Sportsbeat – 12/18/11

The ultimate irony of the Marlins’ signing Jose Reyes to a whopping six year, $106 million contract, is that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria spared his Mets’ counterpart, Fred Wilpon, major embarrassment. The Mets had hinted that they would not go above a $15 million per year deal for a maximum of five years. My guess is that they couldn’t have afforded even that kind of hometown discount even if Reyes were agreeable and thus were secretly relieved that Loria decided to splurge.

As I gaze into my crystal ball, I predict that Jose will wind up back in New York in as little as three years assuming that he is healthy and productive. The Marlins, who have never been big spenders under Loria’s ownership, are going all out to try to get fans to fill their new stadium in the Little Havana section of Miami. Miami had never been a great professional sports town attendance-wise until LeBron brought his talents to South Beach. My guess is that the Marlins will have the same problem that plagues their cross-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays, drawing consistently even with a solid club. If that new stadium isn’t full every night, expect Loria to deal Reyes to the Yankees just as Derek Jeter’s contract is expiring.

The New Jersey Record’s Bob Klapisch, along with Newsday’s Ken Davidoff, are the two best baseball columnists in this region. The day after Reyes agreed to go to Miami, Klapisch wrote of the massive liabilities that the Mets ownership is facing. In 2014, the Wilpons have to repay a $430 million loan that they took out on the team. The following year, a $450 million debenture that financed their regional sports network, SNY, comes due. They are also on the hook for $50 million annually for the construction of Citi Field. They still owe Major League Baseball $25 million for the emergency loan that they took out in 2010. That is just a shade under a billion dollars of liabilities and we’re not even counting the moneys that Madoff victims’ trustee Irving Picard is seeking from the Wilpons and Saul Katz. Let’s go, Debts!

It is somewhat ironic that the Mets will be celebrating their golden anniversary in April given that fan morale is probably at its lowest ebb since M. Donald Grant (who must be smiling in heaven) traded Tom Seaver in a fit of pique in 1977. For those who want to reminisce about the good and bad times in franchise history there are a trio of books out: The Amazins: Celebrating 50 Years of Mets History by the editors of the New York Post (Triumph Books), The New York Mets by Matthew Silverman (MVP Books), and The Mets by Andy Martino and Anthony McCarron (Harry N. Abrams Publishing). The Silverman and Martino books are comprehensive and designed for the long-suffering fan. The New York Post/Triumph Books collaboration is a less expensive paperback intended for more recent Mets aficionados.

Can someone tell me why the National Baseball Hall of Fame voters couldn’t find a way to select Ron Santo for induction into the Cooperstown shrine while he was still alive?

The various conferences sponsored by the Sports Business Journal always attract the movers and shakers of the industry. At the recent Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, incoming ESPN president John Skipper lashed out at veteran CBS announcer Verne Lundquist for implying earlier at the conference that ESPN was the smoking gun behind the rampant realignment of collegiate sports conferences. He also defended his network’s decision not to turn over testimony from Bobby Davis, an alleged victim of disgraced former Penn State defensive coach Jerry Sandusky, that the network had in its possession back in 2003 to authorities at the time.

Attending the SBJ IAF conference was New Jersey (and soon to be Brooklyn) Nets CEO Brett Yormark who was excited about the number of college basketball events that will take place at the Barclays Center such as the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic and the Atlantic 10 Tournament. It would be nice if the Barclays would give dates to the Columbia Lions, Fordham Rams, LIU Blackbyrds, and the Hofstra Pride. Exposure at the Barclays would certainly help the recruiting process for our local colleges.

Frankly, tennis star Novak Djokiovic, who won three out of the four tennis Grand Slam titles this year, or Green Bay Packers Super Bowl-winning QB Aaron Rodgers, deserved to be named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated. I can’t quibble however with their decision to split the award between Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and the University of Tennessee’s legendary women’s head coach Pat Summit, who is sadly in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. SI publisher Terry McDonnell told me that the decision to honor Summit had nothing to do with her illness. Fine, but there is nothing wrong with some well-placed sentimentality.

Two weeks ago Sports Illustrated columnist Phil Taylor rightfully wondered about how Nike executives must be feeling about Michael Jordan’s hawkish stance against the NBA players in the recent labor dispute since he is now the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. Air Jordans helped put Nike on the map and the Jordan Brand still generates millions for the Swoosh. On the other hand, such current Nike endorsers as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were livid about Jordan forgetting his player roots. Nike CEO Phil Knight may have trouble negotiating peace even though the NBA lockout is history.

Ivy League football does not get the publicity it should. It’s a BS myth that smart guys can’t be good players. The National Football Foundation should be commended for handing out the Bushnell Award, the Ivy League answer to the Heisman Trophy. Cornell QB Jeff Matthews and Harvard defensive tackle Josue Oritz were named Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year. Both players said that they wish that the Ivy League would lift the prohibition on playing in bowl games. I’d love to see the Ivy League champs, Harvard, kick butt on an SEC team such as LSU in a Bowl Championship Series game.

After a slow start that was probably predestined by a brutal travel schedule (what genius in the NHL office had them start the season in Stockholm and then have them in Vancouver two weeks later?), the Rangers have been rolling. Brad Richards has certainly proven to be a smart free agent signing.

Could the Islanders finally be clicking? The team went 3-0-1 in a recent road trip that was highlighted by left winger Matt Moulson’s four-goal game versus the Dallas Stars.

If you are looking for a change of scenery and want to enjoy professional hockey at a budget price, go to Connecticut. You can catch the Islanders’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound-Tigers, and while you’re there check out the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk. A little farther away in Hartford, the Rangers’ top farm team, the Connecticut Whale play where the old NHL team the Hartford Whalers did. If you are in Hartford, stop by the Connecticut Science Center.

Winter is about to get underway and that means that swimwear companies are showing off their summer collections to the media. Speedo brought in Michael Phelps and nearly every other American Olympic team swimmer for an event while Athleta, a women’s fashion company owned by Gap, Inc. did the same a week later.

The London Summer Olympic Games’ buzz is starting to build. SEGA has just released its latest sports video game, Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, as you can have its two popular icons compete in such events as beach volleyball, soccer, equestrian jumping and aquatics.

Yankee fans should rush to pick up a copy of Luis “Squeegee” Castillo’s Clubhouse Confidential (St. Martin’s Press). Castillo, not be confused with the former Mets second baseman with the same name, was a Yankees batboy from the late ‘90s to the early 2000s. Despite its titillating title, there is little dirt here but it’s a fun read.

It is clear that Castillo liked the Yankee players and the feeling was mutual. Luis paints Hideki Matsui as an obsessive compulsive neat freak; David Wells as a non-stop party animal; Jorge Posada as a leader who was not afraid to call out team slackers; and A-Rod as a guy so desperate to fit in that he became known for his phony laugh around the clubhouse. On the other hand, Alex was incredibly generous to a fault.

Congratulations to Tim McCarver for being named the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting that gets him placement in a wing at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. McCarver, who was a very good player in his own right, and is one of the few men to play in parts of four decades, was a color analyst for the Phillies, Mets and Yankees before going national exclusively, was the first former player to routinely criticize decisions on the field. Tim has always put his audience before both corporate politics and the fraternity of players.

I don’t understand why the Rangers, and perhaps the NHL overall, is trying to muzzle the players from talking about the in-depth series written by New York Times reporter John Branch on the death of former Rangers “enforcer” Derek Boogard. The cause of Boogard’s death was CTE, short for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the result of too many blows to the head. Sean Avery, no stranger to ice brawls, told reporters that he would love to discuss the Times article but was told in no uncertain terms not to.

Hats off to both Delta Air Lines and Madison Square Garden for their annual holiday party at Delta’s JFK main hangar for the kids at the Cohen Children’s Center at Long Island Jewish Hospital. Among the Garden luminaries taking part were Rod Gilbert, Adam Graves, Herb Williams, John Starks and Allan Houston. Actress/singer Willow Smith made an appearance as well.

Missy Modell, the daughter of Modell’s CEO Mitch Modell, is earning raves for her singing talents. She donated her time and talent by performing at the Variety Boys & Girls Clubs holiday party in Long Island City. It may be quite awhile until she joins the family business.

Now we know why NBA commissioner David Stern and Players Association chief Billy Hunter finally came to an agreement. Rick’s Cabaret, the upscale chain gentlemen’s clubs, was threatening to start, the RBA, the Rick’s Basketball Association.

I what was a good-natured gag, Rick’s management held a press conference at their New York club, located a block from Madison Square Garden, to show off their very attractive starting five who posed adjacent to a brilliant spoof of the Jerry West-inspired NBA logo. Former  NBA guard, and current president of the NBA D-League’s Texas Legends, Spud Webb agreed to be their coach. Oh well, now that labor peace has been restored in the NBA, we probably won’t get to see the RBA in action!

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