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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sports Journalism: How to get your bias daily

Last night, as I went to my paper delivery job, I got the pleasure of reading Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association (ISSA) Hall of Famer Al Hamnik, who also works for The Northwest Indiana Times as a columnist of some renown. However, what I got was the typical pro-management bias that pervades all sports columnist writing. Let me explain.
But Tuesday, Angelo definitely brought his "A" game while discussing the much-publicized contract foibles of Brian Urlacher, Robbie Gould, Tommie Harris and Devin Hester. This is a man [Angelo] who takes tremendous pride in being fair and sensitive to his players' needs and does not appreciate being cast in a negative light...

With still four years left on his $57 million contract -- $13 million of it guaranteed -- Urlacher has come out of this as the biggest loser. He wants the Bears to give him a new deal for more money. They've offered a one-year, $10 million extension, which he turned down.

Those of us living paycheck to paycheck can sympathize, right?

[K] Gould and [DT] Harris are signed through 2008, [KR] Hester 2009. They are priorities, much as Urlacher doesn't want to hear that. He's skipping voluntary workouts at Halas Hall and has threatened to blow off training camp as well. Your [It's you're the] face of the Chicago Bears is sticking its tongue out at fans and teammates.

Urlacher had no complaints -- until Lance Briggs got his six-year, $56 million deal late last season. Then suddenly, the All-Pro middle linebacker who plays like a beast but whines like a baby began making threats and pouting. It's not the first time for Urlacher and it won't be the last.

Urlacher has had neck and back surgery, and with every season being a physical beatdown at his position, nobody in their right mind is going to shower him with cash.

"The good news is, all these players we're talking about are under contract. They're Bears," Angelo said. "You're not going to have one big happy family. If you've raised kids and a family in your home, then you know it's certainly not going to happen here at Halas Hall where we have 53 kids."

Urlacher's financial security was never in doubt. He is set for life based on his current pact and countless endorsements. The grumbling is all about ego and greed.This is the real Brian Urlacher and you can take that to the bank.
All-Pro LB Brian Urlacker has issues with his contract because:
1) He has performed better than ALL 3 of those particular players. One hasn't even suited up on Sunday yet.
2) Lance Briggs did not get more money ($36 million not $56 million, Hamnik) but he did get the same guaranteed money, $13 million, which means both players are considered equal in some respects - injury wise.
3) LB Brian Urlacker could be paralyzed for life, as the violent nature of the sport has always that chance, and no longer "be set for life." (His back issues lend some credence to that concern.)
4) The Bears can cut him at anytime - avoiding roster/salary bonuses and nullifying the remainder of his contract.
Hamnik's name calling, he's a baby, a greedy player, a whiner, a loser of some sort, is typical pro-management name calling in order to control a player, or to embarass them into foregoing their renegotiating tactics. Using the fan is living paycheck to paycheck analogy is also a logically flawed argument.
Urlacker is a special commodity. Very, very few can do what he can do. (In fact, only 32 men play MLB in the NFL, and say, 4 or 5, are really, really good at it.) That said, he can demand a significant price in a free-market economy. Shop his talents elsewhere - if freed from contract. The fact his contract sucks means he will do whatever is needed to obtain proper compensation. And those tactics, however grating to our senses, are fair if they work. Holding out as an NFL player is a method of last resort.
If you or I were incredibly unique or specially talented, we also would like proper compensation for our skills. And we would not let a contract negotiated against our future interests stop us. But if we had a long-term career, say writing, for example, we can expect to do numerous deals over the course of a 30-40-50 year career of putting out our work.
An NFL player, on average, plays 3-4 years. Urlacker will be entering his 9th season at age 30. As a result, he might only have 3-5 years left as a dominate player, being very optimistic. After that, the big paychecks stop coming and his endorsements will dry up, most likely. As a result, Urlacker is trying to get as much as possible as soon as possible. Seems pretty logical.
Al Hamnik begrudges him that, as he also did OLB Lance Briggs last year during his contract holdout - franchise tag situation. He writes to appease management - to keep his access to the team at a maximum - and will not critique/criticize Jerry Angelo's tactics too harshly. Or properly respond to what Urlacker's motivation really is.
He's a typical sports journalist. Nothing more. Not special and certainly not worthy of high praise. It does not surprise that Hamnik has spent 30+ years writing for mediocre newspapers and protecting management by running down good or HOF players. Feeding fans the sports gospel according to saint Al.
If he addressed market issues, made logical cases against Urlacker's demands and emphasized salary cap or personnel decisions, then his piece, would have been more worthy. As it stands, he's not worth reading.
And you, my fellow blogger, can put that in the piggy bank.
But then again, maybe I should take Al Hamnik's Sports Writing course to improve myself and rate special on the writer's market.
Note: I am not an Urlacker fan. I do not believe he deserves a better salary, however, I respect his methods to obtain what he feels is his due. As THE FACE of the BEARS, wouldn't you want the most?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ownership of Cubs: Just a Few Good Men

