SPEAKING OF SPORTS: Forget March Madness

Millions of Americans are preparing to goof off at work, take extended lunch breaks, cut classes, and spend the next four days in semi-dark rooms cut-off from civilization as they watch their March Madness brackets blow up in their faces.

For reasons that aren’t clear to me, millions of otherwise rational people agonize over trying to pick every winner in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Given the high number of possible combinations, it’s actually easier to win the lottery, where the odds are only about 300,000,000 to 1 against you.

It will be jammed Thursday.

I don’t even bother to fill out a bracket sheet. Instead, I and a couple of friends have joined several hundred other bettors at the sports book in the Peppermill Casino in Reno in a more profitable venture: Finding the point-spread winners in the first round of the tournament.

Experience has shown me there are many good betting opportunities in the first 32 games of the tournament–over the last three years, I’ve won close to 70 percent of my bets on the first round games. After that, you’re better off just watching because the point spreads get tighter and the winners are harder to identify.

Being the generous fellow that I am, I’ve decided to share this year’s bets with readers of my blog. Do as you like: Ignore my advice, try to get your money down, or just track my progress to find out if I’m full of hot air or I actually know what I’m talking about.

I decided to beat the rush and get my money down today on the Thursday games I like. I’ll do the same thing tomorrow for the Friday games if the point spreads on the games I like meet my criteria.

So, here are my  Thursday plays (Remember: These are point spread bets; the underdog doesn’t have to win, just cover the number):

–St. Mary’s (+4.5) over Villanova

–Murray State (+3.5) over Marquette

–Belmont (+3) over Maryland

–Wofford (-2.5) over Seton Hall

–Abilene Christian (+22) over Kentucky

–Louisville (-5) over Minnesota

–Bradley (+18.5) over Michigan State

–Nevada (-2.5) over Florida

–New Mexico State (+5.5) over Auburn

–Baylor (+2.5) over Syracuse

Rebounds: Dick Vitale was ESPN’s No. 1 college game commentator until he was replaced a couple of years ago by Jay Bilas. He’s been sliding down the greasy pole of fame ever since. For its league tournament coverage, ESPN assigned Vitale to cover the last two games of the West Coast Conference (that’s the one with St. Mary’s and Gonzaga).

***

The San Francisco Giants are contemplating carrying as many as 13 pitchers this season, with 8 to 10 of them expected to carry most of the load over the 162-game season. Heck, the team’s two projected aces, Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija, might pitch as many as 200 innings each, assuming they stay healthy and are effective (not a given in the case of Samardzija).

That has become the standard of endurance in an era where young pitchers as held to pitch limits as they move up the ladder, 6 innings is considered a quality start at the major league level, and pitchers in a 5-man rotation rarely finish games. The manager expects to use his setup man and closer if the starter actually lasts 7 innings.

Despite the coddling they receive, more pitchers land on the disabled list than ever before, and it is assumed a pitcher will undergo Tommy John surgery at some point in his career. Which is why we’re unlikely to see somebody like Tom Seaver ever again.

Seaver, a native of Fresno who was perhaps the greatest New York Met of them all, started his minor league career in 1966 by pitching 210 innings–not a big deal then, but unheard of today. The next year as a major league rookie, he threw 251 innings.

Over his first 13 years, the 300-game winner averaged 265 innings and was still a major league starter at the age of 41. He pitched 231 complete games.

Seaver has little use for the way pitchers are handled today. “All this babying of pitchers–pitch counts and innings limits–is a bunch of nonsense,” he said several years ago. “You can’t predict these things…but one way I know doesn’t do anything to prevent (injuries) is babying these kids like they do.”

Seaver’s family announced recently that he’s suffering from dementia and will withdraw from public life. It’s sad to see a real warrior go out that way.

***

Dan Jenkins, easily one of the best sports writers of the last 50 years, died recently at the age of 89. That’s quite an accomplishment for a guy who was a life-long smoker, liked to drink, and probably ate more press box food than is good for you.

