DROPPING THE BALL
This week we wrap ourselves in a gloomy cloak in an all-out celebration of athletic miscues as we present a visual parade of horribles
SewerBall turns its attention to a phenomenon in sports which, to those involved, tends to be quite forgettable, but by contrast can make quite a memorable image. It is the error. No, not a mere mistake ? this is a higher class of failure. It is the athlete?s way of beclowning himself on the job and this week SewerBall happily dwells into this very stew of morbidity. These sloppy performances unfold on the sizeable stage that is television and will be relived via replay and topped off with adjoining commentary, which strangely, in an era where people take great pride in not judging, will be greeted with anything but a non-harsh verdict. A player booting a ball is an episode in sports that can have no interpretation other than an unsavory one. It represents dramatic ineptitude and people are happy to judge it as such.
A dropped pass or a dropped fly ball are plays that bear little resemblance to a dignified spectacle. Such plays don?t merely invite mockery from fans but rather a cascade of anger and personal insults and all-around treatment so hostile that you would think it could only be warranted by a NAZI war criminal. I mean, fans are not a forgiving bunch. They will readily boo their fellow fan for something as utterly meaningless as dropping a foul ball hit into the stands. The lesson here is clear: whether you?re on the field of play or in the seats, you better be ready to play when the ball comes at you or you will feel the wrath of those around you.
Truth is that ineptness happens everywhere; not just on the playing field. In the front office, GMs drop the ball when they close the deal on a jaw-droppingly bad free-agent signing; for example, the Angels? overpaying Josh Hamilton for what has amounted to meager production. For their part, promotions departments drop the ball when they hand out 15,000 Troy Tulowitzki jerseys to Rockies? fans with the player?s name spelled wrong, such as in the case of the Colorado Rockies whose marketing giveaway went bad. Incidentally, many unforced errors have been committed over the years when trying to spell Polish surnames.
Dropping a ball is nothing new. Players? apparent inabilities have been on full display since the days of vintage base ball played in the decades following the Civil War, when fielders had no gloves and wore suspenders and I can only imagine that, in those days, balls were dropped with alarming regularity. While I have not seen any video from games played in the 19th century to back up my claims, it seems to make sense that slick fielding plays were in short supply when fielders played the game barehanded.
There simply is no graceful way to drop a ball that should have been caught. It is as subtle as hearing a swan utter a loud burp. And it is easy to ridicule because, quite frankly, it deserves ridicule. It?s the singer?s equivalent of forgetting the words to the national anthem, except that botching a few words of The Star-Spangled Banner will elicit mostly pity from fans, whereas dropping a ball, especially in a key situation, will be met with a reaction from on-lookers who have about as much sympathy as a mob at a public execution.
The horsepucky blooper is there in plain sight for all to gasp at and cringe and, strictly construed, represents a glaring failure by anyone?s account. These are the moments that, in a refreshing twist, remind us that these prized horses are mortals. Of course that is hardly enough to deter a minor revolt from partisans in the stands or those on their barcaloungers.
From a player?s perspective, to soak up such a moment of dread and still be able to carry on suggests that one of the athlete?s greatest non-athletic attributes may be having a complete lack of self-awareness. It takes thick skin indeed to shrug off such a misplay when you have instantly cast yourself at the center of a shaming carnival and go back to your position as though nothing has just happened.
While the culture at large increasingly frowns on ?judging?, the reception of stark failure at sports stadiums remains quite crude. So while society increasingly equivocates between good and bad, and tries to do away with winners and losers, sports audiences most certainly do not ! Flub a play and you are an object of instant derision. To be clear: the issue at hand here is not the forced fumble; it is the unforced error, like Bill Nye confusing the North Pole with the South Pole ? not exactly the stuff of Navy SEAL Team Six. To err is human, all right, a practice so deeply etched in the human condition that no vaccine against it exists and for it to be overcome somehow would take nothing less than a full repeal of the laws of physics. And so we go on across the fruited plains certain of death, taxes, and screw-ups being the coin of the realm as far as the eye can see.