Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Baseball History

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Could 2010 be the year?

I'm beginning my third decade of being a Cubs fan, and I can't remember not caring about the team this much since probably 2002. Truth be told, I'm more excited about the upcoming Chicago Fire season (new coach, couple of new foreign players I know nothing about, but who just have to be awesome because they're foreign, and a new formation with "attractive attacking soccer"), than I am about the Cubs.

In a moment of barely-concealed hope, my mother confided in me that she thought I was maybe growing up and moving on in life (because that's what real adults do)... but she just doesn't understand... she doesn't understand the soul-crushing weight of a team that thinks it can milk it's fans for every last dollar while not even pretending to improve itself on the diamond.

Did any one else make a half-hearted attempt to nab some tickets on Friday, but give-up at the first sign of technical difficulties? I did.

Rob's right (see below), the most exciting team the Ricketts have done since purchasing the club was to sign Rudy Jaramillo to be the new hitting coach, (well, I guess the ice-rink in the parking lot was pretty exciting too!) and that indeed reminds me of the time in which the best thing the beat writers could come up to write about was Jeff Pentland's work with Sammy Sosa and the toe-tap.

Yet, after the soul-crushing that was 2002, the 2003 season started similarly to this year (albeit minus the new coach and 'fresh approach' in the front office). The potential exists on our roster for a good 80+ wins, and if we catch a lucky streak here or there, perhaps trade for a sausage beater, a fast dude, and a new diamond-in-the-rough franchise player, then maybe we could sneak in as the wild-card, catch a hot-streak in October... and really lay a foundation... for jacking up ticket prices over the next six years.

You scoff? Hey, "It Could Happen" you just gotta "Believe."

The Scales of Justice

One of my favorite movies in the world is Bull Durham. There is a scene where guys are talking about heading to the show, and Crash Davis Speaks up and says, "I was once in the show."

He goes on to say it was the greatest 17 days of his baseball life, and probably his entire life since he was a career minor league lifer. That's the dream for all the guys in the minors. They want the clean batting practice baseballs, the nice hotels and the roar of the crowds. It's my dream, and a I'm almost 30 and haven't played organized baseball in 14 years.

Now flash forward to the 2009 Chicago Cubs. Thanks to this update by Paul Sullivan we learn that Bobby Scales was brought up today to probably take Aramis Ramirez's spot on the roster.

He even got as far as putting on his uniform in the clubhouse, only to be told that he was heading back to Iowa. That had to suck on so many levels. I told my wife the story and she gave out a "aww" that could bring tears to your eyes.

I hope Scales continues to play well, because nobody deserves to get that close to your dream and not have it happen. I will rooting for the guy for now on, because I couldn't imagine that happening to me without a serious long depression.

The Superlative Season

Maybe I should create a "philosophy of baseball" tag. 

Despite the ribbing exchanged between myself and Rob, and I cannot blame him for exercising caution and thinking my tongue-in-cheek 110 win prediction is nuts.  But there is a fundamental philosophical difference between Rob and I, one perfectly exampled by the recent exchange.  (Thankfully the world - and even this blog - is big enough for the both of us to not only disagree, but to actually get along and respect one another.)

I am a blatant optimist.  Even now, as I near my 30th birthday, having seen some gut-wrenching baseball seasons, I still believe in the concept of eventual possibility.  I believe that anything that is possible will eventually happen, and although I've seen and read about enough to know I'm wrong, I also believe that things will usually work themselves out.  I apply this philosophy to life outside of sports and can barely bring myself to act worried whenever I hear the latest bit of bad news about the economy or the job statuses of friends.

Rob is a realist leaning toward pessemism.  I can't say that I blame him.  A life of following the Cubs, intermixed with various trials, tribulations, and being a proverbial circle wedged into a square-shaped hole can leave a person feeling catious and caustic. 

He'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Rob at this point in his life is looking for the superlative season.  It's the year without questions, without shadows, without doubts.  It's the year where you watch your favorite team play and are never left with a sick feeling in your stomach based on the outcome.  The Cubs very well may win 100 games in 2009, but it won't be a superlative season for the following two reasons:

  • No leadership.  Leadership is a hot topic when it comes to the philosophy of baseball.  Statheads - or statfags, as we may be called - will argue that "leadership" is such a vague concept that it's a) impossible to build a team around it and b) impossible to prove that a team with great clubhouse chemistry and a heralded leader will outperform a team with the best offensive numbers.

