By the time you read this, many of you already will have jumped into your office pool and filled out your NCAA basketball tournament brackets. The American Gaming Association estimates 149-million brackets will be submitted physically and digitally before March Madness concludes, strangely enough, on the second Monday in April. Throw in wagers for everything from who will win-it-all to how many pairs of Nike sneakers Duke superstar Zion Williamson will blow through, and the betting will jump to an estimated $8.5 billion, about 40 percent more than is gambled on the Super Bowl.
I’m not a great prognosticator, but here’s one prediction I’ll bet my life on: Nobody among the estimated 47-million bracketologists will turn in a perfecto. The Wizards of Odds along the Las Vegas strip and in the halls of MIT have put the chances of bracketology perfection at one-in-a-quintillion. A quintillion is a billion on steroids: a one followed by 18 zeroes.
Braniac and all-around, good-guy Ryan Fitzpatrick began pursuing a career in pro football upon graduating from Harvard University and being selected in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL draft by the then-St. Louis Rams. He’s been playing ever since, but don’t think he hasn’t been putting that economics degree to good use along the way, because he has. In fact, he continues to laugh all the way to the bank.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the bearded wonder worked his “FitzMagic” again, finagling a two-year, $11-million contract from the quarterback-desperate Miami Dolphins. This will be the eighth team Fittzpatrick has played for, and his third AFC East-club. His longest stay was with Buffalo, where he briefly endeared himself to the Bills Mafia by putting up gaudy passing numbers, including a memorable four-touchdown-pass performance while outdueling New England Patriots legend Tom Brady at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
There appears to be life left in Fitzpatrick’s 36-year-old arm. Last season, the journeyman of 14 NFL seasons became the first quarterback in league history to throw for more than 400 yards in three consecutive games. The problem with “FitzMagic” is that it’s fleeting. A riverboat gambler with a pop-gun arm, Fitzpatrick has thrown 190 touchdown passes in 141 games, but he also has 148 interceptions and 28 lost fumbles. The guy with the 49 out of 50 score on the Wonderlic intelligence test has a 50-75-1 record as a starter. He’s a short-term solution the Dolphins hope can tide them over while they draft and develop their quarterback of the future.
Although they didn’t make a cannonball splash by signing a super-duper talent like wide receiver Antonio Brown or running back Le’Veon Bell, Bills General Manager Brandon Beane quietly has done some solid free agent shopping, signing nine guys, including several who could plug gaping holes. I especially liked the addition of center Mitch Morse, wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley, and cornerback Kevin Johnson. Morse should shore up a porous line that will field four new starters. Brown gives second-year quarterback Josh Allen a deep threat, while Beasley is a solid possession receiver.
The good thing is that Beane didn’t have to break the bank to address a number of needs. He’s still well under the salary cap, and he has 10 draft picks, starting with No. 9 overall, to further address areas of concern, including wide receiver and edge rusher. The cast surrounding Allen will be superior to last year, so one would expect more on-target throws and fewer turnovers from the man they’re banking on to be their franchise QB.
Although he has said he won’t participate in this year’s home run derby at the All-Star Game, I’m wondering if Aaron Judge will be tempted to reconsider now that Major League Baseball has announced the winner of the slugging contest will pocket $1 million. Because Judge still is on his rookie contract and won’t be eligible for salary arbitration until after this season, he’s scheduled to make “only” $684,300 this year, according to Spotrac. Think about that. He has the opportunity to make more money for a few hours of swatting than he can for an entire 162-game regular season.
Reigning American League Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts and the Boston Red Sox avoided arbitration before this season, agreeing on a $20-million contract. That’s a starting point for Judge and the Yankees. Should he go to arbitration, he likely will earn somewhere in the $25-million range – meaning he won’t be participating in any future home run derbies.
Recently, I wrote about the deferred deal that will see the New York Mets pay retired outfielder Bobby Bonilla nearly $1.2-million per year until he’s 72-years-old in 2035. Each July 1—when he receives his annual check—people sarcastically celebrate “Bobby Bonilla Day.” Many Mets fans consider the deal an embarrassment, a symbol of the franchise’s front office ineptitude. But reader Joe Bilovsky—who’s a diehard Philadelphia Phillies fan—thinks the club would be better off embracing the mistake, and having fun with it. I totally agree. Why not have an annual “Bobby Bonilla Day” at Citi Field, with Bobby Bo on hand to receive his check? The promotional possibilities are limitless. You could hand out fake million-dollar bills with Bonilla’s likeness on them, or bobbleheads of him holding a big check, or free scratch-off lottery tickets to all fans 18-and-over.
Like the Beatles once sang, “Take a sad song, and make it better.” Where is a fun-loving owner like Bill Veeck when you need him?
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.