Elections feel more and more like sporting events every time they're held. There's more dirty play, more money spent, the officiating gets worse and worse, and there have been more people switching teams, from Republican to Democrat mostly, according to Twitter at least, than ever before. That doesn't make the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections easily understood, however.

Since sports is a language we all understand, I offer this as a means to comprehend the chaos that is contemporary U.S. politics by looking at the races like they're actual races, or any sporting event for that matter. This piece aims to inform you of the facts and stakes surrounding the biggest and closest races of the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections by comparing them to historic sporting events or sports rivalries. 

The piece also offers some politics betting advice you can take or leave, but I assure you, politics betting is even more fun and addictive than sports betting. If you're disinterested in politics, politics betting makes politics suddenly interesting. I should warn you, however, that I and just about everyone else in America lost big time in 2016—in more than one way. This election we’ll start winning it back together. (Author's note: any winnings are reinvested into candidates’ campaigns the following election cycle.)

Georgia’s Governor Election a Heavyweight Championship like Jack Johnson vs. Tommy Burns

Democrat Stacey Abrams vs. Republican Brian Kemp

It might not be a perfect comparison to 1908's “Fight of the Century” between the first ever black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, and Tommy Burns, but Democrat Stacey Abrams is trying to be to the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections what Jack Johnson was to boxing.

Abrams is running to become the country’s first ever black female elected governor of any state. Abrams’ opponent, Brian Kemp, is doing his damnedest as Georgia’s acting Secretary of State to make sure she doesn’t. It would be like Johnson’s fight against Burns, but if Burns had served as referee of the fight as well. Abrams isn’t likely to do a year in prison for dating a white woman like Johnson did, though.

A federal judge has already ruled against Kemp, who was using an “exact match” law to keep over 3,000 people—mostly minorities—from voting for things like misspellings and missing hyphens on their voter registration applications. But over 50,000 voters in Georgia have been flagged as ineligible because of the law, and despite that, Abrams trails in the polls by just one point, according to Real Clear Politics’ (RCP) average. She’s gotten the Oprah boost recently, too, so expect this one to come down to the wire.

I have $10 on Abrams to win on Predict It, an online marketplace for politics betting, basically. The difference being you can buy and sell shares right up until the election is called, so if Abrams holds a lead at some point on Election Day, I can sell my shares for her to win at a profit in case the late rounds go to Kemp. I won’t, however.

Texas’ Senate Election like Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors

Democrat Beto O’Rourke vs. Republican Ted Cruz

The basketball battle for the State of California between LeBron James and his Los Angeles Lakers and the reigning, back-to-back-champion Golden State Warriors is not unlike the battle for the Texas Senate seat. Ted Cruz is the reigning, Republican champion running for a second term, and Beto O’Rourke brings all the glitz and glam LeBron brought with him to the Lakers. O’Rourke doubled Cruz’s campaign contributions in the second quarter of 2018, raising more than $10.4 million despite taking no money from Political Action Committees (PACs). His ability to raise money has this shaping up to be the most expensive U.S. Senate race of all time.

Like the Lakers, O’Rourke will have to spend to contend. According to the latest Emerson poll, he trails Cruz by three points, but the RCP average has him even further behind in a state that hasn’t had a Democratic Senator since 1993. I have $5 on O’Rourke scoring an upset, but I’m really just hoping early tallies of metropolitan areas like Dallas-Fort Worth have O’Rourke far enough ahead early to sell at halftime before Cruz goes on a run, hitting shots from rural Texas in the third quarter like the Warriors do against seemingly everybody.

Florida’s Senate/Governor Elections could Replicate Atlanta's Stunning MLS Success for Democrats 

Senate: Democrat Bill Nelson vs. Republican Rick Scott

Governor: Republican Ron DeSantis vs. Democrat Andrew Gillum

While Miamians will vote on a proposal for the purchase of real estate to house a billion-dollar Major League Soccer (MLS) complex, they'll also be voting to potentially restore the voting rights of more than 1.5 million former felons in the state (10 percent of all voters in the state). Florida is one of just three states (Iowa and Kentucky being the others) to automatically bar anyone convicted of a felony from voting. A grassroots campaign run by former felons is looking to change that, but needs 60 percent of Florida voters to vote "yes" on Amendment Four in order for it to pass.

Amendment Four would "automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation." And while Florida's ex-cons have an avenue to regaining their voting rights, it's a long street with obstacles abound like the last level of the arcade game, Paperboy, but with an old, pasty boss withholding payment until you get off the bike, walk up to the house, ring the doorbell, and place his newspaper ever so gently in his right hand before kissing the rings on his left.

https://youtu.be/QqDxaQKvjgw?t=8

Ari Berman explains in an article for Mother Jones that Florida felons can get their voting rights back but have to wait five to seven years to petition a Clemency Board headed by current governor, Rick Scott, who has denied 90 percent of applications—giving just 3,000 Florida felons the right to vote. Scott's predecessor, Charlie Crist, who left the Republicans for the Democrats in free agency, approved 155,000 applications. Even Republican Jeb Bush approved 75,000, and he's still on Scott's team. And that team is hard on crime because it's an easy stance to take and it pays well.

Florida's Rick Scott has received the most contributions from the private prison industry in 2018 ($70,600), and fellow Floridian Rebecca Negron is second ($29,850). Two other Florida Republican candidates make the top 20, accepting $10,000 each to funnel both prisoners and tax dollars to for-profit prisons. Texas "entrepreneurs" were turning old motels into migrant detention centers until they found out they could get away with putting up a few tents instead. Four Republicans and one Democrat from Texas also made the list.

These private prisons are literally banking on recidivism; they want prisoners to keep coming back. To them, convicts are cash cows; they're valued. But to the rest of the world, convicts are always convicts, regardless of rehabilitation. Convicts can find God but not a job. In Florida, they can get a law degree but not practice law. And in Florida, they can indulge in every pleasure imaginable except the pleasure that comes from voting. The second chance ex-cons are afforded, especially in Florida, comes with strings attached, takes five to seven years to earn, and doesn't have to be granted, and likely won't, even if the convict does everything asked of her. That doesn't mean they can't participate in democracy, though.

Even though a million-plus Florida ex-cons can't vote in the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections, you can bet they're knocking doors and phone banking to get Democrats to the polls on Election Day so they can vote someday soon. Felons currently incarcerated in Florida jails and prisons are probably calling home to make sure their friends and family vote in this election so they too can vote someday. Left-leaning voters with friends and family convicted of felonies won't be sitting at home on Election Day, and that bodes well for Democratic candidates. Both Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum were leading in the RCP average polls on the eve of the elections.

The roughly 113,000 Florida votes that separated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016 (1.2 percent) will surely narrow, because this grassroots movement of former felons has given Florida Democrats an inside track to victory through an issue that has further motivated an already motivated base. Major League Soccer's (MLS) success in Atlanta is indicative of what can be done when you offer people something of which they've been deprived.

Both Minnesota and Atlanta got MLS expansion franchises in 2017. Minneapolis and Atlanta share similar age demographics that make them ideal soccer cities. Residents aged 20 to 30 years make up the largest segment of their populations. Atlanta is obviously more diverse, but that doesn't explain why Atlanta United leads not only MLS, but the NFL, MLB, and NHL in attendance, averaging 46,318 tickets sold per game in its inaugural season. Minnesota United managed just over 20,000 per game in its inaugural season, in a stadium with more than 50,000 seats, which the Loons filled just once and marketed hard to do so.

Atlanta United set new attendance (and points) records in 2018, averaging over 53,000 fans per game. What gives? The Five Stripes were surprisingly good surprisingly fast, but they weren't the Vegas Golden Knights of MLS. The Five Stripes lost in the first round of the playoffs despite finishing the regular season fourth overall. The key to Atlanta's stunning MLS success isn't strictly due to the product's performance on the pitch. It's influenced by the availability of excess income and a lack of quality, sports/entertainment substitutes in the area demanding those dollars.

Atlanta is a business hub home to Home Depot, Coca-Cola, UPS, and Delta Air Lines, so while Atlanta has more impoverished individuals and families than both Minneapolis and St. Paul, a lot of Atlantans have a lot of money. There are more families in Atlanta earning more than $200,000 annually than in any other income level. More than a quarter of married families in Atlanta make more than $200,000 annually. Minneapolis and St. Paul combined have just 23.5 percent of married families making more than $200,000 annually. But what sporting events would Atlantans pay to see in 2017?

Atlanta Income by Household Type

The MLB's Braves might have moved into a new, publicly funded stadium in 2017, but they weren't especially good (and neither was traffic or parking), finishing 72-90, 23rd in the standings and 13th in attendance. The Braves turned that record around and won their division in 2018, but still finished 11th in attendance. For reference, in 2011, the Minnesota Twins finished their second season at Target Field with a 63-99 record and managed to finish fourth in attendance. MLB as a whole saw average attendance drop to a 15-year low in 2018, but whether the Braves' struggle to fill seats is due to traffic, parking, the ire of taxpayers, or an overall disinterest in the game doesn't change the fact that their product fails to demand the entertainment dollars of affluent Atlantans.

The NBA's Hawks were even worse than the Braves in 2017-18. After losing out in the first round of the 2016-17 NBA Playoffs, they finished the following season tied for the third-worst record in basketball, ending a run of regular-season dominance culminating in early postseason exits. The Hawks are hoping a renovation of State Farm Arena, complete with golf simulator suites and an authentic, Atlanta barbershop, demand the dollars their product currently cannot.

The Hawks do, however, offer a relatively affordable and valuable season ticket package, which is another means to make a poor product more appealing. Price matters and must reflect not just the product's quality, but how accessibility affects demand for the product. Transportation and parking expenses must be considered when setting a price, and the Hawks have years of experience at their location to more accurately estimate those costs than the Braves did.

Still, the Hawks were dead last in attendance in 2017-18, managing to fill just 14,409 of their 21,000 seats per game (68.6 percent of capacity). Atlanta United originally intended to close the upper bowl of Mercedes-Benz Stadium to create a more intimate atmosphere, lowering capacity from 70,000 to 42,500. That's 109 percent of seats sold in year one, or 66.2 percent if you use the 70,000 figure. In year two, they bested the Hawks' seat-sold percentage by almost 10 percent using considering a capacity of 70,000.

With the NHL's Thrashers becoming the Winnipeg Jets in 2011, Atlanta's affluent population has been deprived of quality, sports entertainment since the Hawks' window of contention closed in early 2017. The wallets of affluent Atlantans were practically begging for a worthwhile entertainment alternative just as Florida ex-cons are actually pleading for an alternative to Rick Scott's Clemency Board when it comes to regaining their right to vote.

Florida Democrats could replicate The Five Stripes' stunning MLS success by simply expressing their support for legislation offering disenfranchised people an alternative to Scott's Clemency Hawks subjectively dictating the voting rights of Florida's former felons with no oversight whatsoever. But something tends to be better than nothing, and nothing is very close to what Rick Scott is offering Florida's 1.5 million former felons right now. Expect a blue wave in Florida across the board.

North Dakota’s Senate Election a Light-middleweight Championship like Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather

Republican Kevin Cramer vs. Democrat Heidi Heitkamp

Heidi Heitkamp has a better chance to retain her North Dakota Senate seat (11/2, according to the Predict It market) than Conor McGregor had to beat Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match (11/1). But McGregor was incredibly overrated and idiotically over-wagered. Despite a marijuana legalization initiative appearing on North Dakotans’ ballot on Election Day, Heitkamp trails Republican challenger Kevin Cramer by nine points in the latest Fox News poll. With cannabis becoming more of a bipartisan issue, the initiative might bring close as many Republicans to the polls as Democrats, so it looks as though Heitkamp’s short reign as North Dakota’s Senator could be coming to an end.

Heitkamp’s stance against Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment apparently hurt her chances, but she’s not stepping into a boxing ring with an undefeated, world champion having never boxed before. She has boxed, and Kevin Cramer is no Floyd Mayweather, except that he did say even if Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, is telling the truth, the recently confirmed Supreme Court Judge would have done “nothing” seriously wrong. Mayweather, you might remember, served two months in jail after being convicted of domestic battery. A 17-year-old Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a woman when he was drunk, allegedly.

I have $5 on Heitkamp overcoming the long odds because she will no doubt attract the most money from Democratic donors down the stretch, as they desperately try to become the majority in the Senate. As her deficit in the polls narrows, I’ll start shedding my 15-cent shares at a profit if I can. And even if Democrats see Heitkamp as a lost cause in the late rounds, the votes in Fargo and Bismarck-Mandan areas will undoubtedly be reported first, so she’ll look close enough early on to hopefully make some money on my shares. If not, a candidate is out $5 in the next election cycle. I don't think anyone will notice.

Wisconsin Governor Election like 2001 New York Islanders Season (Potentially)

Democrat Tony Evers vs. Republican Scott Walker

Democrats in Wisconsin probably feel like New York Islanders fans between 1996 and 2001: like there was just no chance of winning. With their arena crumbling around them, the New York Islanders were so undesirable to potential buyers, a fraud named John Spano misrepresented his net worth and took over the team for four months. It took another half decade for the Islanders franchise to be saved by Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar, but even then, fans questioned moves made by the new front office, only to enjoy a franchise best start to the 2001-02 season (9-0-1-1) and a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division.

It’s been seven years since Wisconsin had a Democratic governor, and it might be time Democrats get their Islanders Season in the Sun. The Democrats already received their John Spano gut punch with a failed attempt in 2012 to recall Governor Scott Walker for limiting public workers’ rights to collectively bargain. They and Wisconsinites, like Islanders fans, suffered since, and seem to have suffered enough given Democratic challenger Tony Evers’ five-point lead in the latest Emerson poll. He’s the guy with experience as a teacher and principal whose education budget recommendations Walker was ignoring while Governor. Wisconsinites seem to think he has the experience to right Walker’s biggest wrongs.

It’s no secret Walker has undermined labor unions in Wisconsin, especially teachers’ unions, but Walker’s really failed Wisconsin’s youth when it comes to education, as Patrick Caldwell writes in Mother Jones. “Walker slashed funding for K-12 schools by $792 million over two years,” forcing local property tax hikes. It’s never a good look when a candidate preaching tax cuts is responsible for tax increases.  

Desperation is a stinky cologne, and that’s exactly what Scott Walker is emitting. He suddenly wants to adopt a portion of Obamacare, protecting coverage guarantees for people suffering from pre-existing conditions. He’s hoping it will save his political life like a full Medicare expansion could have literally save the lives of his constituents. It won’t be enough, though. Walker’s just done Wisconsin wrong too many times—just like Islanders owners done Islanders fans.

Montana House of Representatives Election a WWE Heavyweight Championship like Eddie Guerrero vs. Brock Lesnar

Democrat Kathleen Williams vs. Republican Greg Gianforte

Greg Gianforte managed to win election to the U.S. House of Representatives despite body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs when he asked the candidate a question the day before the election. Gianforte's win might be due to the postponed release of his mugshot to the public and press despite being formally charged and arrested for assault. A court eventually ordered Gianforte’s mugshot released, but not before the election was held.

The mugshot might not have mattered, though. Gianforte reportedly raised more money the day after his assault of a reporter than on any other day. Now he’s a California-born, New Jersey-raised, Trump-loved Brock Lesnar defending his championship belt in Montana against a tiny, minority-defending female version of Eddie Guerrero.

Kathleen Williams’ strong candidacy, likely the strongest Montana Democrats have ever run, might not matter either. Gianforte’s folk-hero status with Conservative Montanans could be insurmountable, but she’s made the race close for the first time in a long time. Montana is deeply red when it comes to the House of Representatives, especially recently. A Republican has represented Montana in the U.S. House for over 20 years. The latest Gravis poll has Montana’s At-Large Seat all tied up though. If Williams gets a surprise spear from Goldberg (i.e. Oprah), she can win just like Guerrero did.

As you can see, I have no money down on Republicans in any races, but I did turnaround some shares I purchased for Republicans to retain the Senate. I also had shares of Democrats taking a majority in the House (they need to win 23 seats, and 25 Republicans are up for reelection in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016). Both races were too close for my comfort, so I concentrated my funds on individual races I was most confident would either go Democrat or start to lean Democrat so I could sell my shares at a profit.

Basically, I made modest bets on longshots or long bets on what I perceive to be sure things. Use RCP and New York Times polling to guide your bets, and then, on Election Day, vote if you’re a registered voter, register to vote if you're not and you still can in your state, and then treat it like the holiday it ought to be. Watch Election coverage like it's Thanksgiving football. Turn it into a drinking game. Eat like an American, and win and lose your bets like an American—"cocky and arrogant, even when you're getting beat."

Published in U.S.
Sunday, 04 November 2018 15:01

Bad Teams with Good Season Ticket Packages

As a Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Twins season ticket holder, I have plenty of personal experience when it comes to overpaying for season ticket packages because of lofty playoff hopes. This year, though, it was the Twins and not the Timberwolves that put a paltry product on the field, even with Jimmy Butler inevitably being traded before the NBA Trade Deadline on February 7 at 3 p.m. EST.

The $539 I paid for a 10-game, flex season ticket package for the Timberwolves’ 2018-19 season was a relative steal compared to the $760 I paid for a 20-game, flex season ticket package with the Twins’ for the 2018 season. Neither is the cheapest season ticket package available that assures you playoff ticket priority, but sometimes the seats are the only thing that make a Twins game worth watching, whereas the Timberwolves have an ample amount of visiting teams with players and even coaches worth watching.

Picking the games I’ll attend each season is like a holiday. I determined which dozen games I wanted to see moments after the NBA schedule was released, and I chose most of my Twins games on the same day. But instead of cutting Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and the Oklahoma City Thunder along with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks from my 10-game package, I was choosing baseball games based on promotions like Dollar Dog Day (Wednesdays) and $5 Kids’ Meal Day (Sundays). Here are the games I chose (number of tickets in parentheses) to see during the Timberwolves’ 2018-19 impending dumpster fire sale of a season.

Oct. 29, Lakers (1)

Nov. 14, New Orleans (1)

Dec. 1, Boston (1)

Jan. 6, Lakers (1)

Jan. 18, San Antonio (1)

Feb. 13, Houston (2)

March 29, Golden State (1)

March 30, Philadelphia (1)

April 1, Portland (1)

April 9, Toronto (1)

The NBA has so much to offer in opposing teams that choosing to attend 10 of 41 home games (24.4 percent) is easier than finding a similar percentage (24.7 percent) of baseball home games worth watching. Seeing LeBron James twice is a no-brainer, as is Anthony Davis once. The Brad Stephens-coached Boston Celtics are absolutely worth the price of admission regardless of whom they’re playing, as are Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs. James Harden and Chris Paul visiting in a rematch of last season’s playoff matchup I had to see at least once. Golden State as a whole is another no-brainer. That roster could feature five All-Stars if DeMarcus Cousins returns to form. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are worth watching, as is Kawhi Leonard, regardless of whom they’re playing. Portland is very well-coached, Damian Lillard is fun to watch, and an April 1 matchup could have playoff implications. Even if the Jimmy Butler-less Wolves aren’t in the playoff picture, they could play spoilers down the stretch. I even got a free ticket to the home opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which thanks to Jimmy Butler drama, was a must-see game.

There aren’t as many premium games in baseball. In 2018, I saw just about every premium game the Twins played, including every game they played at home against the eventual champions, the Boston Red Sox (3). I saw every game they played at home against the American League runners-up, the New York Yankees (3). I also saw six (6) of the seven games the AL Central Champion Cleveland Indians played at Target Field (two Twins home games were played in Puerto Rico). Add a three-game set against the Los Angeles Angels and baseball’s best player, Mike Trout, and I still have eight games left to choose. (I had tickets to all three games against Houston at Target Field, but that was through a separate ticket deal for April games.)

My hypothesis is that the NBA offers fans of its worst teams the best value when it comes to their cheapest season ticket package because of the vast array of entertaining and exceptional teams, players, and coaches visiting. But let’s do the research and find out the best value for the cheapest season ticket packages for sports’ worst teams.

NHL

Ottawa Senators, 10 games, $600

The Senators were the second-worst NHL team in the 2017-18 season, and at $60 per seat per game, their cheapest season ticket package leaves a lot to be desired. This might simply be due to the Ottawa market, which is no doubt more interested in the sport of hockey than that of the worst team in the NHL last season, the Buffalo Sabres. While Ottawa doesn’t have an NFL team to compete with the Senators, neither does Buffalo, really.

Buffalo Sabres: 5 games, $183

This is a smoking hot deal to see five premium games you can customize. I chose late season matchups against Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Toronto, and Washington. Those are fantastic matchups featuring the best offensive players in hockey: Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews (who should be healthy by March 20), and the Stanley Cup Champion Alexander Ovechkin.

The Sabres also offer the smallest percentage of games (12.2 percent) you can purchase to qualify for playoff ticket priority. Buffalo’s other awful pro sports team isn’t nearly as friendly to your pocketbook and won’t even sell you a season ticket package if you live outside Western New York.

NFL

Buffalo Bills: 10 games (2 preseason), $400

In a live chat with Buffalo Bills season ticket representative Sarah Beth, I was told the cheapest season ticket package was $400 for this season, but they are no longer selling them. I could purchase single game tickets, but not a season ticket package for next season.

Cleveland Browns: 4 games, $200

As of Wednesday, October 31 at 5:30 p.m. EST, you could see MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes and the equally electrifying Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt along with the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs running Andy Reid’s schemes for $50. Then you could catch Julio Jones making Matt Ryan look better than he is for $50. Then Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey visit Cleveland, and the final game of your four-game, season ticket package ensuring playoff ticket priority is capped by another wide receiver making his quarterback look better than he is. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton come to town.

Even though most of the games won’t be close, you could argue that four of the most entertaining players playing professional football right now (Mahomes, Newton, Jones, and Green) could all be seen for $200. The Cavaliers couldn’t do better than that simply because they’re a worse team than their crosstown, gridiron counterparts.

NBA

Cleveland Cavaliers: 1 game, $500

The Cavs aren’t selling season ticket packages anymore, and the sales rep couldn’t look back at prices from games already played. But if you want to know how much it would cost to see LeBron visit with his Lakers from the cheapest seats in Quicken Loans Arena, it’s $460 to $500. And that wouldn't even qualify you for playoff ticket priority.

Atlanta Hawks: 11 games, $448

For the 10 best games on the Hawks’ schedule, including the Golden State Warriors and LeBron’s Lakers, plus one more for free at a total under $450, Atlanta offers its fans immense value. For $91 less than I paid to see the same opposing teams visit the newly renovated Target Center, Hawks’ fans can secure their playoff ticket priority, but more importantly, member access to the soon-to-be-renovated State Farm Arena, featuring suites with golf simulators and a barbershop where you can get a shave and a haircut while watching the game.

MLB

Baltimore Orioles: 13 games, $228

The Orioles’ Sunday season ticket package featured a game against Boston, the Yankees, Astros, Indians, and Angels, but also featured games against Texas, Tampa Bay (2), Miami, and Minnesota. There’s value in allowing fans to pick the games they want to see, but paying less than $18 per game is relatively affordable. The Twins’ “Pick 10” package runs $220 and features just three premium games. Baltimore’s Sunday package features four premium games for $8 more.

Miami Marlins: 10 games, $130

The Marlins’ “Variety,” “Saturday,” and “Sunday” plans run at least $130, but I could only find a single seat in the cheapest section for the weekend plans. The variety plan, which most likely provides admission to the best games, was not available in any of the cheaper sections of Marlins Park. If we assume, however, that Miami’s Sunday package offers a similar percentage of premium games as Baltimore’s 13-game package and Minnesota’s 10-game, flex plan, then we can expect to see three premium matchups out of the 10. At $13 per seat per game, it doesn’t get any cheaper to secure playoff ticket priority in any league, but you have to watch the Marlins. At least they got rid of that hideous home run sculpture, though.

Ranking the Cheapest Season Ticket Packages for Sports’ Worst Teams

  1. Buffalo Sabres: 5 of 5 premium games at $36.60 per game

The price per game might not be as low as baseball or basketball can offer, but the freedom to choose your own games ensuring every one of them is a premium matchup makes Buffalo a go-to town for hockey. My editor in Toronto, Dan Szczepanek, said trips to Buffalo are a Toronto tradition. “It was always cheaper to drive two hours to Buffalo to watch the Leafs and Sabres, get a hotel, and spend a few days than it was to see the Leafs in Toronto.” The fact that you can establish playoff ticket priority for a measly $183 makes me want to buy a Buffalo Sabres season ticket package, and both of my teams are in the Western Conference.

  1. Atlanta Hawks: 11 of 11 premium games at $40.73 per game

Again, the percentage of premium games offered in the Hawks’ cheapest season ticket package make up for the higher price point per seat. Even if the Hawks operate the same way the Timberwolves do and make your free game the home opener, that was against Dallas and third overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Luka Doncic, whom Atlanta traded for Trae Young at fifth overall and a future first-rounder. If you haven’t seen Doncic play, I assure you, he and Deandre Jordan make for premium entertainment.

  1. Cleveland Browns: 4 of 4 premium games at $50 per game

It’s not all bad in Cleveland. Even with LeBron leaving and both the Browns and Cavs firing their head coaches in a 24-hour time period, you can still get premium entertainment from the teams and players visiting FirstEnergy Stadium at an affordable price. Even while Buffalo was in town, it would have cost twice as much for the same seats at U.S. Bank Stadium.

  1. Ottawa Senators: 10 of 10 premium games at $60 per game

Ottawa is the last of our worst teams to provide incredible value when it comes to choosing the quality of opposing teams in their season ticket package. At $60 per game, it’s a bit pricey per seat, but the assurance of seeing the best opposing players in the NHL makes $60 worth every penny.

  1. Miami Marlins: 3 premium games out of 10 at $13 per game

While just 30 percent of your games are against playoff-caliber competition, you’re paying $13 to see a baseball game. You can’t get a beer and a hot dog at a ballgame for $13.

  1. Baltimore Orioles: 4 premium games out of 13 at $17.54 per game

While the Orioles’ cheapest season ticket package has a marginally higher percentage of premium games than Miami’s, the $17.54 price point per seat is more than it ought to be given their .290 winning percentage last season. The beauty of Camden Yards can’t compensate for the collosal incompetence of baseball played by Orioles at Oriole Park.

  1. Buffalo Bills: 2 premium games out of 10 at $40 per game

Since preseason games can’t be considered premium games, and the Bills are so bad the best game on their schedule annually is a visit by Tom Brady and the Patriots, there’s really nothing to like about being a Bills season ticket holder. The Jaguars were the other “premium” game on the Bills’ schedule this season, and we’ve seen how far they’ve fallen.

Seems my hypothesis was wrong. The NHL, not the NBA, provides the best value to fans of its worst teams when it comes to their season ticket offerings. The NBA is a close second, however, and the Cleveland Browns coming in third was a pleasant surprise. Baseball and the Buffalo Bills, however, have a long way to go to make their cheapest season ticket packages more appealing to fans of the sports’ worst teams.

Published in Money

Back in 2013, ESPN senior writer Steve Wulf published a rundown of all the costs incurred over the course of his daughter’s decade’s-worth of days playing youth hockey. With travel, club/registration dues, and instruction, the grand total came in just under $50,000, and the sport has only gotten more expensive, especially when it comes to reserving ice time, which is generally covered by league registration fees.

Registration fees for the 2018-19 youth hockey season with the Edina Hockey Association (EHA) in Edina, Minnesota, arguably the epicenter of youth hockey in the United States, range from $149 to $1,430. And that doesn’t even include the mandatory EHA registration fee of $200 for all players besides Termites (seven- to 10-year-olds) and a rostering fee of $150 for players on teams in certain leagues. While scholarships can lower those costs for underprivileged families of exceptional youth hockey players, the cost for parents of children playing their first year is at least $150, and not one piece of equipment (except maybe a pelvic protector) is provided. Online equipment outlets and resellers of used gear aren’t making the price to play the sport of hockey less prohibitive either.

You don’t need demographic research to prove that the prohibitive costs of youth hockey are dictating the faces playing the sport. National Hockey League (NHL) teams generally have just one non-white face on the ice if that, and that’s not because non-white kids prefer to play basketball, baseball, or football. It’s because basketball, baseball, and football are made more accessible to underprivileged youth.

High school football’s popularity is what provides the safety pads necessary to play. And while hockey is more popular than football in the Twin Cities area, the similarly expensive safety equipment necessary to play the sport is seldom provided. That's why Gordon Bombay's Mighty Ducks first practiced in football helmets, and it's why the face of hockey is as white as the ice upon which the game is played.

Lacrosse, the only sport with equipment costs comparable to hockey (and only slightly more expensive according to Time Magazine), sees 56 percent of its youth participants come from families making more than $100,000 annually. Just four percent of the sport’s participants come from families making less than $25,000, and it’s not simply because underprivileged kids don’t want to play lacrosse. I’m sure plenty would like to but their parents can’t afford it, and I’m sure youth hockey consists of players from similar economic advantages. I didn't find that research, but what I did find was an estimate of youth hockey equipment costs by Moms Team of $595—$30 more than the cost of lacrosse equipment. Whether hockey or lacrosse equipment is more expensive is irrelevant because the costs associated with off-ice training expected of youth hockey players, like dry-land training and spring hockey, make it the most expensive youth sport to play, and certainly the least accessible given the required playing surface.

I would have loved to play youth hockey, but there wasn’t even an outdoor ice rink maintained in my hometown let alone a youth hockey league. I wanted to play rec soccer, too, but my parents couldn't afford to pay registration fees for both baseball in the summer and soccer in the fall (youth football didn’t start until sixth grade in my hometown). I also played youth football until I broke my ankle in my second season, and despite the high equipment costs associated with that sport, my parents paid next to nothing for me to play it. Even my cleats were hand-me-downs. Basketball was easily the cheapest sport I played in my youth. I got my first basketball for Christmas one year, and there were basketball goals within walking distance of my house had my father not scored a used one he installed on the roof of our garage. Even my days running track in middle school cost my family nothing. All our gear was provided by the school—even my running spikes. Nothing is provided to youth hockey players except pucks.

Minnesota Nice Skates will work to lower the economic barrier to entry into youth hockey by leasing youth hockey equipment in the Twin Cities area. To do so at an affordable yet sustainable rate, however, a thorough understanding of upfront equipment costs and lifetime equipment costs is necessary. Since Wulf’s report on the costs of youth hockey is five years old, and Cindy Pom’s Canadian version is lacking in detail, I set out to discover the absolute minimum costs of equipping your youth hockey player in his or her first year and over a lifetime (10 years), for both used or new gear, and considering the resale value of each piece of equipment. 

Junior and Youth Hockey Skates

Year 1 (Used): $25

The best deal for used, youth hockey skates is going to be on Craigslist, especially in the Minneapolis area. If you don’t live in the Twin Cities, or don’t know someone in the area who can complete the transaction for you and ship it, Mercari had a pair of used, youth hockey skates for less than $30 including shipping. Frankly, in your son or daughter’s first year of skating, you’re better off buying a new pair of hockey skates for beginners. You child is less likely to enjoy hockey if her skates aren’t comfortable, and new skates will form to your child’s feet rather than come preformed to someone else’s.

Year 1 (New): $30 to $50 ($15 to $25 after resale)

In year one of your child’s youth hockey career, you can expect to pay as little as $30 and $50 on average for a new pair of youth hockey skates. Junior hockey skates, if your child is starting early, tend to be more than $50. The nice thing about buying your child new skates the first time around is that they’ll grow out of them rather quickly, so the skates should retain their resale value when you sell them used. Still, getting less than half your investment back leaves you with an year-one expense of $15 at minimum and $25 on average. But that doesn't include sharpening the blades.

Year 1 Skate Sharpening: $60 to $125

If you’re youth hockey player is practicing daily, their skates will likely need sharpening weekly. At $5 a pop, that amounts to another $60 in sunk skate costs over the course of a three-month season. If your youth hockey player is playing on traveling teams, that amount can balloon to over $100 quickly. You shouldn’t have to worry about replacing your rookie's new blades, though.

Lifetime Skate Sharpening/Maintenance: $700 to $1,350

If your child plays youth hockey from age eight to 18, you can expect to pay at least $600 and up to $1,250 just to maintain the blades of her skates. This doesn’t include replacing broken shoelaces or lost blade covers, or repairing the shoe of the skate if it explodes upon puck impact. Both are likely to occur, costing another $100 or so.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Skate Costs (New): $1,000 to $1,130 ($695 to $750 after resale)

You can expect your youth hockey player to grow out of five pairs of skates or more, and they only get more expensive as your child’s feet get bigger and their skating better. While you can get your child onto the ice in $40 skates in year one, their next new pair of skates is going to be double that. The third pair will cost between $100 and $150. A fourth pair will cost between $160 and $200, and your child’s fifth pair of youth hockey skates will range from $200 to $240.

