• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS

The decisions of decision-makers led the sports news last week.

1. The LPGA mandated that all of its players must speak English as a condition of membership. I agree with this and will explain why and the good example it sets for others in the near future. However, as has been common under the current LPGA executive team, the news was mishandled PR-wise by the tour office -- creating an unnecessary controversy.

2. Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher CC Sabathia lost a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates because the official scorer ruled "hit" instead of "error" on a ball fielded by Sabathia. Having covered a game or two in my career, I definitely would have called "E-1."

3. Over on Belle Isle, IRL competition boss Brian Barnhart got in the spirit of the start of football season, and threw a penalty flag for an illegal block. That forced Helio Castroneves to yield the lead -- and, ultimately, the victory -- to Justin Wilson.

What fascinated me came in the post-race comments from various drivers. Depending on who was doing the talking, normal policy outlined by Barnhart in the drivers' meetings did or did not specify a warning would be issued before a penalty. This reminded me of what happened after the 1981 Indianapolis 500 debacle, when USAC took the win away from Bobby Unser and awarded it to Mario Andretti, because Unser violated the blend line rule exiting the pits. After months of hearings, a panel overturned that call, and Unser was again the winner.

That time, too, different drivers had different versions of what was said in the drivers' meeting. Not only did Unser vs. Andretti hear it differently, so did Johnny Rutherford vs. Gordon Johncock, to cite two of the sport's biggest names of that era. How to explain this?

Having not only been in, but also participated in, dozens of CART and IROC driver meetings over the years, I can tell you this: It's amazing how many drivers don't pay attention, and how often they do it. I've watched and listened as drivers talked about girls, vacations, motorcycles, boats and airplanes -- all while officials were reviewing rules and race procedures.

I don't know what Barnhart did or didn't say in Detroit. Or what individual drivers did or didn't do during the meeting. I do know this: It is every driver's responsibility to know the rules, and that means paying attention. If you aren't sure, ask in front of everyone else -- so you have witnesses -- to reduce the chance of a misunderstanding.
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When Jimmie Johnson spoke at the National Press Club recently, he was asked if NASCAR fans were more likely to support John McCain or Barack Obama. Johnson said he felt the Republican better fit the NASCAR demographic.

Now we learn, at least according to the AP, that vice presidential nominee (and Alaska governor) Sarah Palin's husband Todd is a four-time winner of what it called "the world's longest snowmobile race." The story said the Alaska event is 2,000 miles in distance.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]