All Wet

1) ESPN has apologized for its (among other things) apparently poorly-sourced report on when Michael Sam takes a shower. His teammate Chris Long took to twitter to communicate the appropriate response:

 

 

2) Timberwolves’ owner Glen Taylor shared his basketball wisdom with the wider world yesterday. Taylor, whose team hasn’t made the playoffs in more than a decade, opined yesterday on recently traded star Kevin Love. Taylor said Love could struggle in Cleveland. Love, Taylor averred, might have to play more defense in Cleveland, that he’s foul-prone and that he – not LeBron, mind you – would be blamed if the team didn’t do well. Yeah.

By the way, according to data at Box Score Geeks, the average power forward commits five fouls per every 48 minutes. Love has averaged 3.3 fouls per 48 minutes during his career.

If by “foul-prone” Taylor means that Love “sometimes commits fouls,” he is correct. If, on the other hand, he meant to use the term the way everyone else understands it, he’s wrong. Nice to see that Taylor is so well-informed about his players. The Twolves, for those scoring at home, haven’t made the playoffs in a decade.

Love is 25, Taylor is 73 so, naturally, it was left to the 25-year old to act like an adult when asked about Taylor’s comments (at about the 5:30 mark of his interview today with Mike and Mike).

Pete Rose, Heisman Voting

1) Keith Olbermann had a special last night marking the 25th anniversary of Pete Rose’s banishment from baseball. The protestations of Rose’s defenders notwithstanding, betting on your own team to win is, indeed, a very serious transgression that goes directly to the game’s integrity. Nevertheless, Rose should be given a chance to appear on the ballot for Hall of Fame voting. And Commissioner Selig’s refusal to answer questions about what Rose might or might not do to be considered for reinstatement is disgraceful.

But I am not sure anything about the Rose saga has me more bothered than something Olbermann discussed last night and that I had somehow missed. In 1999, before the second game of the World Series, Major League Baseball introduced its all-century team, determined by a fan vote earlier that year. Pete Rose was among those voted onto the team. His lifetime ban precludes him from having any involvement in baseball activities. In fact, Olbermann said last night, the Reds were once admonished when Rose appeared on the field at a minor league game.

However, in 1999, Major League Baseball allowed Rose onto the field before Game Two of its signature event. Why is that? How did a guy serving a lifetime ban get onto MLB’s biggest stage?

According to Olbermann, it’s because that all-century team balloting was sponsored by MasterCard, which wanted the entire team to appear when it was announced. All of the principle of keeping Rose from the game because of his unforgivable offense gave way before a simple cash consideration. In fact, three months prior, at the all-star game in Fenway Park that year, Rose was not in attendance because, the Commissioner said, his lifetime ban precluded his attendance at those kinds of functions. Olbermann described Selig’s hypocrisy in this context as “subtle, but shameful.” He’s certainly right about the second part. I am not sure I see anything subtle about it, though.  The handling of Rose in ’99 bespeaks a basic truth – the commissioner’s sanctimony about the integrity of the game should not be taken seriously given that he’s been willing, on more than one occasion, to sell it off for the sake of economic expedience.

2) Paul Finebaum was on with Mike and Mike this morning. The conversation turned to Heisman voting. Specifically, the SEC guru was asked, what were the chances of Jameis Winston lifting the trophy for a second consecutive year? Finebaum said the odds were slim. He pointed out that Johnny Manziel was better last year than he was his freshman season, when he took home college football’s biggest prize. Finebaum noted that Manziel had drawn a lot of negative publicity to himself in the off-season following his Heisman win, and that voters probably held it against him. Likewise, Winston had, in Finebaum’s estimation, a bad offseason. Voters were likely going to hold that against him. In fact, the bespectacled one said that “those of us who vote…will go against him.”

This is, quite simply, outrageous. If voters can so brazenly assert, before there has been a single, solitary snap, that they’ve already decided who they are – and aren’t – voting for, then the voting, quite simply, is a joke. And so is the award. Sports commentators insist that they are to be taken seriously as objective analysts, especially when they are voting on major awards. Dan LeBatard was banished from Baseball’s Hall of Fame voting because he dared question that shibboleth last year. Particularly, after Finebaum’s wildly premature declaration of his own voting intentions, I’d like to see some intrepid Heisman voters put their ballots up for crowdsourcing. Because Finebaum has made a mockery of the process.

The Cubs and…Obamacare?

