Friday, June 4, 2010

Politicians Injecting Themselves into Sports

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm along with Representative John Dingel and Senator Debbie Stabenow have interjected themselves into the sports world.

Unless you were just born in the past two days, you've likely seen, heard and read about the perfect game that was pitched by the Detroit Tigers pitcher, Armando Galarraga on Wednesday. With two outs in the ninth inning, facing the last batter the umpire called the runner safe when it's clear to even blind men that he was out by a step. This is not even in dispute any longer , not even by the umpire that made the errant call.

There are three parts to this story. Politics, sports and government controlled business politics. So if you don't like to read, this may be a good time to close out this blog post. It's bound to be fairly long.

I'll start with sports since this is what led to the creation of government interference. I have been a baseball fan since I was about 10 years old. Not just the performance but the records, the rarity of events, and the uniqueness of the game itself.

Baseball is a game where if you're a hitter, success is defined by failing 7 out of 10 times. It's the only game where one of the defensive players plays outside the lines of play (in other words, out of bounds). It's also the only game where causing the ball to land in the stands is rewarded. It's the only game where the coaches dress in players uniforms.

Early on in baseball, gambling was rampant. Baseball put a stop to it by appointing a commissioner who said that if you gambled on the game, you would be banned. If you know of players that are gambling and don't say something, you will be banned. The commissioner's position is that of protecting the integrity of the game. Keeping it pure from corruption both illegal corruption and the game itself being corrupted.

You can argue that they have failed in the past. Sure, they banned the 1919 Chicago White Sox for gambling and created the name Black Sox Scandal. That caused the Commissioners position to be created. Players that gambled were banned from baseball. But in the 60's and 70's and even the 80's they had problems with substance abuse. First alcohol, then drugs. Players were suspended, fined but not banned. In the 80's and 90's and even to today, the main concern is performance enhancing drugs. From my point of view, this remains a problem.

As for the game itself, we could argue all day about the Designated Hitter Rule and we'd both have good arguments on it. The same thing with how the All-Star players are selected.

But when it comes to the actual playing there are some things that are rarities. For instance, nobody has hit over .400 since Ted Williams in 40's. That's failing 6 out of 10 times. The Home Run record was 714 in a career and it was accomplished by a fat man that didn't look anything like an athlete, in Babe Ruth. That was finally broken by Hank Aaron. Babe also held the record for Home Runs in a season at 60 until 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61. But the Commissioner put an asterisk next to the record because Maris hit his in a 162 game season where Ruth hit his in a 154 game season.

There are statistics on everything in baseball. Highest batting average. Oldest player to win the batting title. Youngest to win the batting title. Most consecutive games a player has gotten a hit. Most errors committed at each position and most errorless games played at each position. Who hits best with two strikes on him and who hits into the most double plays.

Pitching also has its' uniqueness to it. A man stands above everyone else on a mound and throws a ball between 90 and 100 mph at a guy holding a stick 60 feet six inches away. You would think that the odds were in his favor and you'd be right. Remember, a successful hitter fails 7 out of 10 times. But one of the most difficult things for a pitcher to do is pitch a complete game and not allow any hits. What's even more difficult for a pitcher is to pitch a complete game, and have his teammates not commit an error and for him not to give up a walk to even one batter. That means the pitcher faces 27 batters in a game and only 27 batters and gets each one of them out by either striking them out or them hitting the ball to one of his teammates and they get him out. Just to give you an idea, to date, there have been 266 no hitters since 1875. 21 of those have been perfect games, meaning 27 batters up, 27 batters out and there were only two years that two of them were done in the same year. The first time was 1880 and the second time it was this year. The first time it was done, they both took place in JUne about a week apart. The second time was this year, both in May. This would have been the first time that three were done in the same year and all three would have taken place in one months time. Another record for the books.

One thing that seems to happen in every no-hitter, is that at some point during the game a player makes a great play that preserves the no hitter for the pitcher. It's one thing to throw a no-hitter, but you must have help from your teammates and there seems to always be at least one great play, or something lucky that keeps the no-hitter going.

