• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, November 03, 2008

THE SELIG DOCTRINE

Should racing's biggest events follow The Selig Doctrine?

Fans and media can say what they will about often-belittled Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, but he stepped-up and put the full power of his office to work last week. In the midst of terrible rainy weather in Philadelphia, as the Phillies' (I helped cover the Phils' 1980 world championship) played the Tampa Bay Rays, Selig ordered that no World Series game would be called before the regulation nine innings. This historic decision came into effect in Game 5, which had to be stopped in the sixth inning due to unplayable field conditions.

Baseball long ago gave its commissioner broad authority. As a former member of the Baseball Writers Association, I say Selig did the correct thing.

How would the legitimacy of a Phillies' title have withstood public and press opinion -- and history's judgment -- if the World Series had been decided in a game stopped early? No way.

Which leads us to consider . . . should the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 be contested under The Selig Doctrine? That is, run the full 500-mile distance, no matter what.

Racing's traditional rules are clear: Half of the scheduled distance + one lap = an official event. I'm not one to say any rain-shortened winner is less legit, but I'm pretty sure even those who benefitted would privately admit it was less satisfying. (To be honest, Indy's early end in 1973 was a blessing.) I covered the wet weather Indys of 1975 and 1976, and while the runners-up were frustrated, no one truly believed Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford weren't worthy of reaching victory lane. Rutherford actually walked into VL in '76 as the event concluded at exactly the bare-minimum distance.

I do remember this, however, when A.J. Foyt took the Borg-Warner Trophy in 1977: A "railbird" (that's what they used to call the Speedway's veteran observers -- I don't think the word "pundit" had yet been coined) -- noted that, thank God, the first four-time winner didn't claim the historic achievement based on anything less than 500 miles.

Let's be honest: Indy and Daytona have long operated under different rules than other events in those series. At the Brickyard, examples have included qualifying, bumping and pacer lights. At Daytona, there is a complicated formula to set the field, including Q races (that have varied in distance over the years) plus restrictor plates and no passing below the line.

The arguments over TV time, fan convenience, etc. as reasons for calling a rain race official are well known and, thus, not needing of further review here.

But . . .

Indy and Daytona are set apart. I'm not sure it's unreasonable to wonder if they shouldn't follow the example of the country's most famous game and obey The Selig Doctrine.
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Credit Due: Kyle Busch has earned much praise for his 21 NASCAR national series victories this year and earned much criticism for his attitude. That came up again at Atlanta when he said going to New York City for the Sprint Cup awards was "way too much work." But after tying Sam Ard's record of 10 Nationwide Series wins in a season, Saturday at Texas, Busch said he'd send $100,000 to Alzheimer's disease patient Ard. As one who has witnessed Alzheimer's in my family -- it has no place as a joke line -- I say: Thank you, Kyle.
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For all of Formula One's sophistication, it's incredible the FIA had no format to have new champion Lewis Hamilton interviewed post-race on its world TV feed. Inexcusable. And every moody, whiny, temperamental, attitude-challenged NASCAR and IRL driver should be required to watch the tape of Felipe Massa's "I know how to win, I know how to lose" interview after the Brazilian Grand Prix. Class act.


Bad mistake: The "ticker" on ABC during the Texas NASCAR race, and as far as I could tell, on all the ESPN networks, said: "Lewis Hamilton Wins Formula 1 Grand Prix of Brazil."
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I'll be part of the Arizona Republic's coverage team this NASCAR weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Check out my stories all this week online at AzCentral.com .

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]