Jun 16, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! The WNBA plans to have a 22-game regular season in late July at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, which could also serve as the host for its postseason in October.

  • Key detail: Players will receive 100% of their salaries despite playing 22 games instead of the originally scheduled 36. You love to see it.

Today's word count: 2,009 words (8 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚾️ Inside MLB's ugly labor fight

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For months, MLB and its players' union have engaged in a frustrating back-and-forth over baseball's return. Negotiations reached a boiling point this week, and now the 2020 season — and perhaps even future seasons — are in serious jeopardy, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

The latest:

  • June 10: Commissioner Rob Manfred tells ESPN's Karl Ravech that he's "100%" sure there will be a season.
  • June 13: The MLBPA cuts off talks and requests that MLB tell them when and where to show up, citing an agreed upon stipulation that the league would set a schedule (believed to be ~50 games) should the two sides fail to agree on one.
  • June 15 (last night): Manfred reverses course, saying he's no longer confident that there will be a season due to players' decision to end negotiations. The MLBPA responds, saying "players are disgusted" by Manfred's backtracking.

Why it matters: The talks between the two sides were never great, but they at least once had a tinge of optimism. Now, a 50-game season — once considered a worst-case scenario — appears to be the only hope for baseball this year.

  • Furthermore, the bad blood formed during this process will have a profound impact on negotiations when the CBA expires after the 2021 season, and could result in even more missed games due to a lockout or player strike.

The backdrop: The crux of this debate centers on the players and owners both refusing to budge, making the last 10 weeks less about negotiations and more about two sides yelling into the void.

  • What the players want: Full pro rata, meaning fully prorated salaries for however many games they play (i.e. $1 million salary would be $500,000 if the season were cut exactly in half).
  • What the owners want: To minimize the collective losses incurred by playing a season without fans, which they can't accomplish if players earn full pro rata. (Owners claim a fanless season could result in $4 billion in losses, but that number is impossible to confirm because they refuse to open their books.)

What we're hearing: The owners want to play roughly 50 games. But if they implemented that now, the MLBPA would file a bad faith grievance against them for not trying to play as many games as possible, since they can still easily fit in 70+ games before the Sept. 27 regular-season end date.

  • So, the owners are stalling. The closer they get to Sept. 27, the fewer games they can play — bringing them closer to their goal of 50 games and eliminating the players' legal case against them.
  • Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer agrees with this theory and called out Manfred directly on Twitter: "No one believes your bluff, bud."

The bottom line: Over the last six months, two MLB teams were punished for cheating, the league came under fire for its plan to decimate the minor leagues, and now, "the entity with the sole power to organize top-tier professional baseball in North America seems to have no particular interest in fulfilling that purpose," writes The Ringer's Michael Baumann.

  • Regardless of what happens next, MLB has angered its players, alienated its existing fans, hurt its chances of attracting new fans and incurred incalculable long-term damage to its already deteriorating image. Good job, guys.

P.S. ... Last night, AP reported that several MLB players and staff have tested positive for COVID-19. You can draw your own conclusions, but the timing would seem to indicate that MLB leaked that information to benefit their own agenda.

2. 🏈 Goodell: I "encourage" teams to sign Kaepernick

A Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick on display in Manhattan in 2018. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

In an ESPN interview on Monday night, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he supports and encourages teams to sign QB Colin Kaepernick.

"Well, listen, if he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then obviously it's gonna take a team to make that decision. But I welcome that, support a club making that decision and encourage them to do that."

Goodell also said the NFL would welcome Kaepernick to help them "deal with some very complex, difficult issues that have been around for a long time," even if he doesn't plan on playing.

"If his efforts are not on the field but continuing to work in this space, we welcome him to that table and to help us. ... I hope we're at a point now where everybody's committed to making long-term, sustainable change."

Reality check: Given the NFL's past treatment of Kaepernick — not to mention Goodell saying in December that the league had "moved on" from him — these words should be taken with a grain of salt.

Yes, but: It's a smaller grain of salt than it would have been as recently as May. On the heels of NFL players successfully pressuring the league to admit they were "wrong" in silencing peaceful protests, it's clear America's social climate is dramatically different now than it was when Kaepernick first kneeled in 2016.

Screenshot: @nytimes (Twitter)

The big picture: Voter support for the Black Lives Matter movement has increased in the last two weeks almost as much as it had in two years, per NYT. And take a look at these numbers in regards to Nike's now-famous Kaepernick ad:

  • In 2018, after Nike first ran the ad, The Harris Poll surveyed 2,200 American adults and found that 17% had a negative perception of Nike and that 21% said they would either boycott or not buy Nike products.
  • Last week, Harris asked the same questions, and found that those numbers had dropped to 9% and 14%, respectively.