When local Real Estate Magnate Samuel Zell acquired the Tribune Company (and the Chicago Cubs) at the insistence of the Chandler Family, many thought Zell’s overly cozy relationship to the financiers of the deal, Merrill Lynch and CitiGroup, was a bad omen of things to come on Wall Street. Both Citi and Merrill were advising the Tribune Company on the viability of the prospective bidders, termed “staple financing”, as in Staples, “we got that, too.” (In actuality it is called staple financing because paperwork is often stapled onto the deal’s term sheet to help a seller develop a robust auction by offering on-the-spot financing to all “potential” suitors. Wall Street speak…)
The fact Zell had Merrill Lynch represent him in a $39 billion sale of Equity Office Properties to the Blackstone Group likely meant that any bid made on the Tribune Company by Zell was going to be promoted over the other candidates. (Viagranaires Eli Broad and Ronald W. Burkle also submitted an exact dollar amount bid of $8.2 billion.)

So, in April 2007, Zell became commander-in-chief of the most woe-begotten baseball franchise, the lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs in the 2006-2007 Hot Stove cooked up an entire pot of free agents signings to the tune of “Hey, Hey, Holy Mackerel!”, posting over $300 million in contracts. The Cubs replaced two-fifths of their starting rotation, signed the premier LF on the market in Alfonso Soriano to a 8-year, $136-million contract and resigned 3B Aramis Ramirez for over $70 million. With additional backup players the money spent amounted to 3 seasons worth of salaries for a top-10 payroll in the 2007 season. (But barely more than A-Rod’s contract.)

Primarily, this was due to the expectant sale of the Tribune Company, with the new owners on the hook for the ballplayer’s salaries. Long-time marketing guru John McDonough acquired the reins from ex-team president Andy MacPhail, who had not spent with the dangerous abandon of a drunken sailor on liberty in Thailand. (Is there any other kind…of sailor?)

McDonough would resign his commission after only one season at the top, heading to the moribund Chicago Blackhawks as their new field commander.

“Slow, steady and unspectacular success,” was often attributed to MacPhail’s rotation as Cubs’ OIC. The Cubs managed to reach the playoffs in 1998 and 2003 with him heading the chain of command. Yet, while the Cubs put meat in the seats, racking up over 3 million yearly visits at the 2nd highest average ticket price (via the 2007 Team Marketing Report), the financial success rarely translated to consistent winning.

Injuries to star players, poor drafting of everyday players and anti-sabermetric philosophies plagued the Cubs, more than anything else. (Franchise Success Theory Here)

As 2008 unfolds with a 12-6 start, while hot imports RF Kosuke Fukudome and CF Reed Johnson bringing sparks to an all ready talented lineup, a new man stands atop that ivy-covered wall: Generalissimo Sam Zell.

His Tribune acquisition has gone south – as various reports have judged this deal negatively, and the ad revenue analysis of newspaper/media conglomerates falter quarterly – and thus, the Chicago Cubs might find Sam Zell meddling in their baseball affairs if the future finds no one will buy the team.

But why?

Zell has decided on a 3-pronged attack in selling off of the Chicago Cubs entity: The landmark stadium, the naming rights of the facility, and the Chicago National League ball club. Wrigley Field is being shopped to an Illinois-controlled agency – with the payment to be made in noncash assets, possibly deferred, likely a real estate swap of some sort. This arrangement is needed to avoid capital gains taxes that Wrigley’s outright sale would incur. This proposal has been unsuccessful, as Zell backtracks like a Bush, to a new offering plan for the ball team: with and without the stadium.

