Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Kansas's Last (and Next?) Bowl Game

 Hello friends, this was originally published on my substack. So since you're here, you should probably sign up for that as well.

I had to wait a few days to make sure it was real. Maybe the Kansas Jayhawks becoming bowl-eligible was a mirage, something that would be taken away once everybody realized what they’d done. There’s an Election Day counting-the-votes-after-the-actual-day joke there if you’d like to make one up.

But nope, the 6th win is still a thing, and with it goes a promise I made in September, which is I am going to this bowl game no matter where it is. Right now it looks most likely to be in Memphis or Phoenix. Which would be ironic in the true senses of the word.

Because I remember very well the last time Kansas went to a bowl game. I had recently moved to Coos Bay, Oregon, and the best sports bar in town was called Walt’s Pourhouse (it still is, I would think, though I haven’t been there in more than a decade). The KU bowl game was for some reason on NFL Network, which meant I couldn’t watch it at home even if I’d wanted to. So I went to Walt’s.

I still have my Walt's hoodie!

The main teevee in the place was already on NFL Network when I got there, because there was a mega-fan from the other team already there and waiting for his team to play their bowl game. Since the game was in the middle of the day and there weren’t too many people in the place, I specifically took a seat at a table and not the bar where the mega-fan was. I had on some KU gear but I certainly wasn’t going to be as stupidly loud as this guy.

This has happened to me several times, and I would not be surprised it has happened to you. You go to an establishment where you would like to watch your team, even if it is not a particularly favored team in the area, and the loudest person in the ENTIRE BAR is the person rooting for the other team in the matchup. And every time THEIR TEAM does something good they scream at the top of their lungs. It is like they knew you were coming, even though they did not know you from Adam.

What is important, for this story, is that I was meeting people at this bar (not Walt’s) and KU was the first game of the day. Which meant they were showing up later, because the second game was more interesting for them. Which meant I had to listen to this guy who was a fan of the other team go absolutely bonkers because the 16-seed led most of the first half, and by 6 or 8 or even 10 at the break. Which meant I had to listen to him all of halftime. By this point everybody in the bar had apologized to me for having to deal with this. I was very zen about the whole thing, in a “let him have his moment, the truth is coming” kind of way.

Kansas turned it on in the second half, of course, and Mr. Bonkers got quieter and quieter as the tide turned, as I knew it would. By the time my friends started showing up midway through the second half, Mr. Bonkers was practically in a turtle shell, back to reading his newspaper (which was now an odd thing to have at a bar even then, proving he was super old-school) and asking for his tab. My friends did not believe me that that guy had been talking crap for two straight hours and had only recently shut the hell up. The bar staff confirmed he had been a mega-tool and asked if I wanted another beer on them. My friends believed me at that point. (KU won by 15 or 18, by the way.)

Anyway, back to Walt’s. KU was playing Minnesota in this particular bowl game, and the Minnesota fan was wearing a Gophers hoodie and a hat, as you would expect. Minnesota took an early lead, and somehow Mr. Gopher thought it would be a great idea to show how important he was by turning to the other random patrons of the bar when Minnesota did something good and pointing to his hat and yelling “THAT’S RIGHT!” Because how else are they going to know you’re a key part of the team…. that’s playing thousands of miles away while you’re sitting in a bar on the Oregon coast. I mean, how else would they know?

At some point, probably halftime when Minnesota led, he went up to nearly everybody else in the bar letting them know that Minnesota was winning and that was very important and he was a Minnesota fan and they were dominating and they were going to win this game- that nearly nobody else in the bar was paying attention to at all- it was lunchtime and they were here to have lunch and maybe a Bloody Mary or two.

Note that I said he went up to “nearly everybody.” There was one table he took pains to avoid. As in didn’t even look at me, though I was watching every move he made as he went up to the few occupied tables in the place.

Kansas came back to win in the second half, of course, and Mr. Gopher looked a lot similar to Mr. Bonkers. Though in the true timeline, Mr. Bonkers looked like Mr. Gopher and not the other way around. The point is, they quieted down and left with their tails between their legs.

And now, many words later, my point: That Bowl game where KU beat Minnesota in 2008, their last bowl game until this season, was the Bowl game in Phoenix, then called the Insight Bowl and now called the Guaranteed Rate Bowl (it was originally the Copper Bowl and played in Tucson, but that’s a history lesson for another day).

Which means there’s a non-zero chance that KU’s next bowl game will be that same bowl game, and there’s also a non-zero chance that they will play Minnesota. So my question is, do I go to the bowl game, or do I go back to Walt’s? Because that would be funnier. It would be even funnier if Mr. Gopher was still there.  

Thursday, May 26, 2022

California Sports Gambling Ballot Measures Overview: May 2022

Legal sports betting in California is long overdue. The state legislature has never really taken the measure up, though some in Sacramento have tried. So of course multiple measures appear to be headed to the November ballot, because California likes to make things as difficult to do as possible. 
I've tried to figure out what's going on, but the issue I've run into is that there are only two types of people writing about this: people who are experts on ballot measures (and know little to nothing about sports, and betting on sports) and pro sports gambler types (who know even less about ballot measures than experts on ballot measures know about sports).

So I'm going to try and be the voice of the sports fan who knows a bit about ballot measures. I know less about ballot measures than I know about sports, but as a former sports and news reporter I'm ahead of the game, having covered several elections in my time.

I'd imagine you're a bit like me in this respect: I live in California, I like sports, and I'd like to be able to wager legally on them. That's the perspective I'm coming from here. I have no dog in the fight except that I'd like it to be fricking legal already and nobody has explained the different measures in any way that makes sense to me. I've been doing some research recently, and here's what I've found out so far.

1) On the November ballot, no matter how many propositions there are, it's not an either/or thing

I want to make this perfectly clear from the jump: There could be four measures on the ballot legalizing sports gambling, there could be 40 (there won't) or there could be two (most likely). A vote for one of them does not mean a vote against the other. You can vote for all of them!

I'm making this very clear right now: I'm going to vote yes on all of them. I'm for any form of legal sports gambling in California. I may have certain personal preferences, but overall: I'm for it. If the only measure that passes means I have to drive three hours and can only place a bet on teams with an "L" in their name and their mascot has to be a bird and I have to wear snowshoes to do it, I'm STILL going to vote yes.

If all measures pass, then the one getting the most votes would be the winner, unless (somehow) it is ruled that they don't conflict with each other. And you'd expect that the loser would take it to court to argue whichever side would let their measure exist.

So, simply, my ultimate take is: yes. That said, let's move on...     

2) There is currently only one measure on the ballot.

There could have been up to four choices to vote on, but as of right now (end of May) there is only one. According to Ballotpedia, that is the tribal casino measure which would only allow in-person wagering at tribal casinos and certain horse-racing tracks. It would prohibit gambling on high school sports (I mean, duh) and events with a California college team. So it would be fine to bet on any college football playoff games for the forseeable future (see, the joke there is that the Pac-12 is bad, and.... oh, never mind).

The key omission from this measure, as far as I'm concerned, is the lack of a gambling app. Every other state that has legalized sports gambling has an app component (and in plenty of cases, no in-person option at all). Remember, I'm just a sports fan who wants to bet on the game. If I have to drive an hour or more to make one bet, I'm probably not going to do that. A map of the current tribal casinos in California shows that there is no "close" tribal casino to the two biggest metro areas in the state, Los Angeles and San Francisco/San Jose.

However, this is where the "certain horse-racing tracks" provision comes in. Those four tracks are Santa Anita and Los Alamitos in the LA area, and Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, as well as Del Mar in San Diego. That at least brings it to the metro areas, but it's still not going to be an every-day excursion for your average sports fan like me. 

2) The other measure that is likely to make the ballot is app-only

If you have watched a game on teevee recently, you have probably seen the anti-app commercial, sponsored by the tribal casino ballot backers. Of course, now you know that they are arguing against something that's not even on the ballot yet. It will likely be on the ballot by the deadline (June 30th), but right now it's like Detroit Lions fans making Super Bowl plans. You can talk about it all you want, but it might be better to wait until you actually know it's going to happen.

Still, unlike the Lions in the Super Bowl, this is going to happen this year. Which is why the opposition has already started the anti-ads, because for your Average Joe gambler like me, an app is far more easier than driving an hour each way, especially if I just want to bet on one thing. It's not that hard to figure out.

Since it's not on the ballot yet, I just want to point out two things that seem curious to me so far about it. First, check this out

"Such wagering may be offered only by federally recognized Indian tribes and eligible businesses that contract with them."

That's right.... it's still run by the tribes! And not only that, it's not just one app for the whole state. It basically allows any tribe to run a sports wagering website or app.

Which seems.... rather messy. And since it doesn't specify federal tribes based in California, it does appear to open the new industry to any tribe in America. (Again, this is just what I'm gathering from reading the thing. There could be some legalese in there I'm not picking up).

Which seems.... even messier.

There's also a provision in this measure that says it *doesn't* conflict with any in-person wagering, which would allow both to co-exist (as mentioned above, I'm sure there will be no lawsuits as a result if both pass, because this doesn't seem the type of thing that would involve zillions of lawsuits at all).

3) Wait, what about all the other measures?

Well, it appears that there was going to be a measure backed by the tribes that would allow online wagering, but that's not going to happen in November. It appears they are going to wait on that until 2024.

And then the card rooms (which I haven't even gotten to yet) were going to have a measure of their own to allow card room wagering, but that didn't get enough signatures to even have a hope of qualifying.

So that's where we are before Memorial Day.... pretty sure there will be more twists and turns before we get to November....

I'd bet on it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Everything In Sports is A Gimmick

The NBA playoffs and the MLB season are both underway, which means I have heard complaints about both even before they started. This happens lots for lots of things. How many times have you complained about a vacation before you went on it? I think that's why a lot of people don't go certain places for vacation, because the first thing they think about is how long it will take to get there. Never mind that once they are actually in Australia or Italy they will have a grand time, they don't even go because of travel time and passports and the like. Both of which are things millions of people have dealt with, and yet they still went and had a grand time. Anyway, back to sports.

The biggest current complaints are that the NBA play-in tournament is "a gimmick" and MLB's apparently permanent "ghost runner" on second base in extra innings is "a gimmick." And I have heard that both things "cheapen the game" and "make it less pure" and variations on those themes. The clear implication is that the play-in tournament and the ghost runner are tricks to get people to pay more attention to sports. And I want to caution people about going too hard down the rabbit hole of "sports gimmicks."

Because if you really think about it, "major league" sports itself is a gimmick. 100 years ago, people were more interested in playing the sports themselves or watching people they actually knew play sports. Every town in America, and I am really not exaggerating, had their own baseball team made up of local players who played other town teams. In big enough places, neighborhoods had their own teams and leagues or associations to play ball. Or any place with enough teams, and baseball was the craze, so everybody had a team. Kalamazoo, Michigan, for instance, had a league in the early 1900's and the teams consisted of: the two town newspapers each had a team, a couple of local companies each had a team, cigar clerks and postal clerks each made up a team, and the Knights of Pythias had a team. If they got paid, they created leagues of players who were paid to play. (The pro Kalamazoo teams, for instance, played in the Southern Michigan State League.)  

Basketball and football, which came after baseball, became more popular because of those local teams. You look at any college team's schedule from 1904 or 1924 and they're playing the local YMCA or the naval base or the high school or the lumber mill team or whatever company fielded a team in addition to the other nearby colleges, whether they were considered "major" or not.

Kalamazoo Celery Pickers, 1910 So. Michigan League Champs
And since most "major league" sports were on the east coast, people in the south, the west, and the southwest only sort of cared about the American League and the National League. Plenty of players who could have played in "The Majors" turned it down because they were from Seattle or Kansas City or Atlanta and the pay was really about the same. And that's just baseball. The NFL was a midwestern minor league with a big name and big dreams all through the 1920's and even into the 30's. The NHL was mostly eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. Pro basketball was hardly considered at the time. Some NFL owners created pro basketball teams to play in hockey arenas on the nights there wasn't hockey. The NBA didn't exist until after World War Two, in the mid-1940's. (The first what we now call NBA game was played in Toronto!) Pro basketball in the 20's and 30's basically consisted of barnstorming teams like the Harlem Globetrotters and hundreds of teams similar to them... and the Globies were the most famous because they were made up of black players, thus their name. Most pro basketball barnstormers in the 20's and 30's were all-white teams. 

The idea of a full-time sports player was generally impossible until salaries began to exponentially increase in the late 60's and early 70's, assuredly not coincidentally around the time free agency first began to occur. Most players had to take second jobs in the off-season. You hear about lots of baseball players going on the vaudeville circuit in the 1920's, and mostly it was to make an extra dollar. (Even Babe Ruth did the vaudeville thing and he was the highest-paid player of them all). Lots of them owned car dealerships or went into restaurants or worked insurance. Now, lots of them didn't work very hard, but they sure weren't in the gym 6 hours a day. The insurance companies used them as publicity men, and their name was the obvious selling point for the restaurant or car dealer. But they still needed a job, because sports was a half-a-year job. It was, for all intents and purposes, not a real job but "a gimmick."

Okay, now that you've been disillusioned by the idea of a "sports gimmick," let's look at the two specific things mentioned, the NBA play-in tournament and the MLB ghost runner. Well, as long as we're being truthful here: the playoffs are a gimmick and overtime is a gimmick. 

The team with the best record at the end of the season is the actual true champion, which is why they use phrases like "World Series Champion" or "Super Bowl Champion." They didn't actually win the league, they just won that particular tournament. The team with the best record really won the league. So when you add another layer of playoffs, you're just adding to the playoff gimmick. I mean, no one's going to say, honestly, that the Atlanta Braves were really the best team in baseball last year or the LA Rams were the best team in the NFL last year. They just happened to be the best teams for that stretch of time known as the playoffs. The San Francisco Giants were the best team in baseball last year because they won more games in the regular season than anyone else, just like the Green Bay Packers were the best team in the NFL. 

The owners and leaders of leagues came up with the idea of playoffs to get more money from people. The idea of a baseball World Series happened less than a decade after the very first pro league, the National League, formed in the 1870's. By 1884 there were two baseball leagues and they agreed to have their champions play each other to see who was better. (In fact there were actually three so-called "major leagues" in 1884 but the third one was considered to be pretty inferior even then so they weren't even considered for this. But I digress.) That's how the legend of "Old Hoss Radbourn" was born, because he pitched all three "World's Series" games for the Providence Grays of the National League and won them all against the New York Metropolitans of the American Association. When the American Association collapsed in the 1890's, the NL went back to no playoffs but considered that boring and invented the "Temple Cup" between the first and second place teams. But the first place team didn't care about the playoff and lost most of the series against the second place team. That's how little people cared about the postseason.

from the game that invented overtime....

