Post-series schadenfreude, Amazin’ edition

It turns out that predictions about how bad the Brewers would be this season may have been exaggerated, largely because there are worse teams on the Brewers schedule.

One of them is the Mets, swept by the Brewers this weekend 7–4, 11–4 and 11–9.  Friday starting pitcher Matt Harvey gave up three home runs, two of them pinch-hit, one of those described by a Facebook Friend as appearing to have been hit by a guy in the accounting department. Meanwhile starting pitcher Matt Garza, one of the worst acquisitions in Brewers history in terms of performance for pay, resembled a major league starting pitcher.

The Mets pitching staff gave up eight home runs on the weekend. According to the New York Daily News Mets starters have the worst earned run average in baseball and have pitched the third fewest innings in the National League.

It turns out that Harvey has more problems than giving up gopherballs, Page Six reports:

Supermodel Adriana Lima was still slinging arrows at The Dark Knight Saturday, as diehard Mets fans trolled her for breaking the hurler’s heart.

“U ruined Matt Harvey” fumed nicholaspetro43.

“You ruined the Mets season go away!” taunted dadinoooo.

But the bodacious Brazilian did not shrink from her critics. “There is always two sides of the coin,” she responded. “Only 1 has been heard.”

Harvey was suspended for three games last week after he failed to show up for the May 6 game against the Marlins.

The Post exclusively reported Harvey spent the night before drinking — drowning his sorrows after Lima posted an Instagram photo showing her stepping out with a former beau, New England Patriots wide receiver ­Julian Edelman.

On Saturday, throw out the Brewers’ fifth inning, and it would have been a close ballgame. Unfortunately for the Mets, the Brewers scored eight runs in their fifth inning.

Then on Sunday the Mets had a 7–1 lead that disappeared like watching the Titanic sink.

The New York Post, never one for a measured response for a local team failure when gasoline can be poured on the fire, wrote:

So this is life for the Mets without Jeurys Familia.

There is no guarantee the Mets would have won Sunday’s game even if their All-Star closer was active, not with the manner the ball was jumping at Miller Park, but calling Addison Reed’s number for five-out saves sure doesn’t seem like a recipe for success.

But that’s where the Mets were after Jerry Blevins, Fernando Salas and Josh Edgin all pitched to some level of disappointment. Reed surrendered a three-run homer to Manny Pina, sending the Mets to the bottom of Lake Michigan in a painful fourth straight loss, 11-9 to the Brewers.

“Slider down,” Reed said, when asked what he was trying to throw Pina. “I think it was down the middle of the plate.”

That assessment summarized the final three innings for the Mets, a torturous stretch in which the Brewers scored 10 runs against Jacob deGrom and an overwhelmed bullpen. The Mets led 7-1 heading to bottom of the sixth before the Brewers scored two, three and five runs in their final three at-bats.

The save situation was the Mets’ first since Familia underwent surgery Friday for a blood clot in his right shoulder that will keep him sidelined for three to four months.

“We had a big lead and we blew it,” said deGrom, who slogged through six innings in which he allowed four earned runs on eight hits with seven strikeouts and one walk. …

“We have a clubhouse full of veterans and they have all been through a game like this,” [manager Terry] Collins said. “They have all been through a series like this before and you have got to rise out of the ashes and get back on the horse.”

As a result of the weekend and their opponent as described by the Mets manager’s mixed metaphor, the Brewers are one game out of first place in the National League Central Division. I highly doubt the Brewers will be anywhere near first place by the end of the season, but if teams are going to give games to you, you might as well take them.

“Let out that yell now for our great team …”

A Facebook Friend posted a snippet of this, and since this blog didn’t exist when published in 2010 this seems a good time to re-reveal the Wisconsin State Journal’s list of best Madison La Follette boys athletes.

The State Journal’s Tom Oates supervised the votes of the best at-least-two-sport athletes of all time from Madison’s eight high schools, six of which still exist today. (The other two were the University of Wisconsin High School, open from 1914 to 1964, and Central,  which closed in 1969. Malcolm Shabazz City School has no sports, so they weren’t included. The top 60, up to 2010m included …

5. Gary Anderson, Class of 1969

Sports: Football, basketball, baseball

Honors:

• All-city, all-Big Eight and second-team all-state quarterback as a senior; also named city and Big Eight player of the year

• Two-time all-city, all-Big Eight and all-state pick in basketball (first-team all-state in 1970, fourth-team in 1969); also two-time city player of the year and two-time Big Eight scoring leader

• Two-time all-city outfielder in baseball

• Three-year starter in basketball at UW, earning team MVP and all-Big Ten second-team honors as a senior

• Drafted by NBA’s Washington Bullets and ABA’s San Antonio Spurs

Quotable: Former La Follette coach Pete Olson: “Mr. Smooth. He made everything look easy.”

Gary and his younger brother Ross, who played on La Follette’s first state champion team in 1977 and then played football at UW, and brothers Dean and Steve had a younger brother, Craig, who was a senior when I was a freshman. Everyone looked up to Craig because (1) he was 6-foot-6 and (2) a great athlete who (3) didn’t let it go to his head; he was really the kind of high school athlete, including in demeanor, you want to have. Craig was a reserve on Ross’ 1977 state champion team when freshmen were never on the varsity, and then he got to state in 1980, along with three state boys volleyball trips. Craig played basketball at Iowa, but nobody’s perfect.

17. Jonte Flowers, Class of 2003

Sports: Football, basketball, track

Honors

• Two-time all-city and all-Big Eight as an end and defensive back in football

• City back of the year and Big Eight receiver of the year as a senior

• All-state first-team in football as a senior

• Three-time all-city and two-time all-Big Eight pick in basketball

• City and Big Eight basketball player of the year as a senior

• All-state first-team in basketball as a senior

• Played on WIAA Division 1 state basketball champion as a junior

• Third in high jump as La Follette won title at the WIAA state track meet in 2002

• Played football at UW as a freshman

• Transferred to Winona State and played four years of basketball; starred on team that won NCAA Division II titles in 2006 and 2008 and lost in the final in 2007

• Division II second-team all-American and voted most outstanding player in NCAA tournament in 2008, scoring 30 points in the final

Quotable: Capital Times sportswriter Adam Mertz: “His resume reads like something from the ‘50s. No one was as dominant in three sports over the previous three decades. Didn’t figure out his best sport until college.”

18. Nathan Brown, Class of 2002

Sports: Football, basketball, track

Honors

• Two-time all-city and all-Big Eight halfback and linebacker

• City back of the year as a senior

• All-state first-team linebacker in 2001, second team in 2000

• All-city honorable mention in basketball as a senior

• Won both hurdles events and the 1,600 relay in leading La Follette to the Division 1 WIAA state track title in 2002

• Also won intermediate hurdles and was second in high hurdles in 2001

• Recruited by UW for football but had to drop the sport for medical reasons

• Lettered five years in track at UW

• Won the heptathlon at the Big Ten Indoor meet and the decathlon at the Big Ten Outdoor meet in 2006

Quotable: State Journal sportswriter Rob Hernandez: “This kid might have been the smartest all-around athlete on this list. He used his brains to complement his natural ability.”

23. Rick Olson, Class of 1982

Sports: Basketball, baseball

Honors

• Two-time all-city and all-Big Eight in basketball

• First-team all-state as senior, when he set city single-season scoring record (694 points) and was the city, Big Eight and state player of the year

• Leading scorer on WIAA state basketball champion in 1982

• All-city and all-Big Eight outfielder in baseball as a senior

• Four-year starter in basketball at UW

• Still fifth in career points at UW with 1,736

• Scored 39 points in one game in 1984 and averaged 20.4 points in 1986

• Team MVP in 1986 and all-Big Ten honorable mention in 1984 and 1986

• Drafted by NBA’s Houston Rockets

There is no quote, so I will provide one. On La Follette’s 25th anniversary year, I did a story about 25 years of La Follette boys basketball and asked Olson’s coach, Pete Olson (not related to Rick, nor to a future sportswriter at the same newspaper named, yes, Pete Olson) for his top list of players of all time. He simply took his top five scorers list, which included the aforementioned Anderson and Olson, who at the time was the school’s career and single-season scoring leader. I couldn’t find his career total, but he scored 697 points in the 25-game 1981–82 season. That’s 27.8 points per game, without the three-point shot, by a 6–1 guard. But don’t believe me, read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Badgers basketball coach Bo Ryan was asked to comment on the long-range shooting ability of guard Ben Brust, who had 17 points in Wisconsin’s 68-41 victory over Colgate on Wednesday night.

