- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
One of the many charms of the annual Volvo International tennis tournament in tranquil North Conway, N.H. is the soft-ball game traditionally held on the village green for the touring pros, many of them foreigners who don't know first base from a wild pitch. During this year's game, you could see the smooth-stroking (in tennis, that is) Czech star Ivan Lendl, who lost in the semifinals of the Volvo to the eventual champion, Jose-Luis Clerc of Argentina, awkwardly trying to master the intricacies of swinging a bat. Or you could see South Africa's John Yuill being flummoxed by a routine fly ball to left field. Or Angel Gimenez, a 5'4" Spaniard, seeking some sort of advantage by coming to the plate perched on the shoulders of 6'2" Jim Delaney. And there always seemed to be some base runner vainly trying to advance two or even three bases on a caught pop fly, the necessity of tagging up having eluded him.
But if some of the tennis players didn't quite get the hang of softball, they did show a nice satirical touch at the expense of the local chap who was serving as umpire. As touring pro George Hardie wrote in International Tennis Weekly. "A line drive was hit down the leftfield line. Signaling fair, the umpire was immediately besieged by players asking him to check the mark. When that ploy failed, he was kindly asked to play two and, in the ensuing imbroglio, two or three runners crossed the plate before order was finally restored. To the ump's credit, he stuck by his guns in the face of quite a multilingual barrage."
Please sign that man up to umpire at Wimbledon.
HE PLAYS FOR THE LOCAL (CA)NINE
SINGING THE SPLIT-SEASON BLUES
By any measure, baseball's poststrike decision to adopt a split-season format has been a disaster. One of the innovation's avowed objectives was to create more playoff loot by squeezing in intradivisional playoff games before the usual interdivisional playoffs. Yet this could have been achieved without a split season; playoffs simply could have been staged between the first-and second-place finishers in each division. Which leads us to the other questionable motive for split-season play, namely, to rekindle the interest of fans turned off by the strike. Had baseball's elders simply resumed the season after the settlement, there would have been four ongoing and exciting division races. Instead, the imposition of a "second" season created an early-season torpor that has contributed to disappointing poststrike attendance. So far anyway, the split season hasn't rekindled interest but has further deadened it.
All this is in addition to the integrity issue raised by the clumsy attempt to tinker with the time-honored rhythm of a baseball season already disrupted by a 50-day strike. Under the original split-season scheme, if the same team had won both halves of the season, it would have been matched in playoffs against the team in its division with the second-best overall record. But that raised the disturbing possibility that a club with a shot at the second-best overall record could have got into these playoffs by deliberately losing games so that the first-half winner would also become the second-half winner (SCORECARD, Aug. 17, et seq.). Belatedly seeking to close that loophole, the lords of baseball last week amended the format by ruling that if the same team wins both halves, it will go into the intradivisional playoffs against the second-place team from the second season. Alas, it remains, as before, possible that the team with the best record in baseball could miss the playoffs. What's more, contrary to the impression Commissioner Bowie Kuhn sought to convey, the new format doesn't completely eliminate the integrity problem because a situation could arise in which it might be possible for a first-round champion to handpick its playoff opponent by intentionally losing games. Indeed, these dangers would have lurked in almost any playoff proposal.
With luck, attendance may yet pick up and the circumstances that could tempt a team to consider throwing a game will not occur. Even so, baseball purists were understandably disoriented last week by a strike-riddled season in which the Phillies' Steve Carlton had a 10-3 record while his team was 5-7. You see, Carlton's record was for both halves of the season, while the Phillies, who won the first half of the National League East, were struggling in the second half and...aw, forget it.
'ATTA GIRL, ANN, PUNISH 'EM
A Boston Globe reporter interviewed a Red Sox fan named Ann from Maiden, Mass. at Fenway Park the other day and came away shaking his head. Ann said that during the strike she was so mad at players and management alike that she vowed she'd never attend another game. Her presence at Fenway, she hastened to add, meant she'd merely decided to change her tactics. She explained: