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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Head To Head: The Aftermath

Yesterday, Josh Maurer made his debut on Just Off Camera, debating Alex on the issue of whether or not athletes new to a league should be able to choose where they play instead of entering a draft.

Consider these the closing arguments to yesterday's debate. If you haven't read it yet, click here to see the columns that set forth the issues.

Josh writes:

To your point that players can choose other leagues to play for, a la the CFL or Arena League: This is not a reasonable alternative. It's not comparable to playing in the "major league," be it the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL. Salaries are about 10x lower or more. It'd be like saying that if Michael Eisner didn't like the way Disney was treating him, he still had the option to go run a circus.

To that, I write:

Ask J.D. Drew if playing in another league was a reasonable alternative. He played for two seasons for the independent St. Paul Saints rather than take what the Phillies were offering, and eventually he got what he wanted when he was drafted again by the Cardinals. I'd say it's a good thing he got what he was looking for then, because he hasn't lived up to his promise and probably couldn't command what he was initially looking for now anyway.

On another point, Josh writes:

To your point that when players enter a draft they are signing up for a league, not a team, I ask this: Who pays their salaries? Who hires and fires their coworkers (teammates, coaches, trainers)? Who makes the guidelines by which they must comply on a daily basis? The team/organization they play for, not the league that simply oversees things. I would imagine if you polled all pro athletes, they would almost unanimously agree they are working for a team, not a league.

And I say:

In a league such as the NFL, where there is significant revenue sharing, I'd say the majority of income to a team (and therefore the majority of where salary comes from) is from the league. I don't think players fully recognize this. I also think that entering a league's draft can be very similar to, say, applying to work at a large corporation. Just like the corporation might place you in one of its offices around the country, so can the league assign you to a given team. And, like in a corporation, after you've put in enough time, you could ask for a transfer - or in the case of a league, become a free agent. The teams within a league compete with each other, creating a sense of belonging to a team, not a league, but it is ultimately the league that is the players' employer. Without the league, the teams would have no structure under which to compete.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Head To Head

Just Off Camera is happy to introduce Josh Maurer, the site's first guest writer. He's currently working for the Phillies' television production crew and has experience working radio for several sports, both professional and collegiate. He and Alex will be debating various topics every now and then, beginning with this throwdown over the issue of whether star college athletes should be able to dictate which team ends up with them on draft day.


Josh Maurer

Power To The People

When Eli Manning dictated his trade to the New York Giants Saturday and became the latest in a longer-than-you-realize list of star athletes who "cheated" the system and played free agent with the draft process, he brought a bigger issue to light. How does a society based on the principles of capitalism allow such a labor draft to occur?

For whatever reasons (all inconsequential to this argument), Manning did not want to play for the San Diego Chargers organization, and put pressure on the team's administration to move him so he could play elsewhere. As earlier noted, he is not the first, nor will he be the last to use this strategy.

Football Hall-of-Famer-to-be John Elway threatened to play baseball for the Yankees if the Indianapolis Colts drafted him with the first pick in 1983, thus paving the way for his legendary career with the Denver Broncos. When hockey's Eric Lindros infamously refused to sign with Quebec in 1991, he forced a trade to Philadelphia and set the stage for an all-time love-hate relationship with that city. Speaking of Philly, just whisper the name J.D. Drew around those parts and see what kind of response you get. And in basketball, young Kobe Bryant, already with stars in his eyes, shunned a trip to the "small-market" Charlotte Hornets in favor of a now world-renowned career in sunny Los Angeles.

I'm not saying that just because these athletes could finagle the system that they should have. I lost a lot of respect for Manning, Bryant, and company for refusing the ultimate athletic challenge of captaining a struggling team to greatness in favor of stepping right into an easier, more immediately successful situation. There is no doubt, however, that in the United States of America they should have had that option - the option to choose the employer for which you work.

Imagine a decorated medical or law student coming out of school into a pro-sports type of draft. The best, brightest minds coming into the field would no doubt be selected by the struggling hospitals or firms in need of the most help. These would likely be in smaller, out-of-the-way town, with the jobs paying substantially less money than, say, a hospital or law firm in New York City. But alas, under the system these brilliant doctors and lawyers would be bound, for a few years at least, to plug away in Topeka, Kansas or Norfolk, Virginia. Only after enough time had passed could they become free agents and seek employment elsewhere.

Do I think that entering football or any professional sport is the same as entering a law firm? Absolutely not. The privileged life of an athlete is different from any profession I know of, and those lucky enough to live it owe more to society than they could ever return.