    Still, this is a role that fans value, and it is one left unfilled on the Cubs.  Derrek Lee is perhaps the modern day Andre Dawson - a consumate professional, liked by his teammates, but not the kind of guy who'll poke his teammates with a stick if they're in a lull.  Aramis Ramirez is somebody with good clutch hitting skills - except in the last two playoffs, when he's evaporated - but, again, he doesn't weild a carrot or a stick.

    My personal philosophy is that more important than a single leader is the general shape of the team's chemistry and outlook.  Luckily, winning tends to breed good chemistry and the Cubs are in their third straight season of looking good. 

  • Shaky essentials.  So, your team has the best offense in the league.  Great!  How's the bench look?  And your team has a fantastic starting rotation.  Awesome!  But the middle relief corps? 

    The Cubs are a pretty deep team, and I've already written articles about how they can probably still win even while missing up to three regulars at one go.  I'd say that while they need a backup third baseman, they're probably going to see good production from the bench.  But the bullpen has been an entire other story.

    Just ask Lou Piniella - Neal Cotts is on the Not To Be Trusted list.  Hell, let's just call him that -- Not To be Trusted Cotts.  Kevin Gregg, the apparent clubhouse slut, has yet to meet a lead that he didn't want to blow.  Aaron Heilman, the jury's still out on.  Luis Vizcaino might be this year's Bob Howry, pitching with a fork stuck in him.  Angel Guzman - if he can stay healthy - is on his last leg's last leg.  Dave Patton has never pitched in a ballpark that held more than 12,000 people before this year.  Carlos Marmol is prone to lose effectiveness when overpitched, and with that cast of craptacular relievers on the team he will get overpitched.

    Unless the Cubs are blowing out their opponents, then they just might not be able to hold onto 110 - or even 90 - leads this year.  Incidentally, I'd argue that this issue is slightly more important than the leadership one, because as scary as a bad bullpen is in April, it's about a million times more frightening in October.

So, without trying to predict a win-loss record, those two concerns are probably weighing heavy on Our Rob when he looks ahead to the '09 baseball campaign.  And that's where he and reach our philosophical differences.  I'm not worried about either of those things.  I'm not even scared by our shaky bullpen.

Which isn't to say that I don't have concerns.  In my old age, I am no longer finding it as acceptable that Alfonso Soriano bats leadoff in Chicago.  As appreciative as I am about the strengths of Lou Piniella, his flaws have me worried.  And I know that no matter what happens, no matter who they acquire, no matter how many games they win the central by, October is a completely different story with a blank first page.

And still I believe.  I guess that belief can be superlative too, and maybe mine is.

Jersey love

Today was supposed to be the promised "Cubs jersey of the future" post, but I decided it made more sense to "air" it on Wednesday morning.  Instead I'm going to highlight some of my favorite all-time jerseys and hats, as limited by  I'd also like to preface this post by directing you all to the Cooperstown website, which offers a database of almost every baseball jersey ever made.  Feel free to go there and see if there are any that grab your interest as mine was grabbed.

These jerseys are limited to the available pictures.  Since this is a Cubs blog, I'll start with Cubs images:

Some people call it an insult on tradition.  Others say it's a softball jersey at best.  But for the first 9 years of my life, this was the road jersey I grew up watching:

Cubs blue road

It's patriotic, it's colorful, it's effin cool.  I was disappointed in 1990 when baseball as a whole decided to take the more traditional route and reverted back to button-down fronts - I can't contest that one - and grey road uniforms.  Luckily as time went on, the Cubs eventually reintrodced the blue alternates which I remember became very popular with the team in 1998, eventually becoming the defacto road uniform.  It's not quite as snazzy as the old school blue, but it's stll pretty awesome in my opinion:

Carlos Blue

Go on, tell Carlos he's wrong to love that jersey.  I dare you.  The only problem with the current alternate blue is that, on the road, they wear it with their grey pants.  Blue and grey - not a great combination unless you're battling for the freedom of a people.  I digress.

