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Posted by on Mar 29, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 1 comment

My Ten Favorite Baseball Movies

 

 

Baseball season starts today.

I’m not much of a baseball fan, that is, except when I gamble on the games.  Then, I become a fanatic.  I don’t have a favorite team.  I cheer for whichever team I bet on.

Baseball is strange.  Unlike football, baseball doesn’t come across particularly well on television.  Yet for reasons I can’t explain, baseball is far superior when it comes to being the subject of movies.  At least a dozen outstanding baseball movies and documentaries instantly come to mind, which you’ll read about shortly.  Meanwhile, I struggle to come up with even a single great movie about football.  Or, basketball.  Or, most other sports.  Go figure.

What follows are my all-time favorite movies about baseball.

First, let’s begin with my four “Honorable Mentions.”  This means movies well worth seeing, but didn’t quite round all the bases and crack my top ten list:

 

HONORABLE MENTION:

Mantle (2005)

Mickey Mantle carried the weight of a nation on his shoulders.  He was the most popular athlete in America on the most storied franchise in sports history during an era when the country was at the height of its world power when nothing seemed impossible.  Mantle’s towering home runs and infectious “aw-shucks” attitude masked deeply hidden insecurities.  He played hard on the field and then partied much harder off of it.  Was Mantle, as some insist, a tragic hero?  That’s for us to decide in this mesmerizing film directed by George Roy, who produced several other terrific sports documentaries.  Mantle steadfastly refuses to lionize the ex-New York Yankee great.  Instead, this gripping hour-long biography from HBO Films provides an honest and revealing portrait of a shy country boy from rural Oklahoma who made it big in New York City and then slowly threw it all away one drink at a time.  His story passionately told through surviving family members and several notable celebrities who grew up worshipping “the Mick.”  The final scenes of a once-great Mantle reduced to a broken man overwhelmed with grief and consumed by regret is heartbreaking.  “You talk about a role model….,” Mantle tearfully says during his dying final hours.  “….Yeah, I’m a role model — don’t be like me.”  This documentary can be watched in its entirety HERE.

 

A League of Their Own (1992)

Penny Marshall directed this fun caper about an all-ladies baseball team based on a real pro baseball league for women which existed during the 1940’s.  Buoyed by a terrific script, an outstanding musical soundtrack, and excellent performances throughout from an all-star cast, A League of Their Own has become one of the most successful baseball movies of all time — both at the box office and by critical acclaim.  Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Jon Lovitz, Rosie O’Donnell, David Strathairn, Garry Marshall, and Bill Pullman are each perfectly cast in a movie that will leave you laughing and cheering in equal measure.  See the movie trailer — HERE.

 

Sugar (2008)

For every multi-million dollar earning superstar who makes it big in the majors, unnamed thousands do not.  Failing to make it as a pro is a tough reality for anyone to face.  But it’s even more of a devastation to ballplayers born in the Caribbean, for which baseball has become one of the only exits out of a life of poverty.  Over many decades, a vast number of “immigrant athletes” arrived in America dreaming of success.  Each young man carried the longshot hopes of their families back at home.  Most struggled in the minor leagues for a few years before eventually being cut by management.  They return to the barren sandlots where the seeds of ambition first took to bloom and fade into oblivion.  Sugar is a little-known movie (mostly in Spanish with English subtitles) about a once-gifted pitcher from the Dominican Republic.  He’s determined to use his left arm and a wicked curveball to lift himself and his family out of the slums of Santo Domingo.  He dreams of buying a Cadillac with his first paycheck.  Then, upon arrival in the Midwest, reality sets in.  Trapped in a foreign land, riding buses between ball fields, and lacking the language skills that might offer other alternatives, Sugar increasingly feels isolation and loneliness.  The stress of making it to the majors and signing the big contract that can alter the lives of loved ones back at home is slowly corroded by the ticking time clock on every young ballplayer, leading to the depressing self-realization that for most people, dreams don’t come true.  If this movie sounds sad, well it is sad — in parts.  But it’s also surprisingly uplifting.  I’ll leave it at that and let the suspense linger.  Watch the movie trailer HERE.

 

Brooklyn Dodgers:  The Ghosts of Flatbush (2007)

No team meant more to the people of a place than the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The Ghosts of Flatbush is the true story not just of a baseball team, but of neighborhoods otherwise segregated by race, class, ethnicity, and religion — which all unite as one community to cheer on the beloved team at Ebbets Field.  This documentary does a terrific job explaining why the so-called Brooklyn “bums” were such an integral part of so many people’s lives.  Oddly, the Dodgers weren’t popular because they were winners.  To the contrary, the club struggled for a half-century — in glaring juxtaposition to their two snobby rivals across the East River — the glorious dynasty known as the Yankees up in the Bronx and the deep-rooted Giants who played in uptown Manhattan.  Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue may have been just a subway ride away from Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds, but the working-class team and its loyal fans might as well have been from a different city on the other side of the planet.  We learn why the great Jackie Robinson was such a transformative historical figure, not just in sports as the first Black man to break baseball’s longstanding color barrier, but as an icon for American culture.  After spending decades near the bottom of the standings, by 1947 (Robinson’s first year) the Dodgers were every bit as talented as the hated Yankees.  Then, just when Brooklyn finally beats the Yankees in the World Series for the first time which sends Flatbush into a frenzy, it all vanishes.  The Dodgers break millions of hearts by packing up and moving to Los Angeles.  The move wasn’t just a devastating blow to fans.  The club’s abandonment came to symbolize an economic shift and cultural sunset on Brooklyn that plagued the borough for the next half-century.  The full two-hour movie can be seen HERE.

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Now, here’s my top ten countdown:

TOP TEN:

[10]  Major League (1989)

Before Charlie Sheen went cocaine crazy, he starred in some really good movies — most notably Wall Street.  However, Sheen is better known for playing “Wild Thing,” the erratic pitcher in the romp camp comedy Major League.  Never to be taken too seriously, this fun movie features a rogue team of misfits who play for baseball’s perennial laughingstock (at the time) — the last-place Cleveland Indians.  Comprised of by an ideal cast — including  Tom Berenger, Rene Russo, Wesley Snipes, and Corbin Benson — Major League became an instant crowd-pleaser and grossed millions at the box office.  Unfortunately, that massive success led to two awful sequels which followed.  But later misfires don’t detract from our enjoyment of the original.  Watch the movie trailer HERE.

 

[9]  Bull Durham (1988)

I’ve heard several movie buffs insist Bull Durham is a woman’s movie.  Are we allowed to say “Chick Flick?”  I’m not sure about that.  Writer-director Ronald Shelton based his film on real-life experiences when he was playing minor league baseball years earlier for the Durham Bulls (hence, the film’s unusual title).  Susan Sarandon is caught in a love triangle between a rising baseball star (played by Tim Robbins) who is destined for the major leagues versus a fading has-been who’s aging fast and likely in the last months of his final season (played by Kevin Kostner).  Bull Durham successfully blends drama, romance, baseball, and comedy into a film that’s established a lasting legacy with movie audiences.  It’s often ranked among the best sports movies ever made.  I don’t rate it quite so high, but it’s certainly a well-crafted film carried by excellent performances throughout.  Bull Durham’s trailer can be seen HERE.

 

[8]  Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

One year before Robert De Niro was cast in his breakthrough Academy-Award winning role in The Godfather: Part II, he played a struggling major league catcher with diminished mental capabilities.  Adding to the challenges of trying to be a regular guy on the team and fit normally into society, he’s diagnosed with a terminal illness during a midseason pennant race.  Fearful that his disease will create even more problems and quite possibly trigger a release from the team, with the help of his best friend (a pitcher played by Michael Moriarity), the duo tries to keep the catcher’s terminal illness a secret.  Based on a book of the same title written 15 years earlier, Bang the Drum Slowly is sometimes referred to as baseball’s Brian’s Song.  This mostly-forgotten film often gets overlooked in the broader pantheon of great sports movies.  But it certainly merits a place.  The chemistry between catcher De Niro and Moriarity, along with club manager Vincent Gardenia is often deeply moving.  There are scenes which stick with me to this day, decades after seeing the movie.  The film’s credibility is enhanced by being shot on location at old Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium during midseason while the respective pro teams were away on road trips.  From the empty beer cups littering the outfield to the towels laying all over the locker room, everything looks and feels very real.  This isn’t really a romanticized story about baseball.  This isn’t a story about illness and death.  It’s the story of friendship and the power of the human spirit.   Watch the film trailer HERE.

