Sunday, June 24, 2018

Getting money from sports gambling won't make Nutting spend

Maybe you’ve heard that gambling on sports is about to become legal in Pennsylvania. Last week, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board asked for comment on the wagering regulations that are in place now, and Pirates President Frank Coonelly, most likely at the request of the owner, Bob Nutting, response included this: “Without professional sports there can be no professional sports betting. Providing a professional sports product is a costly endeavor.”
Maybe we should interrupt this letter here to reflect on the profits that the Nuttings have made with the Pirates and the massive increase in the value of the franchise since they took over ownership of the franchise.
But, back to the letter: “While our landlord is responsible for capital repairs and improvements at PNC Park, the Pirates are responsible for maintenance and operational expenses at PNC Park, which has been named the premier ball park in the country since its opening in 2001.”
Sorry for another interruption, but it should probably be pointed out that the taxpayers paid for almost the entire cost of PNC Park.
Coonelly went on: “The capital needs at PNC Park are significant and, unfortunately, are much higher than the current funds allocated to them by our landlord. (Sports and Exhibition Authority).”
But the best part was the kicker: “It stands to reason that a portion of the revenue collected from sports wagering should be allocated to the maintenance and upkeep of PNC Park and other sports based facilities in Pennsylvania which provides (sic) for sports wagering in the first place. We are concerned that no such provision is included in the current law or regulation.”
Are you, as a Pennsylvania taxpayer, concerned?
Do you think getting a piece of the gambling revenue pie will keep the Pirates competitive the same way that PNC Park has?
Remember that laughable claim that came nine years into a string of 20 consecutive losing seasons?
If the Pirates are entitled to a slice of the state’s revenue from the gambling tax, shouldn’t car manufacturers and dealers be lining up to have the state kick in a portion of the second highest gas tax in the United States to pay for their costs?
What would be the point of gasoline if there were no cars?
Don’t blame the Nuttings for asking. Good for them if they can get it. Just wait to see if the state politicians are dumb enough to give it to them. Don’t bet against the Nuttings.
  • As you watch Nutting’s team struggle to stay out of last place in the NL Central while making huge profits under Major League Baseball’s revenue sharing system that allows small market teams to be profitable without winning a lot, it should warm your heart to know that your favorite baseball family just got a million dollars for their ski resorts at Seven Springs and Hidden Valley.
The state Redevelopment and Assistance Capital Program is actually giving the money to Seven Springs Borough, but it will be used to build two multi-purpose event centers.
The Republican state senator responsible for stealing your money and giving it to the Nuttings is Pat Stefano of Bullskin who said, “This funding is crucial to jobs, economic development and promoting tourism expansion in the Laurel Highlands.”
Sure it is.
It’s good to be the Nuttings. Do you think they care that you don’t like them because the Pirates stink? Fortunately, fewer and fewer fans are using their money to make them a little richer. At last look, the Pirates’ attendance was down 29%.
  • I’ve been spending the last few days trying to conjure up a scintilla of interest in how Iceland is doing in the World Cup. Not there yet. I’ll keep you posted.
  • Former Celtics and Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale was spotted at a Trump rally in Minnesota. Not speaking. Not on stage with the President. Just another guy in the crowd. That brought him a lot of criticism from some in the sports media. Many of the same people who have been supporting Colin Kaepernick’s right to protest on company time were calling for McHale to be fired from his job as an analyst at TNT and to be barred from ever working in the NBA again.
Just for showing up.
  • Coming into the weekend, the Pirates are 25-35 since their 11-4 start. That really stinks. You think maybe that start that had so many people so excited might have been a fluke?
  • As I have been doing for several years now, I will be watching Canadian Football League games instead of the Pirates. Thank you, ESPN.
  • Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated pointed out recently that there will be more strikeouts in the first half of this Major League Baseball season than their were in the entire 1980 season. But, if you dare suggest that baseball was better back then, it will be because you’re old.
John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