Overtime is also another invention by owners to get more money from people, so the fact that the rules are different for overtimes in all sports makes perfect sense, because ties are problematic for playoff positioning. (See? It's all connected!) Baseball was actually the first sport to invent overtime with the idea of "extra innings," rather conveniently forgotten when people complain about the ghost runner. In their early years the NHL had a full regular season overtime period and then the game ended in a tie, but they stopped that during World War Two and didn't bring regular season overtime back until the 80's. The original rules of basketball by Dr. James Naismith have the option of a "sudden death overtime" (first basket wins, this was when it was a hard to score- dribbling hadn't been invented). College football games ended in ties for decades, even bowl games. (The reasoning, and I'm not making this up, was that amateurs couldn't handle the extra wear and tear of overtime. And this was when they played 9 or 10 games a year, not 15.) The NFL started overtime in 1940 for divisional playoff games, and for championship games in 1946 after the 1945 title game almost ended in a tie. And since NFL overtime rules have always involved some sort of "first score wins" concept, truly the biggest change ever in NFL overtime history, aside from starting it, is the new playoff rule guaranteeing both teams a possession no matter if a team scores a TD on the first possession. 

So, really, overtime and playoff games are gimmicks, period. Adding more teams to the playoffs or changing overtime rules is not new. In fact, the very first sports gimmick, done solely for the purpose of making money, was adding outfield fences to prevent fans from seeing the game for free. In the beginning when baseball players hit the ball real far, they just kept running around the bases as the fielders tried to get the ball and relay it back in. (This is still true in baseball's ancestor, cricket.) But owners didn't like people watching the games for free. So they built fences and started charging admission and making money that way. (And that meant the putting in seats, which eventually became stadiums, etc. etc.) But then they had to make a new rule about batting the ball over the fence.

Thus, the home run is actually a gimmick. So yeah, don't go down the "sports gimmick" rabbit hole. 

oh yeah, TOTAL gimmick

 images courtesy: nba.com, kpl.org, dodgerblue.com, sportsvideo.org 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

9 MLB Predictions for 2022

Picking the winner of the World Series is boring because everyone does it and... frankly, it's dumb. The regular season is long and predictable, the playoffs are short and can hinge on one or two guys having a great three weeks. So no, I don't do that. I like to make a few predictions... nine, specifically. Baseball symmetry, you know? So we're off... 

1.  The Mets Will Make the Playoffs

Honestly, went back and forth on this one. But with an extra playoff team in both leagues and the amount of money Steve Cohen has spent, especially on pitching, I think the Mets could completely screw up and still win 87 games, which will be enough to get in. The Mets scenario is really very similar to the White Sox last year. Tony La Russa was a terrible hire (still is) but that team was so talented I knew it would win 90+ games even if La Russa literally pressed every wrong button and looked and sounded like an old man who didn't get it.... which was precisely what happened and they still rolled to a division title (and promptly lost in the playoffs).

The Mets are the pretty much the same thing except they bought all their players instead of the White Sox home-grown route, right down to Buck Showalter and "old manager" syndrome. What's positive is that we haven't heard any rumblings about Showalter being an "old manager," so they're already off to a better start than La Russa and the Sox. Buck was always yanking pitchers and making odd substitutions in the 90's, so he's actually better off for this job. Add two great clubhouse presences in Chris Bassitt and Mark Canha, both former A's who I have seen for years, and the Mets will succeed. Max Scherzer's always been his own dude and the Jacob DeGrom scenario will get the daily twitter going but Bassitt and Canha, if they perform anything close to what I've seen the last few years, will be the toast of the town by July. Canha's bat-flipping will become a sensation, I promise you that. 

2. The Angels Won't

It's that time of year when people say this is the year the Angels will make the playoffs, and my response is always where's the pitching? They didn't have it last year and they don't have it this year AGAIN. You can tell me over and over that a healthy Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon and that lineup will score 10 runs a game and I will still say "it doesn't matter if you score 10 and give up 12."  It's still the case for this year. They let a finally healthy Alex Cobb walk to the Giants and their replacement is Thor. Look, I think Noah Syndergaard, when healthy, is fantastic. But he threw 2 innings last year! TWO!!! If he makes 20 starts it'll be a tremendous success. 

The Angels rotation is banking on two guys who will never pitch more than once a week in Ohtani and Syndergaard. And they will be extremely careful with both. So you're talking at most 50 starts between them. What about the other 112?  Patrick Sandoval threw 87 innings last year and you're saying he's a hoss now? Ohtani, Syndergaard and Sandoval threw a combined 219 innings last year (130, 87 and TWO) and you're gonna make the playoffs with that? No, you are not.

3. The Mariners Will... Finally!

The Mariners won 90 games last season, missed the playoffs on the final weekend, and got better. They're the AL West team that will break through to the playoffs, not the Angels. Since I harped on the Angels rotation as being why they won't succeed, let's look at the Mariners rotation. They bring back 3 guys who threw 100+ innings last year, Chris Flexen (179 IP), Marco Gonzales (143) and Logan Gilbert (119), and Gonzales is the oldest, at 30. Then they add Robbie Ray, who threw a career-high 193 innings for Toronto. That's four starters, and Gilbert's the only guy on that rotation that threw fewer innings than Shohei Ohtani last year. Add the incredible fleecing of the Reds to add bats in Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez AND they got Adam Frazier from the Padres AND rookie Julio Rodriguez is the real deal with now 2nd-year man Jarred Kelenic (that outfield is going to fly). Plus the solid pieces in Mitch Haniger, Ty France... and if the bullpen is even close to decent, they're in.  (The Astros are still winning the division, though. Looks like a fun race, however.)

4. Matt Olson Will Hit 60 Home Runs

Sometimes you have to juice up your predictions to make people take notice. I don't really think he'll hit 60, but saying "Matt Olson will hit at least a career-high 40 home runs in his first year with the Braves" is boring, kind of like everybody making a World Series prediction. Saying "Matt Olson will make Braves fans forget Freddie Freeman" is too juicy and a big lie.

But the first time Olson absolutely hammers (Braves pun intended) a home run to right in that bandbox of a ballpark called Truist Field or Suntrust Park or White Flight Stadium or whatever they're calling it nowadays, Braves fans will understand they got an absolute gem of a first baseman who is from Atlanta and is happy to be home. Then he'll make a couple of gold glove caliber plays at first and they'll be on his side for keeps.

And playing 81 home games in Atlanta and not the Al Davis Memorial Mausoleum in Oakland, as well as visiting the 4 other NL East parks instead of the AL West? 50 is incredibly plausible, and 60 is not out of the question. He absolutely raked at the Rangers new ballpark, and now he gets games in Philly and DC? And did I mention 81 games in Atlanta? He might hit 70! 

And yes, I intentionally batted him cleanup on this list.


5. 3 NL West Teams Make the Postseason

You might have figured out I think the Braves will win the NL East and the Mets will finish second. That's two divisions and two wild card teams to go. Well, I think the Brewers will win the Central and both of the other wild card teams come from the NL West. It is not hard to predict the Dodgers win that division, but the other part is actually simpler than you think.

There's a great under-the-radar baseball saying that's "every team will win 60 games and every team will lose 60 games, it's what you do in the other 42 that make your season." And the guys in charge of the two other teams in the NL West are really great at getting the best out of those teams in those crucial 42 games.

As a Bay Area guy, I have watched Bob Melvin work magic on a daily basis managing the Oakland A's for years. I am convinced that no matter how little control he had over the roster construction, they let him alone on gamedays with lineups (although I suspect the front office decreed he had to play certain players, which is why you saw curious substitutions in the 5th inning oftentimes). Now he's in San Diego. With the DH now in the NL full-time, Melvin has to do absolutely nothing with his strategies. And he has a front office that will spend the money to contend. And he doesn't just have two stars in the Matts (Olson and Chapman) and a rotation that might be good if everything works.... he has Tatis and Machado and Trent Grisham and his starters are Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell and Yu Darvish and a rehabbing Mike Clevenger and now a guy he just has seen blossom into an ace, Sean Manaea.

So yeah, the Padres are making the playoffs.

Then there's the Giants. Never has a team that has won 107 games been so lightly regarded going into the next season. Yeah, everybody had career years and they were mostly 30+ years old, so how are the Brandons going to follow up, especially with Buster Posey retired and Kris Bryant, your big mid-season acquisition, gone to Colorado? Yeah, all the pitcher reclamation projects worked out. They worked out so well that Kevin Gausman got a huge deal from Toronto and now you're relying on Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood to be that good again? And will Logan Webb blossom fully into an ace? 

The thing is, Farhan Zaidi has always seemed to work this magic, wherever he's been. The Dodgers are the Dodgers in large part because of how Zaidi built that roster. Nearly all the everyday players on that juggernaut have been Zaidi finds. In San Francisco he's basically been competing against himself. He's been able to always find guys and there's no reason he's not going to keep doing that. And Gabe Kapler really seems to have found himself after those two troubled years in Philly. He's mellowed, kind of, and it looks like they have built a staff to keep him grounded. So yeah, I see the Giants making the playoffs.

Besides, there's a real chance nobody else in the National League (besides the Brewers, who are winning the Central handily) finishes significantly over .500. The Cardinals and Cubs can't put it together consistently, the Marlins are frisky but not quite there, and the Reds, Pirates, D-Backs, and Rockies all suck. The Phillies can't play defense and the Nats might be surprisingly brutal (their rotation won't hang).   


6. 3 AL East Teams Make the Postseason

In the American League, the difference is closer but it does appear the East is the best division. There are four teams capable of making the playoffs and then the Yankees. Ha! Just wanted to make sure you were paying attention (sorry O's fans. You should be better but your record might not show it because these teams will destroy you).

My thing is I can't figure out which of the 4 teams will miss the playoffs (since picking the Mariners as a wild card means there are only two slots left). Tampa, New York, Toronto or Boston? I am leaning towards Boston as the miss because the rotation is the question. How reliant are they on Chris Sale coming back and making a huge difference? He's out until June at the earliest. I've had Nathan Eovaldi on several fantasy teams and often regretted it. This feels like a Boston team that will absolutely mash (Trevor Story, hello!) but when you're relying on the ageless Rich Hill (42, threw 158 innings last year) as a key piece, I just don't see it. Of course, I didn't see them holding off Toronto last season and they did.

