April 16, 2011
(Note: While this post will focus on baseball, the message is applicable to all sports.)
The debate over how to handle steroid users in sports was renewed the past week with the conclusion of the Barry Bonds trial and the sudden retirement of Manny Ramirez following his third positive test. The central focus of the debate is how to handle these confirmed or suspected users of steroids when they become eligible for the Hall of Fame. The list of confirmed users include names which also appear at, or near, the top of some of baseball’s most hallowed statistical rankings.
This past week, Tim Kurkjian of ESPN touched on the dilemma voters for the Hall of Fame now face. How do you vote for players who cheated the game and artificially inflated their impact on its history? But at the same time, these players did have a tremendous impact on the game so what damage is done to the integrity of the Hall of Fame if these players if these players and their stories are absent from those hallowed halls? What if the single-season and career homerun leader is missing? Or what if one of the most dominant pitchers, , if not the most dominant pitcher, of the steroid era is missing?
Fortunately, in time, baseball will be able to handle this dilemma. The Hall of Fame, while being an exclusive members only club, is also a museum. A wing of the Hall can tell the story of the steroids era. It can include the memorabilia — the 762nd homerun ball, a guy’s glove, or the cleats he wore when he reached some statistical milestone. It can include the names on the Mitchell Report. It even, if the writers want, can allow the steroid users themselves to join the ranks of the greats because these players are, afterall, the best of their era. The Hall will survive this scandal.
What will not survive as easily is the continuity of the history. Baseball is a game of numbers — of defined benchmarks that a player must reach in order to gain immortality. Those numbers, however, are no longer so easily definable. The career homerun mark pre-steroids is 755 by Hank Aaron. The steroids era mark is 762 by Barry Bonds. They’re now apples and oranges. Which do we celebrate going forward? A rookie pitcher with dreams of sports immortality — is he chasing Roger Clemens with 7 career Cy Young awards or Randy Johnson with 5 career Cy Young awards? The measuring stick is now broken.
This may seem trivial to the casual fan, but to those of who are passionate about our sports, the uncertainty robs us of a great deal of enjoyment. After you watch sports for long enough, your interest boils down to two things: (1) your team; and (2) greatness. Of course I want to see the Phillies win, Ryan Howard or Chase Utley win an MVP, and Halladay throw a perfect game. What is at least equally exciting, however, is seeing something no one has ever seen before or the attainment of greatness. When a player hits his 62nd homerun of the season, should he be celebrated as the single-season homerun leader? Or is he still far short of Barry Bonds’s mark? Is he the greatest? Or second best?
The continuity is broken. We cannot really compare the Babe to Bonds, Cy Young to Clemens, nor Schmidt to ARod. Even if such comparisons were previously just purely intellectual exercises by sports’ nerds or difficult given changes in the game, stadiums, and player training –they are now empty and impossible, and I for one feel cheated.
Agree or disagree? Leave a comment below and let me know!
June 3, 2010
I do not want Major League Baseball to overturn the incorrect call that likely cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game. I know I am in the minority on this one, but I view baseball as more sport than entertainment. As a result, even though changing the call would create a feel good story, I think it would generate a question about the integrity of the game. In my opinion, I feel that the integrity of the game is far more at risk by creating a precedent where the commissioner of the league can retroactively alter the outcome of games by reversing in-game umpire decisions, than by upholding the game ‘as is.’
Without proof that the call was made in bad faith (i.e., cheating), there should be no reason to now, after the game, overturn the call. The idea that public outcry can force the commissioner to reverse in-game decisions and alter the outcome of games is scary. It would absolutely push baseball, and any other sport, over the edge into full entertainment, like the WWE. It would make baseball more of a show, than a competition. The play would be overturned, the perfect game put into the record books, and the balloons would drop from the sky, which would all make for great TV.
Did the umpire make the wrong call? Yes. Of course. The slow-motion replay clearly proves that to us. Nevertheless, I disagree with the degree of egregiousness people are assigning to the call. I still watch the replays and it looks close to a tie in real-time. To further complicate my Monday-Morning-Quarterbacking, I have yet to view a replay that was actually from the umpires viewpoint. The man made an honest judgment call. Leyland had the opportunity to argue the call, but he failed to convince Joyce to overturn the call. This is significant because in baseball, unlike other sports, umpires actually will overturn a call. Just this past weekend, Bobby Cox convinced the homeplate umpire to overturn his call that Gregg Dobbs had been hit on the pants of his shin by the ball. Nothing in bad faith happened here. Nothing outside of the rules of the game occurred.
