29 June 2022

Yellow Blazer

Jim McKay was older, balding, neither charasmatic nor a particularly commanding orator. He knew horses, somewhat,  and did not exactly convey thick-necked masculine duende in the anchor chair. Let's face it - a young Jim McKay today might not even land an entry level network sportscasting job. So, how could someone like that be, maybe, the greatest sports commentator in the history of television? First, he didnt have much competition, especially early on. That's not a cut, it's just that when Wide World of Sports debuted in 1961, it began to fill and expand an unsatiated, pent up demand for televised sports. Much of what's aired today doesnt fulfill that basic need so much as fight for market share with redundant subject matter. How many times, for example, were you "informed" yesterday of Big Brown's loss or the death of Mr McKay? ESPN's rotating tickers and much of today's "coverage" has become superfluous. 

 Mr McKay wasnt superfluous. He brought to us, people and events from places that, back then, no one else was. Places a boy could barely imagine. My first memory of anything Mexican, before I ate a taco or saw a Mexican in person , or read about Mexico in school, was WWoS' black and white footage of cliff diving from Acapulco. The repetitive swan dives might bore today's attention spans, but it was riveting and exotic in its day. If McKay hosted wrist wrestling from Petaluma, CA, by Monday morning my elementary age classmates and I had fashioned tiny elbow boxes from notebook paper and tape, and were wrist to wrist at recess. Barrel jumping from Wisconsin inspired playground 'barrels' of tree limbs or anything we could find. He was positioned as an integral tour guide of our sheltered lives. The second reason for his historical standing was the man. He seemed like an inquisitive but slightly reserved uncle from an earlier age, the kind who might take you out on the lake, point out interesting things and probably even let you bait your own hook. His cheerful good company often inspired a familial fondness amongst guys my age. He seemed smart and insightful, but like any good reporter, was more student than teacher, elevating his subjects, both the events and principals, by melting into the background, respectful and intrigued, letting their expertise and humanity preside. *****************

 My mother purchased identical T-shirts for my eldest brother and me in the summer of '72, for the upcoming Munich Games. They were gold with Munchen in black letters over a red horizontal band across the chest, bisected by a stylized bavarian lion. I was eleven and this was the first Olympics I fully engaged. We sat on the sofa, in our marigold garb, and rooted on Americans in the opening ceremonies through the early events. When the kidnapping occured, my initial concern was whether the Games would be suspended. An adult coach had been killed, but kidnappings and hijackings of the era were often bloodless affairs, leverage for the release of political prisoners. The extended seige was eerily gray and disquieting, but to an eleven year old the Olympics were still a symbol of American strength, sports' equivalent of Bonanza or Gunsmoke. Besides, the trapped athletes were worth much more alive, as collateral, so something would be worked out, with the whole world watching. Everybody, I think, has a moment in their childhood when a horror, even a faraway horror, stops time and that childhood, for most intents and purposes, ends. For many, it was when JFK was shot. For younger folks, the first Challenger disaster or, certainly, 9/11. For me, it was when Jim McKay appeared a bit ragged, turned to the camera and said:

When I was a kid my father used to say our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone."

Much has been made over the past twenty four hours about the expression "They're all gone" and that's what resonated at the time. Just prior, ABC had received an erroneous report that the hostages were saved, so McKay seemed as shocked as I was - that these young athletes, kids really, could be murdered - at the Olympics.

A couple points about McKay's delivery that day. First, is the briefly personal intro about his dad. Today's newscasters are taught to separate world events from any hint of informality, but McKay eloquently braced viewers for the awful reality of his next sentence. Second, he doesnt cite any particular authority, like German police, as a source - it is simply "they". That wouldnt fly today, but this initial, heartbreaking update isnt about the German, or any other, authority and McKay seemed to instinctively sense that. Third, and most chilling, is his emphasis on the word "nine", as if even he didnt realize how many were truly at risk.

I doubt Jim McKay could ever land an anchor job today. He had none of the required glamourous attributes, but inside had all the right stuff - making the world smaller with honest wonder and a cultivated decency. A decency content with relating to the world that the young Israelis were victims, rather than commercially viable heroes. A decency that never strayed from the sense of human loss, by elevating graphic minutae or by falling into the depths of schadenfreude. 