The difference is that Toronto is better. Not just more experience for the kids- Vlad Guerrero and Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, but add Matt Chapman at third and Raimel Tapia as an outfielder (he was so fast in Colorado, that's a huge under-the-radar pickup). Rotation-wise, I think Kevin Gausman will be decent but not worth his big contract, ultimately. But if he's good this year, who cares? Their pieces fit well.

Tampa will win 90 games with a bunch of dudes we've never heard of, so let's pencil them in.

That leaves the Yankees. The rotation kept them from winning 100 games last year, for sure. A healthy Jamison Taillon will make a huge difference (had him on my fantasy team when he was good with the Pirates, so I've got confidence there) and I think Gerritt Cole pressed too much trying to earn that massive contract in the first year. So they'll both be better. Deivi Garcia hasn't had a lot of innings and will start the season in AAA but he'll be there real soon. Jordan Montgomery looks like he'll be just fine.

So the Yankees it is (can you believe Giancarlo Stanton is already 32? He's only broken 40 homers once, that 2017 season where he mashed 59. It.... doesn't make any sense.).

7. The Rangers Spent A Lot of Money, So Yay For Them I Guess

The Rangers are bascially opening their ballpark for the third straight year. It opened in 2020 and there were no fans until they hosted the playoffs and the World Series. The were the first team to go full capacity on Opening Day last year with pandemic restrictions everywhere but Texas and it felt really weird, I expect even in Texas, and they still ended up losing 102 games. So the shine was definitely off that place in a hurry.

And this year it's as normal as it'll be, and the Rangers spent half a billion dollars to try and contend in the AL. The thing is, they could have a 20-game improvement and still finish under .500 (from 60 wins to 80). And a 20-win improvement is not out of the question, but it won't get them to the playoffs. They'll be in it with the Angels for third place in the West (behind Houston and Seattle, but well ahead of Oakland).

Marcus Semien and Corey Seager got their bags but everybody else is about the same. You expect to contend with long-time Rockie Jon Gray as your free agent ace? It's the same problem for the Rangers at is quite often: big hitters (anybody else remember Jeff Burroughs?) and maybe one decent pitcher (that Nolan Ryan fellow never made the playoffs while he was with the Rangers).

They will be better.... but that's still not good enough to contend, not this year. So the AL playoff teams are Houston, Seattle, Tampa, New York, Toronto, and the AL Central champs, the White Sox.

8. The Rockies Are Still Terrible

When I see the "experts" pick their dark-horse candidate to contend, a lot of them are picking the Rockies. They should stop.

9. The A's Won't Move to Vegas

Here's the A's stadium plan, simplified, no matter how much you're hearing VEGAS VEGAS VEGAS.

The Port of Oakland thinks that 50 acres called Howard Terminal is not very useful to them and wants to sell it to the A's (or lease it long-term, or whatever).

This 50 acres of land is on a corner of the Port. They have some 1500 total acres at the Port and this particular plot is being used as a parking lot for trucks. It is not a particularly busy section of the Port and the baseball park equivalent is foul ground. And the water around there is pretty shallow, port-wise, which makes it highly unlikely to all of a sudden become really useful in the future as, you know, a port.

The big decision coming in June is whether to officially re-zone the land from industrial to commercial/residential to allow the A's to do their thing. If they don't re-zone the land, the project is dead and the A's will probably move to Vegas.

But since the Port is fine with the land being re-zoned so the A's can build it, that should be enough for the decision makers to re-zone the land. 

So, that should be that.

And that's 9 predictions! Thoughts?

and if the A's are lucky, it'll look like this

photos by author

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Why the 49ers Never Got Tom Brady

coulda, not shoulda

Even up until the day he actually retired, there was speculation the San Francisco 49ers would go get Tom Brady, so the pride of San Mateo could finish his career with his boyhood team, the team that made him want to be a quarterback, the team that has the only man who can argue his GOAT status in Joe Montana (a few of you probably thought I'd say Jimmy Garoppolo).

Of course it had been revealed several months earlier that when Brady left the Patriots for good, San Francisco (rather, Santa Clara) was his preferred destination to finish his career. But while head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch were certainly interested in Brady- who wouldn't be- they ultimately decided that getting Brady wasn't worth it, even with a near-Super Bowl roster that they had, and still have.

At first glance, turning down TB12 seems like a rather silly idea. It's Tom Freaking Brady! Why wouldn't the 49ers say yes? Two years of Tom would've almost guaranteed them one Super Bowl trophy, like what happened in Tampa, the place Brady DID go.

But the true answers as to why they turned down TB12 are happening now.

First of all, Tampa is done as a serious Super Bow threat for what, five years? Ten? There's no way Bruce Arians lasts more than a year as head coach. He'll be 70 sometime around week five of this upcoming season (born October 3, 1952- still younger than Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick!) and there's no way he's sticking around for the rebuild- no surprise if he chooses to walk away sometime soon.

