Bruce Dowbiggin posts his perspective on the world of sports each morning.
Losing a championship game or series is the most public form of humiliation imaginable. Just ask the vanquished Detroit Tigers, who honestly had little right to be playing for the World Series title this past week. Slightly better than your average squad, the Tigers rode a narrow margin of error and a weak division through the final month of the regular season and playoffs.
Faced with the multifaceted San Francisco Giants in the 2012 Series, Jim Leyland and his team were exposed in the brief, brutal four-game sweep by San Fran. The criticism of the punchless Tigers’ lineup was scathing.
Yet it doesn’t seem fair that their hollow batting order and leaky defence get autopsied by the creme of the sporting press when so many other lesser teams escape that scrutiny. Twenty-eight teams were far less successful than Detroit but did not get picked apart like a Thanksgiving turkey carcass on worldwide TV.
The Blue Jays, bold fourth-place finishers in the AL East, got to shrink away, their foibles unknown by anyone outside their immediate fan base. The inept Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros sleep well tonight. The Miami Marlins are but a speck in the rearview mirror.
But make the mistake of being like the Buffalo Bills (who lost four consecutive Super Bowls) or the Vancouver Canucks (who lost as Canada’s favourites in Game 7 of the 2011 NHL Final) and you’ll be treated as if you sold state secrets to the Chinese. Your name goes down in infamy as a loser or a choke.
Detroit’s season was, by all measures, a success, but the Tigers now join those teams, losers twice in six years at the Fall Classic.
If it’s any consolation to Leyland and his Tigers (why did he bat lifetime minor leaguer Quintin Berry second?), the Series was unloved by the TV universe with some of the worst ratings ever. So they’ve got that going for them. But not much else.
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FOX considered it a coup to lure Erin Andrews from ESPN to be, among other things, their live onfield host for the Series. As eye candy, she has a loyal following, but, like the Tigers, Andrews was out of her depth at the Series. Perhaps never so much as in the postgame celebration when the obsequious Andrews insisted on calling Giants manager Bruce Bochy “Boch” and telling victorious players that she was proud of them.
Or in the unintentional humour as Andrews ventured to interview Marco Scutaro, whose grasp of English is rudimentary. “@GlobeChadFinn I'd say that was the worst postgame interview I've ever seen, but English is not the first language for Marco Scutaro or Erin Andrews.”
FOX tends to cheerlead, but Andrews seemed to act as if she was getting a World Series share. There are so many excellent women in sports broadcasting today (Doris Burke, Michelle Tafoya, Kelly Tilghman and Suzie Kolber) that Andrews might aspire to emulate. But judging by her work in the Series it will be a while before her name is mentioned with theirs.
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There were two high-profile incidents involving athletes sustaining head injuries in the past week. In both cases, teams seemed to waver on concussion protocols while the TV announcers were critical of the teams for doing so.
In Game 2 of the World Series Detroit pitcher Doug Fister had a line drive deflect off the back of his head into centre field. Saturday, University of Arizona quarterback Matt Scott took a knee to the head against USC in a nationally televised game and immediately began vomiting on the field - a tell-tale symptom of concussion.
In both cases the athlete remained in the game. Fister continued pitching into the sixth inning. Scott returned to lead the Wildcats to a touchdown before being removed from the game for good. Both incidents showed sports teams uncertain how to proceed with a key athlete in the heat of a game.
Not so the announcers. While talking heads can often be cheerleaders, in these two cases the broadcast crews were on top of the protocols and issues. On Sportsnet’s MLB international feed of the World Series, analyst Rick Sutcliffe immediately demanded that Fister be taken out of the game. Even when the Tigers left Fister in, Sutcliffe and Gary Thorne expressed concerns that the Tigers subject Fister to the proper concussion protocols.
(On the FOX TV broadcast, Tim McCarver at first thought the ball hit Fister’s glove. He and Joe Buck then expressed concern for Fister and suggested that maybe pitchers wear helmets in the future.)
The Tigers apparently performed the old “Where are you?” and “What game is it?'” test on the mound. “I don't want to make light of it,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland after the game, “but it was kind of comical really because Doug was right on with everything.” That’s nice. But it’s not comical. Complications afterward can be devastating, as we learned in the death of actress Natasha Richardson from a ski fall.
As well, Oakland pitcher McCarthy was beaned by a line drive in September. He walked off the field after the A’s took him out of the game. McCarthy was sent him to the hospital and later needed emergency surgery for a fractured skull. He was in a life-threatening situation for days.
Saturday, the ESPN crew was even more insistent when Scott was concussed. With Scott vomiting off-camera, analyst Matt Millen said, “That's not good. Get him out of the game.” Play by play man Joe Tessitore was even more to the point. “Any neurologist will tell you that is one of the symptoms and signs of a concussion...is vomiting in reaction to being hit in the head. But he's walking it off right now, out around the 14-yard line.”
Arizona took a timeout. Scott then threw the game-winning TD. Then he was benched. After the game, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said, “Doctors are taking every precaution, which they should. We’ll see how he does.” He did not address why he’d left his QB in the game. (Ironically, USC’s star receiver Robert Woods recently took a similar blow to the head in a game against Utah. After showing disorientation, Woods was administered a three-question concussion test before being allowed back on the field.)
There are many leagues and teams that are getting serious about head issues. Clearly, these two sports teams are still in denial about head shots. Thankfully, as we saw this week, the usually acquiescent media are not.
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