briefly, an opening day devotional

I bared my soul yesterday to a co-worker I hardly know at all. I did not realize it at the time. It is wasted if left there. It is possibly less-wasted here and is presented unedited.

***

Apr-3 4:20 PM

For me, it’s love. I stopped playing baseball when my parents moved us from Plover to Stevens Point (and the uniforms in Point’s Little League were generic and lame, while Plover’s were actual kiddie ML kits, stirrups and all. I was stupid; some things never change.)

I lost interest in baseball, then went to college in Minnesota, where I lived about three blocks from the Metrodome. The Twins, who were execrable for years, started making the postseason (Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, before Mauer and Morneau.) October baseball, and living in that for a month one fall, made me swoon.

I started reading the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel daily, following the Brewers, who were in those years, charitably described, utter and complete butt. I write and occasionally turn a decent phrase, so I got suckered into the writers there (Haudricourt, Drew Olson, Dale Hoffmann, then Bob McGinn, Cliff Christl and the Packers writers.)

Baseball somehow tied itself into the deepest part of my soul. It’s love.

***
Whatever noun connects itself to the deepest part of your soul–your natural talent or gifting, a place that sinks deeply into your conscious, a person who makes you feel like half-person, half-chasm without them–that noun is only there because it is rooted in love.
Don’t ever risk those nouns.
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briefly, hall of fail and ken griffey, jr.

Yesterday, I published a critical reevaluation of Ken Griffey, Jr’s career at Outside Pitch. You can read that here.

When pressed to provide the case for Griffey, after they’ve finished scoffing and guffawing, nearly everyone I’ve seen online says the same thing in no particular order: 1) 630 home runs, 2) sweet swing, 3) defense, 4) sartorial choice in headwear during a home run exhibition, 5) baseball cards, particularly his 1989 Upper Deck rookie card and the 1992 horizontal stop-motion of said swing.

We’re not talking about Mays or Aaron. (Seriously, go look up how many hits Mays, and especially the Hammer, had!) This was a very good player who only peaked–and what a peak!–for maybe five of 22 years and then spent the back nine of his career injury-prone and a shadow of past greatness.

For most of his career, peak notwithstanding, he was above-average and excellent in CF. So was Jim Edmonds. So was Kenny Lofton. So was Bernie Williams. So was Tim Raines. So was Jeffrey Hammonds. He also played in three very friendly hitters parks, which would also play well to his defensive prowess. Still, outs are outs, assists are assists. Those defensive numbers amaze me. He was likely a better OF than Mays was, save for the arm.

And now that those who haven’t actively covered the game are being culled from the herd, we’re discovering that the electorate is star-struck by highlight reels and fancy-pants baseball cards to the point that the guy who just set a new election record was essentially Larry Doby, the extended edition. Doby’s in the Hall, but he’s never in the conversation for GOAT, nor should he be.

Perhaps those old battle axes knew a thing or two after all. I have even less faith in the HOF process than I did before. Even in something as trivial as baseball, style now matters more than substance.

find a way: an open letter to milwaukee and wisconsin on the milwaukee bucks arena

On Thursday, 4 June, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker held a presentation in Madison. Flanked by fellow politicians and Milwaukee leaders, Walker stated the case in partnering to get a deal done with the Milwaukee Bucks to build a new arena. This morning, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an editorial stating their cautious endorsement of making this development a reality.

I agree with the editorial staff: the details should merit strong scrutiny. I also agree that, if the details bear weight, this is a deal that needs to get done.

Predictably, the comments to that editorial are filled with reflexive and reptilian polemicist claptrap. Rather than respond there, I choose to respond here.

First, with this kind of opportunity, no one in their right mind leaves that much private money on the table. Former Bucks owner and US Senator Herb Kohl, and current principal owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry have pledged $250 million of their own wealth. Kohl and Edens/Lasry are putting up a considerable amount of their considerable wealth to make this happen. That’s not only noble, but a good faith gesture to the region and state. If you have half the cost of anything–a house, a car, a business–in place, you find a way to punch that deal through. By comparison, this is a much better deal for the city and state than Miller Park ever was.

(The ESPN/AP report’s headline is misleading: taxpayers may be responsible for up to half of the cost, should there be delays or cost overruns. The $500M figure, as I understand it, includes contingencies. There is public precedent for doing this kind of thing the right way; thousands of cars drive it every day. Another major public project, the reconstruction of I-94 and the Marquette Interchange in Milwaukee, was completed early and under budget, one of a scant few praises anyone should have for former governor Bingo Jim Doyle.)

Also, it merits mentioning that no one found it grundy-inducing for the Green Bay Packers to do extensive expansion and renovations to Lambeau Field on the public dime twice. What are the Packers, or the Milwaukee Brewers, that the Bucks aren’t?

Second, fully publicly financed stadiums and arenas have overwhelmingly been a poor ROI, I will concede that point. Private-public partnerships, though, have not been such a dramatic boondoggle on the whole, partially because of the built-in accountability that tends to come from direct oversight in a healthy business. Current Bucks ownership has streamlined and modernized the business and gone to considerable lengths in their pilot year to be good corporate citizens. There is no reason to think they would not be good stewards of this project as well.

Third, by keeping the Bucks, an unquestionably ascendant NBA team, it guarantees a continued draw of interest, bodies and money to Milwaukee, keeps a percentage of wealth in Wisconsin to be spent in Wisconsin, generating tax revenues to be used to support the community and state as a whole and, coincidentally, help retire the Miller Park tax/debt. This is as opposed to high-speed rail, which only facilitates travel en route from to B. A midpoint is not a destination, and if California’s rail debacle is any indication…well, let’s just try to avoid being like California government in any way, shape or form.

Finally, the model new developments such as this are following is Kansas City’s Sprint Center, which not only has assisted revitalizing KC’s downtown, but has regularly turned a profit (independent economic impact report available here, and yes, that is independent) for the city and stakeholders, all without a full-time tenant in the arena. The criticisms of these reports are your garden variety fallacies: question begging and poisoning the well. One gets the sense that as soon as Walker came on board, others jumped off, which is as short-sighted as it is foolish.

People are free and welcome to disagree with me on this; it is my hope that their reasons are offered in good faith and are worthy of the kinds of scrutiny the Bucks arena deal will be getting in upcoming days and weeks. I should be clear, again, that if there are problems with the agreement, I agree it must go back to the drawing board. Frankly, in an admittedly cursory review of the plan, I don’t see any.

After clearing those hurdles, though, it has to be a green light. A Good Land Green light.

briefly, the cautionary tale of ‘the clippers zone’

If you’re a reader of Deadspin–ostensibly, the sports page of Gawker Media–you’ve likely come across a series of oral histories called “The Clippers Zone”, featuring participants in the disaster that was the Donald Sterling-era San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers. I strongly recommend it both for the schadenfreude and the raw comedy of errors, as seen through the eyes of the Clippers’ well-intentioned lower-level participants during their nearly two decades in NBA hell.

As a bonus, it validates an axiom on organizational leadership I’ve offered here before: the very best of leaders can, at best, only get an organization to mediocrity. The worst, well, they look and act a lot like Sterling did during his ownership…and whose leaked racist pillow talk recordings last year ended up being a $2 billion golden parachute in the NBA selling the team against his will to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Then there’s this quote from former Clippers coach Don Casey: “The thing is, with off-court problems they eventually show up on court.”

That should haunt business leaders, political figures, religious heads, celebrities and the rest of high society. And that might be a comforting thought for you or me–that is, if it weren’t just as true for the rest of us.

By all means, read and be equally entertained and mortified.

rolled over

Undoubtedly, if you’ve watched any of March Madness, you’ve seen this ad, featuring Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank venture capitalist Mark Cuban with one of the myriad AT&T ad characters these days, store supervisor Lily. If you haven’t, well, there you go.

I saw this ad countless times during my basketball four-day weekend and never gave it much thought…until tonight.

The spot came on and, for whatever reason, I was paying closer attention to the conversation. Mark Cuban, a successful businessman steeped in the tech sector, mentions that his family consumes a lot of mobile data while on vacation. Lily counters with AT&T’s new Rollover Data feature, where unused data can be carried over into the next billing cycle.

So AT&T’s answer to someone who has built an empire out of savvy deals and negotiations is…to offer his family a plan that will fail his family once they go on vacation?

First, let’s get the least plausible thing out of the way: there’s no way Mark Cuban is going to be in an AT&T store unless it’s a stunt like his one-day job managing a Dairy Queen in 2002. Second, a billionaire isn’t going to be concerned with his cell bill; in all likelihood, he has a special plan with unlimited everything and no throttling, and if he doesn’t, overages aren’t going to break him like they would you or me. When do you think Mark Cuban last looked at a cell phone bill?

So Lily offered a Cuban a plan that underdelivers to with a feature that will likely leave his family stuck at the original data point after tearing through all that data on vacation. Or, per the AT&T website:

Rollover Data is a benefit that we’ve introduced with our Mobile Share Value plans where unused data from your monthly plan allowance rolls over for one billing period.

Example: If you have our 15GB AT&T Mobile Share Value plan and only use 10GB, you’ll roll over 5GB (your Rollover Data balance) to the next month for a total of 20GB to be used within the next month. There’s no cap on the amount of unused plan data within a given month that’s eligible for rollover. However, Rollover Data automatically expires after one billing period, and unused Rollover Data won’t carry over to the next month.

She offered a potential high value client a plan on which his family won’t be able to even, ahem, capitalize? There’s no stockpiling data, you must use that data next month or it’s gone! This is OK for Mark Cuban? This is OK for you or me? I’ve worked in capacities that have happened to put me in direct contact with very, very wealthy people. Clients should be treated well and with integrity, regardless of status. That said, elite clients get elite treatment: at the very least be clear and upfront with them! No angles? Really, Lily? Really, AT&T?

This ad manages to:

…mislead–there are angles, AT&T, your website even admits as much by adding the #legal on to the URL…or, you know, by having restrictions via terms and conditions in the first place;

…present Lily like any number of sleazebag mall kiosk dwellers who reek of Axe body spray and will yell at you across the corridor, promising nearly anything for a sale (or worse, presents her as someone who doesn’t know what she’s selling or doing: /doe-eyed pouty face ‘I don’t think I have any angles…’)

…make Mark Cuban look foolish. I’ve seen him tear apart any number of naive chumps or possible hucksters on Shark Tank trying to pull something similar. The man didn’t rack up $3B by making poor and uninformed business decisions that weren’t in his best interest. He’s not stupid, and to think he signed off on doing this is puzzling at best. Cuban isn’t getting compensated in Rollover Data features, that’s for sure.

The Lily ads aren’t bad, but whoever green-lit this one should seriously be reconsidered. Paying attention, and the point of a good commercial is to get the audience to do just that, may cost AT&T more than the cost of 30 seconds’ prime airtime over (…and over…and over…) in both reputation and revenue.

briefly, hall of fail, 2015 edition

This edition of the Hall of Fail–wherein the author unloads a jeremiad against the Base-Ball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) because of their fecklessness and outright insanity–will be quite brief.

This year, they mostly got it right. This afternoon, first ballot pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and third-year candidate, Houston Astros lifer Craig Biggio, were elected to enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. All are deserving, and finally, that 1-2-3 Braves rotation stomach punch of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz is all together in Cooperstown.

Tim Raines and Alan Trammell continue to be criminally undersupported as their eligibility wanes, while Biggio and fellow Astro, the  five-tool monster first baseman Jeff Bagwell, should have been enshrined together.

The ballot remains arbitrarily limited to ten selections, though it appears that the electorate seems to finally be recognizing that the system is in need of reform. Talk of raising the limit to 12 is swirling and appears to be a real possibility, while the sensible solution of a straight up-or-down vote on each nominee still makes too much sense.

For the first time in a while, there isn’t much to be upset about. No one got outright Biggio’d this time, Mike Piazza, garnering about 70% of the vote, looks to be elected next year. Hopefully Bagwell can get the push he needs, too. Now the questions can begin to move away from the gatekeepers and back to the players; that is to say, we can start really talking about what makes the Hall of Fame conversation so much fun.

We can talk about baseball. That, above all, is a good thing.

Brewers pitchers and catchers report in just over 50 days. Not that I’m counting the days or anything.