And that's the second part- the rebuild. Nearly much every other offensive skill player on the Bucs you've heard of is not going to be on the team next fall, whether that's retirement (Gronk), waving goodbye while at the Meadowlands (Antonio Brown), some kind of trade (if you think Mike Evans is going run great routes and watch Kyle Trask overthrow him by 15 yards every time, you're nuts), or the old reliable, free agency (Playoff Lenny, Chris Godwin, OJ Howard....). 

As for the draft, the Bucs have the 27th pick in the first round. Ain't no way you're getting a week-one starting quarterback from there. And there was no reason for them to really go after a QB the last two years, not with TB12 at the helm. It was all-or-bust there, too. (No, Kyle Trask is not the answer, nor is Blaine Gabbert. Blaine Gabbert has never been the answer at quarterback, not ever.)

So, back to the 49ers, and Kyle and John. If you get Brady, you certainly don't have Trey Lance on your roster because you're not drafting that high. You don't even have the perfectly acceptable Jimmy Garoppolo, since Brady would command $35 million-plus and Jimmy G was getting paid $25 million.

Because the goal of Shanahan and Lynch has never been "win once and sink back down."  They are trying to create a Patriots-like run of dominance. Failing that, a Packers-like run of "being in the mix every year" would be fine as long as the QB's ego doesn't explode into a supernova.

But neither of those scenarios involves blowing up the roster for two years of Brady, which is what Tampa did, and they will sink back to the bottom of the NFC South and become irrelevant (I guess going back to the creamsicle jerseys will be more than appropriate).

If you've noticed what the 49ers have done, it's been a build to succeed at a high level for a long time to come. It's why they signed Jimmy G to a five-year deal after he played just five games for them in 2017. It's also why they traded for the 3rd pick so they could get Trey Lance (I never believed they would take Mac Jones, and I don't understand why people believed that smoke) and only gave up 3 first round picks, hoping that two of them would be well back in the draft (and that's happened- they gave up the 14th pick last year, this year's pick will be number 29, and at minimum if they make the playoffs next year the 2023 pick will be 17th, and hopefully it'll end up being 32nd).

And in the first five years of the Shanahan/Lynch era, the 49ers have been to a Super Bowl and made the NFC title game. Lots of franchises would like to have that kind of five-year run. But because Jimmy G couldn't stay healthy, negating at least one playoff berth (though they finished 6-10 in 2020, they really should have been 8-8 even without Jimmy G- at least two 4th quarter meltdowns should have been wins, and probably more). They realized a healthy QB makes the difference. With Brady, that's a maximum of three seasons to make the difference.

A healthy Trey Lance playing to his potential? That's a decade, or more, of dominance. Maybe he doesn't get to Brady or Montana status. How about challenging Steve Young on the 49ers QB ladder? I'd be very ok with that. And so would the rest of the faithful.

I got 5 on it

photos courtesy: cbssports.com, cbssports.com (again)

Saturday, December 18, 2021

There Should be MORE Bowl Games, Not Fewer

Keep 'em coming!

I used to be you. I used to think that there were too many bowls. Heck, I even wrote about it right here saying all bowl matchups should be decided by the CFB Playoff Committee and that every bowl game should be required to feature at least one team from the top 30 of the rankings. And heck, I STILL feel that way. But I also have a counter-argument that makes more sense.

You see, whenever somebody proposes eliminating bowls, you know who gets screwed if it actually happens? The little guy. The school that never goes to bowl games. There will always be bowl games for Alabama and Clemson and Ohio State and Notre Dame and Oklahoma and you know, the big bads of college football.

We see 42 bowl games on the schedule and think "that's too many." But this isn't like the NFL where it's the same 32 teams playing 16 games every week, or the NBA where the Lakers are on national TV three times a week even though they suck. There are 84 different division one football programs playing a bowl game this year and they each get their stand-alone moment. Boise State gets their moment, UTEP gets their moment, Eastern Michigan gets their moment, Old Dominion gets their moment. Unless they're in the playoff, even the big bads only get one bowl game each.

This is why I've changed my mind about the bowl situation. For instance, UTEP is playing in the New Mexico Bowl. It is, shall we say, not the greatest bowl game of the 42 on the schedule. But this is just UTEP's 2nd bowl since 2010. They get to play in a bowl game. When you put it like that, it sounds a lot cooler, no matter what the bowl game is. There are plenty of UTEP football players who can't say that. For a lot of these dudes it will be the apex of their college football career, even if the stands are far from full and the result may not be great for them. 

And you want to take that away? You want to take away the bowl experience of one of the directional Michigan schools? Both Eastern and Western are in bowl games this year, they are a combined 2-14 in bowls. Eastern Michigan's only bowl win was the 1987 California Bowl (Anaheim Stadium) where they beat San Jose State. Western Michigan's only bowl win was the 2015 Bahamas Bowl against Middle Tennessee. Man, these guys deserve more chances at bowl games, not fewer.

