Sports Shorts

  • Two things Major League Baseball needs to change. First, it needs a uniform ruling on the “designated hitter.” It’s ridiculous to have the American League—and minor leagues—use it, but not the National League. Especially when teams from both leagues have to play each other. It’s as if the National Football League only allowed the two-point PAT in one conference.
  • Second, get rid of the provision that enables MLB to market an “All Star” game that requires representation of all teams. Not every team has, in fact, an “All Star.” The annual upshot is that some deserving players—and the “All Star Game” itself—are shortchanged. The fact that Rays pitcher Blake Snell wasn’t initially named—and others, less qualified, were—was Exhibit A for an ill-advised, embarrassing selection process.
  • Amid all the rhetoric surrounding the Rays Ybor stadium rendering, this—from Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg–was particularly notable. “It’s not so much about the value of the franchise,” said Sternberg, “because I don’t plan on selling it.” No, he didn’t put that in writing.
  • Joe Namath and Meghan Markle. Now there’s two names you won’t be seeing again in the same sentence. But they fit in the context of those detecting a bit of an incipient British accent from the California-raised Duchess of Sussex. Linguistics professors have been weighing in. Social identity and all of that.

But I recall a much earlier, much more blatant example. Western Pennsylvania-raised Namath made a name for himself when he left Beaver Falls, Pa. for Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He loved Bear Bryant’s program and the welcoming Southern vibe. He fit in with his nationally prominent quarterbacking and with his adopted Southern accent. By his junior year, he sounded like Andy Griffith.

  • “We all have things we’d like to take back in our lives. You don’t get to take them back when you’re in the public eye, so you have to be very careful.” Those are the words of Tony Dungy. And, yes, they were said with Jameis Winston in mind.

Sports Shorts

* Nice touch to light up Old City Hall, the bridges and Curtis Hixon fountains and palms with Rays-saluting colors of blue and yellow in support of the Rays official announcement about the proposed Ybor City stadium. City Hall is limited in its clout, but the optics help send a positive community message.

* It still surprises that there is a viable TV market for: poker, Cornhole and the NBA Summer League.

* Nathan’s Famous July Fourth hot dog eating contest. Why? It’s gross.

Sports Shorts

* The Rays just won three out of four from the Houston Astros, the defending World Series champions. Prior to that, the Rays had swept the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees. It means the Rays began this week with a winning record and renewed respect for their resiliency and young talent. And all this despite roster trimming and blindsiding injuries. Don’t look for the Rays to make the post season this year–that’s still too steep a hill to climb–but do look for Kevin Cash to get some manager-of-the-year votes.

* Say what you will (and we will say a lot) about Tropicana Field, including its obsolescence upon debut, but it is temperature-and-humidity friendly inside. Not that we wouldn’t trade the Trop dome for a, say, Wrigley Field experience, but this just in: The heat index last Saturday at Chicago’s Wrigley was 107. Three visiting Minnesota Twins players left early with heat illness. The Cubs are good, Joe Maddon’s a great guy, and Wrigley Field is very cool–except when it’s very uncomfortable.

Losing With Winston

If you’re Tampa Bay Bucs management, these are unsettling times. Trying to right the franchise ship, save jobs and put last year’s lost season behind them isn’t made easier by the season-opening, three-game suspension of starting quarterback Jameis Winston.

Winston came to the Bucs with all that sexual-assault notoriety–plus other conduct baggage– while at FSU. He was damaged–but talented, Heisman-winning–goods. But he’s been incident free in the Tampa Bay community. The Bucs are pleased at how he officially represents them. But now we have the groping case involving a female Uber driver in Las Vegas. Hence, the suspension after an 8-month NFL investigation.

There’s also this. Three years in, Winston still doesn’t look as good as expected–or as needed. More Josh Freeman than Tom Brady. Much more.

Hence, the Bucs dilemma. Can they really win with this guy? And if so, would they be winning with Dr. Jameis or Mr. Hyde?