Phil Kessel should be grateful, not angry


By Mark Madden
June 23, 2018
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What a summer: All Kessel, all the time.
The latest installment in the Phil Kessel saga came Friday, when Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said his relationship with Kessel is fine. Sullivan looked mad when he said it, too. Yikes. Better not write or talk about it anymore. (By the way, what else is Sullivan going to say?)
The sympathy pendulum in this reality series is swinging Sullivan's way, because the question begs: Why is Kessel always angry?
Kessel is, you know. He's not happy unless he's unhappy. Kessel doesn't like Sullivan. He won't ever like any head coach. Kessel and Rick Tocchet were close when Tocchet was Sullivan's assistant in Pittsburgh. But if Kessel went to Arizona, where Tocchet is head coach, he'd hate Tocchet inside a week. (That possibility was discussed, incidentally.)
That's just how Kessel is. It doesn't make him a bad person or a bad player. Pittsburgh has embraced him as a cartoon-character anti-hero, and here's guessing the perception of Kessel in the locker room isn't far from that.
But Kessel is decidedly a pain in the backside.
Kessel was selected fifth in the 2006 draft. The four players selected above him have been traded once between them. Kessel got traded twice before he turned 28. His quirkiness tags him with a sell-by date.
Kessel will stay in Pittsburgh, for now. GM Jim Rutherford either can't find a trade partner or has concluded that replacing Kessel's 92 points and excellence on the power play would be difficult. Probably both.
Kessel should be thankful.
Kessel had a career year last season. He complains about Sullivan — that is most certainly true — but the coach apparently deployed him in reasonably effective fashion. Using Kessel, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on separate lines to artificially create balance didn't always work, but still: 92 points.
It's fashionable to tiptoe around Kessel. The Penguins staff does. The media does. The latter group harangued Kessel in Toronto, and some of it was unfair.
But much of the criticism aimed at Kessel is fair and true.
He doesn't practice hard or work hard off the ice. He does the minimum.
He doesn't hit or block shots.
His consecutive-games streak (now at 692) has kept him in the lineup when he's hurt. If Kessel was injured in the playoffs — nobody can agree on that — maybe missing a few games late in the regular season would have helped. But Sullivan didn't scratch him. (That's an example of the tiptoeing.)
As noted, Kessel is a complainer. Consider his campaign to skate on Malkin's line. (Has anybody asked Malkin what he wants?) Kessel was correct to fancy that and often was on Malkin's right.
But how much can you logically kvetch when you're on your way to 92 points? Players often get 92 points (or more) without being a migraine. Crosby and Malkin have done it frequently.
Kessel and the Penguins need each other, but maybe the terms should change.
Kessel is 30. It's time for the hand-holding to stop.
Kessel is fifth on the Penguins' totem pole in terms of importance, trailing Crosby, Malkin, Matt Murray and Kris Letang.
The Penguins hadn't won the Stanley Cup in six years before Kessel arrived. Kessel performed well and the Penguins won two Cups, so Kessel lived up to his part of the bargain and then some.
But the Penguins fixed Kessel.
Before Kessel got to Pittsburgh, he was the butt of jokes. He was the fat schmuck who ate too many hot dogs. Right or wrong, that was the perception. Ask the average hockey fan, and that's what he knew about Kessel.
Since then, President Obama has called Kessel a Stanley Cup champion. President Trump cracked wise about Kessel's sister, Amanda, being a better player. Kessel is a nice guy, tries hard and loves the game. A T-shirt says so. Total makeover.
Kessel has done a lot for the Penguins. But playing for the Penguins has done just as much for Kessel and probably more.
Kessel needs to get past angry and move on to gratitude. At the very least, let gratitude temper that anger.
He won't. Kessel will do what he likes, say what he wants and play as he prefers. Sullivan's relationship with Kessel will remain “fine” as long as the coach works within those confines.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Pittsburgh Pirates Take Sports Betting ‘Integrity Fee’ to Whole New Level

