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NASCAR and Bubba
[Posted Tues. p.m.]
*** I wrote the segment on Bubba Wallace and NASCAR down below this afternoon. I am NOT in any way changing one word of it. Obviously, we all learned later that the FBI concluded that there was no hate crime committed at Talladega.
“The FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall,” NASCAR said in its statement. “This was obviously well before the team’s arrival and garage assignment.
“We appreciate the FBI’s quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba. We remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who love racing.”
So when you read my segment on the story, it seems like I was clueless, but it’s the danger in writing anything in these rapidly changing times. I also allude to my “wait 24 hours” rule, and you just have to trust me that when this story first came out, I had an uneasy feeling. Had I waited until Wednesday, my writeup is different. But you just have to understand that these days, with everything else that’s going on, including outside responsibilities I have, and with no live sports to wait on for Wednesday morning, I need to move on, thus the reason for Tuesday night postings.
The FBI’s conclusion, which we all should be thankful for, does not change in any way the stand Bubba Wallace took against the Confederate flag, which will continue to be an issue in the sport, especially at southern venues, for a long time to come.
Change is never easy. But the mood in the country is different these days. I appreciate those of you who continue to read this space.
*** Also late today, we learned there is going to be a baseball season. Maybe...if we can stop the current freakin’ spread!!! Wear your damn masks, people! I am not impressed by fake machismo.
Baseball Quiz: No-hitters, part II. 1) Who was the first black pitcher in MLB to throw a no-hitter? 2) Who am I? I threw a no-no in the 1960s while walking ten. 3) When Jerry Grote was on the Houston Colt .45s, he caught a no-hitter from what pitcher? Answers below.
MLB and its Players’ Union, Part XVIII
First off, as the Wall Street Journal’s sports team put it the other day, and as I pointed out last time, with hundreds of college football players having tested positive after returning to campus for practice, and with Major League Baseball having closed its training camps, and with the NBA rethinking its future in a bubble in Orlando, and the NHL season still up in the air…
“Sports are trying to stage a comeback. The virus is still winning.”
Which is why we have to appreciate golf and NASCAR even more these days…and European football.
But we have to move on…perhaps a bit oblivious at times, I grant you, though I’m sure not.
Or as the University of Central Florida’s football team posted on its official Twitter account the other day:
“Want to help us? Wear a mask.”
[Unedited after the above announcement, a la the NASCAR bit.]
Unable to forge an agreement between the two sides, Commissioner Rob Manfred exercised his authority Monday to impose a pandemic-shortened regular season – expected to be 60 games – without fans in attendance.
The players’ union rejected the owners’ latest 60-game proposal Monday afternoon, one that would have included an expanded postseason format, a universal designated hitter, 104% of prorated salary for players and a guaranteed $25 million in playoff pools in 2020.
MLB then released a statement stating clubs had “unanimously voted to proceed with the 2020 season under terms of the March 26 agreement” and asking the union to provide two pieces of information by 5 p.m. (EDT) Tuesday: whether players will be able to report to training camp in their respective cities by July 1 and whether the union will agree on the health and safety protocols “necessary to give us the best opportunity to conduct and complete our regular season and postseason.”
The season would start around July 24.
The distrust between the two sides is immense and with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring after the 2021 season, a 2022 lockout already seems probable.
Trevor Bauer, the outspoken pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, summed it up perfectly.
“It’s absolute death for this industry to keep acting as it has been. Both sides. We’re driving the bus straight off a cliff. How is this good for anyone involved? Covid-19 already presented a lose-lose-lose situation and we’ve somehow found a way to make it worse. Incredible.”
Bob Nightengale / USA TODAY Sports
“Sure, there will be games, but there’ll be hostility.
“Gone are the expanded playoffs.
“Gone are the enhanced broadcasts.
“Gone will be anything but minimal cooperation.
“There will be grievances exchanged, with each side accusing each other of intentionally sabotaging negotiations.
“There will be players ripping owners.
“There will be owners ripping players.
“There will be players who may elect to sit out the season.
“There will be lower-paid players who actually will be playing for free the rest of the year considering they already received their $285,000 in upfront money and will earn less with just 60 games remaining….
“It will be beyond ugly, with a free-agent market that will be virtually non-existent with teams snubbing players, blaming their economic losses. Players eligible for salary arbitration may now be non-tendered, flooding the marketplace. Players who have club options will be turned loose, too.
