Thursday, July 28, 2005

Devil May Care


Here was the situation yesterday: third game of a three game set between Tampa Bay and Boston. Series tied 1-1, somehow. Top of the fourth inning, game tied 0-0. Pitching for Tampa, Seth McClung. Who?

The unheralded, unheard of, and unbelievably, pitching in the majors, Seth McClung, that's who. No offense to the McClungs of Lewisburg, West Virginia, but he did come into yesterday's game with a 7.07 ERA, and had given up at least one home run per start, suggesting that another 707 was in his future, ready to fly him back to Double A. Having now slighted him, he will no doubt wind up on the Yankees someday, coming out of the bullpen to shut down the Sox for five innings while his overpriced teammates stage a comeback.

But through three innings on Wednesday, he was perfect. Nine men up, nine men down. While a rash of injuries and one mood swing led to the Red Sox using a somewhat makeshift lineup, perfect is perfect. So give the man his due. Or was someone, or something, else responsible?

While toiling away diligently at work, I happened to notice that an open browser on my computer had the in-game box score for this game, updated every pitch. Weird how that happened, but there it was, so I took a look. I noticed that when the inning started, McClung's ERA had fallen (for the uninitiated, the numerator for ERA, earned runs allowed times 9, stayed the same, but the denominator, innings pitched had increased by three, so ERA down).

What caught my eye was where his ERA was exactly: 6.66, the number of the beast, the Antichrist. So here was a pitcher, for the DEVIL Rays, mind you, with a 6.66 ERA, pitching a perfect game against the slayers of the Evil Empire, the Red Sox.

Who strides to the plate? Leadoff man extraordinaire, Johnny Damon, who, despite his nearly nefarious sounding last name, is worshipped as a savior in New England. With his long flowing hair and sometime beard, he bears a striking resemblance to another savior often worshipped in those parts. What would Johnny do?

Reminiscent of the final scene of "The Final Conflict," the third chapter in "The Omen" series, one man stood in to do the devil(rays)'s work against the second coming (it was Damon's second at bat that game). Damon (too close to Damien from "The Omen" for my taste) struck first, with a single to left. ERA still a devilish 6.66, but perfection gone, McClung no longer clung to the strike zone, walking the next two batters; but with no more innings (each out is 1/3 of an inning) pitched, or earned runs allowed, McClung's ERA was still 6.66. John Olerud next grounded into a double play, which allowed Damon to score. ERA now 6.75. Order restored.

Next up, the Sox return to baseball heaven, Fenway Park, to host the Minnesota Twins, who will be fresh off a series with the Yankees. The Yankees next opponent? The Angels. How fitting.


Extraneous Superfluous A-Rod Bashing Note: A-Rod celebrated his big 3-0 by going the big 0-for-3 on Wednesday, though he did have two walks. A-Rod may well finish with most of the coveted (by him) offensive records in baseball. When he turned 30, he had more home runs than Hank Aaron did by that age, and was similarly ahead of the 30th birthday pace of a number of other record holders. But on that one day, he was tied for last place for the worst batting average of all time for players from their 30th birthday on. Happy Birthday, big guy.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Olympic Proportions

On Thursday, I was looking at a map of London that showed the sites of the various Olympic events. Of course there were more important things to focus on in London on Thursday, but the Times' Sports section showed the map, so there I was. One site in particular stood out: baseball. How quaint. How veddy, veddy quaint. I thought that if I could manage to find myself in London in the Summer of '12, I'd go catch a game, and enjoy the return of rounders to England.

But my hypothetical trip has been cancelled thanks to the International Olympic Committee. The IOC voted in Singapore on Friday that baseball and softball would be dropped from the 2012 Games, the first sports dropped since polo 69 years ago. Their replacements? The sports of nonexistent and not enough votes. Even though baseball and softball have been kicked out, none of the five sports trying to get in (golf, rugby, squash, karate and roller sports) were deemed worthy replacements.

All of this, mind you, was decided courtesy of secret votes. The UN holds votes on economic sanctions and military interventions in the wide open, but the IOC needs a secret vote to keep out roller skating. Heaven forbid the world knew that the Finnish IOC representative voted against All Skate.

Baseball has only been an "official" Olympic sport since 1992. It was an "exhibition" sport in 1912 (Stockholm), as well as in 1936 (Berlin), 1952 (Helsinki), 1956 (Melbourne) and 1964 (Tokyo). Baseball became a "demonstration" sport in 1984 (Los Angeles), a title it held until 1992 (Barcelona), when Anthony Garciaparra (soon to be Nomar), Jason Giambi, Jason Varitek and others played on the first "official" US Olympic baseball team.

So why, in the 100th anniversary year of its first appearance is Olympic baseball on the outs? Two of the commonly cited reasons for keeping baseball out are the lack of Major League stars on the roster and the steroid scandal that has enveloped the sport over the past few years.

According to British IOC member Craig Reedie, "The lack of the MLB players--I think people have looked and said, 'Well, all right, if there's to be a change, that seems to be the logic of it.'"

What does that mean? If there's to be a change? Does that mean that they were told to drop it, and then come up with a reason? I'm not even sure where the logic is there, but he seems to be focusing on the lack of MLB players.

But why? The US Olympic basketball team, stocked with NBA players, was awful in 2004. We'd be better off with motivated college players who trained together for a while, and hadn't tasted the stupefying effects of guaranteed NBA millions. Besides, the Olympics are conveniently held after the NBA season ends, but they are right in the middle of the baseball season. Yes, NHL players do stop playing in order to participate in the Winter Olympics, but Olympic hockey is arguably better than a midseason NHL game, when they have them.

As for steroids, Australian IOC member John Coates said, "Problems with doping in U.S. baseball probably cost the sport dearly." Dear sir, exactly who's on drugs now?

First of all, the IOC is complaining that there are no major leaguers in the Olympics. So why should they care if there are/were drugs in MLB? Given that the roster would largely be made up of minor leaguers (at least the US squad), there's no real cause for concern, because the minors have had a more stringent policy in place for some time. And, the Olympics will conduct their own testing program, so what gives? Are they afraid that a nearly 50-year old Barry Bonds will try to make the 2012 squad? And why drag softball down with it?

Second, does the IOC have any evidence that international/Olympic play has been infiltrated by drugs? Because if not, they certainly have plenty of other areas to clean up first. How many more track and field stars will test positive for doping? Or swimmers? Or cyclists? Will they ban sprinting in the Olympics because some Americans have been caught doping? This seems like too harsh a tactic for sprinting, so why punish baseball globally? And in case they hadn't noticed, the US baseball team didn't even make the 2004 Olympics. Not exactly the product of a performance enhancing drug culture.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said, "We are now an Olympics of 26 sports." These sports include judo, where it's legal to choke someone into submission. Surely an international game of baseball would do more to improve global affairs than two adversaries choking each other.