“He’s got Ricky-Olson type range,” Ryan said of the former Wisconsin and Madison La Follette guard, who played for the Badgers from 1983-’86.

Ryan pointed out that Olson did not have the benefit of the three-point line when he played. But Olson still ranks fifth in career points at UW with 1,736 and as a senior averaged 20.4 points.

“The young people are looking at me … they’re Googling Rick Olson right now,” Ryan said. “He was a pretty good outside shooter for the Badgers, back in the ’80s.”

By the way: Olson was a three-sport athlete. He was a setter for La Follette’s boys volleyball team, which went to state in 1979 and 1980.

24. Tim Jordan, Class of 1982

Jordan, in gray, is about to jump center against future classmate Jay Laszewski, who is about to lose his first senior-year high school basketball game.

Sports: Football, basketball, track

Honors

• Two-time all-city and one-time all-Big Eight defensive end in football

• Started at center on WIAA state basketball champion in 1982

• Set records in 100 and 200 at Big Eight track meet and was fifth in 100 at WIAA state meet as a senior

• Lettered four years in football at UW at outside linebacker

• Drafted by NFL’s New England Patriots in 1987

• Played three NFL seasons

I was a year behind both Olson and Jordan, two of the starters on the 1982 state Class A boys basketball champions. I didn’t know Jordan was the Big Eight 100 and 200 record holder. That’s impressive because he was 6–3 and 200 or so, which is a little large for hig school sprinters. It’s kind of too bad that La Follette didn’t have better football players in those days (as you know my first three years at La Follette the Lancers had three, one and one wins), because just based on size and speed he would have made a world-beater tight end. At UW Jordan and Memorial graduate Rick Graf were the “Thunder and Lightning” outside linebacker duo; Graf went on to the Dolphins.

25. John Krugman, Class of 1968

Sports: Football, basketball, baseball

Honors

• Two-time all-city and one-time all-Big Eight halfback

• Conference player of year and all-state in 1967 after breaking Alan Ameche’s 17-year-old Big Eight record with 115 points and 19 touchdowns in eight games

• Three-time all-city in basketball and all-state honorable mention in 1968

• Two-time all-city in baseball

• Lettered two seasons in football at UW as a punter and fullback

31. Michael Flowers, Class of 2004 

UW Flowers, not La Follette Flowers.

Sports: Football, basketball

Honors

• All-city, all-Big Eight and all-state honorable mention at quarterback as a junior; didn’t play as a senior

• Three-time all-city and all-Big Eight pick in basketball

• All-state first-team basketball as a junior, honorable mention as a sophomore and senior

• Played on WIAA Division 1 state basketball champion in 2002

• Lettered four years in basketball at UW

• All-Big Ten second-team pick as a senior, honorable mention as a junior

• Twice named to Big Ten all-defensive team

Note the mention of his not playing football as a senior. As a football player, Flowers was compared to Michael Vick. Imagine him playing football instead of basketball for the Badgers.

 

100 fewer employees later …

The biggest news in sports media this week was Wednesday’s layoffs of 100 ESPN employees.

As someone who was told not to go to work the next day or any future day by an employer (which event started this blog six years ago), I have sympathy for those laid off. It seems highly unlikely that ESPN’s business problems are the fault of, for instance, Ed Werder, ESPN’s 17-year NFL reporter, or Jayson Stark, ESPN’s 17-year baseball reporter. Evidence that life is unfair is that the worker bees get laid off instead of those on the executive floor whose bad decisions caused bad financial results that led to the need for those layoffs.

ESPN’s problems are driven by economics, in two directions. Former ESPN, well, whatever he was Colin Cowherd opined, and Awful Announcing heard him say …

Speaking on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, Cowherd said he knew things were going to change at ESPN when he learned of the news that the network had signed a huge megadeal to keep the NBA:

“I told my producers … ‘fellas, it’ll never be the same here.’ You can not pay four times for the house what you paid for the house last year. And I said this company will never be the same.

“It was at that point I started looking, and this is not going to end today. They have really cost-prohibitive contracts, combined with cord-cutting.

“I said this when they cut 850 people, I said it the next day, it’s awful, and it will happen annually for the next decade. You have to have contracts …”

And regarding the layoffs, Cowherd noted that the overpayment for the NBA and in particular, the NFL has come back to bite ESPN and it’s forced the company into layoffs:

These firings are awful. It makes me sick.

“The good news is – most of the people let go are really talented, but this is all about business, and when you have overpaid for products, sometimes six and seven hundred million more than you had to pay, certainly with the NBA that’s the case, they just pay way too much for it. This is the result, it’s awful, and I think unfortunately this was the first of a 10-year deal with the NBA and I just feel awful – there’s are a lot of good people.”

But he added that he feels that ESPN has let go of the most expensive people at the company and that “a lot of them are going to land in really good places.”

The other half is that ESPN charges cable operators more than $7 per subscriber per month, and of course those charges are passed on to cable customers. Cable companies’ failure to get viewers the channels they want and not pay for the channels they don’t want has prompted cancellation of cable TV. ESPN has lost about 10 million subscribers over the past three years.

ESPN has a website, and has an app. But if you’re not a cable subscriber, you can’t see live games on either, including WatchESPN. (You also can’t see live games even if you are a cable subscriber if your cable company doesn’t offer WatchESPN.)

Even if you’re a sports fan there are a lot of ESPN “sports” not worth watching, including so-called “extreme” sports, Mixed Martial Arts (imagine boxing with no rules) and poker, and has replaced them with far too many debate shows. Part of it is that ESPN has lost a few properties, including the baseball postseason, the National Hockey League, and NASCAR auto racing, and according to viewers (of which I am not), its news coverage of sports it doesn’t cover has dropped precipitously.

What viewers may find somewhat ridiculous is who is still at ESPN — namely, Chris Berman, whose best days are well past him, and Stephen A. Smith. The latter got rather defensive about his job status, as reported by Alex Putterman:

In the midst of ESPN’s massive round of layoffs Wednesday, more than a few people brought up Stephen A. Smith as evidence of how the Worldwide Leader had gone astray. How, people wondered, could ESPN fire so many great reporters while keeping a loudmouth hot-take artist like Stephen A. Smith around to appear on First Take and numerous other shows?

Among the legions making some version of that argument was former Sports Illustrated writer and best-selling author Jeff Pearlman, who called Smith’s employment in the face of layoffs “an assault on the profession.” …

Well Stephen A. Smith puts up with a lot of crap, but he apparently wasn’t willing to put up with that. On his radio show Thursday, he addressed Pearlman’s criticism, as well as the general perception that he is unqualified for such a lofty position at ESPN.

Smith began the segment by saying he didn’t like to respond to criticism but that he felt compelled to in this case. He then described the layoffs as business-related and implied that he was protected because his show is popular and well-rated. Then he really got going:

I’m going to ask Mr. Jeff Pearlman and all the Jeff Pearlmans of the world a simple question: Why are you focusing on me? There are people in our business who actually get paid more, who do less and produce less. Why are you not talking about them?

Like when they call me ‘Screamin’ A?’ I’m the only dude on the air who’s loud? I know plenty of white dudes who are screaming and going off. They’re called passionate. I’m called loud. … The real issue at hand is, what you’re bringing into question are my qualifications.

Smith then listed out his career history, from graduating from Winston-Salem State University to holding numerous internships to working at several newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he was promoted again and again until he became on of the only black sports columnists in the country.

His point was simple: He worked hard to earn the position he’s currently in.

Some people will surely balk at Smith’s invocation of race, but he wasn’t really calling Pearlman racist or suggesting all criticism of him is due to his skin color (though undoubtedly some fraction of it is). This was his main idea:

I used to be a journalist? Mr. Pearlman, you used to be a college student. You used to be a high-school student. Last time I checked, there’s a level of elevation that took place because you graduate to certain levels. I’m not a blogger. I came up in this industry where you had to be a journalist. You had to break stories. You had to break news in order to elevate your career to get to a certain point to get to a certain level before you even had the license to give your opinion, especially if you were a black man. 

Mr. Pearlman’s not black, maybe that’s why he doesn’t understand where I’m coming from. Maybe that’s why he’s so quick to talk about what I have deserved. I gave ya’ll my resume. I transferred from newspaper to television, from television to television and radio. I’ve done this. My credentials speak for themselves. I’m so sick and tired of people coming at me. If you want to talk credentials, name the time and place. Tell me what level I didn’t work on.