Sports Shorts

* At The Hops: USF has signed a 10-year, high six-figure agreement to rename the Sun Dome. It will become the Yuengling Center. A naming-rights agreement with an alcoholic-beverage producer, however, inevitably elicits scrutiny about image and impact on student drinking habits.

For the record, a Yuengling corporate statement said that the brewery, as part of its campus partnership, will “pledge to educate the students of USF, local residents, visitors and Tampa at large about ways to drink responsibly.”

At least it’s not the 1-800-ASK-GARY Dome.

* The Rays were in New York last Sunday for the Yankees’ 72nd Old Timers Game. It’s always a big, celebratory deal with a lot of big names. It reminded me, in contrast, to some Old Timers Games in Philadelphia. The former Phillies great who would never participate was the late All of Fame centerfielder–and long-time broadcaster–Richie Ashburn. His rationale: He didn’t, he would explain, want to be reminded of all that he “could no longer do.” Understandable but sad.

* I’m not a soccer fan, but I do look in on World Cup competition. I love the eclectic matchups–geographic and demographic. Countries that would never show up in the same sentence were it not for the World Cup. As in: Argentina vs. Iceland, Denmark vs. Peru, Uruguay vs. Egypt, Serbia vs. Switzerland, Panama vs. Tunisia or Poland vs. Colombia.

I’m also reminded of being part of the media scene in the late 1980s when a delegation from FIFA visited Tampa to check out Tampa Stadium as a possible venue for the 1994 World Cup that was awarded to the U.S. I still recall a Brazilian reporter who said, “Having the World Cup in the U.S. is like having the World Series in Brazil.” BTW, Tampa wasn’t chosen–but Orlando was.

Well, it’s back in America again–in 2026. Most of the World Cup matches will be in the U.S, with others in Canada and Mexico. Presumably tariffs will no longer be an issue.

Sports Short

* It’s still surprising that the MLB draft is before the college baseball regionals and the College World Series. Inevitably, the competition is rife with draftable talent. For teams investing millions, it could make a difference to see how a targeted player handles it all–including the pressure.  Case in point, Auburn pitcher Casey Mize was the number one overall draft pick by the Detroit Tigers. He’ll be a millionaire shortly. But after he was drafted he pitched against Florida in the Super Regionals. It didn’t go well. He gave up six runs and lasted five innings. If I’m Tigers management, I would have wanted to see how Mize performed in his biggest college game before I made a seven-figure investment and drafted him before everybody else.

Sports Shorts

* Just when big-time college athletics thought it couldn’t get more challenging than recruiting scandals, “one-and-done” fallout and high-profile, criminal investigations, along comes the Supreme Court. It has signed off on legalized sports betting. Not just in Las Vegas. But everywhere. Easily.

“There’s a lot of touch points,” concedes SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. As in myriad opportunities for gamblers to get some inside info–as in links to players. As in integrity under further siege. From ever-ratcheting insider access to point spreads to point shaving: hardly a quantum leap.

As we know, the Supreme Court doesn’t always get it right, from Plessy v. Ferguson to Citizens United v. FEC. In fact, bet on it.

* So President Trump formally canceled the White House visit of the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a face-saving gesture, because most players were going to be no-shows anyhow. It’s also a reminder that when it comes to White House invitations to athletes, they should only apply to those on Olympic or World Cup teams. For those who actually represented their country–not their employers.

* Brittany Lincicome, the local veteran of the LPGA circuit, made headlines recently when she was invited to play a PGA Tour event. She will become the fifth female pro golfer–going back to Babe Zaharias–to play in a men’s tournament. She’ll receive a sponsor’s exemption and compete next month in the Barbasol Championship in Nicholasville, Ky. It’s a big deal, but likely nothing that shocks anyone who recalls her golfing days at Seminole High School. She was the star player–on the boys’ team.

Sports Shorts

* It’s frustrating to think about the Stanley Cup Finals without the Lightning. This, however, is not a forum to lament or ponder why the Bolts came up short, but an opportunity to muse on a team that will be in it: the first-year, expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights. The odds were 500-1 that Las Vegas would win the Cup; now they’re in the finals against Washington.

