When Yankees-Red Sox meant something

It’s a little hard to remember now, but years ago it was a pretty common to see bench-clearing brawls between the Yankees and Red Sox. Catchers Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson absolutely hated each other. Bill Lee vs. Mickey Rivers. Graig Nettles vs. Everybody.  You could almost bet something unusual would go down whenever the two teams met.  One brawl at Fenway Park was a little different, though.

It happened forty years ago yesterday. With Fred Lynn on first base, Jim Rice tried to check his swing off the Yankees’ Mike Torrez, but accidentally hit a blooper that dropped in front of right-fielder Reggie Jackson. Jackson came in a little casually to get it, waving off second-baseman Willie Randolph who had gone back for it. Rice took advantage of Jackson’s lack of hustle to steam into second with a double. He hadn’t meant to swing at all, but, hey, those things happen, and it should have resulted in Rice on first. But, because of Jackson, this time he was on second. Manager Billy Martin went ape-shit.

He came out to take Torrez out of the game, calling for Sparky Lyle, and, while he was at it, sent Paul Blair in for Jackson.  Embarrassed in front of 35,000 Red Sox fans (who always had plenty to say to Reggie even when things weren’t crazy), the astounded and insulted Jackson went at Billy as soon as he reached the dugout.

This dramatization from “The Bronx is Burning” shows what happened next, with actual footage interspersed with re-created dialog:

Trying to explain the rivalry in those days to someone who was unaware of it wasn’t easy. They’d say, “so, you mean it’s like Harvard vs Yale”, and you’d have to say, “No, more like Israel vs. Palestine”.

When Massachusetts native Jerry Remy was traded to the Red Sox from the Angels in 1978, Carlton Fisk, a New Hampshire guy, was the first to welcome him home. A couple of Remy’s Angels team-mates had been traded to New York at the same time, and when the Yankees played the Red Sox for the first time that year, Remy went over to old friend Mickey Rivers during warm-ups to say “hi”. Fisk ran out and grabbed Remy and told him, “We don’t talk to those guys”.

It’s different now. When you’re getting paid $15 million, you can’t afford to break a fingernail, much less dis-locate your shoulder, while shoving an opposing player. And anyway you really wouldn’t want to beef with someone that, in the free agent era, might very well be your team-mate next year, or maybe even later this year.

Free agency changed everything. Before 1975, the players were the property of the team, and could expect to spend their whole career with whoever owned their contract, unless they were traded away first, often without their advance knowledge or consent.

The Reserve Clause, which codified this indentured servitude, was overturned in 1975, mainly through the efforts of the director of the Major League Baseball Players Association,  Marvin Miller, now enshrined in the Hall of Fame. During Miller’s time in that job the average salary of an MLB player rose from $19,000 in 1966 to $326,000 in 1982. Jim Bunning was instrumental in getting Miller the job, and Miller talks about him in this piece, which says,

And to find Jim Freaking Bunning at the center of this relatively progressive piece of history is a little like learning that Dick Cheney once ran guns to the Sierra Maestras.

Now, the pendulum has swung wildly in the other direction. Now, it’s all about the players and their money.  The economics of the game has changed and so has the game itself. The players are the big winners and, in IMHO, the fans are the big losers.

Back then, it was about more than money. It’s gonna be a while before we see anything like this again:

Pete Rose is out

The National Baseball Hall of Fame is an independently operated museum of baseball history, meaning it has no direct connection to Major League Baseball. They can do what they want with their museum, irrespective of what M.L.B. says or thinks.

This week, the H.O.F. announced that Pete Rose would never be enshrined there. They affirmed a rule they’ve had which says anyone banned by M.L.B. could not be in the Hall.

As everyone knows, M.L.B. has banned Pete Rose for life for the sin of betting on baseball when employed as a manager for the Cincinnati Reds. Rose can’t work in professional baseball again. This is appropriate. Ever since the Black Sox scandal of 1919, everyone has known that the one thing you could never do was bet on the sport while you were part of it. Rose did it anyway.