(Picture from http://wrigley-field-pictures-photos.blogspot.com/)

A more confusing (and disturbing) tactic is the naming rights idea – to rename the ballpark in some corporate phallic term – just to generate more cash. However, no true Cubs fan would ever call Wrigley Field, “Google Park” or “Amazon Stadium” or “Microsoft Field.” But somehow, Herr Zell hopes a marketing dunce will get his bosses to pony up $100-300 million for a mediocre tagline to an all ready historic name and place.

Lastly, the ball team would be sold. Tribune brass had estimated $1 billion for the entire lot, but given the stipulations and separate deals, what once was a hot commodity with Chicago Wolves owner Don Levin, Phoenix Suns CEO Jerry Colangelo, Dallas Mavericks impresario Mark Cuban among others submitting bids or inquiring about purchase, has grown silent as the Wrigley grass in a bitter cold November.
More importantly, to theatre commander Zell, is that this deal must be made to generate the requisite cash to keep his private corporation credit worthy as debt obligations threaten to choke his fledgling entity later on this year. Layoffs of over 400 journalists, pressmen and middle managers at the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Newsday and others, to go along with the $125-million dollar liquidation of real estate in Hollywood is only the beginning of whatever General Zell envisions as necessary.
Last year, Zell said, “We didn’t do this deal to figure out what to get rid of,” but that has become the focus, as Newsday is being added to the list of things to sell with an estimated $500 million price tag. But once again, Zell has convoluted that deal. (The Truth: You can’t handle the truth!)
The Cubs might become an Oakland A’s, no frills – styled franchise, if Zell gets stuck with the ownership of the team too long. Making drastic cuts, selling off players for mediocre minor league prospects, reducing payroll while keeping ticket prices constant, all in the name of a buck to run his horse-and-buggy newspaper concerns.
With a successful 2008 season, resulting in a World Series title? , don’t be too surprised if the Cubs are still in “ownership limbo” that a “Zell Hell” begins, and high-priced players are jettisoned.
Hopefully, a few, good baseball-minded men will step in to buy the Cubs away from Colonel “Samuel Zell” Jessup. Because, I don’t want him on that wall, nor do I need him on that ivy-kissed wall.

“You’re dismissed, private Zell.”

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Saturday Songs: Because I don't like Mondays

Jefferson Starship - Jane (Live) with psychedelic furvor these guys tripped into the 1980's only to dud out with some very weak songs. But they were hot in the late 1960s.

The Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays (live) - Irishman Bob Geldof AKA (Robert Frederick Xenon Geldof), with his classic song from the LIVE aid that he organized. He has worked for over 2 decades fighting the problems that have occurred in Ethiopia and Darfur.

Talking Heads - Take Me to the River (Live 1980) David Byrne has such a unique voice and attitude. He was sorta of a Dave Matthews before Dave....

KC & The Sunshine Band - That's the way I like it (1974 Live) - Longer, faster version as only KC could do it. Tight. Just the way I like it...

Birds Fly - Whisper to a Scream - 1980's 1-hit wonder. This particular bird flew away. (Jeremy Irons from Die Hard 3: I had two pigeons, bright and gay, fly from me the other day. Why is it they did go? You cannot tell, you do not know?")

Thirteen Senses - Into the Fire - I could loop this song for a couple of hours. It just sounds that good in it's simplicity. Don't know about the band. Or whether it is a cover (likely) but they played it so well.

Well that's it. I'll have to block you.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dave Matthews and Conformity: I feel like an Ant sometimes

Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds performing Ants Marching - They all do it the same way!!! (At the bottom, silly.)

Conformity is the death of originality. It may be an original - the link is to non-conformity quotes listed below:

That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Individuality realized is the supreme attainment of the human soul, the master-master’s work of art. Individuality is sacred.Frank Lloyd Wright, architect

They will say you are on the wrong road, if it is your own. –Antonio Porchia

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I like him. I have a weakness for losers. Invalids, foreigners, the fat boy of the class, the ones nobody ever wants to dance with. My heart beats for them. Maybe because I’ve always known that in some way I will forever be one of them.Peter Høeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow

My darling girl, when are you going to understand that “normal” isn’t a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.Stockard Channing, in Practical Magic

The most beautiful art in the world is the art which is freest from the demands of convention.Robert Henri

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.Mark Twain, Notebook

Strongest minds are often those of whom the noisy world hears last.William Wordsworth, “The Excursion”

New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not common.John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.Doug Floyd

From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were—I have not seen

As others saw.–Edgar Allan Poe, “Alone”

Here it tis!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Pop Culture Careers: But I don't wanna be a Pirate!