As I mentioned on Sunday, here in Toronto the Blue Jays have enacted a ballpark promotion that actually works.  (Mostly they seem to think that the objective of getting people into the Rogers Centre is to distract them from the game played, so they have a dance troupe, a lame mascot, and ridiculously loud music that contributes nothing to what's actually happening on the field.)  They started throwback Fridays, in which their players would dress up in the following uniform:

Throwback Friday

The powder blue was never the home uniform of the team, but the hat is frigging awesome.  There's just something about it looks cool.  And suddenly, for perhaps the first time in their 30-year-existence, the Jays were actually at the front of a movement in terms of baseball style.  Suddenly, we saw those hats everywhere again:

Cubs franchise 1984

Thing was, the Cubs never actually wore a hat resembling that style.  A good number of teams in the 70's, 80's, and early 80's did, however.  If I had bottomless resources, I'd strongly consider buying these hats:

Unattractive

Admittedly unattractive, this Brewers cap regrettably looks as if a player was taking a leak and then lost his hat in the bowl before he had the chance to flush.  Actually, I'd take a pass on that one, as well as this one out of San Diego:

pooperstown

But more attractive than those two are the hats worn by teams like the Orioles, Braves, and Expos:

O's hat

Braves Cooperstown

Expos hat

Back to the Cubs, there's one Cooperstown jersey in particular that I would love to own but I've never seen it for sale:

Cooperstown Cubs

Outside of the Cubs, I wouldn't mind adding these jerseys to my collection:

Expos jersey

If I wind up with the Expos throwback hat, then I might try to obtain one of the above jerseys but with Andre Dawson's name and number on the back (thereby showing my Cubs love even while not sporting Cubs merch).

Braves jersey

I really appreciate this jersey a lot, too.  I'm torn between it and the road jersey, but the powder blue might be too ugly to own.

Road blues

I even have an appreciation for this jersey, which is admittedly borderline ugly:

Poo Brown

Yep, in other words I have gone retro 70's and I'm staying there, baby!

Anyway, over the past couple of days I've been tinkering with Cubs jersey redesigns.  I'm going to post my creations tomorrow morning.  I'm sure you can guess which era they will be inspired by ...

TribCo Files for bankruptcy - Cubs supposedly uneffected

In news that should not have surprised anyone, the Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy today. The filing, a chapter 11 variety, keeps TribCo in business and means that operational changes will be minimal. The goal of the bankruptcy declaration is to force creditors to negotiate with the company and accept less favorable terms on their debt. In many bankruptcies, the debt holders become the new owners and equity holders (prior owners) are forced out. (It is possible that Sam Zell's time at the helm of HMS TribCo is severely limited.)

While the news of Tribune's filing is not good for Cubs fans, their is a silver lining. Arguing that the team is a separate (healthy) business, TribCo excluded the club and the stadium from the filing. In a charmed world, this means the sale of the club would continue unimpeded... but a glance at the headlines this year indicates 2008 does not lend itself to the description: 'charmed world.'

The first hiccup in the sale process is likely to focus on the portion of Comcast SportsNet that was originally intended to be sold along with the club. (Without inside information, I'm not sure the following is true, but I can speculate.) The three bids that have been filed most likely included a purchase of the ComCast channel. However, the ComCast channel is included in the bankruptcy filing, so the bids received Dec. 1 are likely invalid, or in need of substantial modification. There are (at least) two scenarios in play here.

Scenario 1: The club and ballpark ("the two assets") are sold without ComCast. Either the bankruptcy judge allows the decision not to include the two assets in the bankruptcy filing to stand (possible), or the Creditors don't petition the judge to force Tribune to include the two assets in the bankruptcy filing (unlikely). Regardless, if the two assets escape the bankruptcy filing, the sale would proceed along the same timeline as planned, with the only modification being that the bidders reduce their bid by the amount of value they had previously assigned to the ComCast share.

Scenario 2: The interested parties still plan on selling the club, the ballpark, and ComCast together. If this is the case, the sale process would be delayed at by at least a few months because when an asset is subject to bankruptcy, the creditors may object to a sale if they feel that it is not valued properly. In this case, not only do the other MLB owners have a say in the sale, but so do the Tribune creditors and the bankruptcy judge.