The Hall of Fame is a different story. Keeping Rose out is not appropriate. It’s not the Hall of Ethics. It’s not the Hall of Good Guys.

Pete Rose would otherwise be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, just based on the one fact that he had 4256 hits in his career, more than anyone else who ever played the game. Only the immortal (and immoral) Ty Cobb ever got to 4000 and no one else ever came close. And Rose, known appropriately as Charlie Hustle, had many many other accomplishments that also qualify him, every one of which confirms what anyone who ever saw him play already knows: Pete Rose always tried as hard as he could to do his best to win. Always.

The Hall of Fame is now committed to having a baseball museum in which, among many other omissions,

the all-time hits leader (Rose) is not enshrined,

the all-time Home Run and Walks leader and seven-time M.V.P. (Barry Bonds) is absent,

a guy who won the Cy Young award as the best pitcher in the league seven times (Roger Clemens) is out,

one of only five people to have both 3000 hits and 500 home runs (Rafael Palmeiro) is missing,

another (Alex Rodriguez), who had an even better career than Palmeiro, will have to be kept out by the same logic when he reaches eligibility,

the left-handed hitter with the best lifetime average after Cobb (Joe Jackson) is out.

There are a million ways they could enshrine these guys and others while acknowledging their shortcomings. But they’re too high-minded for that.

It’s just stupid.

 

Baseball strikes out

Baseball is boring. There, I said it. I don’t think it can survive the short attention-span and demand for non-stop action that are characteristic of life in the internet-age.

The games can routinely stretch into four-hour long marathons of nothingness, punctuated by the occasional instant of action or excitement. Baseball games used to take no more than two hours. The average time to complete nine innings so far this year is 3:06, while in 1978 it was 2:28, and in 1930 it was 1:09. There are lots of factors that explain this:

TV advertising dollars.  As with everything else, ad revenue now rules baseball, and if they can sell more ads, they will. This translates to longer pauses between innings, so that TV viewers can be assaulted with ads.

Pitching changes. We are in an era of specialization. In the past, starting pitchers were expected to go all nine innings, and relief pitching was rarely used. Now, you hope to get five or maybe six innings from your starter, then go to your set-up man for the seventh and eighth, and finally your closer for the ninth. If any of the three have problems, you have to go back to the bullpen and change again. Before each change, the pitching coach has to come out to the mound to discuss things with the incumbent, everything from how he feels to peace in the Middle East, in order to give the next guy a chance to get loose in the pen. When the new pitcher finally does arrive, he has to adjust to the mound with a bunch of warm-up pitches. Tick tock.

Batters wandering around between pitches. This pernicious waste of time started in the 1970’s with one or two guys notorious for doing it – Mike Hargrove and Carlton Fisk come to mind, but now everyone does it. Step out of the batters box, look around, adjust your batting gloves, check the third base coach for signs, check the heavens for support or a weather change. It takes forever. Batters used to just stay put and wait for the next pitch.

Advanced metrics. There’s a new “science” called Sabermetrics that has come to rule baseball. It consists of analyzing everything that happens during a game and using computer models to figure out if it helps or hurts. And I mean everything. I won’t bore you with examples, but it’s become quite absurd.  Many aspects of the game that made it interesting have been devalued: stolen bases, bunting, good defense, for example. It has been determined that these things don’t contribute to winning.

There are a couple of Sabermetric measurements which contribute more than others to stretching out the game and making it more one-dimensional, i.e. boring.

One is that it has been determined that the more pitches you can force the opposing pitcher to make, the better your chances are of getting him out of the game. The sooner you get him out, the sooner you can start to work on their second-line bullpen pitchers. The more of them you can tire out, the better your chances of facing one who’s having an off-day and maybe getting some hits. And even if you lose the current game, your chances of winning tomorrow or the next day, when you’ll be playing this same opponent, have improved because their pitchers will all be tired. Pitchers can only throw so many pitches without several days of rest in between to be effective.

Sabermetrics has determined that starting pitchers, in particular, must be held to a precise pitch count for each outing, usually about 100 pitches, after which it has been determined they must sit down, no matter how well they’re doing. All this calculation means more pitching changes which translates to longer games.

The disciplined teams are “taking” more pitches (not swinging) to achieve this goal, so more pitches have to be thrown in each game to get to the end. Add in all the walking around between pitches and the effect is amplified.

All this leads into a discussion of the real problem that underlies the transformation of an already less-than-heart-stopping two-hours into a four-hour slog, a problem that not only contributes to the time needed to play the game, but also makes it intrinsically less interesting to watch.

It has been determined that striking out is not a bad thing. There is no shame in it anymore, and, in fact, it can make you a lot of money if you do it right. Here are a couple of examples to help make this point.

Mike Napoli, currently with the Texas Rangers, has been a highly desired commodity in his 12-year major-league career, even though he is apparently a mediocre hitter with a life-time average of .249, somewhat less than the aggregate average of all players in history. He drives in a few more runners than many other players and hits a few more home-runs, but has never come close to leading the league in these categories.

Mike Napoli strikes out more per plate appearance than almost anyone who has ever played the game. He is painful to watch. But he’s better than everyone else at one thing, and that thing is valued by Sabermetricians: he sees more pitches per at-bat than anyone else, meaning that he “takes” more and “spoils” more (by fouling them off) before striking out. Time stands still when Napoli steps in to hit.

Napoli played on the 2013 World Series Champion Red Sox, and had three other teammates who also struck out more per plate appearance than anyone else: Jared Saltalamacchia, Johnny Gomes, and David Ross. That 2013 team struck out a lot, more than just about every other team in the league, and still won it all. But they were very boring to watch.

The Baltimore Orioles are paying Chis Davis $23 Million this year and for each of the next five. He hits a lot of home runs but strikes out way more than anyone else in a season. He’s leading the American League this year with 83 strikeouts as I write this, less than one third of the way through the season.  By contrast, in 1941, Joe DiMaggio struck out 37 times during the entire season. Davis led the league in strikeouts each of the last two years, striking out a total of 437 times over those two years. DiMaggio struck out only 359 times over his entire 13-year career.

Davis can be expected to hit a home run once every four games or so. The rest of the time he’s striking out.  Davis and Napoli are just examples. The strikeout is ruining baseball, which already has enough issues.

I wrote about Jim Bunning the other day, but  I didn’t mention that at the time of his retirement, he had struck out more batters, 2855 in his 17 years, than anyone in history except Walter Johnson. That was in an era when hitters would do anything to avoid striking out. Bunning mentioned how hard it was to face the likes of Yogi Berra, who struck out only 414 times over 19 years (less than Chris Davis in the last two years), and Stan Musial, who struck out 696 time in 22 years. The list goes on.

Striking out was something for a batter to try to avoid then, but not now. Bunning’s achievement is all the more impressive in this context. Today,  Bunning is only 17th on the list of career strikeouts. All those who have passed him have done so in the era of the re-evaluated strikeout, even though they are indisputably great pitchers.

The game itself has changed, and not for the better. Now, it’s just boring to watch.

 

 

Jim Bunning

A very small number of people have achieved great success at the highest level of professional sports and gone on to be elected to national office. Jack Kemp comes to mind, and Steve Largent, both of whom were great pro football players and served in the House of Representatives.  And, of course, NBA Hall-of-Famer and U.S. Senator Bill Bradley. Am I forgetting anyone? My sincere apologies if so.

 

Jim Bunning joined this small group when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1985.  He served six terms in the House, representing Kentucky’s 4th district. In 1998 he was elected to the Senate and re-elected in 2004. He was 85 when he died last Friday.

 

bunning

 

He led an interesting life, an impactful life, and ordinarily I’d feel happy to write a little about someone like that.  But Jim Bunning did a lot of things as a congressman that make him an outlier, and not in a good way.  He often found himself at odds with fellow Republicans and often caused controversy.