Smith repeatedly complimented Pearlman, saying he would never dare question another writer’s credentials.

Stephen A. is absolutely 100 percent correct that he has the resume for the position he’s in, that he worked his way up the ladder and earned bigger and bigger roles, and that it’s not easy to get to where he is now. Without question, his critics lose sight of that all the time, unfairly depicting him as a brainless carnival barker.

However, it’s certainly fair to wonder why Smith uses his hard-earned position to propagate a high-pitched, disagreement-centered, occasionally offensive model of television that risks undermining the more journalistic aspects of the industry—and to question why that’s the model ESPN chooses to reward.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room, however, is ESPN’s conscious decision to insert politics into its sports coverage. Those who approve of this have sworn up and down all week that that has nothing to do with ESPN’s current financial problems. Certainly it’s not the primary cause, but if cable subscribers are dropping you, and some number of your viewers are not fans of the liberal politics you’re espousing, one would logically seem connected to the other.

ESPN quotes a fellow La Follette Lancer (we were in the same journalism class) on its editorial policy:

ESPN has issued new political and election guidelines for its employees that, while allowing for political discussion on the network’s platforms, recommend connecting those comments to sports whenever possible. The new policies also provide separate guidelines for ESPN staffers working on news and those engaging in commentary. …

“Given the intense interest in the most recent presidential election and the fact subsequent political and social discussions often intersected with the sports world, we found it to be an appropriate time to review our guidelines,” said Patrick Stiegman, ESPN’s vice president of global digital content and the chairman of the company’s internal Editorial Board, which drafted the new guidelines.

Stiegman said no single issue or incident led to the change, but Craig Bengtson, ESPN’s vice president and managing editor of newsgathering and reporting, said the nation’s tense political climate did play a role.

“We have the convergence of a politically charged environment and all these new technologies coming together at once,” he said. “Based on that, we wanted the policy to reflect the reality of the world today. There are people talking about politics in ways we have not seen before, and we’re not immune from that.”

Stiegman said the new election guidelines are no longer just targeted at presidential elections. “We simply extended our approach to covering presidential elections every four years to major elections, in general, believing all the same principles should apply,” Stiegman said.

So what’s different in the new policies? Let’s start with the Political and Social Issues guidelines. Its first line lays out ESPN’s challenge quite accurately:

“At ESPN, our reputation and credibility with viewers, readers and listeners are paramount. Related to political and social issues, our audiences should be confident our original reporting of news is not influenced by political pressures or personal agendas.”

As I wrote in November, not all ESPN consumers — or employees, for that matter — feel the company has lived up to this ideal. Stiegman said that the buzz around the topic of ESPN and politics — also written about by The New York Times, Awful Announcing, the Orlando Sentinel and many conservative sites criticizing ESPN’s perceived leftward tilt — didn’t play a significant role in the revision of the guidelines.

The two most notable changes from the Political Advocacy policy are the delineation of guidelines between news and commentary, and allowing for increased political discussion on ESPN platforms, as warranted and connected to sports. This isn’t a surprising development, it’s just new.

“We wanted to err on the side of transparency and trust with our reporting,” Stiegman said, “but also give our columnists and commentators the freedom to discuss topics relevant to those sports fans who visit our platforms, even if the issues are political or social in nature.”

Here are other notable points in the Political and Social Issues policy, with my thoughts:

“Original news reports should not include statements of support, opposition or partisanship related to any social issue, political position, candidate or office holder.”

This one seems straightforward and achievable, at least within ESPN’s platforms. The one place on ESPN in which you don’t see straight opinion is on the hard news side of the operation.

“Writers, reporters, producers and editors directly involved in ‘hard’ news reporting, investigative or enterprise assignments and related coverage should refrain in any public-facing forum from taking positions on political or social issues, candidates or office holders.”

The three key words here are “public-facing forum.” That expands this policy beyond ESPN’s borders and brings the Wild West of social media into play. In fact, later in the memo, it is said directly that the policy applies to “ESPN, Twitter, Facebook and other media.”

This is where the potential for problems exists. ESPN news reporters tweeting political opinions from their own social accounts would technically violate this policy. Again, hard news reporters are less likely to use social media for this purpose than commentators, but how effective this policy is will depend on how hard executives choose to look at social media. Let’s be honest: It’s not too hard to find ESPN employees tweeting political opinions. Yes, much of that activity does fall within the new guidelines, which also note that those who do publicly express political views could be reassigned when covering stories. But the propriety of other posts is a tad murkier.

“Outside of ‘hard’ news reporting, commentary related to political or social issues, candidates or office holders is appropriate on ESPN platforms consistent with these guidelines.”

This is meaningful because, unlike the company’s previous policy, it states that commentary on political and social issues is OK. The previous policy not only didn’t say that but also conveyed a tone that suggested that dipping into political waters carried more danger than reward. Put another way, the new policy has gone from “It’s dangerous out there, so probably best to stay home” to “It’s dangerous out there, so here are some tools to best keep you safe.” …

“The presentation should be thoughtful and respectful. We should offer balance or recognize opposing views, as warranted. We should avoid personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric.”

What is a “personal attack” and what’s considered “inflammatory”? As with many journalistic policy questions, those are subjective. And in policies like these, that can lead to caution.

“There is always a layer of subjectivity in such areas,” Stiegman said. “Editors and producers will work with those offering opinions on these topics to ensure the dialogue and debate is thoughtful, respectful and as fair as possible.”

That is not happening, according to Ben Shapiro back in November:

From giving Caitlyn Jenner a heroism award to stumping for Black Lives Matter, from pushing gun control to praising Kaepernick’s heroism, from firing Curt Schilling for expressing anti-radical Islam sentiments to threatening Chris Broussard for taking a religious view of homosexuality while doing nothing about Kevin Blackistone for calling the national anthem a “war anthem,” ESPN has become – as I’ve long said – MSNBC with footballs.

Now, ESPN’s public editor is admitting that the network has a problem. As Newsbusters reports, Jim Brady admitted, “One notion that virtually everyone I spoke to at ESPN dismisses is what some have perceived as unequal treatment of conservatives who make controversial statements vs. liberals who do the same.” He added:

ESPN is far from immune from the political fever that has afflicted so much of the country over the past year. Internally, there’s a feeling among many staffers — both liberal and conservative — that the company’s perceived move leftward has had a stifling effect on discourse inside the company and has affected its public-facing product. Consumers have sensed that same leftward movement, alienating some…. For most of its history, ESPN was viewed relatively apolitically. Its core focus was — and remains today, of course — sports. Although the nature of sports meant an occasional detour into politics and culture was inevitable, there wasn’t much chatter about an overall perceived political bias. If there was any tension internally, it didn’t manifest itself publicly.

Brady talked to anchor Bob Ley, who admitted that ESPN has no “diversity of thought.” A conservative employee told Brady that “If you’re a Republican or conservative, you feel the need to talk in whispers.” Jemele Hill, naturally, said “I would challenge those people who say they feel suppressed. Do you fear backlash, or do you fear right and wrong?”

This is the problem. And this is why ESPN and the media more generally fail. It is suppression to label those who disagree with you politically morally evil because they disagree. Yet that’s what Hill does. That’s what ESPN does, too. The left believes its opinions and feelings are facts; those who disagree are therefore either morons or fascists. That’s why Hill thinks Schilling should have been fired for putting up a meme expressing that transgender people should go to the bathroom in the restroom that matches their biological sex. Schilling must be evil.

That perspective comes across in ESPN’s casual leftism. And it alienates viewers. I’m one of them. I used to watch ESPN every time I worked out. Now I’d rather have the television off. I’m not interested in hearing talking heads who know less about politics than they do about water polo take for granted that they are morally righteous, and everyone on the right is morally obtuse. Screw them. I’d rather cut the cord entirely.

Sean Davis says:

The industry insider I spoke to said the focus on politics was a symptom, rather than a root cause, of all these current issues. According to this insider, ESPN executives saw the writing on the wall — higher costs, subscriber losses, lower ratings — and decided that it needed a bigger content pie to attract more content consumers. Sports is too small, so why not try for a real mass audience by broadening the network’s focus to include news and politics? If X number of people like sports, and Y number of people like politics, then surely combining sports and politics will lead to a much bigger audience, thereby solving the company’s financial dilemma.