Assuming you can recoup half the purchase price on your child’s used skates, you’re looking at costs of $15 to $25 on pair one, $40 to $60 on pair two, $50 to $75 on pair three, $80 to $100 on pair four, and $100 to $120 on pair five. Pair six, hopefully, your son or daughter will be purchasing and replacing with their own revenue stream.

The sooner your child grows into a senior-sized pair of skates the better. While senior skates for advanced skaters sell for more than $400, they should be the last pair you have to buy. The estimate above is based on a pair of skates listed at $420.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Skate Costs (Used): $435 to $505

Buying used doesn’t save you considerably more money than buying new and reselling. Sure, you can find a used pair of skates in any size and have them delivered to your door for half the price of a new pair, but your child is going to be less comfortable on the ice. You can buy insoles to remedy the situation, but then you’re spending another $50 every time you buy a used pair of skates. Even so, considering you find a deal on a used pair of youth or junior hockey skates for $25 in year one, the next pair of used skates is going to be at least $40. A third pair of used skates could be found for $50 or $60. A fourth pair could cost $80, and a fifth $100, with your sixth costing between $140 and $200. In the end, you’re spending less but won’t likely be able to ever resell the skates.

Total Youth Hockey Skate Costs (Used): $1,135 to $1,855

Buying all used skates throughout a decade of youth hockey is going to cost you more than $1,000 and up to $2,000 including maintenance.

Total Youth Hockey Skate Costs (New): $1,700 to $2,480 ($1,395 to $2,100 after resale)

Buying all new skates for your child over 10 years of youth hockey is going to cost more than $1,500 at minimum and up to $2,500 or more. If you’re able to resell your child’s youth hockey skates, you’re still spending close to $1,400 and up to $2,100 over a decade. And we haven’t even put a helmet on your child yet.

Junior and Youth Hockey Helmets

Year 1 (Used): $20

Craigslist again provided the best deal, and a used youth hockey helmet in year one is perfectly acceptable as long as there isn’t any obvious damage to the helmet that will worsen with hits to the head. They must have a full cage as well.

Year 1 (New): $50 ($30 after resale)

The cheapest youth helmet with a full cage can be purchased new for $50. Helmets aren’t equipment easily resold, however, as sweat smells them up something fierce. If your child does outgrow their first helmet quickly, though, you can maybe make back $20 on the purchasing price.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Helmet Costs (Used): $140 to $170

Wulf said his daughter went through four helmets in 10 years. If your child does the same, you can expect to pay more for each helmet you purchase bigger than the last. If your child’s first helmet was purchased used for $20, the next will be $30 to $40, then $40 to $50, then $50 to $60. When your child’s head stops growing (test this with fitted hats), the last helmet you buy them should probably be new, but that’s not included in this estimate.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Helmet Costs (New): $300 to $1,250

You can spend as much as you like here, and it’s not a bad place to focus your funds. Wulf said he spent $1,250 on the five helmets he bought his daughter, which is insane to think about, but he spent $250 per helmet. Protecting your child’s brain is worth every penny, but helmets can be had for much less than Wulf paid. If your child’s first helmet is $50, the next will be closer to $60, then $80, and then $100 or more, so the cheapest cost of protecting your child’s cranium with new helmets is $300. It is recommended that the last helmet you purchase your youth hockey player when fully grown spares no expense.

Junior and Youth Hockey Sticks

Year 1 (Used): $20 to $40

One of the most prohibitive expenses associated with playing hockey is hockey sticks. You can’t play without them, and they eventually break. This estimate assumes your youth hockey player makes it through the season on one stick, but it’s recommended you buy them at least two so they have a replacement if they break one mid-game. We had two tennis rackets in case we broke strings, or in my case, broke the frame bashing it into the ground in anger. It's the only record I hold at my high school, and it became an expensive habit at over $100 per racket. Sticks are similarly expensive once your youth hockey player gets good at hockey.

Year 1 (New): $20 to $45 ($10 to $20 after resale)

Your child’s first hockey sticks should be made of wood. There’s absolutely no reason to put a carbon composite hockey stick in the hands of your eight-year-old unless you get one for free. She’s going to outgrow that first stick in what seems like a heartbeat, or break it just as quickly. You shouldn’t be in a hurry to spend a bunch of money on hockey sticks. You’ll have plenty of time to do so.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Sticks Costs: $1,380 to $1,750 ($690 to $875 after resale)

After your child’s first hockey stick breaks or is outgrown, you should resist purchasing used hockey sticks; they’re just going to break sooner than a new one would. As your youth hockey player gets better, they’ll want their equipment to be better so they can do more on the ice. Not unlike a youth tennis player graduating from a Kmart racket to her first Prince or Head racket, a youth hockey player should likewise graduate to nicer and nicer hockey sticks as their body and skills grow. I learned how to serve with a wooden tennis racket from the '70s. That said, over the course of a decade, you’ll likely go from paying $20 for your child’s first hockey stick to more than $200 for their last.

So, if you buy two hockey sticks in year one at $20 ($40), two more in year two at $30 ($60), two more at $40 ($80), and so on until the $150 sticks you buy in year 10, you will have spent $1,380 on hockey sticks alone. Wulf estimates he spent $1,750 just to keep a stick in his daughter’s hands. Hockey sticks are also an equipment item you’ll be unable to resell, but not the most likely piece of equipment you'll be unable to resell. That would be hockey gloves.

Junior and Youth Hockey Gloves

Year 1 (Used): $10 to $25

Used, youth hockey gloves are $120 a dozen on Craigslist in Minneapolis-St. Paul, but outside of hockey hubs $20 was the lowest rate on Ebay. Beware: gloves tend to be the stinkiest of all hockey equipment. Wulf said he spent $55 on Febreeze spray and special hockey detergent mostly due to smelly gloves.

Year 1 (New): $25 to $40

Dick’s Sporting Goods has a pair of new, youth hockey gloves for $25 online. Bundled with a five-piece set they’re marginally cheaper.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Gloves Costs: $40 to $400 ($40 to $270 after resale)

If you buy gloves new, which is recommended, don’t expect to resell them or to resell them for much. In fact, while you might end up paying $100 or more for a pair of gloves your kid will outgrow, that pair of gloves isn’t going to retain a resale value comparable to skates. If you sell skates at 50 percent of the retail cost, you’ll probably end up selling gloves at a quarter or a third of their retail cost. If your youth hockey player outgrows four pairs of gloves in 10 years, and you spend $25 on the first pair, $40 on the next pair, $60 on the next, and $80 on the last, you might get $75 back on your $205 investment. Wulf spent $400 and probably didn’t resell a single pair.

Junior and Youth Hockey Pelvic Protectors

Year 1 (New): $20

Here’s another item you won’t often find available for resale and probably shouldn’t buy used.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Pelvic Protector Costs: $100

Whether you need a traditional jockstrap and cup for your son or a “Jill” for your daughter, you can expect to buy about five different sizes over the course of a decade at around $20 each.

Junior and Youth Hockey Neck Guards

Year 1 (Used): $0

You aren’t likely to find used neck guards except for in lost-and-founds at hockey arenas or in the bottom of some equipment bag in the back of some equipment closet at a coach’s house. It’s something your child needs but isn’t prohibitively expensive.

Year 1 (New): $10

Ten bucks is a bargain when it comes to protecting your child’s windpipe from being crushed by a flying puck.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Neck Guard Costs: $0 (Used) to $70 (New)

Wulf said his daughter went through seven neck guards over the course of a decade.

Junior and Youth Hockey Shin Guards

Year 1 (Used): $10

Craigslist, again, served up the best deal on used, youth hockey shin guards in the Twin Cities area, but used shin guards can be found on Ebay or Mercari at similar prices. Used shin guards are perfectly adequate for protecting your child, but the protective padding in them eventually flattens as they take repeated impacts from the ice or from pucks. The last pair of shin guards you buy once your child stops growing should be new.

Year 1 (New): $25 ($15 after resale)

Shin guards are an item you can resell, but you’d still be better off buying used even if you can’t resell the used shin guards.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Shin Guards (Used): $40

Wulf’s daughter grew out of three pairs of shin guards over 10 years of youth hockey.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Shin Guards (New): $100 to $180 ($60 to $120 after resale)

If you bought the cheapest, new pair of youth hockey shin guards every year your child needed a new size, you’d likely be out $100. After reselling the shin guards your youth hockey player outgrew, the lifetime expense of youth hockey shin guards would likely be around $60. Wulf climbed the price ladder a bit when it came to shin guards because his daughter blocked a puck with one of them and limped off the ice despite the shin guard’s protection.

Junior and Youth Elbow Pads

Year 1 (Used): $0 to $10

Like shin guards, junior and youth elbow pads can generally be found used at affordable prices. While the Twin Cities Craigslist page provided plenty of options, Ebay and Mercari offered options that were just a bit more expensive. You might want to search arena lost-and-found bins to score a pair for free.

Year 1 (New): $20 to $40 ($10 to $20 after resale)

I was as surprised as you probably will be to learn something as simple as elbow pads could cost more than $100. Your mite doesn’t need $100 elbow pads, though, and this is a minimalist look into equipping youth hockey players with the necessary safety equipment.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Elbow Pads Costs (Used): $30 to $50

Wulf said his daughter went through three pairs of elbow pads in 10 years of youth hockey.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Elbow Pads Costs (New): $60 to $150 ($30 to $90 after resale)

Wulf spent an average of $50 per pair of elbow pads over the course of his daughter’s 10 years playing youth hockey. But he probably could have gotten $20 to $25 on each pair of elbow pads back by reselling them.

Junior and Youth Shoulder Pads

Year 1 (Used): $10 to $20

Junior and youth shoulder pads tend to be as plentiful as elbow pads and shin guards, so they can be found on Craigslist for the same price as both. You aren’t likely to find a set in the lost and found, however.

Year 1 (New): $25 to $50 ($15 to $25 after resale)

If you choose to buy junior or youth hockey hockey shoulder pads new and resell them, you’re looking at a similar albeit slightly more expensive option.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Shoulder Pads Costs: $60 to $270 ($75 to $135 after resale)

Your child will grow into three sizes of shoulder pads in 10 years, and depending on what you’re willing or feel you need to spend (maybe your child delivers or receives hard checks), protecting your youth hockey player’s shoulders will run you at least $60 and up to $270, according to Wulf’s budget.

Junior and Youth Hockey Pants

Year 1 (Used): $15 to $30

Used junior and youth hockey pants in good condition are harder to find than used shoulder pads and elbow pads. The cheapest option in the Twin Cities as of this writing was $15, and most listings on Craigslist were around $30, which is what you can expect to pay at minimum online.

Year 1 (New): $35 to $65 ($20 to $50 after resale)

Buying new hockey pants for your child will be slightly more expensive than buying used, but you’ll have the comfort of knowing no other child has sweated into those pants. They can get pretty stinky from absorbing the water from the ice as well. 

Lifetime Youth Hockey Pants Costs: $120 to $240 ($60 to $170 after resale)

You’re child will likely go through four pairs of pants over 10 years of youth hockey. Wulf spent $240 in total. You can certainly outfit your youth hockey player in used pants throughout the decade. You’ll likely spend at least $30 per pair, or $120 in total.

Junior and Youth Hockey Socks

Year 1 (Used): $0 to $10

Unless you do laundry everyday, your child will need multiple pairs of hockey socks as well as undersocks, which can simply be non-cotton, dress socks. They should be thin as to maximize your child’s control over her skates (unless her skates run big, which means you have to fill them up). Hockey socks, however, aren’t as easily substituted. Luckily, they’re pretty easy to find. In the Twin Cities there was a listing on Craigslist advertising free socks with the purchase of any of their items. You can even mix and match lost socks you find. If you aren’t in a hockey hotbed, Ebay’s cheapest listing for a new pair was around $8 with shipping.

Year 1 (New): $30 to $40

At a retailer like Dick’s Sporting Goods, you can expect to pay $15 to $20 per pair of youth hockey socks. That’s outrageous given your child will outgrow them every few years and that a cap full of bleach can pretty much clean anything, including used, youth hockey socks.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Socks Costs: $0 to $150

Wulf estimated that he spent $150 just on socks for his daughter to play 10 years of youth hockey. You can get away with paying nothing in places like Minnesota, Maine, or Canada, but that’s not likely the case in Las Vegas. Since socks are being given away, don’t expect any recouping of costs via resale.

Junior and Youth Hockey Practice Jerseys

Year 1 (Used): $0 to $15

You can’t practice without practice jerseys, and you’re child will probably want more than one. You might find these in the lost and found at your local arena or for cheap on Craigslist or Ebay. Otherwise, an oversized shirt will work, preferably something breathable like Under Armour or Nike Dri-FIT material. A football jersey is fine if you can find a long-sleeved, non-cotton shirt to go under it. 

Year 1 (New): $15 to $30

Dick’s Sporting Goods has a youth hockey jersey for less than $15, which is on par with the prices you’ll find on Ebay for new practice jerseys.

Lifetime Youth Hockey Practice Jersey Costs: $15 to $100

Wulf spent around $100 just on practice jerseys throughout his daughter’s 10 years of youth hockey. You can expect your youth hockey player to grow out of at least three if not four sizes, so unless you can get your hands on hand-me-downs, expect to spend at least $45 on practice jerseys over 10 years...and that’s if you only provide your player with one.

Other Necessities: Up to $1,000 over Lifetime

Tape: $3/roll and up to $550 over Lifetime

It might not seem essential, but before you know it your youth hockey player will demand to have tape so she doesn’t have to borrow from teammates. It’s recommended you buy black, white, and clear tape in bulk, which saves you a dollar on each roll. Over 10 years, Wulf estimates he spent $550 on tape alone.

Bags: $50 to $200 over Lifetime

Your youth hockey player can’t carry all that expensive gear in a garbage bag, and while you can find cheap or even free gym bags to work as substitutes, when your son or daughter stops growing, you might consider buying a nice hockey bag for the final set of gear you’ll be buying for them.

Under Armour or Nike Dri-FIT Undershirts: $20 to $150 over Lifetime

Again, you can find hand-me-down workout gear but eventually you’re youth hockey player will want their own undershirts or even tights to wear under their gear.

Undersocks: $20 to $100 over Lifetime

Those non-cotton, dress socks will work for as long as you can find them for free or cheaply, but you will eventually need to invest in a couple pairs of undersocks for your full-grown, youth hockey player. They run about $10 per pair.

Total Minimum Cost of Youth Hockey Equipment in Year 1: $285 (assuming you find nothing for free)

This estimate is based on the availability of used, youth hockey equipment in the Twin Cities area and will be more for those living in places that aren’t youth hockey hubs.

Total Cost of Purchasing Used Youth Hockey Equipment in Year 1: $320  

This estimate is based on the availability of used, youth hockey equipment for sale online.

Total Cost of Purchasing Used Youth Hockey Equipment over Lifetime: $2,965 to $4,725

This range is based on the availability and costs of used, youth hockey equipment available online.

Total Cost of Purchasing New Youth Hockey Equipment over Lifetime: $6,430

This estimate is based on the availability and costs of new, youth hockey equipment available online.

So, if your child plays one season of youth hockey, on equipment alone, you’re out at least $285 in year one, unless you can find practice jerseys, hockey socks and undersocks, neck guards and elbow pads for free. That would save you $50, but when is anything free? You still have to go somewhere to get it.

Minnesota Nice Skates comes to you and properly sizes your child for gear. If your child outgrows any piece of equipment or something breaks at no fault of their own (including sticks), Minnesota Nice Skates replaces it. And there’s no need to bring back the equipment if it still fits at the end of the lease. Just keep the gear that fits and replace the gear that doesn’t. It’s that simple. The annual lease for equipment automatically vests if gear isn’t returned within a year.

A $250 annual lease with Minnesota Nice Skates will save parents between $465 and $3,930 over 10 years of youth hockey. More importantly, it lowers the cost of entry into the sport by allowing underprivileged families to pick and choose which gear they want to lease and which gear they want to try to find for free. If you only want to try and find elbow pads, neck guards, practice jerseys, socks and undersocks for free, do it. It’ll only cost you $200 to get your child the necessary equipment to play youth hockey. The most important thing is that more kids play youth hockey so better athletes end up hockey players instead of football players, growing the popularity of the sport.

