Thursday, April 21, 2011

Major League Baseball Takes Over the Dodgers

On Wednesday it was reported that Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig would be appointing a representative to oversee the finances and all aspects of the day to day operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The current owner of the Dodgers, Frank McCourt, is currently in the middle of a very messy and highly public divorce from his wife, and part owner of the team, Jamie McCourt which has left the financial stability of the franchise in disarray.

In a public statement issued by the league office Selig had this to say about MLB taking over for the McCourts, "I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club."

At this point Selig really had no choice.  Frank McCourt is on the verge of bankruptcy, to the point where last week he had to borrow $30 million from FOX in order to meet the team payroll, and has been attempting to borrow money to try and save the team.  It was reported that he had been trying to borrow $200 million from FOX in order to pay off his ex-wife (that's the amount she is supposedly due after the settlement) and keep majority ownership of the team which he purchased in 1998.

The troubles for McCourt began in October of 2009 when he divorced his, then wife of 30 years, Jamie after accusing her of having an affair with her bodyguard/driver.  At the same time he also fired her form her role as the team's chief executive citing poor performance at work.

What followed was a very public feud between the two that brought to light some disturbing information about the way the McCourt's operated the Dodgers.  It was discovered that Frank McCourt had been using the team as his personal piggy bank and used team revenue to finance his lavish lifestyle in Los Angeles .  The McCourt's also practiced nepotism hiring their son Drew to a front office position in which he received a salary of several-hundred-thousand dollars for services that no one can clearly define.

Other examples include the constant turn-over in the front office, most notably with public relations staff, as well as the payment of over 25 percent of a charitable organizations budget to personal friend Howard Suskin.  Frank McCourt also came under fire recently for not having a Head of Security on salary which became a real issue when on opening day a San Fransisco Giants fan was beaten to a pulp outside Dodgers stadium by fans (the fans name is Bryan Stow and he is still in critical condition with brain damage).

Thanks to the public nature of the divorce proceedings all of that information came to light and has hurt McCourt not only in his wallet but also in the eyes of the league and the fans.  Major League Baseball clearly does not want Frank McCourt to own the Dodgers and that was made quite apparent when they did not approve a the potential $200 loan from FOX that would have saved McCourt and allowed him to keep the team.

McCourt had another loan proposal drafted and sent to MLB for approval that has is still pending a decision by the league.  This proposal would have McCourt receive cash up-front from FOX for a new TV agreement that over the course of the agreement could be worth as much as $3-$4 billion.  If that deal were to be approved McCourt would be more than able to pay off his ex-wife and still be able to keep the team.

The real problem MLB has with McCourt is that all the the loans he has proposed involve him accepting money to pay off his divorce settlement and other non-baseball related debts.  The league doesn't want this to become standard practice for owners (case in the point the Wilpons and the New York Mets) and they also don't seem to want McCourt to be an owner anymore as he has tarnished what was once one of the greatest franchises in baseball.

"My office will continue its thorough investigation into the operations and finances of the Dodgers and related entities during the period of Mr. McCourt's ownership," Selig said in a public statement to the media. "The Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious franchises in all of sports, and we owe it to their legion of loyal fans to ensure that this club is being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future."

The crazy thing is that despite McCourt's disgraceful use of club finances the team has done quite well on the field.  Since he became the owner the Dodgers have averaged 85 wins per year, won three National League West titles and reached the postseason four times.  That is not a bad stretch especially when you consider the fact that payroll was cut in both 2010 and 2011 in an attempt to save McCourt some money.

At this point it would take a miracle for Frank McCourt to remain as the owner of the Dodgers.  The $30 million loan he received from FOX bought McCourt a little bit of time but unless he can get his hands on more money quickly his reign as owner of the Dodgers has seemingly come to an end.

Random YouTube Video

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

UFC Fighters Refusing to Fight Friends/Teammates

One of the biggest issues currently facing the UFC is the recent epidemic of fighters refusing to fight their friends and training partners.  While the UFC is trying to run a business and put on the most exciting fights possible for the fans fighters are flat out refusing fights and in some cases denying themselves an opportunity for a title.

This is by no means a new phenomenon as fighters have always looked to avoid fighting their friends and training partners.  It just seems that lately it has been occurring far more frequently.

The first major refusal to fight a friend, that I can think of, came from Anderson Silva.  Silva had been cleaning out the Middleweight division and there was a growing theory amongst fans he would step up and fight at Light Heavyweight as well.  The only problem was that at the time the Light Heavyweight champion was Silva's friend and training partner Lyoto Machida.  Although Anderson had just come off back to back victories over light heavyweights James Irvin and Forrest Griffin he said that he would not be interested in making a permanent move to 205lbs if Machida was champion.

Even after Machida lost the belt to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 113 Anderson still refused to move up to fight for the title.  He still believed that Machida was in the conversation as a potential challenger for the title and didn't want to do anything to prevent Machida from getting a title shot.  So despite fans desires to see a Silva-Machida superfight the hands of the UFC are tied as they can't force Silva to fight his friend and don't want to upset their biggest star.

Since all of that transpired more and more fighters have come out and said they would refuse to fight their friends.  For example Jon Fitch said that had Josh Koscheck beaten Georges St. Pierre he would have moved up to middleweight and challenged for a title there in order to avoid having to fight his American Kickboxing Academy training partner.

In an interview with MMA Mania Fitch had this to say about the whole situation,"To me there's no reason to fight a teammate. It's just not a fight we're interested in at all. It's a situation where, if Koscheck is able to win the belt and defend the belt, I will move up to 185. [If Georges wins] I'll be waiting on the front doorsteps with flowers [for a title shot]."

A more recent example would be Rashad Evan’s initial refusal to fight Jon Jones.  Obviously since Jones victory over Shogun at UFC 128 Rashad has had a change of heart.  Now a war of words has begun and the two will fight at some point in 2011 but this is the exception and not the rule.

I can understand why fighters wouldn’t want to fight their friends and the people they train with as no one wants to be responsible for setting a friend’s career back by beating them.  I mean if Jones does beat Rashad then Rashad may never get a title shot again and that’s a lot of pressure to put on a friendship.  Guys make their living by fighting and if you're a title contender you are going to be featured on main cards and make more money.  To beat a friend and therefore hurt his earning power is something that I'm sure no fighter wants to do.

Having said that the UFC is a business.  When these fighters sign contracts with the UFC it should be under the assumption that they will need to fight anyone at anytime.  The UFC is trying to pormote MMA and put on the best possible fight for fans and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva needs to have the freedom to make the best fights possible without having his hands tied because of friendship.  In the case of Rashad and Jones the UFC got lucky that they changed their minds and agreed to fight but that won't happen every time.

Another factor to consider is that these days a lot of the top fighters in the world train at the same gyms.  Jackson’s MMA, Black House and AKA are the home gyms of 4 of the current UFC champions and at least 10 fighters that would be considered top 5 in their weight class.  If guys from AKA refuse to fight one another then that's going to be a problem as that gym continues to grow and attract better fighters.

Staying with the theme of gyms by forcing training partners to fight it might also divide the gym.  The best example of this is occurring presently with Rashad and Jon Jones.  Rashad trained at Jackson's MMA long before Jon Jones did and now he has left the gym and is training elsewhere as he feels betrayed by Greg Jackson and the other coaches.  Now other people that trained at Jackson's MMA have to take sides and the whole situation can get out of hand quick.

In the case of Rashad and Jones if they had just agreed to fight in the first place the whole thing wouldn't have gone down the way it did.  Instead they let public pressure and misinterpreted quotes from interviews guide their decisions. Had both fighters realized that they were involved in a business and put their friendship aside this mess could have been avoided.

The UFC needs to put a stop to this sort of behavior as soon as possible because if they don’t eventually it’s going to be hard for them to put on the fights that fans really want to see. Fighters need to realize that they are involved in a business and although it’s understandable they don’t want to fight their friends if you want to be a great fighter you can’t turn down fights.

Random YouTube Video

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cam Newton's Rising Draft Stock

One of the best things about the lead up to the NFL Draft is reading every big writers Mock Drafts and seeing where they predict players will be taken.  Its always interesting to see who climbs into the first round after an impressive Combine or Pro Day (Andy Dalton of TCU comes to mind) and conversely who falls out of the top 10 after being a consensus top pick forever (this year that is Nick Fairley from Auburn).

This year the player that has moved the most, in terms of where he has been projected to be taken, is Cam Newton.  Despite the fact that Newton led Auburn to a National Championship in January and won the Heisman Trophy he wasn't projected as a  1st round pick.  Many experts had him pegged as a 2nd or even 3rd round pick as it was believed he didn't have the skill set to make the transition to the pro style game.