In another related note, I can easily see MLB's antitrust exemption coming under close scrutiny because of this filing. I am predicting right now that creditors will object to today's filing. TribCo will be forced to include the club and ballpark as part of their assets in an amended filing. The sale of all three assets will then be subject to creditor approval, judicial approval, and MLB owners approval. If the MLB owners were to reject the highest bidder, the probability of the antitrust exemption being challenged by the creditors would be nearly 100% in my estimation.

Of further interest, let us also remember that the antitrust exemption is not so much an affirmative exemption as a refusal by federal courts to take jurisdiction in matters related to Major League Baseball. The exemption was established and upheld when the Supreme Court laughably decided that MLB did not participate in 'interstate commerce' and thus was not subject to federal antitrust laws. The Supreme Court indicated that Congress had the power to pass legislation and revoke this exemption, but Congress never has. However, the legal reasoning behind the case was severely flawed and the Federal courts now operate under a much broader interpretation of interstate commerce. (Counterpoint, TribCo apparently filed in Delaware state court, but its certainly possible that creditors will push for a change of venue to a federal appeals court, thus settling the jurisdiction hurdle to challenge the antitrust exemption.)

What then are my conclusions?

No one is happy tonight.
• Sam Zell might be relieved that he's likely done at the Trib, but I believe he's lost over a billion personally.
• Tribune Company employees who are fortunate enough to still be employed may have their entire Employee Stock Ownership Program wiped out (if my understanding of TribCo's capital structure is correct.)
• Cubs bidders are probably upset because this will delay the sale of the team.
• Cubs fans are upset because this will delay the sale of the team.
• Cubs management should be upset because the club will be included in the bankruptcy before long and budgets will be slashed accordingly.
• Bud Selig and the MLB owners are upset because there's now another viable avenue to attack the antitrust exemption, plus they're really going to be pissed that one of their club members is going to be in bankruptcy court.
• Don Fehr and the players union are uneasy because in the nightmare situation, the club is included in the bankruptcy filing and all of the players' contracts could possibly be declared null and void.

Byron Clarke is a CPA with no detailed knowledge of bankruptcy laws, legal jurisdictions, or the Tribune Company's specific situation. He is, however, a baseball hobbyist who finds the business of baseball thoroughly interesting and has generally followed baseball business proceedings in the media. Everything above was pure speculation. If you want to read an actual piece of journalism about the bankruptcy filing, check out the NYTimes.

Maddux moves on

ESPN has reported that after a quarter century, baseball legend Greg Maddux is calling it a career.

The Mad Dog retires with 355 wins - more than anybody who's pitched since the days when the Beatles were still performing live.  He was also a 4 consecutive Cy Young Award winner, an 18 time Gold Glove award winner, a 1 time World Champion, and a 2 time former Cub.

On top of his 355 career wins, Maddux also lost 227 times - a number that sounds like a lot, until you realize that his career winning percentage (.610) would translate into a 99 win season.  Maddux will also leave as having thrown the 13th highest total of career innings (5008.1), as #10 on the board for career strikeouts (3371), as 16th all-time in his strikeout-walk ratio (3.37), a life-time earner of minimally 150 million according to Baseball Reference, and as The One Who Got Away.

There were few sights more painful in the 90's than watching Greg Maddux face - and often beat - the Cubs while pitching for the Braves.  In fact, until the 1998 season, Maddux was practically unbeatable against the Cubs.  Over the span of his career, Mad Dog faced Chicago on 24 occasions, and in 169.2 innings of work he posted an ERA of 2.65, while striking out 117, walking 18, and going 12-4.

After the 2003 season, when the Cubs surprisingly came within 5 outs of reaching the World Series - including a game in which they faced and defeated him - Maddux surprisingly resigned with the team he started his career with, and it looked like the universe was finally correcting an inherent wrong.  It looked as though Maddux was going to retire a Cub.

