Friday, June 01, 2007

The Committe for Statistical Inaccuracy vs. Truth and Beauty!

Or "How I learned to stop worrying and love the most entertaining no-hitter in White Sox History" by Jake Austen

I've had the unusual fortune of missing some pretty historic games by one night. On a visit to Texas I was delighted to see my beloved White Sox drub the Rangers in person, catching the following evening's infamous game on my motel's color TV which allowed me to appreciate the vivid crimson blood drawn by elder statesman Nolan Ryan as he played Ike to young Robin Ventura's Tina. Years later I snuck into great seats at New Comiskey a mere night before two uncouth gentlemen snuck into the same section to launch an unprovoked attack on the Royals' first base coach. And this April I was fondling my tickets for the following night's game as I watched Mark Buehrle pitch perhaps the most impressive game in White Sox history.

(It was a near-perfect no-hitter in which he faced the minimum by picking off his only baserunner, Sammy Sosa, who uncharacteristically drew a walk. I hereby declare a no-hit/pick-off-the-one-walked-baserunner as the third best possible game pitchable, the first being a perfect game, the second being a face-the-minimum, where the baserunner reached on an unforced infield error [relieving the pitcher of blame]. Note that a 27-batter, one baserunner game in which a double play accounts for the minimum batters-faced is less impressive than the pickoff, because the pitcher is not cleaning up his own mess.)

One reason I never feel too bad about narrowly missing history is that I've been lucky enough to attend some pretty memorable contests, including a White Sox no-hitter. Of course you wouldn't know it by the declaration that Buehrle had pitched the 16th no-hitter in Pale Hose history, a total that leaves out the unforgettable game I attended. I intend to end this essay with a healthy rant against Major League Baseball's inane official record keepers, but before I get my berating hat on, let me put on my nostalgia glasses to recall the glorious night of July 1st, 1990.

My brother and I had pretty decent left field seats for this game held during Old Comiskey Park's farewell season. The Sox were playing the Yankees, and pitcher Andy Hawkins was having his way with us. Fortunately Sox starter Greg Hibbard, hirsute middle reliever Barry "Bearcat" Jones, and teen punk rock vocalist-turned eccentric White Sox southpaw Scott Radinsky (who holds the MLB record for most games pitched by a Jew, and who currently owns a skatepark) combined for a four-hitter. Even two errors by the man who was three years and 33 days away from becoming Nolan Ryan's punching bag didn't allow the Yanks to score. Thus, in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Hawkins took the mound with a potential no-hitter alive, it was a scoreless game and Sox fans knew we were only one run away from a possible win against the eternally intimidating Bronx Bombers.

After retiring catcher Ron Karkovice (a good glove/no stick Sox favorite) and shortstop Scotty Fletcher (who once posed for Sports Illustrated in a bank vault catching stacks of cash in his mitt, representing his then unheard of million dollar-a-year contract), Hawkins challenged the then anemic batting-average of Sammy Sosa, unaware of his cicada-like ability to throw monkey wrenches into no-hitters every seventeen years. To the best of my recollection Sammy hit a grounder to third and took off like a Hispanic cartoon mouse, diving headfirst in a display of hustle that would be scored an infield hit any time other than late in a no-hitter. His achievement tainted by the official scorer's generosity, a flustered Hawkins then walked Buehrle's future manager Ozzie Guillen, and Sosa's future Cub teammate Lance Johnson, on what I recall as being eight straight pitches.

The sacks packed with Sox, Robin Ventura came up with a chance to atone for his shaky defense in that game (and suspect martial prowess in a future contest) by standing there with bat glued to shoulder while this Yankee headcase inevitably walks in the winning run. But, of course, in true (pre-pallete cleansing 2005 championship season) White Sox fashion, he swung at the first terrible pitch, launching a can-of-corn popup to Jim Leyritz, the infielder-turned-outfielder positioned right in front of us. What happened next I did not witness with my own eyes, as I buried head in hands, disgusted with Ventura's impatience. The next thing I knew my brother was shaking me, screaming, "He dropped it, he dropped it!" And sure enough, I emerged from darkness to see Leyritz scrambling for the ball as the bases cleared, leaving the Sox up a profoundly unlikely 3-0, despite the no-hitter remaining intact. My eyes were wide open when the next batter, the beloved Ivan Calderon (a two sport man, Calderon trained champion fighting cocks in the off-season; after retirement he was shot to death in his native Puerto Rico, allegedly at the behest of the PR mafia) lifted an easy fly ball to center which Jesse Barfield somehow lost a bead on. Ventura trotted home, then big, pot-smoking Dan Pasqua got out, and when the smoke cleared the Sox had four runs without the benefit of a hit. After an easy ninth, they—brace yourself for an absurd stat—had won a game in which they had no hits by the largest margin any team had ever done so.

To make the incident more bizarre, Hawkins lost his next start against the Sox to Melido Perez (less-storied brother of Pasquel “Perimeter” Perez) who threw a rain-shortened, six-inning no-hitter. At least we thought he did at the time, though a decade later he, Hawkins, and many others, had not done so. Inanely in 2001 the Baseball Commish set up something called the Committee for Statistical Accuracy, that declared baseball would officially no longer consider any no-hitter less than nine innings in length to actually exist. They also declared that if a pitcher pitches nine full innings then gives up a hit in the 10th or later, that is not a no-hitter. No duh! I was always confused as to why the record book noted those particular sad sack pitchers in the no-hit section, as they obviously didn't qualify, considering that they gave up hits. A no-hitter obviously is a complete game in which you don't give up a hit. Excising that clearly non-qualifying category of games that had hits from the no-hitter list seemed to indicate this Committee actually knew the rules of baseball.

Yet in a throw-the-very-healthy-baby-out-with-the-bathwater move they erased all the less-than-nine inning games, despite the fact that they were complete games with no hits. “No-hitters,” if you will. Perhaps these wise old men were unaware that in baseball a game isn't defined by nine complete innings. Assuming that home teams usually win, I'd venture that the majority of games are 8.5 innings long. Hawkins could not pitch a ninth because the Sox were at home and did not bat in the ninth, thus he pitched a complete game with no hits. A no hitter! And though Perez’ 18-out outing is certainly less impressive than Buehrle’s masterpiece, it exists and qualifies. Somehow the term “Statistical Accuracy” translated as “Don't Know Shit About Baseball.” Perhaps Bud Selig will appoint a Committee to Determine the Asterisk-ratio of Suspected Steroid Inflated Statistics, so that he can make the “official” “history” book more “accurate.” George Orwell predicted it, people! Wikipedia is just another covert step in the Man's insidious plan to perennially rewrite history however He sees fit. Beware!

Well, regardless of the record book, under what my lawyer defines as ex post facto, statute of limitations, ignorance of the law, grandfather clause rules, I saw a no-hitter, and I am forever satisfied that I did. And, let's be honest, it was a lot more exciting than Buehrle's gem. I'm sure I'm not the only one who flipped back and forth between the (by-definition) uneventful near-perfect Sox game and American Idol that night. I bet you nobody flipped between Hawkins' debacle and Star Search.

Jake Austen publishes Roctober magazine and helps produce the public access children's dance show Chic-A-Go-Go.

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