07.25.15

CSTB’s Greatest Hits : When Ben Schwartz Nailed The NYT’s Michael B. Schmidt

Posted in Baseball, Sports Journalism at 7:48 pm by

(EDITOR’S NOTE : as you might’ve noticed, Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald is having a field day with the New York Times’ June 23, 2015 pseudo lid-blower, “Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email”, a story co-authored by the paper’s Michael B. Schmidt. That’s a name that oughta be very familiar to sports fans following mucho coverage of baseball’s myriad steroid controversies, thought it was former CSTB contributor Ben Schwartz who made the suggestion that perhaps Schmidt’s reportage was something less than thorough. From CSTB and Schwartz, August 8, 2009, “No Smearing in the Press Box III: Big Papi Vindicates CSTB Blowhard, Michael S. Schmidt Commences Damage Control” – GC)

[This is what a working baseball reporter looks like. I wish he had Michael S. Schmidt's job]

The backpeddling officially started yesterday, as The New York Times Michael S. Schmidt shifted gears leading up to today’s David Ortiz press conference at Yankee Stadium. The same reporter telling you that Sosa appeared on the list of 104 last June, now saying Ramirez and Ortiz both appear on a list of “roughly 100,” got some fact corrections this afternoon “ like that his sources don’t even know what the actual list is. The list confirmed by the players union, which once had sole possession of it, claims 96 names “ 21 of which don’t prove players tested positive for banned substances. I quote from The New Jersey Star-Ledger:

In the supposedly anonymous and confidential testing conducted in 2003, there were only 83 failed tests, MLBPA general counsel Michael Weiner said. There were 13 other tests with “inconclusive” results. Weiner specified that these refer to test results, not players. It is possible that players may have tested positive twice.

“The number of players on the so-called ‘government list’ meaningfully exceeds the number of players agreed by the bargaining parties to have tested positive in 2003,” Weiner said in a statement. “Accordingly, the presence of a player’s name on any such list does not necessarily mean that the player used a prohibited substance or that the player tested positive under our collectively bargained program.

With 13 inconclusive, we can also remove some 8 more results from the “prohibited” list. As Schmidt wrote in the Times yesterday: “Officials in the commissioner™s office and the players union have said they believe at least 8 of the roughly 100 players who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003 were using the supplement 19-norandrostenedione, which was sold over the counter at the time and contained a powerful steroid.”

So, 96 tests make up the list: 83 positive, 13 inconclusive, and of the 83, 8 for legal-in-2003 19-norandrostenedione. So, 75 illegal users? Which list was Schmidt using? The much-publicized 104, the union’s 96, or his vague “roughly 100?” Or all three? Obviously, players appear on one list but not on another “ why? Do substantially different lists of players make up the different lists? Confusing, sure, but don’t look to the Times for an answer.

If the union’s 96 is right, and they should know “ the gov’t took it from them, it sounds like the killer number here is 75 players for illegal, anabolic steroids with 8 legal users (83). Did Schmidt get his names from the confirmed 75 or not?

In my recent back and forth here with Schmidt’s editor at the Times, Tom Jolly, he pointed out to me that Ortiz a) admitted he “failed” the test, and b) “The point is that banned substances were found in the samples from Rodriguez, Sosa, Ramirez, Ortiz and David Segui.” Actually, Ortiz confirmed his name appeared on a list, but did not know why. 13 tests, we now know, came back inconclusive. Ortiz and his union say he’s one of those. It means that unless Schmidt can verify specifically what Ortiz or other players he outted tested positive for, if they did test positive, he’s reporting that being on the list alone is de facto proof of using banned substances (as per Tom Jolly’s statement above).

As of today, that’s a rather reckless assumption if only 75 players of the “roughly 100” are confirmed as unquestionably positive. Do Schmidt’s sources know which listed players did not test positive for banned substances? Schmidt sure doesn’t. Unless Sosa, Ramirez, or Ortiz pull an A-Rod confessional for Schmidt’s benefit, his stories are so much hearsay and rumor.

Ortiz claims he did not know his result came back positive. As one of the 13 or more inconclusive results, that makes sense because Ortiz’ name does not appear in The Mitchell Report. As Schmidt wrote yesterday, “All players who tested positive in 2003 were told that their tests had been seized by the government, according to the report presented to Major League Baseball by George J. Mitchell ….” The report never cites Sosa, Ramirez, or Ortiz “ maybe because they didn’t test positive. At any rate, that’s as plausible as Schmidt’s vague sources.

Yesterday, Schmidt started posturing. The headline of his analysis reads: “Ortiz’s Explanation Is Unlikely to Reveal Much.” This assumes Ortiz has something to reveal. Today, Schmidt’s assumptions have less credibility on this than Ortiz. In the first paragraph of his story, Schmidt writes:

Since it was first reported nine days ago that the Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was among the roughly 100 major league baseball players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, he has repeatedly said he would get more information about the test result so he could provide an explanation.

Again, more like 75, as I read it, substantially fewer than the “roughly 100,” or 104, Schmidt cites in different stories, both of which “meaningfully exceeds” the real results. “Repeatedly” is an odd word, too, as if Ortiz is a liar, rather than that he’s answered the question repeatedly asked of him. You’ll find no recognition whatsover from Schmidt that he based his claims on an exaggerated or varying lists, as he now apparently accepts Weiner’s word on the union 96 list without question or challenge. As Weiner noted of the Times reporting:

œThe result is that any union member alleged to have tested positive in 2003 because his name supposedly appears on some list ” most recently David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez ” finds himself in an extremely unfair position, Weiner said in the statement. œHis reputation has been threatened by a violation of the court™s orders, but respect for those orders now leaves him without access to the information that might permit him to restore his good name.

Indeed, violations that Schmidt sought/received from anonymous, unreliable sources, with agendas unknown. I’ve asked repeatedly why all four leaked player names (including A-Rod, outted in Sports Illustrated) are Latino players “ and repeatedly why all but Oritz are well known, grandstanding, arrogant divas appearing to get some kind of petty payback via these leaks. It’s only my opinion, or “analysis” as the Times might call it, but I believe Ortiz’ name was thrown to Schmidt along with Ramirez’ in order to make that story a headline. Ramirez’ name alone isn’t steroid news after his 50-game suspension this summer. I mean, 2003 results are a bit of a so-what in his case. Ortiz’ name makes it a Boston World Series headline, and a screamer at that.

Schmidt then offers some self-serving For the Good of Baseball, Please Fess Up tripe:

The court restrictions also mean that the Red Sox faithful, who largely adore Ortiz, may not get full disclosure. Ortiz was a fan favorite as he helped the franchise end an 86-year World Series championship drought and add another title three years later.

Knowing the exact substance that Ortiz tested positive for would shed significant light on what he might have put in his body in 2003. What his fans and peers think of him and his hitting feats could be influenced by what illicit substance he is linked to.

Yeah, if only David Ortiz came clean and verified your threadbare story admitted his sins, those poor suffering Boston fans could find some closure. Mr. Schmidt, here’s an idea, how about you report the rest of the story? You didn’t with Sosa or Ramirez, and now you want Ortiz to confirm what you couldn’t find out about him? Since the Times story that started all this is so much gossip, maybe full disclosure of Schmidt’s weak reporting is what the Boston faithful need.

In today’s press conference, Ortiz gave his side of it. It’s on Schmidt to dispute it. Schmidt has another problem, i.e., following up on his claims re Sosa and Ramirez. Are they in the 13 inconclusive or 8-possible-positives for legal-in-2003-but-not-now supplements? Tom Jolly would say “no,” if they’re on the list they used banned substances. But how does he know?

Finally, Schmidt reported one fact that at least narrows down somewhat who’s been leaking to him. He wrote: “In a statement Saturday morning, Major League Baseball said it did not possess the list of names of players who tested positive in 2003.” If MLB itself doesn’t know who is on the list, the lawyers he refers to in the Sosa and Ramirez/Ortiz story seem to be from the players union or the government. Maybe there’s lawyers on the players union side with their own self-righteous crusade to save baseball. Or maybe it’s the gov’t “ whose case against Barry Bonds fell apart last February, just as A-Rod’s name somehow leaked. I still say Schmidt got played by his sources.

