Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sports Axioms

Any sports fan is sure to be aware of certain truisms, or axioms that announcers, coaches and athletes repeat over and over again.  These tend to make up sort of a "conventional wisdom" and to my knowledge they are rarely questioned.  But sometimes they don't make much sense.  Here are my thoughts on a few of these axioms. Maybe you can think of more?

1) "Don't Make The First or Third Out of an Inning at Third Base" (Baseball):  There isn't a single baseball announcer who doesn't excoriate somebody for violating this rule at least once per week.  Literally.  As I am writing this, watching the Phillies play the Mets, New York shortstop Jose Reyes just got thrown out stealing third for the first out of an inning.  The Phils announcers both called it a "dumb" play, the "kind of play this guy makes all the time that doesn't make any sense".  And in fact, in this case Reyes' blunder cost his team a run.  The current issue of Sports Illustrated notes that free agent to be Carl Crawford may have harmed his chances of signing with the Yankees by being thrown out on a steal of third to end a game recently. 

There are lots of reasons why you wouldn't want to violate this rule.  A player at second base is in scoring position on most hits to the outfield, so there is little practical advantage to being on third rather than second, and with only a limited number of outs in a game, one doesn't want to take too many risks.  But whenever I hear this rule, the following question comes to mind:

"Why is it OK to make the second out at third base?"

I mean, really.  The implicit statement here is that you are selfish, or stupid or both if you make the first or third out at third base.  But if you try to stretch a double or tag up on a deep fly or try to steal and get gunned down for the second out you are a hustling player trying to make something happen.  This seems contradictory at best and confusing at worst.  All I know is, when I am coaching third base for my softball team, I don't want anyone to make ANY outs at third base.

2) "You Can't Lose Your Job Due To Injury" (NFL):  All my life I've always heard this one.  Announcers and coaches always tell us that players who are injured will slide back into their starting role once they recover.  Despite the fact that there are obvious examples of violating this (such as when Tom Brady replaced a hurt Drew "Tempestt" Bledsoe for the 2001 Patriots in game 3, and led them all the way to victory in the Super Bowl).  Despite that shining example, we are always told that this is an "unwritten rule".

So it made it strange this week to see Eagles coach Andy Reid announce that ex-felon Michael Vick would move from backup to starter (for week 3 and the rest of the season) to replace Kevin Kolb, who suffered a concussion in game 1.  Kolb was annointed the Iggles QB of the future when they drafted him in the first round three years ago.  When Philadelphia traded future Hall of Fame QB Donovan McNabb to division rival Washington on Easter Sunday, the word was that the Kevin Kolb era had begun.  Kolb looked bad all preseason, and was terrible in game 1 before getting his head slammed to the ground. (Which makes me wonder if "turf toe" is a legitimate injury, did Kolb have "turf tongue"?)

Vick was outstanding in relief of Kolb in game 1, and played very well in game 2.  As a former All-Pro QB, he is more than ready to take the reins.  But Kolb was cleared by his doctor to return to the field.  Why should he lose his job?  Andy Reid says it is not Kolb's fault, but Vick is "playing out of his mind right now".  Does that mean that if he stops excelling Kolb will come back?  Does it mean that Kolb didn't lose his job to injury, but instead to a lack of skill?  Anyway this seems very confusing.

On a similar note, while many people have been angry at the Eagles for their efforts to rehabilitate Vick, Philly fans are mostly interested in a winning team.  When convicted felons (or serially accused, never tried abusers like Ben Roethlisberger) return to the field they are often booed--until they make their first big play.  Believe me: if Michael Vick wound up a Cleveland Brown, every member of the "Dawg Pound" would be wearing #7 jerseys.

Everything I Ever Needed To Know I Learned From Pro Wrestling (Pt. 1)

Even though people are usually quite surprised to hear me say this, I am a devoted fan of professional wrestling, and I have been for decades.  As a boy growing up in the Philadelphia area I used to watch WWWF (precursor to WWF/WWE) wrestling on the local channels.  When we got cable in 1981 I suddenly had access to occasional big shows at the Philadelphia Spectrum (no longer in existence) on PRISM cable (no longer in existence--boy am I old!) as well as NWA (precursor to WCW--both no longer in existence) wrestling from Georgia on WTBS.  When I was young the Philadelphia Bulletin (you guessed it--long gone) used to print summaries of WWF cards in the sports section by the baseball boxscores. 

One of my earliest memories is of the good guy (technical term: "babyface") tag team of Tony Garea and Rick Martel being robbed of the World Title by the bad guy ("heel") team of Mr. Fuji and Mr. Saito.  The Japanese heels began each match by doing a Shinto ritual with salt to sanctify the ring.  When Rick Martel went to the top rope to put the finisher on Mr. Saito, Mr. Fuji pulled the original Pearl Harbor job and threw salt in Martel's eyes. That match took place in October of 1981, and I can still see him falling to the mat in agony and getting pinned 1-2-3.  

I will confess that for a number of years (basically 1990-95) I tuned out pro wrestling.  I was one of those people who thought it was "fake".  But in the mid-1990's, around the time that WWE empressario Vince McMahon announced that wrestling was "sports entertainment" (to avoid having to have wrestlers be tested for steroids and other drugs by state boxing commissions) I realized that I have no problem with matches that have pre-determined endings.  I mean, the thing I love about sports is the drama inherent in a weak team being able to vanquish a strong one.  But I don't watch wrestling for the results, I watch it for the path the grapplers take to get there. 

I plan to write a recurring series of posts about what I like about wrestling and what it can teach us about life.  I look forward to your comments.