Week of July 23, 2022

Who Gets A Statue?

TOB and I were walking past Oracle Park with our families just last week. As we passed the Gaylor Perry statue near the left field entrance, I asked TOB, a lifelong Giants fan, what the qualifications were for a statue outside the park. For the Giants, any player that goes into the Hall of Fame as a San Francisco Giant (sorry old players from NY) gets a statue. 

Perry played for the Giants for a decade and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, but TOB was pretty insistent that he shouldn’t have a statue outside the park. His main reason: Perry played for seven other teams after his time for the Giants. 

Tyler Kepner must’ve been within earshot, because his story is about just that: who gets a statue and who doesn’t. Nearly every Hall of Fame member has a statue somewhere. As Kepner points out, Dave Winfield, a no-doubter Hall-of-Famer, doesn’t have a statue, and his fellow Hall members don’t let him forget it. 

Because statue isn’t just about greatness. Winfield played for too many teams, splitting his best years with the Padres and Angels, winning a World Series with the Blue Jays before collecting his 3,000 hit and 400th home run with his hometown MN Twins. 

To George Brett, a teammate of Winfield’s on eight American League All-Star teams in the 1980s, that only stands to reason. Brett has a statue on the outfield concourse in Kansas City, where he played for 21 seasons and is synonymous with the Royals franchise.

“A lot of these guys played in so many cities,” Brett said. “Who’s going to have a statue of Winfield? He played on eight different teams.”

Six, actually, but that raises an interesting point: Teams are more active now in celebrating their pasts, but many great players, especially over the last few decades, were only passing through on their way to better contracts elsewhere.

Kepner notes that the baseball statue boom is also due to most every team playing in a baseball-only stadium, creating space outside the park to celebrate the team’s history. Older fields like Wrigley and Dodger Stadium have made renovations outside the stadium to create nicer gathering places and plazas. That’s where you’ll find Fergie Jenkins’ statute (Cubs) and Sandy Koufax rocking back (Dodgers)

Kepner also has a cool tangent with sculptor William Behrends about how the surrounding space can dictate dimensions to the sculpture.  

Fellow Minnesotan, Kent Hrbek wasn’t the player Winfield was. In fact, he’s only received 5 Hall of Fame votes the only time he showed up on the ballot, but he’s got a great statue outside Target field, as he should, and right there is the intangible quality that is fun to think about when it comes to which players deserve a sculpture. While Tim Lincecum was freakishly great for only a few seasons for the Giants, TOB didn’t miss a beat to say yes  when I asked Timmy should have one. 

Says Hrbek: 

My daughter will go to the ballpark and take her friends or her children or her cousins and say, ‘That’s Dad; that was his favorite part of playing the game, winning the world championship, catching the ball and jumping off first base. Hopefully that memory will go on for a long time — and give the pigeons someplace to sit for a while and let them do their thing.

Classic Hrbek. Fun read! – PAL 

Source: “You Might Be a Hall of Famer, but Do You Have a Statue?Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (07/22/22)


Let Ratto Eat

There are few writers out there who savor calling bullshit as much as Ray Ratto. He takes his time, tucks that napkin into his shirt, chooses his phrases carefully, and cleans his plate with a cynical panache. A couple weeks ago, his meal of choice was Tiger Woods’ take on the LIV golf tour – the Saudi-backed competitor to the PGA. 

First, here’s what Woods, who had been silent on the topic, said before the (British) Open last week.

What these players are doing for guaranteed money, what is the incentive to practice? What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt? You’re just getting paid a lot of money up front and playing a few events and playing 54 holes. They’re playing blaring music and have all these atmospheres that are different.

And here’s Ratto just getting started. 

He sounds like just the kind of middle-aged scold every extraordinary cultural figure becomes when the audience has moved on and abandoned him or her to the dustbin of their parents’ history. In a moment where he could explode the LIV tour as doing business with dirty money in defense of even more untrammeled greed that they already exhibit, he goes for the politically safer yet far less compelling argument that successful golfers should be more grateful to the tired old boys than hyper-acquisitive and ethically indifferent in service to the morally compromised new ones.

And Later:

One suspects that he (Woods) would be in equally staunch opposition if the Saudi billionaires were replaced by the guys who gave us the raucous Waste Management Open, which means that while he may be on the right side on the human decency, he’s doing it mostly because he hates change.

You don’t need to read too deeply into this to find Woods’ ultimate incentive. Spoiler alert: it’s not about the young guys going “out there and earn[ing] it in the dirt”. To him, this is about his legacy, because it’s only ever about his legacy. His singular obsession to be the greatest golfer makes him utterly uninteresting when he doesn’t have a club in his hands (or when he’s not being chased by someone with a club in their hands). Calling out changes to the game, changes that make it easier for future generations of golfers to win, which could then makes it even the smallest bit easier for some golf-obsessed fan in 2122 to forget the greatness of Tiger Woods. And in that way, as Ratto points out, Woods is like every other aging sports icon that’s come before him. 

