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.

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