Published in Money
Wednesday, 03 October 2018 17:39

Musicians are Athletes Playing Sports On Stage

Musicians are athletes. They have talents that can’t be coached but must be practiced to reach their potential. They are expected to perform at the highest level both in practice (in the studio) and in games (on stage in front of thousands of paying customers) despite grueling travel and publicity schedules. And they both exert energy performing with no guarantee of success.

Musicians’ success ultimately depends on their ability to play, which, like athletes, is dependent upon their health. And while musicians’ careers might not be as short as athletes’ careers on average, they’re equally dependent upon talents that inevitably diminish with age. But what are the sports musicians play on stage when it comes to comparable caloric exertion? That all depends on the genre of music they're playing and how they're playing it.

The Research

My research started with 28 musical performances in 27 days, beginning with Earth, Wind & Fire at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 26. From there I flew to Las Vegas for Mariah Carey at Caesars Palace on Sept. 5. A week after returning to Minnesota, I was headed to Chicago for Riot Fest, featuring a three-day lineup spanning almost every musical genre over the last 70 years.

The late 1950s rockabilly and ’60s rock & roll of pianist Jerry Lee Lewis gave way to metal/punk pianist and professional partier Andrew W.K. Fittingly, Elvis Costello and the Imposters played songs from the new wave he helped build and Blondie brought ashore to the states throughout the 1970s, riding the wave to the top of the charts in both the U.S. and U.K. in 1980 with a cover of The Paragons’ “The Tide is High.”

Blondie also served as a reminder that the political, electronic punk group Pussy Riot has Debbie Harry to thank for not only popularizing female punk voices but feminism as a whole. And while Bad Religion wasn’t the first band to get political with their lyrics in the 1980s, their popularity certainly made it a staple of the punk genre, paving the way for acts like Pussy Riot to draw attention to political corruption with their music. Pussy Riot did just that at Riot Fest, calling for justice after a longtime member and activist with the group was poisoned, perhaps for uncovering information regarding the deaths of three Russian journalists with whom he’d been working.

The ’90s were well represented by Lagwagon and Face to Face, and although Blink-182 had to cancel for health reasons, the lineup somehow got better with the additions of Weezer, Run the Jewels, and Taking Back Sunday. Blink’s absence didn’t mean pop punk of the ’90s would go unheard at Riot Fest Chicago 2018. Alkaline Trio announced their presence with a fantastic set just before Incubus reenacted the heydays of alternative rock that started in the late ’90s and continued into the new millennium.

If you thought Riot Fest was a punk rock festival, you’d be surprised to know that hip-hop acts have played the festival in consecutive years. The best performance of 2017 was provided by Prophets of Rage, a rap rock supergroup consisting of members from Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill. The performance unified very different genres and, as a result, very different people, but was especially emotional coming just months after Audioslave’s lead singer, Chris Cornell, committed suicide. Cypress Hill’s B-Real must have enjoyed the emotional and genre-defying performance he gave with Prophets in 2017, because he was back playing “Hits from the Bong” with Cypress Hill in 2018. Run the Jewels concluded the festival’s final day just as Prophets of Rage did the year before.

Cypress Hill might be playing the only sport for which cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug, but that doesn’t mean what they’re doing on stage (and off) isn’t athletic. Exactly how athletic is difficult to determine without primary research. Ideally, I would have slapped a Fitbit on the wrist of each musician before going on stage. Instead, we’ll have to rely on estimates of caloric exertion provided by sources I felt to be most reputable and accurate based on my own calorie counting. So what sports are some of music’s best athletes playing on stage?

Mariah Carey is the Babe Ruth of Popular Singing

Mariah Carey’s body might be enhanced in a Bondsian fashion, but her voice is Ruthian; it might be replaced with a recording on occasion, but never enhanced, only amplified. Mariah is the Babe Ruth of popular music for a lot of reasons, but mostly because she has done and continues to do something no one else in her sport has.

The greatest athletes of all time separate themselves from their peers by being the only athlete in their sport to do something. Mariah has sung a G7 (a G-note in the seventh octave), which no other singer of popular music has done. She regularly reaches F#7 in concert (F-sharp, seventh octave), lifting people to their feet and putting smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes. I can personally attest to this, but I can only imagine men cried when Ruth allegedly pointed to the center field bleachers and then hit a homer there in what was a tied Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.

Barry Bonds hitting more home runs than Ruth, regardless of cleanliness, is as irrelevant to the greatest-baseball-player-of-all-time argument as Ruth’s all-time best 182.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over his career because only Ruth has been both the best hitter and pitcher in his league over the course of a single season (so far).

Had there been an American League Cy Young Award in 1916, Ruth would have won it, but not by the margin he would have won the Most Valuable Player Award had there been one in 1920 (he hit 35 more home runs than runner-up George Sisler) and eventually did win in 1923 despite sharing the home run crown with Cy Williams (he reached base in more than half of his plate appearances and got all eight first-place votes).

While a 28-year-old Walter Johnson led the AL in wins (25), complete games (36) and innings pitched (369.2) in 1916, Ruth was the league’s best pitcher by any measure—new (Ruth had a league-best ERA+ of 158) or old (Ruth led the league with nine shutouts to Johnson’s three and allowed the fewest hits per nine innings pitched in the AL). And while Johnson's Senators finished last, Ruth led Boston to the American League Pennant (and, eventually, a World Series Championship) with 23 wins in a league-leading 40 starts and four other appearances accounting for more than 23 percent of his team’s innings pitched during the regular season (323.2, third-most in the AL). Two years later Ruth led Major League Baseball with 11 home runs along with Tillie Walker, but did so with almost 100 fewer at-bats. It was the last time Ruth would have more wins (13) than homers in a single season.

Using strictly vocal range as a means to determine popular music’s best singer would be like using batting average to determine baseball’s best hitter—it doesn’t tell the whole story. Ruth only led the league in batting average once, and his .342 career average is just tenth-best all time. Axl Rose might have the largest vocal range in the sport of popular singing, but the lowest note he sang (F1) is just one note lower than Barry White's lowest (F#1, or F-sharp, first octave). Mariah’s highest note is seven notes higher than that of her closest competitor.

Longevity matters in GOAT debates too, and Rose didn’t retain his vocal range for nearly as long as Mariah has. The one thing only Rose has done in the sport is so closely contested its baseball equivalent would be Roger Maris breaking Ruth’s single-season, home run record in the last game of the 1961 season, which was 10 games longer than Ruth’s in 1927, but resulted in Maris getting just seven more plate appearances than Ruth had to hit 60. Mariah is the GOAT because, at some point in her long career (like right now), she’s been both the sport’s best hitter of notes (vocal range) and best “pitcher” (highest or lowest pitch sung), and has done so convincingly and simultaneously.

Mariah’s relative dominance of her sport isn’t the only similarity she shares with Ruth. While Mariah isn’t “The Mariah” like Ruth was “The Babe,” her fans refer to her using only her first name with the assumption that absolutely everyone knows which Mariah is the Mariah. And like the Sultan of Swat, who went by his “stage” name of Babe over his given name, George, Mariah has earned a lot of nicknames, including “The Voice” and “Songbird.” So the relative fandom of musicians is also comparable to that of athletes.  

Mariah is beloved by her fans like The Babe was by kids. They defend her unconditionally because she is other-worldly in their eyes and ears. Any comparison to Whitney Houston is met with ruthless rebuffing comparable only to that of Michael Jordan fans fending off LeBron James comparisons as if they’re attacks on their religion or right to free speech. Ruth’s dominance of his sport allowed him to enjoy a long leash when it came to his off-field behavior, and the same goes for divas. There won’t be another Mariah, and there won’t be another Ruth—only imitators and imposters.

But Mariah isn’t popular enough to be the Michael Jordan of popular music, and she’s not burning comparable calories on stage as a basketball player does on the court. Few musicians are. Mariah Carey is playing baseball on stage, and she’s probably working harder than Ruth did playing the outfield, but not as hard as he did as a pitcher and hitter early in his career. Early in her career, though, her on-stage caloric exertion might have been closer to the caloric exertion of Ruth the pitcher/hitter.

If Livestrong’s estimates are accurate, Mariah singing while standing for an hour burns around 140 calories assuming a weight of 150 pounds. Healthy Celeb has her at around 148, which is reasonable given her five-foot, eight-inch height. Since she’s walking around the stage and doing so in heels, she’s probably burning another 200 calories per hour even if she’s lip-syncing. So that’s 340 calories burned per hour singing and moving around the stage (and crowd, which she did in Vegas), but we’re not considering her four plate appearances per game.

Mariah’s plate appearances are her wardrobe changes, each of which she knocked out of the park simply by being a knockout (thank you, gastric sleeve surgery). Mariah had four wardrobe changes during her Las Vegas show, all completed in three minutes or so, and while I’m sure she has plenty of help backstage, she’s still burning calories just as Ruth would even without swinging the bat. She might not burn a home-run-trot’s worth of calories changing clothes, but even The Great Bambino had a “courtesy runner” round the bases for him on home runs late in his career.

If we use an average of 3.5 minutes per wardrobe change given Mariah’s height, weight, and age, she likely burned another 20 calories or more changing clothes. And I think that’s a low estimate given her elevated heart rate going into the wardrobe change and the pressure of quickly completing the change. Keep in mind this estimate represents the caloric exertion associated with dressing and undressing with no stakes or complicated outfits. Still, that’s a total of 360 calories burned per hour on stage.

A non-pitching, non-catching fielder burns roughly 1,000 calories during a nine-inning baseball game. Another source estimates caloric exertion of non-pitchers and non-catchers at 305 calories per hour. An average game is over three hours long, so Mariah’s caloric exertion per hour on stage is comparable to that of a baseball player who isn’t pitching or catching. And her talent, longevity, and dominance of her sport is comparable to that of baseball’s best player.

Earth, Wind & Fire is the 1990s Chicago Bulls of Popular Music

Sinbad said prior to the Earth, Wind & Fire concert that I was in for a religious experience. He was absolutely right, but I didn’t think there would be so much movement on stage given the average age of the band members. I figured Philip Bailey’s voice would have regressed at the age of 67; I was wrong. I couldn’t imagine bassist Verdine White moving as much as he did at 67, and longtime percussionist/vocalist Ralph Johnson, also 67, didn’t miss a beat or note. It was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and I can only imagine had I ever seen the Bulls of the ’90s, I would have cried tears of joy at United Center just like I did at the Minnesota State Fair.

Earth, Wind & Fire has as many Grammys as the 1990s Bulls have championship rings (6), and like the greatest NBA dynasties, still has a big three in Bailey, White, and Johnson. Even Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman/Horace Grant. Earth, Wind & Fire not only has a big three, but nearly as many touring members as an NBA team (9). And they likely burned comparable calories as the Bulls roster on any given night.

Johnson alone likely burned more than 300 calories in an hour of drumming. White’s bass playing and dancing given his slenderness likely resulted in excess of 250 calories burned per hour, and we know singers around Bailey’s size burn around 180 calories per hour if their standing while singing. So the three remaining original members of Earth, Wind & Fire likely burned 730 calories in an hour.

Add the horn section with saxophonist, Gary Bias (217 calories per hour), trumpet player, Bobby Burns Jr. (273), and trombone player, Reggie Young (180), and total caloric exertion comes to 1,400. Two guitarists (217 calories burned per hour each) brings the total to 1,834 calories burned per hour, and background vocalists Philip Bailey Jr. and B. David Whitworth push the caloric exertion total to 2,134. Myron McKinley on keyboards (181) pushes Earth, Wind & Fire’s collective caloric exertion to 2,315 calories per hour. In the hour-and-a-half-long set at the Minnesota State Fair, the band probably burned close to 3,500 calories.

In comparison, if Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman played 40 minutes at their listed weights on Basketball Reference (1,523 calories burned), Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, and Ron Harper played 30 minutes at their listed weights (1,200 calories burned), that would leave Steve Kerr 20 minutes (220) and Randy Brown 10 minutes of playing time (118). The 1997-98 Chicago Bulls would collectively burn around 3,061 calories per 48 minutes on the floor, or a bit more than 3,800 calories per hour. The vast difference in mass between members of Earth, Wind & Fire and the Chicago Bulls (Longley was listed at 265 pounds) could account for much of the difference in calories burned per hour.

Andrew W.K. is the Wayne Gretzky of Party Music

No one enjoyed sharing the puck more than The Great One, and no one enjoys sharing a party more than Andrew W.K. Party music is a broad genre and pretty much includes anything played with pace. And while Andrew W.K.’s success in his sport isn’t comparable to that of The Great One in his, there isn’t a single act out there that screams hockey like Andrew’s. Andrew W.K. shows are both pace-full and probably painful for Andrew, but he leaves it all on the stage (even blood sometimes) every night.

The first thing you’ll notice about Andrew W.K. when you see him live for the first time is his teeth. He has the biggest smile of anyone I’ve ever seen play music—so big, in fact, I thought he was high on cocaine. Now I know it’s the crowd that’s his addiction. I’ve never seen anyone happier doing their job than Andrew W.K., except maybe Wayne Gretzky after assisting a teammate on a goal. Gretzky loved assisting his teammates so much he has more assists than anyone else has points scored, and Andrew W.K. looks to simply assist the party-starting despite his early passion being fashion

We know playing piano burns around 181 calories per hour depending on size, but no one plays piano like Andrew W.K. The only person who did hasn’t kicked the bench out from under himself for quite some time. In fact, it took Jerry Lee Lewis almost five minutes to change jackets onstage after his band played for 15 minutes awaiting his arrival, but he’s 82 years old!

Assuming Andrew burns just 200 calories an hour playing piano and another 180 calories singing given his size (he’s a big man and wrote about working out for Vice amongst other things), that’s 380 calories per hour burned on stage. But Andrew W.K. moves about the stage more and more violently than Mariah Carey or Philip Bailey, so this estimate is more than safe given his hour-long, Riot Fest set.

Time on ice statistics are only available going back to the 1998-99 season, during which Gretzky averaged about 21 minutes per game. But that was his final season, so using playoff numbers might be a better representation of actual calories burned per game in his prime. In the 1993 Conference Finals Game 7 he played close to 24 minutes, and in the 1984 Stanley Cup Final Game 5 he played 23. Livestrong estimates caloric exertion for a 190-pound hockey player to be 700 calories per hour.

So in 22 minutes, Gretzky would burn a little more than 250 calories, but Livestrong notes that the intensity of hockey as an activity allows for calories to be burned well after coming off the ice. Kind of like Mariah Carey’s stressful, high-heart-rate costume changes, hockey’s shift changes results in hockey players continuing to burn calories even while resting. One study found that 10 men who completed an intense, 45-minute workout on a stationary bike burned an additional 190 calories in the 14 hours following the workout. So Gretzky and his linemates burning an additional 80 calories between shifts is reasonable, making The Great One’s total exertion 330 calories per game.

So I think I’ve at least proven that musicians (and singers are musicians because our voices are instruments) burn comparable calories performing on stage as athletes do playing sports, fulfilling the energy exertion requirement of athletes. Whether a musician’s talent and amount of practice required to perfect and preserve that talent is on the same level as professional athletes require more in-depth, accurate research. But if you aren’t considering the performance of your favorite band as an athletic endeavor, you might consider considering it.  

Honorable Mentions:

Pink Floyd is the 1956-66 Boston Celtics' Starting Five of Rock

The greatest rock band of all time last toured in 1994 with three original members and eight supporting members. That's enough people to match the caloric exertion of the best Boston Celtics teams. Although Pink Floyd was without their Bill Russell (Roger Waters), they still had a Bob Cousy (David Gilmour), a Tom Heinsohn (Nick Mason), and a Bill Sharman (Richard Wright). Waters returned for a reunion performance in 2005.

Pussy Riot is the 1952-60 Montreal Canadiens of Electronic Punk

Regardless of the lack of competition Pussy Riot has in its genre, they've dominated that genre for about as long as the Canadiens did the National Hockey League from 1952 to 1960, winning the Stanley Cup six times and finishing runners-up twice more. Pussy Riot's 11 members probably do enough dancing on stage to match the caloric exertion of the Canadiens of the '50s, too.