The bottom line: Four years ago, the NFL made Kaepernick disappear by not picking a side. It didn't want to suspend him (that would anger his supporters), but it didn't want to keep him around, either, because he was controversial, "and, therefore, bad for business," former NFL EVP Joe Lockhart wrote two weeks ago.

  • Now that the NFL, along with virtually every company in America, feels it's prudent to pick a side — the one that the majority of the country has picked — bringing Kaepernick back into the fold not only feels possible but probable.
3. 📸 Photos 'round the world
Photo: Edward Whitaker/Pool via Getty Images

ASCOT, England — For the first time in her 68-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II will not be present at Royal Ascot, with the world-famous horse racing event being held behind closed doors for the first time in 250 years. It starts today and runs through Saturday.

Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

MILL VALLEY, Calif. — Ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes trains in Mount Tamalpais State Park, with the San Francisco skyline visible in the background.

  • Fun fact: Karnazes once ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. He also ran across America (New York to San Francisco) in 74 days. Meet "the man who can run forever."
Photo: Zhang Wenkui/VCG via Getty Images

SHENYANG, China — Children wearing face masks practice synchronized skating at an ice rink.

4. 🏈 Yesterday in college football
Screenshot: @Hubbard_RMN (Twitter)

Oklahoma State RB Chuba Hubbard, the nation's leading rusher in 2019, threatened not to participate in team activities after a photo of coach Mike Gundy wearing a "One America News" shirt surfaced.

  • OAN, which Gundy has publicly praised, is a far-right cable network that regularly promotes conspiracy theories, per WashPost. A host on the network recently called the Black Lives Matter movement "a farce."
  • Several hours after his tweet, Hubbard — who received support from teammates and other athletes — posted a video with Gundy, in which the coach said he had a "great meeting" with players about the shirt and he "realized it's a very sensitive issue."

Elsewhere:

  • 😷 More positive tests: Multiple Texas Tech athletes have tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of voluntary workouts, sources tell Axios. The school confirmed this last night, noting that athletes have been "self-isolated." Fellow in-state schools, Texas A&M and Houston, have also reported positive tests.
  • ✍️ Coronavirus waivers: Ohio State and Indiana are among the universities requiring student-athletes to sign coronavirus waivers before participating in voluntary workouts.
  • 👋 Doyle out at Iowa: In an emotional press conference, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta announced that longtime football strength coach Chris Doyle has been removed following allegations that he mistreated black players.
5. ⚾️ Ranking MLB's all-time rosters (No. 2)
Expand chart
Player data: Baseball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

We're ranking the all-time rosters for all 30 MLB teams. Note: Rosters based only on time spent with this specific team. Thoughts? Email me at jeff@axios.com.

2. Boston Red Sox

Talk about an embarrassment of riches, with Jimmie Foxx on the bench and prime Pedro Martínez slotted in as just the No. 3 starter. I'm sure I'll hear from some of you about David Ortiz getting the nod over Foxx at DH, but Papi is Boston's heart and soul — and a pretty decent hitter, too.

  • Year established: 1901 (as the Boston Americans)
  • All-time record: 9,602-8,908 (.519)
  • World Series Championships: 9
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 13

Starting lineup:

  1. 3B Wade Boggs* (71.9 bWAR with team)
  2. OF Mookie Betts (41.8)
  3. OF Ted Williams* (121.9)
  4. DH David Ortiz (52.7)
  5. 1B Carl Yastrzemski* (96.4)
  6. OF Tris Speaker* (55.8)
  7. SS Nomar Garciaparra (41.2)
  8. C Carlton Fisk* (39.5)
  9. 2B Dustin Pedroia (51.6)

On the mound: SP Roger Clemens (80.7)

Bench:

  • Infield: 1B Jimmie Foxx* (32.6), 2B Bobby Doerr* (51.1), 3B Jimmy Collins* (28.2), SS Johnny Pesky (32.4), C Jason Varitek (24.2)
  • Outfield: Dwight Evans (66.5), Jim Rice* (47.7), Fred Lynn (32.1)
  • Utility: Manny Ramírez (33.2)
  • Rotation: Cy Young* (66.6), Pedro Martínez* (53.5), Lefty Grove* (41.9), Babe Ruth* (39.8)
  • Bullpen: Jonathan Papelbon (16.2), Dick Radatz (18.2), Ellis Kinder (27.1)

Additional notes:

  • Williams has the highest lifetime on-base percentage (.482).
  • Young holds the record for most wins (511), losses (315), games started (815), complete games (749!), innings pitched (7,356), hits allowed (7,092), earned runs allowed (2,147) and batters faced (29,565). Is that good?
  • Lynn was the first player to win the MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season (1975); only Ichiro has done it since (2001).
  • Ortiz hit the most home runs ever as a DH (485).

ICYMI ... 30. Rays, 29. Royals, 28. Diamondbacks, 27. Blue Jays, 26. Angels, 25. Padres, 24. Rockies, 23. Brewers; 22. Nationals, 21. Mets, 20. Orioles, 19. Twins, 18. Astros, 17. Marlins, 16. White Sox, 15. Athletics, 14. Phillies, 13. Braves, 12. Pirates, 11. Mariners, 10. Rangers, 9. Cardinals, 8. Dodgers, 7. Indians, 6. Cubs, 5. Reds, 4. Tigers, 3. Giants

Huge thanks to Tom Stone, whose book "Now Taking the Field: Baseball's All-Time Dream Teams for All 30 Franchises," provided the inspiration for these rosters.

6. June 16, 2002 & 2008: ⛳️ Tiger wins the U.S. Open
Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

18 years ago today, Tiger Woods won his second U.S. Open and eighth major championship, beating Phil Mickelson by three strokes at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York.

  • Woods appeared unstoppable at this juncture — just 26 years old and almost halfway to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors, it was only a matter of time before he caught the Golden Bear...
Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

12 years ago today, Woods won his third U.S. Open and 14th major championship, this time by a single stroke in a sudden-death playoff over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines in San Diego.

What came next: Woods didn't win another major until last year's Masters — an 11-year drought filled with enough drama and struggle to last a lifetime.

7. 🚪 Pick a door, any door
Giphy
8. The Ocho: ♟ How chess took over Twitch

Screenshot: Twitch

Ever since the pandemic paused the professional chess circuit, Hikaru Nakamura — a five-time U.S. champion and the world's best blitz chess player — has turned his expertise into a full-time streaming gig on Twitch.

  • When he first started streaming in March, an average of 2,000 people tuned in live to watch him play. Three months later, he has nearly 400,000 followers and is the driving force behind chess' exploding popularity on the platform.

What they're saying: "Nakamura's impressive, lightly trollish chess gimmicks — blindfolded matches, matches without queens or rooks, solving as many puzzles as he can in five minutes — have spurred Twitch's top personalities to try the game for themselves," writes Wired's Cecilia D'Anastasio.

  • "Nakamura has in turn developed his own streaming persona, somewhere between a proud dad and a laughing supergenius," as he embarks on a mission to bring chess to the masses and transform its deep-rooted culture of elitism.

Keep reading.

9. 🏀 WNBA trivia

The Washington Mystics celebrate winning the 2019 WNBA title. Photo: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Five of the 12 current WNBA teams have never won a title, but just two of those five were around for the league's inaugural 1997 season.

  • Question: Can you name those two teams?
  • Hint: One of the team's names starts with the same letter as the other team's home city.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports

Brad Lidge and Carlos Ruiz celebrate the Phillies winning the title in 2008. Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Ted L. (McLean, Va.) writes:

"This is not one of the wonderful father and son reminiscences that you've been publishing, but it is a love story nonetheless.
"I am a lifelong Phillies fan and attended my first game all the way back in 1966. I have my sports passions and my wife has none, but she's never begrudged mine.
"She joined me and a friend in 1993 to watch Game 6 of the World Series on TV and see Joe Carter crush my hopes for a Game 7. She refused to watch another game with me, believing she was a jinx.
"15 years later, sitting alone in our sunroom, I was thrilled to watch the Phillies clinch the 2008 World Series — their first championship in 28 years. As happy as I was, I was floored when my wife came into the room crying out of sympathy for the many years of frustration I'd endured.
"Yes, she was sneaking a peek on her TV while I was watching on mine. In fact, she had been doing that for years, hoping against hope that my frustration would end.
"And she gave me the congratulatory card below, which she had assembled a year earlier when the Phillies made the playoffs. She put the card away when we were swept by Colorado.
"What greater loving memory could I have than my wife crying with joy not because of the Phillies victory, but for what that victory meant for me?"
The card. Courtesy: Ted L.

✍️ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or an example of sports having a positive impact on your life? If you'd like to share, simply reply to this email. We'll be telling your stories until they run out.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Does Manfred like baseball?" Baker

Trivia answer: New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces (founded as Utah Starzz)