of this. He declared war on the minor leagues, even before all of this. He recognized the aging and graying of the game, and its fans, even before all of this.
“So this is different than 1994, when it truly felt like baseball had finally gone and poured gasoline all over itself, gone and done irreparable harm. And look: The game still pays for that. Some fans never did come back. Many simply didn’t feel the same after, even if the pull of the game couldn’t allow a full amputation.
“Bad as 1994 was, baseball wasn’t yet considered damaged.
“It is different now. Baseball was still a national game in 1994; it is hyper-local now, important to cities it calls home, little more than a curiosity elsewhere. Football had already surpassed baseball long before 1994, but pro basketball has passed it since. Hockey actually lent baseball a hand by enjoying its own extended shutdown in 1994-95, and is just as locally powered as baseball.
“Now, hockey is primed to feed a hungry nation its product again, no matter how weird and complicated the playoff system it has devised is. The NBA isn’t far behind, fueled by ‘The Last Dance’ and the knowledge that the sport’s best are eager to return. Thursday we learned that the Premier League will return in mid-June; that wasn’t even a blip on baseball’s radar in 1994. It is a gale-force hurricane now….
“Baseball is like any other struggling business: trying to adjust to an externally shifting world, trying to craft whatever market it can. All of that was true before Covid-19, and all of that was true before the owners and the players started playing fiscal chicken with each other. It is ever more true now….
“These last few months, if we’ve learned to do anything it is this: We’ve figured out how to fill idle hours. We’ve found new habits, new hobbies, new interests, new distractions. If baseball thinks it can take a year off and then simply slip easily back into people’s lives, it will be in for a rude awakening. This is different.”
Meanwhile, you have the minor leagues. Total devastation.
Barry Svrluga / Washington Post
“(Even) as Major League Baseball and the players’ union haggle over the specifics, we already know one thing: a sport that for generations was built on minor league players developing in relative obscurity probably won’t be able to offer that obscurity in which to develop. The road to the big leagues this summer is a dead end, and it almost certainly will be rerouted in the future.
“One small news bulletin from across the majors came Tuesday: The Oakland Athletics will cease to pay the $400 weekly stipend to their minor league players at the end of this month (May). Other clubs surely will follow. But does their development cease when the funds stop?
“What of the minor league players who were supposed to get in their 500 plate appearances this season, each helping build a base of experience that helps them grow? They’re scattered, with no idea when and if they will be back at team facilities or when and if they will have a season….
“Now, according to chats with more than a half-dozen general managers and player development executives across baseball, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to reveal their teams’ specific situations, the best hope of salvaging even part of a minor league season might not come until late summer, and it could center more around intrasquad games rather than a full season. Three might be an Arizona Fall League for elite prospects, though there might not. And in quarantine, the quest to quantify progress is nearly impossible….
“Of all the athletic endeavors that figure to be reshaped after the pandemic ends, the path to the majors might lead the way. Major League Baseball already was pushing a plan to reduce the number of affiliated minor league clubs by about 40, down to 120. That would, not coincidentally, reduce the number of coaches and players they employ and thus reduce the costs. The coronavirus almost certainly will hasten the reduction.
“Careers will end, too. If the season goes forth and major league clubs are allowed to keep 50 players on both an active roster and a taxi squad – as MLB has proposed to the union – clubs will have to evaluate priorities.
“ ‘Say you signed a veteran guy for your Triple-A team,’ one official said. ‘You’ve got to be pretty certain you’re going to use him for the big league team during the season to keep him on the books. Otherwise, he’s a release candidate. You’re not going to keep him around.’”
And you have the MLB draft, to be held June 10-11, that includes just five rounds rather than the normal 40. Clubs can sign an unlimited number of draft-eligible players thereafter but not for more than a $20,000 bonus.
“ ‘Say a fifth-round pick would get a bonus of $320,000,’ one longtime player development and scouting department head said. ‘There are bubble guys who might have been sixth-round picks. Do they sign for $20,000, or do they go back to college?’”
Of course the colleges have their own issues. There is zero guarantee players can return. Remember, for starters, baseball is limited to just 11.7 scholarships. You have incoming freshmen, who may not see the scholarship money they were promised. And you’ll have an overcrowded transfer market that will exceed demand.