Did Ortiz juice hardcore, needles and all, a la Mrs. Roger Clemens? These days it wouldn’t surprise me if he did. Still, I can’t say “yes” based on anything Michael S. Schmidt wrote “ nor can Schmidt. Since it appeared in the Times, however, Ortiz has been vilified over Schmidt’s inconclusive half-story. Boston’s Ortiz had the guts to hold his press conference in Yankee Stadium. I hope Schmidt has the nerve to hold his at Fenway.

01.14.12

Kerry Woo Woo Signs One-Year Deal With Cubs

Posted in Baseball at 9:03 am by

Cub Fan #1 Kerry Wood resigns with the Cubs.  Look at this way, we’ve all had friends in bands who only get booked if they can bring friends who buy beer. (Photo: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

In one of the biggest non-dramas of the off-season, Kerry Wood has signed a one-year deal with the Cubs for $3 million.  The Sun-Times‘ Gordon Wittenmyer reports it from the annual Cubs convention, here.  I’ve been complaining about the inverse ratio of what Kerry Wood actually delivers on the field to his star treatment in the Cubs’ front office for years, but for once I think they got it right.  Indeed, sabremetrics has come to Wrigley.

Do the math:  The Cubs have no marquee player.  In merch sales, star attractions, and ticket sales, they can’t compete with an A-Rod or a Pujols.  You have to pay a star $250 million to pull fans in like that.  So how do you recreate those numbers in the aggregate?  Even partially?  And for a bargain price?  In Kerry Wood, the Cubs are paying $3 million for a guy who can deliver North Side fans in bigger numbers than he’s ever delivered in wins or strike-outs.

What’s Kerry Wood’s job?  It’s not 20-strikeout games or 200 inning seasons or even dependably closing a game – all of which he has received big money to do in the past and on which he never delivered.  His job is his fan base.  Indeed, over the past few years, the Cub faithful have actually rejected losing teams, meaning Kerry Wood is all the more valuable in the one place where he’s a draw, Wrigleyville.  And, if you recall the damage a set-up man like Bob Howry could do to the Cub W-L record, $3 mil for a dependable set-up man and a season’s worth of actively excited Kerry Wood fans is a deal.

11.19.11

Wrigleyvillebillies Get One Step Closer to Losing the Farm

Posted in Baseball, Get Out Of Jail, Greedy Motherfuckers at 2:24 pm by

[The Ricketts: Laura, Tom and Pa: "Gummint's coming fer yer land, Tommy."]

Uh, get your Sunday Rapture  clothes on, Mayor Emmanuel has fired a Daley.  As The Sun-Times reported yesterday morning:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is dumping all three city members of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority — including former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew — in a housecleaning that could set the stage to renegotiate the White Sox lease, modify its restaurant deal and, possibly, have the state acquire and renovate Wrigley Field.

A Daley nephew fired means Chicago may finally be running on law other than Magna Carta and Dred Scott.  There’s only one person in Chicago who cares about both sides of that North-South baseball equation to talk White Sox rents and a Bridgeport Baccardi franchise – John Cusack.  So, I dust off the Cubs’ bureau desk to point out that last phrase, “have the state acquire and renovate Wrigley Field.”   Or as I read it, “HAVE THE STATE ACQUIRE AND RENOVATE WRIGLEY FIELD.”

I add that with no sense of outrage. Having the state buy Wrigley means that the Cubs will have some sizable cash for GM Theo Epstein and manager Dave Sveum.  I said in June that if the Ricketts won’t pay their bills without the helping hand of an attorney general forcing them to pay them – or insist on corporate welfare and jacking up ticket prices on fans to “platinum” levels – then public co-ownership of the Cubs is fair.  And, considering the Ricketts economic history, it’s also in the public interest.

The idea of owning the Cubs and Wrigley has been a boondoggle since the Tribco put the team up for sale for real. Even before the current economic collapse, separating Wrigley from the club was floated to make the billion dollar combo platter possible for two separate buyers.  The Tribco could never get the real estate money they wanted and the club was deemed less valuable without it’s crèche. So, buying the Cubs in the original package they came in was the deal: $1B give or take, minus a 5% stake the Trib kept).  That narrowed down the number of talented owners who could afford the team (Mark Cuban publicly said, post-collapse, the Cubs aren’t worth that money) and meant the TribCo waited until a big bag of money showed up – ie, Tom Ricketts.  Ricketts sports career consisted entirely of sitting in Wrigley’s bleachers as a member of – by some accounts – the nation’s most disliked and obnoxious fan base.  So, who better to own the team that made its first statue – first, of any participant in the 100-plus-year legacy of the franchise – a monument to Harry Caray?