Well, after basically becoming the staff ace in '04 by winning 16 games, Maddux was the victim of the clown-like management of Dusty Baker.  He went 13-15 in '05, Dusty implied heavily in the media that Maddux would probably retire, and he then came back, pitched 22 more games in the Chicago Circus, and was heartbreakingly traded to Los Angeles for Cezar Isturis.

It's very likely that the face of Chicago sports would've been a little different had Larry Himes not dropped the ball by letting Maddux go after the '92 season.  The Cubs would've been a little bit better, although it seems unlikely that they would've been good enough to become a pennant-chasing team.  Even the best pitcher of the decade wouldn't have been enough, but perhaps '93 and '95 could have been playoff years in different circumstances.  Maybe Sandberg wouldn't have retired.  The Cubs probably wouldn't have ended up with the draft spot that netted them Kerry Wood.  '98 may have been a very different year.  The results are really quite unpredictable, too many different dominos may have toppled, but what seems most likely is that Maddux would have retired with fewer than 355 wins and Cub fans everywhere would have hearts that were slightly less broken.

Pardon my flurry of words on the subject, but it's hard not to wonder what might have been.  And while Greg Maddux will never retire as a Cub, or wear the Big Red C on his hat when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame, he remains the only boyhood hero that I had the opportunity to cheer for after I'd grown into a man.*  I saw him pitch in Montreal in 2004, and I laid witness to the last homerun he ever hit in 2005.  He gave us memories with the heartbreak, and I can only hope that although he practically has enough money to buy a baseball team on his own, maybe someday his immense knowledge mixed with his competitive urges will spurn him to return to Chicago again, this time as a pitching coach with a Hall of Fame pedigree.

One can only hope.

(*I wanted to say the following, but decided to go for emotion rather than humor: "he remains the only boyhood hero that I had th eopportunity to cheer for after I'd grown into a dice-slinging, D&D playing, comic-book reading man.")

Whatever Happened To The Hall of Fame Game?

Lou has stirred perhaps the smallest pot in existence. Here is the quote that is causing this tempest in a teapot:

"It's something we really didn't need."

What is “it?” It is the Hall of Fame Game, a meaningless exhibition where the Cubs try to avoid injuring players who they need to compete for the pennant. Kristian Connolly disagrees, however:

"It is disappointing to read the recent comments made by Cubs manager Lou Piniella regarding the upcoming celebration of the national pastime in the sport's celebrated home," said savethefamegame.com creator Kristian Connolly. "The Hall of Fame Game is about something much bigger than the 2008 Chicago Cubs, and I hope that they understand and respect that on Monday. …

"All baseball fans -- especially those who are true Cubs fans who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to see their beloved team play if not for the 2008 Hall of Fame Game -- want the Cubs to please respect the game and enjoy the event for what it is meant to be: a celebration of baseball on baseball's home field in baseball's hometown."

Okay. First of all – anyone who presumes to determine who is a “baseball fan” or a “true Cubs fan” has a lot of nerve.

Second, either Kristian Connolly is lying or blindly and obliviously passing on a long-ago discredited lie. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide which it is. But Cooperstown is not baseball’s hometown, and it never was.

I have two baseball histories on hand – “Past Time: Baseball As History,” by Jules Tygiel, and Baseball: A History of America’s Game, by Benjamin G. Rader. “Cooperstown” does not appear in the index of either book. Abner Doubleday, the so-called “Father of Baseball,” is mentioned in the index of both books just four times between them. Only one of the entries is so long as a paragraph.

So what is Cooperstown’s claim to be “baseball’s hometown?”

Albert Spalding (creator of the Spalding sporting goods company, as well as a former Cubs player and owner, back when the team was called the White Stockings), and created a commission in 1905 to resolve the question of the origins of baseball. National League president Abraham Mills chaired the commission, which included two members of the Senate as well as other dignitaries.

They settled upon Civil War General Abner Doubleday, based on the testimony of Abner Graves, who claimed that Doubleday first came up with the sport in the spring of 1839. Cooperstown became known as the birthplace of baseball, and Doubleday Field was built (and is where the Cubs will play in the last Hall of Fame Game) to commemorate the spot where the sport was invented.

