Labor deal not owners' priority

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Labor deal not owners' priority

With time running out before the holiday season shutters all businesses, it is time for the National Hockey League owners to treat themselves. I mean, at this point, who else will?

And the treat? Cancelling the rest of the season, just so everyone knows that they mean business. Or in this case, lack of business.

It is clearly what they want now, just as much at this point as seeing Don Fehr with a spike through his head. They’re not talking, even though they’ve already received all the concessions made to this point. And their countersuit to the players’ disclaimer of interests threatens voiding all their contracts, essentially making every player an unrestricted free agent.

In other words, the years of roster- and franchise-building are now considered expendable to the greater need, which is showing the continent who’s boss.

And the only way the owners can do that and feel good about themselves to themselves now is to close the shop, put their feet up and say, “Well, that was a good year’s work.” Because it’s a very short step from “We don’t care who’s on our team” to “We don’t care if we have a team.”

And that is the hill with the little tiny flag they have decided is good to die upon, for reasons that baffle all other interested parties.

They surely see the signs everyone else does. Commercially, companies are leaving the hockey market in droves, or making massive reductions in investment. The television networks are already thick with alternative programming – except of course for the NHL Network, which has a smaller inventory than most junior college TV stations.

In addition, two Canadian polls have found (through the small sample size that limits all such endeavors) that more than half of the nation doesn’t give a damn whether they come back or not. Canada.

And in a triumph of meaningless statics conjoined to tell a greater truth, Gary Bettman’s personal odometer has just passed 2,000 days in the job, and 500 of those days on lockdown. And there is an increased interest in never seeing him touch the Stanley Cup again.

And Bettman is just the office manager in this little enterprise. We now also know who the hardline owners are leading the charge to keep the padlocks in place, the moderate owners who feel like negotiating a deal on everyone’s behalf is beneath them, and the ones just waiting for someone to give them a check. And as we know, the modern owner craves only money more than anonymity. Knowing who the villains, the silent majority and the spongers are by name works against their interests.

That’s why they hired Bettman – to be the abuse magnet for this sorry performance. And he’s outlived his value.

It is now clear to anyone that the owners are so tired of dealing with the boogeyman they have created in Fehr that they’d rather not deal at all. And Fehr isn’t going anywhere, which leaves them with Option B.

The “Closed For The Season” sign in the front window.

Some will suggest that the union is responsible for this state of affairs, on the basis that you always do what the boss says whether you like it or not. Well, no – not in collective bargaining.

In addition, as we said, the union has done all the significant giving here, and the art of making a deal is not insisting upon surrender but finding a midpoint that can be airtight (for owners who like to screw with the salary cap rules) and hurt everyone an endurable amount.

Baseball owners learned this while dealing with Fehr, amazingly, and their business has grown sixfold in 15 years.

The NHL owners have decided it isn’t the deal that’s important, though, but the head on the stick. They’ve already shown how little they think of those whose livelihoods depend on the ancillary businesses around the sport, so feeling bad for arena workers and souvenir salesmen and restaurateurs, etc., is wasted on them.

And now that they’ve been properly and publicly shamed for preferring the pike to the pen, and having discovered that Bettman is now more a screen door than a shield, blame delegation wise, they’re kind of cornered, public relations-wise.

Thus, they have to give to each other in a bizarre Secret Santa ritual that probably has to be held in a dark cave. And what they have to give is another cancelled season. After all, they did so well with the last one that they clearly remember it only with fondness.

So they may as well get on with it. Or in this case, off with it. They’ve made Canada hate the sport they sell. They’ve made television hate the programming they provide. They’ve made corporate America treat them like they were  anthrax salesmen. They’ve run the table.

So a hearty fa-la-la-la-feh to all 30 merry gentlemen. They’ve made another holiday extra special – for each other. Now they can talk about the sport they all profess to love in the past tense, a fitting reward for them all.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

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AP

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.