Jenkins made his reputation as a football and golf writer for Sports Illustrated when SI was the home of the best sports writing in this country. Being a Texan, he naturally gravitated toward football (it is said the 2 favorite sports in the state are football and spring football), but perhaps was best known for his golf writing. He is 1 of just 3 writers in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

“For those of us who type words about sports for a living,” wrote Michael Rosenberg on SI.com, “Jenkins was our Palmer. Just as there was golf before Arnold Palmer and golf after him, there was sports-writing before Dan Jenkins and sports-writing after him.”

Jenkins also wrote several books, including 3 best-selling sports novels: “Semi-Tough,” “Baja Oklahoma” and “Dead Solid Perfect.” He also wrote a humorous memoir, “His Ownself.”

Jenkins was cynic with a very good antenna for detecting B.S., but he never took himself too seriously. As he said for many years: “The message on my tombstone will be, ‘I knew this would happen.'”

Hopefully, he’ll get his wish.

Advertisements
Posted in College athletics, Media, NCAA, Sports, Sports betting, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

SPEAKING OF SPORTS: MLB confronts its old nemesis

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the infamous Black Sox scandal, Major League Baseball is again grappling with the issue of betting on games.

Ever since eight players on the Chicago White Sox were banned from baseball for conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series, the game has been unyielding in its opposition to betting–just ask Pete Rose.

But times have changed, and a Supreme Court ruling last year cleared the way for any state to legalize betting on baseball and every other sport. Like it or not, all professional sports and the NCAA have to deal with this new reality.

Their biggest fear is that with large amounts of money riding on the outcome of games, gamblers will be tempted to bribe players and others to fix games. This is a particular fear of the NCAA, a multi-billion dollar juggernaut that relies on unpaid student labor to thrive.

Because of the nature of the betting, baseball is a harder game to influence than basketball and football, which attract a lot more betting dollars anyway. Unlike the point spreads offered in other sports, baseball bettors bet into a money line that requires their team to win the game in order to cash a ticket.

Let’s say the Giants are playing the Dodgers in L.A. The 10-cent money line posted in Vegas might look like the following:

Giants +120, Dodgers -130

The Dodgers are favored in this game. If you agree with the bookies and bet LA, you would risk, say, $130 to win $100. If you bet the underdog Giants, you would risk $100 to win $120. (It’s called a 10-cent line because of the difference between 120 and 130. You’ll see 15- and 20-cent lines early in the season, but the 10-cent line becomes the standard around June 1.)

The betting line is determined largely by the starting pitchers–if a healthy Clayton Kershaw started this game against any Giants’ pitcher other than Madison Bumgarner, the Dodgers would be much bigger favorites. A gambler would probably have to bribe one of the starting pitchers or the home plate umpire to tilt the game his way, something unlikely to happen unless we’re talking about really big money.

But so-called proposition bets tied to a particular game can be manipulated by others. For example, the number of hits or errors, wild pitches or passed  balls–all totals you can bet on–is influenced by the official score keeper. To forestall any problems, MLB has promised a clearer set of rules governing these decisions and more rigorous oversight.

Just to make sure, MLB has hired Sportradar to use its proprietary algorithms to look for statistical anomalies and other suspicious activity. Starting this season, teams will have to submit their starting lineups to the commissioner’s office at least 15 minutes before game time, presumably to thwart people with inside knowledge about the star slugger being scratched from the starting lineup.

More problematic in sports betting is the ability to influence point spreads, which determine who wins and loses football and basketball bets. This is a particular issue when one team is a heavy favorite. The casual fan may not care if a 15-point favorite wins a basketball game by 14 or 16 points, but it’s a big deal to gamblers, and something that can be manipulated.

What the professional leagues and NCAA don’t seem to realize is that the people who will take a big hit if a game is fixed–the sport books–are hyper sensitive to suspicious activity and are quick to act on their suspicions. That’s how the last major betting scandal in sports–the one involving the 1993-94 Arizona State basketball team–was exposed.

ASU had a tournament-bound team then, led by point guard Stevin Smith, the leading scorer in what was then the Pac-10. But Smith had a sports betting problem–he kept betting on the losing teams–and owed a bookie $10,000.