 

[7]  Eight Men Out (1988)

What really happened with the ill-fated 1919 Chicago White Sox?  They were a great team which intentionally lost the baseball World Series to satisfy personal grievances with their tight-fisted owner and collect bribes from shady gamblers determined to bet on the fix.  Why they did it and which specific players were involved and to what degree is one of the worst scandals in sports history remains a subject of lively speculation nearly a century later.  This movie won’t reveal any hidden secrets, nor solve lingering mysteries.  Still, Eight Men Out remains a thoroughly entertaining account of what made eight players on the very best team in baseball abandon their desire to win a championship in exchange for revenge and profit.  Critical reception to this film was (and is) mixed, and I can appreciate both sides.  Non-baseball fans may be underwhelmed by the story of corrupt ballplayers who were kicked out of the game and were given lifetime bans from baseball as a fitting punishment.  Yet, most hard-core baseball fans love this film and many sympathize with the players as victims.  As the umpire, my ruling is — Eight Men Out is a broken-bat lead-off stand-up triple.  The official trailer can be seen HERE.

 

[6]  The Natural (1984)

Every boy dreams at least once about being Roy Hobbs; stepping up to the plate in the bottom of the 9th; glaring at a mighty fastball; taking a backbreaking swing; then cracking a game-winning home run out of the park into the upper deck light towers.  It’s the stuff boyhood dreams are made of.  Director Barry Levinson completely understood this fantasy.  Accordingly, he crafted one of the greatest baseball movies ever — The Natural.  Robert Redford plays the aging ballplayer Hobbs with a mysterious past.  Glenn Close plays his long-lost love interest and muse.  Audiences will also recognize the rest of a stellar cast — which includes Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Richard Farnsworth, Joe Don Baker, Darren McGavin, and Michael Madsen.  However, the dramatic film score by the great songwriter-composer Randy Newman steals the film.  Combined with mystifying visuals in the hands of a masterful filmmaker like Levinson, this makes for a cinematic grand slam.  When old-fashioned filmgoers complain they don’t make movies like they used to — what they likely miss are movies like The Natural.  This film is a throwback to a time when honesty, integrity, and a person’s character mattered most and baseball was looked to as the kettle of those noble virtues.  Watch the final dramatic home run smash HERE.

 

[5]  Ken Burns:  Baseball (1994)

Measured either by ambition or sheer volume, filmmaker Ken Burns’ nine-part film masterpiece on the history of baseball might convincingly be argued as the best movie of its kind ever made on the subject (I considered placing this artistic gem as my #1).  I wasn’t sure it was fair to compare documentaries alongside mostly fictionalized stories, which comprise most of this list.  But then I realized leaving them out would be a grave injustice.  Ken Burns:  Baseball originally aired on PBS back in 1994 over a two-week stretch.  It became one of the most watched public television programs ever.  Nearly 25 years later, it continues to stand the test of time.  Baseball was a daring follow-up to Burns’ epic breakthrough documentary series on the American Civil War which had been completed a few years earlier.  Taking on something so sacred as “the national pastime” seemed an impossible reach.  However, Burns stepped up to the plate and whacked our most lofty expectations out of the park.  This film isn’t just about baseball.  It’s really the story of American culture’s coming of age during the 20th century, manifested in its most popular sport — baseball.  Unapologetically patriotic, informative, riveting, inspirational, and downright poetic in parts, this is the quintessential duel-purpose documentary which somehow satisfies both general movie audiences and academic purists.  Burn’s storytelling techniques influenced a whole genre of documentaries for decades to follow, which remain with us to this day.  This opening monologue, running about three minutes long, is absolutely brilliant.  Watch HERE and see if you agree.

 

[4]  Pride of the Yankees (1942)

What’s not to love and admire about the heroic story of the great Lou Gehrig, played by movie legend Gary Cooper?  One year to the day before the film’s release, the ex-New York Yankee great died tragically from ALS, a dreaded and debilitating disease which not only took Lou Gehrig’s life but also his name.  Gehrig is aptly idolized in Pride of the Yankees, which became the first great sports movie.  It received ten Oscar nominations (more than any other film on my list).  His relationships with family, teammates, and fans are sentimentalized in a way that likely wouldn’t be believed today.  It might even seem a bit hokey.  But back then, Americans badly needed something to cheer for.  America desperately needed heroes in those dark months after the attack on Pearl Harbor when the outbreak of the war wasn’t going well for the U.S. and its allies and the future of the world seemed in peril.  Even in death, Gehrig was a lighthouse of life, exhibiting class and dignity until the very end.  With hundreds of thousands of servicemen about to be shipped off to battles in the Pacific, the Atlantic, Europe, and North Africa Pride of the Yankees was a reminder of just what exactly they all were fighting for.  I really liked this musical montage with clips from the movie — check it out HERE.

