Where does sportsmanship end and gamesmanship begin?

September 18, 2010 |

We all know what happened last night; Alex Rodriguez hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth inning off of Koji Uehara to give New York a 4-3 win over the O’s. The fact is that superstars like ARod make those plays when they need to, so that doesn’t tick me off per se. However what does frost me is the fact that Koji appeared to have ARod struck out on a called strike three, however home plate umpire Ted Barrett inexplicably called ball two. Bad calls happen, although it seems that they generally benefit players of ARod’s stature. My real problem is with what ARod did after that; he looked towards the Yankee dugout with a grin on his face. In other words, he knew darned well that he got a gift.

After hitting what’s being touted as the biggest home run since Bobby Thompson’s shot heard ’round the world, ARod proceeded to round the bases pretty slowly. In all seriousness, I think Cal’s lap around the ballpark after breaking the record in 1996 might have been quicker. Especially against a team that’s playing for nothing but pride, taking your sweet time to round the bases and show them up is a bush league thing to do. And let us not forget that ARod’s already had one run-in with this kind of thing this season, when he ran across the mound in Oakland (drawing the ire of Dallas Braden).

This is all part of a growing trend that I’m seeing in sports and it’s not a good thing. People such as myself might as well be speaking Japanese when we talk about unwritten rules in games. (In fact, it’s all Greek to me!) Nowadays we hear so many players, coaches, fans, and commentators talk about how if you win the game who cares what the unwritten rules are. I see that as misguided. In my opinion this really started in college football when the current BCS system came into play. The UPI rankings are no longer about just winning, but also by what margin you win. If the #1 team wins 14-13 and the #2 team wins 35-3, the #2 team will probably be the new #1. I see this as incredibly misguided and wrong, because it effectively encourages teams to run up the score. In baseball the rule has generally been that if you’re up after the sixth inning by five or more, you don’t steal or try to manufacture runs. Nowadays you see teams like the Boston Red Sox who would argue that you never know when a team’s going to come back, so why shouldn’t they try to score. Bill Belichek has routinely said that it’s not his job to stop his offense, it’s the other team’s defense’s job. It almost seems that winning isn’t good enough anymore, you have to punish the other team for having the nerve to step onto the field with you.

Ultimately, I do put winning above sportsmanship in a sense. However once the game’s won, I see no reason to rub salt in the wound unless it’s done as an act of retribution. As an example, if the Orioles have a sizable lead against the Yankees in tonight’s game (in the wake of ARod’s antics last night), I’d have no problem with throwing down a bunt to move a runner over. I remember in 1987 when the NFL players were on strike, and basically the entire Dallas Cowboy team crossed the picket lines. They beat a Philadelphia Eagle team full of scrubs, and did so by a wide margin. Philadelphia head coach Buddy Ryan felt that the Cowboys unnecessarily piled on the score at the end, so when the two teams met again in Philly (after the strike had ended), Ryan returned the favor. There were only about thirty seconds left and Philly had the ball first and goal at the one (up by two TD’s). Buddy Ryan called timeout to run one more play to rub it in. I was never a Buddy Ryan fan, but I have no problem with someone returning the favor if they were shown up. In other word, if ARod gets plunked tonight, I wouldn’t see an issue with that.

Ultimately, you have to have a respect for your opponents and the game when you play a sport. I don’t see running up the score or showing up your opponent as having respect for the game. Call me old school or a mastedon if you want, but that’s just how I see things.

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