STEP YOUR GAME UP

Enough is enough: here’s the definitive, must-read MLB rant for every Astros fan

Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images.

They don't call them "dumb jocks" for nothing. Over the past two weeks, two sports, which happen to be my two favorite sports, have jerked around fans and done some pretty stupid things that may have caused irreparable damage.

Baseball, which has been slowly circling the drain in popularity anyway, made it crystal clear that team owners and players have stopped caring about fans and the game itself. The battle in recent weeks between billionaire owners and multimillionaire players over when to start the coronavirus-delayed season, how many games should be played and how much money the players should make has been disgusting and vulgar to fans.

There's a golden oldie by the Marvelettes called Too Many Fish in the Sea. It goes: "I don't want nobody who don't want me, 'cause there's too many fish in the sea." It's good advice and that's how I feel about baseball after a lifetime of loving the game. I realize that baseball don't want me, and there's too many fish, like basketball and football, golf and soccer, in the sea.

Baseball should be the last sport to exhibit such arrogance. Baseball isn't exactly in a growth spurt. Attendance at baseball games is down 7 percent over the last five years – down 1.6 percent in 2019 after dropping 4 percent the year before. Last season, for the first time in 15 years, baseball attendance fell below 70 million. Last season, 14 of baseball's 30 teams had declining attendance, including the Houston Astros. Even though the Astros had the best record in all of baseball, attendance was down about 4 percent. In 2018, average attendance at an Astros home game was 36,796. In 2019, down to 35,276 a game.

Baseball is called "the national pastime," but lately it's just a meaningless catchphrase. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, only 9 percent of Americans say that baseball is their favorite sport. It's the lowest percentage since Gallup started asking that question in 1937. Go ahead players and owners, keep bickering over money. Fans love that, especially with 20 million Americans out of work and 120,000 dead from coronavirus. They'll only stay away even more when games finally resume under commissioner Rob Manfred's almighty executive order to play a 60-game season starting in late July.

Little League, which used to groom Americans to be baseball fans for life, is in steep decline, too. Youth participation in baseball is down more than 4 percentage points in the past decade. The popularity of video games and the average weight of kids is way up, however.

Between scandals, slow play and mind-numbing long games, baseball just ain't happening for young people. Basketball players, like LeBron, the Freak, KD and James Harden are cool. The best baseball player today is Mike Trout. I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't recognize him in line at the supermarket, and I know I wouldn't recognize his voice on a radio interview. The most famous pop baseball song played in ballparks today is Centerfield by John Fogerty. The song mentions superstars Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. They played 50, 60, 70 years ago.

The average age of a baseball fan is 57, not good for the long run. Only 7 percent of baseball fans are 18 and younger. It's going to take more than Tuesday night dollar dogs and Friday night fireworks to pull fans back to the ballpark. And owners and players squabble about money and air dirty laundry in public? How stupid can they be?

But baseball's stupidity isn't in the same stratosphere as what tennis demonstrated the past two weeks. While the sport is officially shut down waiting out the coronavirus pandemic, Novak Djokovic, possibly the most dangerous pro athlete in the world, organized four weeks of exhibition tennis tournaments in Eastern Europe. Djokovic, an anti-vaxxer ("personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn't want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine"), insisted that fans be allowed to attend the tournaments with no social distancing and no face masks required. As a result, the tennis stadium was packed, every seat sold, practically nobody wearing a mask. Meanwhile players high-fived and hugged each other, and posed for selfies with fans. One night after the matches, several players danced shirtless in a conga line in a Belgrade nightclub.

Here's a shocker: so far, four players from the event – Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric, Viktor Troicki and the "brains" behind the operation, Djokovic himself – have tested positive for coronavirus. So have one trainer and a coach. Troicki's pregnant wife also has tested positive. We can only wonder how many fans caught the virus. Stupid, thoughtless Djokovic.

Coric said, "I deeply apologize for anyone that I have potentially put at risk by playing the tour. Please stay safe and healthy." Dimitrov posted a photo of himself resting in a bed. Ironically, he is wearing a face mask in the photo. You should have thought about that sooner, buddy. Alexander Zverev, who played the tournament and has since tested negative, promised on Instagram, "I will proceed to follow the self-isolating guidelines. As an added precaution, my team and I will continue with regular testing." He added the praying hands emoji. Marin Cilic, who also tested negative after the event, said, "I will self-isolate for the next 14 days and continue to listen to the advice of medical professionals."

Australian bad boy Nick Kyrgios, who did not play the event, called Djokovic's unprotected tour "boneheaded," which usually is a word reserved for Kyrgios.

