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Simmons to leave ESPN; your thoughts


News broke friday that longtime ESPN writer Bill Simmons and ESPN are parting ways.

Simmons is kind of a lightening rod.  I know many people doesn’t really care for him or his stuff.  Personally, I’ve kind of drifted away from him over the past two years … not because I don’t like his stuff, but mostly because his focus area (the NBA more and more) is something I don’t really care about.  When he wrote more about baseball, about the Red Sox and Yankees during the early 2000s heyday of the rivalry, I was as big of a fan as anyone’s.  I still go to his podcast subscription first to see who’s on, and I really miss his mailbags and columns that he no longer has time to write.

Still, this news is kind of staggering.  Simmons is *the* reason huge numbers of people went to ESPN.  His columns were always the top draws on that website.  People talk about how Grantland is a “failure” … but then are nebulous with the measurements of what constitutes a “failure” on the internet.  No, Grantland doesn’t make the network millions of dollars; what website does?

I wonder what happens next.  I think it was clear that Simmons was done with the hypocrisy of ESPN management and demonstrated it pretty well with his latest suspension.  I think he was tired of being told what he could and couldn’t do on his podcasts (he’s been constantly fighting with editors over jokes and content), tired of being told who he could and couldn’t haveas guests (most famously, he was set to have President Obama on but for some reason ESPN nixed it, saying it was political … meanwhile Obama is on ESPN every year for the NCAA show; hypocritical).  Mostly I think he was tired of the double standards that ESPN has for opinion makers on its network; the same things that Simmons was suspended for have been blatantly done by other people with no repercussions.  You just can’t have double standards for personalities like that.  ESPN suspended Simmons for 3 weeks for challenging management, but when Stephen A. Smith questioned the role women have in their own attacks?  A slap on the wrist in comparison.  Skip Bayless says the same things that Simmons gets eviscorated for with zero backlash.

But where will he have the access that he had to the NBA that he had?  He *loved* the 30 for 30 stuff; that’s ESPN property.  I don’t know who “owns” Grantland but the PR implied that ESPN does by virtue of saying that “Grantland will continue publishing.”  So that creation is gone as well.  Would he just abandon all these paths he has forged and try something complete new (like when he went to Jimmy Kimmel to write for his late-night show)?

I think someone will use Simmons to really supercharge their online sports presence.  TNT holds part of the NBA contract so maybe a combo deal where does TV for TNT and then online for someplace that wants to compete against ESPN like a FoxSports.  Fox makes a ton of sense since they’ve never been afraid to push the line and have little street cred.

One thing seems for sure: Simmons is still king of the podcast realm and gets his stars to appear.  You can argue that’s because he was sponsored by ESPN, but his name leads the way now.

What do you guys think?  Do you even read his stuff?  Do you read Grantland?  Do you care?

Written by Todd Boss

May 8th, 2015 at 8:00 pm

What the Cuban embargo easing means for baseball

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No more death-defying defections for cubans like Yasiel Puig.  photo

No more death-defying defections for cubans like Yasiel Puig. photo

With the sudden and surprising announcement that president Barack Obama plans to “normalize relationships” with Cuba on 12/17/14, one cannot help but wonder how this move will affect the market for Cuban baseball players.

Here’s a smattering of links to post-announcement baseball industry impact analysis:

If you read any of these links, read Olney’s.  Its ESPN insider only, but he extensively quotes one Joe Kehoskie, who has worked as a player agent within Cuba for years.  Kehoskie states some important points, namely and most importantly, the US-Cuba embargo is NOT what was preventing Cuban players from playing in America; it was always the Cuban government.  Proof?  Cuba does not have an embargo against it with any other country with a large organized league (i.e., Japan, Korea, Mexico, Europe, any of the winter league countries, etc) yet their players were barred from playing even in them until just recently.  The Cuban government took these steps just recently to enable its players to play elsewhere; in Sept 2013 Cuban players were allowed to play in foreign leagues, which has subsequently led to a number of additional defections (and rising player contracts) here in the states.  But as Kehoski points out, there’s still huge hurdles to foreign ownership of property in Cuba (preventing the immediate building of academies by MLB teams for example), and it is worth saying that the country is still a communist dictatorship, with huge amounts of government control over the activities of its people.

Lets dream a bit though, and imagine that the Cuban government relents and releases the market for baseball players.  Immediate questions from a baseball perspective include:

  • Can MLB scouts immediately (and freely) travel to Cuba to scout?  It seems so: the Obama press release talked about immediate easing of travel restrictions and stated limits on import/exports (they had to answer multiple questions about bringing back cigars in the press conference :-) )
  • Will the Cuban league negotiate a posting system similar to what MLB has with the Asian leagues?
  • Or, will MLB teams set up their own academies similarly to what they do in the Dominican Republic?