But I do believe in our country every man has the freedom to choose his own destiny, including the place where he lives and raises his family and the employer for whom he labors and provides for him. If Eli Manning does not believe the Chargers organization is right for him, he should not have to provide his services to them.

The idea of sports leagues banding together and dictating to those entering their work force where to play is downright socialist. I know of no other American enterprise that holds its employees to the same standards. Should sports drafts be barred altogether? Probably not - I imagine there is still away to keep them with the proper changes allowed for. But free agency is perhaps the most important, inherently necessary right granted all living in a capitalist society, and athletes should be able to enjoy it at all times.


Alex

Don't Like The Draft Rules? Then Don't Enter The Draft

Once upon a time, not too long ago, before there was a first-year player draft in Major League Baseball, a certain powerhouse team used to snag all the best prospects with the allure of playing in a big city and the chance to win championships right away. That team, of course, was the Yankees. And of course they did win a lot - the Yankees finished first in the American League 15 times from 1947-64 and won 10 World Series titles.

In 1965, guess what happened? Baseball instituted a draft, and just like that, prospects couldn't flock to the Yankees. The Yanks didn't win a pennant for another 12 years. If you think that's just coincidence, consider this: The 1964 AL champion Yankees only had two players in the starting lineup who didn't start their careers as Yankees. The next Yankees pennant winners, the 1976 team, had just two players in the starting lineup who began their career in the pinstripes.

The point is this - without a draft, first-year players will consistently follow a pattern of choosing the most attractive teams. Even drafted players, such as J.D. Drew, Eric Lindros, Kobe Bryant, and Eli Manning, try to strong-arm their way to the teams they want to play for.

And here's the problem with that. It creates a competitive imbalance. When a handful of teams consistently attract the best incoming talent, it creates a disinterest in the teams that find themselves on the short end of the stick. It isn't hard to imagine the Chargers finding themselves with high picks in the next couple of NFL drafts, seeing players pull an Eli Manning and brushing off the Chargers, watching fan interest in San Diego decline further, and the franchise eventually moving up I-5 to Los Angeles.

None of this really challenges the argument that it is unfair to players that they cannot choose where they want to play when they start their careers; it simply establishes that it is bad for sport. Here's why it's not unfair to incoming athletes that they have to be drafted by a certain team: Ultimately, they are playing for the league in which they compete. And if the league suffers, so do they.

Don't want to play for San Diego, Eli? Well, they drafted you, and if you don't like it, then play in the CFL, or join the Arena League. There are Arena teams in New York, Chicago, L.A., Philly - just about all the major media markets. You can do what Bo Jackson and J.D. Drew did - sit out a year or two and wait for a team that suits you better to draft you. Maybe you'll get lucky and San Diego will tire of waiting for you and trade your rights. Or you can quit complaining, because you'll get paid millions regardless of whether you're in San Diego or New York, and after a few years you can chase your dreams in the Big Apple (well, North Jersey, really).

Nobody has a gun to these athletes' heads forcing them to sign contracts with the team that drafts them. In fact, holding out doesn't even seem to affect status on a team. Take a look at last year's top incoming QBs - Byron Leftwich and Kyle Boller were the holdouts last season, and they were starters before the 2003 season was over. Meanwhile, Carson Palmer and Rex Grossman signed right away and neither started last year.

Just like a lawyer doesn't have to work for a law firm directly out of law school - working for the government is just one other option - a football player doesn't have to go to the NFL. That's a choice he makes, and by doing so, he has to live by the rules of that organization. College players have to apply for the NFL draft, not to individual teams. By doing so, they subject themselves to the regulations that govern the NFL, and one of those regulations is that incoming players are to be dispersed in a draft.

What if a similar argument were made that players shouldn't have to be exposed to expansion drafts? That would result in expansion teams having to pursue only free agents (and compete with established teams for those players) and incoming players. No player would want to go to the expansion team.

The example of an expansion draft illustrates the necessity of a draft to disperse players throughout the league, rather than letting the players select where they play. Franchises and players all operate under the same rules, structured by the league and players' union, and therefore the rules should be in the best interests of both the league and the players. The rules that are in place allow for players to pursue free agency after they have established themselves in the league - not before.

Eli Manning, Kobe Bryant, and the rest of the entitlement crew sign on for their league's draft, not to play for a specific team. If you don't like the rules of the league, take your ball and play somewhere else. Otherwise, take your millions and play by the rules.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Another Reason To Hate New Jersey

...So after the Phillies lost their home opener in their brand new ballpark in a steady rain, my brother and I jumped in his ride and headed up the Jersey Turnpike for the nightcap of the Philly Sports Doubleheader - game 3 of the Flyers-Devils conference quarterfinal.