The question is, why even have such a commission? And why come to such a definitive conclusion based upon the testimony of one man? The answer:

Many of the game’s historians, from Henry Chadwick to the present day, have postulated that baseball descended from the old English game of rounders. Chadwick, who was born in 1824 in the town of Exeter in western England, recalled playing rounders as a child. Because baseball reminded him of his childhood pastime, he naturally concluded that rounders was the ancestor of the American game. Beginning in 1860, Chadwick included his baseball-from-rounders theory in virtually every one of the innumerable writings on baseball he produced over the next 40 years.

Of course, it was this “un-American” theory that provoked Albert Spalding into convening the Mills Commission, which ultimately saddled us with the Doubleday myth.

The Mills Commission was rather overeager to prove the American origins of baseball, and thus got a little sloppy in their research:

The commission, through a series of nationally distributed articles in newspapers and sporting publications, asked all Americans who had any knowledge about the formation of the game of baseball to come forward. … Graves happened to pick up a copy of the Akron Beacon Journal and read with interest one such article written by Albert Spalding. He went back to his hotel room and typed a letter to the Beacon Journal on his personal stationery. Graves' letter ran the very next day under the headline "Abner Doubleday Invented Base Ball."

According to Graves, Doubleday improved the local version of Town Ball being played between pupils of the Otsego Academy and Green's Select School in Cooperstown, New York. This took place "either the spring prior to or following the 'Log Cabin and Hard Cider' campaign of General William H. Harrison for the presidency" (Tofel A20). Graves claimed to be present when Doubleday, drawing on a patch of dirt with a stick, outlined defensive positions on a diamond shaped baseball field. He also claimed to witness Doubleday draw this diagram on paper along with a crude memorandum of the rules for his new game that he named "Base Ball."

Spalding, Mills, and the rest of the committee were thrilled when they received a copy of the Beacon Journal article. This was exactly what they were looking for. Not only was Doubleday an American, but he was a heroic General in the Civil War. In addition, quaint, picturesque Cooperstown was the absolute perfect setting to represent the country.

The Mills Commission did not investigate the Graves claim. Nobody in the committee ever met or corresponded with Graves. Many glaring facts were overlooked: Graves was only 5 years old at the time of baseball's "invention." Doubleday was away at West Point and never set foot in Cooperstown in 1839. Mills himself was friends with Doubleday for over 30 years-so close he was chosen to command the military escort which served as Doubleday's guard of honor when his body lay in state in 1893-yet never previously mentioned Doubleday's role in the invention of baseball.

So why the lie? Baseball was desperate to prove that it was an indigenous sport, wholly American, without foreign origin. The Doubleday story was a convenient fig leaf for the origin of baseball as a game originally created by British children. It was utter nonsense, of course; Jane Austen mentions the sport in her Gothic satire novel Northanger Abbey:

Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her children everything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least books of information—for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.

The book was published in 1803, well before Doubleday’s supposed invention of the sport.

It’s a double sin that the Doubleday myth is still perpetuated to this day, despite having been disproved decades ago - Robert W. Henderson published his opus on the subject in 1947.

The first sin is that baseball continues to associate itself with an essential whitewash of its earliest history; given baseball’s later problems with racism, it seems rather uncouth to essentially sweep under the carpet the xenophobia of the titans of the early days of the National League.

But more importantly, it overshadows the achievements of people who really did do much to create the sport, like Alexander Cartwright, who published the early Knickerbocker Rules and was influental in spreading the sport in New York, or Henry Chadwick, who did much to popularize the sport, including creating the box score.

Of course, the greatest testament to baseball’s history is baseball’s present – a hugely popular sport, entertaining millions accross the globe, not only in the United States, but increasing parts of Central America, Asia, even Europe – where the game began, let us not forget. The Hall of Fame Game does little for those fans or for baseball’s history.

And as for us true Cubs fans – I think I’m not too presumptuous when I say all true Cubs fans, even ones in the vicinity of Cooperstown, think that the most important thing is seeing our boys in the World Series. And watching your team compete for the highest honor in the sport – that, sir, is the central meaning of baseball. To say that the Hall of Fame Game is more important than that is to mistake the sport as a marketing vehicle for Cooperstown’s tourism board. You should be ashamed.

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