While Woods’ best golf is decades in the rearview, he is still the skeleton key for golf to the mainstream, at least for another year or so. He still matters more than all of the young guys who’ve surpassed his game. His last Masters win had the casual sports fan tuning in to watch his back nine. As incredible as Cam Smith’s back nine at the Open (12 putts on the back nine on a Sunday of a major), the mulleted Aussie is not sending a casual golf fan to the TV. Which is to say, if Tiger did leave the PGA for the LIV, it would be far and away the biggest blow to the PGA. 

But I don’t think the PGA has to worry about that. Not yet, at least. I can’t imagine the amount of money that would sway Tiger Woods to dilute the organization that’s woven into the infrastructure of his greatness. Maybe I am yet again failing to appreciate that every single person has a price, even a billionaire who’s built his entire empire on winning golf tournaments while playing in the PGA Tour.

Because above it all, even Woods, is the money and our ability to digest what lies beneath our viewing entertainment. As Ratto so perfectly calls it, “gradations of manic greed”. 

That there’s prize money as defined by corporate sponsors, there’s obscene prize money as defined by objectionable corporate sponsors, and there’s dirty obscene prize money as defined by governments who are comfortable with attitude adjusters like murder and oppression. You know, tiny subtleties you normal folk could pilot a cruise ship through sideways while irretrievably drunk.

Classic Ratto.  – PAL

Source: Tiger Woods Lit Up The Saudi Golf League For All The Wrong Reasons,” Ray Ratto, Defector (July 12, 2022) 


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Michael Scott

Week of July 8,2022

We all remember mullet Agassi at Wimbledon, but let’s not forget to appreciate the goatee + bald-anna Agassi at Wimbledon.

We took a few weeks off. But in the words of Pat O’Brien and the O’Briens, we’re back you motherf…

Let’s go!

Brittney Griner Story Cheat Sheet

Who is she?

Griner is one of the most well-known female basketball players in the world. A high school phenom out of Houston, she’s also the first openly gay athlete endorsed by Nike (2013). She won an NCAA championship at Baylor and two Olympic gold medals. 

Why does she play basketball in Russia?

She’s played for UMMC Ekaterinburg, which is a team located in a town 1,100 miles east of Moscow. A lot of the best American women hoopers play overseas during the offseason. The pay is much better than what they earn in the WNBA. According to her wife, Griner makes $1M a season overseas, compared to $220K she makes playing for Phoenix. 

What did she do?

According to Griner when she entered a guilty plea, she was in a hurry to pack for her return to Russia, and forgot about .7g of cannabis oil in her bag. Vape cartridges. She’s been detained since early March. 

What is Cannabis oil?

Cannabis oil is legal in 45 states. Griner had vape cartridges containing it in her bag. THC and CBD are found in hemp and cannabis plants. There’s more THC in cannabis, and more CBD in hemp. Sounds like Griner had some vape cartridges with cannabis oil.

How much is .7g

.02 ounces…so not a lot. Based on the size, we’re talking 1 or 2 vape cartridges. Russian officials categorized it as “traces”.

What kind of punishment is Griner looking at? 

She’s facing up to 10 years in a Russian prison in what’s called a penal colony. That sounds ominous, especially for a gay person in a country that does not take too kindly to the L.G.B.T.Q community, and it’s not like she would’ve had a fair shake in a Russian court. Griner pleaded guilty, which makes sense. By way of Defector,  the Associated Press reported that fewer than 1 percent of Russian criminal cases result in acquittals. They aren’t super lenient to foreigners who break laws, especially considering the climate between the U.S. and Russia, and the war in Ukraine. 

Experts think that what’s really at stake here is more than likely an attempt by Russia for a prisoner exchange with the United States, and the reports are that Russia has its eye on one person in particular.

Per the NY Times:

With a guilty verdict an all but a foregone conclusion in a Russian legal system that heavily favors the prosecution, her best hope, experts say, is that the Biden administration secure her freedom by releasing a Russian held in the United States. The name of one prisoner in particular has emerged: Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence. 

As Defector’s Laura Wagner points out, it is worth noting reports that Bout had clients other than U.S. enemies. In fact, one of Bout’s customers was the U.S. military. 

But even a prisoner swap could take years, and the optics sure don’t look great for Biden if we were to trade Griner for an arms dealer with the nickname “The Merchant of Death“ with Russia as it wages war on Ukraine and faces widespread sanctions. A previous prisoner swap, a former U.S. Marine named Trevor Reed, took more than two years after the original arrest.

