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Brief chronicles of our sporting times.

Report: Yao Ming to Retire



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Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Yao is set to retire rather than attempt a comeback.

Yao Ming, one of the seminal figures in the globalization of the NBA, has decided to retire after eight injury-plagued seasons with the Houston Rockets, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

I’m a Rockets fan and was thrilled when Houston used the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2002 to select the 7′6″ Chinese center. After a promising first few seasons when he was teamed up with Tracy McGrady, injuries began to pile up for the pair of All-Stars. Yao has played more than 60 games in a season only once since the ‘04-05 NBA campaign. And the team advanced past the first round of the playoffs only once in Yao’s career.

It remains to be seen if Yao paves the way for closer ties between the NBA and China. David Stern has long sough  to make inroads for the American game in the world’s most populous nation, and Yao certainly helped that. One of the most-watched NBA games in history was a ho-hum affair between the Rockets and the Milwaukee Bucks, when Yi Jianlian was playing for the latter club. Yao was a continual feature of the NBA All-Star Game due to massive Chinese influence on the fan voting process.

Jianlian’s perception as a bust (to this point; he’s still young and could turn it around) might hurt the prospects of NBA teams investing heavily in Chinese players that aren’t physical outliers like Yao was. His legacy in the United States will be as a skilled big man who could have been great if his feet didn’t fail him. But his legacy in China could serve as the gateway drug for NBA expansion into Asia. And in the long run, the latter might be far more important.

Tags: NBA

End to the NFL Lockout?



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The Washington Post reports the two sides are close to reaching a deal, via anonymous sources:

Negotiators for the NFL and locked-out players moved closer Thursday to resolving the economic issues at the heart of the sport’s nearly four-month shutdown, according to several people not involved in the talks but with knowledge of them.

If completed, an agreement on how to divide the sport’s revenues would be a major step in their bid to complete a deal to end the labor lockout in the coming days.

There still were potential obstacles that could derail negotiations even as the two sides closed in on an agreement on a system to split the NFL’s burgeoning revenues, several of those familiar with the negotiations said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the deliberations. The negotiations have come close to unraveling previously and that could happen again, they cautioned.

The two sides met into the night Thursday in New York, breaking for the night shortly before 11 p.m. Full negotiating teams for the league and players gathered for the first time this week after meetings Tuesday and Wednesday consisted of attorneys and staff members only.

We shall see.

Tags: NFL

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Tragedy in Texas



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A 39-year-old father died yesterday, in front of his young son, after falling over a railing at the Texas Rangers’ stadium in an attempt to catch a ball flipped into the stands by outfielder Josh Hamilton.

And I don’t know a father who wouldn’t have tried to grab that ball for his kid. Truly heartbreaking, moreso for anyone who has cherished memories of spending a day at the ballpark as a youngster with their father. 

Tags: MLB

Not Werth the Money



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Last offseason, the Washington Nationals signed Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract. The deal looked suspect at the time. Werth was coming off three good (but far from sensational) seasons with the Phillies (see his career stats), but he was already about to turn 32. Still, it would have been reasonable to hope that Werth could deliver four or five strong seasons.

As things have turned out so far, Werth has been far worse than anyone could have imagined. For the season, he’s hitting only .218 with 30 RBIs, and since June 4 he’s hit an abysmal .154. The reality is even worse than the statistics. He’s had a seemingly endless series of feeble at-bats, ending in strikeouts (often on called third strikes), pop-ups, dribbling double-play grounders, and stranded baserunners. He has rarely even had a good foul ball. I don’t think that I’ve seen a weaker “power hitter” in my four decades of watching baseball.  

Despite Werth’s ineptitude and Ryan Zimmerman’s long stint on the disabled list, the Nats are doing surprisingly well (45-43), largely because of outstanding pitching, much-improved defense, and the offensive exploits of Michael Morse and rookie Danny Espinosa. Ironically, their hottest streak began when then-manager Jim Riggleman made the bizarre decision to put Werth in the lead-off spot and to have the pitcher bat eighth. I haven’t seen anyone else offer this explanation, but I think that decision had the unintended benefit of getting Werth out of the way, so that he wasn’t coming to the plate as often in the middle of promising rallies.

In today’s Washington Post, columnist Tom Boswell makes the case that Werth is suffering from high expectations, that while he is not “a team-carrying giant,” he is “a winner, a very good player, way better than he has been so far.” As a Nats fan, I hope that Werth ends up at least meeting Boswell’s more modest expectations. As of now, his seven-year contract looks like a disaster.

Tags: MLB

Roy Williams Mails It In



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Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams decided it would be a great idea to mail his wedding proposal, along with the $80.000 ring to his then-girlfriend, former Miss Texas USA, Brooke Daniels.

Brooke, however, declined this ever-so-romantic offer and kept the ring.

Oops.

Brooke’s dad has promised to return the ring to avoid a lawsuit.

Tags: NFL

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Too Hot to Play



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FIFA’s decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup was criticized in many ways, one being how hot it will likely be in June when the competition is held. To counter that, FIFA played with the idea of having it in winter, which was roundly attacked as it interrupted domestic league and UEFA competitions. Now their “brilliant” idea is to play matches divided into three halves, instead of the traditional game of two halves that was codified in mid-19th century England. Each match would be divided into three 30-minute periods. FIFA proves itself a laughingstock, rife with corruption

According to FIFA, “there is a moderate risk of heat injury. . . . ”

They should have thought of that before awarding 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

Tags: Misc.

A Bruising Souvenir



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Three fans were injured yesterday in San Francisco when Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval lost his bat on a swing. One woman was sent to the hospital with a head injury, the other two fans were treated at the stadium.

Video here.

And from what I can gather from the video, the woman who was the most injured didn’t get to even keep the bat.

Tags: MLB

‘What Happens in Baseball Is Becoming a Model for the Country’



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Nicole Gelinas has a great piece today in the Examiner on the similarities of MLB keeping the Dodgers in business and the too-big-to-fail financial sector. Her conclusion:

Baseball may be American, but it is not a free market. MLB regulators control which enterprises are allowed to play the game. Teams can’t appear and disappear. “MLB views the Dodgers as one of its cherished crown jewels,” league lawyer Thomas Lauria told the L.A. Times.

Teams can’t miss payroll — and to make sure they don’t, they can’t take on too much debt. “We’re here to protect the team,” as Lauria put it.

McCourt should have known these rules. McCourt knew, too, that when the rules aren’t clear, the commissioner has extraordinary discretion. If McCourt didn’t like these risks, he could have stayed out of this exclusive club.

What happens in baseball is becoming a model for the country.

Companies like the insurer AIG, Bank of America, and General Motors can’t fail. Like the Dodgers, they’re cherished crown jewels. After the 2008 meltdown, the Obama administration followed the Bush White House in using extraordinary powers to treat “important” companies as they saw fit — rather than allowing the rule of law to govern.

This approach wasn’t an aberration of the acute crisis. The Dodd-Frank law gives regulators Selig-like powers to seize large or complex financial companies, whenever officials think that normal liquidation or bankruptcy is too damaging to the economy. Problem is, the U.S. economy is not a pastime.

Finance, in particular, is the part of the economy that allocates capital to all other parts of the economy. Finance needs free-market competition — not an entertaining facsimile of it.

Tags: MLB

NBA’s Lockout May Be Exacerbated By New Financial Information



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Though I speculated earlier that the NBA’s work-stoppage seems to be less painful than what the NFL is currently going through, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon thinks the entire season may be threatened.

The NBA is going to miss games, and the smart money is on the league missing lots of games. A new group of owners who paid a ton of money for their franchises since the last work stoppage 13 years ago are ready to sacrifice the season. The six owners who have both NHL and NBA teams saw first-hand how sacrificing essentially an entire season led to an overhauled NHL with slashed costs, and they’re drooling over the prospect of an NBA with similar cost certainty.

The NBA owners, like he NFL owners, think themselves to be well-positioned to survive a lockout. They think they’re more sympathetic, because there really are NBA teams losing money. They’re trying to leverage what they consider a superior bargaining position into the players’ accepting a smaller proportion of revenues in salary. The NBA owners who see themselves as analogous to the NHL owners who “won” their lockout a few years ago may be making a mistake, as Nate Silver analyzes:

It is not clear, however, how much player salaries are to blame for the N.B.A.’s having failed to achieve an N.F.L.-like level of profit. Between 2000 and 2009, player salaries in the N.F.L. represented an average of 56 percent of league revenues, and that total averaged 58 percent in Major League Baseball — both close to the 57 percent target enshrined under the N.B.A.’s current deal. By contrast, when the N.H.L. locked out its players and was losing money, player salaries made up 66 of league revenue. (They have since fallen to about 54 percent.)

The NHL lockout was an easy win for owners because players’ salaries were disproportionately high compared to other major sports. That’s just not the case with the NBA, and they’ll have a tougher sell with the players and, possibly, the public.

What’s also become apparent is that the NBA’s public claims of incredible losses league-wide may be partly a product of unique (but perfectly acceptable) accounting. Some teams are counting the purchase price of the team, expensed on a year-to-year basis, as part of their expenses.

More importantly, as Deadspin reported, all teams get to count player payroll as depreciating assets, like a company car or a computer. They can write off the depreciation as an expense. This is a product of a carve-out from the 1950s, where the IRS decided to allow sports teams to count players as depreciating assets. As far as I know, professional sports is the only industry in which firms can treat human beings as depreciating assets.

Now this is all legal, and part of generally accepted accounting practices, but it does mean that the public books don’t truly represent the value of the franchises.

Players’ Association President Billy Hunter counters the NBA owners’ claims of hardship.

Hunter is privy to current documents for all 30 teams and claims that at least $250 million of the league’s $370 million loss comes from these sorts of accounting quirks.

Obviously Hunter has an interest in deflating the league’s claimed losses. What’s been discovered in recent documents, though, strengthens the players’ argument that the owners’ position isn’t as strong as they think it is. With more details leaking out, Wilbon’s assessment that the NBA is in for a long, angry, protracted dispute could come to pass.

Tags: NBA

Tiger Woods to Skip British Open



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Details here.

Tags: Golf

Who Needs Hands?



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Portland TImbers’ Darlington Nagbe juggles a ball then strikes it into goal. No more words necessary.

Tags: Misc.

Congrats to Joey Chestnut



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Winner, for the fifth consecutive year, of Nathan’s hot-dog-eating-contest.

Unfortunately Chestnut nemesis, Takeru Kobayashi, was unable to compete this year due to an arthritic jaw. How soon until Nanny Bloomberg comes up with regulations to make eating hot dogs safer?

(Updated 3:21 P.M.)

Tags: Misc.

Baseball Reveille Rained Out



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Good morning, campers!

Due to the Fourth of July holiday, there will be no Baseball Reveille this week.

Nonetheless, check out this excellent George Vecsey piece in the New York Times about the Dayton Dragons of the Class A Midwest League, who were poised to “have their 815th consecutive sellout, surpassing the national sports record set by the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers from 1977 to 1995.” (Indeed, the Dragons broke the record.)

Have a walkoff week!

Tags: MLB

Hand of the Goddess



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Official’s missed what was an obvious handball in the Women’s World Cup group-stage match between Equatorial Guinea and Australia.Guinea’s defender Bruna caught the ball in her team’s box after it bounced back from hitting the post following an attempt on goal by Australian striker Leena Khamis. The referee has expressed sorrow for missing the incident, similar to the one 25 years ago when the ref missed Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal in the 1986 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and England in Mexico City.

Tags: Misc.

Dodger-Jersey Etiquette



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Apparently, personalizing the back of your $194.99 Dodgers jersey with “Chapter” and “11″ is either “inappropriate, derogatory, or profane.” On the other hand, the censors did not catch the f-word. Go figure.

EDIT: I might have chosen “Moscone Bail Bonds.” (“Is that you, Jack? Do you have the Duke?”)

Tags: MLB

The NBA Lockout Is On



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The NBA has locked out the players for the first time since 1999 today after players and owners couldn’t come to an agreement on a new collective-bargaining agreement.

The last work stoppage resulted in a 50-game season and weakened interest in the league. Commissioner David Stern claims that there are 22 teams that lose money in the NBA right now, and the owners are just looking for a way to get to a point where their teams are profitable. The players are obviously looking out for the best interests of both veterans and rookies coming into the league.

NBC reports that one of the keys to the disagreement are rules that will essentially govern the amount of inflation of average player salaries.

At the final bargaining session, the players did not present a new proposal but again tried to sell the owners on savings from their last proposal, which would drop their percentage of “basketball related income” from 57 percent down to 54.3 percent. NBA Commissioner David Stern scoffed at the idea after the meeting, saying that the five-year deal would have raised the average NBA salary by $2 million per year ending at near $7 million a year. The owners proposal has been to essentially keep salaries flat for the next decade — the players would make a little less but would see nothing from increased revenues from the game.

Unlike the NFL labor dispute, the sides in this fight have been quite civil to each other. There’s hope yet that this gets resolved in a timely manner, in time for the season. The Vegas Summer League has been canceled (not that that’s a huge loss) but if games start to be imperiled, the league might be in for more trouble.

Tags: NBA

Guns at the Frozen Tundra?



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After several missteps — a few years ago, a bill would have become law had not two Democratic supporters been too timid to vote for a veto override — my home state of Wisconsin is finally set to enact concealed carry.

However, this poses some problems regarding the home of the Green Bay Packers, Lambeau Field:

According to Fox 11, the NFL has a policy that fans aren’t allowed to carry guns into any stadium. But depending on how Wisconsin’s new law is interpreted, the NFL may not have the right to enforce that policy: The stadium is owned by the City of Green Bay and Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District, not the NFL.

Like Reason’s Steve Chapman, I support the right to forbid guns on your own property, and I also think public entities should follow the contracts they sign with private actors. So, if there is a conflict here, perhaps an adjustment should be passed. But after looking at the bill itself, I’m not sure there’s a problem.

The key passage is that “a licensee or an out-of-state licensee may carry a concealed weapon anywhere in this state except as provided under subs. (15m) and (16) and ss. 943.13 (1m) (c) and 948.605 (2) (b) 1r.”

The first of those provisions says that employers may forbid their employees to carry guns, except in their cars; the second makes specific exceptions to the law, such as courthouses; and the final one is about schools. But the third one, 943.13 (1m) (c), is defined in the concealed-carry bill itself, and it pretty clearly allows Lambeau to keep guns out.

It makes it a trespassing violation to carry guns in various places, such as residences whose owners have said no guns are allowed. One provision pertains to a “special event,” defined as “an event that is open to the public, is for a duration of not more than 3 weeks, and either has designated entrances to and from the event that are locked when the event is closed or requires an admission.” It’s a trespassing violation to take a gun to such an event if the “organizers” say no guns are allowed.

Another provision makes it trespassing when someone “enters or remains in any part of a building that is owned, occupied, or controlled by the state or any local governmental unit . . . if the state or local governmental unit has notified the actor not to enter or remain in the building while carrying a firearm or with that type of firearm.” I think Lambeau obviously qualifies.

To be clear: None of this is an endorsement of the NFL’s policy; while it’s good to keep alcohol and firearms apart, there’s no reason to forbid non-drinking spectators to carry guns at games. While I’ve become skeptical of claims that concealed carry actually reduces crime, no honest reading of the evidence could lead one to conclude it increases it.

Tags: NFL

Andy Murray’s Game



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At Wimbledon yesterday, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s five-set upset of Roger Federer was undoubtedly the most exciting and talked-about match — especially since Federer had initially won the first two sets.

