Roberto Alomar and Yorvit Torrealba: The Spit Hits the Fan

Referees, umpires and officials are all human, we must remember, in the sense that they are prone to mistakes, too. Yet, we demand much more perfection from them than in most any other position in sports.

If a quarterback throws an interception it could be the receiver’s fault, a good defensive secondary, a leaky offensive line, a pass rush that force a bad throw, or a miscommunication. All those options – and more – can cause a crucial mistake.

A bad call from an umpire is examined and reviewed and hardly ever is human error mentioned in the analysis. It’s labeled as a “bad call” in the booth and fans are subjected to that opinion and then hold it as fact.

That athletes then react in crazy, emotional ways with plenty of histrionics does not aid in fans understanding that umps, too, can be prone to a misjudgement here and there.

MLB backup Yorvit Torrealba took things to an extreme when he open-handed slapped an umpire in a Venezuelan game, causing a 66-game ban which closes out this winter season and all of next year’s. Take a look:

 

Good.

There is no place for that in any sport. Yes, soccer players complain more than any other professional athlete, but rarely are they the ones chasing a ref off the field. It’s usually the hooligan fans. Officials in any sport are never rewarded by any coach, player or fan.

We’re not here to defend officials – they’re the ones who agreed to the job knowing full well what could be anticipated.

But Torrealba’s indecency is never what they signed up for.

Nor is Roberto Alomar’s infamous spitting incident in 2001, when he spat on umpire John Hirschbeck in argument of a call.

Thankfully, what we’ve learned between then and now is to be tougher on those athletes that cross the line.

You know what Alomar’s penance was for spitting on another man – an act so heinous it is possibly the most degrading form of treatment between humans? Five games. Yup. Not even a week’s worth of baseball.

This was not long after Steve Howe had been reinstated an unfathomable eight times for constant drug use, and it was around the boom of The Steroid Era when baseball turned a blind eye to exploding muscles, statistics and hat sizes.

Maybe because of Alomar’s loogie and the resulting laughable suspension that was widely criticized, other leagues might have figured it out.

If we want humans to continue to be involved and perform at a high level, we must protect them.

Otherwise, we’d have to sit through entire games managed by robots and instant replay, slowing every possible exciting moment of sport to a standstill.

Christmas Memories: 1990 Donruss Complete Set

Before the price of a pack of baseball cards blew through the roof and outpriced any kid with a buck, me, like any other young kid from my generation, spent a fair amount of time and money on baseball cards.

One year, every time I went to the store, I purchased a pack of 1990 Donruss cards, the awful-looking red cards with cursive writing of player’s names on the top. They might have been some of the ugliest cards in the history of the cardboard manufacturing business.

Yet, as a kid, you don’t really think about that stuff. You are only looking for either a) your favorite player; b) players on your favorite team; or c) the most expensive card in the pack so that you can tell your friends you have, for example, the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.

All summer long I spent the 50 cents (yes, I remember it was two for a buck at Target!) on the packs of those Donruss. I think mainly I kept buying that brand because I bought a few packs the first time and figured if I buy more, I can get the whole set.

Needless to say, I ended up with a lot of red repeats and never made it to getting the entire set.

That is, until Christmas.

My mom’s boyfriend at the time brought over gifts and he brought one long, rectangular box that had my name on it. I saw it and said, excitedly, “A set of baseball cards!”

“Is that what you think?” he said.

“Yes! I know it by the shape of the box.”

“Oh,” he replied, “I’m sorry, Matt, that’s not what it is.”

Turns out he was a damn, dirty liar because it was a set of the 1990 Donruss cards and when I opened it I got extremely excited. I had my own set of baseball cards! (As any kid who bought cards on the reg will tell you, having a complete set gave you all kinds of bragging rights on the playground.)

As a kid on Christmas, getting a set of baseball cards seems cool, but after about 10 minutes of looking at them, the fun is gone and you wish you had gotten a toy or a video game or you just move on to the platter of Christmas cookies.

Think anyone these days gets excited to get a Bud Selig card?

Most deflating was when I took the box of cards upstairs and put them in my closet next to all my other cards and I saw dozens of scattered red 1990 Donruss cards sitting there. A whole summer’s work was taken care of for less than $10. Now I had far too many of those eyesores.

I never sold the complete set to a card dealer (have you seen any around lately? No? That’s what we thought. Card dealers preceded the newspaper business in overfunding and underselling) and I think I gave them away to a friend of mine in college who was still card-crazy by the time women and alcohol changed my interests. That, and the fact that I was 21 and didn’t really care about collecting cards anymore.

Turns out, the set of cards is only $11 now. So, what an investment that turned out to be!

Angels Fans Hope Albert Pujols is Not the Next Mo Vaughn

Let’s hope that any Angels fans jumping up and down in the sheer thrill of adding Albert Pujols did not sprain their ankles.

They could be forgiven if they did, since it was a sprained ankle that unraveled the last big contract that the Angels doled out to a slugging first baseman.

Granted, Albert Pujols is not Mo Vaughn. He’s in much better shape and he’s a much better hitter.

However, similarities can be made. Vaughn was signed as a veteran middle-of-the-order slugger to help balance a team that was young and talented and had postseason aspirations (if not in 1999, then in the immediate future). Placing Mo Vaughn around guys like Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad in the batting order seemed like it could carry the team far.

The farthest those hopes came was the distance between the field level and the bottom of the visiting dugout.

On Opening Day after Vaughn signed a five-year, $80 million deal to put on the periwinkle, he chased down a foul pop-up on the season’s first batter. As he approached the visitor’s dugout, he slipped and slid into it, severely spraining his left ankle in the process.

The injury seemed to nag him all season – and was a crutch for folks not believing Vaughn lived up to his millions. He did hit over 30 home runs and had over 100 RBI in each his two years in Anaheim, fans expected the world – or the World Series – and they didn’t get it.

Vaughn only played two seasons as an Angel, missing the entire 2001 season due to injury, and became a lightning rod for the team’s continued failures of reaching the playoffs.

Of course, we’re not wishing the same ill on Pujols or the Angels. We’re just making a correlation.

Be careful what you wish for.

Athletes Who Die in Their Prime

It was on this date four years ago when Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor was shot during a home invasion and died. That tragic event led us to scour the Internet in search of athletes who passed away during their prime.

Now, prime is to be considered the crescendo of their playing existence. While many athletes have tragically passed away when they’re still of playing age, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were lost during their “prime.”

Nick Adenhart, a pitcher with a rising star, died in a car accident a few years ago but at 22, he wasn’t in his prime. Dale Earnhardt died while racing, but he was 49 years old. Hardly his prime. Lou Gehrig died at 37; Roberto Clemente at 38. Tremendous players, both, Hall of Famers, but not in their prime.

See, losing an athlete while he is still capable of playing is a tragic event, both for the organization, teammates and fans, not to mention the player’s family and friends. Typically these guys are in prime – that word again – physical condition and are often thought of as “untouchable” as ridiculous as that is.

When Taylor was shot and killed, he was 24, was a college All-American, and was already a two-time Pro Bowler. His future was very bright. Len Bias and Hank Gathers could both be classified as passing away in their primes. As could Steve Prefontaine and Thurman Munson.

An athlete’s prime is typically a max of a decade, and oftentimes only a few years. These are the times when these entertainers are supposed to provide lengthy highlight reel moments for the rest of us to enjoy.

Hugh Hefner is still considered in his prime.

That’s one of the largest differences between sports as a profession and a normal job. Someone working a typical job can be productive and in his/her “prime” for several decades. Hell, look at Hugh Hefner.

Death is always a tragic occurrence. It just makes it more so when an athlete, one of the best at his craft in the world, is gone too soon. Gone before his career arc could be completed. Gone before he has achieved all he could. Gone before we could truly appreciate what they could have brought to the field, to a team, to a city.

It doesn’t make athletes any more or less human – so many have died in car accidents, prone to the same circumstances all of us “regular” humans are. It’s just harder to accept – as it is when a healthy 25-year-old is killed in everyday life – when we have to say goodbye to an athlete in the prime of their life.

