When I’m wrong, not often but every now and again, I like to be the first to admit it before everyone else piles on. Yes, I was wrong about the city of Oakland doing whatever it took to keep its baseball team at home. I said in this space and to others more than once the A’s would never move to Vegas because Oakland couldn’t be that foolish to let another professional franchise get away. Clearly they are. The A’s announced on Wednesday they have purchased land in Las Vegas and plan to move here. Oakland is now three for three in franchises lost: joining the A’s leaving the Bay are the Raiders who have been in Vegas for three seasons and the Golden State Warriors who now play in San Francisco. This will be the fourth move for the Philadelphia-Kansas City-Oakland-Las Vegas Athletics dating back to 1901. The A’s have become a shoddy franchise, and a very bad team playing in an outdated ballpark in Oakland that features the dreadful trifecta of sewage leaks, rats and lousy baseball. Ownership has done nothing during the past five or six years to make them competitive. They lost Saturday night 18-3. Their payroll is the lowest in baseball. Free agents leave, they never arrive. The city had a chance to save them with a new stadium and incentives but didn’t. So ownership will move the franchise to Vegas and build a $1.5 billion dollar, 35,000 seat stadium with a retractable roof just off the Strip a mile west of T-Mobile Arena and a mile north of the Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium. The land was purchased this week but plans for financing have not been solidified. No Nevadan has the appetite for public funding of this project. Winning over Vegas fans will not be easy. This is a town that embraced the NHL Golden Knights because they were born here and were incredibly successful from the get-go. Not so much for the Raiders, mediocre at best, who still draw legions of fans from California and a strong visiting team fan base that loves to party here. The Aces, defending WNBA champs, are an attraction because they win. UNLV basketball and football are not because they don’t. The A’s need to turn their fortunes around to overcome a very strong Dodgers fan base in Nevada. The new stadium, if everything falls into place, won’t be ready until 2027. It’s a safe bet the deplorable Oakland Coliseum, where the A’s play now in front of 10,000 a game on a good day, MLB’s worst, won’t be a home site too much longer as the city probably wants to get rid of them. A perfect temporary home might be Las Vegas Ballpark, up here in Summerlin about two miles from our front door, which was built for the A’s AAA team, the Aviators, and holds a little over 10,000. The Aviators average about 7,000 a game. Bringing that ballpark up to major league standards and adding capacity won’t be difficult. Bringing the A’s up to major league standards is an entire other story.
A juicy sidebar is word also filtered out this week that Raiders’ owner Mark Davis and A’s owner John Fisher are not too fond of each other dating back to their days as co-tenants in the Oakland Coliseum. In fact, Davis holds Fisher in distain for interfering with Oaklands’ plans some years ago to build a new stadium for the Raiders. Vegas is the home of UFC and championship boxing. It’s a pay-per-view for supremacy in the desert ready to happen. At the very least, it will get ugly.
In a world where there are public opinion polls for everything why not this one? FamilyDestinationsGuide.com asked 3,000 travelers “How far would you be prepared to drive to your chosen destination rather than fly for one hour?” New Hampshire residents want to get where they are going quickly and would only drive three hours and six minutes to avoid a one hour flight. Montanans, on the other hand, love dirty highway rest stops, fast food and road kill. Incredibly, they will drive 11 hours and 30 minutes to avoid wearing an airplane seat belt for an hour.
Quinnipiac University, a small liberal arts college of 10,000 students in Hamden, Connecticut, which has developed a niche for their political science department and related national polling, is pretty good at ice hockey, too. The Bobcats won their first ever national championship beating Minnesota in the NCAA hockey tournament a couple of weeks ago. Their head coach, Rand Pecknold, has been behind the bench since 1994, taking them from Division II to D-1 status in hockey in 1999. Good for them.
No doubt at some point we have all used the app Open Table to make a dining reservation. It’s quick and simple and when your check comes there’s no surcharge for the convenience. Not the case if you want to go bowling and reserve lanes in advance. Using the site Bowlero.com is a gutter ball. A California dad looking for an afternoon’s entertainment for his wife and son found that out in December. For a Thursday afternoon during Christmas break two reserved lanes at 3 pm were quoted at a family friendly rate of only $419. He called Bowlero and was told “The pricing for a reservation is different than our walk-in rates or any current advertised specials.” They went ice skating instead.
Tough watching Tiger Woods labor, especially walking, in the Masters. Reminded me of the late careers of Joe Namath as a Ram; Willie Mays as a Met and Muhammad Ali as a very slow, shell of himself fighter. None of their legacies were damaged by staying on stage too long, but for Tiger, if he really wants to compete, he needs to find golf courses less taxing on his gait, not necessarily his swing. And nobody will hold him accountable for goals not achieved if he calls it a day and/or in a few years plays the Senior Tour where not only would he be a huge attraction, inflating the rather paltry purse level of the tour, but he can also ride in a cart.
Did you know Masters runner-up Brooks Koepka is the great nephew of former two-sport professional athlete Dick Groat? Groat was a basketball All-America at Duke, leading the country in scoring in 1950-51, and the third player chosen in the first round by the Pistons in the 1952 NBA draft. After one season in the League, where the 5’11” guard averaged 12 points per game, his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates made him choose between basketball and baseball. Most experts said he was a better basketball player, but Groat also excelled on the diamond, the sport he chose. Over 14 seasons he hit .286, led the National League in 1960 with a .325 average, was an eight-time All-Star at shortstop and won world championships with the Pirates in 1960 and the Cardinals in 1964. These days Groat, 92, owns Champions Lake Golf Resort outside of Pittsburgh.