Smith was offered the chance to erase the debt and make some money–all he had to do was shave the winning margin in games where Arizona State was heavily favored. This isn’t hard to do for a point guard. A few errant passes or ill-advised shots, being a step slow guarding a shooter–any of these actions can make the final score closer than it should be.

The plan was put into action Jan. 27, 1994, when Oregon State, a 14.5-point underdog, visited the Sun Devils. The bookie and his associates bet $500,000 in 30 different Vegas sports books on the Beavers. ASU won the game by just six points–Smith had a bad shooting night–and they repeated their success a few days later, this time betting $1 million on Oregon to cover the spread.

That’s when the antenna of the sports books went up. First, nobody bets that kind of money on Arizona State games, and it was being bet by people sports book personnel didn’t recognize. The betting line on the Oregon game moved sharply against the Ducks, but that didn’t slow down the betting–a red flag to professional gamblers.

The managers of several sports books compared notes and concluded the fix was in. They notified the NCAA and the Las Vegas office of the FBI. It took awhile, but the betting operation was exposed and several people went to prison. ASU coach Bill Frieder lost his job and never coached again.

The sports books, which operate on narrow margins, will make sure the NCAA and professional leagues stay on the straight-and-narrow. They have too much to lose if the games aren’t legit.

***

As long as we’re on the subject of betting, here are a couple of examples of why it’s difficult to beat the bookies, and why there’s no such thing as a sure thing.

–If you scanned the college point spreads March 2, two games jumped out at the knowledgeable bettor: Houston, which had one loss and was overpowering every opponent, was just a 7.5 point favorite against Central Florida, and Nevada, loser of just two games this season, was a “pick” against Utah State.

Both of those betting lines looked like trap games and, sure enough, a lot of bettors were trapped. Both Houston and Nevada lost.

–The Phoenix Suns, which have the worst record in the NBA, swept their season series with Milwaukee, which has the best record in the NBA.

***

The Book of Metrics has become the new bible for baseball general managers, who have been unwilling to spend  big money on free agents because the stats tell them they can sign players who are almost as good for a lot less money.

One exception to this trend is the Philadelphia Phillies, who signed prized free agent Bryce Harper to a 13-year deal worth $330 million. While they were at it, the Phillies traded for big-ticket catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura, and signed fading outfielder Andrew McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million deal.

If these signings work and Philly wins big, guess what’s going to happen: Forget about metrics, open the checkbook!

***

Things are getting so  bad for the Los Angeles Lakers, Snoop Dogg offered to sell his box seats for just $5.

LeBron James has proved that while teams need great players, basketball is still a team game. Magic Johnson has yet to work any miracles as president of basketball operations, and coach Luke Walton is being set-up to be the fall guy for the team’s disappointing performance.

Here are three quick fixes to the Lakers’ problems:

–Walton should take the hint and go after the UCLA coaching job. It wouldn’t take much to achieve success in the sorry Pac-12 conference.

–Jeanie Buss, who seized control of the team from her brothers after their father died, should fire Johnson and bring in her old boy friend, Phil Jackson, to run the team.

–James should be encouraged to take his talents elsewhere.

***

As long as we’re on the subject of hand wringing and angst, let’s discuss the Golden State Warriors. The concern being expressed for the team’s fortunes now are the same as the ones expressed a year ago, when Golden State finished the regular season 7-10. Like last year, the Warriors will be fine when the playoffs start.

Posted in College athletics, Golden State Warriors, Media, National Football League, NCAA, Sports, Sports betting, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos is one baaaad hombre

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos is the only journalist I know who’s been 86ed by the two biggest bullies in the Western Hemisphere. That’s quite an accomplishment.

Jorge Ramos

Ramos most recently got the bum’s rush when he traveled to Venezuela with a production crew to interview beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro. Things did not go well.

Ramos said Maduro got upset when he was asked about “the lack of democracy,  about the torture of political prisoners, about the humanitarian crisis.” It didn’t help that Ramos referred to El Presidente as a dictator.

“He got up after we showed him a picture of young people eating out of a garbage truck, then one of his ministers said the interview wasn’t authorized, they took all our equipment…,” Ramos said. They were held in Miraflores Palace in Caracas for over two hours before being released without their equipment.