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

If Neal Huntington was sincere about adding to Pirates, he'd do it now


By Tim Benz
June 18, 2018
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We hear it all the time. “The Pirates are run like a business.”
Sometimes that turn of phrase is used as a defense of their payroll strategies. Sometimes it's used as the ultimate indictment of them.
Either way, it's true. The Pirates clearly prioritize profit over performance. Otherwise, why would they have traded Gerrit Cole as he was approaching a major payday? Why would they have dealt team legend Andrew McCutchen with one year remaining on a contract that would be deemed affordable by most other organizations?
Those were just two personnel subtractions that were made — along with numerous other “keeps” and additions that failed to occur — that suggested the bottom line in the bank statement is more important than the bottom line of the win-loss record.
Well, now more than ever, Bob Nutting and his deputies — namely president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington — need to run the Pirates like a business.
A new business. One that just moved into the neighborhood. One that hasn't built up a consumer base or name cachet yet.
So when Huntington says, as he did Sunday, that the Pirates will “continue to look to add to this club if we can,” then they better do it.
When Huntington doubled down by claiming the organization has “had more conversations about adding players, at this point in time, than subtracting players,” then he better add before this 36-36 club comes off the rails.
It needs the help. Frankly, it probably has exceeded expectations to this point anyway.
If these alleged plans to improve the roster don't materialize, and players are subtracted once the wild card becomes out of reach, the chasm of distrust between the fan base and the front office will become even more vast.
If the Pirates are going to add, add quickly. Don't give time an opportunity to change your mind.
New businesses that don't deliver on promises turn off potential customers. And let's face facts. Based on how attendance has dropped this year, the Pirates basically are starting off as a new business. They are starting from scratch with this fan base.
Many loyal, die-hards have tuned out thanks to disinterest or actively are staying away out of anger. The goodwill established thanks to that three-year wild-card run has evaporated. Plus, for as beautiful as PNC Park still is, it's 17 years old. There's no one left in Pittsburgh saying, “Gee, I'd like to see that new stadium someday. I just haven't gotten 'round to it n'at.”
So “Team Nutting” not only needs to reconstruct its batting order, starting rotation and bullpen, it needs to reconstruct its fan base.
Manager Clint Hurdle was fond of using the phrase “rebonding with the fan base” when he got hired in 2011. Huntington was loath to use the word “rebuild” this winter. Whatever “re”-tasking this business is facing with its customers is something larger than both of those.
How about “resurrecting?” Is that a dramatic enough picture to paint? Honestly, at this point, it still may be an understatement.
If Huntington doesn't pay off on those quotes, the Pirates' bad reputation as a business that doesn't give its consumers what it claims only gets further entrenched.
Let's say there is a tavern in your neighborhood. It's a dive. You stopped going years ago.
The owner shuts it down for two-and-a-half years, then reopens it with a new name. He claims you'll like it better this time because they've got a few new taps, and they serve pizza now.
But when you walk back in, the floor sticks worse than it did, that old stale beer stench is even stronger, the popcorn machine still doesn't work and that weird old guy at the end of the bar hasn't left his stool near the video poker machine.
You probably aren't going to go back in again, are you?
Well, that's what this management team has turned PNC Park into. The local watering hole that went from a hip tavern to a nuisance bar overnight.
So here's a little advice for Huntington: don't tell your patrons about exciting new additions, then just deliver with a new welcome mat and a fresh coat of paint.
You did that already recently. You called him Drew Hutchison. That didn't work out so well.
And definitely don't sell off the dartboards and the pool table to make it worse.
For the record, I didn't believe the sales jobs of the past. I'm not buying this one, either.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at tbenz@tribweb.com or via Twitter@TimBenzPGH.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Brown's words, actions don't align in media controversy

He scolded the media for making his life difficult after a minicamp practice Tuesday. He said he skipped the last eight organized team activities to go home to Florida with his five kids and get his mind right.
It was a pretty good advertisement for eliminating OTAs, but could it be a sign Brown just wants to play football and being the best wide receiver in the NFL is enough?
You can thank social media for players developing less patience for the standard media every day. Brown can produce his own story. Why does he need a reporter to to put a negative spin on it?
When Brown did his 17-minute Facebook Live appearance after the Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in a playoff game in January 2017, he bragged that 40,000 people were watching.
The Steelers had advanced to the AFC Championship against the Patriots the following week and his head coach, Mike Tomlin, was heard giving an explicit message to the team.
It didn’t go over well.
For a while now, players in all sports have had the ability to produce their own stories about themselves. They can reach over a million followers in 10 seconds on Twitter and all they need is a cell phone.
The President of the United States has shown them you can reach all the people needed without bowing to the media.
Brown likes attention. Scoring a touchdown in an NFL game doesn’t get him quite enough so he throws in a game of hide-and-seek with his teammates.
Brown would be perfectly within his rights to politely tell the media he’s going to take a season off from doing interviews and will only do what’s absolutely required by the league.
Limit all of his postgame comments to Twitter or Facebook or keep all of his thoughts to himself. Media covering the team probably wouldn’t like it, but it’s not his job to write the stories for them.
Declare a media blackout, Antonio. You won’t last a week.
  • The idiots who run baseball are worried about attendance. Commissioner Rob Manfred said so after the owners meetings last week.
They should be.
As various media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and Fortune Magazine pointed out, attendance is down 6.6 percent from this time last year and 8.6 percent overall. This could be the first season since 2003 with an average below 30,000 fans per game.
Averaging over 30,000 per game over a 162 game season is still pretty impressive, especially when you consider the average ticket price is $31, but it’s never good when your league is threatening to set records for poor attendance.
Nobody should be surprised the attendance numbers for the Pirates plummeted 29 percent after the offseason they had.
There are lots of teams worse than the Pirates, including six that are playing below .400. As Fortune Magazine points out, there have never been more than five teams that finished below that number.
The games are boring and they are long. There are way too many strikeouts. The Cardinals recently used five pitchers in a 5-0 win over the Pirates. One-inning pitching specialists may help against the hitters, but they’re not putting anybody in the seats.
Other sources of revenue have made filling the seats a little less important, but if people aren’t interested in going to the games, the other revenue streams are eventually going to suffer.
  • Baseball was once, by far, my favorite sport. But even if I hadn’t been turned off by the economic stupidity, analytics might have chased me away by now. Going by the stat book may help a team win, but a steady diet of the numbers is enough to put an incurable insomniac to sleep. Analytics may help a team win, but making it harder for the average fan to evaluate and appreciate a player’s talent won’t get anybody to buy a ticket. The baseball media may like WAR, which stands for wins above replacement, but the average fan is much more likely to relate to home runs, runs batted in and batting average.
Do fans really need a stat for how many times a hitter has swing and miss strikes or how many ground ball outs a pitcher gets? Baseball media geeks slobber all over these stats and player personnel directors may love them but it’s way too much work for the average fan.
Fans still know a good hitter when they see one.
  • Joe DeNardo died Friday at 87 years old. Lots of young people are probably wondering why so much attention has been given to the death of a guy who did the weather on TV. You had to be there. Trust us.
John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Hockey needs better messengers than Nick Boynton, Daniel Carcillo


By Mark Madden
June 16, 2018
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Buffalo Sabres' Craig Rivet, left, and Philadelphia Flyers' Daniel Carcillo fight in 2009

Nick Boynton is a retired NHL goon. Daniel Carcillo also skated in the NHL. He was a dirty, sadistic hack. Carcillo played like a criminal.
Boynton recently wrote a piece for The Players' Tribune web site. Carcillo did a video. Each talked about issues that stem from head trauma. Each decried the NHL's laissez-faire attitude in dealing with that problem.
The message is correct.
The problem just needs better messengers.
Tom Wilson's path of rage through the NHL playoffs ultimately led him and his Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup. Wilson handed out head shots like candy on Halloween and only got suspended once.
Too many “old-school” TV types said it was just “playoff hockey,” and the NHL nodded in silent agreement.
Every shot to the head should be penalized. Intent should be taken out of the equation. If that isn't always 100 percent fair, live with it. Err on the side of caution, not on the side of brain damage.
The NHL should ban fighting. We keep hearing horror stories about those who specialize in fisticuffs. There's a body count. So get rid of it.
There aren't many complaints about the NHL's current concussion protocol. Continue to refine it. Make sure it's followed to the letter.
The NHL should acknowledge every inch of this problem, especially the link between hockey and head trauma. That will be proven in the inevitable lawsuit.
Then get Paul Kariya to talk about it. Or Pat LaFontaine. Or Marc Savard. Or Sidney Crosby. Legitimate players whose careers were marred by head trauma.
Hire Kariya or LaFontaine to be in charge of the NHL's Department of Player Safety. Employing an ex-goon, Washington County native George Parros, in that job is one of the dumbest things NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has done. Parros couldn't play a lick, and his brief track record suggests he's going to look after his own kind. Same goes with Colin Campbell, the dinosaur in charge of hockey ops.
Kariya and Lafontaine are people we need to hear from regarding this mess.
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Panthers defenseman Nick Boynton, right, throws a punch during a fight with Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic in Boston, Friday Nov. 21, 2008.(AP/Charles Krupa)