Run the Jewels is the LeBron James of Hip Hop

I know Run the Jewels consists of two people—El P and Killer Mike—but it takes at least two people to match what LeBron does on and off the court. Run the Jewels is not only as successful at selling records as LeBron is tickets, but all three of the group's records are critically acclaimed, like LeBron's off-court efforts.

Published in Entertainment
Friday, 21 September 2018 17:19

Solving Football's Place-kicking Problem

I, thankfully, didn’t watch all of the Week 2 matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers on Sunday. That’s the case more and more these days, when in the past I’d hardly miss a second of a Vikings game. Rookie kicker Daniel Carlson, who the Vikings selected in the fifth round of the draft five months prior to waiving him Monday, missed three field goals to waste a valiant, 13-point comeback led by new quarterback Kirk Cousins in Green Bay. I stopped watching after the first two series of the second half with the Vikings down 20–7, and I couldn’t be happier with that decision given the resulting tie.

The Problem with Place-kicking in Football

It bothers me that games featuring more than 100 athletes too big to be able to run as fast as they do repeatedly colliding into each other to obtain property like they’re at war are often decided by the least athletic of the 53 players on National Football League (NFL) rosters. NFL kickers are like generals sitting a comfortable distance from enemy lines sipping on Gatorade awaiting a request for an air strike from their foot soldiers taking heavy fire only to bomb their own troops on occasion.

Last season, 22.5 percent of all NFL games (including the postseason) were either decided by three or fewer points or featured scoring exclusively by kickers. Almost a quarter of regular season games played in 2016 were decided by three or fewer points. Between 2003 and 2015, 27.9 percent of games were decided by three or fewer points. As of this writing, 25 percent of 2018 NFL games have been decided by a field goal or less, and the average margin of victory in the NFL continues to fall. Whether it’s one in five or one in four games decided by kickers, one game decided by the least athletic player and the player seeing the least playing time is one game too many.

There were more field goals attempted and made last season than in any other time in the history of professional football, according to Pro Football Reference. The result was 3,664 points scored by kickers in 2017, or almost an even third (32.96 percent) of all NFL scoring. That’s an increase in kicker-exclusive scoring of 5.65 percent over the last 50 years.

Kickers have been ruining the game of football at all levels, especially youth levels, since the game’s inception. Finding someone who could kick and punt the ball were always the hardest positions to fill on our youth teams, and while kickers have gotten better over the years according to FiveThirtyEight, the problem of kickers over-influencing outcomes and under-entertaining fans has worsened with the implementation of longer point-after attempts and uneventful kickoffs.

Instead of stand-still kickoffs that were implemented this year, punters should simply punt the ball as they would on a free kick after a safety. Their teammates wouldn’t get a running start to protect players’ health, but free kicks would result in fewer touchbacks and a higher potential for kick return touchdowns — once the most exciting play in the sport now all but extinct. Most importantly, though, free kicks would make place-kickers entirely unnecessary.

My research found kickers were the exclusive scorers in six NFL games last year, and the touchdown-to-field-goal ratio has declined by almost an entire touchdown per successful field goal since 1975. While these ridiculous roughing-the-passer penalties will assuredly increase the touchdown-to-field-goal ratio, achieving the all-time high of 2.5 touchdowns scored per successful field goal converted is not probable unless kickers are removed from the game.

Solving Football’s Place-Kicking Problem

The more fourth-down plays there are in games, the more intriguing those games will be. Games’ outcomes need to swing on one play every series instead of one play every half. Football is not providing enough moments of perceived momentum shifting from one team to the other. Without place-kicking, fans would be on the edge of their seats more often, as the Dan Bailey bailout would be unavailable to the Vikings or anyone else, forcing coaches to utilize more forward passes — the play that saved American football from extinction and made it the behemoth it is today. There would also be fewer breaks in the action for commercials, but what’s the best option for solving football’s place-kicking problem?

Removing place-kickers from the game doesn’t necessarily mean field goals have to go away. While I think goal posts unnecessarily obstruct the views of fans, we don’t have to tear them down (although it’d be cool if they were moved behind the fans so they could go home with souvenir footballs). They are a symbol of the sport after all, and what would college students do on Saturdays after a big win if they couldn’t tear down the goalposts? They’d probably be at higher risk for alcohol poisoning if they didn’t exert that effort.

If the NFL wanted to continue employing place-kickers and make games more exciting, it could simply make field goals worth two points instead of three. How a field goal is worth more than a safety is disrespectful to defenses everywhere, even though your offense gets the ball back after the defense scores a safety. While kicking was highly emphasized when the game was conceived, the field goal’s point value decreased from five in 1883, to four in 1904 and three points in 1909, three years after what many believe to be the first legally completed forward pass.

After more than 100 years without a change to the field goal’s point value, I’d say we’re long overdue. But lowering the point value of a field goal does not affect the risk in attempting a field goal, which is the actual problem. Kicking is a bailout in football. Both punts and field goal attempts bail out an offense incapable of scoring touchdowns. I’ve got no problem with punters. I’ve seen punters make plays, but I’d prefer to watch the NFL’s place-kickers play soccer if they’re capable of running and kicking a moving ball. Removing place-kickers from football would enhance the intrigue of games by forcing coaches to be more creative and take more chances on both sides of the ball. That brings me to Rule 1 of football re-imagined without kickers.

“All teams must attempt a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown.”

That’s where games should be won and lost — in the trenches between lineman at the goal lines. The men risking the most should determine the outcomes of games, but field goals wouldn’t necessarily have to disappear. They could just be altered. The NFL simply needs to make the field goal attempt a less enticing option for coaches — make the bailout riskier.

I recommend the NFL adopt something like the drop goal in rugby, where a player can drop the ball on the ground and kick it through the uprights on any down. The quarterback could avoid a sack and dropkick the ball through the uprights on second down for three points. That might be a big enough change to eliminate field goals altogether, but punters would eventually get the hang of drop-kicking to make it a less riskier option. It’s not as though they have much else to do during practice.

To up the ante even further, the ball’s placement on the field should depend on how close you get to the goal line. The closer a team gets to scoring, the more difficult a drop goal attempt should become. That’s why I recommend the hash marks running down the middle of a football field get wider and wider as they get closer and closer to the goal line. This might even be enough to keep place-kicking in the sport while minimizing kickers’ control over games’ outcomes.

The new football field in a post-place-kicking NFL.

An American football field is 160 feet wide. NFL hash marks are 70 feet, nine inches from the sidelines. That’s where they’d remain between the 40-yard lines on each side of the field because 50-plus-yard field goals are hard enough. At the 39-yard line, however, the ball would be placed on the hash mark 69 feet, nine inches from the sideline closest to the completion of the previous play. At the 38, the ball would be spotted on the hash mark 68 feet, nine inches from the nearest sideline, and so on. At the one-yard line, the ball would be snapped 31 feet, nine inches from the sideline nearest the last completed play. This would result in some new, creative formations, more fourth down plays as well as some drop goals attempted from truly amazing angles. This would make “four-down territory” even larger, increasing excitement even if it results in less scoring.

Counteracting a Potential Decrease in Scoring

While we’re not eliminating a third of all scoring in football, points will be harder to come by in the game without kickers. A point-after attempt and two-point attempt have almost the exact same expected value, so forcing teams to go for two would result in almost the exact number of points as point-after attempts. But field goals alone accounted for 23.37 percent of points scored in 2017, and teams won’t be trading those field goals for drop goals or touchdowns at a 1:1 or even 1:2 ratio. That said, an effort should be made to counteract a potential decrease in scoring by providing more scoring opportunities.

Football and rugby are unique in that they offer multiple means of scoring points. You only score in baseball when you touch home plate. You only score in basketball when you put the ball through the hoop, and you only score in soccer and hockey by putting the ball or puck in the net. Scoring in football involves either kicking the ball through goal posts or taking it across a goal line (or downing it there in the case of a safety). But why stop at two means of scoring points? That brings me to Rule 2 of football re-imagined without kickers.

“Award one point for each sack or tackle for loss.”

Awarding one point for sacks and tackles for loss would almost replace every point scored by NFL kickers. Based on 2016 totals, there were 1,118 sacks and 2,218 tackles for loss, totalling 3,336 potential points. Kickers accounted for 3,669 points in 2016, and spreading those points around to players playing and sacrificing most makes for a more democratic game. And frankly, defensive players deserve to score more.

Defensive players seldom score, especially big defensive players. An offensive lineman can at least declare himself eligible and catch a touchdown pass. Defensive players have to either force a fumble, pick it up and run into the end zone, grab an interception and run into the end zone or tackle the ball carrier in their own end zone for a safety. And now that defensive players have to defy physics and somehow stop more than half of their body weight from falling on the quarterback during a sack, their team should at least get a point if it’s likely the sack will result in a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down for the offense.

While this rule might result in more coaches challenging the spot of the ball, I’d rather watch a replay of a quarterback sack or tackle for loss to determine if the ball carrier reached the line of scrimmage than watch a kicker come on the field and make or miss a kick sandwiched between commercials. And the NFL is far past due for placing sensors on the ends of the football and on the players’ knees and elbows to determine the exact location of the ball when the ball carrier is down by contact. But that’s another Grandstand Central story for another day.

Imagine the Vikings just scored a touchdown to tie the Packers with no time left on the clock and only the two-point conversion left to be played. With this rule, either team could win or lose the game right there at the goal line. The Vikings could either convert the two-point attempt to win or take a sack or tackle for loss to give the Packers the win. Green Bay could also intercept the ball or recover a fumble and return it for two points as well. That’s a whole lot more exciting than bringing a kicker onto the field to attempt an extra point converted 94 percent of the time in 2017. It’s also more indicative of which is the better team.

Unless the NFL takes place-kicking out of the game, I’m boycotting the league upon the end of Cousins’s tenure with the Vikings or if the Vikings win the Super Bowl — whichever happens first. And I’m not just saying that because of the Vikings’ rich history of kicking woes in big games. They are the franchise who had a kicker who shall not be named go an entire season without missing a kick only to miss one that would have sent them to the Super Bowl. More recently, they had a kicker who shall also go unnamed miss a 27-yard field goal that would have extended their playoff run in 2016. I just can’t bring myself to pay attention to the game of football anymore. The kickers keep kicking my attention elsewhere.

Published in Sports

All rise. The sports court of public opinion we call Foul Play-by-Play is now in session, providing play-by-play and color commentary on foul play in sports on and off the field, pitch, court, and ice.

Headlines

Headline 1: Urban Meyer Placed on Paid Administrative Leave

Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer was placed on administrative leave after former ESPN journalist Brett McMurphy obtained text messages and an exclusive interview showing Meyer knew in 2015 of domestic abuse allegations against his assistant coach, Zach Smith, yet retained him anyway. The university has formed what it called a “special, independent board working group” to investigate the allegations.

Meyer said had he known of the allegations, he would have fired Smith in 2015 instead of last week after the alleged domestic violence was first reported. But Meyer and Smith go way back. Smith was Meyer’s longest-serving assistant and even played for Meyer at Bowling Green before interning for Meyer at Florida, where the first domestic violence accusations surfaced.

According to McMurphy, Smith first physically abused his wife, Courtney, on June 21, 2009 in Gainesville, Florida when she was eight to 10 weeks pregnant. Meyer and his wife threw a party celebrating Florida’s second championship in three seasons. After the party, Courtney said she went home while her husband went out with friends.

Courtney said Zach returned home drunk around 3 a.m. with Meyer’s secretary at the time, whom Zach called “baby” and pleaded with Courtney to allow her to spend the night with them after reportedly breaking up with her boyfriend. Courtney refused and drove the woman home, but upon returning, a heated argument turned violent, with Zach allegedly throwing his wife against their bedroom wall. That was the Smiths’ one-year wedding anniversary.

Zach was arrested for aggravated battery on a pregnant victim, and Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days that he and his wife advised the Smiths to try counseling. A few days after the arrest, Courtney said two of Meyer’s closest friends asked her to drop the charges against her husband, and ultimately pressured her to do so. She did, thinking it would never happen again, which seems to be a common mistake of domestic abuse victims.

Courtney said she left her husband on June 6, 2015, but the abuse didn’t stop until Courtney was granted a restraining order against Zach on Nov. 10, 2015. She filed for divorce two days later. Cleveland.com reports that Powell (Ohio) police visited the Smiths’ home nine times in response to domestic disputes between January 1, 2012 and July 26, 2018.

Courtney spoke frequently with Meyer’s wife, Shelley, a nurse, about her abusive relationship, yet Meyer claimed ignorance of any abuse occurring after the 2009 incident.

Meyer, of course, is not unfamiliar with allegations of foul play brought against his football programs. During his time at Florida, Gator football players amassed 251 traffic citations, his best defensive player was suspended for a DUI prior to the SEC Championship game, and freshman foul player Aaron Hernandez suckerpunched an employee of a Gainesville bar, rupturing his eardrum. Hernandez also went unquestioned by police or his coach despite being a suspect in a 2007 shooting that left two men injured, with one shot in the back of the head. That attempted homicide remains unsolved.

Meyer mostly avoided being muddied by his Gators’ allegations, not because he won, but because he had the good guy on his side. Not God, but a God-fearing quarterback so squeaky clean and contagiously charismatic he stole the spotlight, allowing his teammates to remain in the shadows. Tim Tebow was Urban Meyer’s guardian angel. Tebow protected Meyer as he did the football. Meyer no longer has that protection and the mud is being flung.   

Meyer’s battle for his job will be fought on two fronts. While an investigation determines his knowledge of his assistant coach’s alleged transgressions, he’ll also have to address allegations of verbal and physical abuse brought by former Florida players. If his ignorance of his assistant coach’s domestic abuse history since the incident in 2009 is confirmed or unconfirmable, Meyer could still lose his job if any of the players’ stories are substantiated.

If the Bryan Colangelo Twitter scandal is any indication, Meyer’s wife can’t necessarily save her husband’s job by saying she never told him about Courtney’s claims. Colangelo’s wife took all the blame and her husband was still forced to resign. I imagine that’s what’s coming for Meyer, too, especially with the players painting him as abusive just like Smith. What are your thoughts?

Headline 2: Ex-OSU Wrestling Coach asked Ex-wrestlers to Support U.S. Representative Jim Jordan, Who They Allege Ignored Sexual Abuse Reports against Team Doctor

It gets worse for The Ohio State University, as retired OSU wrestling coach Russ Hellickson asked former Buckeye wrestlers to support former assistant coach and current U.S. Representative Jim Jordan, who they allege ignored reports of sexual abuse by a team doctor.

Jordan is seeking to succeed retiring Speaker of the House Paul Ryan if Republicans retain a majority in the House after the midterm elections. But he won’t do it with help from the two OSU wrestlers Hellickson contacted. They came forward earlier this year alleging former team doctor Richard Strauss committed sexual abuse and harassment, saying Jordan knew about it and failed to act when serving as assistant coach between 1986 and 1994.  

More than 100 former students have told independent investigators that they were victims of Strauss, who took his own life in 2005. While Strauss won’t serve the time for his alleged crimes, Jordan could face similar charges as former Penn State officials Gary Schultz, Graham Spanier and Tim Curley, who were sentenced to at least two months in jail for failing to alert authorities of Jerry Sandusky’s molestation of young boys in 2001. Judging by the number of alleged victims in this case, however, it would stand to reason Jordan would be subject to an even harsher sentence if charged and convicted.

Headline 3: Conor McGregor Avoids Jail Time with Plea Deal

UFC’s biggest star, Conor McGregor, avoided jail time by pleading guilty to a single count of disorderly conduct in an agreement reached with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office on Thursday, according to Brett Okamoto of ESPN. The charge stems from an incident occurring April 5th at Barclay’s Center, during which McGregor was caught on video throwing a metal dolly and breaking the window of a bus carrying UFC athletes and employees..

McGregor will serve no jail time, have no criminal record and his travel visa will be unaffected despite facing 12 criminal charges related to the incident, including two felony criminal mischief charges and three assault charges. Those charges carried a maximum sentence of seven years in prison, but instead McGregor could return to the octagon by the end of the year having paid restitution for damages, serving five days of community service and completing an anger management program lasting one to three days.

A potential lightweight title fight between McGregor (21-3) and current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (26-0) could arguably be the biggest fight in UFC history. Nurmagomedov was the target of McGregor’s actions in April.

