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Monday, June 30, 2003

No Crying In Baseball

It was weird watching part of the Red Sox’ 25-8 slaughtering of the Marlins at Fenway Friday night. They scored 14 runs in the first inning, 10 of them before a single out was even recorded.

The funny part reading this was Marlins skipper Jack McKeon criticizing the Red Sox for running up the score. “I didn’t realize your pitching was that bad…that you would try to add to a 16-run lead in the seventh inning,” he said.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, some fool writing for the Boston Herald - but I repeat myself – more or less agreed with McKeon.

Let the record show that McKeon’s team won the following game after trailing in the 8th inning 9-2. Let the record also include this. And this. And this too.

If any team is built to go out to a massive lead and then blow it, it’s the Red Sox this season. If any team can be built to outscore its opponents by twenty runs in a three-game series and yet still find a way to lose one of those games, it’s the Red Sox.

The record should also reflect the fact that the Red Sox found a way to surrender 25 runs in a three-game series to what is, at least on paper, a fairly weak offensive ballclub that owes its modest success at run-scoring to several position players having career years.

I suppose it’s one thing if we’re dealing with children, with fragile senses of self-worth. “Mercy” rules are common in Little League and other children’s games.

The Florida Marlins players, however, are not children. They are professional baseball players. Professional baseball players should not be crying for a “mercy” rule. As members of that profession, it is their job to prevent their opponents from scoring runs. It is not the job of the opponents to limit their own run total.

Especially if you consider that Doug Mirabelli pinch hit for Manny Ramirez in the fourth inning. And that a fresh-from-the-minors rookie replaced Nomar Garciaparra in the fifth inning. And the Marlins got take their cuts against some of the lousiest relievers that Major League Baseball has to offer. Did McKeon want the Red Sox to play the loudmouthed drunk in the bleachers (there’s always at least one) in right field or something?

In general I find a lot of this line of thinking suspect. I remember that managers go ballistic when players try to bunt for base hits to break up a no-hitter. In my view, if you’re not playing a game as if you are at least trying to win it, you are at some level undermining its integrity.

Baseball has no clock. There is, in theory at least, nothing to stop a team from coming back from any deficit during a game, no matter how large. You can score an infinite number of runs every inning. Compare with other major team sports, where the clock limits game time. You can only score so many points in, say, nine minutes of a basketball game.

Not only that, but the gap between the most talented player and least talented player in a given Major League Baseball game is, from the standpoint of the universe, minimal. If the worst team in baseball plays a three-game series with the best team in baseball, said worst team will win at least one game more often than not. Even the Detroit Tigers or Tampa Bay Devil Rays are perfectly capable, at the game-to-game level, of giving the New York Yankees or Oakland Athletics a run for their money.

ObMovieReference: The enemy deserves no mercy. Mercy is for the weak.

I got this issue a lot in competitive quiz bowl too. Late in my career I got good enough, and had high enough levels of support, to lead my team to some fairly lopsided wins. (And, in turn, there were teams good enough to clean the clock of the teams I played for, even in my later years.)

The position I tended to take was the following: it wouldn’t make me feel any better during a big loss to get points if I knew that the main reason I was getting points was that the other team no longer took me seriously enough to play their best against me.

There were times – College Bowl matches against first-time teams that had never done this sort of thing before – when I backed off a little bit. But usually, I felt it would be a little dishonorable to do anything but play the best I could.


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