 

[3]  Moneyball (2011)

Moneyball has the added intrigue of being a true story.  Brad Pitt plays the role of Billy Beane, the former real-life general manager of the Oakland Athletics during a time when baseball’s playing field wasn’t level.  Teams with fewer resources and small payrolls simply couldn’t compete with the far-richer mammoth franchises.  Facing financial and competitive disadvantages, Beane (aided by a colleague perfectly portrayed by Jonah Hill) came up with an unorthodox idea that came to revolutionize baseball and later other sports too, focusing almost exclusively on the use of analytics.  The book of the same title effectively explains the technical minutiae.  But how does a movie intended to appeal to mass audiences make data-driven decisions in cramped offices seem interesting?  Answer:  Call in Aaron Sorkin to write the script.  As is typical with most of Sorkin’s work, Moneyball’s snappy dialogue becomes almost rhythmic.  Somehow, we begin to understand why spreadsheets create singles.  It’s not bats that put curveballs down the third-base line.  It’s calculations and percentages.  Still, the purists continued to have their doubts.  Even Beane begins to doubt himself and questions his own system.  Then during the middle of 2002 regular season — lacking anyone on the roster who even remotely might be considered a superstar — Oakland goes on a 19-game winning streak, tying the American League record for most consecutive victories.  Soon thereafter, every team in baseball wants to hire Beane.  Even clubs that don’t offer contracts adapt his brilliant use of sabermetrics.  Hence, baseball is a game changed forever.  Unlike most of the other films on this list, there’s little sentimentality to Moneyball.  It’s very likely the most accurate portrayal of what the game is today.  See the trailer HERE.

 

[2]  Field of Dreams (1989)

Field of Dreams has become so mythologized as a cinematic fairy tale that its most famous quote “If you build it, they will come” is now the motto of every believer carrying a dream.  The film has come to symbolize the virtues of sticking with one’s own faith even when there’s compelling evidence to the contrary.  Believe in yourself even with others may not.  Kevin Costner plays an Iowa corn farmer with a wife and daughter.  However, these are tough economic times in the American heartland.  Costner’s family appears to have run out of options.  Their crisis is worsened by a crazy idea inspired by a vision one evening, a voice from the sky which instructs Costner’s character to build a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield.  The film seems preposterously implausible on the surface but somehow convinces us all that our subconscious gut instincts are both real and should even be pursued.  Field of Dreams is made all the better by strong supporting roles played by Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, and Burt Lancaster (in what most fittingly was his final film appearance).  It’s hard to convey the mesmerizing quality of this film without seeing it.  Many critics consider it the best baseball movie ever made.  Hard to disagree.  But I think there’s one film that’s even better.  Watch the official trailer HERE.

 

[1]  The Bad News Bears (1976)

If there’s one film which perfectly captures the times in which it was made, it’s the 1976 baseball classic, The Bad News Bears.  It’s cynical.  It’s profane.  It’s joyous.  It’s a double-barrelled middle finger to the establishment.  A scathing takedown of suburban American life in all its competitive-infested hypocrisies, the misfit Bears take a flamethrower and incinerate every common societal expectation.  Against all odds, each individual, by working together as a team, manages to create his and her own self-identity.  Incited by a heretical set of values preached but rarely followed, the film manages to incriminate what we normally define as success.

Walter Matthau plays an alcoholic loser and emotionally distant loner tasked with the undesirable role no one else wants — managing a last-place little league baseball team that’s terrible.  The Bad News Bears works completely because it treats the kids (all ballplayers) as real people worthy of respect, instead of cute muppet-like caricatures often portrayed in similar movies.  It’s hard to appreciate just how scandalous the anti-PC script and characters were 42 years ago when this movie was released.  Yet instead of a movie degraded by bratty kids cursing gratuitously and even being subject to several instances of emotional abuse, what we see instead is the very first movie which shows how most kids growing up in America really talk and behave.  Rolling Stone wrote in its review:  “These pre-teens are unwashed, obnoxious, cynical, fractious, gleefully profane, unrepentantly juvenile, and deeply untrusting of any sort of authority — in other words, just like the kids you probably played team sports with.”

There numerous metaphors throughout the film — some obvious, others more subtle — intended as a stinging social commentary.  Yet oddly enough, The Bad News Bears is still often classified as a kids’ movie, when it’s really a blistering revelation of misbehaving adults.  The movie also has an unusual and little-known connection to Field of Dreams — Burt Lancaster’s last movie.  His son, Bill Lancaster wrote the script for The Bad News Bears.  It’s often been said that baseball’s history is the story of America.  If so, then this the chapter where we’re all forced to gaze into the mirror and decide whether or not we like what we see.

By the way, Chico’s Bail Bonds (which really did sponsor the team and branded the Bears’ uniforms) is a real company based in the San Fernando Valley, where the movie was shot on location.

WATCH MORE HERE:  Here’s a one-minute clip which highlights the majesty of this movie.

SEE MORE HERE:  Watch this 3-minute clip of a film critic who explains more about the genius of The Bad News Bears.

Note:  Do not be confused by the horrid 2005 remake of this movie, starring Billy Bob  Thorton, which is unwatchable.  Also, skip the two sequels missing Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal.

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Finally, if you’d like to see what movies didn’t get on base, here’s a link to the IMDB WEBSITE PAGE with a nearly-complete list of all the films made about baseball.

Follow the discussion about this article on FACEBOOK HERE:

 

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Posted by on Feb 9, 2018 in Blog, Essays | 2 comments

A St. Louis Coincidence and a Great Sports Teams Question

 

 

WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMEBACK IN SPORTS HISTORY?

 

Today, a confluence of unusual events prompted the following thought-question-post:

A few years ago, Paul Harris (the radio personality) and Dennis Phillips (the poker player) took me to a St. Louis Cardinals home baseball game.  Paul, who lives in St. Louis, is retiring from talk radio today.  He spent 40 years in radio broadcasting.  I wish him well.  Memories of that experience when the Cardinals beat the Reds stuck with me and prompted my awareness of a few unusual coincidences.

So, why am I writing this post on the topic of greatest sports comebacks?

I’ll get to that in a moment.

Today’s local newspaper lists the odds of (still mathematically-possible) NBA and NHL teams winning this year’s championship.  The favorites are to be expected — Golden State Warriors in the NBA and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL.  The Las Vegas Golden Knights are the second-rated favorite.  However, some really bad sports teams are listed as ridiculous long shots.  Some might say they have no chance whatsoever.

Anyone out there want to bet real money on the NBA’s Orlando Magic — currently with a dismal 18-36 record, 14th place in the Eastern Conference?  The Magic are 2,000-1 to win the NBA championship.  How about the NHL’s Montreal Canadians — with a 22-26 record, currently in last place?  The Canadians are 1,500-1 to win the Stanley Cup.  Sounds like flushing money down the toilet to me.

The prospect of betting long shots later in the season got me to thinking — what are the most incredible MID-SEASON and/or LATE SEASON comebacks in all of sports history?

Many sports fans can recall surprise teams that ended up winning championships — 1999 St. Louis Rams (after a horrid 4-12 season); 1967 Texas Western (now UTEP, the first team with Black athletes to win college basketball’s championship); 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack (Jimmy Valvano’s legendary team); and the 1969 New York Mets (from worst to first).  However, each of those teams enjoyed a great full season.  None were left for dead past the midway point of their respective schedules.

So…..

Can you name any team that came completely out of nowhere to win a sports championship? Google search has various lists of so-called “Cinderella” sports teams.  But there’s nothing listed about incredible mid-season comebacks that I could find.

Earlier, I mentioned there would be a St. Louis connection and odd coincidence in today’s article.  I’ll get to that now.

Based on my recollection of sports history, the best example of a late-season long shot ultimately winning a championship was the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.  Most of us won’t remember that in late August of 1964, the Cardinals were 11 games behind the first-place Philadelphia Phillies in the National League race (there were no divisions back then, and no wild card teams).  As late as mid-September, the Cardinals were still 6.5 games back with only 12 games to play — almost an insurmountable obstacle to overcome.  Incredibly, the Cardinals not only won the National League pennant by a single game when the Phillies collapsed in one of the worst meltdowns ever, they also ended the New York Yankees 40-year dynasty by defeating them in the World Series of Baseball.