“There will be a long-term damage worth hundreds of millions of dollars caused by the impact of this stalemate….
“Thousands of employees have been fired or furloughed, with others taking massive pay cuts. The minor-league system has been gutted. The amateur draft has been disemboweled….
“The game is back, but who knows how it will look.
“Like it or not.”
In another terrific finish, Ryan Blaney held onto the lead after a restart with two laps to go Monday, earning his second straight win at Talladega Superspeedway, fourth of his career overall.
But Monday was all about NASCAR drivers throwing their support behind Bubba Wallace, an extraordinary pre-race act of solidarity with NASCAR’s only black driver, after a noose was discovered in his garage stall over the weekend. FBI agents are conducting an investigation into who left it there, but it is a restricted area and it almost certainly was the act of someone inside NASCAR, such as a driver or a crew member. Beyond that, I’m the ‘wait 24 hours’ guy and it’s not right to speculate.
What we saw, however, was dozens of drivers pushing Wallace’s car to the front of the field, in an incredibly emotional moment, with Wallace in tears. And standing alongside him was his team owner, the legendary Richard Petty, now 82, who didn’t have to be there because of his age and the coronavirus, but insisted on solidarity with his driver. It was a great moment for “The King,” and hopefully fathers told their sons and daughters about Petty’s career and the significance of the moment.
But an emotionally drained Wallace still had a race to run and he performed ably again, finishing 14th, while spending time in the top five, only he was basically out of fuel at the end and that killed his chances for a win.
He then slapped hands with a group of mostly African-American fans after the race, some 5,000 being allowed to watch the race*, only the second race with fans since NASCAR returned.
*Due to the rain washing out Sunday’s action, there were far fewer than 5,000 there on Monday.
“I’m proud to stand where I’m at. …This sport is changing,” Wallace said. “The deal that happened [Saturday] I wanted to show whoever it was, you are not going to take away my smile.”
It was a stirring move to support Wallace at a track known for flying Confederate flags for decades and there were still quite a few this weekend outside the superspeedway as in the short run, it is going to be tough to persuade those who oppose NASCAR’s ban on showing the flag on its properties.
“Been tough, been hell,” Wallace said after the race. “I wouldn’t say hell, just been hectic – carrying this weight, carrying this burden. I wouldn’t say burden either. I’m proud to stand where I’m at and carry a new face.”
Earlier, Wallace had denounced the hanging of the noose as a “despicable act of racism and hatred” that served as a “painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society.”
“As my mother told me today, ‘They are just trying to scare you,’” Wallace said in a statement on Twitter. “This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in.”
Richard Petty’s statement:
“I’m enraged by the act of someone placing a noose in the garage stall of my race team. There is absolutely no place in our sport or our society for racism. This filthy act serves as a reminder of how far we still have to go to eradicate racial prejudice and it galvanizes my resolve to use the resources of Richard Petty Motorsports to create change. The sick person who perpetrated this act must be found, exposed and swiftly and immediately expelled from NASCAR. I believe in my heart that this despicable act is not representative of the competitors I see each day in the NASCAR garage area. I stand shoulder to shoulder with Bubba, yesterday, today, tomorrow and every day forward.”
For its part, NASCAR vowed to permanently bar the person responsible, but the investigation is in its early stages.
LeBron James weighed in on Twitter: “Sickening! @BubbaWallace my brother! Know you don’t stand alone! I’m right here with you as well as every other athlete. I just want to continue to say how proud I am of you for continuing to take a stand for change here in America and sports! @NASCAR I salute you as well!”
Jerry Brewer / Washington Post
“Hate, not heritage. Pure hate. What else could prompt a person, or multiple people, to place a noose in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, the man who nudged NASCAR into finally outlawing the Confederate flag? For such a racist, there is only one threat greater than a trailblazing black driver with aspirations of change: a trailblazing black driver who succeeds at change.
“On Sunday, before bad weather delayed the race at Talladega Superspeedway, fans still angry about the flag ban waved their Confederacy relics as they drove by the racetrack. A plane also flew above the event towing both a flag and a banner that read ‘Defund NASCAR.’ The protests were inevitable, but it takes a disturbing combination of bigotry and nerve to try to intimidate Wallace in this manner. And when you consider that Wallace drives the No. 43 Chevrolet of Richard Petty Motorsports, this was also an attack on the sport’s greatest living legend.