 

In the Senate, he was routinely given the highest “conservative” score by those that calculate such things. He opposed Obamacare, of course. A Catholic with nine children, he was strongly anti-abortion. He made inappropriate remarks about his opponents and Supreme Court justices.

This NPR piece says,

As a politician, he was known as “blunt and abrasive,” according to Politico. “In 1993, for instance, he referred to President Bill Clinton as ‘the most corrupt, the most amoral, the most despicable person I’ve ever seen in the presidency.’ In 2009, he made headlines by predicting Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be dead of cancer within nine months.”

 

Bunning single-handedly held up unemployment payments for millions of Americans during a two-day filibuster against $10 billion in stimulus spending.

According to this CNN piece,
Bunning decided to leave the Senate in 2010 after tension with his own party.
 
“Unfortunately, running for office is not just about the issues,” Bunning said in a 2009 statement. “Over the past year, some of the leaders of the Republican Party in the Senate have done everything in their power to dry up my fundraising. The simple fact is that I have not raised the funds necessary to run an effective campaign for the U.S. Senate.”
The remark appeared to be a thinly veiled hit at fellow Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who was the Senate minority leader at the time.

 

Bunning butted heads with McConnell more than once and called him a “control freak”.
“McConnell is leading the ship, but he is leading it in the wrong direction. If Mitch McConnell doesn’t endorse me, it could be the best thing that ever happened to me in Kentucky.”

 

Asked by The New York Times in March 2009 whether he felt betrayed by some Republican colleagues, Mr. Bunning replied, “When you’ve dealt with Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and Stan Musial, the people I’m dealing with are kind of down the scale.”

 

Reading that made me think back to the first time the name “Jim Bunning” penetrated my consciousness.

On July 20, 1958, he took the mound for the Detroit Tigers in Boston’s Fenway Park and pitched a no-hit, no-run game against the Red Sox. That had only been done twice before in the 46-year history of Fenway, both times by Hall-of-Famers. Walter Johnson did it in 1920 and Ted Lyons in 1926.

bunning2

Fenway is noted for its “Green Monster”, the huge wall in left field that appears to be just a few feet beyond the infield, and its lack of foul ground – hitters can stay alive on fouls that would be caught for outs in other venues.

It’s a hitter’s paradise and a pitcher’s nightmare. The Red Sox always tailored their line-ups for Fenway and routinely produced batting champs. Of course their own pitchers had to pitch in Fenway as well, so it didn’t translate too well into actual wins.

The line-up Bunning faced that day included a bunch of guys who were hard to get out on any day, and who were hitting over .300 at the time: Frank Malzone, Jackie Jensen, Pete Runnels, and, of course, the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived,  Ted Williams, who Bunning retired for the final out of the game.

The 26-year old Bunning was coming off a great 1957 season in which he led the American League with 20 wins. He had a side-arm delivery that gave right-handed hitters the impression the ball was coming at them from somewhere around third base. He was known for his combative nature, burning desire to win, and willingness to throw a “purpose pitch” when he thought it was needed, i.e. to hit an opposing batter to make him a little less comfortable digging in against him.

Bunning led the league in hit-batsmen four years in a row, and had 160 for his career. That’s more than anyone else in the last 90 years except for Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough, both knuckle-ball pitchers who really didn’t know what was going to happen to the ball after it left their hands. And if the knuckle-ball did hit a batter, everyone knew it was an accident and it didn’t hurt a bit.

Tiger team-mate Frank Bolling said,  “If he had to brush back his mother, I think he’d do it to win.”

Bunning didn’t appreciate opposing players talking trash at him, either. He once threw at the always-talkative Red Sox center-fielder, Jim Piersall, for jawing at him too much. That one was a little unusual because Piersall wasn’t batting at the time, but waiting his turn in the on-deck circle.