McGregor, 30, obviously got a good plea deal. Most people wouldn’t get 12 charges dropped down to one misdemeanor in exchange for paying restitution, serving five days of community service and doing a joke’s-worth of anger management therapy considering McGregor’s clear anger issues.

Headline 4: Art Briles gets Coaching Job in Italy

While Urban Meyer might be on his way out, former Baylor football coach Art Briles is on his way back into coaching. He took a job coaching an American football team in a 12-team league in Italy playing by NCAA rules. Briles is just two years removed from being removed as head coach at Baylor amidst the sexual assault scandal involving multiple football players committing crimes university officials failed to act upon after they were alleged.

If Briles is any indication of what we can expect, Urban Meyer might be coaching in the NFL next year. With crimes as egregious as those committed by players Briles recruited have him coaching again when two years ago most thought he ever would, Meyer claiming ignorance of his co-worker’s spousal abuse might not be a problem for, say, the nearby Browns. 

Headline 4: Iowa Football Players Struggle to Stay Sober

The Iowa Hawkeyes will be without two of its starters for the first game of the season against Northern Illinois on Sept. 1 due to alcohol-related citations. Defensive tackle Brady Reiff was arrested for public intoxication in Iowa City after mistaking a police cruiser for an Uber, and eight days later offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs was ticketed for driving while intoxicated. I haven’t spent much time in Iowa, but I imagine it’s not as heavenly as Field of Dreams advertises, and judging from the damage left by vandals taking a joy ride through the iconic field in January, there’s evidence indicating a lack of entertainment options besides drinking and driving. 

 

Headline 6: Cowboys’ Terrance Williams has Charge Dismissed

Terrance Williams, who allegedly crashed his Lamborghini into a light pole and then left the scene of the accident, had a public intoxication charge stemming from the incident dismissed according to his attorney. Williams somehow was never charged with leaving the scene of an accident, and the Class C misdemeanor is the equivalent of a speeding ticket requiring payment of a fine and completion of a state-mandated Alcohol Awareness Education course, which Williams has already done.

Not only did Williams avoid criminal charges, but his completion of the diversion course makes a suspension from the NFL unlikely, and even if he were to be suspended, it would likely come in 2019 and not this season. Does Jerry Jones just make a phone call to make this stuff go away or what?

Cheats of the Week

It’s time for everyone’s favorite segment, where we award the most foul cheats in sports over the past week in what we call Cheats of the Week.

Winner of the Bronze Balls award this week isn’t even an athlete, unless you consider crime a sport, and it very well could be in certain circumstances. In this case, the crime required a team of players led by ex-cop Jerome Jacobson, who rigged the McDonald’s Monopoly game and won almost every prize for 12 years until the FBI launched an investigation and sting operation. The team of “mobsters, psychics, strip-club owners, convicts, drug traffickers, and even a family of Mormons” defrauded McDonald’s of more than $24 million in cash and prizes, according to Jeff Maysh of The Daily Beast

The Silver Syringe goes to swimmer and boozing bad boy of the Rio Olympics, Ryan Lochte, who was again banned from competition by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency until July of next year for receiving an intravenous injection of permitted substances in May. While the substances weren’t prohibited, athletes can’t receive IVs without an exemption or unless it’s a result of hospitalization. Neither was the case for Lochte, who incriminated himself by posting a photo to social media while receiving the IV, making him quite possibly the worst cheat we’ve mentioned on the show. Regardless of U.S. Anti-Doping rules, why would anyone feel the need to not only photograph but publicize their intravenous injection to the world?  

Our two-bit cheat of the week is Italian cyclist Gianni Moscon, who was kicked out of the Tour de France after punching a French cyclist in the face during the first 800 meters of Stage 15 last Sunday. This isn’t the first time Moscon has been guilty of foul play, which brings us to our next segment, Historically Foul Play, when we go back in time and relive foul play and foul players of the past.

Historically Foul Play

Last year, Moscon was suspended six weeks and required to complete diversity training after berating another cyclist with racist insults. Fresh off the suspension, Moscon was accused of deliberately causing Sebastien Reichenbach to crash, fracturing his elbow and hip. He was cleared of any wrongdoing due to a lack of evidence. And a couple months after that incidental accident, Moscon was disqualified from the UCI Road World Championships for being towed too far by the team car into a 29th-place finish after a crash with just under 24 miles to go.

I wish I would have known this Italian bad boy of cycling existed prior to this week. I might have tuned into the Tour de France to see this foul play tour de force culminate in a scene straight out of Road Rash, the video game. 

Published in Sports

Unless you’ve been playing fantasy baseball and were in need of an undrafted reliever like me, you might not have known who Josh Hader was until the 2018 MLB All-Star Game. Hader’s All-Star selection was a bittersweet honor in more than one way. He allowed three runs in a third of an inning and then discovered after the game that he’d have to complete sensitivity training for racist, sexist and homophobic tweets made at 17.

The tweets were uncovered by Twitter users with too much time on their hands. These investigations into the social media statements of minors are unfair to the public figures who made the statements because minors aren’t entirely responsible for themselves, legally speaking. Journalists seldom quote minors for that very reason. Their parents share responsibility for their words and actions until they’re 18.

While I agree with my colleague, Dan Szczepanek of Grandstand Central, that Hader’s “young and dumb” excuse isn’t good enough, he isn’t solely responsible for the social media statements he made as a minor. His parents share that responsibility, but not in the court of public opinion. It is troubling, however, that just seven years ago and even to this day, racist, sexist and homophobic thoughts are running through the minds of American minors.

On the Foul Play-by-Play podcast, my attorney and I discussed how to remedy the racist, sexist and homophobic sentiment that seems to be growing or at least getting louder in America. Reforming haters is a delicate process not unlike treating addiction. It requires the dedication of the addict first, and an empathetic, supportive community providing evidence consistently contradicting the addict’s former mentality. But hate, like addiction, isn’t curable, only treatable.

“There’s no magic cure, no such thing as a ‘life after hate,’ only a life of fighting not to succumb to it” Wes Enzinna wrote for Mother Jones’s cover story in the July/August issue. Not everyone is as fortunate as Hader was to grow into a man in an environment conducive for avoiding an addiction to hate.

Without social and familial support and a safe environment facilitating the formation of relationships between diverse groups of people, haters gonna hate. That’s why Barack Obama’s administration added the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to the Fair Housing Act in order to address segregation that persists in public housing. Department of Housing and Human Development Secretary Ben Carson has since suspended enforcement of the rule, resulting in a lawsuit brought by the National Fair Housing Alliance and joined by the state of New York.

Those living in environments that perpetuate hate can also learn something from Hader’s hateful tweets coming back to bite him. Even parents perpetuating hate in the home have their children’s preservation as their top priority, so talking with their children about safe social media usage, similar to the talk about practicing safe sex could result in fewer instances of hate speech online.

If children in the moment are too emotional to consider the effect their words might have on others, perhaps they’ll resist using hate speech over their own interest in self-preservation. Just as images of STDs are used in sex education courses to scare young people into practicing abstinence or safe sex, stories like Hader’s and Roseanne Barr’s might be enough to scare children from publicly expressing hate if their parents explain how imperative it is that their children are employable.

And if Hader’s and Barr’s stories aren’t scary enough, or children don’t understand why they should protect something they don’t yet have, maybe they’ll protect something they do. A fifth of undergraduate college students believe physical force is an acceptable response to “offensive and hurtful statements,” according to a 2017 Brookings Institution survey. So hate speakers have to consider whether they’re prepared to defend themselves, although most instances of violence resulting from hate speech indicate they are, which is why it’s so important that Hader do more than apologize and complete sensitivity training.

Colin Kaepernick didn’t just take a knee during the national anthem. He thoughtfully explained why he took a knee when asked, sought feedback from military personnel as to avoid offending them and backed up his words and actions with his money. Kaepernick has donated a million dollars to organizations working in oppressed communities as of January. Life After Hate, an organization working to reform haters, received a $50,000 donation from Kaepernick. Since Hader doesn’t make millions of dollars, he should donate his time and image to the movement to end hate.

If Hader was willing to take the time to trademark his nickname, “Haderade,”he can take the time to start a nonprofit called Hater Aid, an organization that helps haters stop hating. I’ve started two nonprofit organizations, make a lot less than Hader’s $555,500 annual salary and had no previous training. If he needs some guidance, the National Council of Nonprofits provides all the information he needs.

I would only recommend Hader focus his efforts locally to start. If the standing ovation he received from Brewers fans at Miller Park in his first appearance since the All-Star Game is any indication, he still has the support of Milwaukeeans, at least until he struggles to get MLB hitters out. Regardless of his performance on the field, Milwaukeeans will appreciate Hader focusing his off-field efforts locally, and there’s plenty to be done in Milwaukee.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are four active hate groups in Milwaukee alone and nine statewide. So Hater Aid’s initial mission should be to eradicate hate in Milwaukee first, then the state of Wisconsin, and then the region and nation. It’s also cheaper and easier to start and run a locally-focused nonprofit than one with a state or national focus.

With a modest, tax-deductible donation from Hader to found Hater Aid and a bit of paperwork to incorporate the organization and acquire a tax exemption, Hater Aid could be up and running before the end of the baseball season. MLB and the Brewers’ public relations department would love for Hader to dedicate some free time to meeting with former haters in the Milwaukee area willing to share how they managed to stop hating. If interested, they could serve as Hader’s Hater Aiders, a group of volunteers, interns and paid staff to run the day-to-day operations of Hater Aid, including a 24-hour, hater hotline for haters who want to stop hating but aren’t sure how.

If Hader were to take these steps, his national image wouldn’t just be repaired — it’d be more valuable than it was before the tweets were uncovered. It never hurts to be a role model and a community contributor in contract negotiations, either. By the time Hader’s eligible for free agency in 2024, Hader’s Hater Aiders will have helped haters stop hating throughout Milwaukee and, perhaps, the state of Wisconsin if not the entire country.

Hader might never have been addicted to hate, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be the face of a movement to end hate. He should embrace and take advantage of this opportunity if he wants to earn a standing ovation from anyone other than Brewers’ fans.

Published in Opinion

All rise, and welcome to this sports court of public opinion we call Foul Play-by-Play -- the podcast that provides play-by-play and color commentary on foul play in sports on and off the field, pitch, court, and ice.

Headlines

Headline 1: Dolphins First to Release Potential Penalties for Anthem Protests

Since the Miami Dolphins are one of the first NFL teams to report to training camp, they were the first to put police brutality protest penalties in writing, as required by the league. I’m calling them police brutality protests instead of anthem protests because that’s what they are: the players are protesting police brutality against minorities, not the national anthem. Yet the media was quick to dub the protests as anthem protests, which has stuck.

If you search Google using the terms “anthem protest” you get 13.6 million hits. Using the search terms “anthem protests” you get almost 1.5 million hits. If you search “police brutality protests” you get just 187,000 hits, so simply assigning a name to these protests

The Dolphins stuffed the police brutality protests in with other acts of conduct deemed “detrimental to the club” punishable by up to four-game suspensions, but they reportedly have no intent of suspending players four games for protesting the national anthem. Co-owner of the New York Giants, Steve Tisch, has since announced that their players will not be subject to penalties for protesting police brutality during the national anthem.

The public backlash to the Dolphins’ announcement has forced the NFL to put a freeze on its national anthem protest policy, and the NFL Players’ Association and the NFL are finally working out an agreement to end the anthem feud, as should have been the case in the first place given the collective bargaining agreement.

Since the Dolphins’ announcement and resulting public backlash, Donald Trump has tweeted his displeasure with the anthem dispute, tweeting, “Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!”

To answer your question Donald, players’ contracts do not include an anthem clause and neither does the collective bargaining agreement, and the commissioner taking your recommended stand could be devastating to the league given the NFL Players’ Association membership being almost 70-percent black. That union, at least, still has power. There is no NFL if only the black players protest during the anthem, and it hasn’t been just black players protesting.

I imagine the players value their right to protest less than guaranteed contracts but more than the right to use cannabis. On the topic of guaranteed contracts...

Headline 2: Le’Veon Bell to Play Without Job Security for Third Straight Season

For a third consecutive season, running back Le’Veon Bell will play for the Steelers without a long-term contract in place, providing him no job security if he were to be injured in 2018. Pittsburgh’s final offer to Bell, which is likely to be the final contract the Steelers ever offer Bell, was reportedly worth $70 million over five years. But it only contained $10 million in guaranteed money, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. And Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com tweeted that the deal would have been virtually identical to...the last contract” Pittsburgh offered because the boosts in value would have been based on the increase in value of the running back franchise tag.

Bell’s franchise tag with Pittsburgh will pay him $14.55 million this season, but if he were to be injured, Bell might end up with a mostly unguaranteed contract in 2019 if he’s healthy enough to play at all.

Bell isn’t the only player griping about the NFL’s non-guaranteed contracts, but running backs seem to be the loudest proponents for guaranteed contracts and for good reason. Los Angeles Rams’ running back Todd Gurley told TMZ Sports that all NFL players deserve guaranteed contracts and expects a lockout by the players to get them in 2021.

Running back DeMarco Murray chose to retire at age 30, and during his short, seven-year career, Murray amassed just over $25 million. That’s what Yu Darvish will make this season despite spending much of it on the disabled list. Murray, remember, led the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage just four years ago. So a guy who was arguably the best player in the sport at one time made the same amount of money over his career as a top-30 starting pitcher will make this season despite appearing in just eight games thus far.

Major League Baseball, though, is not a hard-capped league. Owners could theoretically spend as much as they want on players, although not without paying a hefty competitive-balance tax. The same goes for the NBA, but the NFL and NHL owners benefit from a hard salary cap that limits the earning potential of players. It seems NFL players are better positioned in bargaining than they’ve ever been given decreasing viewership and youth participation. So what are the chances the NFLPA challenges the hard cap with a 2021 lockout, and how ugly is this round of collective bargaining going to get? And will it end the way the players want, with guaranteed contracts for all NFL players?

Headline 3: Randy Gregory, Banished for Cannabis Use to Deal with Anxiety, Earns NFL Reinstatement

Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Randy Gregory has been reinstated by the NFL, ending a two-year banishment for repeat violations of the league’s Substances of Abuse Policy. Gregory’s use of cannabis while at Nebraska is well documented, and he’s told multiple media outlets that he used the drug to cope with anxiety.

With the STATES Act getting the support of Congressmen and -women on both sides of the aisle, it seems the end of cannabis prohibition will be determined by each individual state. It’s safe to say Texas might be one of the last states to adopt medical cannabis laws, but regardless of the laws in Texas, the STATES Act would still allow the NFL to prohibit cannabis use, medically or otherwise and in states where it's legal or otherwise. With cannabis remaining federally illegal, the NFL can pretty much demand what it wants of its employees regardless of state law. But the NFL Players’ Association can and should make it a point to demand cannabis prohibition end in the NFL.

On the show two months ago we talked about a high school football player whose use of CBD oil, the non-psychoactive chemical in cannabis that has healing and pain relieving properties, eased his seizures so he could play the game. But the .3 percent of THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis responsible for its euphoric effects, still present in his medicine made it impossible for him to realize his dream of playing for the Auburn Tigers due to NCAA rules. “We don’t want kids to give up their dreams of playing football for a living because there’s fewer and fewer of those kids in existence everyday due to concussion fears” seems like a strong message the NFLPA can use to get what it wants on this front.

Headline 4: Josh Hader Required to Complete Sensitivity Training for Tweets Made at 17 Years Old

Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader’s first All-Star appearance didn’t go very well, allowing three runs on four hits in a third of an inning, but what awaited him after the game was even worse.

Jeff Passan reported for Yahoo Sports that Twitter users uncovered a series of racist, sexist and homophobic tweets Hader made over an eight-month period when he was 17 years old. Hader thrice used the n-word, used the fist emoji followed by “white power lol” and another time tweeted, simply, “KKK.” “I hate gay people,” one tweet read, and two months before the Orioles drafted him in 2012, Hader tweeted, “Need a bitch that can bleep, cook, clean, right.”

Hader’s family and friends in attendance at the All-Star Game left Nationals Park with their Hader jerseys either inside-out or covered by generic, no-name National League All-Star jerseys. After the game, Hader called his comments “inexcusable” and said he was “deeply sorry” for what he said. “There’s nothing before that I believe now,” he added. “When you’re a kid, you tweet what’s on your mind.”