This view, of course, ignores how people consume political news. The diehards who love political news don’t turn on the TV or open the laptop and navigate to sites with zero bias that just play it straight. Why? Because those kinds of political news and commentary providers don’t exist. Because that’s not what political junkies want. Liberals want news from liberals, and conservatives want news from conservatives. The Balkanization of political news and commentary didn’t happen by accident. People in this business know you have to pick a side. That works in political news. It doesn’t work if you have a bipartisan mass media audience.

Instead of expanding its pie by combining two types of mass media content, ESPN ended up communicating to half its audience that it didn’t respect them. How? By committing itself entirely not to political news, but to unceasing left-wing political commentary.

You want to watch the Lakers game? Okay, but first you’re going to hear about Caitlyn Jenner. Want some NFL highlights? We’ll get to those eventually, but coming up next will be a discussion about how North Carolina is run by racist, homophobic bigots. You want to see the box scores of today’s baseball games? You can watch those at the bottom of the hour, but right now some D-list network talent would like to lecture you about gun control. After that we’ll have a panel discussion about how much courage it takes to turn your back on the American flag.

The most interesting aspect of the mass layoffs on Wednesday isn’t that they happened, it’s who the network targeted. Not the high-priced carnival barkers and the know-nothing loudmouths doing their best to make Rachel Maddow proud. Nope. ESPN targeted sports reporters. In an effort to cut some fat from its bottom line, ESPN exchanged a scalpel for a chainsaw, skipped the fat entirely, and went straight to cutting out muscle.

If ESPN wants to once again be the worldwide leader in sports, it should refocus on covering sports, which used to be a refuge from politics and the news. America is politicized enough already, and if its citizens want political news, several cable outlets do political news far better than ESPN ever could. Instead of doing sports and politics poorly, perhaps the network could return to the thing that it used to do better than everyone else in the world: cover live sports.

Unlike those with nothing more than opinions, Deep Root Analysis looks at data:

The FOX blog “Outkick the Coverage” has attributed ESPN’s decline to the rising partisanship coming out of Bristol, labeling the network “MSESPN” in pieces like this one, headlined “ESPN Profit Plummets As Network Turns Left”. “Outkick the Coverage’s” Clay Travis supports his argument with Scarborough data showing most sports fans are conservative politically. With the news of today’s layoffs, Travis argues that the network’s leftward turn is “more a symptom of the collapse than it is a cause of the collapse.”

Naturally, the news out of Bristol has led to a variety of “takes” across the Internet. The National Review Online wrote a warning about politicizing sports. Others have scoffed at the idea that partisanship has kept people from watching ESPN, even as ESPN’s public editor concedes that it is among “a set of smaller causes” harming ESPN. Perhaps the hottest take of the day claimed that “sports fans really don’t like anyone who stands up for civil rights.”

WHAT DOES THE DATA SAY?

But is there data to support the notion that Republicans are turning off ESPN as the network ramped up its political commentary during the 2016 election and beyond?

Deep Root Analytics specializes in local television measurement by segmenting the population into political, advocacy and commercial groups and matching those segments into observed TV viewership data via set-top boxes and smart TV data. This allows Deep Root to produce customized ratings and indices for every program and daypart on broadcast and cable TV – including data on ESPN’s viewership among loyal Democrats and Republicans.

We analyzed viewership data in a large media market in a swing state (Cincinnati, OH) for the entirety of 2015 and 2016.  Also, to control for any changes in partisan identification between 2015 and 2016, Deep Root Analytics analyzed viewership among the same audiences across both years.

In our analysis, a clear trend emerges: ESPN’s viewership in this key swing state market became less Republican during 2016.

Specifically, in 2015, the ESPN audience on average skewed Republican across all dayparts, ranging from 12% more Republican (Early News, Late Fringe, Overnight) to 21% more Republican than Democratic (Early Morning).

In 2016, every daypart on ESPN became less conservative, with Daytime being only 2% more Republican than Democratic, while Late Fringe and Overnight programming became 10% and 12% more Democratic than Republican – a 22 and 28 point shift, respectively.

The same is true across other ESPN properties. ESPN2 skewed Republican across most dayparts in 2015; in 2016 all dayparts skewed Democratic. Every daypart also switched on ESPN News from 2015 to 2016.

ESPNU was the only network that retained its mostly Republican audience. ESPN Deportes – the network’s Spanish language channel – became even more Democratic in 2016 than it already was in 2015.

Here is a complete look at the 2015-2016 shift in partisanship across ESPN networks:

To be sure, the ESPN layoffs signal a larger business challenge facing the network. But at least in Cincinnati, the partisanship of viewers noticeably shifted – just as ESPN’s problems got worse.

I would contend that there are more conservative fans of sports than liberal fans of sports. Conservatives did not create the odious phrase “the personal is political.” Conservatives did not create today’s culture of participation medals. Unlike most of life, sports is closer to black and white — team A defeats team B; athlete C finishes first, which means the rest do not.

Here is an example of ESPN’s self-defense, from its Undefeated site:

In sports, everything from choosing fantasy sports teams to selecting the teams that will play for big-time college football national championships is rooted in statistics and statistical analysis, wins and losses and strength of schedules. Further, in sports, everything from a player making an obscene gesture to a pro franchise abandoning one city for another can prompt earnest discussions about right and wrong, revenge, rehabilitation and forgiveness.

But in the nation’s public policy, we too often allow ideology and political maneuvering to render facts moot, especially when those facts support inconvenient truths such as global climate change. And morality, if it is acknowledged at all, is presumed to be the province of specific parties or ideologies, instead of governing our thinking, decisions and actions. From public education to health care, we focus more on the politics of changing public policy than the efficacy and morality of making the changes.

Consequently, our nation, a house divided, struggles to stand: We’re a people who talk to one another without a common political vocabulary, a people who seek to silence dissenting voices. We’re a people who seek to move without common direction, a people who would solve our problems without a consensus of what those problems are, or a common moral purpose to guide our actions.

The apologia for this comes from the oxymoronic Think Progress:

I truly wish this went without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: Reports of ESPN’s political agenda have been greatly exaggerated, and politics are absolutely not to blame for the cuts this week.

ESPN is not a political network. Its analysts do not spend hours debating the latest poll numbers, reporting on proposed legislation, or counting down to lawmakers’ town halls in their home districts.

ESPN covers sports. It just doesn’t pretend that those sports happen in a vacuum.

That means ESPN will cover stories like Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem, a team of WNBA players wearing “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts during warm-ups, and the domestic violence allegations against an potential NFL draftee.

Sports are an escape, yes, but they are also enriched and impacted by the real-life events happening around them. Covering these topics accurately and fairly when they directly intersect with the sports world isn’t politics, it’s journalism.

“The word ‘politics’ has become too all-encompassing,” SportsCenter host Jemele Hill said on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch in February. “Mike and I aren’t … breaking down the Affordable Care Act. That’s politics. Understanding somebody’s right to speak out against injustice, oppression, and police brutality, isn’t a political matter. It’s right or wrong.”

“‘Don’t hit women’ is not politics,” her co-host Michael Smith added.

“Sorry we don’t tolerate bigotry here. Why are you taking offense to us suggesting that African Americans — breaking news — have been treated differently and unfairly for the entirety of this country? That’s not a hot take.”

Of course, what Hill and Smith are touching on here is that when people complain about anything getting “too political,” it’s a safe bet the criticism is actually that it’s too liberal. And that usually implies it’s too diverse or too outspoken about inequality.

The president of the company has pushed back against this idea, too.

“The Walt Disney Company and ESPN are committed to diversity and inclusion,” ESPN President John Skipper said last year in response to similar accusations that the company had gotten too liberal. “We do not view this as a political stance but as a human stance. We do not think tolerance is the domain of a particular political philosophy.”

Interestingly, not everyone at ESPN seems to be on board. The New York Post reports:

ESPN’s sweeping staff cuts are not just the result of ambitious TV rights deals and an overburdened budget, popular “SportsCenter” anchor Linda Cohn suggested Thursday.

The network may be losing subscriber revenue not just because of cord-cutting, Cohn allowed, but because viewers are increasingly turned off by ESPN inserting politics into its sports coverage.

“That is definitely a percentage of it,” Cohn said Thursday on 77 WABC’s “Bernie and Sid” show when asked whether certain social or political stances contributed to the stupor that resulted in roughly 100 employees getting the ax this week. “I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”

Cohn agreed with the argument that certain sports fans may have disapproved of the way ESPN covered polarizing figures such as Roger Goodell, Colin Kaepernick and Caitlyn Jenner.

The example used was of the 2015 ESPYs. Jenner, a former Olympic champion in the decathlon, won the prestigious Arthur Ashe Award for Courage for publicly coming out as a transgender woman. Some felt athletes suffering from disease or disability — such as college basketball player Lauren Hill, who died from cancer three months before the ceremony, and marathoner Noah Galloway, who lost an arm and a leg in the Iraq War — were more deserving.

Cohn, a 25-year ESPN veteran, toed the company line.

“You know, when you work for a big company, you have to follow in line, you have to pay the bills,” she said. “But you just kind of look in the mirror and do what you think is right no matter what else is going on around you. And that’s what I always tried to do.”

ESPN and its liberal sycophants are taking the usual liberal tack that any position other than their own is wrong and not worthy of consideration. As usual, the left approves of every kind of diversity except for political diversity.

Whether you agree with ESPN’s politics, or whatever causes you’d like to attribute to ESPN’s decline, ask yourself this question: If ESPN is losing viewers (and it is), why should ESPN go out of its way to alienate its (remaining) viewers?

 

For maybe one more night

It figures that just as I started to get interested in the Milwaukee Bucks again, they would flop in two playoff games and now stand one loss away from having their season end.

So before the Bucks lose tonight or Saturday, you should read what Jabari Parker has to say:

The moment I went down … I knew.

As soon as I felt my knee buckle, and I hit the ground — I knew right away what had happened. I knew right away what it would mean.

I had torn my ACL.

Again.

Not exactly how I pictured my comeback season coming to an end.

But as tough as the injury itself was … where it really has hurt? It’s not where some people think. It’s not for what it means for my future: I’ve been through this before, and I came back better. And I know the player that I’ll be when I’m back on the court again. That doesn’t scare me. But the fact that I can’t be out there with my team, right now, during these playoffs — to finish what we started? Knowing the team that we’ve been growing into together … and not being able to see that through with them?

That’s what has hurt the most.

See, this year … it’s meant a lot to this team. This year, from the very beginning, was about us making a name for the Bucks — about us forcing our way into the argument of who the East’s top contenders are. We knew, going into the season, that we weren’t a team with a ton of playoff experience, or with a ton of veterans who’d been in these situations before, or with résumés like some other guys have in our division. We didn’t know our peak … and neither did anyone else.

And that was part of the fun.

This year, we vowed not to be one of those teams that other teams picked on. We vowed not to be one of those teams that guys felt they could rest their stars against, or relax against in any way. And, honestly, it’s not like we had some master plan, or that we did anything special. We just went out and played. That’s it. We went out every night, and we kept our composure, and we found our confidence, and we took each challenge as it was presented to us. We figured — what fun is it to play in the NBA if we’re not taking on those challenges? If we’re not getting hyped for the Clevelands, the Golden States, the San Antonios? If we’re not working hard to perfect our late-game plays, and flip the results on some of those last-second losses? If we’re not holding our own with the teams that we’re using as our standard?

And up until the night of my injury, we took on those challenges on the court together. So, you know, that’s what has really hurt: Not being able to be out there with my team, while they’ve kept this thing going.

And that’s exactly what they’ve done: They’ve just kept going. They’ve just kept playing. They’ve just kept making strides — and I’ve been so proud of them. And I know they’ve been proud of me, too, as I’ve had to take on new challenges of my own, with my rehab.

And through it all: We’ve both had the city of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee, man … it’s home. You know I’m a Chicago kid, and Chicago will always have a big piece of my heart. But with Milwaukeefor me it was just love at first sight. As soon as I got here, I was like, Wow, this is the place for me.

I love this city.

It’s funny — I always think about this one day, pretty soon after I got here, when I took my car out for a drive around town. I pulled up to this spot … and I saw these olds guys, hanging out, sitting outside with their hot rods. I mean some real nice cars. And I parked my ride, I got out, and, man … we just got to talking. You’d look at us, and you’d probably be thinking that we have nothing in common — these old white guys, and then here I am, this young black ball player who’s bumpin’ rap music? No way. But it turned out we did. And it was just this really great day. I’ll still go back there, sometimes, and me and those guys, we’ll just catch up. I’ll ask them about cars. They’ll tell me stories about going to Bucks games in the ‘70s. It’s just very Milwaukee. We can talk about anything.

And that’s what I love about this city. It’s — well, it’s the love.

Honestly, I love this city so much that it scares me sometimes, in a way, you know? Like, I’ve seen other guys get traded and leave since I’ve been here … and you realize, Wow, as players we really don’t have that much control over it all. But one thing I do have control over, regardless of my playing career, is knowing that I want to raise my own family here someday. It’s that deep.

The Bucks have indeed taken big steps this season. It looked as if they had taken additional big steps by winning game one of this playoff series at Toronto and then just crushing the Raptors in game three. And then came games four and five, and the Bucks will have to win at home tonight and at Toronto Saturday to probably lose to Cleveland in the next series.

My concern with the Bucks dates back to their old days:

With the exception of the 1971 champions and the 1974 runners-up, the Bucks have always been not quite good enough. They had Marques Johnson and Sidney Moncrief and acquired Bob Lanier in the late 1970s, but were not as good as either Boston or Philadelphia. The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dynasty ended when Abdul-Jabbar decided he didn’t like Milwaukee anymore.

The Bucks now have one of the best players in the NBA in Giannis Antetokounmpo. (And you thought “Abdul-Jabbar” was hard to pronounce in the ’70s. I had to announce Antetokounmpo’s younger brother in a state championship game.) What if the Greek Freak decides he doesn’t like Milwaukee anymore? All the work the Bucks have done to build a team that is on the way up would be for naught. Again.

 

When color was invented

Todd Radom admits to not being a great baseball player (join the crowd), but watched baseball in the 1970s because …

I was focused on Reggie Jackson’s titanic home runs, but I was also mesmerized by the green and gold Oakland A’s uniforms.
I doodled sports logos on school notebooks and conjured my own teams — not so much for games as for creating logos and uniforms for them. I studied the cap marks of Major League Baseball teams and rendered them in painstaking detail with felt-tipped markers and cheap ballpoint pens.

I was fascinated by the visual culture of sports, and I still am, having devoted my life to sports design. Lucky for me, as a young baseball fan, I hit the lottery: My formative sports-aesthetics years came in the 1970s, the game’s most vibrant, colorful decade, with its smorgasbord of audacious and often garish uniforms. Bold graphics and sensationally showy colors were synthesized into some of sports history’s most memorable uniforms — a golden age of sports identity.

Sometimes, the results were mixed — not unexpected, coming off baseball’s longstanding adherence to traditional aesthetics — but that was just fine by me. My formative years coincided with the opening of modern, multipurpose stadiums, color TV, and a new approach to what sports could look like, played by athletes with long hair and flamboyant mustaches. While any number of the uniforms were considered ugly by contemporary standards, they also projected a sense of optimism and a fresh take on a very visible and vital aspect of American popular culture.

0 – 1 = 0

I wrote last week about the Brewers and their poor, to say the least, expectations for this season and the foreseeable future.

A win against the Cubs when the Cubs reverted to their usual suckage (a bases-loaded wild pitch) and two wins in Toronto haven’t changed my mind, by the way.

The Brewers are in rebuilding mode, which is not new given their historic sub-.500 record. One reason is exposed by Dan Zielinski:

In the last 10 years, the Milwaukee Brewers have had little luck in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, due to poor selections and lack of player development. The Brewers inability to draft and develop is a reason why the franchise is now rebuilding.

Take a look back at the Brewers first-round picks dating to the 2007 draft, along with options in this year’s draft with the No. 9 overall pick:

2007: Brewers select college first baseman Matt LaPorta (Florida) with the No. 7 overall pick

A two-time SEC Player of the Year from Florida, LaPorta was a well-regarded prospect after being drafted by the Brewers. He’s known for being traded in the deal that netted C.C. Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians in 2008.

2008: Brewers select prep catcher Brett Lawrie (Brookswood SS, Canada) with the No. 16 overall pick, prep right-hander Jake Odorizzi (Highland HS, IL) with the No. 32 overall pick and college lefty Evan Frederickson (San Francisco) with the No. 35 overall pick

Lawrie was a well-regarded Canadian prep player and moved to second base after signing with the Brewers. The Brewers traded Lawrie to Toronto for right-hander Shaun Marcum in December 2010.

When drafted, some scouts believed Odorizzi was the top prep arm in the 2008 draft. In December 2010, Odorizzi was part of a package of prospects sent to Kansas City for righty Zack Greinke.

Most scouts thought Frederickson would be a fourth-round pick. But the lefty had a private workout with the Brewers prior to the draft and blew the team’s talent evaluators away. He only lasted three minor league seasons before the Brewers released him.

2009: Brewers select college right-handed pitcher Eric Arnett (Indiana) with the No. 26 overall pick, college outfielder Kentrail Davis (Tennessee) with the No. 39 overall pick and college right-handed pitcher Kyle Heckathorn (Kennesaw St) with the No. 47 overall pick

One pick after Los Angeles selected Mike Trout, the Brewers drafted Arnett. Despite having a successful junior season at Indiana, Arnett wasn’t able to carry his college success over to pro baseball, never getting higher than Single-A. He was released in 2014.

A speedster, Davis moved through the minor leagues quickly and was already in Triple-A by 2013. However, he didn’t make it to the big leagues, struggling with plate discipline. He was released in 2014.

Heckathorn was a high risk, high reward righty from Kennesaw State, who many scouts thought would be a reliever in the majors. He never made it past Triple-A and was released in 2014.

2010: Brewers select prep right-handed pitcher Dylan Covey (Maranatha HS, CA) with the No. 14 overall pick

Covey didn’t sign with the Brewers and attended the University of San Diego instead, after being diagnosed with diabetes in a post-draft physical.

2011: Brewers select college right-handed pitcher Taylor Jungmann (Texas) with the No. 12 overall pick and college left-hander Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech) with the No. 15 overall pick

Jungmann was a highly regarded college pitcher coming out of Texas, but didn’t make his major league debut until 2015. After starting the 2016 season in the Brewers starting rotation, the team demoted him to Triple-A. The Brewers transitioned Jungmann into a reliever this spring training.

In 2015, the Brewers transitioned Bradley into a reliever, after three so-so seasons as a starting pitcher. Last season, the Brewers traded Bradley to Atlanta, where he made his major league debut as a September call-up.

2012: Brewers select prep catcher Clint Coulter (Union HS, WA) with the No. 27 overall pick, college outfielder Victor Roache (Georgia Southern) with the No. 28 overall pick and college outfielder Mitch Haniger (Cal Poly) with the No. 38 overall pick

After being selected, the Brewers moved Coulter to the outfield. Coulter has experienced mixed results in his pro career and reached Double-A last season.

In pro ball, Roache has displayed impressive power, but has struggled to get on base and hit for a respectable average. Roache reached Double-A last season.

Coming out of Cal Poly, Haniger displayed solid power and defensive abilities. The Brewers traded Haniger to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014.

2013: No first-round pick after signing free agent pitcher Kyle Lohse

2014: Brewers select prep left-handed pitcher Kodi Medeiros (Waiakea HS, HI) with the No. 12 overall pick

Coming out of high school, many scouts believed the Hawaiian lefty would be a reliever as a pro due to his unorthodox arm angle. In three minor league seasons, the 20-year-old hurler has struggled, especially with his command. He spent last season at Class A-Advanced.

2015: Brewers select prep outfielder Trent Clark (Richland HS, TX) with the No. 15 overall pick and college left-handed pitcher Nathan Kirby (Virginia) with the No. 40 overall pick

Clark was a well-rounded prep player coming out of Texas. But, after a strong performance in Rookie ball in 2015, he hit .231 at Class A Wisconsin last season.

After pitching in five games, Kirby’s season ended with Tommy John surgery in 2015. He missed last season recovering from the injury.

2016: Brewers select college outfielder Corey Ray (Louisville) with the No. 5 overall pick

In his first professional season, Ray played in 60 games between Class A and Class A-Advanced, hitting .239 with five home runs, 17 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. But his season ended with knee surgery, after he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee last year.

One of baseball’s top prospects, doctors cleared Ray to return to game action on March 24.

2017: ???

The 2017 draft class is deep with college pitching and high risk, high potential high school arms. With the draft just two months away, there’s still uncertainty at the top of the draft. Some players to watch at the No. 9 overall pick are prep lefties DL Hall (Valdosta HS, GA) and MacKenzie Gore (Whiteville HS, N.C.), and college right-handers Tanner Houck (Missouri), Alex Lange (LSU) and Kyle Wright (Vanderbilt).

The Brewers’ best number one picks as defined by contribution to the franchise probably have been Gorman Thomas (actually picked by the Seattle Pilots), Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Dale Sveum, Dan Plesac, B.J. Surhoff, Cal Eldred, Geoff Jenkins, Ben Sheets. Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun. To that group can be added players who played for the Brewers and other teams, including Darrell Porter, Gary Sheffield, Bill Spiers and Alex Fernandez (who didn’t sign with the Brewers), along with players the Brewers traded to get better players, such as LaPorta and Lawrie.

That’s the good news. The bad news includes shortstop Tommy Bianco (who played 18 major-league games), Isaiah Clark, pitchers Kenny Henderson, Tyrone Hill and J.M. Gold, third baseman Antone Williamson (picked fourth overall, played 24 major league games) and outfielder Chad Green, who didn’t play for the Brewers or anyone else despite being the eighth pick. The Brewers’ current status as the number one minor league system is the result of stockpiling other teams’ high draft picks, not developing their own number-one picks. Since the names in this paragraph didn’t play for anyone else either, that would have to be considered a joint failure of scouting (did they deserve to be number one picks?) and player development.

 

The problem with baseball is …

Andy McDonald claims:

I have the same conversation multiple times per year. “Ugh, baseball is so boring,” people tell me when I bring up ― what will always be ― the national pastime.

And every year I have to lay out the reasons why I think that, no, baseball is great, it’s you that’s boring.

I’m not going to dive too deep into the same tired arguments, so we’ll get those quickly out of the way.

“The games are so long!”

… They are as long as they’ve always been: nine innings. Sometimes that means it will go two-and-a-half hours. Sometimes that means four-and-a-half hours. It’s one of the reasons the game is so great. The clock has no impact on the field.

The average 2016 regular season NFL game was three hours and eight minutes, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. According to the data from Baseball-Reference.com, the average 2016 regular season MLB game was three hours and five minutes.

“There’s not a lot of action!”

… This depends completely on what you consider “action.” Maybe you need people running around the field to prove to yourself that things are actually happening. …

“If we make the games shorter, people will more likely tune in!”

… You’re telling me that shaving 15 minutes off a baseball game will keep the average person interested in a baseball game? That was the issue this whole time??

Well, hand me a Pepsi can, who knew that was the answer!Listen, I’m sorry, we can’t squish a Major League Baseball game into a time-slot comparable to “The Voice” for the casual fan who is called a “casual fan” for a reason.

Baseball is a game of thoughtful pauses and contemplation. It’s a game of conversation and debate. It’s a shared experience, whether you’re at the game or not.

When there’s a break in the action, that’s when the other fun-but-often-overlooked part begins: interacting with another human being. For baseball fans, the discussion of the game is sometimes as exciting as the game itself.

Which brings me to my ultimate point:

Why doesn’t anyone want to talk to you? Why are you bored when things aren’t happening?

Because, if you’re bored when the action on the field stops, it means that you’re a boring person.

For reference:

Baseball has stood at the forefront of larger national conversations for a hundred years. Baseball is fascinating, on and off the field, action or “no action.”

So, I’m sorry you had to find out this way, but I’m afraid you suffer from being a boring person.

Or at least a person who cannot entertain himself or herself without increasingly loud external stimuli.

There is obviously a difference in experience between watching a game on your favorite broadcast device and attending a game in person. The commercial breaks are for such activities as dragging the infield (the former province of Bonnie Brewer — remember her?), videos on the scoreboard, running to the concession stand or bathroom, etc. If you’re not doing anything, the between-innings period can get tedious, and for that you can blame TV.

It should be obvious that the billion-dollar entertainment center that is now a major league ballpark is (in addition to pulling as much money out of the wallets of fans as possible) an attempt to attract the non-hardcore baseball fan. That may be a hopeless case, and one wonders why a sport would seek to attract non-hardcore fans at the risk of alienating their hardcore fans, who are much more likely to purchase season tickets than someone who might go to a game if he or she has nothing better to do.

The operating assumption is that hardcore fans won’t stop going to games as MLB tries to attract younger, less interested fans. How likely is that?