Ricketts’ legacy so far: burying the Cubs in absurd debt ($150 mil down for a $1.2-3B price tag), hiring Mike Quade to manage, a still shrinking fan base, maneuvering to push renovation costs on the public, and now losing the family farm.

That said, it may be Ricketts wants to sell.  He can’t afford Wrigley – has that realization ever occurred to him in his life, “I can’t afford this …” – so the state could buy it and charge him rent for a long time to come.  A Ricketts renting … what has the world come to?  In his favor, Ricketts did hire Theo, so maybe in all this he’s Mr. Magoo’d his way into making the Cubs a leaner, much more manageable franchise.  Hendry psycho drama and Tribco quarterly report thinking is gone.  The Illinois Sports Facility Authority isn’t there to maintain traditional deals and even Ryno didn’t get a job interview for the managing spot (Ryno, same guy who quit the team for a season, if I recall, cuz he felt like it).

In a lot of good ways, by design or implosion, the Cubs do look like a very new organization.

08.19.11

749-748: Cubs Fire Winning GM Hendry

Posted in Baseball at 5:34 pm by

(Hendry – the glory days.)

The Jim Hendry GM autopsy in Wrigleyville will have to be a lot more detailed than this, but basically, the W-L record of his tenure says a lot.  Yes, when the Tribune Co. got behind him to spend and get some ambitious management on the field, he signed talent, put the team in the play-offs in consecutive seasons, and brought some truly exciting seasons to the North Side.   Me, I think he added just as much as he subtracted during his stay.

The problem came in handling that talent once he signed them.  Think of the names that left the Cubs on bad terms during his tenure:  Dusty Baker, Sammy Sosa, Greg Maddux, Steve Stone, Milton Bradley, Lou Piniella (who soured on the team before his mom’s passing), and now Carlos Zambrano.  The headlines to all those marquee exits are well known, but think of the cost in the clubhouse as toxicity built up over time.  That cost the Cubs a lot. You can also add disappointments like Kosuke Fukodome and Alfonso Soriano.  While Hendry is not to blame for their weak numbers, you do have to ask a) why they proved impossible to motivate, and b) how many times in his tenure he tied himself to giant deals with hard-to-trade headcases who hamstrung the Cubs?

The Cubs aren’t be the only team in baseball with divas and egomaniacs on their payroll.  It’s Hendry’s inability to keep such people focused on baseball that’s remarkable.  Chicago has a low grade sporting press at best, and Hendry never seemed to step up to the Paul Sullivans in the press box who baited his players. I personally don’t believe much of what I read from today’s press conference regarding the timing or the reasons for Hendry’s firing.  I don’t know what I believe yet.  My first thought one hearing the news was that it was fallout from the Zambrano situation, Hendry’s latest soap opera.  That’s is, an emotionally erratic player, a situation allowed to explode in public (yet again, in Z’s case),  a big $$$ deal making Z hard to move, and a Cubs winter meeting where they settle for dimes on the dollar to dump him – it’s classic Hendry.  At least he got to leave at the top of his particular game.

06.26.11

MLB Realignment Could Heat This Texas Baseball Crowd Up

Posted in Baseball at 12:45 pm by

http://alt.coxnewsweb.com/cnishared/tools/shared/mediahub/03/71/47/slideshow_1477136_rbz_UT_Baseball_v_NM_20.jpg

[At a recent Astros-Rangers classic ... (photo by Ralph Barrera/Amer-Statesman)]

CSTB alum, and continuing night school Phd candidate, Jason Cohen appeared yesterday in the NY Times with a column on the possibilities of a Texas baseball rivalry between Houston and … wherever the Rangers officially call home, off that Nolan Ryan highway divide.  If the NYT paywall gets in your way, you can also read it here at Texas Monthly, with all of the local “jehosophats!” and “tarnations!” left in by Jason’s regional editors.  As Jason sums up the current situation:

The first Lone Star Series game was at the Ballpark in Arlington in June 2001. Excitement was only sort of high. “It’s not like the Yankees-Mets or the Cubs-White Sox,” the Astros star Jeff Bagwell told The Associated Press at the time.