Regardless of age, those thoughts being on anyone’s mind should be troubling to anyone, and in my mind, it’s partially a result of just white, old-timers being white, old-timers and teaching their kids outdated and offensive habits, and partially a result of the segregation that persists in this country in the form of gentrification. Hader graduated from high school in Millersville, Maryland where 55 percent of enrolled students are minorities, according to U.S. News and World Report. But 71.3 percent of the city’s population is white.

Here in Minneapolis we have school segregation disguised as a “right to choose.” That is, parents and students have the so-called “right to choose” in which school they want to enroll, resulting in taxpayers like me paying more to bus white kids to mostly white schools further from the diverse neighborhoods in which they live.

Maryland also prides itself as a “right to choose” state, offering vouchers to low-income students to attend private and charter schools instead of public schools where the majority of students are minorities. That wasn’t the case for Hader, but he was sounding like Donald Trump before Donald Trump started sounding like Donald Trump. Hader’s tweets were published a year prior to the 2012 election that didn’t include Trump, but did see Barack Obama earn reelection by beating the pants off Mitt Romney.

So from where does this seemingly growing racist and sexist sentiment of young, white men start? Is it a direct result of the reign of white presidents coming to an end and a sense that white men’s power is finally being threatened?

Headline 5: Marcell Dareus Faces Two Sexual Assault Lawsuits

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is facing two lawsuits alleging sexual assault. The first, brought by an unidentified Texas woman, accuses Dareus of sexual assault and transmission of a sexually transmitted disease, according to Chris Parenteau of News 4 Jacksonville.

The second lawsuit stems from an alleged incident occurring in Florida in January 2017, according to Greg Aumen of the Tampa Bay Times. Dareus rented a mansion in Florida the week of the college football national championship game and allegedly invited the accuser to an afterparty at the mansion, where she said Dareus groped her against her wishes. She then “blacked out” from drinking too much alcohol and awoke next to a naked Dareus, aware that sexual acts had been committed.

Dareus will move to have the second lawsuit dismissed on Aug. 9, but regardless of how the lawsuits are settled, Dareus would be subject to suspension by the NFL and for a considerable amount of time. The baseline suspension for sexual assault is six games, but the NFL hasn’t had to issue a punishment for multiple allegations as of yet, meaning Dareus could miss up to 12 games this season.

Headline 6: Cardinals GM Suspended After Pleading Guilty to Extreme DUI

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was suspended by the team for five weeks and fined $200,000 after pleading guilty to extreme driving under intoxication on Tuesday. The suspension stems from an incident occurring the night of July 4th. Keim was arrested, booked and released the same night, but shouldn’t NFL GMs and owners be subject to the same conduct policy as the players?

Headline 7: Olympic Figure Skating Medalist Denis Ten is Murdered

Olympic figure skating medalist Denis Ten was murdered Thursday in Kazakhstan by a man who has since confessed to the crime in the presence of an attorney. Ten was stabbed after a dispute with people who allegedly tried to steal a mirror from his car in his home city. He died in the hospital of massive blood loss from multiple wounds, the Kazinform news agency said.

Cheats of the Week

Our dishonorable mention this week is Milwaukee Bucks center Thon Maker, who was suspended three FIBA matches for delivering multiple flying kicks during a brawl between Australia and the Philippines in a World Cup qualifying match on July 2nd. Do you agree that flying kicks by a seven-footer would be considered cheating in a basketball brawl, Mike?

Winner of the Bronze Balls award this week is Jacksonville Jaguars pass rusher Dante Fowler, who was suspended for the first game of the 2018 season. Fowler’s bronze balls are massive, as he refereed a fight between his baby momma and current girlfriend in February of 2016, a video of which TMZ released. Fowler also has 10 traffic violations since December of 2015, and is charged with misdemeanor battery and mischief after an arrest on Tuesday. All of this comes in a contract year for Fowler, Mike.

The Silver Syringe goes to New York Jets receiver ArDarius Stewart, who tested positive for a substance designed to mask performance-enhancing drug use, Ian Rapoport reports. While a suspension hasn’t been announced, it’s expected to keep Stewart out for two games.

Our two-bit cheat of the week is former New York Knicks center Charles Oakley, who was arrested in Las Vegas for pulling back a $100 chip he wagered after learning he had lost his bet.

Historically Foul Play

Let’s get nostalgic and talk about foul play of the past, when news was delivered on paper and milk in reusable glass bottles. Here’s your sports-crime history lesson we call Historically Foul Play.

On July 20th, 1944, en route to a 20-win season, St. Louis Browns’ ace Nelson Potter became the first player in big-league history to be ejected and suspended for throwing spitballs. Potter denied ever loading up the ball with anything, and returned to play a big part as a reliever and spot starter in the Boston Braves’ World Series appearance in 1948.

The last player to be ejected and suspended for using a substance on baseballs is former Yankee and current Twin Michael Pineda, who was ejected and suspended for loading the ball with pine tar back in 2014. 

Published in Sports

The New York Yankees led the American League Wild Card race by five games over Seattle as of the Major League Baseball All-Star Break. They could very well finish the season 10 games better than both the Mariners and the winner of the AL Central Division, and will still have to win a one-game playoff just to earn the right to play the best team in the American League, who will likely be from their own division.

I’m not one to make excuses for the Yankees. As a Minnesota Twins fan, I despise the Yankees more than most, and I’m a huge fan of the one-game playoff. But there’s nothing fair about a team’s postseason chances coming down to one game when that team has played a tougher schedule to a better record than all but one team in the league. It’s time for MLB to do away with divisions and go back to a division-less pennant race.

While Rob Manfred was repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth prior to the MLB All-Star Game, blaming the Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout for not marketing Mike Trout, and calling for a discussion on ending defensive shifts, only the most interesting thing happening in baseball, he failed to address the most pressing issue facing the game. The one-game Wild Card could be played between the second- and fourth-ranked teams in the American League while the sixth-ranked team in the league gets a pass to the Divisional round simply for playing in a historically weak division. And that sixth-ranked team won’t even play the league’s best team.

Back in 1969, when East and West divisions were adopted by Major League Baseball, there were no Wild Card teams in the playoff format. And when just one team from both the American League and National League were awarded a postseason berth as a Wild Card for the first time in 1995 (the 1994 postseason was cancelled due to a player strike), there weren’t immediate issues.

But now that there are two Wild Card teams from each league reaching the postseason, either those teams need to play a three-game Wild Card series, or the league needs a good, old-fashioned pennant race. I’m for both.

I would recommend shortening the season to 154 games and adding a three-game Wild Card Playoff series to be played between the fourth- and fifth-ranked teams in each league, regardless of division standings. There is no need for a team to play the same four teams 19 times every year. I’d be fine with MLB divisions remaining simply for travel and rivalry reasons, but 17 games against division rivals is still probably too many. Commissioner Manfred should shorten the regular season to the original 154-game length while adding at least four and up to six lucrative playoff games to the schedule.

Since the All-Star Game no longer determines which league has home field advantage in the World Series, a good, old-fashioned pennant race is the most reasonable and fair way to determine who plays who in the playoffs. The top three seeds in each league would benefit from up to five days off entering the playoffs while the two Wild Card teams are decided, and each league’s top seed would play the fourth-best team instead of the second-best team that happened to lose its division despite winning more games than other division champions.

So before Manfred even considers changing rules to the game regarding defensive shifts and pace of play, he should make sure the league’s best teams are rewarded for being the league’s best teams. Even if the Yankees were to win the Wild Card Game, if the playoffs began today, they’d meet the Red Sox in the Divisional Series instead of the ALCS. And if 2004 taught us anything, it’s that baseball’s best rivalry should be decided in the ALCS. Most importantly though, the league’s best playoff team should play the league’s worst playoff team in the divisional round, and that’s not the case as the MLB postseason currently stands.

Published in Opinion

The Major League Baseball (MLB) Trade Deadline is July 31, and the weeks leading up to it give fans of every team at least one reason for hope regardless of the standings. Even fans of the last-place Baltimore Orioles have reason for hope at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, despite the seemingly silly salary of Chris Davis, whom the Orioles owe $92 million over the next four years, and the depreciated value of both Zach Britton and Brad Brach. I wrote that they should have been sellers at the Trade Deadline last season, but last season’s failures could still end up successes of seasons to come. Here’s every fan’s reason for hope at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.

The Contenders

Boston Red Sox

Reason for hope: Plenty of affordable bullpen arms available

The Red Sox are in a good place at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, but every team’s bullpen could be deeper come August, September and October. The Red Sox have the fifth-best bullpen based on FanGraph’s version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), so adding a veteran reliever like Zach Britton to open a sixth or seventh inning instead of relying on 29-year-old Heath Hembree might give Boston’s bullpen the boost it needs to challenge the Yankees’ MLB-best bullpen.

 

Boston also has some room to improve at second base if Dustin Pedroia does indeed miss the rest of the season due to a troublesome knee. The Red Sox have been linked to Whit Merrifield, who would give them a long-term insurance plan at the position if Pedroia continues to struggle with injuries. Merrifield is cheap (for now), arbitration eligible for the first time in 2020 and comes with team-control through 2022. He will not be cheap to acquire, however. Brian Dozier could be an alternative option as an affordable rental if the Twins are still committed to selling at the deadline.

New York Yankees

Reason for hope: Manny Machado and Miguel Andujar

The Yankees look to be in need of a Game 3 starter who can swing a playoff series in their direction, but New York’s focus has been on acquiring the best player available at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline: Manny Machado.

 

The Yankees don’t need a shortstop, and they don’t look to be in need of a third baseman given Miguel Andujar’s .818 OPS at just 23 years old. But Andujar could be traded to acquire that starter the Yankees need to hang with the Astros, Indians and Red Sox, all of whom’s starters have performed better than the Yankees’ this year.

 

Toronto’s J.A. Happ is a “realistic” trade target the Yankees are considering according to Jon Heyman, and could be the Game 3 starter who swings the momentum of a playoff series the Yankees’ way. Happ earned a win over Houston allowing three earned runs over six innings earlier this season and has allowed just .938 walks/hits per inning pitched (WHIP) in two starts against Boston. His start against Seattle was a disaster, though, lasting just three and a third innings after allowing seven earned runs.

Houston Astros

Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market and Wilson Ramos

The defending champions have almost everything they need to repeat as champions. The Astros’ starting rotation has been almost 14 wins better than a replacement play – the best in baseball. Houston’s starters are so good that Collin McHugh was forced into a bullpen role, where he’s amassed an incredible ERA+ of 392.

 

The Astros, like every other contender, is looking to add bullpen depth at the Trade Deadline, and like the Red Sox, they’ve shown interest in Britton according the Heyman. With Ken Giles being optioned to Triple-A, Houston has reason to acquire a reliever despite its bullpen ranking second in MLB in WAR thus far in 2018.

 

The Astros aren’t reading too much into the success of catcher Max Stassi and his .804 OPS over 177 plate appearances either. And while Brian McCann is expected to return from arthroscopic right knee surgery in September, his .606 OPS over 173 plate appearances leaves a lot to be desired, even when considering the hitting ineptitude of catchers throughout the league.

 

That’s why the Astros contacted Tampa Bay about pending free agent and All-Star Wilson Ramos, whose proven ability to hit (.751 career OPS) will be even more evident given Houston’s deep lineup. His deficiencies behind the dish (6 defensive runs below average over 1,200 innings this season) would also be less impactful given the pitchers he’d be catching in Houston compared to those he’s catching with the Rays.

Chicago Cubs

Reason for hope: Yu Darvish or J.A. Happ

The Cubs might make the second-best addition at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline and do so without surrendering anything in a trade, but that possibility is looking less and less likely everyday. Yu Darvish experienced pain in his elbow after a bullpen session that followed a rehab start in the minors, so the Cubs don’t know when or if he’ll be available.

 

The Cubs lead the National League in run differential, and by 25 runs as of this writing, making their 23rd-ranked starting pitching WAR less of a concern. That won’t be the case against an American League contender, however. The Astros, Red Sox and Yankees all have higher run differentials than the Cubs, which is why J.A. Happ has been on Chicago’s radar according to Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun. If Darvish gets bad news, the Cubs will have to add a starter to have a chance at winning a second World Series in three years.

Cleveland Indians

Reason for hope: Buyers’ market for bullpen arms, Andrew Miller’s return, and maybe Adam Jones

The Cleveland Indians’ bullpen, once the team’s biggest strength, has become the team’s biggest weakness. Cleveland’s Cody Allen, who was almost unhittable last season, blew a four-run, ninth-inning lead over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, allowing six runs in two-thirds of an inning after Trevor Bauer tossed eight shutout innings. The Indians lost 7-4, breathing new life into a Minnesota Twins team that was 11.5 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central Division and announcing the availability of its pending free agents. The Twins are just 7.5 games back as of this writing and

 

While Andrew Miller is expected to return after the MLB All-Star Break, his return won’t make Cleveland’s bullpen playoff-ready. Allen’s struggles aren’t a result of bad luck. While his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.92 is evidence that his team’s defense is at least somewhat responsible for his bloated 4.66 Earned Run Average (ERA), Allen’s soft contact percentage of 8.9 percent thus far this season is a career low and way down from the career high of 22.2 percent he set last season.

 

Allen’s not the only Cleveland reliever struggling either. The Indians are last in bullpen ERA and home run rate allowed, and second to last in bullpen WAR, according to FanGraphs. So Cleveland needs all the bullpen help it can get at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.

 

The Indians have also shown interest in center fielder Adam Jones of the Orioles because their center fielders Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen have left much to be desired when a bat’s in their hands. The two have averaged a .576 OPS between them.

 

Baltimore is the perfect trade partner for Cleveland because the Indians could also acquire the bullpen help it needs in the form of Zach Britton, who is finally starting to look like his old self according to Jon Heyman of Fancred. Brad Brach, on the other hand, has surrendered hard contact on nearly a third of batted balls against him, a career high. Acquiring one reliever won’t likely be enough for Cleveland to contend for a championship, so they’re lucky it’s a buyers’ market for bullpen arms at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.

The Buyers

Seattle Mariners

Reason for hope: Robinson Cano’s return, Dee Gordon’s flexibility

I said prior to Opening Day that Dee Gordon’s transition to center field would be an adventure worth watching, and it was. While Gordon’s speed and athleticism was often displayed on highlight reels, he was well below average in center field (35 runs below average per 1,200 innings). But Robinson Cano’s suspension for performance-enhancing drug use makes the acquisition of Gordon one of the best deals Seattle won’t have to make at the Trade Deadline. The acquisitions of Denard Span (.842 OPS in 124 plate appearances) and Alex Colome (16 Ks in 16.2 innings pitched) at the end of May have provided the roster depth necessary for Seattle to make a push for the postseason as well.

 

Seattle will get Cano back on Aug. 14, which will be like adding an All-Star prior to the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline. But unlike a waiver acquisition, Cano can’t participate in the postseason, so Jean Segura and Gordon will be the Mariners’ middle infielders should they make the playoffs, leaving a big hole in a lineup that struggles to score runs.

 

Recent recipient of a contract extension, Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto hasn’t been in a hurry to announce any trade targets at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, even with both James Paxton and Felix Hernandez hitting the 10-day disabled list with minor back issues. Regardless, the Mariners’ eighth-ranked bullpen and 11th-ranked starting rotation according to FanGraphs’ WAR won’t be good enough to contend for a championship given their 20th-ranked offense in runs scored, so bringing another bat to Seattle might be necessary. Perhaps an Adam Jones reunion is in order given the Mariners’ .692 OPS from center fielders this season.

Washington Nationals

Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton, and Matt Wieters or Wilson Ramos

Stephen Strasburg and Sean Doolittle are potentially huge additions expected to come of the DL prior to the Trade Deadline, and the Nationals have already gotten Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy and catcher Matt Wieters back from injury just in time to save their season – the last of their quickly closing World Series window.

 

Washington is still in pursuit of a catcher like Ramos to push Wieters into a backup role, and while the Nationals have the eighth-best starting rotation in baseball, their 23rd-ranked bullpen is in dire need of an upgrade. Expect Washington to pursue pending free agents to improve its bullpen to allow for maximum flexibility in free agency this offseason.

Milwaukee Brewers

Reason for hope: Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier...if the Twins actually sell

The Brewers were surprisingly good last year, and continue to surprise just about everyone by holding a one-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Central as of this writing. The starting rotation consists of no one you’ve heard of and the lineup is a collage of castaways, overachieving prospects and Ryan Braun. Their +55 run differential is 50 runs worse than the Cubs, but the Brewers’ bullpen is fantastic, especially Josh Hader – Milwaukee’s version of Andrew Miller.