Per NY Times:

Griner’s detention comes at the most dangerous moment in U.S.-Russia relations since the Cuban missile crisis, as the Biden administration leads dozens of nations in imposing crushing sanctions on Russia’s economy and its political elites. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Saturday that the sanctions were “akin to a declaration of war” against his country.

A vape cartridge. This all starts with a vape cartridge. I can’t imagine how scared Griner must be right now. And if you’re wondering how big of a story this is, then consider the following: The NY Times byline names three journalists. Small stories don’t have three names in a byline. – PAL

Sources:

Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty to Drug Charges in Russian Court,” Anton Troianovski, Ivan Nechepurenko and Tania Ganguli, The New York Times (07/07/22); “Swapping Brittney Griner For Viktor Bout Should Be An Easy Call,” Laura Wagner, Defector (06/28/22)


The Death of the Pac-12 Portends the Death of College Football

Last week, news broke that USC and UCLA were leaving the Pac-12 conference and headed (in 2024) for the Big-10. Geographically, this makes little sense. Historically, this makes little sense. But financially? It makes sense. And so the move was made.

The Pac-12 can trace its beginnings to the Pacific Coast Conference, founded in 1915, comprised originally of Cal, Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State. Washington State joined in 1916, followed by Stanford in 19818. USC joined in 1922, and UCLA followed in 1928. The conference disbanded and re-formed in the early 1960s, naming itself the Pac-8 in 1968. The Arizona schools joined in 1977, and the conference was renamed the Pac-10. Utah and Colorado were added in the early 2010, and the conference was re-named the Pac-12.

So USC and UCLA’s decision upends 100 years of tradition and rivalry. How much money did it take for them to do so? Well, a lot.

The Pac-12’s TV media rights expire in 2024, and early rumors suggested the total deal would be worth $500M a year. The Pac-12’s teams divide those numbers evenly (reports suggest this had long rankled USC). After conference expenses, the Pac-12 schools could likely expect $35 million or so per year. Not a bad haul.

However, reports are that with the Big-10 expanding with USC and UCLA, Big-10 payouts will be around $100 million. $100M! And this follows the last few years where conference payouts of the SEC and Big-10 dwarfed the Pac-12’s payout (particularly in 2020, when the Pac-12 played a truncated season due to COVID, while the other conferences pressed on).

And, don’t forget, Oklahoma and Texas are leaving the Big-12 for the SEC soon, too.

So, fine. The Pac-12 is dead. The Big-12 likely is, too. Cal desperately wants to follow UCLA and USC to the Big-10. UW and Oregon reportedly applied and were turned down, at least for now. Most speculate that the Big-10 wants to add Notre Dame and three other schools. Many assume that is three out of the four: UW, Oregon, Cal, and Stanford. But no one knows if Notre Dame wants to go, or Stanford, for that matter. No one knows if the Big-10 might look eastward, and try to get UNC or Clemson, or even Miami and Florida State.

But where is this all headed? In the medium term, it seems we are heading toward two super conferences of about 25 teams each. Then, eventually, one pared down premiere league with 40-50 teams. But it’s so short-sighted, it’s hard to fathom these schools don’t see the downside.

Consider this.

The top dogs are accustomed to playing 2-4 tough games per year and then beating up on patsies the rest of the season. What happens when there are no patsies? What will happen when fanbases accustomed to winning ten games or more per year are suddenly faced with .500 seasons, year after year? Will those fans remain engaged?

What is college football if it’s a small group of schools with parity? What about those crazy fall Saturdays when a bunch of top ranked teams are upset by unranked teams? Those days will be gone. At that point, it’s the NFL Lite, isn’t it? The football is worse and more boring?

And what happens to those teams on the outside looking in? Reportedly, UCLA and USC’s defections will halve the per school payout for the remaining Pac-10 schools. Imagine if UW and Oregon go, too. And imagine schools like Cal, Oregon State, and Washington State are left with a choice of getting almost nothing for TV rights by joining the MWC or folding? Are they going to keep playing in what amounts to D-1AA football? Or are they going to make the cost/benefit analysis and determine they can no longer afford football?

Which begs a question: if these left behind teams fold, who is going to watch this new college football? The fans of the 50 teams in the super conferences, sure. But what about the fans of the other 80 current D1 teams? Are they going to adopt new teams? Are they going to care? I think a lot of them won’t. And when the ratings plummet and the TV networks decide that college football isn’t worth paying what they are paying, what happens then?

All of this is to say: college football is cannibalizing itself, taking short term gains and ignoring the long term losses they are running head first into.

The sad thing is, it’s probably too late to save it. -TOB


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Pink Sweat$ – PINK CITY

What’s missing? The turtles. Where are the turtles? Where are the turtles? Where are the turtles! Where are they!

Michael Gary Scott