It is 2023, and many of the odd quirks of sports have been streamlined out of most of the games we watch. And despite regular debate about replay, it seems most people are in favor of getting things right — the argument arises in determining exactly how these verdicts should be reached, and how long the process would take.
Still, there are two long-time quirks that remain. And a third that this week we discovered had joined the list.
The first two:
One thing that modest to moderate soccer fans learned — or were reminded of — is that even rabid fans of futbol generally have no earthly idea how an official determines “injury time” or “stoppage time,” that extra couple of minutes at the end of the each half tacked on to the usual 90 minutes.
During the World Cup, there was at least one friend in every watch-party group who was pretty good at figuring this stuff out — often within a minute of two of the actual time, if not right on the mark. In some watch groups, that would be cause to drain whatever remained in your pint glass. And all that did was reinforce: The number would be whatever number the ref came up with. No science to it whatsoever.
Of course, American football has something like that. Even in 2023, with all that is available to us, first downs — the most fundamental law of the sport — are determined officially by markers separated by 10 yards worth of chains.
Yes. Think about that. It doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous until you read it again: They are separated by 10 yards’ worth of chains. No lasers. No GPS. No computers. Just 10 yards worth of chains. This probably should be more of a problem than it is when you factor in the also-often-random art of a football official spotting a ball (which is reviewable, though you rarely see an overturn even in egregious situations).
The most famous example of this was late in the famed 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Giants and Colts, the Giants up 17-14 and trying to run the clock out in regulation. Frank Gifford — and just about everyone else inside Yankee Stadium — thought he’d picked up a key third-down conversion late. The refs ruled otherwise. The Giants punted, the Colts drove for a tying field goal, and history was soon upon us.
All because of a home-made chain thingamajig.
Of course, when you think about it, this is exactly how the rules are applied when it comes to baseball’s enforcement of the new sticky-stuff rules. This is the way it’s been from the start of the rule’s implementation two years ago, but when the offenders aren’t who’s-who pitchers but rather who?-who? like Caleb Smith and Hector Santiago, it almost went unnoticed. Enter a future Hall of Famer like Max Scherzer into the equation though, and the silliness of this particular brand of jurisprudence hits the light of day.
Let’s go into this with the assumption that all three principals — Scherzer, umpire Phil Cuzzi and crew chief Dan Bellini — are 100 percent telling the truth, which isn’t just possible but also likely. So these are the truths at hand:
- Scherzer insists he used nothing more than alcohol to clean his hands, and rosin and sweat to give him an adequate grip on the ball. No spider tack. No pine tar. All legal stuff.
- He did this is full view of a Major League Baseball official.
- Cuzzi thought the mixture went beyond being “tacky,” proceeding directly to “sticky.”
- Bellino said it was so sticky the umps could still feel the effects a few innings later, not unlike when you eat pancakes for breakfast and you can still feel the syrup residue on your fingers by lunch because the Log Cabin also got on your bacon.
Again, not just possible but likely that all these things are true.
But according to MLB laws, the umps have lone purview here. And even if Scherzer had appealed, the arbiter would’ve been tied to baseball. Non-believers had a better shot at a fair trial during the Inquisition.
This is going to have to be cleared up, if not now then in the next CBA. There has to be a way to objectively determine illegal substances from legal ones that coagulate differently for different pitchers. There has to be a way to reasonably decipher between letter of the law and spirit of the law.
Thanks to my loyal and patient readers for pointing out a few omissions in last week’s bit about Hollywood’s treatment of sportswriters. Among them: Andre Holland as Wendell Smith in “42”; John Sayles as Ring Lardner in “Eight Men Out”; and Richard Masur as Milt Kahn in “61*”
Chris Donnelly has written a couple of terrific books about recent baseball history in New York, and he’s added another winner: “Road to Nowhere: The Early 1990s Collapse and Rebuild of New York City Baseball.” Especially in a time where baseball has never been so good on both sides of town, it’s good to remember where we used to be.
Can’t recommend more highly “Full Swing,” the pro golf documentary on Netflix. One guarantee: After you watch you’ll be rooting for Tony Finau and Joel Dahmen every week from now on.
I’ve never wanted the great Bill Raftery to announce a game more than the Nets-76ers tilt the other night, which featured, prominently, a couple of examples of … um, “onions.”
Bill Knapp: I don’t think that Max Scherzer cheated, but if he did he should lose the 10 days and get an additional 10 days for stupidity. He had to realize they were going to check again.
Vac: He himself said he’d have to be an “idiot” to do that. I understand why it benefits the Mets for him to just take his suspension. But it would’ve been fun to see him present his case, Atticus Finch-style.
Alan Hirschberg: Scherzer really couldn’t have hidden the illegal substance in his ear like Joe Musgrove?
Vac: The Padres have their own issues right now, but I suspect that distant rumble we heard the other day started as a hale of laughter in San Diego.
@JeffGoldklang: I’m a Rangers fan, and that was an absolute disgraceful non-call the other night in the Islanders game. Sometimes the moment gets too big for these refs and they simply choke.
Vac: I get the reasons why penalties are rarely called in OT. I would think near-beheadings ought to be one exception.
Kevin J. McLaughlin: Who says the Knicks and Nets can’t trade? Thinking an RJ Barrett/Obi Toppin-for-Mikal Bridges trade may work for both squads. Nets get a starter in Barrett, and Obi gets fresh start and maybe plenty of light; Knicks get dependable Randle scoring sidekick?
Vac: I have it on good authority that Jay Wright would buy season tickets to watch that team.