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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fourth Down, Just a Few Billion to Go

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Many sports fans have their eyes on a labor showdown that threatens one of the pillars of their lives. No, not the battle in Madison over the future of public employees. The contract struggle between the NFL and its players' union threatens something truly vital: America's right to watch pro football. The Observers are trying not to panic.

Frank: What do we make of all the "going into overtime" NFL analyses?

Artie:
It's all so byzantine. The more I read, the more I'm sure nobody outside the talks knows anything.

Frank:
There must be progress if they've extended the deadline for scrapping the old collective bargaining agreement.

Artie:
Two things are behind it. First, if the league axes the CBA, the union decertifies itself.

Frank:
Which sounds bad for the union, but might be bad for the owners.

Artie:
Right. Because of antitrust gobbledygook the union can't sue the league for unfair whatever, but individual players can. And if lawsuits were decided in players' favor, it could cost the league gobs of cash. Plus the lawsuits could really delve into antitrust issues the owners want to keep closed, like their books.

Frank:
The owners already have gobs and want bigger ones, and the players want what they see as a fair share of the gobs.

Artie:
About $9 billion in revenue gobs, as Mr. Obama noted when he said any industry making that much should be able to make both sides happy.

Frank:
So they're extending the ... dare we say it? ... collective bargaining! Don't they know Scott Walker will have that outlawed soon?

Artie:
The owners sure ain't negotiating by choice. But the second big thing happened when a federal judge in Minnesota ruled the league can't use $4 billion in TV money that it had stockpiled for the expected lockout.

Frank:
Hitting the fat cats where it hurts!

Artie:
I can't see how anyone can have an iota of support for the owners. They spew this crap about, "We're the ones who take the risk." What risk? The NFL is the biggest gravy train there is. TV money goes through the roof because everyone lives for the games.

Frank:
Meanwhile the people who are taking the risks—of permanent injury, long-term mental breakdown, early death, trivial stuff like that—have to fight for their share. Of course there are people who say, "To hell with both sides; it's millionaires vs. billionaires."

Artie:
But is that true for the vast majority of players? The average NFL playing career lasts about three seasons. Sure, in those years they make much more than Joe Six Pack, but how long can they count on it?

Frank:
On the other hand, "billionaires" certainly applies to the other side.Artie: None of these guys has ever lost a dime in the NFL! They hold up the public for new stadiums and franchise values go up and up,
no matter how crappy a team might be.

A Misstep or Two

Frank: Our top two college hoops teams sure ended their regular seasons with clinkers.

Artie:
It didn't matter much for the Badgers that Ohio State shot the lights out. The Buckeyes owned the season title already.

Frank:
The loss left UW with the No. 3 seeding for the Big Ten tournament, which is fine.

Artie:
Plus the Badgers are sure to be a high seed for the Big Dance; it would be different if they were fighting for their
lives.

Frank:
Like, for instance, Marquette. To me, that flop at Seton Hall really imperils their NCAA
chances.

Artie:
Going 9-9 in the Big East is good, but if they lose to Providence in the first round of the c nference tournament...

Frank:
They'll be 18-14 and NIT-bound.

Artie:
They'll be at the mercy of what happens in tournaments for smaller conferences that usually get a single NCAA bid. Someone unexpected wins the title game and maybe the NCAA selectors decide the regular-season champ deserves a second bid.

Frank:
We may see that right here if UWM beats Butler for the Horizon League title.

Artie:
Exactly. If the Panthers prevail, will the NCAA guys really freeze out the Bulldogs, who played for the national title a year ago?

End of a Bumpy Road

Frank: One of Milwaukee's least-favorite athletes recently hung up his spikes.

Artie:
Gary "Cue the Boos" Sheffield, ain'a?

Frank:
A world of talent matched by a world of attitude. The Brewers brought him up in 1989 to be their starting shortstop, but it didn't work out. The next two years he was mostly a third baseman—an unhappy one—and in March '92 the Brewers had had enough and shipped him to San Diego.

Artie:
He went on to play with the Padres, Marlins, Dodgers, Braves, Yankees, Tigers and Mets. A lifetime .292 hitter with 509 homers, but what did Milwaukee get out of him?

Frank:
In three-plus seasons, .259, 21 homers and 130 RBIs over 294 games.Artie: So I say this
about his retirement: "Big hairy deal." The guy was a jerk his whole career.

Frank:
I began covering baseball for The Journal in '89, and I remember this 20-year-old kid from Florida was not a happy camper playing at County Stadium in April.

Artie:
Break my heart. He made good money to shiver a little.

Frank:
He caught a tough break, literally, early that season. A foot began to hurt and it turned out to be a small fracture. But the team doctors didn't detect it right away, leading to some speculation that Sheffield was "dogging it." He played only 95 games and hit .247.

Artie:
So much for the shortstop of the future.

Frank:
He had a decent year in '90 but came apart in '91, with more injuries and a .194 average in only 50 games. Sheffield sulked and hinted that he thought he was moved from shortstop for racial reasons in favor of Bill Spiers.

Artie:
And when he got traded, an entire state said, "Good riddance."

Frank:
He wasn't easy to deal with. One Saturday at Yankee Stadium in '91 he was miffed about not being on the lineup card. He didn't join the team for stretching and in the batting cage he hit dribblers with halfhearted swings. When I approached him in the dugout he greeted me with, "Get out of my (bleepin') face, man!"

Artie:
What a charmer. He eventually burned his bridges just about everywhere.

Frank:
It's one thing to be disgruntled in one place, but when you're disgruntled in six or seven places, the consistent factor is you.

Artie:
Of course he put up numbers, but when it comes to the Hall of Fame, he wouldn't get my vote.

Frank: He'll be a poster boy for the fact that 500 homers ain't what they used to be.

Artie:
If Rafael Palmeiro, who had 500-plus homers and 3,000-plus hits, got only 11% this last time, Sheffield hasn't got a prayer.

Frank:
Like Palmeiro, he has a steroid connection. He trained with Barry Bonds before the 2002 season and later told a federal grand jury that on Bonds' advice he used "the cream" and "the clear," two steroid versions. Sheffield said he had no idea what the stuff was.

Artie:
I'm sure his many fans in Milwaukee believe him.

But Can You Dance To It?

Frank: Did you see that Brewers closer John Axford is letting fans vote on Facebook to help him decide his "entrance music"?

Artie:
Yeah, but he's not taking suggestions, and I don't like any of the choices.

Frank:
All the kind of mega-loud stuff that closers use to show how badass they are?

Artie:
Yup, same ol' junk. I wanted to open up his vistas, tell him, "Here's your chance. Maybe you never considered how great it would be to have a terrific Broadway show tune or something from the Great American Songbook."

Frank:
Such as?

Artie:
How about the classic "Just in Time"? Or maybe some classic Memphis soul—Sam and Dave doing, "Hold On, I'm Comin'"?

Frank:
They all fit in with the closer's role.

Artie:
But not loudly enough.