I think we all have our dreams of what we would really do if we had unlimited time, resources, and could get out of our own way. The alternative to the 9-5, clock-in, clock-out, wax on, whack-off routine we often surmise is periliously close to insanity while in a world full of inept managers and co-whacker sycophants. Instead, we sit down at night, and maybe check out what our alter ego lives might be - if we understand those boobs aren't real either, and their acting chops aren't necessarily all that. But these are a few of the work situations I wanted to be in for a while:

Lawyer. It isn't very droll to be a man of the law. To seek out the truth, Perry Mason style, and get your killer to breakdown on the stand in front of millions of people. But Raymond Burr did it for a long, long time - longest in history. He did it so well, that the Oz man (Ozzy Osbourne) cut "Perry Mason" in tribute.

Who Can We Get On The Case?
We Need Perry Mason
Someone To Put You In Place
Calling Perry Mason Again, Again

ER Doctor. There's a long history of putting medical shows on the tube - to increase awareness of how hard these people work, and their lives on the front lines of tragedy, technology and dating gymnastics. As shows go, I liked ER the best. Supported by a real life doctor, Michael Crichton, who seems to be nearly a success at everything, including techno thriller writing, ER has finally ran its long course, long after "The Clooney" (right) parted for mega money, power-ball style on the big screen. (Michael Clayton...gotta see. Leatherheads, well, I might be interested. ) But the role of doctor on this show usually involves using some fast action to keep a patient flopping, and then later, some horizontal bopping with a very smart, but seemingly unaware of the doctor tango, nurse or nurses. Granted, it keeps the show on the air, since sex sells, but are all ER Doctors, that interested in the female anatomy of their coworkers? (Since I've seen some not so pretty nurses...)

Medical Examiner. I want to say Quincy, M.E. was the first of his kind, TV wise. The crime fighting examiner of the after the crime took place was CSI before really cool technology was around. I was only a young kid, but I thought Jack Klugman was pretty cool doing his due diligence in actually getting to the bottom of a situation. He was an ass chaser too - not that that should be a perk - but that was only after he got his man or woman.

The corporate clog. Yes, this is what Uncle Sam and the Illuminati want us to be. The good ole push-the-broom, run-the-copier-machine, type until carpal tunnel takes over worker bee that keeps the taxes flowing in and the misery flowing out. Where a feudal lord at heart never gets too upset to see his peasants doing the tasks assigned to make the coinage come in. Working was a TV show that I related to in that sense. (Since I was just starting out on the Road to Never-Do-Wellville.) This comedy made so much sense to me...that it probably meant I had no cents. (Or sense...)
But Devo had a nice revival on the TV Theme Song, "Working in a Coal Mine":
Well I been workin' in a coal mine
Goin down down
Workin' in a coal mine
Whew about to slip down
Five oclock in the mornin'
I'm up before the sun
When my work day is over
I'm too tired for havin' fun

It is not that I really wanted to be a corporate clog...but it is so easy to slip into that little drainage ditch of society. We breed and teach this at an early age, the whole, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" Tons of books on it too. I read some of them. Learning about Flight Engineers, Astronauts, Firemen, Lawyers, Business Managers, Baseball Players, etc. On CNBC, they have a show called the Millionaire Inside where a rich real estate lady pretty much summed up the idea that people were indoctrinated to work for betters, for the good of their will and their ideals from almost birth. We are educated that way.

And lo, what light through yonder window breaks, but your ass working for THE MAN.

So when asked again, "what do you do for a living?" Say, "I'm a Pirate. I cut throats for me gold and don't serve any master." (Then, prepare for the committal to your local Bellevue mental ward.)

But you could just say, "I Don't Wanna Be a Pirate!" and go on watching TV and pretending you are not just another bee in a hive. And Uncle Sam will check his numbers, and see, that yep,
134, 567, 891 people are slogging away on his fuedal farm...Gotta love Capitalism!

Devo's song: