It’s the middle of June, and sports are at a very interesting juncture. No game in any major U.S. professional team sports league has been played for more than three months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
And as some leagues prepare to return to play, their plans are being overshadowed in many cases — and rightfully so — by calls around the world, including many from the world of sports, for social justice reforms and anti-racism measures.
I put out a call for reader questions the other day, and the responses were a wonderfully eclectic mix that reflect where we are right now in sports — with a lot of pent-up energy looking to be spent in a lot of different directions. Let’s get to them:
A: We learned this week that Cook is ditching the last stages of the Vikings’ virtual offseason program and threatening a holdout during training camp if he doesn’t get a fair contract extension.
I’d say this is less of a holdout threat and more of a grab for attention combined with a clever move to get out of a few extra video meetings. As our Ben Goessling reported, Cook has very little leverage if he decides to hold out. The Vikings, meanwhile, have made it publicly clear how much they value Cook.
If you could turn up the heat on your boss just a little, at least symbolically, while also skipping out on some torturous Zoom meetings, wouldn’t you do it?
As Ben wrote and we talked about on this week’s Access Vikings podcast — after spending the bulk of our time on the much more important topic of the Vikings and social justice — it seems likely that Cook will have an extension in hand before the year starts.
A: Those are some good ones.
I’ll start with what I think is the easiest one: The NFL will play more than 10.5 games. In fact, I think the league will play all 16.
With MLB, I’ll take the under. There’s enough acrimony between the sides to make me wonder if there will be a season at all. And if there is, it might be the 50-60 games the owners crave because they wield the most power and time is running out.
The last one is basically a coin flip if you look at the math. The Wolves have the third-worst record and have a 52.1% chance of getting a top four pick. The higher you are in the pre-lottery order, the farther you can fall. And the Wolves have NEVER moved up. But I’ll still say they get a top-four pick. So, I guess, the under.
A: I love this question because it sent me down a strange rabbit hole that is the 1998 Tampa Bay Devil Rays Baseball Reference page. Just when I thought I had settled on Fred McGriff — love the Crime Dog going back to his days with the Braves — I found this name: Scott Aldred.
Aldred was absolutely terrible for the very bad 1997 Twins, going 2-10 with a 7.68 ERA mostly as a starter. His peripheral stats, if you wanted to go digging for a silver lining, were no better. Aldred gave up 102 hits (including 20 home runs) and 28 walks while striking out just 33 batters in 77.1 innings. I witnessed a few of those starts firsthand, and they were not good.
And yet the expansion Devil Rays said: Give me some of that. And they actually got a somewhat decent year out of Aldred in the bullpen — a 3.73 ERA that ended up being the best Aldred posted in NINE seasons in the majors. So he’s my favorite original Ray.
A: I think the U.S. either has six or four, but not five. If you are including MLS, you have to include the WNBA. The leagues are similar in their timelines. MLS certainly involves more money than the WNBA, which nudges it toward the “big” category, but unlike the other five leagues under consideration, MLS is NOT the best professional league in its sport worldwide. That will always bother me when it comes to putting MLS in the same category as the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and WNBA.
Shorter answer: I say there are six, but there is a gap between the four longstanding leagues and the other two relative newcomers.
A: That’s an interesting question, and I think quite a bit of it has to do with how coronavirus evolves. Are we able to find a widespread vaccine in the next 12-18 months? Will we experience a second wave this fall that threatens sports again? If you read a lot about the virus and treat attending sporting events as a non-essential action, which is very reasonable, it might be a while until you come back to a sports venue — particularly one that’s indoors.
How leagues maintain a connection to those fans will largely be impacted by how they are able to present games on TV. Do they feel like weird, soul-less exhibitions or will there be enhancements that make them feel like different but worthy programming?
A: Another good one. I haven’t seen a lot of teams address this — and sorry if I have missed some — but it has been reported that the Vikings are “talking through” that very subject. How teams follow through on questions like this will be telling.
A: It’s quite amazing. I did the math (sort of) a couple months ago, and let’s just say it’s improbable.
A: Absolutely not. I’m about 5-10, 160 pounds. I’m 43 years old — probably closer to retirement age than my athletic peak.
(Short break to gaze off into the distance, as a single tear falls).
Back when I used to play a lot of basketball about 20 years ago, and my joints were springy and I weighed a little less, I jumped one time and grazed the rim with the tip of my finger. That’s as close as I’ll ever get to dunking a basketball.
I’ll just have to settle for dunking on all the haters.