A cheesy classic

We make fun of bowl games. We make fun of the fact that they had to create a bowl game for this year because more teams finished at .500 than expected and the bowl game they created, that will only happen once, is called the Frisco Football Classic and that is the truth. We make fun of early sponsored games like the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl (it's now the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl), and we make fun of the Liberty Bowl being in Memphis and I always point out that the Liberty Bowl started in Philadelphia and moved to Memphis and kept the same name and doesn't make that more sense and as long as you're making fun of the Liberty Bowl keeping that name may I point you to the Lakers once again?

But you know that if you ever met someone who played in the Frisco Football Classic or the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl or the Liberty Bowl (sponsored by AutoZone, by the way), you'd be like "oh, that's cool, you played in a bowl game!" (I am assuming you do not know any people who played college football, FYI). Now imagine you met an alum from Eastern Michigan football and when you asked them about their college career they said "Well we only went over .500 once and didn't go to a bowl because that was the year they eliminated 10 bowls... and (big bad having a bad year) took our spot so I never played in a bowl game."

Now, don't you think that Eastern Michigan lineman deserves his bowl game? Doesn't the Ball State punter or the Middle Tennessee safety or the UTEP tight end deserve his bowl game? Of course they do.   

Besides, you know what's better than watching a traditional college football powerhouse win a bowl game? A traditional college football powerhouse stumbling its way through a season and then getting thumped if they are fortunate enough to make a bowl game, even if it's a bad one. Can you imagine the buildup if Texas or USC made a bowl game this year? 

Heck, you don't have to. This year's Florida team is a perfect example. Despite wasting a boatload of talent and firing their coach and looking like they had no business finishing anywhere close to .500, they finished 6-and-6, and so they have stumbled their way to the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa where they will get thumped by UCF. LSU might be a better example, they're so bad they're playing in the bowl that's stupid enough to be played after New Year's Day but isn't a playoff game. But I guarantee you the hype for that game- because it's LSU- will be abnormally large. 

(Side note: if you scroll back far enough here, you'll see I used to do bowl previews for every game with a guest poster called "B.O.A.". We had a special category designation of bowl games that seemed like bigger cash grabs than usual. These were bowls that included teams from very close to the area and the matchup seemed like it should be happening during the regular season, not a bowl game. This year's Gasparilla Bowl most certainly qualifies as one of those cash grab bowls, as it is less than two hours from each team's campus.)

It's a Fiesta (Bowl Parade)!

Whether it's a Power Five Team or a mid-major making their first bowl appearance in years, these players get treated like kings at whatever bowl game they go to. We just see the televised portion of the bowl game. I promise you, every host committee makes sure both teams feel like royalty the week they are in town. The teams are paraded around, taken to what are considered awesome local landmarks and sites, and they are given free meals and swag. Is it always tremendous swag? Of course not. But it is swag selected especially for them by people who are glad they are in their city. Which is a lot better treatment than I've received on certain vacations that I have paid for. 

I only participated in one bowl game as a member of my school's marching band. I was in the town where the bowl was played for a week and there was a pep rally every day where the marching band was required to play. By the end of day six, did I recognize half the people at the rallies? Of course. But I noticed the rally crowds growing in anticipation of the game every time. Sure, the stands at the game may have been half empty, but there were at least five thousand alumni from each side in those stands. 

I also live in a large metro area that hosts a bowl game. Now, this bowl game has never been held in a full stadium. And I reckon that most of the locals don't know what day or time the game is. But a bowl game doesn't need all three million people to know what the hell is going on, it needs the fans of the participating teams to show up and do fan things. You get five thousand each, you're going to do just fine.  

 And remember when you're watching, you're watching a football player who gets to say they played in a bowl game. They may never play football again. They may never play football for a team this good ever again. But they did this time. Keep the bowls. All of them. Well, maybe not the Frisco Football Classic. 

but yes, the Sun Bowl stays!

Friday, November 19, 2021

Kansas Football: Still In Shock

The moment IT HAPPENED

I didn't bother doing a Kansas State review/Texas preview because why bother?

I mean, KU football couldn't score more than 10 points at home to a Kansas State squad that, let's face it, isn't that good.

What was going to happen at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, where KU had never won, ever?

Certainly not win.

And if they were to somehow win, it certainly was going to be a low-scoring affair. It certainly wasn't going to be some radical overtime shootout where KU led 35-14 at one point. It certainly wasn't going to be a game where the Jayhawks blew a two-touchdown lead in the final five minutes. It certainly wasn't going to be a game where they went for two in overtime and a walk-on who wasn't even considered a receiver that week during practice would catch the game-winning conversion.

Certainly not.

And then, after that, said walk-on certainly wouldn't take advantage of the new NCAA rules allowing players to get paid for endorsements. I mean, that would be absolutely mind-crushingly crazy.  

And yet, all of that happened. 

I saw the final few minutes of regulation and overtime. I haven't watched the highlights because I still don't believe it's real. I feel like if I do, the bubble will burst, the dam will open, the dream will end and yep, KU really lost to Texas by 40.

Yet everywhere I go, I see they won. In overtime. For the first time ever at Texas, who has now lost 5 in a row for the first time since 1956.

Let the dream continue.

photo courtesy: USA Today sports