Baseball BeatMay 22, 2006
What a Weekend
By Rich Lederer

I went to a high school baseball playoff game on Friday afternoon, a championship boxing match on Saturday night, and a major league game on Sunday. The judges' cards are by a knockout. And the two games I saw weren't even close. In fact, they both had the identical scores of 7-0.

The title bout, on the other hand, was very close. After 12 rounds, Michael Buffer announced to the Staples Center crowd that defending WBC super featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera and challenger Rocky Juarez had fought to a draw. One judge had it 115-113 Barrera, another 115-113 Juarez, and the third scored it 114-114.

Or so we all thought. I woke up the next morning, opened up the sports page, and saw the following headline: "Upon further review: Barrera wins." The subtitle read: "Error in scoring is blamed for the original decision." My jaw just about dropped into my bowl of cereal. I gotta admit, that was a first for me. No, not going to a boxing match - I had gone once before. I mean, that was the first and only time I have ever left a sporting event after it ended only to find out that the outcome was different the following morning.

As it turns out, the scores on the judge's card with the 114-114 draw had been added wrong. The correct (as I raise both hands, hold up my index and middle fingers, and move them up and down to signify quotation marks) total was 115-114 in Barrera's favor, giving the champion a split decision victory over Juarez. (Not that it affected the outcome, but the 115-113 announced score in favor of Juarez actually was changed as well, to 115-114.)

Like baseball, I guess the tie goes to the runner. Barrera was backing up most of the fight as Juarez was clearly the aggressor. The former also fought dirty, hitting the latter behind the head and below the belt. In addition, he happened to conveniently lose his mouthpiece a couple of times during the fight, forcing the ref to call timeouts just long enough to allow him to catch his breath.

Although I would have given the decision to Juarez, I had resigned myself to the fact that the two fighters had battled to a draw when my son and I left the arena that evening. Little did we know at the time but Barrera ended up winning the match. It looks like a Barrera-Rocky II rematch is in the cards. But don't expect Apollo Creed to show up for this one.

I learned one thing from this episode. Boxing is NOT a sport. Call it what you want, but it ain't a sport. A sport has to have a definitive winner at the end of the contest. The team with the most points or runs wins. The golfer with the lowest score wins. The runner or swimmer with the fastest time wins. Those are what I call sports. Activities that are determined by judges are not sports.

If you want to make boxing a sport, don't allow decisions. Let them fight until one knocks out the other. Hey, I know that sounds a bit barbaric, but I don't want judges determining the outcome. If you have to write down scores in secret (as in a boxing match) or hold up a card with a 9.5 on it (like in a gymnastics meet), then it's not a sport. A competition? Yes. A sport? No.

And while I'm on this subject, boxers are NOT athletes. Or least not exceptional ones. I have a friend who believes boxers are the best athletes in the world. Uhh, no. They might be the best-conditioned athletes (if you want to call 'em that), but they are not better than baseball shortstops and center fielders, football quarterbacks, shooting guards in basketball, or hockey centers. You see, I believe the best athletes are those whose skills and talents transfer from one sport to the next.

A boxer is a boxer but, generally speaking, he is not someone who is adept at hitting or throwing a baseball, shooting hoops, throwing and catching a football, wristing a hockey puck into the net, or getting up and down on a golf hole. There is a reason why the high school pitcher and shortstop are two of the best players on the diamond. They just might be the quarterback or wide receiver on the gridiron or perhaps the leading scorers on the basketball team - well, at least in the so-called "old" days when kids were allowed to play more than one sport.

Maybe I'm just upset and taking it out on boxing and boxers here. I dunno. But I do know one thing: I'll take baseball over boxing, and baseball players over boxers any day of the week, including Saturday.

* * * * *

A public thank you to Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 fame and his wife Helen for renting a suite at Dodger Stadium on Sunday and inviting my wife and me to the game. Jon Weisman and Mat Gleason joined the McMillins, along with several other friends and family members. Jon was in Dodger blue and Mat in Angel red. Rob wore Dodger colors, too, under the "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." As for me, I brought along my Dodger and Angel hats and vowed to wear the one from the winning side. I put my Dodger hat on in the bottom of the first after the hometown team scored and didn't take it off until the game was over. (Update: Photo of Jon, Rob, Mat, and me.)

Oh, and I don't think I'll need to check this morning's paper to see who won the game.


And of course, you're welcome.

If you are throwing golf into your list of "true" sports then you are mislead. If you can smoke while doing, it ain't a sport. Neither is Olympic walking and poker. Golf requires great timing and patience, but fitness...I don't think so.

I was a bit taken aback at the reversal of decisions myself. I thought Juarez fought a great fight. I certainly don't think Barerra was expecting him to be that good.

If it's any consolation, the bout will certainly help Juarez's career. Not many were expecting him to make it as close as he did.

Not to be confrontational here, but I think this is a fairly arbitrary way of defining athletics. I won't be a pedant and bring up all the dictionary definitions and etymologies, because that isn't what you're really interested in: the question seems to be whether boxers can cross over or not.

First, the idea that baseball, basketball, football, and hockey cross over better is based only on impressions of high-school sports. It's true that you often see some Johnny All-American kid who is both the starting Shortstop and the Quarterback. That is usually because he is the "Big fish in the little pond". He might, in the long-run, be a better wide receiver than a quarterback; but at the high-school level, his raw overall ability outweighs issues of specialization, due to the greater importance placed on the quarterback position. This is the same reason why the best hitter on a little-league team is also the best pitcher. But that relationship holds very infrequently at the major-league level. At the elite level, skills don't transfer well enough to produce very many two-sport success stories. Bo Jackson is remarkable precisely because of the rarity of his achievement. Michael Jordan, arguably the most transcendant athelete of our times, was the butt of jokes over his attempt to play professional baseball.

So why don't you see many boxers who are also the quarterback? Probably because boxing is out of favor in this country. Very little youth boxing (that I know of) is conducted directly through schools. Most of what I've seen is done through community centers and police leagues, which tend to target at-risk kids. Couple that with the fact that the perceived payouts from boxing are no longer comparable to those from the "big four" American sports, and it's no surprise that the talent-pool from this country has shrunk. But that has nothing to do, intrinsically, with boxing itself. If "athletics" is a subset of games in which superior physical ability or skill provides an advantage, boxing meets this definition. That apparently less of our superior athletes go into boxing now, is a function of its comparatively lessened cache and lucre.

Mike G -- I assume you mean "cachet", not "cache".