In Connecticut, I learned that young world class athletes, who I aspired to be, could die in an instant, that even after Hitler people were trying to kill Jews, and from the understated and dignified Jim McKay, that both of these revelations were painful to bear and announce to the world.  We folded the golden shirts ourselves, neatly into the bottom of a large bureau, never to be worn again.

15 December 2018

The Play's The Thing: A Voice, A Song and A Memory

 Our favorite player, when we were little, was Roy White. Disciplined and humble, he hit, ran and defended,  and was often the best or second best fixture on some weak Yankee clubs.  There were far fewer televised player interviews back then, even in New York, and those were frequented by comparatively amazin' Mets and White's more garrulous teammates. It may be hard for younger fans to believe, but even after regularly watching Yankee telecasts, and White making an All Star team or two, we had never actually heard his voice. 

So we kids were surprised and jazzed to learn in TV Guide that our quiet baseball hero would actually appear later that week on The Merv Griffin Show, a prime time gabfest.  We anticipated it for days. About 2/3 through the show, Merv finally introduced Roy to the audience, and to his other guests on the sofa. From memory: 

Griffin (smiling, through applause):  Roy White! Yankees. Welcome!

White: politely,smiles, shakes hands and silently takes a seat 

Griffin: So...Roy, um, what position do you play?

White: (long pause)  Outfield

His voice, it turned out, was quite deep and resonant. We were almost startled by it and barely noticed when another guest, Zsa Zsa or Ann Miller or someone, interjected. Merv swiveled around, redirecting the entire conversation.  White never spoke again.

Almost fifty years later, my now ancient brothers and I still use this ‘code’ for being talked over or ignored.  One of us will theatrically clear our throat and say, in an artificially deep voice, “Out-field”.  Ah, the silly things we remember and the consequential things that pass by.  


When I started watching the Diamondbacks in 1998, it had been a while since I’d attended a major league game.  We had good seats, lowers off the plate, and some of the action made outsized impressions. One weekend that July, a polished crew flew in to Phoenix and hit multiple homers to left, homers and triples to right, doubles. Except it was just one guy, a sleek athlete not unlike Roy White. Only moreso. He circled the bases like a greyhound and was certified dope at short. He was  Barry Larkin.

Foremost in mind when securing those inaugural season tickets was the novelty and excitement of an indigenous ballteam.  Our team was the thing but that weekend, Larkin drove home something besides runs.  I had also invested in individual virtuosity and athletic grace.  I thought of Larkin in terms I’d never really thought of a player, or a man, before. He wasn’t just a great player. He was beautiful.  Like a ballet or a song. 


Paul Goldschmidt is a different kind of beauty.  Not sleek like a decathlete.  Round features remind one more of a big boned teen.  When he’s the most polished player on the field, which has been often, he seems almost physically uncomfortable that anyone would actually say so.  Fellow Arizonans have reminisced about Goldy’s memorable home runs and cathartic playoff victories.  My lasting impression is a little different, and apart from Larkin's aesthetic ideal. 

 It’s not a particular moment, but more a composite of a hundred routine games.  Maybe it's June. Or September, and like so many Sonoran summers, we’re already out of it.  Late in another mechanical night.  A sliced pop arcs down the right field line, well past the bases and bends toward mostly empty stands.  Our rightfielder du jour and nimble second baseman take perfunctory lines. And from just behind first base, a third, larger body turns its back to the plate and sprints. His are peculiar, choppy strides, tilling the ground with purpose, and they never quite stop.  He is the franchise player, but looks desperately over his shoulder, like an old wishbone wideout, intent on a rare, fleeting arc that could make or break his name.

Far from his station, Goldschmidt's  torso arches way back.   Like a locked in hound, he usually plucks it, with little reaction in either case. He doesnt crash into the stands.  Too showy; poor risk/reward. The play’s the thing - and the play is done. He jogs back, almost sheepishly, to his position. A camera lingers on him too long, like an old sentimental fan. He sets in silence, as a hundred thousand times. No voice, no song. The generative dance of a desert bloom, indelible, as Junes and Septembers dissolve around him.

