Archive for January, 2015

Carlisle Indian Looms Large in Double No-Hitter

January 28, 2015

For Christmas I received a copy of George Will’s book, A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred. One of the more interesting historic events to take place at the Friendly Confines involved a Carlisle Indian School football player.

On the cool afternoon of May 2, 1917, the Cubs hosted the Cincinnati Reds at Weegham Park, as Wrigley was then called, in a game that has yet to be duplicated. James “Hippo” Vaughn pitched nine innings in which no Cincinnati player hit safely or scored a run. His opponent, Fred Toney, duplicated this effort in front of a sparse crowd on a cool afternoon in which the temperature never exceeded the very low fifties.

Larry Kopf, who had replaced Gus Getz at shortstop earlier in the game after Getz was ejected for arguing about a called strike, “cracked a scorching liner to right field for a single” breaking up Vaughn’s no-hitter in the top of the tenth. Greasy Neale then flied out to center with only the third ball hit out of the infield all afternoon. Cubs’ center fielder Cy Williams misplayed Hal Chase’s fly ball, dropping it and allowing Kopf to advance to third. Jim Thorpe “hit a mean roller toward third, which Vaughn went after. Jim’s speed had him near first base before Vaughn got the ball and there was no chance to throw him out, so the second hit of the game went into the records. Vaughn tried the only play possible. He tossed to [catcher Art] Wilson, hoping to get Kopf at the plate. But Kopf arrived with the ball, and when Wilson fumbled it, he slid home with the first and only run of the game.”

So, Jim Thorpe drove in the winning run in a game that lasted only an hour and fifty minutes.

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Deflategate

January 25, 2015

That a football team would stretch the rules beyond the limit to gain an advantage over its opponents is not surprising, especially since such stretching has such a long history. And the ball itself has been central to many stunts. The very first American football game (soccer actually) played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 was reputedly played with a crude ball more round than rugby-shaped. The two-game international series played between Harvard and McGill in 1874 featured a round ball in the first game, rugby ball in the first game played under American football rules. The next day, they played rugby with an egg-shaped ball. Harvard switched to rugby after that game. Decades later, coaches manipulated the balls to gain an advantage over their opponent. Perhaps the most famous example was when Pop Warner had leather patches shaped by footballs sewn on his Carlisle players’ jerseys to fool Harvard and Harvard’s coach retaliated by painting the footballs Crimson, the color of his team’s jerseys.

Modern day coaches are more subtle. According to news reports, the New England Patriots have been deflating their footballs, except the kicking balls, to below the NFL’s allowed pressure. Previously, the Patriot quarterback stated his preference for softer footballs. The Patriots’ coach and quarterbacks denials in press conferences raise more questions than they answer, particularly given the team’s history of cheating.

The NFL is now in the unpleasant position of having to deal with this scandal. Either they enforce their rules with harsh penalties or risk becoming a laughing stock. A detailed and specific rule exists, one assumes there is good reason for it. If they minimize the infraction of this rule, they risk making all NFL rules suspect. If this rule isn’t enforced, it must not be important. What other rules aren’t important? Why should a team obey any of them?

A thought on a punishment belatedly came to me:

For the Super Bowl, the NFL could have the Patriots deflate each of their 11 non-kicking game balls by two pounds each. Then they would replace that air with air from the kicking ball (the only one that was still in the legal range) until they could get no more air to transfer out of the kicking ball. They would play the game with these twelve balls and would be forced to use the kicking ball for kickoffs, punts, extra points, and field goals, should they choose to do any of these. Kicking off (or punting if chosen after a safety) is the only kick a team is required to make. All the others are discretionary.