Team-mate Larry Bowa told a story about Bunning’s approach, which is quoted in this NYT Obit, about a game that he pitched at Montreal in the early 1970s.

“The Expos had Ron Hunt, a guy who loved to get hit. Well, Bunning threw him a sidearm curveball, Hunt never moved, and it hit him. The ball rolled toward the mound, and Bunning picked it up. He looked right at Hunt and said: ‘Ron, you want to get hit? I’ll hit you next time.’ And next time up, bam. Fastball. Drilled him right in the ribs. And he said to Hunt, ‘O.K., now you can go to first base.’”

Bunning thoughtfully described pitching the no-hitter this way,

“For most pitchers like me, who aren’t overpowering supermen with extraordinary stuff like Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan, a no-hitter is a freaky thing, You can’t plan it. It’s not something you can try to do. It just happens.

Everything has to come together – good control, outstanding plays from your teammates, a whole lot of good fortune on your side and a lot of bad luck for the other guys. A million things could go wrong – but on this one particular day of your life none of them do.”

He was traded to the Phillies in 1963, and was as effective in the National League as he had been in the American.  He pitched a “perfect game” (retired all 27 men he faced) against the Mets in New York on June 21, 1964, the first one pitched in the National League in 84 years, thereby revealing his previous comments about pitching a no-no to be overly modest.

 

To get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, you need to get 75% of the votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America, and you have only 15 years of eligibility after retirement. Bunning came close, but never got the nod from the writers. But in 1996, 25 years after he retired, he was voted in by the Veteran’s Committee, which included many players who had tried unsuccessfully to hit his pitching. “The writers never faced him,” Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio said at Bunning’s induction ceremony.

 

As a Boston baseball fan and someone who thinks government can actually solve problems once in a while, I always dreaded it when my team had to go up against Bunning. I didn’t like to see him standing on the pitcher’s mound opposing us and I didn’t like to see him standing in Congress opposing us either.

 

But give the devil his due: Jim Bunning knew what he wanted to do, did things not because they were politically expedient but because he believed in them, went about achieving his objectives in his own unique way, always fought hard, and never backed down.

Marathon Monday Mashup

A few random, loosely connected thoughts occur to me about Boston and the things people say about it on Marathon Monday, always a big festive occasion here.

1. Boston is a racist, small, parochial city that is, at its heart, deeply illiberal.

Yes, OK, we’ve heard this often and I have no great desire to argue about it. I suppose the stereotype still fits in several neighborhoods that resist change and hang onto their ethnic enclaves like grim death. I won’t mention them by name because it always pisses people off, but you can tell by looking at a map who the usual suspects are – they’re all in Boston proper, but separated from “downtown” by bodies of water, train tracks and highways, or other natural and man-made boundaries that make it easier to retain their unique “character”.

ted landsmark

The Bad Old Days

2. Boston is a world-class city, internationally known for its culture, institutions, and history of progressive thought and action.

Yes, this one is also true and I like it a lot better. In fact, I would say the truths here greatly outweigh the truths of No. 1 above. No one can match our hospitals and universities. Our museums and symphony are as good as anyone else’s. We’re a technology and financial center, and an incubator of new businesses and ideas.

Great institutions anchor the Longfellow Bridge

I’ve heard it said that there are more books per capita in Boston/Cambridge than anywhere else. We can be counted on to be on the right side of history when it’s time to vote. True, we’re not New York, and we’re all in bed by 1:00 A.M., but that’s a good thing, if you ask me.

rings

And if you like sports, Boston has it all – plenty of championships in the four major professional sports, and a wealth of great college programs as well, e.g. three national powerhouses in college hockey within walking distance from one another: Harvard, Boston University, and Boston College.  A fourth, Northeastern, is quickly closing in on this elite circle. And amateur sports flourish here, too, which brings me to:

3. The Boston Marathon is an international, cross-cultural magnet. It is the oldest annual marathon in the world, and arguably the most famous. Tens of thousands will run officially and unofficially, and some will be professional athletes, but the overwhelming majority are amateurs.  It will draw people from all over the world who have trained and sacrificed and traveled great distances for the honor of running “Boston”.

