(Pictured: The Ricketts family on Sunday, watching the Cubs lose in St. Louis, 3-2.)
I expect this will sound familiar. An over-valued property is sold to a family who can’t afford it. They drown in debt. The value of the property drops as assets have to be sold off and it goes underwater, meaning the family has a debt worth more than the property. Finally, the Wall Street geniuses who designed the deal come up with a brilliant plan – let the public pay it off.
The Sun-Times ran a weakly sourced story on the Joad Ricketts family debt woes yesterday. Weak, since they claim they talked to “a source with first-hand knowledge of the Cubs’ purchase deal and debt structure,” a source so close to the books that The Sun-Times can with pinpoint dollar accuracy report that “unless their improved farm system takes an even more dramatic upturn in the next few months, that $400-million debt — give or take $100 million – could turn into a real problem with the bigger authorities. The fans.”
Not sure what’s less accurate here, needing a $100 million margin of error to report on the Ricketts’ debt or assuming that current fan lack of attendance will determine anything at Wrigley. Attendance dropped off last year and the Ricketts still put forth the platformed ticket pricing, public financing plans, and the expected payroll beat down and exodus of talent. Given their criminal track record, scamming business practices, and miserable on-field product – why are these people not given a time-frame to fix this or move on? Given that the Ricketts family can no longer pay off this team like actual fat cats, and if the public has to pay it off for them through price gouging and public financing – why shouldn’t the public own the team? I’ll be the first to say, I don’t know the community economics of such a deal a lá Green Bay and the Packers. But by 2012, we’ll be looking at a publicly funded debt refinancing for busted Wall Streeters from which the public will never profit. Sound familiar?
[Been a long time since Kobe sold Happy Meals, or anything happy, for that matter. ]
LA sports is in a misery stretch that seems unshakable. Living in LA and not being a Lakers fan isn’t always the best combination. Not only don’t you care when they win, but you can’t avoid being immersed in the citywide sinkhole of their losing. Their fans walk around town in their purple jerseys like Barney fans on prozac. They capped their 2011 with fouls so juvenile that Magic Johnson had to editorialize on ESPN that the Laker Organization itself was “embarrassed” by Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Embarrassing the Laker Organization is no easy feat, considering Odom’s Kardashian reality show, Shaq’s LA movie and hip-hop career, and Kobe’s whole career – but they managed it. Completing a circle of futility, they sent Phil Jackson off to his retirement the way he got here – trying to put a lid on Laker ego, pettiness, and self-centered distractions a la Kobe and Shaq in 1999.
Kobe just bums me out endlessly. There’s his calling a ref a “faggot” this year, and then his Turkish Airlines endorsement (talk about desperate). To the rest of the country, this might seem like a rape-tainted-jock’s vain attempt to get any public approval he can, and it is. Here in LA, we have one of the biggest Armenian communities in the world. For a local “hero” like Kobe to take that endorsement only stirs up one emotion here, a reminder of the 1915 Turkish attempt at genocide on the Armenians – one the Turkish government refuses to admit even happened. Imagine if Germany denied their holocaust, and not just hate cranks.
That’s not Kobe’s fault, nor Turkish airlines – but if you’ve ever seen Armenian pride days or 12-year-old girls walking around the Americana mall dressed like Ke$ha but in 1915 Never Forget t-shirts – you know it’s an emotional issue that’s resonant on the street. Kobe’s got a right, of course. But how many player names bring up the associations of rape, homophobia, and genocide? I’m not sure how Jerry Buss likes that combination, but nobody seems to love this current Laker crew so much as accept them as long as they win big. And they didn’t, so fuck off Lakers.
But let’s not blame the Lakers completely for LA’s endless bummer. LA sports has been a bummer for a long time. There’s the city’s attempts to land an NFL team that only investors want. There’s the endless comedy of the Washington Generals Clippers, and of course, the Dodgers.
I finally took a trip out to Chavez Ravine a week ago last Tuesday to see the Cubs beat the Dodgers, 5-2. Cubs won, and it was still one of the more depressing experiences I have ever had in a MLB park. Ryan Dempster went into the game with something like a 9.68 ERA and threw a no-hitter into the 5th inning. I knew this wouldn’t last, because the only way you throw a hitless 9 innings with a 9-plus ERA is when you’re throwing against the White Sox.
But, I digress to bait the South Side, a worthy cause I’ll have to pursue another day. So, Whoville: The first thing you notice in visiting Dodger Stadium 2011 is the army of cops. At first I thought it was because bin Laden was killed on the previous Sunday, but it’s in response to the truly pathetic beat down of a Giants fan that left him in a coma. Apparently, Dodger fans are a bigger threat than al-Qaeda. New Yorkers used to walking out of Yankee Stadium or the Garden on a play-off night know the sight of this many cops, but here in LA, it’s a a sign of decline. Depressing that they’re needed, depressing I’m relieved to see them. Last year I walked across the parking lot at the stadium with a black friend, and you could hear racist bullshit coming from some Latino kids hanging out, staying drunk after the game. We were a ways off, but I remember the relief of locking doors in the car and leaving fast. Chavez used to be one of my favorite spots in LA because when you’re there, it doesn’t feel like the city anymore. The traffic, noise, and feel of downtown fade into a peaceful park. Now it’s a bad neighborhood you need an army to patrol.
But, the endless bummer goes back further. There’s the McCourt divorce, which is a joke, but the fact that MLB had to take over the team this year makes you wonder about the feel inside the park. First, the video screens that encircle the loge deck are entirely ads. They used to show you league scores and other mlb info along with the ads. The McDodgers are apparently so broke that when an inning starts, a new ad comes on and stays there all three outs. I don’t care about advertising at a park, but at Chavez ads actually crowd out the game. The Fox box on local KCAL-9 gives you more instant perspective on a game than actually sitting there watching it. Waiting for the one screen with scores or the Jumbotron to cycle thru ads and whatever else while the bank ads sit above you forever is insulting.
The divorce is now, but McCourt Era has been particularly crushing. Manny Ramirez showed up with his steroid kit and blew out the “Joe Torre Era” – another Hall of Fame manager who retired after a taste of LA sports. When the the McCourts arrived, they brought in Torre and then Manny, and you wanted to get out to the park to see this team. Not for long. Manny’s self-destruction brought down years of rebuilding, and you couldn’t avoid his mug around the city on all those Mannywood billboards, a constant bitter joke.
Besides the army of cops and ads, Dodger Stadium now does a 7th inning stretch comprised of “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I hate a 7th inning “God Bless America.” We already stand up for the national anthem pre-game. Now there’s two flag-waving songs at the Stadium, plus the Veteran of the Game campaign, where a vet throws out a pitch. I like the vet thing. Vets actually do something for the country. But everyone stands up for “God Bless America” and puts their hats and hands over their heart when it’s not even the anthem. But what are you going to do, not stand up? Boo? My own protest is to go get a beer until it’s done. It’s overkill, it’s fake, and it’s not like the Dodgers stop selling Citibank ad-space for one second to say thanks to the troops. So, to paraphrase Dean Wormer, cops, commercials, and peer pressure patriotism are no way to go through life, son.
I like LA, I live here, but the people who run our sports manage to suck the life out of this city.
[A classic from Santo, as usual, voicing the honest to God truth of Wrigley.]
Cubs fans have never gotten over the loss of Harry Caray or, to a lesser degree, Steve Stone’s abrupt exit from the Cubs booth. Yet, the real mainstay in the Cubs organization who pre- and postdates them was Ron Santo. I first saw Santo play in 1970 at Wrigley when I was 3 or 4. I won’t tell you I remember any play he made that day, because all I can remember is how excited I was to be in Wrigley and see Billy Williams himself in the batting circle, right where we were sitting. While Ernie Banks and other players always came back to visit, Santo seems to me to always have been around. He signed with the Cubs in 1959, debuted in 1960, played at Wrigley until 1973, then for the White Sox in ’74.
Santo spent five decades (pretty much) in and around baseball and the team he loved most. Not bad. Still, there was a lot of frustration in his life: the ’69 pennant loss, disease, and then the Hall of Fame, which denied him admittance again and again. The thing that stands out to me about Santo’s broadcast career was his ability to convey perfectly the frustration of Cubs fans. Jack Brickhouse’s “Hey Hey!” for home runs or Harry Caray’s boozy boosterism “ that’s what you usually remember about broadcasters. It’s always highlight moments like Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard heard round the world” (“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”) that we replay. For me, Santo “ as in the clip above “ voiced better than anyone the undeniable truth of the Cubs history he witnessed, called, and participated in “ frustration. I know that’s not how he would want to be remembered. He was a hugely optimistic Cubs fan as well as a presence in Wrigley. He felt every play on the field personally like he was still down there on third himself. Harry Caray moved from the Cardinals booth to the White Sox to the Cubs without blinking. Could Santo have done the same? I doubt it. The above clip is what Santo did best in the booth, his pitch perfect echo of Cub fans everywhere.