01 November 2013

Dbacks Roust, Sign Jackknife Jackson

With a growler of gin and promised lodging close to Chase Field, the Arizona Diamondbacks coaxed legendary gamer, Jackknife Jackson, out of a Wyoming boxcar and into an expected rotation slot this spring.

Asked about his 'makeup', Jackson explained,

Them colored fellas from Havana.  I'll make em up real good.

Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers defended the move:

"Jack's the pro we wanted.  People say you should go after an ace, somebody still in the game. But we needed a strong character guy to come inside or double up in there. Or triple up, when better teams monkey around at my expense.  He'll make his mark on the Dodgers. Hopefully several."

The fabled righthander began his career with the Cleveland Spiders and honed a reputation for "errant boneballs" with the San Diego Padres.  He last pitched for Wilkes Barre in 2007, allowing 33 hits in 47 innings, while walking 32.  He also hit sixteen batters, including four children.

Most recently, Jackson barnstormed the mountain states carnival circuit and county fairs across the west.

25 October 2013

Bloomberg to Earl "Breakeven" Kendrick: Club Worth $600M

Much to owner Ken Kendrick's 'dismay', the constrained small market club he deftly stewards into fiscal balance each season, earns more than one hundred million dollars above what it annually spends on major league payroll.

According to Bloomberg.com, the Diamondbacks are now worth approximately $600M,  roughly 250% more than when Kendrick assumed control in 2004, and now earns $195 million per year. Player payroll approached $90 million in 2012.

Breaking out the $195M income, up to $79 million stems from attendance driven sales, incl gate receipts ($41M), sponsorships ($23M, some of which may not be directly attendance driven), concessions ($12M) and parking ($3M).

Remaining income is derived elsewhere, primarily via media rights ($75M) and revenue sharing ($27M).  In other words, up to $116 million in income is realized before the Diamondbacks lure a single fan to Chase Field; which is also about $25-$30 million more than was expended on player salaries.  Keep that in mind the next time Mr Hall or Mr Kendrick suggest their payroll's squeezed by attendance and market constraints.

In terms of market, their $75 million in media income placed 17th among thirty mlb teams and was nearly as close to ninth place Detroit ($85m) as to 20th place Cincinnati ($66m).

But they didnt rank middle of the pack in revenue sharing. Oh, no.  Only six genuinely small market outfits, some in crumbling stadiums, were funneled more cashola by the leagues, suggesting the Diamondbacks failed to realize non-media income commensurate with their middle of the pack market and venue.  This is consistent with franchise management whose attendance and stadium revenues lag its market capacities.

Based on Bloomberg figures for gate, concessions, parking,etc. an additional 375,000 fans over this past season's 2.1M draw,  might generate $12-$15 million in additional income.  But that would also reduce the club's $27M shared revenue windfall. By how much, is unclear, yet any significant attendance spike would pull the club closer to mlb's net revenue sharing midpoint, closer to where the Phoenix market's potential - and pre-Kendrick history - suggests. This burgeoning theoretical fan base of 2.475 million attendees, would still be less than what Colangelo drew here in his worst season (2004) as owner - losing 111 games in what was then a considerably smaller market.

In nine seasons since, occupying a relatively weaker division, Kendrick's clubs have exceeded 82 wins just twice - once being outscored by twenty runs in the regular season.  The club also claims to offer the most affordable experience in all of baseball, yet just within their five team division, Bloomberg's 2012 gate receipts divided by attendance imply an average ticket cost ($19.52) closer to the glittery Dodgers ($21.89) than to the Rockies ($16.43) or Padres ($15.45). This incongruous self promotion of undelivered value has steadily worn on fans.

