Thursday, August 8, 2013

Baseball vs. Tennis: Lying in sports

Today Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic admitted that he knew he won a point that he shouldn't have, but refused give the point to his opponent. After chasing down a drop shot, Raonic touched the net as he hit a winner. Because he touched the net, he should have lost the point, but the chair umpire missed the call. Even though Raonic admits he knew what he did, he refused to give the point to his opponent. After the match, Raonic said "It was a big point. If you were in that situation, down a break, would you have called that on yourself?"

Many tennis fans were outraged by what Raonic did, calling him a cheater, which made me think about the differences in the way lying is viewed in baseball and in tennis.

In tennis, lying is considered as bad as taking steroids to most players and fans at all levels. However, in baseball, lying is something coaches tell players to do. Coaches even teaches players to lie even in Little League. Coaches teach catchers to frame pitches and teach pitchers how to do a balk-pick. They also teach players to pretend like they caught balls that they trapped and like they tagged players when they completely whiff a swipe tag. Even when Derek Jeter fakes getting hit by a pitch, he is admired by some fans by his ability to deceive the umpire. Now umpires will check to see if there is a mark on the players.

The first time I was taught to lie in baseball was on my nine-year old all-star team. In practice I was chasing a runner and tagged him on the back, but the runner didn't feel it and continued to run. Even though I had already tagged the player I chased him to try to tag him again, but he reached base safely. My coach said to me "Why did you chase him? Didn't you tag him?" I said yes, to which he replied, "Even if you had missed on the tag, don't chase him. Just hold up your glove to the umpire, and he will be called out every time. If you chase the runner, it looks like you missed the tag."

This is part of the human element that fans love about umpiring in baseball. Sometimes lying is the best way to get a competitive edge in baseball. In baseball, lying isn't immoral, it is "heads up baseball."

One of my favorite memories from playing baseball was one of my coach taking advantage of the "human element" in baseball. One of the umpires in our league was an older man, who wore coke bottle glasses and a chest protector over his uniform. The umpire was very slow to call balls and strikes, and my coach realized that he could influence the umpire's calls on border pitches. Whenever our pitcher threw a pitch on the edge of the zone, my coach would yell "great pitch," and whenever a batter took a close pitch, he would yell "good eye." It worked for a while before the umpire finally picked up on what was going on.

One of the reasons that lying in baseball and in tennis is viewed so differently is because every junior tennis player plays without an umpire, while baseball players have umpires at every game by the time they turn seven. