NEWS: The Red Sox and Yankees swap charges of sign stealing.
VIEW: I’m shocked. Shocked!
The New York Yankees accused the Boston Red Sox of stealing their catchers’ hand signals during an August series in Fenway Park. The Red Sox pretty much admitted it but countered that the Yanks have been doing pretty much the same thing—so there! Baseball is investigating.
This sort of stuff always makes me laugh because sign-stealing is an integral part of many sports, including baseball and football. Further, it’s okay has long as it’s done manually, as it were, using only eyes and hand signals. Probably the most famous hit in Major League Baseball history—Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” home run for the Giants against the Dodgers in a 1951 playoff game—was abetting by a stolen sign. One guy, Joe Nossek, fashioned a 30-year career (1973-2003) as a coach largely around his ability as a sign thief.
The rules rub comes when electronics are involved, like the buzzer used by the Giants’ center field spy to relay calls to the dugout in that memorable 1951 contest or, apparently, the Apple watch a Red Sox trainer wore to convey tips to his team’s batters. Electronic devices such as cell phones are barred from baseball dugouts but the Apple thing looks like a regular wrist watch rather than the tiny computer it is. So when the trainer’s watch read “curve ball” instead of 3 p.m., he was busted, or somesuch.
I have no doubt other teams do what the Red Sox and Yanks are accused of; the standard TV shot from center field shows catchers’ signs on every pitch and it’s too much to expect that someone who can read them isn’t watching and passing them along. Ditto, probably, with lip reading, which is why so many mouths are comically covered during baseball’s many mound meetings. As the Madden 18 ads say, it’s in the game, and if you’re not cheating you’re not trying.
NEWS: All four singles semifinalists in the recent U.S. Open women’s tennis tournament were Americans.
VIEW: That’s really shocking.
Except for two young women named Williams, American tennis has been in eclipse during the current century, with almost no other representation in the game’s upper reaches. Prior to Sloane Stephens’ victory this month no American woman other than Serena or Venus Williams had won a Grand Slam singles title since Jennifer Capriati did it in Australia in 2002, and no U.S. man has done it since Andy Roddick won in Flushing Meadows in 2003.
That development coincided with some sea changes in the sport, in which more-powerful rackets largely negated the service edge, wiping out stylistic differences and turning every match into a baseline slog, and rising pro prize money broadened its appeal to prospective players. Time was when tennis (like golf) was a country-club sport in which the need for expensive facilities, equipment and instruction largely limited participation to the children of the well-off families that could afford them. Now tennis stresses the sort of stamina and mental toughness that demands players’ total commitment from age 8 or 9 and makes it a target for lower-income parents who see their athletic offspring as meal tickets. Non-country-club Europeans have taken over men’s tennis and most of the top women’s ranking spots. Not coincidentally, European men have attained parity with Americans in golf and Asians rule that sport’s female side. The U.S. Open tennis breakthrough shows, at least, that more American women have caught up in the dedication category.
It also underlines the remarkableness of the Williams sisters, who together have won 30 Grand Slam singles crowns (Serena has 23) since 1999, plus many Olympic medals and countless doubles trophies. Their athleticism may have been inborn but their longevity at the top has been hard earned.
I was working when the sisters broke onto the tennis scene and, somehow, often found myself being talked at by their mythomaniacal dad, Richard. He delighted in telling me how his daughters’ court success was due soley to the coaching of himself and his rotund (now ex) wife Oracene even though it was well known that they’d attended top-level tennis academies, and how tennis was just a passing fancy for the girls and that they’d soon be off making their marks in fields as diverse as fashion design and computer programming. Now Venus is 37 years old and still at it while Serena, 35, is plotting her return from childbirth. I guess that, like most kids, they tuned out dad early on.
NEWS: Cohen and Epstein rumble on the gridirons.
VIEWS: I’m really, really shocked.
My two favorite football teams are the Chicago Bears and the University of Illinois, so football seasons long have been unhappy for me. This one began as more of the same, with both struggling as usual to attain a mediocrity that appears to be beyond their reach.
Lo and behold, however, the leading running back for the Bears to date is a guy named Tarik Cohen, while one Mike Epstein is the same for the Illini. Notable Jewish football players of any kind are rare, but running backs? No way!
Cohen was a surprise draftee, a little guy for pro football (5-foot-6, 180 pounds) out of a small college in North Carolina, but he’s freakily athletic (check out a Youtube video of him catching footballs with each hand while doing a back flip), very fast and versatile, a pass-catcher as well as a runner. He’s been compared to Darren Sproles, another little guy who’s carved out a nice career at the position.
Alas, I’ve checked around, including contacting a sports writer friend in Chicago, and found that despite his Hebraic last name Mr. Cohen probably isn’t Jewish. I expected as much because he’s African-American and has a Muslim-sounding first name. Who knows, though—maybe he could switch. If he joined my tribe he’d never lack for Friday-night dinner invitations.
Freshman Epstein seems to be Jewish, at least by self-identity. He’s from Florida and was highly recruited out of high school. Goodness knows why he picked Illinois, but he’s rushed for 165 yards in the school’s first two games and seems to be the real deal. He’s no immediate Heisman prospect but we old Illini don’t expect that. Pretty good is good enough for us.