armchairquarterblog

Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT Ross MacCallum

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on April 26, 2011 at 3:10 pm

There’s an unwritten rule regarding public disputes and use of the news media. It’s very simple. The first one to run to the media to defend his position is losing the battle.

Redskins owner, Dan Snyder might not want to admit this, but he IS losing his battle with the City Paper; at least in the court of public opinion, and maybe in court, too.

Snyder took to the Opinion page of the Washington Post and Post.com to re-state his intentions in his ongoing legal tussle with the City Paper, which he claims defamed him in a November 2010 article written by Dave McKenna. (I won’t even get into the question of why the Post climbed into the middle of this mess. I guess they really need to sell papers these days.) The piece entitled, “Why I am suing Washington City Paper,” is a plea for understanding from Redskins fans. The point that Dan completely misses, however, is that Redskins fans don’t care about his personal conflict with a tiny media outlet that most had probably never heard of until he decided to sue. They only care about winning and whether there will be a 2011 NFL season.

The only thing really new in the Snyder essay is the decision to re-file the suit in Washington instead of New York for “legal reasons.” As expected, it’s a little short on facts, and long on… well… long on Dan’s hurt feelings.

But, what’s really interesting here is what’s NOT mentioned anymore. There’s no more blather about the unwarranted mocking of Dan’s wife, Tanya, for saying in a TV interview that Dan had “grown and evolved.” And, there’s no more uproar over the so-called “anti-Semitic” photo illustration (Snyder with scribbled devil’s horns) that accompanied the original City Paper story. Why? Probably, because those complaints failed to garner the public sympathy that Dan was seeking when he opted to take on the City Paper in the first place. Those arguments quite simply lacked substance.

In fact, out of the roughly 60 “failings” of Dan Snyder listed in the McKenna article only one remains at the heart of this dispute.

And that is… Drum roll please… Snyder’s continuing focus on his portrayal in decade-old allegations that his communications marketing company “forged” names in a telephone “slamming” scheme in Florida. “Slamming” means that people’s long distance providers were changed without their authorization. According to the Attorney General of Florida, Snyder Communications’ employees carried out this activity on behalf of GTE/Verizon. A substantial fine was paid to end this matter “without admitting any wrongdoing.”

Of course, proof of malice by Dave McKenna will be the burden of Snyder in his case against the City Paper; an extremely heavy legal burden for a public figure. In the Post Op-Ed piece, Snyder targets the following line from the McKenna article for the bulk of his ire, “That’s the [same] Dan Snyder who got caught forging names as a telemarketer with Snyder Communications.” Snyder calls that accusation “false.” But, the Florida Attorney General’s April 2001 news release on the “slamming” case specifically refers to “thousands of instances” where Snyder Communications’ representatives “forged” customer signatures. Snyder obviously contends he was not one of the “representatives” in question. But, Snyder Communications was Dan Snyder’s company at the time. And, the buck stops where?

Snyder also continues to insist this is not about the money. Anything he might win is earmarked for charity. And, he doesn’t want McKenna fired. In fact, he says the whole matter would be dropped if the City Paper would just apologize and retract the “false charges.”

Dan, don’t hold your breath waiting for that apology. In an interview with WTOP, the publisher of the City Paper called the suit “frivolous.” The City Paper still stands by its story.

And to borrow from your own opinion piece, Dan, your University of Missouri School of Journalism graduate father would have understood the City Paper’s position, and that your foray onto the Op-Ed page of the Post is a clear signal that your battle is not being won.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at: www.aberdeentradingco.com

Advertisements

SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan

In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on April 21, 2011 at 6:47 am

The Yankees’ Mariano Rivera pitching in the first inning?

Must’ve been a highlight from last night’s game.

Wait a minute, who’s at shortstop wearing 42?

Oh yea, it was Major League Baseball honoring Jackie Robinson — this time commemorating the day (April 15) he became the first black man to play in an MLB game.

All weekend, I studied faces surrounded in batting helmet-plastic to learn “who was who.” Even announcers guessed who was on deck or warming up in the pen.