I’m writing this before the race, but I will go out on a limb and say that both the men’s and women’s winner will have come from a far away land and have an absolutely huge grin on their face despite the exhaustion of having gone all out for a couple of hours.

winners

Yesterday was a hot day, not a great day for running. But out on the Charles, lots of runners were getting in their last tune-ups before the race. Smiles all around, people taking selfies, locals and visitors in happy concatenation. A great day to be a Bostonian.

4. Martin Richard Park. Since the 2013 bombings, the Marathon has taken on a new and important aspect, beyond that of just sporting glory. It has come to embody the “Boston Strong” spirit of overcoming adversity, and not surrendering to our worst impulses. A new park and playground has opened up honoring Martin Richard, the little kid who lost his life in the bombings, and his family wants everyone to enjoy it and have good and positive feelings about it, like Martin would.

I hope it is successful and doesn’t become another in the unfortunate string of misuses and privatization of public space that we like to rail about here at GOML.

 

5. Doing harm while doing good. Apart from the Marathon, just about every weekend there is some sort of outdoor event where you can try to help an important cause. Maybe it’s a “walk for hunger” (shouldn’t that be a walk against hunger?), or one to support cancer research. It’s hard to keep up with them all, but everyone seems to want to do good.

But sometimes, even the well-meaning can do harm while trying to do good. I was out walking yesterday and noticed some pink plastic/rubber ties on stakes in the ground by the riverbank, obviously there to help participants navigate some part of a charitable event. Having just written a few days ago about the proliferation of plastics everywhere around us, I couldn’t get the following progression out of my mind:

pink1

pink 2

birds2

And, just to go out on a high note, here’s a bonus pic of a teenage goose on the ground and some teenage trash in the trees.

headphones

Man and nature in harmony. If only.

That’s it for my Marathon Monday Mashup. Peace out, people!

G.O.A.T.

For decades, I hated the New York Yankees. Actually I still hate them, although most of the justifications for the original hatred have long since disappeared.

I hated them because every situation seemed to favor them, because they always had the best players, because they always had the most money, because they always had the most luck. And, most of all, because they always broke the hearts of lifelong Red Sox fans who repeatedly saw their heroes come so close before the Yankees invoked the inevitable luck/skill/magic/whatever required to  kill their hopes and dreams for yet another year.

And the Red Sox fans weren’t the only ones who hated New York. All the fans of all the other teams felt pretty much the same way. New York was the Evil Empire. They bought wins. They stole the best players from all the other teams, turning them into Yankee farm teams. They cheated. They were cheaters.

All the while, the Yankee fans could not have cared less. The Yankees were always playing when everyone else had gone home for the winter. The championships flowed into New York and their players were seen as the Greatest Of All Time, the G.O.A.T., whether they really were or not.

It must have been great to be a Yankee fan. You spent all those hours watching the games for six months and all that money at the Stadium to see them in person, but, in the end, it was all worth it. When the team won, you won. Your prayers were always answered. God liked you best.

Last night, the Patriots, my Patriots, completed the greatest and most improbable comeback in Super Bowl history. Everything had to fall their way, our way, in the end. And, of course, everything did. Records were broken and opponents’ dreams were shattered. All the detractors who were gloating when it seemed out of reach found that the joke was on them. Again.

In my old age, I finally know how it feels to have been a Yankee fan all those years. All my time and all the attention paid over the last six months was totally worth it. Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T.  I’m a good person. God likes me best. Everyone else hates us.

The Patriots won it all. Again.

 

 

Bread and Circuses

One of the big reasons Republicans hate Obamacare (or any program designed to benefit others) is that Democrats typically want to fund it with higher taxes on the richest among us. The wealthy ask, “Why should the government take our money so that someone else can avoid paying their fair share?”