Two critical factors. The NHL made it more difficult for incumbent franchises to keep as many good players as it used to. The Lightning, for example, were not blessed with Stanley Cup- caliber draft talent in its inaugural 1992 season. Neither was the team, Ottawa, that came in with it.

But Vegas came in alone; nobody else was drafting. It also paid a lot more to play than the Lightning did. “Vegas paid $500 million, and we paid $50 million,” recalled Bolts founder Phil Esposito. You get what you pay for in life.”

BTW, plans continue for Seattle to be the next NHL expansion franchise; debut is slated for 2020. Among the registered nickname favorites: Sea Lions, Renegades and Emeralds. The expansion fee: $650 million. Don’t expect 500-1 Stanley Cup odds.

Sports Shorts

* No one would dare admit it, but you have to believe that the NHL was hoping for anyone but Winnipeg to be representing the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals. Winnipeg, which lost to Las Vegas in the conference finals, is the smallest market in the entire league. It’s also the frequent target of Canadian humor about its weather and provincialism. Truth be told, the NHL probably hopes for a mega-TV-market matchup of the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers every year.

* We know the Rays have had their share of struggles so far, and it hardly helps that they are in MLB’s toughest (American League East) division with the talent-stocked and exorbitantly-payrolled Yankees and Red Sox. They won’t catch either one. But suppose they were in another division, say, the AL Central?  At the beginning of this week, the Rays’ record (22-23) would have put them into a tie for first place with the Cleveland Indians.

Sports Shorts

* OK, the Rays still don’t draw well at the Trop. But at least their crowds are almost always in the five figures. The Miami Marlins, who relocated to cool, new digs a few years ago, struggle to draw 6,000. Good luck, Derek.

* For what it’s worth, HBO and NFL Films picked up a Sports Emmy for “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.” The five episodes were occasionally entertaining, sometimes insightful and–by its very nature–intrusive and invasive for the workplace. That’s the reality with having to grant virtually unfettered access to roaming camera crews looking for story lines and over-the-top personalities. No head coach would have volunteered for this. Dirk Koetter is no exception.

* That was quite the telling quote by former Major League manager Davey Johnson about Tampa native Dwight Gooden, the erstwhile New York Mets pitching phenom whose career was seriously impacted by substance-abuse issues. “He could say no,” said Johnson, “but he didn’t know how to back it up.”

* That detailed report by the Condoleezza Rice-chaired Commission on College Basketball didn’t pull any punches in its criticisms and recommended reforms for college hoops. It notably looked into ratcheting corruption that included bribe and kickback schemes involving coaches, agents and apparel companies. “The goal,” underscored the report, “should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league.”

Addressing the rebottling of this genie of corruption and hypocrisy that has so many self-serving, moving parts is beyond formidable. Only two approaches make sense.

First, pay players in marketplace fashion–starting with recruitment and then on a sliding scale based on performance. It is what it is: “Amateurism” is preposterously passé. Attending class would be optional. Those who actually belong on a college campus could actually work toward a degree on a part-time basis. Those for whom this is a 13th-grade, trade school experience can concentrate on basketball without becoming shamstudent-athletes” who only further undermine the integrity of higher education.

Second, only admit those who actually deserve to be admitted to a real university. It’s not for everybody. We’re talking SATs and high school or community college GPAs. If you can’t make the cut, let the National Basketball Association follow the role model of Major League Baseball with a viable minor league system. That way the league and its franchises can pay to train their own future employees.

* I love it when Tampa lands a Super Bowl or a Women’s Final Four or a Frozen Four or an NHL All Star game. It’s further validation of what we’ve evolved into, plus it’s a great marketing coup. Next Super Bowl is only three years away.

And now we know that the Tampa Bay Sports Commission is seriously pursuing “Wrestlemania,” sometimes dubbed the Super Bowl of pro wrestling, for 2023, ’24 or ’25. Only one downside: It’s pro wrestling.