[Apparently, God personally verified a recent Honus Wagner T206 card sold for $262K.]
What do I know about baseball cards? Nothing. But I read about two nuns who say some guy left them a circa 1910 Honus Wagner T206 baseball card, which the sisters then turned around for $262K this week. As Big League Stew’s David Brown notes, “Other than the rare heartless scoundrel out there, everyone loves stories about regular folks who stumble upon rare baseball cards and stand to make huge profits from their sale.” The buyer, one Doug Walton of Knoxville, Tennessee, is one of those so moved by sheer dumb luck and old ladies. He so loved the whole idea of buying it from the nuns he told the AP: “To be honest with you, we probably paid a little bit more than we should have,” he said Friday. “But with the back story, and the fact that it’s going to a really good charity, to us it just seemed worth it.”
Which is nice, except when you think back to a few years ago when two African-American card dealers, John Cobb and Ray Edwards, (pictured l-r), tried to sell their Honus Wagner card. They had it independently verified after some competitors dismissed it as a fake. The independent verification showed that the paper of the card was made around 1910. So, they were deemed con men, thieves, and liars to such a degree that they had to back off from selling it for the $850K they say it’s worth.
Heartless scoundrel that I am, who knows nothing about verifying century old baseball cards, I do think it’s pretty obvious that being a kindly old white lady versus two black guys who look like Do The Right Thing’s Buggin Out and Family Matters‘ Reginald VelJohnson can help move your moldy baseball cards. If I were advising Cobb and Edwards, I’d have them cut a deal with Betty White as their beard and split $2 million.
[Above, Paul Sullivan’s limp dick move: blocking me from his Twitter feed.]
You know, I was having a great Sunday morning yesterday, esp after reading about a new medical study that “confounds science” and proves you can be both obese and healthy. And, as the last day of regular season 2010 Cubs baseball, it was probably the most optimistic baseball moment I’d had since Opening Day. I quit thinking about Wrigley in May or June. When you start saying “next year” in May, by October, you get reflective, not reactionary.
Still, I could always count on The Trib’s Paul Sullivan to write something to make me shake my head. That’s when I realized I hadn’t read a Sully tweet for some time. What blew out my Sunday was looking @PWSullivan up on Twitter to find he had blocked me. Judging by the date on my last tweet to the great man (see below) it’s been about two months. No wonder my acid reflux has been so good lately …
[The offending RT, the straw that broke the hump’s back.]
Usually when sports reporters get raked over the coals it’s because the public recognizes they don’t know their sport. Or, given the Bradley bonfire on which Sully kept throwing gasoline, there’s the temptation to label him a racist.
Sully knows baseball enough to keep his job and I have no idea what’s in his heart re race. None. What I know is that he injects racism into everyone’s day, making all our lives just a little uglier for having an interest in baseball. In today’s media world, hick Quran burners get weeks of network “news” coverage to inflate ratings. A Don Imus gets a bigot pass from MSNBC until they have to cut him loose, but MSNBC still plays the race card to boost ratings by keeping creeps like Pat Buchanan and Al Sharpton around as “analysts.” Martin Peretz, Andrew Brietbart, Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, and anti-ground zero “mosque” activists like Sarah Palin … Sullivan brings this same class act to the North Side as, of all things, a Cubs beat reporter. Is he a racist? Who cares? What we know is that he has no problem at all using racism as entertainment. That’s the product he brings to baseball in Chicago, the Friendly Confines, and you.
Not me, tho, he canceled my subscription. In the last tweet of his I commented on, he laughs off the idea that Chicago media has any impact on the city or the baseball he covers. To do so, he distorts a Jim Edmonds comment on Chicago media. Certainly, I can’t imagine Sully arguing to his Trib bosses that he has no impact at all when asking for a raise. Then again, I’m not surprised he disowns any personal sense of responsibility for the damage he does. The sporting press of Chicago agreed that Milton Bradley could not handle the racism of Wrigley’s bleachers. Sullivan reported Bradley agrees with them here, but with NO context at all that his own colleagues at the Trib said it first. The result, Jim Hendry went off in defense of Cub fans, saying Bradley made it up“ as Sully reports here, again with no context for his own paper’s actions. The Catch-22 result: haters get a pass with a Trib stamp on it. But ask the actual ballplayers with no-trade clauses to Wrigley, and it’s fact.
