Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lingering Items--Meaningless Edition

It seems that the rich really are different than the rest of us.

When life gives them lemons instead of roses they don’t make lemonade. They sue. Everybody. Such is the case with Ken Lanci, a self-described self-made millionaire with an abiding need to be loved or at least noticed.

Maybe you read the story, certainly Lanci hopes you did. You see Lanci, the holder of 10 personal seat licenses at Cleveland Browns Stadium (which alone is cause to commit him against his will), filed a lawsuit against the Cleveland Browns and the entire NFL because he believes their labor troubles will deprive him of what he bargained for, mainly to have games to watch.

There's a principle in the law called “laches” which means, essentially, that a person has sat on his legal rights so long, it's unfair to sue the supposedly offending party. That seems an appropriate way as any to dismiss Lanci's looney lawsuit. In the entire time Lanci has owned his PSLs the Browns have barely if at all filled their bargain to him and every other fan. If anything, it was a lawsuit he should have filed years ago.

Sure, games have been played at the Stadium, but that’s a mere technicality. The Browns haven’t given their fans anything more than a few brief moments of competitiveness in over a decade. If Lanci is worried that he won’t have NFL football to watch at the Stadium come the fall, I’d argue that he hasn’t had NFL football to watch the 10 previous falls, either.

So why now? Why indeed and why do you think?

Lanci's an opportunist with an acute need to be noticed who apparently isn't getting enough love from his family. So he decided to essentially light a few dollars on fire by paying a local lawyer who apparently has no other clients to file a ridiculous lawsuit designed not to advance a valid claim but only to bring attention to Lanci as some sort of champion of the little guy. If Lanci is trying to position himself as the voice and face of the fan, it may be time for the rest of us to switch sports.

Let me be crystal clear, though, about this point: Lanci’s lawsuit doesn’t have a chance of succeeding on any plausible legal theory whatsoever and it wouldn’t surprise me if in the process of it being tossed out the lawyers involved aren’t subject to sanctions. They should be.

Lanci bought his PSLs subject to the conditions under which the NFL operates. One of those conditions is that both the players and the owners have certain rights and obligations under the National Labor Relations Act. That the exercise of these rights could result in a strike or a lockout is hardly a novel concept or even unexpected.

But of course that's just stating the obvious which is what the local judge burdened with this dreck will quickly conclude well before Lanci and the inevitable local television station camera crew can get past security at the Justice Center downtown.

If Lanci is just a frustrated fan with a few extra dollars, that’s one thing. But his money would have been better spent on the charity of his choice rather than on the hack lawyers he hired to advance his ego. But of course where’s the publicity value in quietly donating to charity? By being loud and outrageous, Lanci gets his 15 minutes of fame, proving once again that it doesn't matter what they say about you as long as they spell your name right.


There was a column earlier this week by the Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto who detailed exactly why the Indians are a failing franchise. As Pluto rightly noted, the sorry state of this team at the moment isn’t so much due less to its place among other small market clubs than it is to the simple fact that it's been poorly run for years.

As Pluto noted, the Indians have pitched nearly a shutout in viable draft prospects from the years 2004-07, with pitcher Josh Tomlin, a 19th round pick, the only potential player to make the Indians this year that was drafted during those years.

The mystery in all this is not just how team president and former team general manager Mark Shapiro has managed to keep his job with that kind of track record. It’s also in how Chris Antonetti gets promoted to general manager with this same kind of track record.

To put this in perspective, the Browns have had 3 different general managers and 3 different head coaches since 2004 in large measure due to an incredibly poor track record in the draft. Bad decisions in the draft and bad decision in the free agent market have doomed this franchise in every way imaginable.

Indeed the fans are so conditioned to the team’s status as a league doormat that they’ve taken to celebrating the smallest of accomplishments as a way of charting any sort of progress. It's why there was a mini-backlash over the firing of Eric Mangini.

As for the Indians, the fans understand that the Indians are in sad shape but Shapiro first and now Antonetti have done a somewhat masterful job of placing the blame on economics—the league’s and the city’s. It's why no one much cares that the Indians hired Manny Acta as their manager. They know it doesn't matter.

While the sell job from Shapiro has worked in terms of deflecting blame for the underlying problems, it hasn’t helped the gate. Wins still matter. The Indians are no longer much of a draw because in a sport where there are 81 homes games, no one much sees a need to see more than one or two a year when they know that there is maybe a 42% chance of seeing a win.

Arguably, though, the Indians’ situation is far worse than the Browns, which is what is far scarier to contemplate. Assuming the NFL and its players solve their problems, there will be a salary cap of some sort in place and by design it puts teams on equal footing. Players can bid up their services, but there is no New York Yankees in the NFL, a team that can consistently overpay in order to get the best talent. The difference maker is talent evaluation and if the Browns suddenly get good at it, the results will show up sooner rather than later.

The Indians, on the other hand, play in a league where the financial deck is stacked in favor of a handful of teams and the rest of the owners don't seem to much care. The Yankees don’t worry about the draft because they can buy their way to competitiveness each and every season. For teams like the Indians, they only real chance they have (and it isn’t much of one) is to consistently make good choices in the draft and hope that the talent develops. And because talent develops slowly and unevenly, it can take years to show results at the major league level.

And perhaps the most sobering thought of all is that while the Browns at least continue to try and find a system that works, all the Indians have done is go about promoting those most responsible for the mess thus assuring that the systemic problems that exist have little chance of ever getting better.

But sure, let's blame the economy.


This is the place in one of these columns where I’d try to find some sort of Cavs item to offer but the Groundhog Day nature of their season and their situation means that pretty much everything that can be said about them has been said.

Ok, not everything. The Cavaliers beat the Detroit Pistons on Friday night and thereby closed the gap to three games between themselves and the Washington Wizards and the Minnesota Timberwolves for the league's worst record.

What the Cavs need most right now are the most ping pong balls in the NBA's draft lottery. This may be a somewhat down year for college talent, but one truism in the NBA draft each and every year is that the drop off between having the first pick and even the fifth pick is usually dramatic. The Cavs simply can't afford to lessen their chances at the top pick by winning meaningless games this late in the season.

I'm not advocating that the Cavs lose purposely because, heck, they don't need that kind of push. But with a mere handful of games left in the regular season, it would be nice if teams like the Detroit Pistons took the end of the season with a little more pride than they did Friday night by laying down for the Cavs.

If the Cavs do blow this golden opportunity for the first pick, and statistically that would be difficult but not impossible, there is at least one positive. They will have increased the likelihood of getting the most amount of ping pong balls in next year's draft as well.

With opening day in baseball a mere week away, this week's question to ponder: how many players on the Indians' opening day roster will be on it when the season ends?


m. said...

What don't you know by now, Gary?

c11058 said...

Great Blog...I really enjoy your well written columns each week!