Which now leads me to the closing odd coincidence of today’s post.

The bat boy for those championship 1964 St. Louis Cardinals was Ed Hill — the long time poker pro who lives here in Las Vegas, who I have known for many years.  Ed served as the bat boy for most of the Cardinals’ home games that year.  Some of the players Ed picked up bats for included Lou Brock, Tim McCarver, Bob Gibson, Bob Ueker, and Curt Flood (who later became the catalyst for sports free agency).

Oh, and one more thing.  Today is Ed Hill’s 64th birthday.

Happy birthday, Ed Hill.

 

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Posted by on Jan 28, 2018 in Blog, Essays | 7 comments

The Worst Idea in Sports History

 

 

Seriously — has there ever been a worse idea?

I just read carnival barker and ham-hocked huckster Vince McMahon announced that he intends to bring back the XFL.

He hate me.

XFL TO RETURN GIMMICK-FREE in 2020 [ESPN]

For those who took enough time to blink back in 2001 and missed the XFL’s short-lived, disastrous spring season which was wildly entertaining for all the wrong reasons, the McMahon-NBC mutant was an abomination.  It was a twisted hybrid between something labeling itself as “football,” blended with staged-fake wrestling, with a dash of The Jerry Springer Show.  It was a shaken and stirred shit stain.  Fortunately, McMahon’s XFL suffered a well-deserved humiliation and lasted about as long as a bad case of the chicken pox.

We thought the nightmare was over.  But — no.

When I read the XFL plans to relaunch in 2020, I thought this had to be a joke.

This is like the Ford Motor Company bringing back the 1958 Edsel.  It’s the roll out of New Coke again.  It’s like investing in Sony BetaMax machines.  It’s remaking the box office disaster that was Ishtar.  It’s the worst idea in the history of sports.

Some people have more money than brains.  Some people never learn.

Fact:  No one wants to watch this clown’s bullshit football league.  Even those who are temporarily pissed at the NFL right now (dwindling numbers by the way, that by next season can probably fit inside a telephone booth) will not become fans of new football teams based cities with bad airports filled with rejects who can’t make it either in the Canadian Football League (CFL) or even get signed to the practice squads of real pro football teams.  It’s a goddamned sandlot league.  Like the Pottstown Firebirds.

Whether we like it or not, despite its awful rules and terrible owners, and in spite of the major television networks milking the public’s patience with way too many commercials and talking heads, the NFL remains the 800-pound Godzilla of American sports.  Other than the American Football League (AFL) so brillilantly created and managed by Dallas’ Lamar Hunt, which merged with the NFL in 1970, every attempt since then to tap into America’s love affair with football has been a total disaster:

—– [1974-1975] Ever heard of the World Football League (WFL)?  Remember the Hawaii Rainbows and the Shreveport Steamer?  This league signed lots of NFL stars, then ran out of money.  Then, the broke NFL players had to crawl back to the real football league.  Most were never the same again.  Calvin Hill, Larry Czonka, Paul Warfield, John Gilliam, and so many others who jumped leagues never did much after they left their iconic teams in the NFL.

—– [1983-1985] Remember this bomb of a sports league killed off by someone who’s now famous?  The United States Football League (USFL) was ruined when New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump took over control in the second year and switched games to the Fall to go up directly against the NFL.  Some businessman.  He got slaughtered and bankrupted the entire league.  Here’s a short walk down memory lane:

—– [2009-2012] The short-lived United Football League (UFL), which at one point in 2011 had FOUR teams, lasted just three, mostly invisible years. It even had a team based in Las Vegas called the Outlaws.  I watched one of the UFL games on television with like 2,220 people in the stands.  It looked like a high school game, without the bands.  It was morbidly fascinating to watch.

—– [2001] The XFL was a laughingstock.  They lost billions.  Remember “He Hate Me?”  Cringeworthy.  In their second nationally-televised game from the Los Angeles Coliseum, the live feed went black.  NBC went to a test pattern nationwide because of a local power failure. Apparently, a generator truck supplying the power for the entire broadcast parked outside the stadium powered down and wouldn’t restart because someone working at the XFL FORGOT TO PUT GAS IN THE TANK.  True story.  Here’s a short trailer of this mess of a football league:

 

Now, the same huckster who ran the XFL into the ground the first time is back for more punishment.  On second thought — perhaps this WILL BE fun to watch……fun to watch as in like a dumpster fire.  The saddest thing is — lots of D-grade players will view the XFL as a real opportunity and will jump on this tinker-toy train running off a cliff, and likely be hurt.