It went about as well as the Phillies game, except it was indoors so we didn't get rained on.

The loss isn't the important thing here, or at least it's not what I'm going to dwell on. The Flyers are still up in the series, 2-1, and I don't want to think too much about giving up three unanswered goals. So this will be about the experience of attending a game as a fan of the Flyers in Continental Airlines Arena.

The first problem here hits you before you even get into the arena. When you get to the Meadowlands, you have to park outside Giants Stadium and walk across a bridge over a highway to get to the arena. This bridge is a recipe for disaster.

For starters, it's over a quarter-mile long, and it's completely enclosed, which means that at any given moment there are thousands of fans in the tube. It's worse after the game. If you're claustrophobic, forget it, you'll be bugging out in no time once inside. This tube is also a recipe for a riot. Imagine a fight breaking out between fans of rival teams inside the tube and people starting to run, either toward or away from the fight. Even worse, it's an easy target for some kind of terrorist action. It's an enclosed bridge with thousands of people inside walking over a highway. That's bad news.

So moving on past that nugget of bad planning, we went into the arena, where four Devils fans, not realizing that their team was down 2-0 and seeded lower than mine, promptly reminded me that the Flyers suck. I wonder if they came up with that one on their own, because I've never heard that one before.

It turns out that those four fans made up about half of the Devils fan base. They're the defending Stanley Cup champs, and they can't even sell out their own building in the playoffs against one of their biggest rivals. Unfortunately, the management decided to make up for the lack of fans by handing out ThunderStix to make the crowd louder.

ThunderStix are the spawn of Satan. I wanted to run around the arena with a pin and pop every last one of them. Even worse, Devils fans have no rhythm at all. And if you're under 10 years old, ThunderStix turn into instruments with which to smack your parent who was nice enough to bring you to a playoff hockey game.

I don't know if it was because of the ThunderStix, but the Devils fans seemed to want to work them into every cheer. For example, during a penalty kill, the crowd started chanting, "De-FENSE! (thump, thump) De-FENSE! (thump, thump)." I understand the idea of the penalty kill is to stop the other team from scoring, but that chant doesn't belong in hockey, where there is no defensive unit. It's a football cheer. At least nobody made signs with a "D" and a fence.

Even worse, when there was a call that went against the Devils, the crowd responded with the same chant, instead substituting the words, "Bull-S---! (thump, thump)." As everyone outside of Jersey knows, that chant is supposed to go, "BUUULLLL-s---! BUUULLL-s---!" There are no claps involved, and the "bull" is drawn out. But of course the fans wanted to pound their Stix.

I will give the Devils fans some credit - they actually had a couple of relatively organized cheers, which isn't seen often in pro sports. Maybe it's because it's easier to organize so few fans. They did the standard "Gimme a D!" cheer, as well as a cheer where one fan whistled a tune, and hundreds responded with, "Flyers suck!"

I suppose they have to do that, because the presentation of the game sucks. There is no between-period entertainment - no mites on ice, no crowd shots, contests, nothing. I'm not talking about stuff that distracts from the game, but at least show replays or something during stoppages in play. The same rotating New Jersey Devils graphic gets old really quickly.

And the selection at the concession stand sucked, too.

Maybe if the Flyers had won, I would be more forgiving toward the Meadowlands' multiple flaws. But it's not likely. I thought the place was a dump when the Flyers were up 2-1 in the second period.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Citizens Bank Park: A Nice Place To Watch Phillies "Baseball"

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to witness the first game in the history of Philadelphia's new Citizens Bank Park and game 3 of the Flyers-Devils conference quarterfinal. At least, I thought it was good fortune.

The day had such promise, but it rained all day long and both Philly teams lost. So while I was lucky to be able to attend both events, it turned into a big disappointment.

I'll write about the Flyers game later this week, because I should devote a full column to the beginning of a brand new era in Phillies baseball. The stadium, that is. Not the losing. The Phils have been doing that for years.

The first thing you notice when you get off the subway and walk toward the new stadium is the absence of the old stadium. My whole life I was accustomed to seeing a pile of cement on the corner of Broad and Pattison. Now it's just a less organized pile of cement.

Just kidding (sort of). The Vet is no more, and walking by where it once stood, it's really striking how much area the stadium took up. The demolition crews have already carted off much of the rubble, so instead of standing in front of the Spectrum and looking at the monstrosity that was Veterans Stadium, you can see the Philadelphia skyline in the distance. It's a little eerie.