The argument seems to make some sense at first, until you realize that no one benefits from government handouts and subsidies more than rich people. There are a million examples, big and small, in the tax code alone, from reduced capital gains taxes to capped Social Security deductions to generous estate tax treatments. But there are reasonable discussions to be had around these issues that don’t always center on the greediness of the upper crust.

There are plenty of other examples outside the tax code as well. Defense contractors, private prison operators, for-profit “education” operations whose customers get government loans, oil companies who lease public lands for exploration or other operations, and many many others are producing healthy balance sheets for private citizens with the taxpayers’ money providing the income. Again, the picture is somewhat clouded by arguments that these businesses provide something necessary to the taxpayer, and they do it better than the government itself could, so quit with all the whining already.

And, of course, our beloved man-baby has been one of the best of all time. Bankruptcies, bond issues that were worthless, tax breaks, and more have all taken advantage of the taxpayer to line one individual’s pockets.  He’s quoted in this New York Times article about it all as saying,   “Atlantic City was a very good cash cow for me for a long time.”

Of course, there were other suckers hurt by Trump’s “business” in Atlantic City beside the taxpayers: the banks who loaned him money, the morons who invested in TRMP stock, the contractors and their subs who did work for Trump and never got paid, etc. It was more than simply a direct transfer of public money to the man-baby.

If you’re looking for a truly egregious example of ultra-rich people directly lining their pockets with the taxpayers’s  money, with no accountability and no real benefit returning to the people, pro sports has you covered. And the N.F.L. is the worst of the worst.

In 2005, city planner Judith Grant Long  published years of research on the topic,. The abstract says,

Governments pay far more to participate in the development of major league sports facilities than is commonly understood due to the routine omission of public subsidies for land and infrastructure, and the ongoing costs of operations, capital improvements, municipal services, and foregone property taxes. Adjusting for these omissions increases the average public subsidy by $50 million per facility to a total of $177 million, representing a 40% increase over the industry-reported average of $126 million, based on all 99 facilities in use for the “big four” major leagues during 2001. For all 99 facilities, these uncounted public costs total $5 billion.

But that research is now almost 20 years old, and things are a lot worse now. Richard, a good friend of the blog, alerted us to this eye-opening article in the Atlantic, How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers. It talks about stadium-building and other subsidies to a 30-member group of billionaire owners, and it’s worth your time to give it a read.  Here are some pull quotes to pique your interest:

Twelve teams have turned a profit on stadium subsidies alone—receiving more money than they needed to build their facilities.

Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn’t apply to broadcast deals, the league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year. It’s time to stop the public giveaways to America’s richest sports league—and to the feudal lords who own its teams. 

Roger Goodell has become the sort of person his father once opposed—an insider who profits from his position while average people pay.

In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, McDonnell approved the gift while the state legislature was out of session. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1 billion. But even billionaires like to receive expensive gifts.

Taxpayers in Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati, were hit with a bill for $26 million in debt service for the stadiums where the NFL’s Bengals and Major League Baseball’s Reds play, plus another $7 million to cover the direct operating costs for the Bengals’ field. Pro-sports subsidies exceeded the $23.6 million that the county cut from health-and-human-services spending in the current two-year budget (and represent a sizable chunk of the $119 million cut from Hamilton County schools). Press materials distributed by the Bengals declare that the team gives back about $1 million annually to Ohio community groups. Sound generous? That’s about 4 percent of the public subsidy the Bengals receive annually from Ohio taxpayers.

It goes on and on. Hospitals close and stadiums open. School districts suffer and football prospers. Those things and lots more will make you hate the N.F.L.

Wikipedia defines “Bread and Circuses” this way:

“…a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace.”

This weekend, two circuses are on offer. Friday, the man-baby will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the U.S., and Sunday the two teams who will play in Super Bowl LI two weeks later will be decided.

I was planning on ignoring the inauguration as much as possible, and enjoying the football as much as possible. It’s getting a little harder to keep them separate in my mind.