Dispatch from the launch pad

After the Detroit Tigers delivered a lesson in sequencing last night, producing their first in-game lead and first win since trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton last week (indeed, since JV’s last start for Detroit), Verlander made his first major-league appearance in a non-Tigers uniform when he took the mound for the Astros in Seattle.

Many criticized Houston for declining to make any trades at the non-waiver trade deadline in July. Many more now are praising them for trading for Verlander and are hailing the Astros, once again, as the favorite to represent the American League in the World Series. (Current playoff odds: 100% (BP); 100% (FG); >99% (538, which has them as favored to win each of their remaining games).)

The idea that Houston would be in the hunt this year is not a terribly surprising one. They were in the playoffs in 2015, missed the postseason in 2016 despite winning eighty-four games, and responded this year by opening up a massive lead in their division they’ve never relinquished.

Three years ago, though, when Sports Illustrated declared them the (eventual) winner of the 2017 Word Series, things were different. They won just seventy games that year, fifty-one the year before, and fifty-five in 2012, their first season under highly regarded General Manager Jeff Luhnow. That 2015 playoff berth was the team’s first since 2005, when they represented the National League in a losing World Series effort against the White Sox.

I remember the day I saw that SI cover, probably the magazine’s most memorable in some years. At that time, I didn’t think the prediction was outlandish, having been clued into the significance of the Luhnow hire two years prior and aware of the widely noted Chicago Cubs’ contemporary rebuild under Theo Epstein.

What I also didn’t think at that time, though, was that the Astros’ championship plan might include the acquisition of a veteran star from the team I follow. From Houston’s perspective, the trade makes perfect sense; somehow, though, I never considered I’d be watching them make their run with a player as familiar as Verlander.

verlander astros

I’m still scratching my head too.

With a 13.5-game lead in the AL West in September, Houston is an obvious lock for the playoffs, as those odds cited above indicate. Naturally, their odds to win the World Series also are strong (15.5% (BP); 21.5% (FG); 15% (538)): they’re the favorite according to FanGraphs, while BP and FiveThirtyEight place the Dodgers and Indians slightly higher. To my knowledge, none of these projection systems really account for the addition of Verlander, however (though, as some have pointed out, both the Astros and Verlander have struggled against Cleveland in recent meetings).

Whatever Verlander’s statistical impact on his new team’s championship chances, I know he’ll be a compelling watch in the postseason, even if it looks like he’s wearing a Halloween costume.

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Frank Deford’s final public words

Almost fifteen years ago, I attended a public lecture by Frank Deford, who applied his winding wit and signature vocal timbre to the athletic matters of the day: drugs, collegiate sports, and, of course, soccer culture, his great nemesis. At that time, in the fall of 2004, I probably was as far as I have been from the person who would later start a sports-focused website, but I knew well Deford’s voice through his NPR essays, which he began delivering in 1980, and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet one of the greats in person. Knowing him only from his radio work, Deford’s striking physical presence, upon seeing him for the first time, immediately both impressed and made exact sense; the vocal and corporeal likely never have been more perfectly combined.

His authority in the field was obvious, but it wasn’t until later that I would discover the source of that authority: his print work, including a trove of articles for Sports Illustrated, where he started after graduating from Princeton in 1962, and, arguably even more influentially, his role as editor-in-chief of The National Sports Daily, the forefather to the more recently revered Grantland. Deford also wrote for Vanity Fair and Newsweek, produced novels and screenplays, and contributed to CNN and HBO’s Real Sports.    Continue reading

All Wings Must Pass: As an era comes to an end in Detroit, there’s stories to share (via Sports Illustrated)

Want a beer?

Go ahead. Al just fired up the grill. O.K., technically it’s a reconfigured old nacho stand, not a grill. And officially Al Sobotka is the building operations manager, not a cook. But nobody here cares about that stuff. Al fills it with charcoal and holds a cookout in the arena a few times a year. Yes, cookouts inside an NHL arena. But the Joe is not just any arena, you see. It’s a … well … the right word is probably …

Dump? 

Hey, now. Be nice. Sure, it is kind of a dump. The concourses are too narrow. The restrooms are too few and therefore too crowded. The whole place looks as if it was built after somebody cut the budget in half. Who builds a riverfront arena with no windows? But it has the best sight lines in the NHL and all sorts of accidental character. You’ll be amazed at how many people will miss this place when it closes this spring. Grandmothers will get misty. Grown men will cry into their beer.

Speaking of beer….