It's not that Diamondback prices are high, relative to mlb or other pro sports. They're not.  They're too high to draw half a million more paying fans to sit in the upper deck to watch mediocre teams in a lower income market.  This regime knows that, but instead of acknowledging their cold choice to reap shared revenues for pricing out the Valley's lower income fans, they have blamed almost a decade's worth of 'curiously' lower local attendance on fabricated market, inherited venue and fan shortcomings. They even once suggested that local fans, the same ones who came out in droves prior to Kendrick's money making mediocrity machine, dont really appreciate how baseball works.

 Well, that last part is all too true.

30 September 2013

'Fan Friendliest' FO Flounders to 14th in NL Attendance

Despite finding themselves in first or second place all year and not registering a losing season since 2010, the once popular Arizona Diamondbacks dropped to next to last in National League attendance, the Valley franchise's weakest comparative draw in its sixteen year history.

Only the Florida Marlins, owned by Jeff Loria, drew fewer fans in the fifteen team senior circuit.

12 June 2013

Dbacks' Ace In The Hole

As if the 5.49 ERA wasn't enough, Dbacks' ace-in-the-hole Ian Kennedy has discovered
other ways to compromise his teammates' well-being.  

He hittin' folk in dehead!!!

 More to the point:

He hittin' folk in dehead, tah-wyse!!!

Now, Ian and Miggy claim Ian wasnt trying to hurt anyone, which may be true. To which the Dodgers respond, after much deliberation:

He hittin' folk in dehead!!!

That's really the problem, isnt it?  Intentional or not, at some point a professional pitcher has to take responsibility for fastballs that hit people in dehead.  Even if Zach Greinke is a bit of a doofus, for retaliating against what was probably an unintentional HBP, Greinke didnt hit anyone above the letters.

That's a different animal, as the Diamondbacks should know.  They hit the Cardinals' Matt Carpenter below the neck three times in a recent game. While St Louis was red as a bird, their roster didnt storm the field. 

But the Dodgers have every right to be upset.  This isnt acceptable in the modern game. Kennedy unleashed the most powerful drive his opponents have. Not to win a game, but self-preservation.  Livelihoods and all that. For both teams ultimately.  The notion that IPK is a decent guy is, at best, a secondary consideration at this point.

He hittin' folk in dehead!!!!
Ian may not be a headhunter, but he's a head finder. There are consequences for pitching that far up and in. Twice. Beyond the suspensions. There's a blue collar price to pay for grazing the Dodgers' hottest hitter in the nose, then bouncing another fastball off the starting pitcher's earflap. As a Diamondbacks fan, who's relished watching Pat Corbin and Paul Goldschmidt propel my team into first, I'm  concerned the price for our Ace-In-The-Hole's thumping hits isnt yet paid in full.

Paid In Full - Eric B & Rakim

31 March 2013


April Fools is as good a Day as any for the Diamondbacks to embark on their sixteenth
slate, because when it's all over someone will play the fool. Active payroll is higher than it's been in a decade, even adjusting for inflation, yet the roster somehow lacks a single bankable star.

Instead, the Diamondbacks sport a few very good players and a few more good ones. Neither group, however, has garnered a fraction of the attention drawn by their most controversial and, by now, least secret weapon - a laboriously advertised culture of gritty clutchness.

So far, three of the grittiest Diamondbacks - Willie Bloomquist, Adam Eaton and Cody Ross - are unavailable due to a variety of dashing spring ailments. We'll keep you posted on their characteristically gutsy rehabilitations.


I drafted those paragraphs a couple days ago, and this morning Nick Piecoro wrote basically the same thing, only much better. I had even titled my draft "On The Cusp of Something".

Today Kevin Towers guaranteed 90+ wins. Good for him. I admire his balls, and frankly, his track record of extracting more with less. But now he's constrained by a lot less less, spending almost $100M and significant surplus talent, with three established Arb/Pre Arb starting arms (IPK, Hudson, Miley) and several more in the fold (Corbin, Skaggs, etc).

What it all will result in, we're not quite sure. The Rockies and Padres still cant pitch, so it's hard to see the Diamondbacks bringing up the divisional rear.  The Dodgers and Giants have too much talent to do that either, but their reliable, underlying assets are really not all that different from our Sedona Reds.  The club that plays best in one run contests will probably win this division.  Call me a eunuch, but unlike baseball's sexiest GM, I have no idea who that will be.

