Column: MLB's PEDs Policy A ConundrumMay 19, 2016

The 80-game suspension of Miami Marlins’ second baseman Dee Gordon for violating MLB’s drug policy may have set the stage for a discussion about the purpose of penalties: Deterrence or punishment? Like every other athlete who has ever tested positive Gordon issued the obligatory apology, saying he had no clue why the test results were positive and he had never knowingly ingested a tainted substance. Maybe he’s right, or maybe he’s lying. We may never know. There are so many chemicals in the food we eat and who-knows-what in the supplements most athletes consume that it’s possible, although highly unlikely given the substances found in Gordon’s sample, that he’s telling the truth. But here are four takeaways from Gordon’s suspension that we know to be absolutely true.

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Column: Marlins Suing Season Ticket HolderMay 12, 2016

Angry sports fans may have found a lawsuit they can rally around. The Miami Marlins are suing a season ticket holder for failing to pay for tickets he didn’t receive. The fan’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the suit and claims “the team reneged on everything” it promised. Until the revenue from media rights fees skyrocketed, season tickets were the lifeblood of sports teams. And Mickey Axelband was a sports team’s dream. He had been a Marlins season ticket holder since the team’s first game in 1993. In 2011 he agreed to purchase two season tickets for 2012 and 2013. Axelband paid a total of $24,300 for the first year but after the team allegedly reneged on its promise to provide him certain benefits – e.g., seats in a special lounge - he stopped attending games and refused to pay for the second year of his contract. The Marlins elected to sue.

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Column: Deflategate Keeps On HissingMay 5, 2016

If you feel like you’ve overdosed on Deflategate, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans feel just like you and millions more may join your group before the case hisses its way to a final conclusion. The case that seemingly won’t end has completed its latest chapter. Last week the Second Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to reinstate Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for tampering with the air pressure in footballs. Brady was initially suspended by an NFL hearing officer for allegedly tampering with the footballs used in the Patriots’ AFC Championship game rout of the Indianapolis Colts in January of 2015.

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Column: Cost of Attending MLB Game Goes UpApril 28, 2016

Like the federal debt, the cost of attending a Major League Baseball (MLB) game is rising. This season the average increase over last year is 3.7%. That may not seem like a huge increase but in the twelve months preceding the opening of the 2016 season, the inflation rate was a mere 0.9%. Ticket prices alone increased 7.1% last year, almost eight times greater than last year’s inflation rate. According to Team Marketing Report’s (TMR) annual survey of MLB teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks provide the lowest overall fan cost of any of the 30 teams. That’s not news. This is the tenth consecutive year that Arizona has claimed the title. It all starts with ticket prices and the Diamondbacks have the lowest average season ticket price in the league at $18.53 per ticket. The Major League average is $31.

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Column: Canadian Hockey Lags U.S.April 21, 2016

For the first time since 1970, the National Hockey League playoffs began without a single Canadian team in the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup. The last of seven NHL teams north of the border was eliminated with 11 days left in the season. Like their neighbors to the south, Canadians disagree on religion. Canada’s number one religion is Catholicism with 39% of the population identifying themselves as Roman Catholics. The next largest group is non-believers, at almost a quarter of the population according to the National Household Survey conducted in 2013. But one thing all Canadians can agree on is hockey. It’s the country’s national sport and in some circles, even more important than religion.

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Column: NCAA Sleaze Dominates Final FourApril 14, 2016

When the Villanova Wildcats beat the University of North Carolina Tar Heels on a last second basket to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, it prevented one of this year’s two Final Four teams with dirty laundry from taking home the National Championship trophy. UNC had beaten Syracuse, the other recent NCAA miscreant, two nights earlier to advance to the final game. Syracuse, like the University of Connecticut three years earlier, advanced to the Final Four after sitting out the tournament the previous year. The Huskies were banned in 2013 for falling below the Academic Progress Rate threshold, a complicated and totally meaningless formula contrived by the NCAA to pretend that student athletes were obtaining an education while they were actually in college to play sports. One year later, the UConn men’s basketball team celebrated the school’s fourth national championship.

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Column: Banned at The Ballpark: Smokeless TobaccoApril 7, 2016

Major League Baseball (MLB) kicked off the 2016 season on April 3 with the familiar sights and sounds of players in uniform, bats hitting balls, pitches plunking into catchers’ mitts, and fans cheering for their home team. But one thing is missing in seven of the 30 MLB ball parks: Smokeless tobacco. Baseball players have used smokeless tobacco for more than a century, since the days of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Although the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that smokeless tobacco use among baseball players has declined over the years, according to Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an estimated 25-30% of MLB players currently use smokeless tobacco. That number is surprising, considering that all tobacco products are banned at the high school, college and Minor League Baseball (MiLB) levels.

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Column: Baseball Dipomacy on Display in CubaMarch 31, 2016

Baseball diplomacy was on display last week as the Tampa Bay Rays traveled to Havana to play the Cuban National Team in an exhibition game, the first of its kind since the Orioles played there in 1999. The audience – including yours truly – witnessed a truly historic event. President Barack Obama entered the stadium with his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro. The two leaders sat side by side during the game before exiting after the third inning. It’s been 88 years since the last sitting U.S. president, Calvin Coolidge, visited Cuba, a country that’s been mostly off limits to U.S. citizens for 55 years.

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Column: MLB Trying to Attract New GenerationMarch 24, 2016

Baseball has an age problem. According to data collected by Sports Media Watch, half the television viewers during the 2013 World Series were 55 or older. Those numbers are consistent with the age of viewers of all nationally televised games on FOX, ESPN, TBS and the MLB Network during the entire 2013 season, giving baseball the oldest television viewing audience of any of the four Major League team sports. And the 2013 season wasn’t unique. For the five year period leading up to 2013, the median viewing age increased by one year annually, which suggests to some observers that baseball is a dying sport. To counter that trend, MLB has made it a priority to reach out to younger generations in a number of ways. The goal is to introduce baseball to kids as early as possible, and for good reason. According to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, research shows that “The biggest and strongest indicator of fan affinity as an adult is if you played [the game] as a kid."

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Column: Sharapova Tests Positive For Banned SubstanceMarch 17, 2016

As drugs go, this one was at least easy to spell and easy to pronounce: Meldonium. But it is no less dangerous to an athlete than a drug that is difficult to pronounce and impossible to spell, like tetrahydrogestrinone, a drug that many athletes have been accused and/or convicted of taking, including former track star Marion Jones. If you don’t believe that, just ask Maria Sharapova. Last week Sharapova called a press conference to announce that she had failed a drug test for meldonium at the Australian Open. Meldonium, which was developed in Latvia decades ago, is used to treat ischemia, a lack of blood flow to an organ, and neurodegenerative disorders. Sharapova said she had been using the drug - with a doctor’s prescription - for over a decade to treat a magnesium deficiency. She also said her family had a history of diabetes.

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