I was there that night, with an extra ticket that the scalpers in the parking lot would only offer me $3 for. “The Rangers are 27 games out!” one argued, inarguably. The Astros, which back then had the better franchise, won in extra innings, but with both teams going 3-3 over the series, the Rangers earned the Silver Boot (a trophy the two teams started playing for in 1992 during spring training) on the basis of aggregate runs scored. Yup, just what Texas likes out of its rivalries — to settle things the way they do in soccer.

Since then, both teams have made it to — and lost in — the World Series, but the Lone Star Series hasn’t gotten much more exciting.

06.24.11

Riggleman Trades Nats

Posted in Baseball at 1:52 am by

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-HlXa3RO61zY/TY_0ZA4K4DI/AAAAAAAAYj4/GxCmYSHVZcs/s640/11+Topps+Heritage+Rack+Pack+16.jpg

[Pictured, this week's Most Hated Man in Baseball, Jim Riggleman.]

Today, Jim Riggleman fired his corporate bosses and the sports world (or at least the fan boy press) is appalled.  Players and managers are supposedly overgrown, lucky kids who don’t get to make decisions like that.  Unbelievably, Jim Riggleman doesn’t seem to care if he ever manages an MLB team again – every sports writers’ dream job.   He sold out his team, he doesn’t care about winning, what would Lou Gehrig say, etc, etc.?

The Nats are at .507, their best in six years.  They lose overall for a reason and Riggleman isn’t it. He’s not alone in letting DC fans down.  But let’s put that in perspective.  He’s not deserting fellow soldiers in Afghanistan, he’s a placeholder manager quitting a placeholder club intended to soak up $$$ the Orioles apparently can’t sponge effectively themselves.  At least, that’s how its owners and MLB treat it. In the midst of the Bud Selig era of $$$ > winning baseball, Riggleman’s me-first move today is small potatoes compared to what the Ricketts and McCourts are currently pulling as the Selig-approved stewards of Wrigley Field and Chavez Ravine.  And neither of those teams are winning.

So, Riggleman left his pennant-guaranteed .507 club high and dry because he didn’t get the deal he wanted.  Owners do that every day, as is their privilege as “businessmen.”  This is the same Riggleman who watched the Padres deal Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff out from under him in their “fire sale.” Do owners ever get blackballed for such bullshit?  Do we ever hear how they’ll never work again, no matter how much they sell out the concept of winning?  I’d like to see MLB impose a rule that says owners with sub-.500 teams for five years running be put under suspension and review like the McCourts have been for financial incompetence.  But that would mean winning really is what baseball is about, for all involved, and it’s not. If sportswriters want to get all self-righteous about Jim Riggleman letting his team down, get self-righteous about making owners win, too.

Yes, Riggelman’s move was about himself, but there’s positives to an angry manager  quitting rather than poisoning his club with anger and indifference to collect pay checks.  Didn’t he just walk out on $300K?  It wasn’t exactly a win-win move for Riggleman who sacrificed half a years’ salary. The Nats refused to deal straight with him because they didn’t feel like it.  Why isn’t his peace of mind worth something, too?  If winning doesn’t come first for the owners and MLB, why should it for their employee?  People cite Riggleman’s mediocre win record as if he isn’t deserving of some self-respect and dignity – two qualities you still have to fight for in the American workplace.  The Nats’ owners and MLB run that franchise to make money.  Fans who want to win basically have to get lucky in DC, because very few people are behind them.

06.14.11

Peter Gammons Calls National Shrine a “Dump,” Probably Hates Dogs, Too

Posted in Baseball, The Marketplace at 9:28 am by

[Pictured, the guy MLB didn't think was right to own the Cubs, Mark Cuban, the owner with the gold boner.]