A caution – we haven’t yet heard a complete account from the Cubs. But the story that has been making the rounds is that the fiasco at Wrigley Field Tuesday night – when an apparently understaffed grounds crew contributed to the washing out of a game between the Giants and the Cubs and resulted in the first successful game protest in three decades – resulted from the decision of Cubs management to cut back on hours to avoid paying health insurance under Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act requires companies with 50 or more employees to either provide health insurance to full-time workers, as defined by the law, or pay a fine. This is the so-called employer mandate. It was supposed to be operative in 2014, but under intense lobbying from businesses and protests from Republicans in Congress, President Obama delayed the mandate until next year (if you’re following such matters, the lawsuit that Republicans recently filed against Obama for abuse of his authority derives from this decision. And yes, to repeat, it’s a decision Republicans *wanted* Obama to take).

Because some crew members had been sent home early to keep their hours down, when the rains came, the remaining staff struggled to get the tarp down in time to prevent the soaking of the infield. The game was called with the Cubs ahead and they were originally declared the winners. But the Giants protested because, they argued, it was the incompetence of the Cubs that resulted in the field being unplayable. MLB, for the first time since 1986, upheld the protest. The Cubs did end up winning when the game was resumed two days later.

Forbes rates the Cubs as the fourth most valuable franchise in MLB, behind the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox and as the most profitable last year. The Cubs are negotiating new TV contracts now and it’s estimated that those will be worth in excess of $200 million a year to the organization (again, that’s just their own television deals). Thomas Ricketts is the Cubs owner and his family’s worth is estimated at one billion dollars. He’s the son of the founder of Ameritrade.

The calculations are a little less straightforward than this, but the fine for not paying health insurance, once the mandate kicks on, is between $2000 and $3000 a year. Even if we’re talking about 100 employees (an over-estimate), the mandate would cost them $200,000 to $300,000 a year, assuming they had maintained their previous hours.

This Deadspin account includes video of the hapless effort to cover the field. It also notes that the decision to cut back hours may not have been specifically triggered by Obamacare but, rather, by general cost-cutting. Regardless of the cause of the cost-cutting, this strikes me as another nice encapsulation of America, circa 2014.

Baseball and PEDs

Last summer, Joe Sheehan was circulating data about contact to home run rates among major league hitters over the past two decades (I discussed those data here). The premise was that those rates seemed to be fluctuating pretty randomly, suggesting that steroids played less of a role in the spike in the late 1990s in homeruns in particular and offense more generally than the standard narrative suggested. The reasoning – that steroids should have produced a consistent increase in the relationship between contact and home runs. Instead, Sheehan’s data showed no obvious pattern – contact resulting in balls leaving the park was not obviously higher during the steroids era than in recent years. Sheehan didn’t, for the purposes of that exercise, do any statistical analysis, like regression. As far as I understood, he was just sort of eye-balling the data. (Sheehan’s analysis is here).

The post I wrote at the time was sympathetic to Sheehan’s conclusions. But his analysis – at least what I saw of it – was incomplete. And regardless, even if this very broadly aggregate data suggested there was more to the story of the power surge of the so-called steroids era, it was hard not to conclude that at least *some* players had power spikes that would be difficult to explain without reference to PEDs. McGwire’s extraordinary run between 1995 and 1999, Sosa’s three 60-plus homer seasons, Bonds absurd performance from 2001 and 2004 – all would seem to have to be attributable, at least to some degree, to the use of performance enhancing drugs. Obviously, there are more, but those are perhaps the three highest profile cases.

So, I am not here to debate whether they used, or whether use was common, or whether common usage played some significant role in the offensive surge of the era. But here’s what I’ve been wondering about lately. Offensive performances have dropped so dramatically that no one in the game today puts up the kinds of numbers we saw routinely 10-15 years ago. Let me give a few examples to lay out what I am puzzling over.

1) Ryan Howard – Howard blasted 58 homeruns in 2006. He followed that up with 47 in 2007, 48 in 2008 and 45 in 2009. Since the start of the 2011, we’ve had exactly one 45-plus homer season – Chris Davis’ 53 last year. There may well be zero 45 homer performances in 2014.

I have never heard anyone accuse Howard of using PEDs. I have no idea whether he did or not, but this is not an accusation at all. It’s just part of what, as I said above, I am wondering about.

2) Between 2001 and 2003, Jim Thome hit 49, 52 and 47 homers. When he retired after the 2012 season with 612 career dingers, he was universally praised as one of the good ones, a guy who didn’t cheat to get ahead. Again, I have no idea what he put in his body, but no one around the game ever case aspersions on his performance.

3) Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt, recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, put up Ted Williams-esque numbers for much of his career beginning in the early 1990s. Between 1991 and 1997, his first full seasons in the majors, Thomas had an OBP of better than .450 five times. In 1994, he slugged a ridiculous .729. Since the start of the 2009 season, there has been one such season (Votto got on base at a .477 clip in 2012. A couple of others have come close).  No one has slugged better than .650 since Pujols in 2009.  It’s universally assumed that Thomas was not a user. Obviously, the hall of fame voters believe he was clean.

4) Ken Griffey, Jr. smashed 49, 56, 56 and 48 taters between 1996 and 1999. Again, he’s never been associated with steroid use.

One more, for now….

5) Todd Helton – in 2000, his triple slash was a ridiculous .372/.463/.698. Yes, he played in the greatest hitter’s park ever. But his road triple slash was nothing to sneeze at:  .353/.441/.633. Since the start of the 2010 season, only one player (Cabrera in 2013) has chalked up a better OPS than Helton’s road OPS in 2000. Again, no one has accused Helton of using.

There’s plenty more.

I am leaving out all the eye-popping numbers from anyone about whom any doubts have been raised: Bagwell (whom I think has been particularly unfairly treated), Albert Belle, Mike Piazza, Arod, of course, Manny, Ortiz, Giambi and so on. I am only thinking of guys who have, by near consensus, been deemed to have done it “the right way.”

And yes, I am cherry-picking some. But my point is this – no one in the game today is putting up the kinds of numbers that players were 10-15 years ago, including players with pristine reputations.

So, here’s my question: unless you believe that all these guys were using – and most people don’t, including the likes of Bob Costas – what explains the fact that we saw so many crazy offensive performances a decade ago compared to now? Something else is going on. Some of those possible something elses are addressed in the link above. Shifts, some new pitcher-friendly ballparks, perhaps PEDs that benefit pitchers more than hitters are among the candidates. In any event, more serious analysis is warranted to understand the dramatic change we’ve seen. PEDs can’t explain nearly all of it.

At least that’s my take. Happy to hear comments, suggestions, alternative perspectives, etc.

 

Our Old Friend, Texas AD Steve Patterson, is in Midseason Form

In a sit-down with Texas Monthly Magazine, Steve “Total Socialism” Patterson continues to distinguish himself as among the NCAA’s most incorrigible and scattershot defenders. As I’ve written before about NCAA President Dr. Mark Emmert, Patterson seems undeterred by the prospect of contradicting himself from one sentence to the next. This is the guy who, you’ll recall, denigrated as “total socialism” the suggestion that the wealthiest football schools should share more of their wealth, scoffing at the idea that programs that attract fans and TV dollars have an obligation to those that don’t. And this very same guy has insisted that it would be bad for America if players in the sports that draw those fans and TV dollars receive *any* added benefit in comparison with athletes in sports who don’t generate comparable revenue. In other words, when it comes to allocating spoils among *athletes* in the different sports, he’s all for ‘total socialism.’

Patterson was at the top of his game with Texas Monthly. For example, he first lamented the fact that:

“We have allowed ourselves to be trapped,” he says. “All of us, the NCAA, colleges, coaches, and athletics directors. We have done a very poor job of talking about what college athletics really is all about for the 99.5 percent of student-athletes who will never play professional sports. We have allowed ourselves to have a discussion about that half percent.”

OK, so when we talk about what makes college athletics such a benevolent enterprise, we shouldn’t be talking about the .5%.

Naturally, therefore, he then said this:

“I don’t think college athletes are the equivalent of minor-league football players,” he says. “They are students who wouldn’t get into the university but for the athletics and wouldn’t stay in the university but for the sports. If you look at them as a group, approximately eighty percent of them are the first in their families to go to college. In American colleges in general that group has about a fifteen percent graduation rate. With athletes, the rate jumps to between seventy-five and eighty percent. That is because of the resources the university puts toward helping them.”

Of course, if we are talking about *all* NCAA athletes, including the swimmers, the tennis players, the golfers, gymnasts, lacrosse players and so on, then Patterson’s assertions about first generation college students and graduation rates are simply not applicable. Athletes from those sports come largely from affluent families, are not first generation college students and graduate at very high rates (Patterson’s assertions about graduation rates even in his intended comparison group are misleading at best, and flat out wrong at worst). Patterson, as is the habit among NCAA deadenders, has shifted the goalposts. When it’s convenient to talk about the 99.5% when trying to downplay the importance of football and basketball to the whole model, he does so. But when it’s convenient to extoll the charitable nature of the enterprise, then it’s precisely the .5% that he focuses on.

