Jim Leyland still isn’t buying media narratives

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If you’ve missed hearing Jim Leyland’s gravely voice churning up prefabricated media narratives like rocks in a cement mixer, then do not miss the MLB Network special on Leyland, which airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern.

In advance of the program, Leyland appeared today on MLB Network’s High Heat, refusing to take the bait as host Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo persistently and loudly (as expected) ran Leyland through some of the tougher moments in his more than twenty years as a major-league manager.

For me, Leyland, with his lovable disdain for the media, memorable battles with umpires, smoking of Marlboro Reds, and the mutual affection between him and his players and assistant coaches, is an essential part of the recent stretch of Detroit Tigers success, and he means a lot to the Marlins and Pirates communities too. The mere mention of a Jim Leyland special probably is enough to send most baseball fans to their televisions or DVRs, but if you’re on the fence, here’s the preview video, which includes this shot:

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Plus this guy(!):

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This is going to be a good show no matter what, but I will be a little disappointed if we don’t get to see Leyland singing (or not singing) or talking about his sweet pre-game ritual or post-game dancing.

Trucks Jam

Butch Trucks, drummer, Allman Brothers Band founding member, and uncle of modern guitar legend Derek, died this week. Even as the ABB tapered off its touring schedule and eventually concluded its historic run, Trucks continued a vibrant performance life, playing both with established musicians like his band mates and forming new bands with younger players.

One of Trucks’ lesser publicized projects was his personal blog. He started it about a month before this site went live, and it remains the most memorable thing I read online during that period. After speaking, essentially exclusively, through his drumming for decades, his unfiltered, direct, intelligent written communication revealed more of the personality behind his rhythm. And the writing was revealing. He wrote about controversial points in the band’s history, racism, Duane, Dickey, Skynyrd, the reality of his own upbringing, and more, and he even read and responded to reader comments. A rare opportunity to peer inside the active mind of one of the many pillars of rock and roll. The second half of 2011 was his busiest time on the site, which felt like it should have been shut down at any moment by a band PR rep, and he didn’t post there after 2013, but it is essential reading for any fan of the Allmans.

If you want to read something else, here’s an interview with Trucks and Jaimoe, the band’s other original drummer, in connection with the 40th anniversary tour two years ago. Otherwise, I’d recommend leaving all that behind for now and getting into these jams.

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Related
Silent Film Series: Virgil “Fire” Trucks (Detroit, MI 1956)

Sports Law Roundup – 1/20/2017

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Hockey head injuries: In a discovery dispute in a case between the NHL and over one hundred former players alleging that the league knew or should have known that concussions can lead to CTE, the NHL filed a motion seeking a court order compelling Boston University’s CTE Center to turn over research documents the former players say constitute evidence supporting their claims. Thus far, BU, which “maintains what it calls the largest brain repository in the world dedicated to the study of CTE,” had refused to provide the league with the requested information on confidentiality grounds.
  • Atlanta Braves Community Fund: A lawsuit alleges that, since at least 2010, the Atlanta Braves have failed to make adequate payments to a nonprofit entity known as the Community Fund as required under the team’s contract with the city (technically the City of Atlanta and Fulton County Recreation Authority) for Turner Field. That contract required the Braves to pay specified shares of revenue from both baseball and non-baseball events at Turner Field to the Community Fund, which now claims that the team underpaid in violation of that contract. The Braves played their final game ever at Turner Field last October.
  • Beatles’ declaration worth many pennies: Since we’re thin on sports law stories this week and sometimes cover music on this site, here included is comment on Paul McCartney’s recent lawsuit seeking a declaration that his prior exercise of certain rights under copyright law will not cause a breach of publishing agreements with Sony. McCartney is hoping to gain control of the rights to songs he wrote prior to 1978 but fears retribution from Sony, which could not provide “clear assurances he won’t face contract troubles for taking back his songs.”

Sports court is in recess.

Detroit Memorial Jam

Bob Seger is back with his first new song release in over two years. Seger, who hasn’t toured since 2015, just published “Glenn Song,” a tribute to Eagles co-founder and fellow Michigander Glenn Frey, on the first anniversary of Frey’s death. The two had a history of collaboration, with Frey backing Seger on the latter’s first national hit, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” and Seger pitching in on the Eagles hit “Heartache Tonight” a decade later. Seger, now seventy-one, is in strong voice on “Glenn Song,” which is available for free streaming and download on his website.

Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?

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He’s only twenty-five years old, but Mike Trout is the best player in baseball today and one of the best ever. There’s only one of him, though, and he’s under contract with the Angels through 2020, which means that your team can’t have him anytime soon, and, unless your team is the Yankees or Dodgers, it probably can’t afford him once he hits free agency either. If you don’t and won’t ever have Trout himself, your only option is to make like the post-Jordan NBA and find the next Trout. Everybody wants to be like Mike.

The Detroit Tigers, for example, really could use a guy like Trout. They haven’t done much this offseason, and they’re in need of a center fielder. Of course, they had a decent center fielder in 2016 in Cameron Maybin, but the team “traded” him to the Angels as soon as the season was over and, surprise, the Angels didn’t send Trout, who also plays center, to the Tigers in return.

While the hole in the middle of the outfield currently remains unaddressed (the team’s very recent acquisition of Mikie Mahtook notwithstanding), another anticipated outfield move that Detroit has not yet made is trading right fielder J.D. Martinez, who will be a free agent after this coming season. Martinez has been very good since the Tigers acquired him from Houston, and, assuming he returns to form following his elbow injury last season, he will earn a payday next offseason beyond what the Tigers likely will want to offer.

Before Martinez inevitably departs the Motor City, it’s worth taking another look at what exactly the Tigers have in their young right fielder, and, bold as it may seem, asking whether he’s the next Trout.

On one hand, the answer obviously is no. Martinez, in his best season, was, by whichever WAR metric you prefer, about half as valuable as Trout was in his best. There also is the matter of age: while we’d expect The Next Trout to be younger than Trout, J.D. is four years older than Mike.

On the other hand, anyone who’s followed Martinez’s career knows that he was reborn as a hitter after he left Houston for Detroit, creating a bit of deception in his developmental track (I’m sure he doesn’t spend much time thinking about those first three MLB seasons), even if the aging clock ticks on.

Imagining, for purposes of this strained and fabricated narrative, that this “young” Martinez was coming up behind the more experienced Trout, we might also notice that the two outfielders have similar batting profiles.

This afternoon, Baseball Savant creator Darren Wilman tweeted a link to a chart comparing hitters according to their batted ball exit velocity and slugging percentage:

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Right there next to each other at the top of the curve are Trout and Martinez. (Click below to see more precise indications of their positions.)

Everyone knows Trout and Martinez are power-hitting outfielders, but I still was surprised to see how close Martinez was to Trout on this graph. Martinez’s overall value suffers because he plays an easier position than Trout, and, although his defense showed marked improvement in 2015 (before the improvements evaporated in his broken-elbow season last year), plays it less well than Trout plays his. Still, if I’m Martinez’s agent, a chart showing that my client hits– in terms of exit velocity and extra bases– just like Trout is going to be on page one of the Boras Binder I’m distributing this offseason. And if I’m Tigers GM Al Avila, I’ll make sure every potential trade partner this summer catches a glimpse of it too.

Sure, some still want Detroit to make another all-in push in 2017, but the proverbial contention window is hanging as heavy and tenuously in its frame as it ever has for this crew, and it’s tough to imagine a world in which they can retain Martinez. In five years, after seeing him mash in pinstripes or Dodger blue, Tigers fans may look back and see Martinez’s delayed, Trout-esque offensive prime as one of the largest costs of their now-overleveraged roster.

At last, unimpeachable grounds for removing a BBWAA member’s hall of fame vote

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Voting now is underway for the 2017 class of Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, which means it’s the time of year when two things happen: 1) people who vote on HOF enshrinement write articles explaining their ballot choices as a way of reminding us that they (i.e., the writer-voters) are important, and 2) people say that some of those people should lose their voting rights for some reason or another. Maybe the voter voted for Roger Clemens. Maybe the voter didn’t vote for Roger Clemens. Maybe the voter hasn’t covered baseball in ten years and thinks Roger Clemens still is playing for the Blue Jays. Maybe the voter sold his vote to Deadspin. Who knows. What these would-be disenfranchisers tend to have in common is that they themselves are disenfranchised but want their voices heard on the ballot questions just as much as those actually allowed to vote. These “disputes” come down to policy preferences, and it’s tough imagine a voter’s decision to vote or not vote for a particular player providing a basis for stripping a voter of his or her vote (though Lou Whittaker and Alan Trammel’s exclusions from Cooperstown will never not baffle).

At last, though, we are presented with an actual voter who, without question whatsoever, is deserving of banishment from the collection of people entitled to vote on admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame. If ever there were grounds upon which all agree a voter should lose voting privileges, it would be a demonstrated inability to actually vote.

Bill Livingston is one of those people who falls into the first group described above, and he wrote one of those group-one articles about his ballot this year. He wanted to tell the world that he had a vote, but that he was abstaining from voting because he hasn’t decided what he thinks about steroids in baseball. Actually, more precisely, he wrote that he was abstaining because other people (the royal “baseball”) hadn’t figured out what to do about steroids in baseball. Whatever. Maybe it’s dumb or lame or a waste, or maybe you’d hope the people upon whom HOF-voter status is bestowed would undertake a little personal responsibility and make up their minds, but it ultimately is fine. He’s abstaining. So be it.

Except Livingston didn’t abstain. He cast a blank ballot. In elections run like this one, that action constitutes casting a vote against everybody, and that’s a lot different than abstaining. Deadspin explains the situation succinctly:

The thing is, if you want to abstain from voting, what you need to do is not submit a ballot at all. That way, your ballot won’t be counted in the total pool of ballots and thus won’t change the number of votes a player needs to get to cross the 75-precent threshold [required for induction]. All Livingston has done by submitting a signed, blank ballot is to make it a little bit harder for everyone in this year’s class to get into the Hall of Fame . . . .

Mr. Livingston, I presume from his publicly described action, actually does not know how to vote, and that demonstrated ignorance constitutes unimpeachable grounds for removal of his voting privileges.

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Related
The Baseball Hall of Fame, Deadspin, the Third Rail, and the Fourth Wall
No one elected to Baseball Hall of Fame
Totally disinterested person offers opinion on 2013 MLB Hall of Fame candidates
Amid the glut of Pete Rose journalism, a new, false dichotomy

Sports Law Roundup – 1/13/2017

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • College football head injuries: A group of former Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and TCU football players has sued the NCAA and Big XII conference, alleging that those entities breached contractual obligations to warn players of and take adequate steps to prevent head injuries. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status, and their lawyer has said that he expects to file similar lawsuits on behalf of more players this year.
  • Olympic surveillance: Two years ago, the former mayor of Salt Lake City and six SLC residents filed a proposed class action against George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, David Addington, Michael Hayden, the FBI, and the NSA, alleging that the federal government improperly spied upon people attending the 2002 Winter Olympics. Now, a judge has denied the NSA’s motion to dismiss the case and will allow it to proceed.
  • Gymnast abuse: In more Olympic news, eighteen women sued USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States; Michigan State University; and a gym in the Lansing area. Their complaint alleges that an affiliated doctor molested and sexually assaulted the plaintiffs, some of whom were as young as nine years old when the alleged attacks occurred, and that the defendants failed to act appropriately upon their knowledge of this doctor’s actions. This is the third civil action involving this doctor, and criminal complaints also have been filed. The FBI reportedly recovered child pornography from the doctor’s electronic devices and is in possession of video evidence of the doctor perpetrating sexual assaults.
  • Baseball land shark attack: The judge overseeing a dispute between the Miami Marlins and a fan who alleges she suffered a serious neck injury in 2013 when a shark mascot, following an on-field race with other mascots, leaned into the stands and pretended to bite her head has ordered the parties to participate in mediation in advance of the case’s June trial date.
  • Concert dodgers: A concert promoter sued the Los Angeles Dodgers and Guggenheim Partners, the entity that owns the team, because, the promoter alleges, they failed to pay him a share of the proceeds from concerts by Paul McCartney and AC/DC hosted at Dodger Stadium for his work in securing those performances. The promoter says he’s owed $2 million, while a leaked draft response from the defendants reportedly tells him to “forget about the check, we’ll get hell to pay.”
  • Sports gambling legalization: Legislators in South Carolina and New York separately proposed amendments to their state constitutions that would legalize sports betting. The South Carolina proposal would allow all forms of gambling, while the New York one would be limited to allowing sports gambling at racetracks and casinos.
  • Preemptive free agency: Last week, we highlighted an article suggesting that a California employment law could allow certain athletes playing for teams in that state to unilaterally opt out of long-term contracts and become free agents. High-profile baseball agent Scott Boras subsequently weighed in on the subject and counseled against the idea largely because the transactional costs of attempting the move (i.e., years of litigation) likely would outweigh– and, due to time delay, probably completely negate– any potential benefit to the player.
  • CTE: This also is not a legal news story, exactly, but this space has highlighted a number of sports-related head-injury lawsuits in the past, which makes sharing this compelling and well-told story of a young person’s struggles with CTE appropriate. If you only click through to one link in this post, make it this one.