There’s two sure ways to make news shooting your mouth of about the Cubs.  Ragging on the fans – a la Lee Elias, Milton Bradley, or Reds announcer Marty Brennaman – is a guaranteed headline.  The other way is to rag on that wax paper beer cup Valhalla, Wrigley Field.  Ozzie Guillien has had no shortage of verbal abuse for the Friendly Confines, a view that his paisan Carlos Zambrano agreed with and got him some instant headlines. And now Peter Gammons, who went on WSCR the other day and called Wrigley a “dump.“  He’ll get no argument from anyone with a nose.  After Gammons played Ed McMahon on the televised A-Rod confession a few years ago, we all know Peter Gammons loves helping an ethically challenged millionaire in trouble.  It explains Gammons also arguing that the jury is still out on the Ricketts Family as owners and that they had no real idea how much renovating Wrigley would cost.  BallparkDigest took issue with this, noting the Ricketts family was well aware of the $200+ million costs to turn Wrigley into livable ballpark and had even discussed the 2014 proposal to do so.  Says Ballpark Digest: “Indeed, the issue isn’t Wrigley: it’s the fact that Ricketts appears to be in over his head as owner of the Cubs. Fans expected a return to family ownership — i.e., committed ownership that didn’t see the historic franchise as simply a line item in an annual report — but instead they’ve seen a constant stream of requests for public money, whether it’s been tax dollars to fix up Wrigley Field or city funding of a new spring-training complex.”

Here’s my no-business degree view of what happened. The Trib Co. was in collapse before the rest of the economy and they held out f-o-r-e-v-e-r to sell the team.  Mark Cuban got unofficially blackballed with the MLB owners, specifically by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.  If he wasn’t blackballed, they took so long not blackballing Cuban that the sale happened during the collapse of the general economy and people with real money, like Cuban, moved on for better deals. Cuban also questioned the actual value of the Cubs, which no one else did. Whatever the Cubs were actually worth after the downslide, the Tribco was too in debt to want to sell for less – esp with buyers lined up.  The people who were left were oddball business partnerships and out of town consortiums, but only the Ricketts family matched up to Bud Selig and MLB’s local, family style ideal of ownership.  Never mind that the worst owner in Cubs history, Philip K. Wrigley, was exactly that – local family. Selig and co shrugged off the Ricketts family goldmine (Ameritrade) getting fined $456 million by the State of NY for defrauding customers weeks before the Cubs deal closed, meaning the ideal family came up short to pay the Tribune Co by tons.  So, they “borrowed” $700 million from themselves (even if you had a business degree, I mean … huh?) and now they’re so swimming in debt that they feel entitled to pass on to the fans and local governments.

Baseball Digest’s righteous tirade and Gammons views aside, I remain unconvinced the Ricketts family ever had a chance to renovate Wrigley given their financing of the deal and ethically free way they handle the public. The Ricketts family, like the McCourts and the Dodgers, were the favorites of Selig to own these teams.  The McCourt dynasty has been a disaster from the Manny signing thru their petty divorce to security issues of April this year.  The Ricketts haven’t done much right, assuming they planned to do the right thing.  Today, both families are on the MLB debt violations list. Neither “family” look like winners today, and Mark Cuban does.

06.05.11

Say It Ain’t So, Joad: The Wrigleyvillebillies Can’t Pay Off the Farm

Posted in Baseball, Money, The Marketplace at 11:25 pm by

(Pictured: The Ricketts family on Sunday, watching the Cubs lose in St. Louis, 3-2.)

I expect this will sound familiar. An over-valued property is sold to a family who can’t afford it. They drown in debt. The value of the property drops as assets have to be sold off and it goes underwater, meaning the family has a debt worth more than the property. Finally, the Wall Street geniuses who designed the deal come up with a brilliant plan – let the public pay it off.

In this case, the property in question is the Chicago Cubs, which the Ricketts family bought for $845 million – minus the $700 million they said they could come up with at the time.  Well, like any number of American families in 2009, they hit an unexpected financial bump when NY Attorney General Cuomo insisted they pay a $456 mil penalty fee for fraud. I know! Who hasn’t dipped into the till for $450 million when times get tough? I won’t lie to you, I sure have.

The Sun-Times ran a weakly sourced story on the Joad Ricketts family debt woes yesterday. Weak, since they claim they talked to “a source with first-hand knowledge of the Cubs’ purchase deal and debt structure,” a source so close to the books that The Sun-Times can with pinpoint dollar accuracy report that “unless their improved farm system takes an even more dramatic upturn in the next few months, that $400-million debt — give or take $100 million – could turn into a real problem with the bigger authorities. The fans.”

