The history of sports — in one week

by

By: Nate Jervey
Assistant Sports Information Director

Given that I work in collegiate athletics it comes as no surprise that sports in general (no pun intended) take up a good part of my life, both in and out of the office. While the professional sports world is in a bit of a down time at the moment (baseball in the dog days of summer, basketball beginning to wrap up its 8-month postseason, hockey nearing the completion of its season and no pro football) I feel that there have been an almost inordinate amount of historical performances in all of the professional sports and has made what is usually a rather drab time of the year on ESPN rather enjoyable actually.

In baseball, we recently saw perhaps the most dominating debut by a starting pitcher….ever…in 135 years of baseball. Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals burst on to the scene in 5-2 Nats win over Pittsburgh’s AAA affiliate – the Pirates (I was just informed that the Pirates are in fact a MLB team. Huh, I guess I never realized that). Quality of opponent aside, Strasburg went seven innings, allowed two runs on four hits and struck out 14 while walking zero. No pitcher in MLB history had ever struck out that many with no walks in a debut and if I remember correctly, only five pitchers have ever done it period – Roger Clemens, Javier Vasquez, Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson and Brad Penny. Three of those guys are going to be enshrined in Cooperstown and the other two are/have been pretty good at times. Baseball reveres its history like no other professional sport and Strasburg’s performance just cemented itself as the gold standard for all rookie and veteran pitchers alike. Also of note, the city of Strasburg in the northeastern part of Virginia has offer to change its name to Stephen Strasburg in the event the phenom makes a visit to take in the many sights of the town of just over 4,000 people.

Something else that Strasburg’s performance did (hopefully) was take attention away from the most recent black eye for baseball. In case you may live under a rock and have no idea of what black eye in particular I am speaking about that would be the Jim Joyce blown call at first base that cost Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers a perfect game. Not only did Joyce miss the call, but he did so on the 27th batter of the game… the potential final out. Galarraga retired the next batter and settled for the complete game shutout, but his place in history was snatched from him following one of the biggest officiating blunders I can remember. I understand that the human element is inherent in all of sport. We have subjective humans trying to act objectively and in some cases we (umpires, refs, etc…) just miss calls here and there. But as I mentioned above, baseball loves, absolutely adores, its history and Galarraga’s perfect game would have been the third this season (the most ever in a season and it had not been since 1880 when two occurred in the same season), the 21st in MLB history and the first for the Detroit Tigers. However, the league’s history has been irrevocably altered as MLB commissioner Bud Selig decided not to reverse the call in light of instant replay showing the batter clearly out at first base. Baseball currently has instant replay in effect, however, it is only used to verify home run calls and Selig opted not to change the call on the field despite pressure from players and the media alike. There is precedent in baseball for rulings such as this. Former commissioner Fay Vincent and a special committee erased 50 no hitters from the record books back in the early nineties (without video replay it should be noted). So I ask – how, with the ability to use replay and the historical significance of the play in question, can Bud Selig be “comfortable” with his decision to not alter the play? Bud Selig in my mind may be the worst of the commissioners of the Big Four (Roger Goodell – NFL, David Stern – NBA and Gary Bettman – NHL) and will now be known as the commissioner who presided over the Steroid Era, called for a tie game in an All-Star game and was “comfortable” with the decision to rob a young kid of a chance in history. Selig also had the bright idea to buy the Chicago White Sox at one time and move them to Milwaukee. The White Sox, in Milwaukee? Seriously? With a track record like that, tell me again how this guy is making over $14,000,000 a year. With Selig at the helm through 2012 I shudder to think what else may be ruined, destroyed, botched (insert negative verb here) between now and then.

History, and in this case the good kind, also has a chance to be made in the NHL this week, perhaps as early as tonight. The Chicago Blackhawks (they of the coolest uniform in sports) are one win away from their first Stanley Cup title since 1961. Leading 3-2 over the Philadelphia Flyers, who are seeking their first title since the 1970s, the Blackhawks youth and energy has captured the city of Chicago in a way that it has not seen since 1998 and the last title the Bulls won with a certain No. 23. More importantly, the NHL absolutely loves this series. The series has produced outstanding TV ratings for NBC, its just too bad that games three and four were on Versus. For the NHL to have an Original Six team in a market as big as Chicago, with players as marketable as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews (pronounced “Taves”, or as Rachel likes to say “Toes”) and Dustin Byfuglien playing for Lord Stanley’s Cup is a dream come true. I have often heard that if hockey is to succeed in the U.S. than it has to succeed and be successful in Chicago of all places and it appears that the much-maligned league is on its way to at least semi-relevance again. It is on its way for me as I am a casual hockey fan at best, but have enjoyed watching this postseason if for no other reason than the playoff mullets and beards.

Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics set an NBA Finals record with eight three pointers the other night to alter the NBA record book. Can’t say that I am surprised to hear that Allen hit eight triples in a game, but I can say that I am glad that one of the good guys in the league is making news for the right reason. I have not really followed the NBA too closely since Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls. I have come back to my Bulls a little in recent years, but, to me, the NBA is a farce of the basketball that I grew up playing and the negative press received from so many of the league’s players gave me little reason to keep following. That being said, Ray Allen seems to be one of the league’s really good guys on top of a being a really good player. He toiled in obscurity in Seattle back in better days when Seattle still had a basketball team. He had to play in Milwaukee before that. Imagine this, college All-American, absolute stud of a basketball player and you get drafted to go play in Milwaukee. I can think of no other place I would like to be a young professional athlete with piles of money than Wisconsin (I think I just threw up a little in my mouth), and I am FROM the Midwest. Anyway, the point is that in this day and age of star athletes grumbling about contracts and not getting paid enough and any number of other complaints, Allen has always remained rather quiet and let his play do the talking and I appreciate that a great deal.

Ok, to sum up: this Stephen Strasburg kid might end up being ok, Jim Joyce made a booboo, Bud Selig did not kiss the booboo to make it better, the Chicago Blackhawks have really cool uniforms and have become the darlings of the NHL and hockey is almost relevant again, Ray Allen made a bunch of shots from really far away and seems like a cool dude as well. Wow, I think I could have written this blog in about a third of the space….

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