Sports court is in recess.

Erin Andrews says the NFL enforces an in-game press embargo

Erin Andrews, an NFL sideline reporter for Fox, told Stephen Colbert last night (4:37 mark of the above video) that she is not allowed to report actual comments she hears from players or coaches.

“I hear the craziest things you could ever imagine,” Andrews said, explaining that she wished she could report them, but “the NFL doesn’t allow that.” Instead, she said, she is required to “paraphrase” what she hears in very general terms. Andrews wouldn’t elaborate on potential consequences of such reporting, saying only that “it’s just a rule, as a sideline reporter, I cannot repeat verbatim what I hear on the sideline.”

No sports entity is more interested in image control than the NFL (although execution sometimes is a different question), so it’s not shocking that Roger Goodell would have a gag order in place to keep what he undoubtedly sees as his reporters from relating to the public the actual comments of what he undoubtedly sees as his players.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise if you recall the story that broke over the summer, when the league dictated to NBC which announcers the network was required to use on its Thursday and Sunday night broadcasts.

In the professional football world, the NFL Network is state-run media, obviously, but little leaks like the NBC Al Michaels/Mike Tirico story and Andrews’ revelation last night serve as gentle reminders that, for the NFL, there is no such thing as an independent press.

Detroit Lions 2016 Wild Card preview

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Head coach Jim Caldwell has the Detroit Lions back in the playoffs for the second time in his three-year tenure. After ending the season with three consecutive losses, the Lions (9-7) will play the Seahawks tonight in Seattle in the first NFC wild card game, which kicks off at 8:15 Eastern on NBC.

Detroit’s playoff history in the Super Bowl era isn’t pretty. In the fifty seasons since the 1966 merger, the Lions have appeared in the postseason in just twelve of those seasons, winning just one game.

That one win, a 38-6 dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys on January 5, 1992, also was the last NFL playoff game hosted in Detroit, and one of only two ever in the Super Bowl era (not counting games, like Super Bowl XL, in which the Lions, obviously, did not participate).

The national press picked up on an interesting narrative following that win, which featured Barry Sanders, of course, and also Erik Kramer, whom they highlighted as “a strikebreaker,” or, in the words of Cowboys defenders Jack Del Rio (now the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, who have an AFC wildcard meeting with the Houston Texans this afternoon) and Tony Casillas, “a scab.” Kramer had played for Atlanta as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL strike, something that upset apparent union tough guys Del Rio and Casillas and, the New York Times postulated, Kramer’s ostensible supporters in the center of the UAW universe (“this grizzled, battered town, this blue-collar, lunch-bucket town”). The on-field performances by Kramer, who had claimed the starting job after starting the season as the team’s third quarterback, and Sanders that day erased any internal concerns that might have troubled the Honolulu blue and silver faithful, however. They also silenced Del Rio:

Del Rio kept up the verbal barrage during the game, or part of it, anyway.

“I didn’t hear him make any more remarks after the first quarter, said Kramer.”

Detroit only led 7-3 at the end of that first quarter, but Dallas already had amassed half of the points it would score all day. Kramer threw three touchdown passes, Sanders finished the day with a forty-seven-yard TD run, and the Lions defense even got in on the scoring action, when Mel Jenkins intercepted starting Dallas QB Steve Beuerlein and ran it back for six. By at least this one measure– Super-Bowl era playoff wins– then, Kramer might be considered the Lions best-ever playcaller.

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This time around, the Lions quarterback again is the lead story. Matthew Stafford has struggled somewhat since injuring the middle finger on his throwing hand (pictured above, both pre- and post-injury). He claims he doesn’t rely much on that finger for gripping the ball, but the injury can’t help. Nor do recent injuries to other key contributors like DeAndre Levy, Marvin Jones, Ezekiel Ansah, Travis Swanson, and Riley Reiff, all of whom are likely to be game-time decisions. It also is not clear whether the team has a running back, although the emergence of Zach Zenner has caught the eye of at least one Seahawk defensive lineman.

While Detroit’s nine wins came on the back of a weak schedule, the Seahawks (10-5-1) also had some bad losses this year, dropping games to the Rams and Saints and going 0-1-1 against the disappointing Cardinals. They are coming off a win in Week 17, but they barely scraped by two-win San Francisco. This has not quite been the dominant Seahawks squad of recent seasons. Still, they best the Lions in all of the usual statistical categories and are 7-1 at home, where the game will be played tonight. (The Lions were 3-5 on the road this season.)

Any pieces of good news at this point are going to be small, but a notable one is the absence of Earl Thomas, one of Seattle’s best defenders, who will not play due to a leg injury. Seattle’s aggressive defensive tendencies also may help twist this piece of seemingly bad news into good news:

Lions fans are upset because Brad Allen, who calls a lot of penalties and officiated two Detroit losses and no wins, will be refereeing this game. Caldwell isn’t worried about the NFL assigning Allen to this game, though, and neither am I, because I think, in general, playoff games are officiated differently; Allen will have a completely different crew under his supervision; and, despite Seattle’s 2-1 record in Allen games, Seattle’s defensive strategy shouldn’t mesh well with a referee who throws a lot of flags. Their “efficient-breach” approach allows them to be aggressive, because they know that, even if their defenders commit pass interference or defensive holding on most every play, the officials won’t flag it every time. It therefore might not be a bad thing if Allen and his crew called more penalties in this game, so long as they do so fairly.

Another matchup to watch will be the Detroit defensive line against the Seattle offensive line, the latter being the only real Seahawk weakness. In a disappointing year from Ansah, the Lions haven’t made waves in the pass-rush department, but a breakout day from the fourth-year defensive end could be a difference-maker today.

It’s going to be a long and loud afternoon in Seattle, where a wintry mix has been in and out of the forecast. It will be tough sledding for these battered Lions. Here’s hoping they find a new gear and, once again, give their fans a reason to celebrate in January.

Sports Law Roundup – 1/6/2017

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the first week of 2017:

  • Baseball stadium funding: The Arizona Diamondbacks, seeking the right to “explor[e] other stadium options,” have sued the Maricopa County Stadium District after the District refused to authorize funding for the $185 million needed for capital repairs and improvements to Chase Field, which opened in 1998, according to an assessment completed by the District.The team has expressed willingness to cover all of the District’s expenses, but the District apparently must give its permission to proceed and thus far has declined to do so.
  • Student-athlete classification: In a case we have been monitoring in this space (here and here), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has denied the request of a group of former Penn student-athletes for full-court (en banc) review of that court’s earlier rejection of their claim that they were employees entitled to minimum-wage compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The denial of the request for further review leaves in place the court’s decision handed down last month. It is unclear whether the plaintiffs will request permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: A DFS website argued that daily fantasy sports actually are illegal gambling in an attempt to avoid a $1.1 million lawsuit based on an advertising and sponsorship contract with the Minnesota Wild. I wrote more about this case here earlier this week. Meanwhile, a Maryland law authorizing the lawful, regulated conduct of DFS contests in that state, which is regarded as less restrictive than similar measures in other states, went into effect on Monday; a Florida legislator introduced a bill Wednesday that would declare DFS legal in that state; and FanDuel earned another win in a patent-infringement suit brought by two gambling technology companies in Nevada.
  • Preemptive free agency:  Nathaniel Grow has an interesting article on FanGraphs that illuminates a California employment law that could apply to allow even union employees like professional athletes to unilaterally opt out of long-term contracts after seven years of employment. This poses a potentially tantalizing, if legally unproven, opportunity for someone like Mike Trout, a generational talent not yet in his prime who likely could fetch an even more historically large contract were he to hit the open market now, at age twenty-five, rather than after the 2020 season, which is when his current contract ends.

Sports court is in recess.