The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

2005 Baseball Hall of Famers

Even though I don't have a say in the matter, here's who I think will be inducted into Cooperstown in August:

As for the Veterans Committe selections - well, it's still a big unknown, but I suspect we'll get at least one chosen from the Vets this year - and possibly three:

Monday, December 20, 2004

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

(Don't you hate when you go to post, and you hit the ENTER key by mistake - and you have a blank post? Ugh.)

Some Monday Morning observations:

That's all for now - until I remember something else...

Friday, December 17, 2004


I have had, over the last 24 hours, an epiphany of sorts about the NHL lockout.

I now believe that, with good reason, that there will be hockey in the new year, and when it occurs, it will be because of a CBA with some form of a salary cap system at its core.

My reasons for this change of heart began with a bit of inside information. I have a source – I won't say who or how – that suggests that there will probably be a deal within two weeks time.

It also came with a bit of news, albeit from a source I generally don't cater well to (the Toronto Globe and Mail). In a recent article, writer David Naylor pointed out here that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), once staffed with Democratic appointees, is now more conservative – thanks to President Bush, who appointed them to that position.

Now, granted, we are a far, far way off from the NLRB being involved in this whole situation. However, the NHL can actually use the example set by MLB 10 years ago to make sure that when they call for an impasse, it is, in fact, an impasse.

That, of course, is the rub of playing the "nuclear holocaust" scenario: the only way you can be sure that your labor negotiations are really at an impasse is after the fact, when the NLRB says it's there. However, the union's primary argument about "bargaining in good faith" hangs on whether or not demanding a salary cap as a basis of all future negotiation is considered such.

It is likely that the Bush appointees on the board would rule, as long as the league did everything else correctly and by the book, that the league has every right to set down requirements for a deal. That means they can say "any agreement has to have a salary cap" (or "cost certainty," as Bettman has often put it).

It would then become that much harder for the players and the NHLPA to prove the league wasn't acting in good faith. Do remember, of course, that the burden of proof about "good faith bargaining" is on the union, and not on management. You can see how, barring any unforseen circumstances, that would put the players in a hard place.

There's also an external pressure on the NHLPA – if the declaration of an impasse were to be upheld by the NLRB, that would create a precedent; one that the other three major league sports would be more than willing to try to use in their future negotiations. And do remember, the NBA's CBA expires next year, and the NFL's the year after that (and MLB's the year after that). I would doubt that Billy Hunter, Gene Upshaw or (especially) Donald Fehr would want that to happen.

So this brings things back to the present. And, as much posturing as there is about rejecting deals, there is something to be noted in the most recent exchanges of proposals.

Namely, the NHLPA's 24 percent rollback of salaries really wasn't a PR move. It was an act of desperation, along the lines of a team that pulls its goalie when they're down by a goal with two minutes to go in the game.

I've pointed out before that experts in sports labor negotiations saw the 24% rollback as a bad precendent to set in CBA negotiations. The relatively-short history of sports bargaining has never seen such a large giveback, in terms of money, as the NHLPA's latest proposal. The NBA's recent salary giveback for exceeding a percentage of revenue doesn't even come close to what Goodenow and company committed to paper.

That move is a sign – a sign of desperation. It is a clear message from the NHLPA: we'll accept anything but a cap. That is a bad place to be put in, from a negotiation standpoint.

I think that it is time that Trevor Linden, Arturs Irbe and the rest of the PA's executive council sit down with Ted Saskin and Bob Goodenow and strongly consider the option of a "soft cap". That may be the only way the two sides can come away from these negotiations with some shred of dignity – and without completely destroying the game in the process.

You'll notice I said "soft cap", not the "hard cap" that the NHL put out there as one of their primary offers. A soft cap, or perhaps more appropriately a "sliding cap", varies based on revenue figures. If the NHLPA can get the cap number to be palatable – perhaps a top-end absolute of 60% and a "penalty phase" of 56% of league-wide revenues – they can sell it to their members as a way of salvaging the season and guaranteeing that, as long as revenues increase league-wide, the free-market system will continue for the top players.

I also think that the NHLPA will seek a lot of concessions in other areas to balance this out. Things like having a greater say in rules development, no restrictions on performance clauses or bonuses (perhaps an NFL-style "pro-rating" of bonuses over the life of the contract?), and a better arbitration system could be chips to cash in over the cap issue.

I believe that the NHL would be willing to consider a soft cap – if the players agreed to it. That way, the Bettman could declare victory and, as they say, get the hell out. Meanwhile, the NHLPA could bide its time, wait until the league is back on its feet financially, and then broach the subject of going capless once again.

I do believe that we're closer to a deal now than we've been for the last five years or so. And I also believe that neither side really wants to go nuclear and cancel the season. However, it's in the players' hands right now; if they want to get back on the ice, they can do it without really losing.

Remember: collective bargaining isn't about winning or losing – it's about working together to come up with the best deal possible for both sides. Sometimes management has the upper hand in the resulting agreement; sometimes labor gets the best of the deal. Sometimes the most important thing is to get the deal done.

It's time to get the deal done; there's too much at stake on both sides of the table.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Do Sports Need A Breather?

I am openly starting to wonder if all four major league sports need to take a year off.

The complete and total ennui surrounding the NHL lockout in the United States (and, for the most part, in Canada) seems to suggest that people just don't care about sports, unless it is essentially right in front of them.

So I wonder - what would happen if not only the NHL, but the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball all simply said, "we're taking the year off"?

