Sunday, March 30, 2014

Time to Celebrate

In case you were unaware, this weekend marks the 30th anniversary of what is perhaps the greatest defensive performance in the history of the Final Four.  Of course, I am referring to Georgetown's annihilation of the vaunted twin towers of Kentucky in the 1984 Semifinals.  In that game, the Hoyas trailed at the half, 29-22.  Kentucky did not score again until 10:04 remained.  Georgetown also held Mel Turpin and Sam Bowie (the person selected just ahead of some kid named Jordan in that year's NBA draft) to zero points in the second half.  Kentucky's coach, Joe B. Hall, attributed his team's woeful performance to aliens obstructing the rim.  Actually, it was more a matter of being out-coached and out-played.  The final score - 53-40 - was far closer than the game itself.

Oh yes.  It's also Opening Day.  Purists may pooh-pooh that notion by arguing that this can only occur in Cincinnati on Monday afternoon.  Yet, I heard the Season officially started a week ago in Australia (we'll save Australia/don't wanna hurt no kangaroos), of all places.  While Baseball can bring out the most rigid aspects of my biases (shall we discuss over 40 years of evidence that the DH rule is a failure?); arguing against a Sunday evening Opener is not one of them.

I have enjoyed the snapshots, predictions and stories that have blanketed the airwaves over the past months.  Based upon all this chatter, I have reached the following conclusions:

  • Robinson Cano will likely lead the Bigs in on-base percentage, since there is no one in that lineup who will strike sufficient dread in opposing pitchers NOT to pitch around him.
  • Miguel Cabrera will be paid approximately $45,000 each time he comes to the plate.  Yes, in less than 3 minutes, he will be paid more money than two-thirds of all the teachers in the US earn in an entire year.
  • It will be Derek Jeter's final season.  While he has played his entire career with my least-favorite team, he has been a joy to watch.  I think he is, along with Cal Ripken, among the savviest players ever to play the game.  That backhand-flip play - in the postseason, no less - ranks as one of the greatest plays in any sport.  I will miss seeing him in the lineup, but not his contributions to his team's success. 
  • The Marlins will not win the pennant.  Their owners - among the least competent in the history of baseball (and that's a pretty low threshold) - will continue to rake in the cash in their publicly-funded billion-dollar playhouse.  They are actually selling Groupons for their opening day, as they do not anticipate approaching a sellout.  Wow.   
  • Games will last over 2:45, or, nearly 30 minutes longer than they did 30 years ago.  Why is that?  I have heard it has something to do with TV timeouts, the superstitious adjustment of batters' armor between every pitch and the emergence of specialty pitchers in this era.
  • Umpires will not call a strike above the waist.  I've ranted about this before, so need not repeat it.
  • Barry Bonds will not forfeit all the batting records he accomplished, nor will he admit any wrongdoing.  He has been asked to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day in Pittsburgh, along with Dick Groat.  It would be more appropriate if Mr. Groat threw out Mr. Bonds.    
Perhaps the biggest piece of news over the off-season was the announced intent of the Atlanta Braves to move to a stadium outside the city, in nearby Cobb County (disclosure: where I live and work).  Their rationale is primarily that they wish to move to a location closer to their base of fans.  I have no argument against that.  I also have no issue with their unannounced desire to locate their team in an area far less threatening than their current home.  I do have other issues with the move.

First, I have no idea how fans will get to the game, at least on weeknights.  The stadium site is less than a mile from one of the busiest highway interchanges in this already badly congested metropolitan area.  There is no room to build another road, let alone an off ramp.  As someone who traversed this trafficked area twice a day over the past three years, I can only breathe a sigh of relief that I moved away from it.

The team and the county have pledged to create all these jobs, too, something typical when billionaires ask a government to pay for their toys.  Yes, there will be construction jobs.  But, the jobs required to staff the park (81 days a year, somewhat less than the 250 or so considered to be full-time employment) will consist of parking attendants (assuming that autos can actually get there), concessionaires, ticket takers, ushers, clubhouse folks and groundskeepers.  Most of those are minimum wage jobs, or, likely insufficient to allow its holders to purchase a ticket to one of the games to be played there.

The final point is the cost, which is currently estimated at $672 million.  Cobb County has announced that it will cover around $400 million of this expense, while the Braves have grandly promised to pick up any cost overruns, which are typical in these projects.  Honestly, I don't know where the county is going to get the funds.  It's already on the hook for an overpriced concert venue that will never pay for itself.  I suppose they will hike the hotel tax, already sitting at 14%.  This, in a county whose voters overwhelmingly rejected a 1% hike in sales tax (with a mandated expiration date) that would ease some of the congestion on its roads.

The owner of the Braves is Liberty Media, a publicly-traded company that owns lots of other enterprises, including Sirius radio and chunks of different cable systems.   In their annual report,  they estimate 2014 revenues to be in the neighborhood of $4 billion, with profit in the range of $1.5 billion.  Their CEO, Gregory Maffei, received compensation in excess of $57 million in 2012 (the last year for which I could find the figure).  In other words, they have lots of cash in very deep pockets.

I am old enough to recall a rule of thumb followed by all mortgage lenders in the days before they concocted the Ponzi scheme of the most recent decade that bankrupted our economy (while curiously enriching the very people who led us down that path).  The magic number was 28%.  Translated: the amount of your monthly payment must be no more than 28% of your monthly income.  It was simple; if you could not make that target, you didn't get the loan.  By my math, using this same formula, Liberty Media could build two stadiums out of their profits from a single year.

Finally, the big question: if Liberty Media wants a stadium so darn bad, why don't they build it themselves?  Goodness knows, they have the resources to do so.  But, I don't think that's going to happen.  I have a suspicion that somewhere, in the next few years, there will be some pronouncement of a bond issue with some fancy name, like Cobb Entertainment District Revitalization, worth several hundred millions, placed on the credit card of its citizens.  I would hazard a guess that the profits of Liberty Media will soar into even more billions.

Recently, the Georgia Legislature was considering a bill that would require all recipients of food stamps to be subject to screening for illegal drug use.  The intent is that anyone receiving government assistance should not be using that assistance to consume something illicit.  My final question: since the folks at Liberty Media will benefit from so much government largesse, will they be required to undergo drug screening as well?

Still, I love the game.  There is no feeling quite like strolling through the labyrinth of ramps (or, in newer stadia, escalators) only to emerge, seeing for the first time that day, that expanse of green known as a ball field.  The sound of the ball hitting glove, the thwack of the bat striking the ball, the swell of the crowd as the ball streaks into a gap in the outfield... ah, there is nothing like it in any other sport.  It also means summer is not far behind.  It's almost all good.

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