Ramos had an earlier run-in with then candidate Donald Trump that resulted in him being escorted from the room by two security guards, but Ramos was at fault. Ramos tried to ask a question out of turn at a press conference while another reporter was speaking. “Sit down, you weren’t called,” Trump said. “Go back to Univision.”

That led to back and forth bickering that ended when Trump ordered Ramos ejected from the room. He was allowed to return and asked Trump two questions.

Ramos was “totally, absolutely out of line,” Trump said later.  He had a point. Ramos knows better than to interrupt another reporter, but it’s also true that Trump has a history with Univision. He’s currently suing the network for $500 million after it canceled a contract to broadcast the Miss Universe beauty contest.

Still, you have to like a journalist who’s willing to stand-up to the two biggest bullies in the Western Hemisphere.

Posted in Media, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

QUICK HITS: Cohen’s testimony just validates our suspicions

–Michael Cohen’s testimony just confirms what we already suspect about Donald Trump: He’s a low-life scum bag.

–The kerfuffle over Cohen’s veracity reminds me of Bob Arum, the long-time boxing promoter. He once insisted a boxer in one of his matches was healthy, until he said the guy was fully recovered from his injury. When a reporter pointed out the contradiction, Arum said: “Yesterday I was lying, but today I’m telling the truth.”

–Trump tried to convince Forbes magazine he was worth $9 billion, but told the IRS he was worth $4.5 billion. I think it’s time to examine his tax returns.

–Just asking: Is it cultural appropriation if black actors play historical white characters in the musical “Hamilton”? You can bet there would be plenty of protests if white actors played black characters in a musical about Nat Turner or Dred Scott.

–All of the underwhelming Democratic candidates for president point to a stalemate at the national convention. That’s when Gavin Newsom can step forward as the unity candidate.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Some of the cheapest people you’ll find are very rich

A recent police sweep of Florida massage parlors that were allegedly fronts for prostitution rings netted 165 arrests, among them three former cops and three very rich men.

The wealthiest of the trio is 77-year-old Robert Kraft, owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and said to worth in the neighborhood of $6.6 billion. Kraft reportedly dates a 39-year-old “actress” but that apparently doesn’t get him what he wants.

Kraft has denied the allegations, but police say they have video of the widower engaging in two separate sex acts. He has been charged with two counts of solicitation of a prostitute.

One of the incidents allegedly occurred the morning of the AFC Championship game, when Kraft arrived at the Orchids of Asia massage parlor in Jupiter, Florida, in a chauffeured 2015 blue Bentley–nothing conspicuous or anything like that! He apparently conducted his business and jetted to Kansas City in time for the kick-off.

The two other rich guys swept up in the dragnet are John Childs, founder of the Boston private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates and a big contributor to the Republican Party, and John Haven, former president and COO of Citigroup who is currently chairman of Napier Park Global Capital.

Childs has denied the charges and Haven hasn’t responded to requests for comment.

If the charges are true, it just illustrates what cheapskates they are. All three of these guys can afford the services of high-class call girl services like the one used by former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (although you have to be careful when moving around large sums of money), or they could just hire their own full-time mistresses.

Instead, they decided to save a few bucks and allegedly get their jollies at sleazy massage parlors operating in tacky strip malls, one step up the ladder from common street walkers.

This tight wad (pun intended) approach doesn’t surprise me. During the many years I spent in corporate public relations, I became a student of the compensation packages given corporate executives. One thing I learned is that it doesn’t matter how much they are paid, they will still try to offload personal expenses on the company.

So it didn’t surprise me when they took the cheap route. The allegation they were patronizing establishments that employed sex slaves lured to the U. S. from Asia with promises of good jobs apparently didn’t seem to bother them.

Nobody gets rich in this country worrying about the people they might hurt.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

SPEAKING OF SPORTS: Bochy’s ‘gut’ is probably right

Bruce Bochy, the only manager of the San Francisco Giants who has won a World Series (actually, 3 of them), announced this week that he will retire at the end of his 13th season running the team.

Bochy is an old-style manager who largely ignored modern metrics and large data dumps to manage with his “gut,” relying on his decades of knowledge and experience to make the right decision at the right time.

It’s hard to argue with his success, so if Bochy’s gut told him to retire now, his gut was probably right.

The Giants have not played well the last 2 seasons, averaging just 68 wins. The fall-off in performance can be attributed to injuries to veteran players and a lack of talent coming up from the farm system

The Giants canned General Manager Bobby Evans at the end of last season and have hired Farhan Zaidi, former GM of the Dodgers, as president of baseball operations.

Zaidi, who also spent a decade with the Oakland A’s learning their “money ball” philosophy, is among the new breed of GMs who rely on statistical analysis and performance metrics to guide their player personnel decisions.

Bochy could probably adjust to that style of play, but it’s more likely that Zaidi wants to bring in his own guy rather than sign Bochy to a new contract.

Bochy always struck me as a man with a temperament suited to the grind of the long season. He never got overly excited when things were going well and didn’t panic when the Giants were in a slump.

He also had a sense of humor that few people were exposed to. For example, during Pablo Sandoval’s first stint with the Giants, he went down in a heap one day after fouling a high fast ball off his shin.

Bochy came running out with the trainer to see how bad it was. As the trainer was tending to Pablo’s injury, Bochy turned to St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina and said: “Don’t call that pitch again.”

People in the stands couldn’t understand why Molina and the home plate umpire were laughing while Sandoval was hurting.

***

Rebounds: Seth Greenberg, ESPN’s lead studio analyst for men’s college basketball, is a bright guy who clearly knows the game. But a judge of talent? Maybe not so good.

Greenberg was the head coach at Virginia Tech when Steph Curry was a senior at Charlotte Christian High School. Curry’s father, Dell, was a graduate of VT and wanted his son to play there.

After checking him out, Greenberg offered Steph the opportunity to be a walk-on! Curry said no and accepted a scholarship from Davidson, a second-tier school where he blossomed into a star.

Keep that in mind the next time Greenberg pontificates about a player’s potential. His shaky judgement of talent may also explain why he’s now working in TV instead of coaching.

But in fairness to Greenberg, it should be pointed out that coaches at two other schools closer to Charlotte–Roy Williams of North Carolina and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke–also passed on Curry.

So much for their evaluation skills.

***

Among the big five college basketball conferences, the Pac-12 is clearly the worst of the bunch. And with a conference record of 0-14 after getting thrashed by Arizona Thursday, Cal is clearly the worst team in the conference.

What’s interesting here is what might have been. When Cuonzo Martin abruptly left Cal to take the Missouri job, the athletic department interviewed several candidates before giving the job to Martin’s top assistance, Wyking Jones.

This has proved to be a bad decision, made even worse by the fact that one of the candidates they passed over was Eric Musselman, head coach at the University of Nevada–Reno. The Wolf Pack currently has a 24-2 record and is ranked No. 6 in the country.

Posted in College athletics, Golden State Warriors, NCAA, San Francisco Giants, Sports, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Johnson had the answer to Trump’s popularity

A lot of people who detest Donald Trump have a hard time understanding how intelligent, principled Republicans can continue to support a man who can always be depended upon to take the low road.

The simple answer is that even as he debases the office he holds, Trump delivers on the issues that are important to the people who voted for him.

For the fat cats, he has delivered a big tax cut and is cutting away at rules and regulations that restrain their ability to make even more money. That includes those pesky environmental regulations that require corporations to pay for the pollution they create.

For the common folk who form most of his base, Trump is offering up a border wall that the base believes will solve our illegal immigration problems, and tariffs that are supposed to protect American blue-collar jobs. Evangelicals are getting the conservative judges they fervently believe will overturn Roe V. Wade.

Perhaps a story attributed to Lyndon Johnson when he was president sums it up best. Johnson held weekly meetings with the Democratic leaders of Congress to review the status of legislation and plot strategy.

Senate Democrats complained loud and long at one of those meetings about a fellow Democrat who was creating a lot of problems on a specific piece of legislation. After listening to this for a couple of minutes, Johnson raised his hand and said: “He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.”

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Leave a comment