More than likely, the year off would be labor related, but either way it would force the owners, players and fans of those sports to re-evaluate everything about the game.

And, most importantly, it would cause everyone to re-evaluate the sport's importance to society as a whole.

At this point, it would be hard to say that losing sports wouldn't have an effect on society; between the four major league sports, there's an awful lot of pepole who have a lot of money invested in them.

But, could we all survive without the NFL for a year? Or Baseball? Or Basketball? The litmus test for this idea may be the current hockey lockout.

The old saying is, "if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

In that spirit, the question may become, "if a sport doesn't play for a year, and no one cares or notices, does it really matter?"

And, is this something pro sports really wants to do?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Hockey is Dead

All right, this is it.

The NHL is, for all practical purposes, dead.

And, quite probably, as soon as the 2004-05 AHL season is done, the Milwaukee Admirals will be as well.

I wore my black Preds practice jersey to work tonight - for the last time.

I'll continue to support the Admirals, wear my Ads jerseys, root for the boys on the ice.

But when we play the last game of the Calder Cup playoffs at the BC - in front of a crowd of oh, three or four thousand or so - and even as we skate around with the Cup named for the person who, many years ago, ruled hockey with an iron fist (kinda like how Bettman is trying to do it today - but I digress), I'll be in mourning.

I'll be in mourning because hockey is dead.

Hockey in Nashville, hockey in Chicago, hockey in Milwaukee, hockey in Pensacola, hockey in Rockford, hockey in Middlanowhere - all dead.

And I'll take my jersey off, and wait for the announcement that the team has ceased operations because a buyer couldn't be found.

I'll find something else to do; maybe figure out how the Brewers are going to win with an outfield of Jenkins, Krynzel and Lee.

Or maybe contemplate how the Packers can sew up Brett Favre for one more season.

Or, perhaps, consider ways coach Eaves can get more talent out of the kids in Madison to take the WCHA crown.

Maybe I could even figure out a way that Barry Alvarez can get over the hump of late-season demises at the hands of Big Ten nemeses like Iowa and Michigan State (and maybe, just maybe, play for a National Championship in a Bowl playoff system).

Heck, I might even petition my alma mater, UW-Whitewater, to consider moving up to Division II in Men's basketball.

But even though the time from late January and the Super Bowl to the first pitch of spring training is long, I'll suffer through it.

Without the game I used to love.

Think of the money I'll save - no having to shell out $200 or more for season ticket vouchers; no more having to wonder what the price for parking at Lloyd's will be; no more having to pay those outrageous prices for a soda and a hot dog at a game.

And (meaningful pause from the guy who designed no more having to shell out $10 a year for membership to a booster club.

I'll have so much more time to ponder important things in life.

Like, say, how much I can sell my Scott Walker stick for on eBay.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Does it Matter?

A point taken from Henry Aaron, when he was asked about the whole Giambi/Bonds/BALCO issue:

"...I know that you can't put something in your body to make you hit a fastball, changeup, or curveball. The only person who can do that is the good Lord. But, at that age (40), you have to ask: Did he accomplish all of this by rejuvenating his strength from day to day with those substances? I know that when you reach a certain age, you just don't bounce back as quickly as you think you can when you're playing all of those games."

"Drugs won't help you hit the ball. But can they make you recuperate consistently enough to hit the kind of home runs that these guys are hitting?"

Aaron paused, sighed, and added, "Any way you look at it, it's wrong."

(Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Terence Moore)

What I'd love to ask Mr. Aaron is this: when he was in his final years here in Milwaukee with the Brewers, if he had access to the medication and treatments - not necessarily "illegal" or "prescribed" drugs - that you have today, and you knew from other players that using this stuff would help you get back to feeling more yourself, instead of aching, limping and sore - would you do them or use them?

I don't care much for Barry Bonds, the individual. He is a very private man, and wants to keep to himself most of the time. Some people are just like that. The issue here is whether or not you believe his statements to the grand jury - which, by the way, it was illegal for that testimony to be leaked out to the public.

Those who don't like Bonds don't believe him when he says he thought they were "linseed oil cream" and "clear arthritis rub." They believe that he should know what he's putting in and on his body - and that by taking something like that from his personal trainer at face value is way too naiive for a college-educated guy like Barry.

The only two people who know the truth are Greg Anderson and Barry Bonds. And I'm not sure either one of them are going to spill the beans (pardon the pun) right now.

Yeah, the MLBPA is probably going to have to agree to some form of more stringent testing - suspensions earlier in the process, more random tests, etc. - but I really don't think it's going to be that big of a deal.

Steroids do have their place in the healing process, when used properly under a doctor's care for a specific condition. There are problems and side effects - which should be part of an education campaign in baseball, by the way - but the fact that these statements made the light of day should be a huge discouragement for those who are on "the juice" now.

The message is clear: "This stuff won't be tolerated from now on."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Best News In A While

Taken from the NHLPA's website:

The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) confirms today that NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow sent a letter this morning to Gary Bettman inviting the League’s Negotiating Committee to attend a meeting in Toronto next week with the NHLPA Executive Committee and senior NHLPA officials.

The letter also confirms that the NHLPA is working on a new proposal which it believes should provide the basis for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and thus end the owners’ lockout.

"Almost three months have passed since the players made their last proposal and we have yet to receive a counter-offer from the league. We have been working hard at other creative solutions and believe our new proposal will provide a basis to end the owners’ lockout and resume NHL hockey," Bob Goodenow, NHLPA executive director.

"Let's hope this is a start..."