The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 63.0°F | A Few Clouds

Sports, Golf, Bay State Games Offer Alternatives to Baseball

By Bo Light
Associate Sports Editor

Do you miss hockey? Can't wait for basketball to start? Does the thought of exhibition football in July give you chills? Don't lose hope, sports fans: There's still plenty to see besides baseball, and baseball isn't a bad option. Let's look at some of our alternatives.

Around the sports world

First, there's soccer, and if you haven't been following the U.S. soccer team, you should kick yourself, because the rest of the world has. The U.S. team surprised the world this month with a fourth-place finish in the Copa America, the biggest non-World Cup tournament in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. team won their group by virtue of a 2-1 victory over Chile and a stunning 3-0 upset of an overconfident Argentina. In the playoffs, the U.S. advanced to the semifinals before losing to Brazil, 1-0, and again to Colombia, 4-1 in the third-place game. Uruguay won the championship, beating defending champ Brazil on penalty kicks.

But if soccer isn't your speed, try golf. Last week, John Daly, golf's big-hitting bad boy, took control of his life and his game to win the British Open at St. Andrews in Scotland. After blowing a three-stroke lead with three holes to play, Daly beat Constantino Rocca of Italy in a four-hole playoff. Daly, whose widely publicized marital and drinking problems have led to several reprimands and three leaves of absence from the PGA tour since 1991, has finally matured into a serious, sober player (he hasn't had a drink in over two years), and this maturity helped him come back from a four-stroke deficit at the beginning of the last round.

Finally, sometimes you don't have to go looking for sports - sometime sports come to you. The Bay State games came to MIT last weekend; venues for fencing, field hockey, gymnastics, lacrosse, rifle, soccer, table tennis, track and field, and volleyball were located on campus. Over 4,500 athletes and about 1,200 volunteers participated in the four-day sports festival, which is held every year, and is open to all full- or part-time Massachusetts residents.

The Batter's Box

The season that almost didn't happen continues to be one of the most exciting ones in recent history, and fans are slowly beginning to return to the game. One of the biggest reasons excitement has returned to baseball is that this is turning out to be a hitter's year. Team ERAs and blown save statistics are up as batters pound out hits all over the park (and out of the park as well). Some notable exceptions to the rule are Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers (1.99 earned-run- average through the All-Star break) and Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who leads the majors with an eye-popping 1.65 ERA.

The All-Star game was a perfect example of the enigma this season has become. While the final score (the National League won, 3-2) would suggest a pitching duel, all of the runs were scored as a result of home runs (in fact, the NL only had three hits, all of them homers). The MVP, Jeff Conine, was less than All-Star material, but was at the game because he is the best player for the Florida Marlins, and every team must be represented at the game. Conine just happened to hit the game winning home run for the NL, and walked off with his fifteen minutes of fame.

Inquiring minds wanna know

In this new section, our crack team of analysts comes up with explanations for why things are the way they are in the world of sports. This month, we explain why ERAs in baseball have been steadily increasing in recent years. Every year, pundits complain that the pitching is getting worse. Well, why is it getting worse? Here are a few reasons:

Better hitters. Technological advances and new training techniques in the past ten years have been far more beneficial to batters than to pitchers. Only recently has hitting become a "science," but this science has advanced quickly. Batters have video analysis, swing-specific strength training, pitching machines, and more to help them improve, and they can do it every day. Pitchers can improve by throwing a ball, and they can't throw it hard or often without risking injury.

Little League. Yes, you read that right. There was a time when a Little League coach would take the best athlete on the team and make him a pitcher, and he pitched, because everyone wanted to be a pitcher. So pitchers tended to be the best athletes in the game, and that led to low ERAs. Now, the best athlete on the team wants to play catcher or first base instead, and the pitcher plays right field when he's not pitching. This leads to better athletes at the plate against weaker athletes on the mound; the phenomenon trickles right up to the majors, (believe it!).

Expansion and specialization. Major League baseball has added four teams in the 90s, and is planning further expansion. In addition, specialization has become prominent; rare is the game where a team uses fewer than three pitchers. Expansion and specialization deplete the pitching talent pool, which further weakens the pitching that teams put on the mound.

And that is why team ERAs continue to increase. Next month, we might tell you why the Patriots will win the Super Bowl, or why the NBA will survive despite its labor troubles, or something else entirely. Is there something you want explained? send your ideas to easports@the-tech.mit.edu.

And for trivia

EA Sports provides two more teasers to last you until R/O Week. Question #1: The U.S. soccer team continues to stun the world, with excellent showings in the U.S. Cup and Copa America. What is the highest place the United States has ever taken in a World Cup?

And question #2: If this baseball season had been a full, 162-game season, three teams (Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Cleveland) would be on a pace to win over 100 games. When was the last time two teams won over 100 games in the same season? Send your answers, along with comments and Mo Vaughn jokes, to easports@the-tech.mit.edu

As for last week's questions: The Cleveland Indians last won the World Series in 1948 over the Boston Braves. Kudos to Eric Allen G and Chad Musser '97, who both provided correct answers to this question. In addition, Musser correctly stated that the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins were the last team to win the Stanley Cup in their first Finals appearance. The Penguins defeated the Minnesota North Stars, who were also making their first appearance in the Finals.