But out with the old, and in with the new. If blowing up a baseball will allegedly end the curse on the Cubs, then blowing up a stadium has to reverse the Phillies' fortunes. Right?

So, Citizens Bank Park, then. I entered on the third-base side, since that's the side that faces the subway station and Broad St. I assume most fans will be coming into the park that way, too. There are statues at the four corners of the stadium - Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, and Mike Schmidt. Appropriately, Schmidtty's statue graces the third-base entrance. So I walked in, picked up my rally towel and commemorative baseball.

Right when you walk in, you can see the playing field from the concourse, which is standard in many of the new stadiums, but for someone who suffered through missed action while going to the bathroom at the Vet, seeing the field - natural grass, at that! - from the concourse is a huge upgrade.

It was pouring rain just about all afternoon, and I didn't want to miss any of the opening ceremonies anyway, so I shelved the idea of taking a lap around the park for a better day and went to my seat.

Now, my brother and I got crazy lucky - our seats were in the Diamond Club, which is basically the VIP section of the stadium. We sat two rows behind the Reds' on-deck circle. We had to get bracelets to get into our seating area. And we had admission to an indoor area that served all kinds of food, beverages, and overlooked the teams' batting practice cages. Best of all, the tickets come with a $30 food, beverage, souvenir voucher. The Phils are treating the high rollers right, that's for sure. And we were lucky to be the highest of the high rollers. I know the on-deck hitters could hear us.

The opening ceremonies featured a video tribute to Tug McGraw and Paul Owens, the two Phillies who died in the offseason, as well as a video recap of the building of Citizens Bank Park. That video included a high-speed replay of the demolition of the Vet, which was really freaky - one second the Vet's there, and then the minute-long implosion was done in under a second, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust.

The game balls were delivered by 10 Navy SEAL paratroopers who were decked out in Phillies jerseys - a nice touch. And the anthem was concluded with a fly-over (although the jets passed the stadium with a few seconds still remaning in the song, not after it was over).

The stadium itself looks really nice. The out-of-town scoreboard along the right field wall has two color screens on it, which is a nice touch. There are double-decker bullpens in center field. And there's a oddly angled part of the wall in left-center, which is called "the angle." I guess that's supposed to add character to the park, but it's a little unnecessary. The stadium is nice enough to speak for itself.

It's no PNC Park, which I still say is the best stadium I've been to, but it's pretty close.

Unfortunately, the game had to begin, and when the Reds' D'Angelo Jimenez scored the first run in the stadium's history on a wild pitch, it became apparent that only the stadium had changed drastically. The product on the field still has a long way to go.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Bonderman, Lunacy, Little Mac, Pat McGee, Etc.

Break up the Tigers!

There's plenty of room on the Tigers' bandwagon after last season's horrific performance, but now they're off to a 4-0 start (and if you count their 5-1 finish to last season, they've won nine of their last 10). How can you not root for these guys? They had a 21-game loser and a 19-game loser last season. To put that in perspective, nobody lost 20 games in the 22 seasons before that.

Speaking of which, I think I'm going to go out and get a Jeremy Bonderman jersey. He was the 19-game loser, but how can you not like a guy named Bonderman? When I hear his name, all I can think of is the commercial for Bomber Man years ago that went to the tune of the Spider-Man theme music.

"Bonder-man, Bonder-man, losing ballgames across the land..."

Of course, he's 1-0 this season. And I'm on the Tiger bandwagon.

***

Bonderman may be the must-have jersey for me (okay, not really, Jevon Kearse's #93 Eagles jersey is). But I found someone whose jersey needs to be sported by Murphy Lee, right freakin' now.

The St. Lunatics are all about two things (aside from bling, and hoes, and big spinning rims on their Escalades): St. Louis and sports. Remember Nelly's Air Force Ones video, featuring Torry Holt and Ozzie Smith, among others?

So the other day, this guy makes his debut for the Cardinals and hits a home run in his first major league at-bat. And his name is Hector Luna.

Seriously, if you're a St. Lunatic, how can you not get a Luna #7 Cardinals jersey? It literally has your name all over it.

***

I know it's a long season. I know the Phillies have 158 games to go. I know the defending World Series champions were miserable in May and changed managers. But I'm still unsettled by the Fightin's 1-3 start. Early-season jitters, I hope.

Besides, Pat Burrell looks better than he did last season and Billy Wagner was sick in his save opportunity. 159-3, baby!

***

Ever take apart a Big Mac? It's a disappointing experience. Being Jewish during Passover and all, I dissected one so I could eat it without the buns, and made a depressing discovery.