That is baseball's greatness, above other sports.  For all its familiar ritual, marking the seasons and years of our lives, it's the game's day to day - and even seasonal - unpredictability that gives it life.  The scalded liner nonchalantly turned into a rally destroying double play.  An unknown prospect who baffles a Murderers Row.  A fortuitous call or a bad hop.  

Sincere observers just dont know any of that until it actually happens. Those seeking certitude or standing, predictably surrender to faith.  Others of us watch to discover, in what often seems an inevitable world.  To confirm that even the familiar can be beautiful and mysterious - and that we are ignorant and alive.

28 March 2013

Grit Leap Forward?

Grit. We're pretty sure it matters, but unclear how much or even what it means.

The first problem with grit is that it's not reliably defined - at all.  It's more a subjective take on a player's perceived approach to the game and how he looks, than it is an objective accounting of what he does. Faced with a slump, for example, is it grittier to express anger in the clubhouse, be stoic, or upbeat and positive? That pretty much runs the gamut of human response, yet 'grit', determination or competitive focus could reasonably be manifested by any of those.

Is it gritty to play through injury?  Chris Young and Justin Upton did that in 2012, yet apparently neither were seen as especially gritty by Kevin Towers. Perhaps Upton did (or didnt do) something else that displeased the GM.  Maybe he didnt join Bloomquist and the coaches in the weight room at 6AM? It's hard to say. What's old news, however, is that an unsettling share of so-called gritty overacheivers tend to be older white players. Is it because the class of African American players lack an objective work ethic or dedication to sacrificial team principles, or does it reflect the fact most player evaluators (fans, pundits, GMs) are also white, which may bias attitudinal expectations and evaluations?

Grit is a subjective input, not an objective result.  Even if connected, the results themselves are more independently apparent now anyway, rendering any hidden benefits of grit relatively moot. In other words, we can now measure fairly accurately how Eric Chavez performs Late & Close, or makes productive outs or whatever, regardless of whether he's perceived as gritty or not. We can evaluate actual results, rather than rely on subjective inputs.  This applies especially to established veterans. The work ethic or grit of a youngster with a less established record, however, could reasonably alter subjective projections. It logically flows that a good work ethic leads to a more promising upside, etc But most of the time, this annointing of grit applies to older players and it's harder to argue they have much hidden upside. Their makeup and professionalism have presumably been reflected in their career results to date - baked into the statistical cake.

Is there another hidden benefit to grit? Something we cant readily see in the new, more granular stats? There very well may be, like an ability to make teammates better.  Rigor requires we remain open to that possibility. But a more practical question, for Diamondbacks fans, is whether Kevin Towers can  identify and exploit grit as a market inefficiency. Has Towers identified a hidden competitive benefit to these so-called gritty players that his GM counterparts cannot?

Some of Towers' easily contradicted assertions this offseason - for example his lauding Martin Prado's rather mediocre batting record Late & Close - either suggest he has little special insight as to the value of resolute grit and clutchness. Or perhaps he does, and the erroneous platitudes are some brilliant subterfuge.

The view of Towers, here, essentially splits the difference. I think he understands a great deal about professional baseball that I dont. When you're around something a long time, you can often intuit what works and what doesnt, even if you cant always articulate why. It's a feel and I think Towers has a feel for chemistry, in game leverage and certain aspects of roster construction.

But when he or Gibson go on about grit, they can sound more enamored with idealized personal attributes than they are with real competitive results.  They almost sound like they prefer players who they can lift weights with at six in the morning, or hunt with in the offseason.  Perhaps younger, idealized versions of themselves, in their own image. Instead of a more talented group of diverse personalities, who need to be professionally managed and assimilated - and who might also be more objectively equipped to help them win.

25 March 2013

Thank You For Mowing My Rather Expansive Lawn For A Quarter Century....Now, Go Away

Led by an unidentified "small market owner", baseball's Lords of the Realm are trying to dismantle collectively bargained pension plans currently protecting non uniformed personnel.  Of course, all Diamondback personnel are uniformed, sartorial advocates for The Organization, but you get the idea. Scouts, groundskeepers, the widow working the Will Call window.