Happy birthday to three of my favorites. Ali McGraw just celebrated her 84th; Jack Nicholson is 86 and legendary comedian Shecky Green is 97 and still funny. Let’s add one more— character actress Elinor Donahue, who played oldest daughter Betty Anderson on Father Knows Best and Andy Griffith’s first TV girlfriend Ellie, is 86. Interestingly, Ms. Donahue only played that role for one season, the show’s first in 1960-61, asking for a release from her three year contract because she felt there was no onscreen chemistry between her and Sheriff Taylor. That opened the door for Helen Crump to waltz in and bring the lawman to his knees.
Also, happy anniversary to the Ford Mustang, unveiled 59 years ago this week. It debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Seven years later I was one of the cool kids driving a red one.
Aging put in perspective by Mike Hallman, my successor as CEO of Medjet, who two weeks ago had successful hip replacement surgery, ”You know you are getting old when you walk into rehab and sitting there are two guys you went to high school with.”
Speaking of days gone by, Andi and I got to see a real treat last weekend as Smokey Robinson, 83, opened a two night engagement in the packed Venetian Hotel showroom. Close your eyes and for 90 minutes let him take you back to being a kid again. The legend is still incredibly smooth.
I love those who say with baseball’s new rules games are now over too quickly. Apparently that’s the case for fans of the Diamondbacks, Rangers, Twins and aptly enough the Brewers, who extended beer sales in their home stadiums from the end of the seventh inning to the end of the eighth. The pace of play picked up by an average of 30 minutes a game so there needed to be more time to get sloppy before getting in the car and hitting the highway.
Here’s a business plan that really needed a second look. The Virgin Mary Pub, the only non-alcoholic pub in Ireland, just shut its doors.
Those who follow SMC regularly, both of you, no doubt recall the frustrating experience with eyesight issues I had at the Pittsburgh Pirates December baseball fantasy camp. My vision was so compromised I couldn’t see the ball which they tell me is a prerequisite for baseball success. It was my 14th fantasy camp overall and my eighth in a Pittsburgh uniform. If I had any doubts it was my last one the narrative on the back of the baseball card I received from the Pirates cinched it.
Raiders fans are not really convinced the combination of general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels are the just-win-baby combination to bring the silver and black back to Al Davis era prominence. The duo, both arriving West from New England, let quarterback Derek Carr go and replaced him with former Patriot Jimmy Garaffelo, who during the course of a season has more injuries than TD passes. However, to date that hasn’t been the real off-season head scratcher. That’s the decision to sign 37-year-old Brian Hoyer as Jimmy G’s back-up when JG goes on the injured list. Hoyer, another ex-Pat, hasn’t won a game as an NFL starter since 2016, a string of 15 straight losses.
The Stanley Cup playoffs, the most grueling of any professional sports postseason, began this week with 16 teams chasing that 16th win to hoist the Cup. In my heart I’d like to see Vegas and the Rangers play for it all but Vegas, the regular season Western Conference champs, won’t get past either Edmonton or Colorado with goaltending being the difference. The Rangers are good but so is the Eastern Conference dominated in the regular season by Boston. If Edmonton can get past LA in the first round I’ll pick them to win the Cup. The flip side is it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Boston win the coveted double: the Bruins and Celtics in the NBA.
My season long over/under win total wagers are both off to a good start despite a key injury to my two ‘over’ teams. The Pirates and Texas Rangers both lost their shortstops: the Pirates’ O’Neil Cruz and the Rangers’ Cory Seager, for extended time with injuries. Cruz and Seager are offensive threats and defensive cogs, but the teams keep winning while holding a place card for both to return sometime this summer. In fact the Pirates are on a league best six game winning streak at 15-7. The Rangers are 13-7. The other good news is the Kansas City Royals, whom I have under 70 wins, haven’t lost any players and so far still could only muster five wins in 21 games. The only team worse is the Las Vegas A’s with four wins.
Keeping up with the price of gasoline and eggs, 60 years ago in 1963 the average salary for a Major League Baseball player was $7,000. Ten years later, once free agency entered the game, it jumped to $147,000. This year with the price of groceries through the dome, at least the guys can still provide for their families earning an average wage of $4.9 million.
Finally, I dare you to go ahead and tell me I am not a man of the people of all denominations. J.J. Steinhoff is a gentlemen I befriended back in the 90s when I was managing a pari-mutuel racetrack in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We have been in touch casually through the years as he is a regular SMC reader. Earlier this month I got a message from J.J. asking for advice. He wrote, “I have to turn in an ad tomorrow for a fundraiser and I can’t make up my mind which one to use. I’ve gone back and forth repeatedly. Can you take a look and let me know which one you think is better.” Well, this was new territory for me. I’ve never been asked to evaluate an ad for a church hawking hams for Easter. I wrote back, “Nothing like asking a Jew about an Easter ham ad, eh J.J.?” He sheepishly responded, “That is hilarious and never even crossed my mind!” Hoping my Rabbi Baden isn’t reading this, I undertook the goyisha challenge and recommended the ad that ultimately was a winner. The church sold out of hams.