This column will serve as my official notice. On Friday night, I was seated at Fenway Park no less than 250 feet from third base. I witnessed the umpire's two botched calls at third--both in favor, naturally, of the always-and-forever favored New York Yankees.
It is my honest, heartfelt contention that those blunders cost the Red Sox the critical game--not manager Terry Francona's idiotic decision to try out his best Grady Little impression--and certainly the American League East title to boot. So I am formally appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to declare Boston the winner of last Friday's game and--because of incalculable psychic pain to me and other fans as a result of that miscarriage of justice--champion of the division too.
In fact, while the court is sitting in judgment, I would also like them to take a look at the following travesties: Jeffrey Maier's fan interference noncall in Yankee Stadium that paved the way for New York to win the 1996 World Series; the disgraceful, Vegas decision for Sugar Ray Leonard over our hometown hero Marvin Hagler back in '87; the "too many men on the ice" penalty call that doomed the Bruins against Montreal in the '79 Stanley Cup, and, of course, the '76 roughing-the-passer call on 4th down--against the New England Patriots and for the Oakland Raiders--that delayed my first Super Bowl celebration by a quarter of a century. ("Tuck you" against Oakland in 2002 was our ultimate revenge.) Finally, I would like the CAS arbitrators to award me Barry Bonds's 700th home-run ball since I was actually thinking of flying out to San Francisco for the game and certainly would have been prominent in the scrum for the souvenir.
I suspect most sports fans had never heard of the international sports court that resides in Lausanne, Switzerland, before this week when American gymnast Paul Hamm defended his gold medal there against a claim to the same by South Korea's Yang Tae-young. Yang's quest to have a scoring error reversed is only one of many cases from the Athens Olympics now pending at the CAS. The Brazilian who was leading the marathon until a defrocked Irish priest tackled him also wants to trade in his bronze for a gold. The Russians want a gold for their cyclist, who would have moved up if American Tyler Hamilton's positive drug test had been confirmed instead of mishandled by a lab. And a couple of guys who lost their medals to positive drug tests want the tests invalidated and those medals returned.
I think the fact that CAS exists--and has for 20 years unbeknownst to most of us--to resolve such disputes in a timely and civilized fashion is a considerable boon to sport. But after almost 12 hours of testimony on Monday, the court says it won't issue its decision until mid-October. I see no reason to delay a ruling for Hamm. The CAS simply can't involve itself in field-of-play decisions, honestly if inaccurately rendered, without opening a can of worms--and then someday being called upon to determine which worm got out of the can first. (Memo to members of the '85 baseball champion Kansas City Royals: better put those World Series rings on eBay today!)
The advent of instant replay has served the NFL well (with a few caveats) and neatly resolved some last-second matters in the NBA. It's also been a handy disciplinary tool, since I never subscribed to the view that unconscionable behavior should be tolerated as long as a referee doesn't see it. But technology has also created unreasonable expectations among fans. I am mystified as to why a society that seems to expect the worst misjudgments and missteps from its political leaders can demand perfection from its tennis linemen, gymnastics judges and NFL officials--folks who actually have other day jobs.
Hamm and his supporters rightfully point out that if you are going to use videotape reviews of performances, in violation of his sport's current rules, then surely you must review every single routine to ferret out every other mistake. Go down that road and results of competitions might not be available until the following morning. And just to err on the side of caution and certitude, you might as well wait until the next Olympics to hand out any medals and save on the expense of retrieving those given out in haste and error.
There are, inevitably, going to be some miscarriages of justice in sports (and I know and you know that, just as inevitably, the Red Sox and the Cubs will be on the wrong side). Serena Williams was certainly victimized by a bad judging error at the recent U.S. Open. Yet I am certain that at some point in her career she has profited from a bad call. I credit Williams for acknowledging, in the postmatch furor over the mistake, that it was her play and, ultimately, not that bad call that cost her the match.
For some reason we want sports to provide the certainty and finality that life doesn't dish up. We always need to know who is really No. 1 and whether that official's call is correct. But sports and sports fans can thrive on mistakes with their unresolved grievances. Jeffrey Maier's catch; Don Denkinger's missed call at first base; the Soviet Union's unwarranted, last-second replay at the '72 Olympics; Diego Maradona's "hand of God" goal against England in the '86 World Cup--all have attained mythic status now, transcendent in our memories because they were so gloriously egregious.
Truth is, I didn't know for sure that the ump blew those calls at third base last Friday at Fenway--not until I got home and checked in with my friends who had been watching on TV. (Both Red Sox and Yankee pals concurred.) I didn't know because the Red Sox brass doesn't trust its fans to behave well after controversial replays that don't go in their favor. So we were kept in the dark, literally.
Well I for one am a fan that can handle the truth. Righteous wrath can provide tremendous emotional sustenance. My pal, Dan, is an Oakland Raiders fan. Whenever he is feeling peevish, which is often, he sends me an e-mail moaning about that "tuck" call that propelled the Patriots past his team and on to Super Bowl glory. I always respond in the same fashion: "1976, roughing the passer!" We both enjoy the heck out of it.
Welcome Back, Washington
I have long believed--and I suspect President George W. Bush concurs--that one of Washington's greatest flaws as a city has been that it was no longer a baseball town. The longstanding absence of baseball in our nation's capital has also reflected baseball's declining stature in America as well as football's ascendance.
So there is much to be excited about with Major League Baseball's choice of D.C. as the new home for the Montreal Expos. The new team will not have much of a baseball legacy to trump. The forlorn Senators did win one World Series and gave us the immortal hurler Walter Johnson, but were best summed up by a newspaper scribe who cast Washington as "first in war, first in peace and last in the American League." (Somehow, though, "first in war, first in peace and last in the National League East" doesn't resonate.)
The most famous Senators team was, of course, the fictional one that starred "Shoeless" Joe Hardy from Hannibal, Mo., and was micromanaged by the devil himself. (No, not George Steinbrenner, the real devil.) Its archenemy, however, was those "damn Yankees." But the new Washington outfit, whatever its name, won't even be in the same league as the Bronx ballclub. (And besides, Red Sox fans have usurped, as well as vulgarized, the Yankee-hating passion.)
So whom will the fans of the new Washington team choose to "damn"? None of their division foes would seem to be the right fit. Damn Braves: not very P.C., even in a GOP town. Damn Mets: that's what their fans already say. Damn Marlins: and what next, damn Flipper, too? Damn Phillies: far too tame to rile Philly folks. Washington won't be a real baseball town again until fans there have a nemesis. In the meantime, I'd suggest you keep damning those Yankees until something better--or actually, worse--comes along.
Correction: This replay stuff sure confuses me.I had a brain glitch.It was the Kansas City Royals who actually won the '85 Series after Denkinger's call and the Cardinals who should have won the Series. So I should have been telling the Royals players to put their rings on eBay. Are you listening, Jorge Orta? (The text above has been corrected.)