It was “ceremony gone wild” with every player wearing 42 – not just on April 15 but the next day too.

It was a bit excessive – just like retiring No. 42 for every Major League team. I think Robinson might even get a chuckle out of that. The Dodgers, sure. But the Arizona Diamondbacks? They were established 52 years after Robinson’s debut. Retired numbers are supposed to mean something to that organization. If you don’t play, manage or coach for a team, your jersey number shouldn’t be recognized. Period.

Where does it end? Will MLB afford the same honor for the first Asian, the first Korean, the first Japanese, the first Chinese, the first Haitian, the first Samoan, the first Ukrainian to play in the bigs? While I respect Robinson for having endured racial abuse, the No. 42 should be mothballed only in Los Angeles.

While we’re reminded of Robinson’s bravery and talent, few fans probably know of the man’s charm – not lost one former Major Leaguer pitcher and manager — this one white.

Roger Craig, who played for Brooklyn in the mid-50, told me this story the day he broke into the big leagues. The night before, he pitched one end of a doubleheader for Montreal, the Dodgers AAA farm team (Tom Lasorda pitched the other game). The next day, Craig was summoned to Brooklyn to join the Dodgers.

I was sitting in Walter Alston’s office when he told me, ‘You’re now a a Brooklyn Dodger. Tell your wife you’re moving to New York.’ As I left the locker room to head to the airport, one Dodger walked up to me, stuck out his hand and said, ‘Congratulations.’ That was Jackie Robinson. I was from the south (Durham, NC)…and never forgot that.”

While MLB exhausts itself trumpeting Robinson’s impact on the game, there’s another player equally deserving but just about forgotten.

Consider Larry Doby — the first black man to play in the American League — followed Robinson by only 81 days. Outside of having Doby throw out the first pitch of the 1997 All-Star game, the man is seldom recognized. After retiring, Doby became just the second black (following Frank Robinson) to manage in the big leagues.

Doby’s statistics exceed Robinson’s, in part because he played three more seasons. He had 1,515 hits, 253 HR, 970 RBI, a .283 BA and made the AL All-Star team seven times. Robinson had 1,518 hits, 137 HR, 734 RBI, a .311 BA and was a 6-time All-Star. He also was Rookie of the Year and an MVP.

Plenty other Negro Leaguers had the same fortitude as Robinson without getting the recognition. Great careers in the Negro Leagues – which began in the 1880s – go unnoticed, except to baseball historians.

Five years ago, when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, D.C., the Mayor’s office among others, suggested the team’s nickname be “Grays” to honor the Negro League team from the nation’s capital. When MLB expanded to Kansas City in 1973 , the name Royals was chosen in part to honor the Negro League team that played there – the Monarchs.

Bud Fowler was the first Negro Leagues player in 1878. Moses Walker and his brother, Welday played for Toledo in 1884. Rube Foster debuted in 1903 with the Cuban X-Giants. Cool Papa Bell and Willie Wells starred for the St. Louis Stars in 1925. In 1932, the East-West League featured Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Josh Greenlee.

Overall, seven formal leagues made up the Negro Leagues, which began in 1920 – 27 years before Robinson became a Dodger. The Negro Leagues even has a Hall of Fame though most fans recognize Cooperstown as baseball’s lone shrine.

Speaking of pioneers, how about Buck O’Neill? The former first baseman and manager for the Monarchs was the first ex-Negro Leaguer to coach in MLB (Chicago Cubs, 1962). He also scouted for the team, signing Lou Brock to his first pro contract. O’Neill has a “legacy seat” in Kansas City’s Kaufmann Stadium.

In 2006, O’Neill was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush. Only one other professional baseball player shares that honor – Jackie Robinson.

American culture gushes over ceremony – while oftentimes forgetting historical significance. Honor is noble but only when those equally deserving are feted.

MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on April 13, 2011 at 10:16 am

AUGUSTA, Ga.–There lots to love about the Masters, the first major championship of the season. A world-famous, immaculately maintained and landscaped golf course, the best-buy ticket in all of professional sports ($200 for a four-day badge), storied champions, rich traditions and more memorable moments than you can shake a 9-iron at.

And yet, there is plenty to dislike, as well. At the risk of jeopardizing our annual press credentials, the following list represents the dark side of the exclusive club and its famous April event.

But first, a shameless plug. This is one of more than 130 golf lists between the covers of a new book, authored by myself and former Chicago Tribune golf writer Ed Sherman, released just this week. It’s called “Golf List Mania” published by Running Press and now available on Amazon and your favorite bookstore, as well. It’s a $15 steal of a deal, much like the $3 beers and $2 egg salad sandwich you can purchase at concession stands all around the pretty premises here.

And now for Augusta National: The Bad and The Ugly:

10. Hold The Cheese: The club’s signature green, cellophane-wrapped pimento cheese sandwich sold for a proper pittance at concession stands ought to come with a free sample of Pepto-Bismol. Plaster that yellowish goop between a few bricks and you could build a pretty cheesy new clubhouse wing.

9. Bibs Are For Babies: Not for the poor caddies forced to don those white one-piece, long-pant coveralls that make an already tough march around the hilly property a sweat-soaked nightmare for the lowly loopers. It’s one de-humanizing tradition the toon-a-ment could easily get along without.

8. Oh The Hypocrisy: Augusta National counts among its members a number of former past presidents of the United States Golf Association, the governing body of the sport charged, among other noble goals, with making the game accessible to one and all. Wouldn’t it be far more appropriate for all of them not to pay dues to a club that has never allowed female members?

7. Outside The Ropes: The Masters is the only event on the PGA Tour schedule that does not allow credentialed media to cover the sport from inside the gallery ropes — a major handicap for enterprising golf writers trying to give readers more than what they just watched on television. Tough to judge how long that putt was when you’re at the back end of a 10-deep crowd around the green.

6. Hypocrisy Continued: Augusta National is listed as a main sponsor of The First Tee, a nationwide initiative designed to attract youngsters, especially inner city kids, to the game. Last time we checked, the boys and girls enrolled in the city of Augusta’s First Tee program have never been invited to play the Augusta National course or even use its world-class practice facility, though they do get a few free tickets to the Masters. How generous.

5. Fan Patronizing: A golf fan is a golf fan everywhere, that is, except Augusta National, where they are pretentiously referred to as patrons. And poor Jack Whitaker, the long-time CBS Sports broadcaster and essayist who, in 1966, described a gaggle of spectators as a “mob” on the air. The next year, and for many more after that, he was asked to stay home.

4. A Little Reverence: Surely that must be in the User’s Guide for all CBS and ESPN broadcasters assigned to The Masters telecasts. Hushed tones are mandatory, and hold the one-liners, thank you very much Gary McCord. On the air, he once described Augusta National’s warp-speed greens being as slick as bikini wax. The next year, he was Whitaker-ed off the broadcast team forever.

3. User Unfriendly: As much as The Lords of The Masters say they care about their precious patrons, they don’t do much about the outrageous ticket scalping going on outside their gates or on the internet. During the practice rounds, while attendance figures are never divulged, crowds of 60,000 or more swarm around the course, making for a mob scene behind the ropes, a clogged elbow-to-elbow merchandise area and long lines at the beer counters leading to even longer lines (and uncomfortable waits) to use the restrooms. Oh yes, during regulation play, there are no walking standard-bearers conveniently showing spectators the scores of every player in the group, a standard feature of every other event on the schedule.

2. For Shame: It took until 1975 for the first African American player, Lee Elder, to “qualify” for The Masters, even if Charles Sifford should have been invited years earlier when he won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open. Not until the PGA Tour mandated that all clubs hosting an official event not discriminate on the basis of race, religion or gender did Augusta National admit its first African American member in 1990. The club won’t disclose anything about the make-up of its membership, but you could probably count the number of African-American and Jewish members on two hands. Maybe one.