Not sure what’s less accurate here, needing a $100 million margin of error to report on the Ricketts’ debt or assuming that current fan lack of attendance will determine anything at Wrigley. Attendance dropped off last year and the Ricketts still put forth the platformed ticket pricing, public financing plans, and the expected payroll beat down and exodus of talent. Given their criminal track record, scamming business practices, and miserable on-field product – why are these people not given a time-frame to fix this or move on? Given that the Ricketts family can no longer pay off this team like actual fat cats, and if the public has to pay it off for them through price gouging and public financing – why shouldn’t the public own the team? I’ll be the first to say, I don’t know the community economics of such a deal a lá Green Bay and the Packers. But by 2012, we’ll be looking at a publicly funded debt refinancing for busted Wall Streeters from which the public will never profit. Sound familiar?

05.11.11

Fail, Baby, Fail: LA Sports and The Endless Bummer

Posted in Baseball, Basketball at 8:10 am by

[Been a long time since Kobe sold Happy Meals, or anything happy, for that matter. ]

LA sports is in a misery stretch that seems unshakable.  Living in LA and not being a Lakers fan isn’t always the best combination.  Not only don’t you care when they win, but you can’t avoid being immersed in the citywide sinkhole of their losing.  Their fans walk around town in their purple jerseys like Barney fans on prozac. They capped their 2011 with fouls so juvenile that Magic Johnson had to editorialize on ESPN that the Laker Organization itself was “embarrassed” by Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.  Embarrassing the Laker Organization is no easy feat, considering Odom’s Kardashian reality show, Shaq’s LA movie and hip-hop career, and Kobe’s whole career – but they managed it.  Completing a circle of futility, they sent Phil Jackson off to his retirement the way he got here – trying to put a lid on Laker ego, pettiness, and self-centered distractions a la Kobe and Shaq in 1999.

Kobe just bums me out endlessly.  There’s his calling a ref a “faggot” this year, and then his Turkish Airlines endorsement (talk about desperate). To the rest of the country, this might seem like a rape-tainted-jock’s vain attempt to get any public approval he can, and it is.  Here in LA, we have one of the biggest Armenian communities in the world.  For a local “hero” like Kobe to take that endorsement only stirs up one emotion here, a reminder of the 1915 Turkish attempt at genocide on the Armenians – one the Turkish government refuses to admit even happened.  Imagine if Germany denied their holocaust, and not just hate cranks.

That’s not Kobe’s fault, nor Turkish airlines – but if you’ve ever seen Armenian pride days or 12-year-old girls walking around the Americana mall dressed like Ke$ha but in 1915 Never Forget t-shirts – you know it’s an emotional issue that’s resonant on the street.  Kobe’s got a right, of course. But how many player names bring up the associations of rape, homophobia, and genocide? I’m not sure how Jerry Buss likes that combination, but nobody seems to love this current Laker crew so much as accept them as long as they win big.  And they didn’t, so fuck off Lakers.

But let’s not blame the Lakers completely for LA’s endless bummer.  LA sports has been a bummer for a long time.  There’s the city’s attempts to land an NFL team that only investors want.  There’s the endless comedy of the Washington Generals Clippers, and of course, the Dodgers.

I finally took a trip out to Chavez Ravine a week ago last Tuesday to see the Cubs beat the Dodgers, 5-2.  Cubs won, and it was still one of the more depressing experiences I have ever had in a MLB park.  Ryan Dempster went into the game with something like a 9.68 ERA and threw a no-hitter into the 5th inning.  I knew this wouldn’t last, because the only way you throw a hitless 9 innings with a 9-plus ERA is when you’re throwing against the White Sox.

But, I digress to bait the South Side, a worthy cause I’ll have to pursue another day.  So, Whoville: The first thing you notice in visiting Dodger Stadium 2011 is the army of cops.  At first I thought it was because bin Laden was killed on the previous Sunday, but it’s in response to the truly pathetic beat down of a Giants fan that left him in a coma.  Apparently, Dodger fans are a bigger threat than al-Qaeda. New Yorkers used to walking out of Yankee Stadium or the Garden on a play-off night know the sight of this many cops, but here in LA, it’s a a sign of decline.  Depressing that they’re needed, depressing I’m relieved to see them.  Last year I walked across the parking lot at the stadium with a black friend, and you could hear racist bullshit coming from some Latino kids hanging out, staying drunk after the game.  We were a ways off, but I remember the relief of locking doors in the car and leaving fast.  Chavez used to be one of my favorite spots in LA because when you’re there, it doesn’t feel like the city anymore.  The traffic, noise,  and feel of downtown fade into a peaceful park.  Now it’s a bad neighborhood you need an army to patrol.