Not Boynton and Carcillo.
As Boynton readily admits at The Players' Tribune, “I tried to hurt people.”
It's likely some of those people are going through the same problems as Boynton, and it's at least partly because of Boynton. Boynton appears to be navigating a wide range of emotions. Guilt should be one of them.
No one wants Boynton and Carcillo to suffer.
But they are merely reaping what they sowed.
They are not victims, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Had hockey not embraced the violence they practiced, Boynton and Carcillo would have spent very little time in the NHL, if any. Hockey is a dangerous game at least partly because players like Boynton and Carcillo made it so.
If Boynton and Carcillo had it do over again, they would. That's regardless of what they claim now.
When the devil comes knocking to collect, everyone wants to undo their Faustian bargain. But, going back to the salad days of their serious hockey, Boynton and Carcillo would still do whatever was required to play in the NHL.
Boynton and Carcillo deserve zero sympathy for their respective plights. They played in predatory fashion and shouldn't be taken seriously when they babble about a problem they helped promulgate.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Projections help clear up Sidney Crosby-Alexander Ovechkin debate


By Mark Madden
June 12, 2018

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Some media are again attempting to put Alex Ovechkin in the same class as Sidney Crosby. That's because Ovechkin is currently very visible as a Stanley Cup champion and playoff MVP after having a great postseason.
Ovechkin knows how to party, too.
But Crosby has two more Cups than Ovechkin and one more playoff MVP. Ovechkin is a better goal-scorer. Crosby is better at everything else, including productive physicality. Ovechkin plays wing. Crosby plays center, a position which carries far more responsibility and significance. Crosby excels at playmaking, defense and working down low. Ovechkin dabbles.
Ovechkin vs. Evgeni Malkin is a more valid comparison. Malkin's body of work gets the nod, for many of the same reasons that Crosby's does.
But Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin aren't done playing.
If all three maintain some semblance of their usual production for several more seasons, the perception of Ovechkin would certainly surpass Malkin and perhaps even Crosby.
That's because goals are hockey's most valuable currency, even more so in an era when it's tougher than ever to score.
Ovechkin has 607 regular-season goals. It's easy to envision him topping 800. Scoring 802 puts him second all-time to Wayne Gretzky.
Who would argue with 802 goals? It's one heck of a highlight reel.
Statistically, points are Crosby's bread and butter. He's got 1,116. It's easy to envision him topping 1,700, which puts him in the top 10.
At that point, it's Ovechkin's 802 goals (second all-time) against Crosby's 1,700 points (top 10). Like I said, goals are a valuable currency.
Crosby could top 1,800 points. That puts him top five. For the purposes of this debate, that's a recommended insurance policy. Getting 1,851 points would pass Gordie Howe. That's a useful headline.
Perception-wise, Crosby has other things going for him. He's Canadian. He's also not Russian. (I don't make the rules. I just identify them.)
Some push Crosby's points-per-game advantage. Crosby is at 1.292, Malkin 1.186, Ovechkin 1.119.
What means more, raw numbers or per-game averages? Crosby and Ovechkin started their careers in 2005, Malkin in 2006. Ovechkin has played 219 more games than Malkin, 139 more than Crosby.
Does Ovechkin's relative durability diminish the numbers he put on the scoreboard? Isn't that the agenda of the per-game argument?
Crosby's biggest edge is having won two more Cups.
He has also won two Olympic gold medals and one World Cup of Hockey. Ovechkin has none of the above.
If Crosby's edge in Cups remains at 3-1, he will almost certainly be thought of as better than Ovechkin in perpetuity.
If Crosby wins a fourth Cup, his superiority will be further cemented.
If Ovechkin wins another Cup and gets to 802 goals, the issue will be further clouded.
Like Gretzky vs. Mario Lemieux, it will be debated forever.
Why can't Ovechkin just be considered the best scorer and Crosby the best all-around player? Why does one have to be declared better?
Because I do a radio talk show, that's why.
Crosby and Ovechkin will each be recognized as one of the top 10 players ever, perhaps even top five.
Ovechkin will be remembered as being better than Malkin, BTW. As the greatest Russian NHLer. That's a lock. Malkin is the sacrificial lamb in this argument.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).