In comparison, Andy Murray’s three-set victory over Feliciano Lopez seemed effortless. In fact, Murray was the only player yesterday to win his quarterfinal match in straight sets (even No. 1 Nadal lost a tie-break to Mardy Fish in his third set). Murray has yet to win a Grand Slam, but he’s nevertheless garnered a huge fan base over the last few years, especially in his native Great Britain (he’s a Scotsman). He has by and large filled the void left by Tim Henman in the psyche of British tennis fans. That being said, all comparisons to Henman should end there. Murray is a much better player than Henman ever was. For starters, he’s been runner up in the U.S. Open once and the Australian twice, while poor Tim never made it past the semis in any Grand Slam. Moreover, what makes Murray so fun to follow is not merely the land from which he hails, but the way he plays the game. To put it bluntly, Andy Murray is today’s John McEnroe.

No, I don’t mean that he mouths off at the chair umpire after a call he doesn’t like. I mean that he puts his heart into the game. I’m happy to stipulate that, objectively speaking, Roger Federer is probably the greatest tennis player of all time, but I never found him particularly exciting to watch. During his peak years (back when Nadal only won French Opens), Federer played like a machine — he was perfectly fit, and had perfect execution. This began to change a bit as he got older and Nadal’s non-clay game improved, but you still rarely see him looking anything other than calm and focused.

Murray, on the other hand, is much more interesting to watch precisely because he is not as powerful as a Federer, much less a Nadal. Like McEnore in his time, he’s not as physical as most of the top players, but he has an intuitive feel for court layout and has the ability to come back with amazing shots just when you think he’s about to lose a given rally. Though he’s naturally a defensive player, he’s been able to step up his offense in the past few tournaments. He’s also been able to make improvements to his mental game, improvements which were badly needed.


If Murray has demonstrated one major weakness over the years, it’s been his mindset and attitude: He’s very prone to choking and beating himself up when it counts. Though you wouldn’t know it from their Grand Slam matches together, Murray actually has a winning record against Federer, it’s just that all of his wins are in smaller tournaments that obviously lack the prestige and attention the public gives to something like Wimbledon. This is not to say that the problem is solely his own making — he’s under the same pressure that Henman was to bring a title home to Britain, probably more pressure since he’s a better player. But so far, it’s eluded him. Murray’s attitude problem reached its nadir at last year’s U.S. Open, when he was knocked out in just the third round by Stanislas Wawrinka, a player whom he had consistently beaten up until that point.

All that said, he’s improved since that low point last summer, making it to the finals in the Australian and the semis in the French. He’s also in the best physical shape of his career, which makes this year’s Wimbledon his best shot yet to win the title. It won’t be easy — he’s up against Nadal tomorrow. But one can still hope. As is always heard in the crowd during one of his matches, “Come on, Murray!”

Tags: Misc.

Players at Gay Softball World Series Accused of Being Straight



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As David Harsanyi notes in The Blaze, being heterosexual is considered cheating by the league, and the players’ team suffered the consequences:

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the league. We have leagues for kids, women‘s leagues and men’s leagues. People should be allowed to assemble and play games with anyone they choose (as long as they don’t smoke!) and devise the rules of membership. Obviously there is no inherent difference between the athletic ability of gay, straight or bisexual men, so the strict rules governing sexual preference in this case make this a social event as well as competitive tournament.

In the end, the committee ruled that three of the five players were “nongay” and the team was stripped of its second-place finish. The piece goes into some length on the legality of this kind of exclusion, and explores some thorny questions about how to define who is gay.

But I dare to dream. And one day perhaps all Americans will play softball together.

Tags: Misc.

Josh Hamilton Dives and Survives!



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Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas points out that Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton has resumed headfirst diving, albeit this time in the outfield, not (yet?) while trying to score on a pop-up near the dugout. Hamilton, who suffered a broken bone near the shoulder on the April 12th play at home plate, initially blamed third-base coach Dave Anderson for yelling at him to run, but later apologized. He was out of action for six weeks.

 

Tags: MLB

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