There were also character concerns as all year long Newton had been involved in a highly publicized scandal concerning whether his father took money for him to play at Auburn.  Lots of people wondered how much Newton knew and whether he was involved in the scandal and was letting his dad take all the heat.  Then there was his controversial past at Florida most notably the alleged theft of a laptop and instances of academic cheating.

Needless to say when it came to Cam Newton there were more questions than answers.

Fast forward a few months and all of a sudden Cam Newton is the popular choice to be taken #1 overall by the Panthers on April 28th.  How did Newton go from being a possible 2nd or 3rd round pick to now being the favorite to be taken first overall?

The answer is actually pretty simple.  For all his shortcomings in the character department, in which he does have many, there is no player in this draft with even close to the same potential that Cam Newton has.  His combination of athletic ability and marketability can't be ignored and make him worth the risk of being taken first overall.

Since 2001 there have been 8 quarterbacks taken 1st overall (Michael Vick, David Carr, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Alex Smith, JaMarcus Russell, Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford). Of those 8 quarterbacks only 3 have been busts (Carr, Smith and Russell) with the jury still being out on one (Stafford).  That means that based on recent history Cam Newton has pretty much a 50-50 chance of being a total bust and crippling the Carolina Panthers for years to come.

Mel Kiper of ESPN stated the Panther's dilemma perfectly in his latest mock draft when he wrote, "There are immediate needs, and there is a decision that you believe will change the direction of your franchise for years to come."  That's the important part right there.  The Panthers need someone to market their team around as former stars such as Julius Peppers have left for free agency, or in the case of wide receiver Steve Smith, have become irrelevant.

Kiper continues by writing, "If they really see Newton as the transformative player that can be both a Pro Bowl quarterback and face of the franchise who draws a lot of buzz, they can make this pick. If talent alone was all they were concerned with, Newton would be an easy choice. But this pick also requires a belief in his development and maturity. Certainly, however, Newton's potential is significant"

There's that word again, potential.  Whenever you draft a player it is always based on what you think their potential is.  How good can they be as a professional and do they have the potential to become a superstar that can change the fortune of a franchise?  I believe Newton has that ability.

In terms of athleticism there are no questions.  Newton is an athletic freak and his showing at the Combine proved that.  He ran the 40 in just 4.59 seconds, broad jumped 10 feet 6 inches and had a 35-inch vertical all while being 6'4 220lbs.  He has incredible arm strength and can throw the ball 60 to 70 yards with ease.  His performance made Trent Dilfer say, "The ceiling is so astronomically high for Cam Newton that the scouts, the GMs, the coaches are really going to be slobbering about the prospects of having him on their team."

The two biggest issues Newton has are accuracy and maturity.  The accuracy is something that can be fixed with a little patience and some solid coaching.  The maturity is something Newton is going to have to figure out on his own. 

Before the Combine even started Newton was quoted by Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King as saying, "I see myself not only as a football player, but an entertainer and icon."  While it is good to see that Newton realizes football is a business it does not look good when a college kid is talking about becoming an icon before he has even taken a snap in the NFL.

To me the one thing I always come back to when talking about Cam Newton is his performance in the Iron Bowl at the end of the Auburn season against Alabama.  The game was in Alabama and Auburn fell behind early 24-0.  If the Tigers didn't win then they could kiss a shot at the National Championship goodbye. 

Instead of folding Newton led Auburn back and they eventually won the game 28-27 throwing for 3 touchdowns and running in another. It was probably one of the greatest performances I have ever seen and it really showed the greatness of Cam Newton.  To pull off a victory like that, on the road and in a hostile environment all the while having to deal with talks of scandal and eligibility is impressive and proves Newton is a winner.

This is what coaches and General Managers look at.  They look past the immaturity and the accuracy problems and see the potential for greatness that Newton has.  It truly is undeniable and its why he more than likely will be the #1 overall pick come draft day.

Random YouTube Video

Monday, April 18, 2011

Despite the Officials Best Efforts the NBA Playoffs Have Been Great

What a crazy weekend in the NBA.  It had everything.  Big upsets (Atlanta beating Orlando, Memphis beating San Antonio and New Orleans beating Los Angeles), last second heroics (Shane Battier and Ray Allen) and some ridiculous individual performances (Derrick Rose and Chris Paul).  There were 8 games and almost every one of them came down to the final possession with the largest margin of victory being only 10 points.

The weekend wasn't without its flaws however and the one that stuck out the most, and when it comes to the NBA always sticks out the most, was the officiating.