For those in favor of reversing the umpire’s call, I ask you: why now? How is this call more offensive than the call at the end of the Rockies/Padres tiebreaker three years ago? In the 13th inning of a game tied 6-6, Matt Holliday rounds third base, slides into home to score the game-winning and game-ending run, and then the Rockies go on to play in the World Seres. In that game, the replay clearly shows that Holliday never touched homeplate even though the umpire called him safe. It is hard to argue that yesterday’s incorrect call meant more than the call in the tiebreaker. That game sent the Padres home and potentially altered the entire National League playoff! This would have been an incredible personal accomplishment for a young kid, but they do not even compare.
Nonetheless, this does show that its time for baseball to institute a wider use of instant replay. In my opinion, baseball only has limited replay because the umpires’ union is scared that they will be replaced by machines. Now they are scared for the safety for Joyce’s family. After yesterday’s blown call, I definitely expect them to soften their stance. The legacy of an umpire with an outstanding record will now forever be tarnished and infamous because “human error is part of the game.” It’s time for progression — not reversal.
May 8, 2010
Earlier this week a Philadelphia police officer used his electrical shock weapon (commonly known as a taser because it is most often associated with the leading manufacturer of the weapon: Taser International, Inc.) to subdue a seventeen year-old fan who ran onto the field and repeatedly eluded capture by security personnel. The use of the taser has spurred a national debate about where to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable uses of force when subduing a fan trespassing on the field during a sporting event. A excellent article on the debate can be found at:http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=5165782. Critics of the use of the taser cite the fact that in rare instances a taser can cause cardiac arrest in its target. This risk has forced Taser International, Inc. to no longer classify the weapon as non-lethal.
I felt the use of the taser was justified and acceptable. For me, it boils down to two simple concepts: (a) where to allocate the risk; and (b) choice.
Allocation of the Risk. Two legitimate risk exists: (a) the risk of injury or death to the fan; and (b) the risk of injury or death to a player, member of the security team, or spectator. Who then should be more at risk? The fan? Or the players, security personnel, and the spectators? I think it has to be the fan. Yes, the critics will point out that in most cases the fan on the field is immature or drunk or both — he is void of bad intentions, so where is the risk? Why inject a risk into the situation by using a taser? But not every incident is peaceful and in the past real people have gotten seriously hurt. Those who disagree with me have yet to learn from Monica Seles’s stabbing (WARNING! THIS IS GRAPHIC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vl-2uVhNLJI), the attack on Coach Gamboa of the Kansas City Royals in Chicago in 2002, or the attack on Bill Spiers in 1999 by a fan inMilwaukee. Why should the players, security personnel, and spectators be put at risk for acts of violence, even if the risk is minuscule, before the fan is put at risk for serious injury? Perhaps it would be better understood if viewed in the inverse. Why should the fan be put at risk for rare the rare serious injury or death resulting from tasing before the players, security personnel, and spectators are put at risk for an act of violence? Easy, because…
Choice. The fan chose to run onto the field and is therefore responsible for the consequences and the greater allocation of risk against him. There is NO legitimate reason for the fan to be on the field and the fan must know that he will somehow be apprehended. So the fan should expect that and be prepared for the authorities use of any method of apprehension that is permitted by law. This seems fair because there is no justification for an increased risk to the people who had this unruly fan thrust upon them by none other than the fan himself. The players, security personnel, and spectators have no choice in the matter — the fan being on the field is the responsibility of only one person: the fan. Thus, in a situation, like here, where the fan continues to be uncooperative and evade apprehension, the authorities should be permitted to exercise force within the permissible limits of the law.
It must be noted, however, that the Philadelphia Phillies disagree. They have revised their policy to all but eliminate force beyond a simple a tackling of the fan to the ground except in the most extreme of circumstances [assuming the malicious fan even gives the authorities time to react appropriately] (http://cbs3.com/local/philadelphia.phillies.taser.2.1673184.html). Fans who trespass onto the field will be apprehended by Phillies’s security personnel and THEN handed over to the Philadelphia police.