It’s not a Cardinal season without a concussion, and thanks to Jason LaRue’s announced stay on the DL Friday, Tony LaRussa is that much close to a complete 2010. That’s usually a good sign LaRussa’s on his game, if not much comfort to his players long term careers. I don’t wish injuries on anyone, but LaRussa’s mix of calculator coaching and highly personal leadership more often than not put his teams in winning seasons and some brain rattling DL stays. For those of us on the CSTB Cardinal concussion watch, it’s been pretty quiet since 2008. Last year didn’t even have one and this year LaRue looks to be it. They’re a great a sign of just how wound-up LaRussa can get his players to the point where they’ll run headlong into a wall, Johnny Cueto’s spikes, or some other career-ending business for him.
While LaRue’s .196 on the season will be missed by the rest of the NL Central, the Cardinals will no doubt struggle on, as usual, in the mix for the play-offs. And I admit, after last night’s 6-3 sleepwalk loss to STL, and watching the Cubs lose Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco this week, I wish they had some other that intensity. The Cubs fell behind and caught up several times at PacBell, but for everything the team actually has going for it talentwise, they look like they could care less. Watching Soriano knock powerful, loping line drives into the mitts of the Giants outfielders, you can see how little focus he has and how much talent and power there is when he does play all nine innings. Marlon Byrd and Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin all showed up, but it’s hard to win fielding only a third or half your team.
[Did Armstrong, pictured, dope in the Tour de France? This 2003 victory photo raises serious questions.]
About a year ago I was on quite a tear around here about The New York Times‘ coverage of steroids in baseball. Most notably, in my opinion, that the Times Michael S. Schmidt got fed his stories about Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez from the government. Such a tear, in fact, that NYT sports editor Tom Jolly felt the need to comment at CSTB. Me, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that since the gov’t was court-ordered to hand back its confiscated lab information to the MLB players union in 2009, that Schmidt nor anyone else has broken a major baseball story in this regard since. It could have been the government, it could have been lab techs for them “ but no major player has been named since the gov’t gave back the records.
And I’ll ask this question again: Why are all the post-Bonds leaks “ A-Rod, Sosa, Ortiz, Ramirez “ black or Latino? What is the agenda of those leaking the names?
Schmidt has never been able to successfully challenge the players union press conference of August 9, 2009 in which the basis for his stories “ the so-called 104 dirty players list who tested positive “ was discredited. Turns out, the “104” (or whatever the actual number may be) is made up of inconclusive results, players counted twice for positive tests, and positive tests for then legal substances. The three players Schmidt named were all on that “list.” Schmidt has never clarified which categories Sosa, Ortiz, or Ramirez came from “ nor even ruled them out of the inconclusive category before naming them “ because as he has also stated in the NYT, that he himself never saw the records. Since his gov’t sources dried up, so has Schmidt’s ability to break any notable news in this area.
Until Lance Armstrong? Now that the government is back in a high profile steroid investigation, so is Schmidt. This time, Barry Bonds’ failed antagonist, FDA agent Jeff Novitzky, is after Armstrong. Novitzky’s tactics will sound familiar: he’s pressuring busted dopers and low income associates, w/out Armstrong’s celebrity or money, to admit doping and name Armstrong. It’s exactly how Novitzky tried to get Barry Bonds.
Did Armstrong do it? Who knows? Obviously, Armstrong will mount a big money defense. If he can hold off the FDA long enough, I’m guessing we’ll then see the same orchestrated public relations war against him (via people like Schmidt) that the government waged against Bonds. Then, as the Bonds case crumbled, the 2009 leaks against A-Rod and Sosa and the rest appeared that were (imo) meant to vindicate the gov’t in the court of public opinion if not an actual court. Read the following account of unnamed sources and losers and see if it all doesn’t sound familiar from Mssrs Schmidt and Novitzky:
In May, Armstrong™s former teammate Floyd Landis shook the cycling world by publicly accusing Armstrong and other team members of using performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions to gain an unfair advantage. Landis said that Armstrong ” the biggest name in the sport ” had encouraged doping and that the team had sold its bikes to help finance an expensive doping program.
Armstrong has denied any wrongdoing and has said that Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour title for doping and received a two-year ban from the sport, has no credibility.
But now, prosecutors and investigators have more than Landis™s account to go on, according to the two people with knowledge of the investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to jeopardize their access to sensitive information.
A former teammate of Armstrong said in a telephone interview Wednesday that he had spoken with investigators. He said he detailed some of his own drug use, as well as the widespread cheating that he said went on as part of the Postal Service team ” all of which he said was done with Armstrong™s knowledge and encouragement.