Listen, no one wants to watch a bunch of nobodies wearing weird-colored uniforms playing football in third-rate stadiums in the middle of June.

The XFL is fucking garbage.

It’s the worst idea in the history of sports.
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Posted by on Sep 24, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

Respect versus Disrespect

 

 

I’ve attended hundreds of sporting events at the college and pro level.  This means I’ve witnessed the customary pre-game rendition of the national anthem more times than I can count in dozens of cities and stadiums all over the country.

I find it puzzling to see those who vehemently criticize pro football players for taking a knee being labeled as “disrespectful.”  The protestors are “disrespecting the flag” is a popular accusation that’s been raised all over social media.  The president has even jumped into the melee, and typically as has been his doing, he’s made the issue far more incendiary for the country he presumably governs.

However, based on my experiences observing the national anthem played at games, of all major sports, there does seem to be quite a bit of hypocrisy going on.  I’ve seen countless numbers of fans — of all ages, in different parts of the country, both male and female — talking out loud during the anthem.  I’ve seen countless numbers of fans texting on cellphones during the anthem.  I’ve seen countless numbers of fans eating during the anthem.  I’ve seen countless numbers of fans drinking beer during the anthem.  Fact is, lots of sports fans behave like spoiled oafs.  To me, that’s disrespect.

Meanwhile, concession stands don’t stop serving food, even though it’s just two minutes of music.  Fans don’t stop streaming into the stadium taking their seats just prior to kickoff.  Life pretty much goes on normally off-the-field while the players on-the-field — EVEN THOSE PLAYERS ENGAGED PROTEST — observe a respectful moment of silence while “The Star Spangled Banner” gets played.  Mind you, these pro athletes kneeling on the sidelines aren’t walking around, laughing amongst themselves, talking out loud, or eating or drinking.  Their decision to kneel illustrates a very different kind of “stand,” and a courageous one at that.  Seems pretty respectful to me.

Since when is kneeling, staying silent, and pondering a calm moment of reflection during the national anthem considered “disrespectful,” while thousands of half-wasted fans wearing faux-team jerseys guzzle down another brew and blabber in conversation over the sound of trumpets?  Explain that to me, please.

And then, there are the real hypocrites of this debate.  Millions of flakey so-called patriots watch these games at home, sprawled out on their sofas….or gathered in bars….or hanging out inside casino sportsbooks.  Don’t even get me started here on such blatant sanctimoniousness.  Rarely have I ever seen anyone stand at attention during the national anthem.  Actually, it’s more like never — except for the Super Bowl spectacle, which is the most viewed rendition of the song every year.  Fact is, when the anthem is shown on TV, most patriotic sports fans are rushing to the refrigerator or flushing toilets.  Please, what was that again you were saying about — disrespecting the flag?

Some insist the league and/or team owners can (or perhaps should) require that all players adhere to a “code of conduct” which would include things like observing patriotic loyalty.  I see this as a grotesque violation of basic rights, even in the workplace.  Keep in mind that those who stand during the anthem are also very much engaged in a political expression of sorts.  So, if one act is authorized, so too must be the other act.  The league nor owners cannot require its employees to hold a certain political view or behave in a certain way.  Either leave the anthem as it is and let players react in their own way, or abolish it entirely from games.  It cannot nor should not be grounds for some litmus test of team or country loyalty.

There’s absolutely nothing whatsoever patriotic nor honorable about forced coercion in a public place, demanding that citizens living in a free republic all march lock, stock, and barrel to the same drum beat.  That’s not honoring anything.  That’s not patriotism.  To me, that’s an Orwellian nightmare.  That’s the very definition of a totalitarian state which demands strict conformity and blind obedience, which is an anathema to all those (especially conservatives) who claim to be defenders of our personal freedom and the champion of individual rights.