And by the way, the 99.5% vs .5% paradigm is a joke for another obvious reason. Those sports I mentioned above – swimming, golf, gymnastics etc. – have little to nothing to do with whether Steve Patterson keeps his job. Everyone knows that. Including him.

It’s worth noting that Patterson’s characterization of the academic level of the football players also contradicts the party line among his peers. If you’ve heard Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick recently, or Bubba Cunningham or any other AD from a big-time collegiate sports school, you know what that line is: we only accept students who can do the work at the university. Education is the number one priority. Our student-athletes are, indeed, students first. By contrast, Patterson is saying as clearly as one can that these are academic charity cases. They’d simply have no place at the university but for their athletic ability. They are not students first. They are lucky we’ve admitted them to our august premises. They sure didn’t earn it on the merits.

Patterson does no better in trying to explain why the Vince Youngs and Johnny Manziels should receive *zero* dollars for the use of their names, images and likenesses:

“I am not saying they did not benefit the university. But you have to understand that both parties benefit. The university is largely creating the value. The athletes are trading on the value the universities have created. No corporations are going to be lining up to pay them money out of high school. They also get a huge benefit on the college stage by having such assets as strength coaches, nutritionists, psychological support, tutors, mentors, media training. All of that costs money. It is too easy for those in the sports press to say, ‘You are manipulating and using these kids. You are giving them nothing.’ We are not giving them nothing.”

By this logic, it’s hard to fathom how his football coach could be worth $5 million a year, or Patterson himself could be worth nearly $2 million a year. Indeed, coaching salaries make no sense at all if conversations about compensation begin with the premise that it’s the universities that create the value. Charlie Strong might be a terrific coach. But he cannot possibly be deemed responsible for the brand that is Texas football. And Steve Patterson sure as hell isn’t.

No one, by the way, is arguing that the players are receiving “nothing.” But what many critics, and now a federal judge, do argue is that the schools have conspired to fix compensation below its fair market price for college athletes in football and men’s basketball.

Patterson also made the ridiculous assertion that it would “almost certainly” be the case that rowers and soccer players and such would sue on equal pay grounds if football players received additional compensation. Yeah, because the rowing and volleyball coaches are suing the university right now because they’re not making as much as the football coach. And major league baseball players are constantly in court to claim that it’s illegal for some of their brethren to draw higher salaries than others.

Could Patterson himself really believe this nonsense?

There’s something wrong with American culture

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Arguably, there’s lots wrong. But what I have in mind at the moment is this: there is a steady stream of corpses and general brutality on American television. Indeed, rivers of blood, much of it spilt in quite gory fashion, suffuses our airwaves.

And yet, and pardon my french here, but we digitize a middle-fucking-finger?! (and of course, there was mass hysteria when we caught the briefest glimpse of Janet Jackson’s nipple.

Seriously, what is wrong with us?

That’s about as much Johnny Manziel commentary as I can muster at the moment.

As much as sports media have given themselves over to the almost non-stop worship of all things football, I get the feeling that even many of them cannot pretend to find compelling what has simply been dreadful, indeed unwatchable, preseason football. So, we end up talking – to repeat myself – about a fucking middle finger.

Yeesh.

 

Kareem on Ferguson (update below)

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer has a provocative piece in Time Magazine on Ferguson in broader context. It ranges from the killing of two students at Jackson State University in 1970 (an event that took place within days of the Kent State massacre but which received little media attention); to the payday loan industry; to the realities of middle class decline in America and to the ways in which race contributes to, but can distract from our understanding of power and and injustice:

With each of these shootings/chokehold deaths/stand-your-ground atrocities, police and the judicial system are seen as enforcers of an unjust status quo. Our anger rises, and riots demanding justice ensue. The news channels interview everyone and pundits assign blame.

Then what?

I’m not saying the protests in Ferguson aren’t justified—they are. In fact, we need more protests across the country. Where’s our Kent State? What will it take to mobilize 4 million students in peaceful protest? Because that’s what it will take to evoke actual change. The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

It’s an admirable essay.

To their credit, Grantland has a moving reflection by contributing writer Rembert Browne about his experience there last week.

I wrote something about Ferguson in broader context late last week, fyi.

I am curious as to whether we might hear from some active professional athletes, as was the case in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing.

Update: I missed this, but the Washington defensive backfield participated in the “hands up, don’t shoot” protest at the beginning of the Monday night game.