Nintendo Thumb Goes the Way of the Dodo Thanks to PlayStation

Video games have been a small, but influential, part of my life since that day my mom brought home the original Nintendo. Maybe the small thrill I still get out of video games is because I was the first kid I knew to have a Nintendo and play Super Mario Bros. despite the fact I had a single mom busting her ass at work just to make sure we had clothes on and were fed at night.

Oftentimes, nowadays, I will come home from work and just want to veg out with a cocktail and play an hour of video games. It’s rather relaxing and helps ease my mind.

And, of all the years I’ve been playing, first, a PlayStation 2 and now a PlayStation 3, something just occurred to me last night.

I no longer get Nintendo thumb.

Of course I don’t have marathon RBI Baseball tournaments or Super Mario Saturday’s with my friends anymore, so perhaps the 12-hour days of trying to capture the princess have allowed my left thumb to become soft and fleshy.

That damn + controller always led to raw thumbs.

But, when running around the field with Tim Tebow last night, I finally realized the purpose of the joysticks on the PlayStation – and XBox – controllers.

I only thought they were for shooter games and potentially making shifty moves in Madden with a running back; or to rock and fire with a pitcher and move around the protagonist in an adventure game.

Ah, the relief my thumb feels from the joystick.

For years and years when I played Madden, I used the + on the controller to move my men around the field. Old habits die hard, I suppose. Yet, last night when I scrambled around with Tebow, I started using the joystick liberally.

It was like the first time I heard The Beatles.

No more shoots of pain in my thumb. Had I played until dawn, my thumb would be ready for a Super Mario Saturday. I would not need a bandage just to do mundane things as the blister would form from dominating my console.

Stupidly, I always thought the joystick was there to flip back and forth while waiting for your game to load, or to line up your kicks in Madden, or select things during pauses in action games.

Now I know that not only have the graphics of games gotten better, the actual controller has helped erase the weekend pain of Nintendo thumb.

Yeah, it’s only been about 10 years since I have been using one of these controllers, so maybe in the next decade I’ll be able to properly use the Internet, understand the advantage of HDTV and how to appropriately download apps on my smart phone.

As I said … old habits die hard.

RIP Nintendo thumb.

Random Pro of the Week: Lonnie Smith

Bring up the following name to any baseball fan and I promise you will get the same response.

You: “Lonnie Smith.”

Other person: “That’s the guy who cost the Braves the World Series.”

Unfortunately, a pretty good and lengthy career was ruined by one moment in one game.

Alas, it was a huge game and a very big moment. So, we’re sorry Lonnie, but your 17 years in The Show, your second place in the 1982 MVP voting, your .288 career average, your solid outfield abilities, your first-round pick (No. 3 overall!) and your three other World Series titles are all forgotten by one instance.

You had one of the biggest baserunning gaffes in Major League Baseball history.

In Game 7 of the 1991 World Series – the greatest World Series ever, according to some and easily the greatest of my lifetime where I don’t have a rooting interest – Smith was deked by rookie second baseman Chuck Knoblauch and never scored what might have been the winning run.

Smith led off the eighth inning of a 0-0 game with a single against Jack Morris. Terry Pendleton, the National League MVP that season, followed with a double to left-center field.

Lonnie Smith slides into third base in the eighth inning after getting deked at second base.

As Smith, who was running on the pitch, got to second base, Knoblauch and shortstop Greg Gagne faked like Pendelton’s ball was hit in the infield and they were turning a double play. Smith hesitated at second base, then rounded and waited some more, before finally getting to third. This, despite Pendleton’s hit one-hopped the fence.

Morris got a groundout, intentionally walked the bases full, then got Sid Bream to ground into a 3-2-3 double play with Smith retired at home plate.

See the 4:18 mark of this clip here.

Morris pitched 10 shutout innings, the Twins scored a run and won the Series, leaving Smith to be known as a goat.

Nevermind the fact that you put together a terrific career by many standards, that you overcame a drug addiction and you convinced yourself not to murder Braves general manager John Schuerholz (oh, yeah, we forgot to mention that), but it’s been 20 years since you were badly fooled on the basepaths and you are in distinct World Series company.

If you consider Bill Buckner (1986), Mitch Williams (1993), Dennis Eckersley (1988), Nelson Cruz (2011) and umpire Don Denkinger (1985) as good company.