Once again, I guess their twisted interpretation of “freedom” extends only to the viewpoints they share.  Here’s a lesson worth remembering:  Patriotism means something very different to each and every one of us.  We are granted that marvelous right to exercise the manifestation of those varying convictions in different ways — if we so choose.  That goes for you.  It goes for me.  It goes for NFL players, too.

It’s not often I say this given the deteriorating state of sports and entertainment in this country, but watching so many players exercising their rights today, I was proud again — proud to be both a football fan and proud of what this country represents at its best moments.

Thanks to those who stood up and/or kneeled on behalf of what they believe is right.  They deserve respect.  Not the critics who profess to be patriots telling the rest of us what to do and how we should act.  Those who criticize others exercising their rights disrespect the very foundations of a free society.

 

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Posted by on Jul 31, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Sports Betting | 3 comments

When is a Contract Worth the Paper It’s Printed On?

 

 

Today, let’s talk about contracts, particularly as they apply to professional sports.

Even if you do not like sports, this discussion should interest you, especially if you like debating the principles of law.

I just read about an NFL player who is holding out of training camp.  He’s under contract to his team.   But he refuses to show up and play. He wants more money.  I won’t mention the identity of the player, nor name his team, because it’s irrelevant.

The player is one of the very best at his position.  No one will deny this.  Prior to last season, he signed a two-year contract and agreed to accept $11 million for this period.  He played last season and was selected as an All-Pro.  This is now the second year of the deal, for which he’s scheduled to make $5.5 million.  However, the player is convinced he should be paid more money, so he is holding out.

Full disclosure — I typically side with labor against management-ownership because the working class is generally entitled to reap more of the benefits which they create (my political and economic view).  However, the terms of a legal contract impress me as a *binding agreement* between two parties.  Both parties must follow the terms.  End of discussion.  What’s there to negotiate?  They already have a deal.

By using this tactic, the NFL player may be able to squeeze more money out of the team.  Yes, I realize that teams and owners screw just about everyone, so I have no mercy for how they usually do business.  Yet, purely as a matter of principle, shouldn’t the player be forced to honor his end of the deal?  If he is able-bodied and refuses to show up for work, why doesn’t the team file a civil lawsuit against him for breach of contract?

Keep in mind the contract is a two-way street.  Had this player performed poorly last season and lost his starting position, or been seriously injured, or fallen off his back porch and broke his leg, the team would STILL be obligated to pay his full salary.  Think of how many disappointing players leave their teams stranded with wasted high-salaries (one of the major problems with pro sports, and a major reason tickets cost $150+ each).  This happens ALL THE TIME.

Hence, if the player was injured, he’d still be getting $5.5 million — regardless.  If the player performed poorly, he’d still be getting $5.5 million for the 2017 season, even if he was sitting on the bench wasting a roster spot.  So, the team is obligated to pay the salary no matter what.  Given these mutual risks, why does the player have any rights to renegotiate the terms of a contract that were agreed to by both parties?

Please explain this to me.  Why would any fan support a player like this, let alone cheer for someone who is hurting his team?  Moreover, it would seem fans should have some rights, too.  Alas, everyone forgets about the fans.

Consider the actual situation years ago when a losing NHL team from a smaller market signed a star player who was likely to improve the team’s chances to make the playoffs.  Season ticket sales increased by 40 percent.  Then, the star player held out on his team and refused to honor the deal during the final year of the contract.  Shouldn’t the fans who bought season tickets based on the prospect he’d show up and play be entitled to damages?  Or, at the very least, a refund?

One more scenario, which is a bit of an outlier, but still deserves mention.  We’ve seen past situations where an inexperienced backup NFL quarterback is playing for a relatively small salary.  Then, the old starter gets injured and the young player comes in and surprises everyone by exceeding expectations and winning the job.  Under this scenario, one could argue the young quarterback might be entitled to a renegotiation during the following offseason since his responsibilities have increased dramatically.  As a purist, I don’t think any contracts should be forced to be re-negotiated.  However, I concede that teams want to keep players happy and will do this as a practical matter.

However, in the case of the player holding out because he doesn’t think $5.5 million is enough money, nothing has changed.  Seems to me he’s in serious breach of contract and should be sued by the team for violating the terms of an agreement.

Of course, this won’t happen.  It never happens.  But it just seems wrong that athletes can hold teams (and fans) over a barrel in these types of negotiations.

What are your thoughts?

 

FOLLOW THE DISCUSSION HERE ON FACEBOOK.

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