MLB teams will want the academy route clearly; it won’t take but a few million dollars of infrastructure to setup teams and dormitories, and 16-yr olds could be signed for a few thousand dollars outside of harsh international FA spending limits much as they are in the DR.  But the Cuban government may want to do a posting system to help protect its local leagues and to earn much-needed money.   Not to mention the fact that Cuban culture values education and they’d likely be aghast if kids started dropping out of conventional school in their mid teens to enroll in baseball-only academies for a shot at a baseball lottery ticket.  Also, can you imagine billionaire owners negotiating with the cronies of the communist Cuban sports bureaus looking to hoard cash on the backs of their penniless players?

A huge benefit that could start immediately?  The possible return of the Cuban winter league, which used to be the clear preeminent winter league, drawing future hall of famers to the island for a winter vacation.  Now, Havana in the 50s isn’t what it is today of course … but if the Cuban government relents to foreign investment, there’s no reason for Cuba not to turn into another tourist-heavy island nation in the same way that other Caribbean countries operate.

One last thing: I’ve always taken an interest in the World Baseball Classic, and one of the things I’ve always wondered is what a united Cuban team could look like.  In the wake of the 2013 event, I wrote about what such a “politics-free” team could look like.  And now, two years and a number of high-profile defections later, I think a Cuban team could be even better.  Will we get to see a united team in the next version?   Hopefully so; the next WBC isn’t until 2017, by which time we’ll hopefully have a lot more clarity.   If you look at the 2013 version of the unified Cuban team, It lists Jose Abreu as a sub; now we know he’d be the marquee hitter in such a lineup next to Yoenis Cespedes.  And more players are coming.  In fact, you may put a unified cuban team as the 2nd or 3rd favorite in the WBC (behind the DR and USA).

Here’s a quick proffer on what a unified Cuban all-star team could look like right now.  Using the 2013 team as a starter and adding in recent defectees:

  • C: Yasmani Grandal
  • 1B: Jose Abreu
  • 2B: Yunel Escobar
  • 3B: Yonder Alonso
  • SS: Yoan Moncada (backed up by Alexei Ramirez)
  • LF: Yoenis Cespedes
  • CF: Yasiel Puig
  • RF: Yasmani Tomas
  • Starters: Jose Fernandez, Odrisamer Despaigne, Miguel Gonzalez
    (Gio Gonzalez was born in Cuba, but has already played for the US, so we eliminate him from consideration).
  • Relievers: Aroldis Chapman

That’s quite a good squad to start with, even without looking at the lesser Cuban players and/or the guys in the pipeline.

Post publishing link collection: Sports on Earth’s Phil Rogers on the future of the Cuban National team: he basically does a more researched and thoughtful version of the lineup above.  Nathaniel Grow of Fangraphs does his own version of this post in general.   Chris Moran of Beyond the box Score also does a version of this post.  Craig Calcaterra pipes in too.  Thom Loverro puts up his 2 cents.  BusinessInsider quotes super-agent Ron Shapiro and his “sea of questions” regarding baseball players.

William Taft??


Is William Taft a more random choice for the 5th racing president?  Who here, prior to today, would have even named Taft as a short-list candidate?

Aside from the fact that, last time I checked, there was still only four presidents on Mt. Rushmore, did we really need a 5th racing president?  Does this mean we’ll be introducing a new president every few years from now on?  Does this mean that eventually we’ll have a dozen charicatures of former statesman “racing” to the finish line (inexplicably greeted by a giant felt Lizard, to pay homage to the ever present commercialism rampant in today’s game)?

I will say that after reading Dan Steinberg‘s article in the Saturday Washington Post, that I understand the selection a bit more.  I fully admit that I had no recollection of Taft’s presidency in general, nor did I remember that he and Teddy Roosevelt had a massive argument (which of course is now ripe for mocking during every race), nor that Taft is apparently responsible for both throwing out the first pitch and (by urban legend) establishing the 7th inning stretch.  I’m a bit more on-board now.

However, had I known that making a change was in the works, I think I would have gone in a different direction.  I would have either selected arguably the last remaining inarguable “great” president this country has had (Franklin Roosevelt), or I would have dumped all four of our existing presidents and simply created characatures of the last four sitting presidents to do the racing.  Imagine a race with Barack Obama, the  younger George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and the older George Bush.  How funny could that be?  On a nightly basis you could have each president’s predecessor messing with his successor, or you could play off of each president’s nuances.  There’s equal balance between Republicans and Democrats here, and I’m sure that W. wouldn’t mind being the “Teddy Roosevelt” lovable loser of the group :-)

Written by Todd Boss

January 26th, 2013 at 9:33 am