 

Despite losing new acquisition Lorenzo Cain to injury, the Brewers continue to impress. But scoring the top bat available at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline could help them overcome their 17th-ranked offense in runs scored. They were in the bottom third of the league in runs scored last year, so the Brewers are better, but will end up fighting for a Wild Card spot regardless of what they do at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, and they’ll need to do something big to hold off the Diamondbacks or Dodgers.

 

Milwaukee can improve most at both middle infield positions. The Brewers have been active in the Machado sweepstakes, but are unlikely to win his services according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. So the Brewers will have to hope the Twins’ recent success doesn’t deter them from trading pending free agents Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier, in whom Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports the Brewers’ interest.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Reason for hope: Adding another Zack to go with Greinke, Godley

Also leading their division as of this writing, the Diamondbacks will need to add at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline in order to hold off the Dodgers, who have been trending up and carry a run differential 36 runs better than Arizona’s as of July 13.

 

The Diamondbacks still have Zack Greinke, who allowed more home runs last year (25) than he had since his rookie year in 2004 (26), but the new baseball humidor in Arizona has made him even better in 2018.

 

Behind Greinke, though, only Patrick Corbin can be considered reliable for Arizona. Clay Bucholtz is on the 10-day disabled list with a strained oblique. Robbie Ray is averaging five walks per nine innings, and Zack Godley isn’t doing much better (4.7 walks per nine innings).

 

The Diamondbacks need a middle-of-the-rotation starter who can give them a chance in Game 3 of a playoff series, and adding a third Zack to the roster might be the solution. Arizona has expressed interest in the Mets’ Zack Wheeler, who is controlled through next season if Arizona loses Corbin to free agency this offseason.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Reason for hope: Clayton Kershaw once more, Manny Machado if they’re desperate, or Whit Merrifield, if they’re smart

Clayton Kershaw is back in what could be his last season with the Dodgers. He’s looked like his old self after coming off the disabled list, but the Dodgers needed more than Kershaw last season and need much more this season.

 

The Dodgers are considered a favorite to land Machado, which is the kind of addition Los Angeles would need to make at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline in order to contend for a title. If the Dodgers’ plan is to move Chris Taylor to second base for Logan Forsythe and plug Machado in at shortstop, they might be better off long-term adding Whit Merrifield given his lower cost, both in terms of prospects surrendered and salary owed. Plus, with Chase Utley retiring after the season, and Forsythe a free agent at the end of the year, the Dodgers could use a long-term, affordable second baseman who will improve the Dodgers’ 25th-ranked defense if Kershaw isn’t in LA to hide the Dodgers defensive deficiencies next year.

 

Per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the Dodgers are also linked to the Reds’ Scooter Gennett, who doesn’t anticipate being traded Mark Sheldon reports for MLB.com. The Mets’ Asdrubal Cabrera also has the Dodgers’ attention, as does Josh Harrison of Pittsburgh per Mike Berardino of St. Paul. LA’s exploring all options because these could be the last of Kershaw’s Dodger days.  

Philadelphia Phillies

Reason for hope: Manny Machado, bullpen buyers’ market

Prior to Opening Day, I wrote that the Phillies weren’t as far from contending as some people thought thanks to their young talent being quick studies at the MLB level. They’ve proven me right, but why the Phillies are willing to trade the farm for not even half a season of Machado is beyond me.

 

The Phillies without Machado can make the playoffs and compete with anyone in the National League thanks to its NL-best starting rotation, which might be why they’re so eager to land the best player available at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline. They think Jake Arrieta, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin can hang with the Cubs, Dodgers and Nationals, and they might be right.

 

Eflin was brilliant in one start against the Cubs, has two wins against the Brewers and one more against the Nationals. Nola allowed just two hits and one run over seven innings in a win over the Dodgers, is 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA against the Nationals and held the Cubs to three runs over six innings. And Arrieta pitched seven innings of shutout ball in a win over the Dodgers, has a .909 WHIP in two no-decisions against the Nationals and should be pretty familiar with the Cubs’ lineup.

 

Philadelphia seems to be in a hurry to take advantage of Washington’s sudden fall, but the Nationals will be even worse next year than they are this year, and Machado could be acquired without surrendering any prospects prior to the season. I think the Phillies are overreaching given their third-worst defense and 20th-ranked offense, but I’ve been wrong before.

 

Machado would certainly make the Phillies contenders for the NL pennant. I just don’t think the risk is worth the reward given the strength of the American League. If I were a Phillies fan, I’d rather hold onto our prospects and lose in the playoffs than trade those prospects to lose in the World Series and then lose Machado in free agency to the team that beat us in the World Series. But maybe I don’t know Philly fans.

Oakland Athletics

Reason for hope: Michael Fulmer

Billy Beane sees the Athletics as buyers at the trade deadline, and they need a starter, especially with Trevor Cahill a free agent after the season. Detroit’s Michael Fulmer would give Oakland a stable starter atop the rotation through 2022 to pair with 26-year-old Sean Manaea, who is under team control through 2023, as is 25-year-old Frankie Montas. Fulmer would give Oakland three-fifths of a rotation with playoff potential under team control for at least five seasons. That’s worth a lot, and besides Chris Archer, Fulmer might demand the best prospect haul of any pitcher traded at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.

Atlanta Braves

Reason for hope: Rebuild way ahead of schedule, and Nick Markakis

The similarly surprising Braves are taking the exact opposite approach of the Phillies despite being just 1.5 games back of Philadelphia in the division. Unlike the Phillies, the Braves can really hit (sixth in MLB) and field the ball (seventh in MLB), but their pitching is middle-of-the-pack. Without any sure-fire aces available on the market, the Braves aren’t risking prospects for rentals according to Rosenthal. That’s a smart move given their situation.

 

Atlanta made an offer for Machado but isn’t likely to win his services. The Braves are looking to add controllable starting pitching at the trade deadline. They’ve scouted Nathan Eovaldi, who comes with another arbitration year beyond this one.

St. Louis Cardinals

Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market, Wacha and Wainwright?

The Cardinals are taking the same approach as the Braves. They aren’t shopping for rentals. They’ll look to improve the 23rd-ranked bullpen by adding arms controlled for multiple seasons. The Cardinals’ seventh-best starting rotation will add Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright sometime in August. Whether either is any good is yet to be determined.

Colorado Rockies

Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market, CarGo?

The Rockies have the 24th-ranked bullpen in baseball based on Fangraphs’ WAR. They, like the rest of the playoff contenders, stand to benefit from the vast supply of affordable bullpen options on the market.

 

Colorado also has until July 19 to trade outfielder Carlos Gonzalez before his no-trade protection begins, but that’s not likely given CarGo’s struggles on the road and against left-handers.

The Buyers/Sellers

Minnesota Twins

Reason for hope: Eduardo Escobar, Brian Dozier heating up, Nick Gordon, and, perhaps, Ervin Santana

The new Twins’ front office of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine managed to sell at the trade deadline in their rookie season last year and still made the playoffs. They’ll try to do it again. The Twins actually announced their willingness to trade their pending free agents, headlined by Eduardo Escobar, having fallen 11.5 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central. And just as they did last season, the Twins responded to the front office “for sale” announcement by winning baseball games – eight of 10 to pull within 7.5 games of Cleveland.

 

The return of Jorge Polanco from a performance-enhancing drug suspension allows the Twins to play on of their All-star snubs, Escobar, at third base while Miguel Sano figures out his swing in Fort Myers, where Twins’ top prospect Royce Lewis was recently promoted.

 

Falvey and Levine should still shop Escobar and take the best deal they can get for a player who could be a difference-maker for a contender. They could even get a difference-maker in return, albeit one a few years away, but that’s a lot more than Terry Ryan or anyone else likely expected when he moved Francisco Liriano for MLB’s current leader in doubles. Given Sano’s struggles to stay healthy and hit consistently, it might not be a bad idea for Minnesota to give Escobar some of the nearly $84 million it has coming off the books at the end of the year.

 

Making the playoffs without Escobar is a tall order for the Twins, however. He was the beating heart of last year’s playoff team and is the clubhouse leader. Ehire Adrianza can’t replace him in that regard or any other, but Byron Buxton could if he’s ever healthy.

 

Other players that might be valuable to a playoff contender are relievers Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke, second baseman Brian Dozier, who is heating up in the second half, as usual, and starters Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi. Remember, the Twins are expecting Ervin Santana to return someday.

 

Starter Kyle Gibson is more valuable than ever as well, and would bring a good return given his extra year of team control following this season – one in which he’s finally figured out how to use his best stuff best. Gibson’s been so good, the Twins might consider extending him. He’s finally the formidable middle-of-the-rotation starter the Twins knew he could be.

San Francisco Giants

Reason for hope: Jeurys Familia, Derek Holland, Sam Dyson

The Giants are looking to shed more salaries after dealing centerfielder Austin Jackson and reliever Cory Gearrin to the Rangers, and could do the same with Derek Holland and Sam Dyson according to Henry Schulman, because the Giants would prefer to remain under the competitive balance tax threshold. But being just three games out of the playoffs at the All-Star Break has the Giants as modest buyers at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, too.

 

The Giants are interested in acquiring Mets’ closer Jeurys Familia to shore up their bullpen down the stretch despite him being a rental, but with Jeff Samardzija being placed on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation for the second time, the Giants will likely have to wait to deal Holland until Samardzija returns if not acquire an affordable starter at the trade deadline.

The Sellers

Baltimore Orioles

Reason for hope: Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Adam Jones?

The Orioles’ rebuilding effort should have began at the All-Star Break last year, but it will still get off to a good start with the dealing of Manny Machado and Zach Britton, both of whom will most certainly be traded by the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline. Britton won’t bring what he would have last season, but Machado will, and Adam Jones has drawn some interest from Cleveland. So it’s not all doom and gloom in Baltimore. Football season is right around the corner, Orioles fans.

New York Mets

Reason for hope: Asdrubal Cabrera

If the Mets aren’t going to move Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, according to Joel Sherman, or even Zack Wheeler, then Asdrubal Cabrera is Mets’ fans biggest reason for hope. The 32-year-old pending free agent has a career-best OPS+ of 127, and there are plenty of teams looking to improve at shortstop and second base.

 

The Brewers are especially in need of middle infield help, and Cabrera would be a nice consolation prize for the teams losing out on Manny Machado. The Phillies could have Cabrera for much less than Machado and still sign Machado in free agency.

Miami Marlins

Reason for hope: J.T. Realmuto, Brad Ziegler?

The Marlins’ steep price for their All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto is warranted. Realmuto is controllable through arbitration until 2021 and the trade market for catchers consists of Realmuto and the now-injured Wilson Ramos of Tampa Bay. That steep price might not stop the desperate Nationals from acquiring the All-Star, according to Heyman.

 

Steep prices are also attached to Kyle Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley for the same reasons as Realmuto. They are all controllable for an additional three years and the trade market for relievers is deep. Brad Ziegler is a pending free agent but hasn’t been particularly good (1.362 WHIP, 6.5 K:9).

Chicago White Sox

Reason for hope: Joakim Soria

The lone trade chip on the White Sox roster is closer Joakim Soria, who at 34 is pitching like he’s 30. His 149 ERA+ and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings both match his numbers from 2014 when he was good enough to net Texas Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson in a trade to Detroit. Soria could help another contender this season and should provide Chicago added value given his 2019 team option.

Kansas City Royals

Reason for hope: Mike Moustakas, Whit Merrifield

The Red Sox could be interested in both Mike Moustakas and Whit Merrifield, and the Braves have expressed interest in adding Moustakas along with the Yankees, according to Jerry Crasnick. Merrifield has also drawn the Dodgers’ and Brewers’ eyes, so the Royals are sitting on a wealth of proverbial riches at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.

Cincinnati Reds

Reason for hope: Raisel Iglesias

The Reds’ closer has the Astros salivating, as if Houston needs another bullpen arm as good as Iglesias’s, but Iglesias hopes to remain a Red his entire career MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reveals. Iglesias acknowledged that he has no control over that, however.

 

Cincinnati intends to spend in 2019, as the Reds are only a few starting pitchers away from competing for a playoff spot, of which there will be plenty available in free agency this offseason. Given that Iglesias isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2020, and Scooter Gennett isn’t a free agent until 2020, the Reds might just sit on their hands at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, which is reason enough for hope.

Detroit Tigers

Reason for hope: Michael Fulmer, Nicholas Castellanos

Michael Fulmer could be the most valuable trade chip on the table at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, but the Tigers might as well keep him and his affordable salary for at least another year if not three.

 

Detroit would no doubt prefer to move Nicholas Castellanos, who has just one more year of arbitration eligibility to Fulmer’s four years of team control. Castellanos is enjoying his best season at the plate but is the worst defensive outfielder in Outs Above Average, Katie Strang notes. He could help an American League contender at designated hitter, though. Houston (.748 OPS) and Oakland (.780 )PS) are getting the worst production from their designated hitters amongst the buyers at the trade deadline. The league average OPS at DH is just .759.

Los Angeles Angels

Reason for hope: Shohei Ohtani

Prior to Opening Day, I wrote that the Angels still didn’t have the starting rotation to reach the playoffs, even with Shohei Ohtani in the mix. That has turned out to be true, but Ohtani is still swinging a bat despite his grade 2 UCL strain, and doing so quite capably.

 

Ohtani’s .889 OPS is second to only Mike Trout’s on the team and has been trending up since his return from the disabled list on July 3. With most of the Angels’ starters on the shelf with injuries, and their relievers under team control for multiple seasons, Los Angeles doesn’t have much to offer buyers at the trade deadline. So enjoy watching the best player in baseball and the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball.

Toronto Blue Jays

Reason for hope: J.A. Happ, Justin Smoak?

The Blue Jays stand to benefit from a short supply of starting pitching at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline. J.A. Happ might be the best addition a team could make to their starting rotation at the deadline, so Toronto should get a nice return for the 35-year-old, first-time All-Star. Heyman tweets that the Yankees think Toronto’s asking price for Happ is too high, however. He is a pending free agent.\

 

Justin Smoak is not a pending free agent, as Toronto will likely pick up his 2019 team option, but he could provide a lot of value to a contender in need of a designated hitter, demanding a strong prospect return. Curtis Granderson is another player who could provide a playoff team with some bench depth and pinch-hitting pop.  

Texas Rangers

Reason for hope: Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels?

The 39-year-old third baseman can still hit and play the hot corner with the best of them. He could be a big help to an American League contender like the Red Sox or Yankees, but the Rangers are looking to nab the Yankees’ Andujar at the deadline, and Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman is feeling vindicated for not trading Andujar already.

 

If the Rangers can package Hamels with Beltre they might get a return on par with Andujar. Hamels is in dire need of a change of scenery. Two-thirds of his 21 home runs have come while pitching in the thin air of Arlington, so even the short porches in Boston and the Bronx would likely serve Hamels better.

San Diego Padres

Reason for hope: Tyson Ross, Kirby Yates and Brad Hand

The Yankees have inquired about starter Tyson Ross, who is uber-affordable and, therefore, attractive. The Padres should net a nice return for Ross, who they signed to a minor-league deal. That would keep New York under the luxury tax threshold.

 

Once again, Brad Hand is the Padres’ best trade chip at the trade deadline, and they probably shouldn’t trade him given he’s locked up until 2021. Kirby Yates might be expendable, though, and his value has peaked. Yates has never been as good as he has been in 2018 (.876 WHIP).

Pittsburgh Pirates

Reason for hope: Josh Harrison

An All-Star last season, Josh Harrison is having a down year, but there’s a high demand for middle infielders at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline and always a high demand for players who can play multiple positions at the trade deadline. And with Francisco Cervelli’s brain injuries sustained behind the plate, it’s doubtful he’ll draw interest from contenders in need of a catcher.

Tampa Bay Rays

Reason for hope: Adeiny Hechavarria, Nathan Eovaldi and Wilson Ramos?

Adeiny Hechavarria is a pending free agent who would look good in Milwaukee, and the Yankees, Brewers and Braves have been watching Tampa’s Nathan Eovaldi according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, and you can add Washington to that list, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

 

All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos would bring the Rays the best return, but he’s been shelved with a hamstring injury, further thinning the market for catchers at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, which is just fine by the Marlins, who can only ask more for Realmuto.

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