Were MLB publicly traded, its (conservatively estimated $8 billion) annual revenue would position it as a Fortune 300 firm, neighboring boutique mom and pops like Visa and Campbells Soup. 

Bear in mind, too, that MLB's most salient business distinction - its federal antitrust exemption -  enables this often collusive bevy of baseball owners to orchestrate an advantageous network of regional monopolies, and mark up their prices devoid of direct competition. Unlike Campbells and Visa, there's no Progresso or American Express cutting into baseball's consumer demand and bottom line. 

More generally, MLB competes for the sports or entertainment dollar, but that's tangential competition, similar to the way Campbells "vies" with Sara Lee for the food dollar or Amazon "battles" Visa as transactional clearing houses that really arent all that similar.

Not only is baseball's operational profit margin thus legally protected, but those profits and rising franchise values are concentrated among just thirty ownership groups. Compare that to the nation's true corporate behemoths, whose revenues dwarf mlb's, but whose profits are distributed among hundreds of thousands - and in some cases, millions - of shareholders. Even in an era of diminishing pensions, that a cottage industry this profitable - and concentrated - would dick around with the pensions of low level scouts and groundskeepers is another stained window into the sort of people running mlb.

Who is the pension-smashing small market owner most responsible?

I cant say it's Kendrick. For one thing, Phoenix isnt a small market (although it's often mistaken as such). Secondly, mlb has never lacked for slimeball owners. The Dolans in Cleveland. Pohlan in Minnesota. Loria. My (uneducated) guess is it's one of them, and Ken is laying low, with a big smile on his mug, as others do the dirty work.

11 March 2013

Slim Shady

Here's some photos from today's SRFest against the Cubs.

First, the leaner Cahill, warming up in the outfield grass.  Not sure if you can make him out, but he's the red and white blade, center.   


 Here's the right field berm about a half hour before game time.

...and at first pitch

My son and I sat out here for a couple innings. With hordes of squatters on blankets and a cultural disregard for personal space, it was a little like India. The shirtless drunks and mundane food - closer to Indiana.  

Here's Cahill preparing to bounce another swinging strike to Alfonso Soriano. Just get it over (with), Trevor.  

Finally, here's the 85% shade Derrick Hall brags about, an hour into the game.  This was snapped an hour and twenty minutes from first pitch, and one can see it's still not 80-85%.

Salt River is shaded better than any Cactus venue,  but clearly a third of the fixed seats are still in bright sun well into the contest.  And unlike Scottsdale Stadium, there's no shade trees on the berms here. The clubs should be proud of their design accomplishment, but there's no need to mischaracterize the reality that most patrons are still baking in sunlight most of the time.

06 March 2013

With Friends Like This...

On Saturday, 'fan friendly' Dbacks' brass yet again tackled curiously soft stadium attendance the only way they know how: by raising prices with a smile.  

For 56 of 81 home games, the least expensive ticket now allegedly ranges from $12-16, which conveniently excludes mandatory convenience charges to impulsive outliers purchasing seats 'online' or at the park on 'gameday'.  Not surprisingly, these Outfield Reserve seats, located in the corners of the top deck, are generally regarded as the least desirable at Chase Field. Prices, of course, ascend from there. 

Bleacher sections, for example, are 26% more expensive than they were just two seasons ago (2011).   Today's mean average bleacher price is $21.22, excluding fees.  As recently as 2004, under previous management, these individually purchased seats sold for $11.50... and $11 during the championship 2001 season.  But for next month's home opener against St Louis?  $33 a pop. 

For 25 lower demand games, the club offers $9 Outfield Reserve seats, which is still more expensive than the lowest priced points of entry offered by most divisional rivals. The megamarket Dodgers and enormously successful Giants, for example, both offer $8 uppers for assorted low demand games, and tickets to Colorado's popular centerfield bleachers, The Rockpile, are just $4 across the entire 81 game schedule.  Including Opening Day.