 

The imitation MLB franchise in Milwaukee

It is spring, or whatever passes for spring, in Wisconsin, and so Wisconsin sports fans ask …

… when does Packer training camp begin?

That’s because the Brewers’ season began Monday, and already the Brewers look, if that’s possible, worse than they’ve been the past two seasons. Thursday afternoon’s loss to Colorado puts the Brewers at 1–3, with two losses due to bad pitching and one loss due to no hitting.

After four games, the Brewers have 45 strikeouts, which puts them on pace to obliterate the season record for strikeouts. (What’s the record, you ask? It’s 1,535 by the 2013 Houston Astros. The Brewers are on pace for 1,823 strikeouts.)

Truth be told, strikeouts are slightly less important than you might think. In order, the preference for outs is (1) outs that drive in a run(presumably deep flyouts or groundouts behind the runner), (2) outs that advance a baserunner, (3) outs that don’t advance anyone (whether strikeout, groundout or flyout) or outs with no one on base, (4) double plays and (5) triple plays.

But then there’s pitching. Alleged number one starter Junior Guerra is now on the disabled list, which might be a good thing given that he gave up two runs in his first start, which comprised all of three innings. (That gives you an earned run average of 6.) Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview noted that Guerra would be any other team’s number four or five starter, but there is apparently no one better in Milwaukee. Zach Davies is not on the disabled list, so there is no excuse for what he did in his first start, giving up six runs in 4 1/3 innings. Both Guerra and Davies pitched, if that’s what you want to call it, against a team not expected to do anything this year, Colorado; when the Cubs come to town starting tonight, the Brewers are likely to exit their first home stand with three more losses. Then Thursday, Neftali Perez entered a tie game in the ninth and left with a loss due to giving up a home run to Nolan Arenado, who hit 41 of them last year. (Which means, maybe, don’t throw a hittable ball to him?)

You may be saying that four games is a small sample size, and it is. You may also quote me quoting Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver that every team wins one-third of its games and loses one-third of its games, so what happens in that third third of the season determines how their season will go. That was the case in 2014, when the Brewers won all their games early and lost all their games late in the season to spectacularly crash, and they’ve never recovered from that.

This is a team predicted to do nothing this year. SI ranked them 13th in the 15-team National League. This team did nothing last year (30.5 games out of first place, 14 games out of the wild card), and will do nothing this year and for the foreseeable future, since they have decided to get rid of every player they have with any talent who doesn’t have a contract no one else will take (see Braun, Ryan) to apparently stock their minor league system. Readers will remember that didn’t get them much in the minors last year in terms of team success. (Class AAA Colorado Springs was 67–71, Class AA Biloxi was 72–67, advanced-Class A Brevard County was 40–97, Class A Wisconsin was 71–69, rookie-league Helena was 28–46, rookie-league Arizona was 24–29, and their Dominican Republic rookie team was 28–44. Wisconsin was the only playoff team out of that batch, and their postseason ended with two quick losses.)

The minor league system is apparently ranked number one by Baseball America. That may be good news to Sky Sox, Shuckers, Manatees and Timber Rattlers fans, although notice the lack of correlation between Baseball America rankings and team records. And that does nothing anyway for this year’s Brewers fans. Some Brewers fans will die (and let’s hope 82-year-old Brewers announcer Bob Uecker isn’t one of them) before the Brewers become a major-league contender. The Brewers have some nerve charging major league prices for what is not a major-league-level effort.

The Brewers exemplify one of the many things wrong with Major League Baseball. (Another: So many rainouts because baseball stupidly has about 40 games more than it should in its regular season.) Because baseball teams don’t share local broadcast revenues, there is much more difference in team revenues between, say, the Yankees and, say, the Brewers. Among other things, that means that teams that lack revenue like the Brewers have to do what the Brewers are allegedly doing right now — building through drafting and developing, which (1) takes a long time (2) with no guarantee of success.

On Sunday CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” will profile Shohei Ohtani, dubbed the Japanese Babe Ruth because he pitches like Yu Darvish and hits like Bryce Harper. Whether his Japan League statistics would translate to MLB or not is a moot point for Brewers fans because there is zero chance the Brewers could sign him, even if they wanted to sign him. Ohtani will go to the Yankees or Dodgers or Rangers or some other big-market franchise. The Brewers and similar small-market teams cannot compete in today’s baseball. Period.

Those Brewers fans who have lived longer than they’re going to live will not like the approach owner Mark Attanasio takes according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

With the Brewers in the midst of a large-scale rebuilding plan, Attanasio has learned to shift his focus, even more so than general manager David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell, he believes.

“Probably, of the three of us, I’m probably the least concerned about wins right now,” Attanasio said Sunday during a break at the “Brewers On Deck” fan festival at the Wisconsin Center.

Attanasio then smiled and quickly added, “By the way, there will come a time when I’m very focused on wins.”

That time is not 2017, the second full season of the Brewers’ rebuild. The team went 73-89 last season – better than expected while in so-called “tanking” mode – but there is no guarantee there will be more victories this time around.

So, what exactly does Attanasio want to see to assure him the Brewers are headed in the right direction?

“You want to see players who pleasantly surprised us last year continue to perform,” he said. “You want to see players who disappointed us a little turn it around. And you want to see the team pull together with the energy they had last year and maybe make fewer mistakes.

“In my mind, if we have all of that, what (number of games) we win isn’t really paramount.”

So far, not so good. So don’t spend your hard earned money at Miller Park expecting to see good baseball, unless it’s played by the Brewers’ opponent.

 

Telling like (they thought) it was

The headline refers, of course, to ABC-TV’s Howard Cosell, who claimed to “tell it like it is” when that was not always the case.

Two things in the last week brought this subject to mind. First, a death, reported by the Dallas Morning News:

Gary Cartwright, a colorful Texas journalist who began his career on the talent-laden sports staff of the Fort Worth Press in the 1950s, died Wednesday morning after suffering a recent fall at his Austin home. He was 82.

Cartwright went on to become an award-winning sportswriter for the Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Morning News. He left TheNews in 1967 to advance a career that included writing the 1968 novel The Hundred Yard War, inspired by his coverage of the Dallas Cowboys.

But his most prominent years as a journalist came during his time with Texas Monthly. He worked for the Austin-based magazine from 1973, when he profiled controversial Cowboys running back Duane Thomas for its debut issue, to 2010, when he retired. …

“He was certainly one of a kind,” acclaimed Texas author Dan Jenkins, 88, said of Cartwright, with whom he worked at the Press and the Times Herald. “He was a wild card, but he was awfully talented. We had a million laughs.”

Cartwright, Jenkins and mutual friend Edwin “Bud” Shrake collaborated on what may have been the most audacious, literary-minded sports staff ever assembled. All three worked at the Press and Times Herald, where their boss was an equally vivid character, the late Blackie Sherrod, who later became a columnist for TheNews.

Cartwright was well-read, Jenkins said, “and he was a fan of the trade, as we all were. It just came natural to him. We were all kind of natural, for some strange reason. It was just one of those things. We all fell together. Blackie had an awful lot to do with making us work hard.

“We laughed a lot, we joked a lot, and we kind of wrote for each other and tried to outwrite each other. It was fun, and we were all friends.”

Jenkins, who now lives in his native Fort Worth, said: “I figured it up one day. Blackie and Bud and Gary and I, the four of us, combined to have 57 books published. For a little sports staff, that may be a world record.”

Cartwright came of age as a journalist in the 1960s, which coincided with a memorable era in Dallas sports. The decade began with not one but two professional football teams playing in the Cotton Bowl.

It was a time of raw turbulence in the country but especially in Dallas, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, when Cartwright was the Cowboys beat writer for TheNews and Shrake was its lead sports columnist. The two covered the Cowboys game in Cleveland two days after the assassination, a Sunday in which a man they knew strip-club owner Jack Ruby — gunned down  Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas police station.  …

But one of the most talked-about moments in Cartwright’s career came after a bitter Cowboys defeat. The lead to his game story published in TheNews remains a staple of sportswriting folklore.

On Nov. 21, 1965, the Cowboys were playing the defending champs of the National Football League, the Cleveland Browns, led by Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown. In their sixth year of existence, the woeful Cowboys had yet to experience a winning season. But on Thanksgiving Day 1965, they teetered on the threshold of a turning point.

Don Meredith, the team’s often-embattled quarterback, had marched the Cowboys to the Browns’ 1-yard-line, with 4 minutes 34 seconds remaining and the Browns ahead, 24-17. The cacophonous crowd of 76,251 was, at the time, the largest in Cotton Bowl history.