The U.S. Open will be held in late August in New York City. There will be ultra-strict safety rules, including players having to stay in airport hotels near the tennis stadium, no travel into Manhattan, limited player entourages, and no fans in attendance. Djokovic doesn't like all the safety measures and says he may not play the Open. If a vaccine is discovered and tennis insists that players roll up their sleeves for the shot, Djokovic is unsure what he'll do. But he had no problem staging an event with no social distancing or face masks, where three players caught the virus.

And Djokovic's parents wonder why their son isn't as popular as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two of sports greatest gentlemen and humanitarians, who support health guidelines to keep players safe from coronavirus?

Djokovic's mother: "I don't know why people don't love him like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Maybe it's because he beat them and became world No. 1 and they couldn't stand it."

Djokovic's father: "There is no doubt that my son is the best in history. Federer was jealous of Novak from the moment my son made his turn. He is jealous because my son is better than he is and will surpass him." His advice for Federer is to quit tennis, "Go man, raise children, do something else, go and ski, do something."

While it's true that Djokovic has a winning record against both Federer and Nadal, and may one day pass both in grand slam titles, greatness doesn't translate to admiration and love from fans. You want to know why fans cheer for Federer and boo your son? It's because he's a jackass, and the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

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Composite image by Brandon Strange.

In recent reports, there have been multiple rumors that the 76ers could make a push for James Harden if they can sign Mike D' Antoni as their head coach. As the 76ers fired Brett Brown in August, they are now looking for a culture change. So, it won't come as a surprise if the 76ers try to trade Joel Embiid for Harden. Hopefully, Daryl Morey recognizes the talent of Harden and rejects the idea of trading him.

Harden is easily the second greatest Rocket of in franchise history, including being second in scoring. In Harden's eight-year tenure with the Rockets, he has become an NBA MVP, made the All-NBA team seven times, three-time scoring champ, and an eight-time All-Star. Harden's resume with the Rockets is impressive, including going to Western Conference Finals twice. Ever since Harden came to Houston in 2012, he revamped the Rockets' franchise with eight consecutive playoff runs. Before Harden came to the Rockets, this franchise had missed the playoffs three times in a row.

Harden also attracted huge free agents like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook, which helped him succeed in his Rockets tenure. He has made the Rockets an attractive team to play on since being in Houston for eight years.

Even though Harden has been great with the Rockets, he has not reached the Finals yet. That has been the huge question mark on Harden's resume while playing for the Rockets. Honestly, there are certain moments when Harden has disappeared in big games. In 2015 versus the Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Semifinals, Harden shot 5 of 20 from the field, and was benched in the 4th quarter by Kevin McHale, as the Rockets were led by Josh Smith to force a Game 7 in Houston. Also, during the Spurs-Rockets Western Semifinals of 2017, Harden had another disappearance in Game 6. Harden shot 2 of 11 from the field with only 10 points as the Rockets lost to the Spurs 114-75 without Kawhi Leonard.

Despite those two horrible examples, Harden was extremely close in 2018 versus the Warriors but an injury to Paul's hamstring stopped the Rockets' momentum, as they lost in game 7 by missing 22 straight three-pointers. The following year, the Rockets lost to the Warriors again without Kevin Durant because Paul and Harden were not on the same page in the Western Semifinals. Things were not different this year, as the Rockets were overpowered by the Lakers 4-1.

Trading the 32-year-old Harden could be tempting because of the recent playoff failures, but he is a generational player. In the last 5 years, Harden has dominated the NBA with his elite scoring. Harden has averaged over 30 plus points per game in the last three seasons. He is also classified as one of the greatest scorers of all-time behind Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Wilt Chamberlin.

Stephen A. Smith lays out why he thinks Harden is the greatest scorer currently in the NBA in the video below.

James Harden is 'the greatest scorer in the NBA' - Stephen A. | First Take youtu.be

After all the things Harden has accomplished in Houston, is he still untouchable? Honestly, if Harden is traded, the culture for the Rockets will drastically change, especially with new players coming to Houston. In my opinion, Harden and Morey are very close but Morey is blinded by his own decisions because of Harden. Morey built this team around James and does anything to please him. He wanted to keep D'Antoni around because of Harden, which is not helpful for the Rockets. If the Rockets are going to win big, Morey has to be stronger with his own judgement of the team, and not Harden's.

If the Rockets decided to trade James Harden to the 76ers, they could receive Embiid and Josh Richardson, which is still good. The Rockets would get a big man, who is a superstar, and a great wing defender, which gave Harden problems two years when he played for the Heat. This would not be bad decision if the Rockets decided to move on from Harden.

Before Morey decides to pull the trigger, he needs to digest Harden's accolades, including his shortcomings. Hopefully, the right decision is made for the Rockets' organization.

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