Oh, right. Grab one from the stack, right there by the Zamboni. The delivery trucks leave it there because there is no place else to put it. There is only one loading dock, and it’s not sealed off like in those new sporting palaces. That’s why, whether you show up for a morning skate or an evening playoff game, the first thing that hits you is the unmistakable stench of beer. It never goes away. Joe Louis Arena always smells as if it hosted a party that lasted way longer than anybody had expected … which, in a way, it has.

The Detroit Red Wings have made the NHL playoffs every season since 1990–91. The streak, the third longest in pro sports history, has survived four league work stoppages, five presidential administrations, radical NHL rules changes, the influx of European talent and the advent of a salary cap. When it started, Gary Bettman worked for the NBA, where people were wondering if -Michael Jordan would ever win a champion-ship. Peyton Manning was a high school freshman. You could walk into Sears and buy a black-and-white TV, then watch news reports about the Soviet Union, which still existed.

This tastes like chicken sausage.

Well, that’s because it is chicken sausage. Al stopped grilling Italian sausages when NHL players got nutrition-savvy. Anyway, dig in. We’ve got stories to share. … Read More

(via Sports Illustrated)

Sports Law Roundup – 2/3/2017

aslr

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.

After a week off to attend a fancy law conference, we’re back with the top sports-related legal stories from the past week or so:

  • Baylor sexual assault: The scope of the sexual assault scandal at Baylor University continues to expand. Last week, a former Baylor student sued the university because, she alleged, she was the victim of a group rape committed by two football players in 2013 that the school ignored. The plaintiff also alleged that football players were responsible for numerous other crimes “involving violent physical assault, armed robbery, burglary, drugs, guns, and, notably, the most widespread culture of sexual violence and abuse of women ever reported in a collegiate athletic program.” She further claims that, between 2011 and 2014, thirty-one Baylor football players committed a total of fifty-two rapes, including five gang rapes. The complaint makes out claims under Title IX and common-law negligence theories. One significant hurdle for the plaintiff is that both types of claims are subject to two-year statutes of limitations. Since her alleged rape occurred in 2013, the university is likely to seek a dismissal on that basis.
  • College football defamation: In more Baylor football news, former head coach Art Briles now has dropped the defamation lawsuit he filed just two months ago against three Baylor regents and the university’s senior vice president and CEO for their statements that Briles was aware of sex crimes reportedly committed by his players and failed to provide that information to proper authorities, among other claims. As of this writing, no one has made an official comment on Briles’ behalf explaining the dismissal, but it appears to be connected to documents some of the same defendants in the Briles case filed in a new defamation case brought this week by former Baylor football director of operations Colin Shillinglaw. Those documents supposedly demonstrate Briles’ awareness of and attempts to cover up his players’ wrongdoing. If you’re the TMZ type, you can read more about the contents of the alleged Briles communications here.
  • Wrestling ban: Iran has announced that it will not allow the American wrestling team to compete in the 2017 Freestyle World Cup, which the Iranian city of Kermanshah is hosting this month. The ban comes as a form of retaliation for President Donald Trump’s January 27 executive order temporarily blocking people from entering the United States from Iran and six other majority-Muslim countries.
  • Football head injuries: A state court judge in New York denied the NFL’s motion to dismiss a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the son of deceased player Arthur DeCarlo Sr., who, his son alleges, died as a result of CTE he contracted from head injuries sustained while playing football. This is the only CTE case against the NFL that is outside of the federal multidistrict settlement based in a Pennsylvania federal court. Addressing a statute-of-limitations issue, the New York judge likened the case to asbestos claims by describing CTE as a latent condition, the manifestation of which is not discoverable until the completion of a posthumous autopsy. Meanwhile, on Monday, a group of former college football players filed suit against helmet manufacturer Riddell seeking class-action status and alleging that Riddell made false claims about its helmet’s ability to protect against concussions. This is the fifth active concussion-related lawsuit pending against Riddell.
  • Cheerleader wages: A former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader filed a complaint against the NFL and the twenty-six NFL teams that have cheerleaders, alleging that they conspired to suppress cheerleader wages (which are between $1,000 and $1,500 per year, according to the complaint) below market value. The unnamed plaintiff is seeking to represent a class of all NFL cheerleaders employed in the past four years.
  • Child abuse: Three former Penn State University administrators will face criminal child endangerment charges stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program. PSU’s former president, senior vice president, and athletic director were successful in quashing charges of failing to report child sexual abuse, but their trials on the remaining charge will go forward next month.
  • Student-athlete rights: The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued an official memorandum stating that football players at Division I FBS schools “are employees under the [National Labor Relations Act], with the rights and protections of that act.” The precise legal consequences of this memorandum are unclear, at least to this writer, but the practical consequences likely will include an increase in unionization attempts and unfair labor practice filings among student-athletes at the covered schools. The memorandum already has generated critical comments from some members of Congress who believe it would have “devastating consequences for students and academic institutions[,] puts the interests of union leaders over America’s students, and . . . has the potential to create significant confusion at college campuses across the nation.”
  • Baseball hacking: As punishment for their hacking of the Houston Astros’ database, MLB fined the St. Louis Cardinals $2 million and forced them to forfeit two 2017 draft picks (the fifty-sixth and seventy-fifth overall picks) to the Astros. In addition, the league banned the currently jailed St. Louis employee who hacked the Houston system multiple times from future MLB employment. Most commentators and team officials regard the sanction as a light one.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: The European island nation of Malta has granted daily fantasy sports website DraftKings a license to operate in that country, and that license may allow the site to operate in other European jurisdictions that recognize the Maltese license as well.
  • Live game streaming: MSG has entered into an agreement with the NHL to broadcast the four New York and New Jersey hockey teams (Sabres, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils) on the network’s live streaming service, MSG GO, which is available for free to MSG subscribers. Meanwhile, another New-York-area network, SNY, will begin streaming Mets games on its own website and the NBC Sports app. (NBC previously reached a streaming agreement with MLB Advanced Media for in-market access to Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, Athletics, and Giants games starting this year.)

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 12/30/2016

aslr

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.

After a week off for Christmas, we’re back with the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Soccer CBA: The collective-bargaining agreement between the U.S. Women’s National Team Players’ Association and the U.S. Soccer Federation is set to expire this weekend, and reports, centered around the union’s termination of its executive director on Wednesday, indicate that the two sides are unlikely to reach a new agreement in time. Compensation appears to be a central issue of contention for the players, who already have a pending wage-discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Absent a new agreement before the deadline, the existing CBA would remain in place (though either side then would have the right to terminate the agreement on sixty-days’ notice).
  • NFL head injuries: The lawsuit filed last month by thirty-eight former NFL players against the league and its teams seeking an amendment to the NFL-NFLPA CBA to provide for workers’ compensation benefits for CTE for living patients and loss-of-consortium compensation for their spouses is over. In an apparent attempt to avoid having the case lumped in with already-pending NFL concussion litigation, which is in the settlement phase, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed this suit and intend to re-file individually in various state courts.
  • Soccer witchcraft ban: This isn’t really a legal update, but it has been a slow few weeks in the sports law world, so there’s room for a note on the national governing body of soccer in Rwanda’s new ban on witchcraft during games. The restriction only applies to coaches, and the penalty is a four-match suspension and a fine. It appears that sorcery, however, remains legal in Rwandan soccer.

Sports court is in recess.

Baseball Notes: Save Tonight

baseball notes

It is an accepted reality that, in general, baseball players don’t have much time for their sport’s new and advanced statistics and metrics. In many ways, this resistance makes sense. In the moment, when standing on the mound or in the batter’s box, there’s only so much thought and information a player can hold in his mind while trying to accomplish the task– make or avoid contact between bat and ball, for example– at hand. Players, like experts in other fields, also understandably tend to be skeptical of outsiders’ ability to provide baseball analysis or insight superior to their own. This skepticism is fairly well documented, most obviously when it involves changes that might impair or decrease a player’s value or role in the game, and, more surprisingly, even when new statistical revelations work in a player’s favor. (There certainly are some players, like Jake Lamb and Trevor “Drone Finger” Bauer, who have embraced sabermetric thinking, but it’s reasonable to assume they remain in the minority among their colleagues.)

A primary impetus of baseball’s sabermetric movement has been to encourage the abandonment of certain traditional statistics that, while still largely entrenched in the sport, are understood to be incomplete in important ways or much less meaningful than their use might suggest. Batting average, for example, doesn’t include walks. (Cf. On-base percentage.) RBIs require a player’s teammates to reach base ahead of him. ERA depends, to a significant extent, on a pitcher’s defensive teammates and other factors outside a pitcher’s control. (Cf. defensive-independent pitching statistics like FIP and DRA.) Pitcher wins and saves are artificial, highly circumstantial metrics that, at best, indirectly measure pitching talent.

For years, analysts have pushed baseball to rid itself of these traditional performance measures. There’s a comfort in hanging onto the statistical language with which we grew up as we learned and discussed the game, but that comfort should turn cold upon learning the degree to which these familiar stats obscure what’s really happening on the field.

So long as baseball’s current player-compensation structure remains in place, though, players aren’t likely to stop caring about things like saves; after all, that’s how they’re paid:

screenshot-2016-10-19-at-5-46-24-pm

In the course of discussing whether departures from conventional reliever usage as particularly exhibited in the 2015 and 2016 playoffs are likely to bleed over into upcoming regular season play, FanGraphs’ Craig Edwards explains one reason players are likely to prefer conventional, save-oriented bullpen strategy:

Saves get paid in a big way during arbitration. Only one player without a save, Jared Hughes, received a free-agent-equivalent salary above $6.5 million in arbitration, while all 16 players who’d recorded more than 10 saves received more than Hughes in equivalent salary. Players are more than happy to make more money, so giving more relievers higher salaries and more multi-year deals is openly welcomed. Taking saves away, however, also takes money away from players with less than six years of service time.

Although there are a number of not-uncompelling reasons why players prefer to steer clear of baseball’s newer metrics, Edwards has fingered one of the most forceful. If fans and analysts want to hear players discuss OBP, DRA, and leverage, they ought to channel their persuasive efforts less toward appeals to players’ logical sensibilities (they get it, no doubt) and more toward the education of the MLB salary arbitrators, to whom the players already listen with great attention.

___________________________________________________________________

Previously
Baseball Notes: Current Issues Roundup
Baseball Notes: The In-Game Half Lives of Professional Pitchers
Baseball Notes: Rule Interpretation Unintentionally Shifts Power to Outfielders?
Baseball Notes: Lineup Protection
Baseball Notes: The Crux of the Statistical Biscuit
Baseball Notes: Looking Out for Number One
Baseball Notes: Preview

Farewell, Mr. Cub

The undeniable truth is that the Chicago Cubs were my first favorite baseball team, and their greatest player, Ernie Banks, died tonight. A sports life later, I caught up with Ernie when he was on the cover of last summer’s Sports Illustrated “Where are they now?” issue, and I was glad I did.

The Cubs finally are on the rise, but if they are to make 2015 their year, they’ll need to do it with Mr. Cub watching from somewhere other than the outfield bleachers.

Bronson Arroyo: Songsmith

Last week’s Sports Illustrated closed with a remembrance of Adam Dunn’s career that included the following information:

While hip-hop paeans name-checked Jeter, the only tune anyone ever composed about Dunn came from his Reds teammate, and part-time musician, Bronson Arroyo. The pitcher reworked a song to reflect his friend’s typical late September demeanor. Says Arroyo, “The lyrics were like, ‘I’m Adam Dunn, I’m so glad the season’s over, I just want to get home and be sipping on a beer by the pool and get away from this b.s.'”

Yeah, I don’t know either.

The Sports Illustrated cover curse has relocated to page 34

rachel nichols si

If it feels like the force of the Sports Illustrated cover curse has waned, that’s only because the jinx has relocated to page thirty four. There, in this week’s issue, appeared SI media critic Richard Deitsch’s article, “The Case for…Rachel Nichols,” in which Deitsch praised Nichols’ recent “interrogat[ions]” of Roger Goodell and Floyd Mayweather Jr. “on her eponymous CNN show, Unguarded with Rachel Nichols. As a result,” Deitsch proclaimed in a laudatory proclamation highlighted in the featured pull quotation, “Nichols is at the moment the country’s most impactful and prominent female sports journalist.”

That may have been true “at the moment” Deitsch wrote it, but by the time many SI readers saw it, Nichols’ show had been cancelled. That’s pretty devastating all the way around, and if you’re a fan of either Mississippi State or Ole Miss football, both of which share this week’s SI cover, you may be in for a long day today.

What are they teaching those kids in Miami? LeBron James and non-history

You may have heard that LeBron James will be returning as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers next season. He announced his decision in a first-person Sports Illustrated post last week.

While sportswriters generally fell about the place in sharing how emotional they thought James’ letter was/made them, no one seems to have examined James’ history recitation with any care. James said that “Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids.” Did they offer a course in American Athletic History there? If so, can someone leak us the syllabus?

James goes on to make the following statement (emphasis added):

When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

Unless James plans to suit up with Johann Von Football and defend Akron’s 1920 APFA title, it’s difficult to understand what James is talking about. The context of that final quoted sentence clearly indicates James is referring to the Larry O’Brien trophy. That’s the trophy they give to the team that wins the NBA championship. The Cleveland Cavaliers have not ever won the NBA championship. They only even made it to the finals once, in 2007, when the eternal Spurs swept James and the Cavs. You can handle the math from here.