On Wednesday, Armando Galarraga pitched for the Tigers against Cleveland. Each batter he faced failed to reach base. At one point, a ball was hit off of his foot and went straight to the third baseman who threw the runner out. There's the luck that happens.

In the ninth inning, the first batter hit the ball deep to left centerfield and the centerfield ran after it and made a great over the shoulder catch. There's the great play. The final batter is the one we've all seen. Called safe despite getting there a step after the ball for the 27th out. But the umpire called him safe.

As far as I'm concerned, Galarraga pitched a perfect game. Hopefully, this long dissertation helps you understand, if you don't pay attention to baseball, how difficult, rare and special this game was for this pitcher.

The umpire admitted that he blew it. He even said "I ruined that kids perfect game". In the two days since that game, I have not heard one person on radio, tv or in person say that the runner had beaten it out for a hit. Even GM gave Galarraga a brand new car for his perfect game.

There is only one way to overturn an umpire's ruling. The Commissioner of Baseball could do it. Bud Selig is the Commissioner and he has decided against overturning the umpire. If he did, it wouldn't affect the outcome of the game. The only things it would affect is the batter would not be credited with a hit. The following batter would not be credited with an at bat, and Galarraga would be given credit for the perfect game, which he did pitch.

Now the politicians. Today, Governor Granholm declared that Galarraga pitched a perfect game. Senator Stabenow and Representative Dingel are saying that they will introduce resolutions saying that he pitched a perfect game. To top it off, yesterday, Robert Gibbs said during his press briefing that he hopes the Commissioner will overturn it. When he was informed that Selig had just decided not to overturn it, Gibbs quipped that he'd have to see that an executive order was created to get it done.

Their hope is that the Governors proclaimation and the Congresspeoples resolutions would entice the Commissioner to overturn the umpire's call. This is meant to apply pressure to the Commissioner.

This is not governments place. First of all, Major League Baseball is a private business. It's not a government run business. This seems to be a lot of arrogance on the government's part to not just think but force a private business to do something based on their beliefs even if against the private businesses opinion and rules. Do we really want government applying pressure to business for governments benefit?

I believe that Commissioner Selig should award Galarraga the perfect game. Whether he does or not, I will always see it as a perfect game. But, if government applies pressure and then baseball follows through, what will the government apply pressure to next and in what business? They've already taken over General Motors. Again, not the governments place to take over a private business. While I may agree with the Governor, the Representative and the Senator that this was a perfect game, it's wrong for government to proclaim it and force baseball, by either proclaimation or embarrassing them into it to decide for it.

The next time Government wants private business to do something, and issues a proclaimation, resolution or executive order, what's to stop them?

Lastly, there is GM. They gave a car to Galarraga for his gem. If they do this for perfect games all of the time, that's fine. I have n0 problem with someone being rewarded for something they've done well and in baseball, this is perfection. But there's a line here. GM is now owned by the citizens of the United States. Is it proper for a government run company to be giving away cars that are now owned by the American people?

I don't care if Galarraga is paid a couple of million dollars a year. He excelled in his profession and if someone wants to reward him for it, I'm all for it. But, it's not the governments place to use taxpayer money to reward anyone. Since GM is owned by the taxpayer, I fall on the side of not awarding him a car. Now if it was Ford or Toyota, a private company, that rewarded him with a new car, that would be proper.

What makes baseball the perfect game to me is the imperfection of the human element and still players overcome the odds and perform. The imperfections of an intricate game is what makes baseball what it's been. Armando Galarraga should and is holding his head high for his achievement. He pitched a perfect game. He doesn't or shouldn't need government to tell him. It would be great to be recognized by Baseball for his achievement, but deep down, what really matters is that he knows it and he knows the rest of the world knows that he pitched a perfect game. If you really want to be technical, he pitched more than a perfect game. In a game where 27 outs are needed in 27 at bats, Galarraga got 28 batters out in 28 at bats. Another record. Government interference is not needed, nor is it their place.

You're welcome to comment.


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