1. Where The Girls Aren’t: The club has no female members, though women at least are allowed to play the golf course as guests. You want more hypocrisy? How about the PGA Tour recognizing all Masters statistics and prize money in its official stats, including the money list and world rankings, despite its much-ballyhooed anti-discrimination policies. The Tour reasons that since Augusta National runs this major event, not the Princes of Ponte Vedra, and all of their players would kill to participate, they have no power to force the issue. Oh please.

LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT Ross MacCallum

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on April 1, 2011 at 2:56 pm

The Redskins are holding their annual Draft Day Party on April 30th at FedEx Field. And, you’re thinking, that’s not really news. The Skins have done that every year since they drafted LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels in the first round in 2000.

What’s interesting about this year’s party is the list of participants and the timing of the event. It’s always about the timing.

Here, in the midst of an NFL-imposed lockout of current players, 14 former Redskins are going to be on hand on draft day to interact with the fans, sign autographs, and so on. Ironically, six of those guys (Gary Clark, Ravin Caldwell, Raleigh McKenzie, Dexter Manley, Doc Walker, and George Starke) had careers that included one, or both, of the “strike years” 1982 and 1987. So, the same guys who once (in Dexter’s case twice) walked off the job in a battle with NFL ownership over a new collective bargaining agreement think it’s okay to associate with the current ownership at the same time the owners are threatening to erase all, or part, of the 2011 season in an effort to wrangle contract concessions from the current crop of players.

How soon they forget.

In fairness, retired players are no longer represented by the NFL Players Association, but they still have a horse in this race. Some former players are impacted by the lockout as it relates to worker’s compensation benefits due to those who were injured while still active. And, Yahoo! Sports is reporting that four former players, including Carl Eller and Priest Holmes, have filed a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL in an attempt to force an end to the lockout, in part, to prevent a cutoff of worker’s compensation.

Now, the whole issue might blow over by the end of April, but then again, it’s more likely to be getting testier by then. The NFLPA had been seriously talking about encouraging the incoming rookies to boycott the exact same draft that these six former Skins will be celebrating. For now though, a draft boycott appears to be off the agenda.

Still, I just find it odd that the former players don’t seem to have the backs of the current guys. I vividly remember the ’87 strike season. The picketing by the players and local union workers at old Redskins Park in Herndon, Va.  The day the “replacement” players arrived.  Redskins defensive lineman, Darryl Grant, banging on the window of the replacements’ bus so hard he cracked the glass. The nasty names given the replacement teams: ScabSkins, Phoney-Niners, Spare Bears. One game was cancelled completely. Three others were played by the replacements. By the third strike game, some of the regular players had re-joined their teams. BUT, NONE OF THE REDSKINS CROSSED THE PICKET LINE.  NOT ONE!  Not Clark. Not Caldwell. Not Dexter. Not McKenzie. Nobody crossed.

So, why are these guys “crossing” now? 23 seasons have come and gone since the last major NFL work stoppage. Maybe time heals.  The NFLPA and its members haven’t always shown concern for the issues that impact the retired players like healthcare and pensions. (See Drew Brees’ 2009 comments on ex-players’ bad financial decisions.) Maybe that’s the reason. Maybe it’s just business.  And, current NFLPA matters are simply not the retirees’ business. Who knows?

I’m not calling the former Skins “bad” guys for doing this. They’re getting paid and who can fault them for making a buck. I’m not trying to drive a wedge between the ex-Skins and Dan Snyder. I’m actually glad that Skins G.M. Bruce Allen has made a point of re-connecting with the guys from the past.  And, I certainly don’t think the former players should turnaround and boycott the Draft Day Party, and spoil a fun day for Redskins fans.

I’m just wondering why the players, old and new, seem so disconnected at a time when you would think that the “past” could offer counsel and guidance to the “present”, and maybe, just maybe, help prevent the loss of a game, of a season, that means so much to so many… fans, stadium workers, players, coaches, front office folks, and, yes, even the media.

Just wonderin’.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at: www.aberdeentradingco.com