There isn't much substance to a Big Mac. It's probably 60 percent bread.

Let me tell you, eating a smaller-than-expected Big Mac with a fork sucks.

***

So tomorrow I'm going to be in Boston for a Pat McGee concert, and I figured I'd hit up the bar next door beforehand so I could watch Game 2 of the Flyers-Devils series. It's on ESPN2, so I know it'll be on TV. Unfortunately, I've been informed that because Pedro Martinez is making his first home start of the season, every television in a public place in Boston will likely be tuned to the Sox game. Which means I'll have to do some pleading to see Martin Brodeur get sunburned from the goal lamp tomorrow night.

***

And on the subject of Pat McGee Band, their new CD dropped on Tuesday, and if you look closely in the video of the CD extra, you can see me in the crowd. I'm sure I'm the only one who will notice, but it's pretty cool to me. If you have the CD, check out the shots of the crowd from the right side of the stage (or stage left, I guess). I'm the good-looking guy wearing a backwards dark blue hat with a red brim.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Me And Stan

Every athlete in every sport does it "for the ring," or so they say. Ask them all and it's for the championship ring that comes with winning a title. In the NFL they don't say it's for the Lombardi Trophy, and in MLB and the NBA I can't even tell you the name of the trophy that goes to the champions.

The difference, of course, is the Stanley Cup. That's why hockey players play the game. They get rings, too, but they want their names on the Cup. That's permanent, and every team that wins joins the past legends in immortality.

There's a new trophy every year for the World Series champions. Because of that, nobody flocks to see the Series trophy. It's usually displayed at the entrance to the front offices of the teams that have won it.

But the Cup goes around the world, and everywhere it goes fans line up to get a look at the most famous trophy in all of sports. The Cup has been to the tops of mountains. Players have baptized their babies in the Cup. The Cup has been greeted by thousands of people at airports in the Czech Republic.

The Cup has been to ESPN. It was there last week, and it was glorious.

I of course had to go see the Cup. I didn't realize I would be underprepared. I got to the cafeteria, where the Cup was being displayed, and found myself in a line with people wearing jerseys, holding sticks, bringing their kids, etc. One guy had not only a stick, but gloves and a helmet, as well.

There are actually two Cups. One, which is a replica, sits in the Hockey Hall Of Fame in Toronto full-time. That one was created in the '90s. The one that travels around the globe is on the road 300 days a year, and it's the real deal. I'd seen the fake Cup, but never the original.

I got my moment with the Cup. I gave it a hug, and I pointed to Ken Dryden's name with a big grin, and someone in a Devils jersey snapped a Polaroid of me (the Devils thing kind of bugged me, but they are the defending champs). And ESPN even gave me a little folder for the picture with an ESPN Cup logo on the front and "The Stanley Cup, April 1, 2004" inside.

Crazy as it may sound, I think I'll die a little happier now.

Short, related story: When my ex-girlfriend sent me a picture of herself with the Cup this summer, I was really freakin' jealous. I actually was upset. I thought, "I got her into hockey! I deserve to see the Cup!"

Of course, now I'm over that.

I also met the guy who has the title of Greatest Job On The Planet, Mike Bolt. Actually, his title is really "Keeper Of The Cup," which is only different semantically. He babysits the Cup. The Cup goes somewhere, Mike is there. Consequently, he's been around the world, keeping a watchful eye on the most prized possession in sports.

I have a pretty cool job - I get to crunch stats and watch sports all day long. But I'd love to give that a try. I can't imagine any experience in the world that could compare to that. It must be such a unique feeling to be the guardian of the Stanley Cup. Everywhere you go, you see people smiling and awestruck at what you carry around.

By the way, I told him I expect to see him in Philly in a couple months.

***

Martha Burk, the chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, is continuing her crusade to force Augusta National, the club that hosts the Masters, into admitting a female member. And I have a problem with that, for two reasons.

First, Augusta National is a private club. They are prominent and influential in the world of golf, but they are a private club nonetheless. If they choose to remain all-male, then they should have that option. Think of them as a fraternity. Would it be ridiculous to force Delta Chi to admit a female member? If you think so, then why is this any different? Both are simply private, all-male clubs.

Second, and this bothers me more, is that Burk herself has admitted that "Augusta National is just a symptom of a much deeper problem." Well, if that's the case, then erasing a symptom isn't going to fix the problem. Go after the cause, not the effect of the problem. If you're running a business, and your stores are failing, do you put your efforts into saving one of them? No, you should try to figure out why they're failing and fix the problem at the source.