No other sport is hurt so much by the refs.  Sometimes NFL games can be ruined by a ref making a bad call or calling a stupid penalty but for the most part the players decide the outcome.  That's not the way it goes down in the NBA though as at times it seems like the biggest stars on the court are the officials.  As Bill Simmons tweeted during the Bulls-Pacers game, "For any Bulls fans attending this game: don't forget, you're not there to see the teams, you're there to see Joey Crawford."

That tweet wasn't far off.  Despite Derrick Rose putting on one of the greatest individual performances I have ever seen in the NBA Playoffs the real star of that game was Crawford.  In that game alone there were 46 personal fouls called as well as 2 technical fouls (one to Pacers coach Frank Vogel and one to Bulls forward Luol Deng).  The final score of that game was 104-99 for Chicago.  The Bulls went 26-32 from the charity stripe meaning that exactly 25% of their total offense came from free throws.

But the Bulls weren't even the biggest benefactors of the whistle happy refs.  In a 101-98 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies the San Antonio Spurs scored almost 38% of their total points from the line.  They shot a total of 47 free throws making 36 of them.  In that particular game there were a total of 60 personal fouls handed out by Ed Milloy and the rest of his officiating crew.  I watched that whole game and I can promise you there weren't 60 plays that merited a foul call.  It just so happens that every time Tony Parker or George Hill came within 8 feet of the basket a whistle got blown.

In total there were 445 free throw attempts over the weekend.  That averages out to 55.63 free throw attempts per game.  If I had to bet I would say that going forward that number is only going to get higher as well because these officials want to make sure they are "controlling the game" and not letting the players take over.

Here are the guys that got to the line the most over the weekend (Makes/Attempts):

Dwight Howard - 14-22
Derrick Rose - 19-21
Tony Parker - 12-16
Kevin Durant - 12-15
LeBron James - 13-14
Dirk Nowitzki - 13-13
George Hill - 11-13
Chris Paul - 9-12
Chris Bosh - 9-11
Marc Gasol - 6-10

A lot of the guys on the list are players that drive to the basket and actually get fouled (Rose, LeBron and Durant) and Howard just gets hacked every time he touches the ball.  The rest of the guys on the list though, especially Hill, Parker and Nowitzki, just drive to the basket and flail hoping the ref will bail them out, which more often then not they do.

Its not even just the free throws that are brutal.  In two separate games officials made absolutely terrible calls that ended up deciding the game.  The first was a non-call against Kendrick Perkins of the Thunder against the Denver Nuggets and the second was an offensive foul call against Carmelo Anthony in the final minute of the Celtics/Knicks game.

The Perkins non-call was a blatant basket interference call that the refs somehow missed.  With the Thunder down 101-100 Russell Westbrook put up a shot from 15 feet that bounced off the rim and then went in.  The only problem is that Perkins tipped the ball in from under the basket as it was still in the cylinder.  If the refs get that call right then the Nuggets are still up by one point with the ball and 1:06 left to play.  That basket changed the momentum of the game and ended up titling the game in favor of the Thunder.

That non-call is nothing when compared to the atrocious offensive foul call against Carmelo Anthony.  With the Knicks up 85-84 with possession of the ball Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce were jostling for position just outside the post area.  Pierce was holding Melo's left arm and when Melo shook him off Pierce exaggerated and got the offensive foul call.  Was it a foul? No and it is definitely not a foul you call with 21 seconds left in a playoff game.  That gave the Celtics the ball and Ray Allen, being the best clutch shooter in NBA history in my opinion, nails the game winning 3.

Both of those examples gave the home team the advantage and you have to wonder if that's what made the refs blow the whistle.  I personally think its because the officials can't keep up with the speed of the game and they blow the whistle based on assumptions and not based on what they actually see.  Some of the refs in the NBA are in their 60s and 70s and yet they feel they can still run up and down the court with some of the best athletes on the planet.  They see a guy drive the basket in an instant and then see bodies move and they just blow the whistle as a first reaction.

So maybe I am being too hard on the refs.  Then again they are incompetent old men who seemingly want to make sure that basketball games are decided at the free throw line instead of during regular play.  Yet despite the best the officials best efforts the first weekend of the NBA playoffs can be seen as nothing but a major success.

Random YouTube Video

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez Should be in the Hall of Fame

This was a big, and extremely controversial, week for MLB.  Manny Ramirez surprisingly retired rather than face a 100 game suspension for testing positive during a random drug test and Barry Bonds was found guilt of obstruction of justice and now awaits sentencing in court. 

With all of that going on the usual debate has popped up and has dominated much of the discussion of both Bonds and Ramirez.  The debate of course is whether or not Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez should be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  To me this shouldn't even be a debate as both Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez 100 percent belong in the Hall of Fame and here is why:

If you go to the Baseball Hall of Fame website they quote their slogan in the top right hand corner of the home page.  The slogan reads, "Preserving History - Honoring Excellence - Connecting Generations."  In the top left hand corner of the same home page the official name of the Hall of Fame is written, "National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum."  Based on the slogan and the official name of the Hall of Fame both Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez deserve inclusion.

If the point of the Hall of Fame is to preserve the history of baseball then how can Bonds and Ramirez not be included?  Just because they cheated does not mean that they don't have their place in the history of the game.  No one in baseball history has ever hit more home runs than Barry Bonds. How is that not integral to the history of baseball? Just because fans and writers don't like him doesn't mean he should be excluded from baseball history.

The same can be said for Ramirez who historically is one of the greatest right handed hitters in the history of baseball.  His numbers are right up there with such baseball legends as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson.  To deny him entry into the Hall of Fame would be the exact  opposite of preserving history, it would be ignoring.

The most important word to focus on is 'museum.'  If the Hall of Fame is actually going to be a legitimate museum for the game of baseball then how do you exclude players for taking steroids?  That would be the same as the German National History Museum excluding the Holocaust.  While it does make the country look bad it is still an important part of their history and to try and sweep it under the rug like it didn't happen is ridiculous.  The same goes for players who took steroids.  Baseball can try and pretend like it didn't happen but fans know and it makes the Hall of Fame look ridiculous for trying to exclude those players.

Nowhere on the Hall of Fame website does it have the word 'moral' written.  The point of a Hall of Fame isn't to induct players based on moral character and personality.  If that is the case then why is the Hall of Fame currently filled with blatantly open racists, alcoholics, drug users and convicted felons?   Character and personality should have no bearing on whether someone is inducted into the Hall of Fame or not and if it does have some bearing then the word 'museum' needs to be removed from the title of the organization.

Then again this is nothing knew for the Baseball Hall of Fame. In the past they have refused to include some of the more polarizing figures in baseball history.  Pete Rose, the man with more hits than anyone in baseball history, is not in the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball.  The list of records Pete Rose holds is astounding including most hits ever, most games played, most career at bats, most singles, runs/doubles/walks/total bases by a switch hitter and most consecutive seasons of 200 or more hits: 10.  Yet despite his amazing playing career he has been excluded from the Hall of Fame and more than likely will never be inducted, which is one of the greater tragedies in sports if you ask me.

'Connecting Generations' is also listed as one of the principle values of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  If that is the case then how will you connect the 80s to the late 2000s without showcasing the "Steroid Era" of the 90s and early 2000s? How do you know for certain who was on steroids and who wasn't?  Maybe everyone was and only a few people got caught.  A few years ago there was a reported list of over 500 players that tested positive for performance enhancing drugs yet only a few names were released.  Who else was on that list and why haven't their names been released? 

If the selection committee is going to deny Bonds and Ramirez, with Bonds never actually testing positive, then how can they induct anyone from that era?

The most common defense for not inducting someone like Pete Rose or Barry Bonds into the Hall of Fame is, "they are excluded because they cheated." This is a not a valid argument for exclusion in my eyes.  The Hall of Fame is currently filled with pitchers who admitted to using illegal pitches throughout their careers.  Guys would use sandpaper or a nail file to wreck the shape of the ball making it harder to hit and of course there is the infamous spitball used by pitchers such as Gaylord Perry and Don Drysdale.  The pitchers that used these pitches broke the rules of baseball and yet still find themselves in the Hall of Fame.  If they are included then why can't Barry Bonds be inducted as well?

By blatantly ignoring the purpose of the organization and the '"values" it supposedly stands for, the Baseball Hall of Fame has become a popularity contest.  Players whose careers were far less impressive than someone like Rose's or Bonds' are being inducted.  You're telling me Bert Blyleven is more important to the history of baseball than Pete Rose and Barry Bonds?

Excluding players such as Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa because they broke the rules of the game is a blatant contradiction of what the Hall of Fame is supposed to stand for. Why can these players not be inducted and then on their plaque have an inscription that states they tested positive for steroids?  Is that really such a big deal?

Until the day that Barry Bonds, Pete Rose and Manny Ramirez are inducted into the Hall of Fame I will never look at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as legitimate.

Random YouTube Video