But the other issue when talking about the minor leagues is, ‘What happens to these communities, and can the owners of, say, a Class A club in small-town South Carolina survive?’
--I have not watched ESPN’s E:60, “Imperfect: The Roy Halladay Story,” as yet…maybe after I post this, but it’s apparently a powerful documentary.
Bob Nightengale / USA TODAY
“The question was simple and direct.
“Brandy Halladay let the question swirl around in her head, her lips moved, but no words came out, and after pausing for three, four, five seconds, she finally answered.
“ ‘Yes,’ she blurted out.
“She was asked whether she believed her late husband, Hall of Fame pitcher Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay, was an addict. This is the complicated legacy of Halladay….
“ ‘Everybody saw him as this very strong, dominant person,’ Brandy Halladay told (director John) Barr and ESPN, ‘but he was terrified. He didn’t feel like he had the luxury of making a mistake.
“ ‘He was tormented. He truly was. He was a tormented man.’
“Halladay, killed the morning of Nov. 7, 2017, when his plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico, had opioids, amphetamines, anti-depressants and anxiety medications in his body. He twice had been to drug rehab centers. Once, for three weeks in 2013, when he was pitching for the Phillies. Another time, for three months in 2015, after retirement.”
Halladay retired in Dec. 2013 after a miserable final season and his life was a mess. His only escape was flying.
Halladay’s father, Roy Halladay Jr., a commercial pilot, told Sports Illustrated last summer that he didn’t know whether his son’s accident was a suicide, but Brandy Halladay vehemently denied there was any intent.
John Barr, after conversations with Brandy, concludes: “The reality is we don’t know why he crashed. We know he was flying recklessly. We know that it was not mechanical failure. But it’s believed he was impaired on that final flight.”
Brandy Halladay said: “I hope somebody hears our story… Everybody should be able to ask for help and not be judged or looked down upon for that.
“If one person asks for help that he was scared to before, then we did a good thing.”
--What a three-race stretch for Chase Elliott. Elliott won Thursday night’s rain-delayed event at Charlotte Motor Speedway to close a brutal 12 days for NASCAR. The event, postponed Wednesday night, was the fourth Cup race since the series resumed racing May 17.
But Elliott’s frustration began last week – three Cup races ago – when he was trying to race for the lead at Darlington Raceway and was wrecked by Kyle Busch
Then, in the Coca-Cola 600 last Sunday night, Elliott had the checkered flag in sight until a caution caused by his own teammate, forced him to pit and he wasn’t able to recover in the two-lap overtime sprint.
But Thursday, Elliott reeled in Kevin Harvick with 27 laps remaining and closed the deal.
It was Elliott’s seventh Cup win, all in the last three years. Bill’s boy, just 24, is carving out a helluva career.
So today, just now, Elliott was battling again for the lead with two laps to go at Bristol, he pinned Joey Logano against the wall, but no ‘caution,’ and Brad Keselowski stole another…his 32nd career win. Very exciting…NASCAR has delivered in this barren sports world.
And, not for nothing, but I won with my DraftKings lineup for a third time in four weeks. I am most pleased with myself tonight, frankly.
Bob Whitmore, RIP
I didn’t have a chance to remember Whitmore last time, Mark R., Notre Dame alum, having first notified me.
John Feinstein / Washington Post
“Mike Brey remembers the moment he realized how truly special Bob Whitmore’s life had been. On Jan. 12, 2019, Whitmore became the seventh men’s player inducted to Notre Dame basketball’s ring of honor. He had starred at Notre Dame in the 1960s and had become close to Brey shortly after Brey became the Fighting Irish’s coach in July 2000.
“ ‘Right after I got hired, he called me and said, ‘Anytime you’re in Washington and need something – anything – you call me,’’ Brey remembered Monday. ‘When we inducted him, he was so sick we weren’t sure he’d be able to make it. But no way was he going to miss the ceremony.
“ ‘One of the nice things about those ceremonies is the people who come back for the day: family, friends, teammates. Bob was 50 years removed from graduation. Just about every one of his living teammates made it back. We’ve never had a turnout of former teammates like that. And more: other grads whose lives he’d touched, friends he’d made through the years. I looked out at the crowd and thought: ‘My God, he’s the Pied Piper. People will follow him anywhere.’’