“Forget the King, though. Gotta put Bubba in his pace.
“Problem is, it didn’t work. Wallace isn’t scared, and now NASCAR is on a mission to ‘identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport.’ With video surveillance and limited access to key areas because of novel coronavirus precautions, it shouldn’t be difficult to find the scum.
“ ‘As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all,’ NASCAR said in a statement announcing the incident.
“In this case, the transparency about the incident speaks well of the sport’s sincerity. For decades, NASCAR has been pursuing evolution, moving away from its perception as the favorite Southern redneck pastime and trying to broaden its audience. Few, if any, American sports leagues have gone to NASCAR’s lengths to overhaul its image and create a culture of diversity and inclusion. The sport has incredible strengths, particularly when it comes to technology and fan access, that suggest enormous potential for growth. But it has yet to prove its appeal fully to a broader, more diverse audience.
“Now, NASCAR has the biggest story in a barren sports world – and it is as ugly and inflaming as it gets. The extreme limited access to infields right now makes it overwhelmingly likely that someone with the sport is the perpetrator.
“Anyone want to talk about meritocracy and the lack of racism in sports today?
“Anyone want to use the ‘heritage, not hate’ excuse for the Confederate flag today?
“This is an important sports moment amid all the protests. Consider it evidence of how symbols and institutions are often used to keep black people down. For at least one person at Talladega on Sunday, it was so necessary to denounce pleas for unity and justice and to defend a flag – not the flag, a flag – that threatening to lynch Wallace felt like the right call. There’s a terrifying level of brokenness in that kind of twisted logic.
“Don’t talk to me about a few bad apples, either. The noose may be extreme, but in subtler ways, there is a widespread tendency to dehumanize African Americans who challenge and defy the norm.
“NASCAR called the noose incident a ‘heinous act.’ It was also something far more upsetting: expected. From the beginning, there was little doubt in my mind that Wallace would be mistreated for his stance. He put Black Lives Matter and messages of unity on his car and went after a symbol that white Southerners have held on to for a shamefully long time. Some kind of retaliation was coming.
“Hate, not heritage. Pure hate.
“Racists can’t stand a powerful black sports figure. That’s why people once broke into Bill Russell’s suburban Boston house, scrawled racial epithets on the walls and defecated on his bed. That’s why one of LeBron James’ Los Angeles homes was vandalized with a racial slur three years ago.
“When racists feel themselves shrinking, they get all kinds of nasty. They want to show strength, superiority. But it just makes them shrivel more. After a while, all that’s left is a coward.”
--The Ryder Cup is expected to be officially postponed to 2021 next week. The PGA of America announced that the first major of the year, the PGA Championship, will be held in early August at Harding Park in San Francisco without fans, while talks between the PGA of America and the European Tour, who preside jointly over the Ryder Cup, are close to completion.
As Rory McIlroy noted long ago, you can’t hold the Ryder Cup without fans and having spectators, in any great number, simply isn’t an option, let alone bringing thousands over from Europe.
So the Ryder Cup will remain in “odd” years following the switch, as was the case before 9/11 led to a 12-month delay to its 2001 version. Europe will now have to wait until 2023 for a home Ryder Cup, which will be in Italy.
It’s possible, according to the Irish Times, that a delayed Irish Open could fill the Ryder Cup slot, giving the Euro Tour a shot in the arm.
It hasn’t been set in stone as yet whether the Presidents Cup, which is a property of the PGA Tour, will move to 2022.
--Meanwhile, the first five events of the Tour’s reopening are being held without fans, including this week’s Travelers in Cromwell, Conn.
But in Week Six, The Memorial at Jack’s place, Muirfield Village Golf Club, will have fans, even though Muirfield is hosting another tournament without fans the week before (the John Deere having been moved to Ohio…where it will be the Workday Charity Open).
Then the two events after Memorial, the 3M and PGA Championship, will both have no fans. There are two other late July/early August tournaments, the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and Barracuda Classic that could have fans but it hasn’t been decided yet.
But as Rob Oller of the Columbus Dispatch (and Golfweek) notes, “the Memorials’ reputation also is at risk, especially among those who question why fans will be allowed in when other tournaments, both before and after, are keeping them out.”
Yet tournament director Dan Sullivan and Jack Nicklaus believe it is a risk worth taking.
Ah yes, Jack Nicklaus. There is a definite political twist here and it’s the elephant in the room. I try like hell to leave politics out of this column (the Protests to me are a totally different issue).
But Jack is an overt Trump supporter. That aspect was left out of Rob Oller’s article. I’ll leave it at that. And of course the health situation could change.
Ohio is not out of the woods when it comes to the coronavirus. In fact, cases are on the rise…consistently 500 or more new ones a day recently.
--Not for nothing but Webb Simpson is playing as well as anyone these days, with four top 3s in his last six regular tour events. He is No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings and now, suddenly, No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Go Deacs!
--Speaking of the FedEx Cup, with the shortened season, and 13 canceled events, plenty of big-name golfers who thought they had plenty of time to play their way into the top 125 after the final regular-season event, the Wyndham Championship (Aug. 13-16), now have just eight weeks left to improve their position and make the cut.
Because of the fall season, there are also a lot of relative unknowns in the top 30 currently, like Nick Taylor (No. 22), Tyler Duncan (No. 28), Tom Hoge (No. 26) and Carlos Ortiz (No. 29).
But then you have Dustin Johnson, No. 103; Rickie Fowler 105; Justin Rose 107 (even after a 3rd and 14th the last two weeks).
Outside the playoff cut-line we have Sergio Garcia at No. 126; Brooks Koepka 148 (up from No. 204 with his seventh-place finish at Harbour Town); and Open champion Shane Lowry at 145. [Bill Haas, No. 195…c’mon, Billy!]
The tennis superstar was one of the first to question the USTA’s move to hold the U.S. Open in its scheduled slot, though without fans, with Djokovic saying his safety would be compromised if he played in Flushing Meadows, New York.
So then the jerk holds a wild tennis party as part of a charity tournament he was holding in both Serbia and Croatia and his opponent in his match, Borna Coric, later tested positive, along with Grigor Dimitrov, the No. 14-ranked player in the world. The event was cancelled.
A video emerged of the party, a who’s who of European tennis, and it highlights Dimitrov and Djokovic, as well as Alex Zverez, Dominic Thiem, Filip Krajinovic, Dusan Lajovic and Jelena Jankovic for throwing caution to the wind and partying together at a club in Belgrade.
The party, per the video on Twitter, gets totally out of hand, everyone dancing next to each other.
Tuesday, we then learned Djokovic himself had tested positive, along with his wife. Another player, Viktor Troicki, joined Coric and Dimitrov…so four players.
“Unfortunately, this virus is still present, and it is a new reality that we are still learning to cope and live with. I am hoping things will ease with time so we can all resume lives the way they were,” Djokovic said in a statement. “I am extremely sorry for each individual case of infection. I hope that it will not complicate anyone’s health situation and that everyone will be fine.”
Into the December file you go, Novak. Expect some unique hardware.
More on Protest-related Issues….
--Mississippi State senior running back Kylin Hill indicated on Monday he would not continue to play football for the university unless the state flag is changed.
“Either change the flag or I won’t be representing this State anymore,” Hill tweeted. He also added “I meant that…I’m tired.”
Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach told the Clarion Ledger he supports Hill in speaking out.
“The biggest thing is that Kylin is entitled to his opinion just like everybody is,” Leach said. ‘If Kylin chooses to express his opinion, I think he should if he wants to. I think he definitely should because all opinions on all issues should be heard.
“I think that’s where we run into trouble in particular – the dialogue isn’t quite what it should be. Not everybody is listening to one another, and I think we have to get to that point. I applaud Kylin’s right to express his opinion really on any subject.”
Hill’s tweet was in response to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ explanation of why he believes creating a second state flag would not be appropriate. Reeves said having two state flags would “divide our state more.”
Hill tweeted in response to his original one that he was born in Mississippi and knows too well what that symbols stands for.
Hill led the SEC in rushing last year with 1,350 yards and ten touchdowns and was expected to be a huge factor in Leach’s offense.
--Lakers owner Jeanie Buss shared a letter sent to her from a fan that contained racist and misogynistic epithets so that “everyone can see the hate is real and living out there.”
Buss published the two-sentence letter to her Instagram on Friday, which fell on the Juneteenth federal holiday that marks the official end of slavery in the U.S. 155 years ago.
“Dear Whore,” it began.
“After 60 years as a huge Lakers fan, I now say to hell with the overpaid n----r traitors and the NBA. Go to hell and join [expletive] Kobe Bryant.”
“After much thought, I decided to share this letter I received on Monday so that everyone can see the hate is real and living out there,” the 58-year-old Buss, who is white, wrote in the caption to her 155,000 followers. “This is happening in our world TODAY. Its real and it exists.”
“To Joe: Did sending this letter make you feel better?” Buss added. “Really all you did was waste your time, and energy and your postage stamp. (But thank you for including your return home address.) Why don’t you look in the mirror and see your ugliness because I refuse to. I have received letters like this over the years. The advice I always got? ‘Ignore it.’ I did. But not anymore.”
Buss concluded the caption by imploring her “white friends to join together, acknowledge the racism that exists in our country and around the world, and pledge to stop ignoring it. We all must do better.”
LeBron reposted the message and wrote, “LOVE YOU JEANIE!!!”
Top 3 songs for the week 6/20/70: #1 “The Long And Winding Road” (The Beatles) #2 “The Love You Save” (The Jackson 5) #3 “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” (The Poppy Family)…and…#4 “Get Ready” (Rare Earth) #5 “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)” (Three Dog Night) #6 “Ball Of Confusion” (The Temptations) #7 “Love On A Two-Way Street” (The Moments) #8 “The Letter” (Joe Cocker) #9 “Hitchin’ A Ride” (Vanity Fare) #10 “Lay Down” (Melanie with The Edwin Hawkins Singers…not a great week… ‘C’ …)
*Dr. W. and the great Connie W. were driving across South Carolina the other day (to go to Kiawah, where until recently we’ve hooked up each year, Connie kicking my butt in the half-marathon), and they were listening to Sirius’ 80s channel and the final top hits from the Billboard top 500 from the decade.
“What a horrific collection of hits,” wrote the Good Doctor. “Number One, you ask? Why, it’s Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Let’s Get Physical.’ How about we erase the entire 1980s musical scene from the history books. No one will miss it.”
I’m in total agreement. A lot of us want to erase 2020 as well these days. And we still have six months to go, including a certain something on Nov. 3rd. Ugh.
Gee, do you think vast quantities of alcohol will be consumed on New Year’s Eve? Far more so than ever before? Me thinks so. Actually, we should all scream out of our windows at midnight, “Blank you, 2020!”
Baseball Quiz Answers: 1) Sam Jones threw a no-hitter on 5/12/55 for the Cubs, the first African-American to do so, 4-0 over Pittsburgh, striking out 6 and walking 7 (including starting the ninth by walking the bases loaded and then striking out the side, including Roberto Clemente). Jones was 14-20 that season and 102-101 for his career, including 21-15 for the Giants in 1958, with a league-leading 2.83 ERA. Jones tragically died at the age of 45 of “neck” cancer. 2) Cincinnati’s Jim Maloney threw a 10-inning no-hitter on Aug. 19, 1965, as the Reds beat the Cubs 1-0, Maloney striking out 12 while walking 10 (the most for any complete game no-hitter in history, best I can ascertain). Too bad we don’t have a pitch count on this one. 3) Jerry Grote caught a no-hitter thrown by Ken Johnson, 4/23/64, but owing to three errors, Houston lost to Cincinnati and Joe Nuxhall 1-0.
One of the ‘worst’ no-hitters in baseball history was thrown by Steve Barber and Stu Miller of Baltimore, 4/30/67, as the Orioles lost to Detroit 2-1. Barber walked 10 in 8 2/3, plus he hit two batters and threw two wild pitches, before Miller finished off the no-no.
Back to Grote, he was involved in one of the better trades in Mets history; the Mets sending pitcher Tom Parsons and cash to Houston for Grote after the 1965 season. Parsons had gone 1-10 for the Mets in ’65 and never pitched in the majors again (2-13 lifetime), while Grote was a Mets mainstay for over 11 seasons, one of the best-fielding catchers of his generation. He just had the misfortune of being in the same era as Johnny Bench, who scarfed up all the Gold Glove awards during that time. Grote did make two All-Star teams.
Next Bar Chat, Monday.