Thursday, September 30, 2010

"I Blame Lombardi"

The replay confirmed it.

Though a pitched ball had hit the knob of Derek Jeter’s bat, Jeter grimaced as if the ball had hit him, and the umpire dutifully awarded him first base for having been hit by a pitched ball.

Let me be clear here, in case you’re not familiar with the contents of the baseball rulebook. There is no regulation in the baseball rulebook that states:

If a player pretends he has been hit by a pitched ball with such persuasiveness that he convinces the umpire that the infraction has actually taken place, the player will immediately be awarded first base.

It’s not there, that rule. There is no “You get first base for good acting.”

To be entirely honest, Derek Jeter was awarded first base

For cheating.

Okay, successfully cheating. You don’t get first base for butchering the performance. You take a step towards first base, and the umpire goes,

“Not so fast.”

There is no automatic ejection for “faking being hit by a pitched ball.” There is no fine. They don’t flash E-B (error, by the batter) on the scoreboard. The response is invariably chuckles all around.

Nobody’s chucking because the batter cheated. They’re chuckle because he got caught.

The day after Jeter’s, if not Oscar-winning then at least Golden Globe-winning performance, I’m listening to a sports call-in show on my car radio. Traditionally, a sports call-in show has two hosts. And the way these shows works is this:

The hosts always disagree.

It doesn’t matter what the topic is. They are automatically on opposite sides. That’s the format. That’s what listeners tune in for. That’s how they make money.

Question: Since Reggie Bush has been proven to have violated NCAA regulations while playing football at USC, should Reggie retain his Heisman Trophy?

One Host: “Absolutely.”

The Other Host: “You gotta be kidding.”

Question: Having been accused of using steroids, should Roger Clemens still be eligible for the Hall of Fame?”

One Host: “Without question.”

The Other Host: “What have you been smoking?”

Sports call-in shows are exclusively about arguing. That’s how they function. Stir up some controversy. Light up the phones.

But on that day…

Question: What do you think of Derek Jeter’s pretending he was hit by the ball?”

One Host: “It was smart.”

The Other Host: “I agree.”


I couldn’t believe it.

Two sports call-in show hosts,

their livelihoods depending on delivering inflammatorily expressed opposing points of view,


the single precept of their show’s format

and on the specific issue of cheating,


that it’s okay.

Are you KIDDING ME????

I’ll tell you something. I blame Vince Lombardi for the whole thing.

Football fans well know that Vince Lombardi was the immensely successful head coach of the Green Bay Packers in the early sixties, when the Packers won five football championships in a row.

Football fans also well know Lombardi’s most famous quotation, which pertains directly to the subject at hand.

“Winning,” quoth Lombardi, “isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

Let’s look at that a second. What is the man saying? He is saying that


Is the only thing.

There is nothing else except winning.


Trying your best?


Exceeding expectations?

That’s loser talk.

Giving them a real run for their money?

More loser talk.


That’s all there is.

Now Americans can’t leave anything alone. They like to enhance things, make them bigger and better. And so, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” was quickly followed by a more provocative, though unquestionably consistent, follow-up to Lombardi’s pronouncement.

To wit:

“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

It makes sense if you think about it.

If winning is the only thing,

And cheating helps you win,

Then, ipso facto,

If you’re not cheating,

You’re not trying.

Now if this were just about sports, it wouldn’t matter a hoot. But the philosophy took wing, landing everywhere in the culture.

A District Attorney withholds information beneficial to the defence.

Because winning is the only thing.

A candidate misrepresents their opponent’s record

Because winning is the only thing.

A poultry concern assures customers their salmonellic chickens are healthy.

No one will buy a chicken with salmonella. And to win in the chicken business, you have to sell as many chickens as you can.

Therefore, if winning is the only thing, if you’re not lying about your diseased chickens, you’re not trying.

They don’t have that in England. In England, it’s “Good show” and “Well played” and the time-honored, “giving the man a sporting chance.”

Not here. Maybe never here, I don’t know. But certainly not after Lombardi.

Who I blame for everything.

Is that fair?


It’s funny. That’s the first time that word has come up.


I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for 10:45 A.M. I didn't see the doctor till after noon. "We got backed up," the nurse explained. "We had a couple of Clippers in here." I didn't know what she was talking about. I thought it was some kind of euphemism. Turns out, they had basketball players in there.

I guess if you're taller, you take longer to examine.


Dimension Skipper said...

Excellent post today. And I say that not just because I couldn't agree more...

OK, well, maybe that IS why I say it, but still... Thank you.

Increasingly, it seems like we should send out search parties for sportsmanship in sports and fairness & honesty just in general everyday life. That may be an exaggeration, but not by much.

Gary said...

Derek Jeter just proved what crime stats in NY have already revealed: more & more crimes are being committed by persons wearing Yankee hats.

Like it or not, cheating is part of the game. Whether it's pretending to be hit by a pitch or stealing signs. There's no penalty for doing either. Throwing a spitball, scuffing the ball, putting any foreign substance on the ball, I believe there is a penalty for that - ejection. Probably a fine, maybe a minor suspension. Steroids, finally, there are penalties for that. I don't think MLB cares a whole lot about cheating because they can say, "every team does it, so it's still a level playing field." Steroids got the lords attention because so much pressure came from the outside (fans and press, and good ol' Jose) that it was destroying - pardon the expression - the integrity of the game. And certainly it's not just baseball, it's every sport. Whatever rules of fair play we learn while growing up seem to fade when it becomes a professional sport and winning is the only goal. And it's not just sports, either.

And you waited for over an hour at the doctor's office? Hope they didn't try to force any free tickets to the Clippers on you.