But, the endless bummer goes back further.  There’s the McCourt divorce, which is a joke, but the fact that MLB had to take over the team this year makes you wonder about the feel inside the park.  First, the video screens that encircle the loge deck are entirely ads.  They used to show you league scores and other mlb info along with the ads.  The McDodgers are apparently so broke that when an inning starts, a new ad comes on and stays there all three outs.  I don’t care about advertising at a park, but at Chavez ads actually crowd out the game.  The Fox box on local KCAL-9 gives you more instant perspective on a game than actually sitting there watching it. Waiting for the one screen with scores or the Jumbotron to cycle thru ads and whatever else while the bank ads sit above you forever is insulting.

The divorce is now, but McCourt Era has been particularly crushing.  Manny Ramirez showed up with his steroid kit and blew out the “Joe Torre Era” – another Hall of Fame manager who retired after a taste of LA sports.  When the the McCourts arrived, they brought in Torre and then Manny, and you wanted to get out to the park to see this team.  Not for long.  Manny’s self-destruction brought down years of rebuilding, and you couldn’t avoid his mug around the city on all those Mannywood billboards, a constant bitter joke.

Besides the army of cops and ads, Dodger Stadium now does a 7th inning stretch comprised of “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”  I hate a 7th inning “God Bless America.”  We already stand up for the national anthem pre-game.  Now there’s two flag-waving songs at the Stadium, plus the Veteran of the Game campaign, where a vet throws out a pitch.  I like the vet thing.  Vets actually do something for the country. But everyone stands up for “God Bless America” and puts their hats and hands over their heart when it’s not even the anthem.  But what are you going to do, not stand up?  Boo?  My own protest is to go get a beer until it’s done.  It’s overkill, it’s fake, and it’s not like the Dodgers stop selling Citibank ad-space for one second to say thanks to the troops.  So, to paraphrase Dean Wormer, cops, commercials, and peer pressure patriotism are no way to go through life, son.

I like LA, I live here, but the people who run our sports manage to suck the life out of this city.

12.04.10

Ron Santo, 1940-2010

Posted in Baseball, Sports Radio at 2:36 am by

[A classic from Santo, as usual, voicing the honest to God truth of Wrigley.]

Cubs fans have never gotten over the loss of Harry Caray or, to a lesser degree, Steve Stone’s abrupt exit from the Cubs booth.  Yet, the real mainstay in the Cubs organization who pre- and postdates them was Ron Santo.  I first saw Santo play in 1970 at Wrigley when I was 3 or 4.  I won’t tell you I remember any play he made that day, because all I can remember is how excited I was to be in Wrigley and see Billy Williams himself in the batting circle, right where we were sitting.  While Ernie Banks and other players always came back to visit, Santo seems to me to always have been around.  He signed with the Cubs in 1959, debuted in 1960, played at Wrigley until 1973, then for the White Sox in ’74.

Santo spent five decades (pretty much) in and around baseball and the team he loved most.  Not bad. Still, there was a lot of frustration in his life: the ’69 pennant loss, disease, and then the Hall of Fame, which denied him admittance again and again.  The thing that stands out to me about Santo’s broadcast career was his ability to convey perfectly the frustration of Cubs fans. Jack Brickhouse’s “Hey Hey!” for home runs or Harry Caray’s boozy boosterism “ that’s what you usually remember about broadcasters. It’s always highlight moments like Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard heard round the world” (“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”) that we replay.  For me, Santo “ as in the clip above “ voiced better than anyone the undeniable truth of the Cubs history he witnessed, called, and participated in “ frustration. I know that’s not how he would want to be remembered. He was a hugely optimistic Cubs fan as well as a presence in Wrigley.  He felt every play on the field personally like he was still down there on third himself.  Harry Caray moved from the Cardinals booth to the White Sox to the Cubs without blinking.  Could Santo have done the same?  I doubt it.  The above clip is what Santo did best in the booth, his pitch perfect echo of Cub fans everywhere.