But, sadly, the comeback unraveled.

Rather than have the Cowboys run the ball, Meredith hurled a wobbly first-down pass, which caromed into the arms of a Cleveland defender.

Hunched in the press box on deadline, Cartwright crafted a lead that serves as a lasting parody of turn-of-the-20th century sportswriting legend Grantland Rice:

“Outlined against a gray November sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. You know them: Pestilence, Death, Famine and Meredith.”

That, Dan Jenkins said, “was one of the greatest leads ever.”

Sam Blair, a retired sports columnist for TheNews, once wrote a piece in which he quoted Cartwright, his longtime friend, expressing regret about something else he wrote of Meredith: “In a column I said Meredith was a loser. That was stupid. Meredith wasn’t a loser. I was.”

The second was a girls basketball playoff game I announced (one day late due to weather) at Wisconsin Heights High School near Black Earth. Wisconsin Heights is what I call a “hyphen” school district (whether or not there’s an actual hyphen in its name), a combination of two or more communities whose school districts merged. Wisconsin Heights, which opened in 1965, is made up of the former Black Earth and Mazomanie schools.

From Black Earth (nickname: “Earthmen”) came Gene Brabender, who was one of the first Milwaukee Brewers pitchers, and before that a member of the one-year Seattle Pilots. The Pilots were the subject of one of the first sports tell-all books, Ball Four, written by one of the Pilots’ pitchers, Jim Bouton. If you ever announce a Wisconsin Heights game, you are obligated to bring up the story about how Pilots players speculated on Brabender’s alma mater fight song, and they came up with “Black Earth, we love you, hurrah for the rocks and the dirt.”

The Hundred Yard War and Ball Four were two of the first sports tell-all books, even though the former was fiction and the latter was not. (Bouton wrote the book via tape recorder, unbeknownst to his teammates, most of whom reacted quite negatively when the book came out. That prompted a sequel, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally.)

Bouton, a Yankees starting pitcher who pitched in two World Series before an arm injury, reported on his teammates’ philandering and use of amphetamines (called “greenies”). He also opined freely on his teammates, manager and coaches, management, wife (eventually ex-wife) and children, and so on. In the style of the ’60s he was an outsider and nonconformist when conformity was king in baseball and, with a few outliers (Joe Namath, Bill Russell), every other pro sport.

Even if you don’t buy Bouton’s description of the poor Pilots management, the Pilots obviously had poor management, as proven by the fact that (not reported in the book) they were bankrupt before the end of their first season. Milwaukee car dealer Bud Selig bought the team in a bankruptcy sale during the 1970 exhibition season, and thus the 1969 Pilots (without Bouton, traded to Houston and into a pennant race) became the 1970 Brewers, though with the Pilots’ jerseys (with lettering and insignia ripped off and replaced by “BREWERS”). That obviously would never happen now; the big leagues are much more careful about who gets awarded their expansion franchises. (Of course, the Pilots-turned-Brewers needed nine seasons to win more games than they lost, and three more to make the playoffs. On the other hand, the replacement for the Pilots, the Mariners, have been in one more fewer World Series than the Brewers.)

Ball Four became a brief TV series …

… although not as Bouton intended. He had in mind, believe it or don’t, “M*A*S*H” set in a baseball stadium, which no viewer of the time would have accepted. (“Ball Four” had just seven episodes filmed, only five of which were aired.) There was a TV series that perhaps patterned what Bouton wanted …

… though “Bay Cities Blues,” though created by Steven Bochco of “Hill Street Blues” fame, lasted four (of the eight filmed) episodes. Then as now, most people seek sports as an escape, not to be reminded of the crappiness of life.

The News story about Cartwright notes former Cowboy receiver Peter Gent, who then wrote his own novel, North Dallas Forty. The aforementioned Jenkins wrote a more comedic novel, Semi-Tough, which became a Burt Reynolds movie.

Kirkus Reviews called War

… a very cynical view of the world of pro football and a rather too naive psychological look at the players working out — the patterns off the field generally run to sleazy adventures while practice time is surprisingly inhuman. Generally this follows the career of Rylie Silver, star quarterback on an ailing team, a man who makes a ritual of getting drunk before every game. He’s an erratic genius and also accident prone. And obviously there isn’t the rapport between the coach and his #1 man that one has been led to assume. The book starts out well, with the tension and schemata of the draft choices as coach Andy Craig tries to get next year’s winning combination. He succeeds but is later sacked and his “”dream”” never gets off the drawing board since Iris replacement, a rather strident sadist, turns the men into instruments of their own destruction and Rylie is finally traded out. Mr. Cartwright, a sports Writer, combines an intimate knowledge of the game with a grimly intellectualized look at the creatures who play it. Oddly, none of them seem real and misapplied metaphors (“”She had breasts like pine smoke””) don’t help.

North Dallas Forty was similar, with various sex and drug use, though funnier until the grim ending where the hero gets cut and his new girlfriend is murdered. The latter detail was not included in the movie:

Both the novel and the movie are thinly veiled tales of the ’60s Cowboys. “Phil Elliott” (Nick Nolte) was the author, “Seth Maxwell” (Mac Davis) was Meredith (who said upon seeing the movie, “If I’d known Gent was as good as he says he was, I would have thrown to him more”), his backup must have been Craig Morton, the coach (G.D. Spradlin) was Tom Landry, “Delma Huddle” (played by former NFL running back Tommy Reamon, known later for coaching NFL quarterbacks Aaron Brooks and Michael and Marcus Vick in high school) must have been Bob Hayes, and so on.

One assumes the authors wrote The Hundred Yard War, Ball Four and North Dallas Forty as exposés of the dehumanizing nature of professional sports. I was in middle school and high school when I first read them, so I didn’t have an adult perspective. To me, however, they were all like the movie “Apocalypse Now,” intended as an antiwar film, which was recast by its viewers as a pro-war film. (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It’s the smell of … victory.”) I was not and am not a fan of drug abuse, but to a teenage reader another thought came to mind about each book’s depiction of pro athletes — GIRLS!

Around this time I also read the autobiography of Oakland Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum, They Call Me Assassin. The Raiders were the renegades of the NFL in the 1970s, and Tatum’s self-described exploits (for instance, a training camp air hockey tournament where cheating was mandatory, and a food fight at a team banquet) reinforced the concept that pro sports was a nonstop party even beyond games. (Years later Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler wrote his own autobiography, Snake, which reinforced more of this, though again some of his teammates denied Stabler’s reports of Raider hijinks, perhaps because they weren’t involved with them.)

The aforementioned three books paved the way for later series and movies about sports, including ESPN’s “Playmakers” (killed after one season by the National Football League, which was not amused by one of its broadcast partners carrying an unflattering portrait of pro football), Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday,” and the soccer series “Footballers’ Wives.”

Gent, meanwhile, wrote a sequel to his own book, North Dallas After 40, in which characters, well, age. (Forty was written in the first person, while After 40 was written in the third person.) Publishers Weekly reviewed it:

This sequel to Gent’s very funny look behind the scenes of professional football, North Dallas Forty , is not what you’d expect. Most of the major characters are back, and their lives after football are right on target (coach B. A. Quinlan is now governor of Texas; ace quarterback Seth Maxwell is a TV star), but the emphasis here is not on the game but on corruption, murder, savings-and-loan frauds and drugs. Phil Elliot, the alienated wide receiver, is still odd man out, in conflict with the new owners of the North Dallas NFL team, who badly want the small piece of land which is his only legacy to his young son. His ex-wife is pressuring him for everything he’s got ( except custody of their son), his body is a painful relic of his playing days and even some of his ex-teammates, back together for the 20th anniversary of North Dallas’s first championship season, seem to be in league with the forces of evil. Gent uses a series of flashbacks expertly, filling in the gaps for readers not familiar with the earlier book, but his farfetched story is too improbable to work and is helped not at all by an ending as jarring and disconcerting as an official’s flag canceling out a spectacular touchdown play.

Monday Night Football viewers since its inception know that Meredith left ABC for a couple years to announce for NBC and act:

There is a great irony in these books that the authors may not have realized. Gent and Bouton bit the hands that fed them; even though pro athletes weren’t paid like they are now, they were still paid rather well for a part-time job playing sports. Cartwright was paid to cover sports. Had the public rebelled against what Gent, Bouton and Cartwright wrote about, Gent’s and Bouton’s playing successors would have had to find some other line of work.