“Whitmore died (last Saturday) at 73 after a 20-year fight with pancreatic cancer. That’s not a typo: He lived with the disease for perhaps longer than 99 percent of those diagnosed with it. He was frequently in and out of hospitals, lost all sorts of weight and at times looked awful. But he kept working to help people.
“Whitmore grew up in the D.C. area and played for Morgan Wootten at Dematha. He played a key role in what is generally considered the most important high school basketball game ever played: DeMatha’s 46-43 upset of Lew Alcindor’s Power Memorial team, ending its 71-game winning streak Jan. 30, 1965.”
I wrote the following in this space 1/27/20, upon the passing of Morgan Wootten.
“Wootten had his 6-foot-8-inch Sid Catlett hold a tennis racket aloft during workouts so that DeMatha would become accustomed to (the 7-foot-2) Alcindor’s shot-blocking threat. From the game’s outset, Catlett guarded Alcindor from behind while DeMatha’s other 6-foot-8-inch player, Bob Whitmore, fronted him with help from Bernard Williams, a guard.
“Holding Alcindor to 16 points, well below his average, DeMatha won, 46-43, before a sellout crowd of some 12,500 at the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House.” [Richard Goldstein / New York Times]
Wootten told USA TODAY in 2013, “That game, I think, had the biggest impact in the history of high school basketball. After we beat Lew Alcindor, high school basketball started to be recognized on a national basis.”
“Whenever that game came up, Whitmore would point out that the year before Wootten had asked him to guard Alcindor by himself, and Alcindor scored 35 points in a 65-62 Power victory.
“ ‘Thank goodness Morgan got me some help the next year,’ he would say, laughing his booming laugh. ‘If Sid hadn’t been back there, Lew would have hammered me again. I was giving up six inches and a lot of talent.’
“Whitmore was plenty talented himself. He went to Notre Dame, and even then he was the Pied Piper: Two years later, he was followed by Catlett, Collis Jones of St. John’s and Mackin’s Austin Carr, all of whom would remain lifelong friends. Catlett died in 2017.
“In three seasons (freshmen weren’t eligible in those days), Whitmore averaged 18.8 points and 12.4 rebounds. He led Notre Dame to the NIT semifinals in 1968, when the NIT still meant something, and to the NCAA tournament a year later.
“He also jumped center for Notre Dame in the first game played in what was then Joyce Center on Dec. 7, 1968. The opponent was UCLA. The opposing center was Lew Alcindor.
“Whitmore went to Notre Dame Law School and was a graduate assistant coach on the 1973-74 team that ended UCLA’s 88-game winning streak.” [Jan. 20, 1974…71-70]
Mark R. said that as a Notre Dame student, his favorite memory was watching from the first row Notre Dame’s stunning win over 5th-ranked Houston and Elvin Hayes in Whitmore’s sophomore season, Feb. 11, 1967. The Fighting Irish were just 5-11 going into it and Whitmore shut the “Big E” down.
--NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is facing criticism again, this time for the league’s 150-word statement on Twitter on Saturday concerning the death of George Floyd and the aftermath.
“As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league. These tragedies inform the NFL’s commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners.”
The statement was met with animosity from players, commentators and fans alike.
Social media users were quick to point out that the last paragraph of the statement read as hypocritical when connected to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s longstanding absence from the league, following his non-violent protests during the National Anthem. Kaepernick famously knelt, with teammates, during the anthem during the 2016 season. He hasn’t played in the NFL since.
Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills tweeted “Save the bullshit” in response to Goodell’s statement.
Friday, as protests were erupting around the country, Vice President Mike Pence sent a tweet decrying the protests. But he followed it with a tweet that said, in part: “We will always stand for the right of Americans to peacefully protest and let their voices be heard.”
However, Pence memorably and famously did not stand for the right for Americans to peacefully protest when he walked out of an NFL game in 2017 after players knelt during the national anthem. As Nate Scott writes in USA TODAY: “In what was pretty clearly a publicity stunt at that Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game, Pence had done the opposite of what he was now saying in a tweet.”
Pence was quickly called out, including by Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who blasted Pence in a tweet: “You’ve gotta be kidding me. How do you have the gall to say this?”
--The Premier League is starting back up on June 17, assuming all safety requirements have been put in place. No fans, of course. The goal is to complete the season, all but two clubs with nine games remaining.
For the Brits, all 92 remaining matches will be broadcast live, many for free when normally most games are on subscription-based Sky Sports.
Failure to resume the season could cost the league around $920 million in lost revenue from broadcasters according to British media estimates.
--This has not been a good time for trainer Bob Baffert. One of his Triple Crown favorites, the No. 1 ranked 3-year-old, Nadal, coming off a win in the split division of the Arkansas Derby, his fourth straight, was retired following a workout at Santa Anita on Thursday after suffering a fracture to his left front leg. Nadal underwent surgery and had two screws inserted to repair a lateral condylar fracture. He had completed a half-mile workout. As a Grade 1 stakes winner, he now will be sent to the breeding shed.
Baffert trained the other winner of the Arkansas Derby division, Charlatan, who then tested for lidocaine; an approved drug, but only in certain dosages. The sport awaits the disposition of this case.
--The Boston Marathon, originally scheduled to be held in April and then postponed until September because of the pandemic, has now been cancelled for the first time in its history, organizers said on Thursday.
The race has been held annually since 1897.
The Chicago and New York City marathons slated for October and November, respectively, are still on as of now.
The 2020 Dublin Marathon, held in October, was cancelled. I ran in that in 1996. My friend (who ran it as well) and I purposely were staying at a hotel about two blocks from the finish line yet we were so whipped, a police officer helped us get back to the establishment.
But two pints later, we had rallied!
--A zookeeper was critically injured in a lion attack in Australia on Tuesday. The woman suffered face and neck injuries and at last word was in critical condition. The attack by two male lions occurred at Shoalhaven Zoo, about 90 miles south of Sydney. The zoo declined to issue any comment. Its been closed since March 25 due to coronavirus lockdown rules. It wasn’t known if the lions would be spared.
--I never gave a damn about Kylie Jenner or others of her ilk, but Kylie gets thrown into the December file for potential year-end hardware after a scathing report in Forbes accused her of lying about her wealth and forging tax returns in order to inflate her net worth.
Jenner has presented herself as a self-made billionaire and last year, Forbes named her the youngest such figure after she sold her makeup line, Kylie Cosmetics.
But Forbes said in its report on Friday, “Forbes now thinks that Kylie Jenner, even after pocketing an estimated $340 million after tax from the sale, is not a billionaire.”
Top 3 songs for the week 6/1/63: #1 “It’s My Party” (Lesley Gore…underrated artist…) #2 “If You Wanna Be Happy” (Jimmy Soul) #3 “I Love You Because” (Al Martino)…and…#4 “Surfin’ U.S.A.” (Beach Boys) #5 “Da Doo Ron Ron” (The Crystals) #6 “Two Faces Have I” (Lou Christie) #7 “You Can’t Sit Down” (The Dovells) #8 “I Will Follow Him” (Little Peggy March) #9 “Losing You” (Brenda Lee) #10 “Sukiyaki” (Kyu Sakamoto*…would be #1 two weeks later and stay there for three…just kind of funny the guy was given a shot…his only top 40, after all…another reason to love the 60s…musically, I hasten to add…otherwise… not America’s greatest decade…)
*Sakamoto was one of 520 people killed in the crash of a Japan Airlines 747 near Tokyo on 8/12/85 (age 43). This was a domestic flight from Tokyo to Osaka, the cause being sudden decompression (as a result of a faulty repair job years earlier). It remains the deadliest single-aircraft accident in aviation history.
La Liga Quiz Answers: 1) Since 2004-05, Barcelona has 10 La Liga titles, Real Madrid 4, and Atletico Madrid 1. 2) Since 1929, Real Madrid has won 33 titles, Barcelona 26, and Atletico 10. 3) Since 2008-09, the Ballon d’Or has gone to just Lionel Messi, 6 times, Cristiano Ronaldo, 5, and Luka Modric, 1 (2018, when he was at Real Madrid).
Next Bar Chat, Thursday…lots of golf, to celebrate the return of the PGA Tour in Fort Worth.