LAS VEGAS--They are trying to sell the game. They are up against every sport imaginable. They have fans dropping away. So the people in charge of Major League Baseball had a wonderful opportunity Thursday to win a few back.
And then they struck out looking – because of something we could not see. At least not here in Las Vegas. And we were not alone.
I came into the sports book at the South Point on Thursday to do a little bit of homework and look at the numbers before my show on VSiN. Then a gentleman came up to me and said, “You’ve got to say something about not being able to watch the Dodgers and the Cubs.”
I honestly thought the man was referring to his cable package at home, so I said, “Listen, you know there are some restrictions. Do you have the Extra Innings baseball package?”
“No,” he said. “I mean I can’t see the Dodgers and the Cubs right here at South Point.”
I thought there had to be an oversight. So I went up to the counter and inquired. That is when I came in contact with this antiquated – and I do mean antiquated blackout rule employed by baseball.
My first reaction was what are they thinking? Because the Dodgers were playing at Wrigley Field, were they afraid someone might stay home in Las Vegas and not drive 1,700 miles to Chicago to see the game?
So then I delved into it a little bit further, and I found out that it was not only the Dodgers. There are restrictions on the Angels, the Giants, the A’s, the Padres and the Diamondbacks. They are all considered part of this region that includes Las Vegas. It is a local blackout policy that somehow applies even though the closest team is more than 200 miles away.
They are crazy.
Then I delved into this even further, and I found out that the two places hardest hit by local blackout rules are Las Vegas and the state of Iowa. That’s right. All those teams in the Midwest from the Cardinals up through Chicago and into Milwaukee and Minnesota claim Iowa as their local territory.
OK, it is only 140 miles from eastern Iowa to Chicago. But preventing the entire state from full access to five different teams? What’s the point?
It gets even stranger for the Giants and the A’s, who both claim Guam in their local market. That’s right. Guam. If you are among the 165,000 people who live on an island nearly 6,000 miles from the mainland U.S., you can complain all you want to the cable company in Hagåtña, but you are still subjected to a blackout.
Is anybody home in Major League Baseball? Hello?
If Major League Baseball thinks the slow pace of the game is a big problem, how about having no place to see the game? And when it came to the Chicago Cubs, the defending world champion, playing the Los Angeles Dodgers, who happen to come from a rather large city themselves, that game should have been available to every casino in Las Vegas – not to mention every home that wanted it.
The National Basketball Association really injured its credibility by letting the Brooklyn Nets get away with what they did on the final night of the regular season by allowing six of their regulars – including their four leading scorers – to sit out against the Chicago Bulls.
Because the Bulls needed the win to make the playoffs, it was a meaningful game. I am not saying the Nets would have beaten the Bulls if they did not have Brook López and Jeremy Lin tied behind their back. But after starting the season 9-49, they were 11-12 since March 1 going into their last game. They were competitive – but not to the very end.
The Bulls won by 49 in a game that had a reported attendance of 21,648, presumably meaning that as many tickets to get into the United Center were sold at least originally at a healthy price. And what did those 21,648 fans get? A visiting team that rested athletes not for the playoffs but for golf dates and a summer vacation.
The Nets owed the Miami Heat – the team the Bulls knocked out of the playoffs – and every fan of the National Basketball Association their best effort to at least take a chance.
Is anybody home in Adam Silver’s office? Hello?
For giving so many nights off to finish the season – and for giving the fans nothing – the Brooklyn Nets should be fined immediately – at least $5 million.
I hope you have been paying attention to what Vinny Magliulo has been saying lately about underdogs in baseball. The South Point oddsmaker has been urging us to seriously consider some long shots early in the season, and they have been paying off.
If you bet certain underdogs in baseball the past couple days, you could have made a bloody fortune. On Wednesday no fewer than six favorites priced at –125 or shorter came up losers. Then look at Thursday:
* Cleveland was –200 with Josh Tomlin starting, and they were out of it early against the White Sox.
* Despite being –165 favorites Madison Bumgarner and the Giants lost again, this time to Colorado.
* It took 16 innings and more than four hours, but the Marlins at –132 finally lost to the Mets.
* The Tigers were –124 and lost at home to Minnesota.
* The Cincinnati Reds at –113 came crashing to earth after their fine start, falling to the Brewers.
Is anybody home among the favorites in baseball? Hello?
I am not saying they all come in, but the underdogs are worth a longer look early in baseball season simply because trends have not been established.
It does make you wonder about Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, who woke up Friday to being –250 favorites at home against the 7-3 Diamondbacks.
A ticket or two on Arizona, anyone?
A very powerful figure and a personal friend died Thursday in the National Football League. Dan Rooney passed away at age 84 after a lifetime devoted not only to the Pittsburgh Steelers but also to supporting Irish-American charities, leading him to becoming America’s ambassador to Ireland for more than three years.
Rooney built the Steelers into a dynasty in the 1970s after his father put the team in his good hands. Art Rooney was a legendary horse player, and that is actually how he wound up with the team. He won a big bet and used $2,500 of it in 1933 to buy a place in the new league that George Halas co-founded 13 years earlier. The two of them became great friends, and the Rooneys are still very close to the Halas family that owns the Chicago Bears.
It was Dan who later built the Steelers into a dynasty in the 1970s, but my first contact with the Rooneys came back in 1963, when the Bears were going for a championship, and I was just a young newspaperman from Chicago.
There was an important game that fall in Pittsburgh, and it happened to be two days after the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Pete Rozelle, the young commissioner of the NFL, was forever sorry that he played on that weekend, but play he did.
In the Bears’ bus that we took out to the game that day we were listening on the radio when Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the police station in Dallas. It was just more doom and gloom. The players on the bus did not want any part of playing that day, and we did not want to be covering football. But the game was on.
I went into the antiquated press box at old Forbes Field, where we were exposed to the 35-degree cold. It was just horrendous. I spotted an old guy there in a top coat and a hat, and he was standing by the coffee machine. I went down and I was complaining about having to work and just bitching about the situation in general.
He said to me, “Young man, maybe this will help you.”
I will never forget this. He reached into his top coat, took out a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and poured a shot of it into my coffee. I have to admit that I did feel better after that. The hurt of losing President Kennedy certainly did not go away, but it kind of calmed my feelings.
The game started, and I was sitting next to Pat Livingston, the Steelers beat writer from the Post-Gazette. I said, “Who’s the old guy down there by the coffee machine?”
Pat said, “That’s Art Rooney, the owner of the team.”
After that gloomy day, when the Steelers and Bears played to a 17-17 tie, Art and I became good friends. For years after that we laughed about it, and we joked about it. He was a wonderful man, and he had great family.
His son not only built the Steelers into a perennial force, but Dan also guided the NFL’s push to give minority candidates a fair shot at getting jobs as head coaches and general managers. The Rooney Rule is part of his legacy.
To say the least, the National Football League is really going to miss Dan Rooney.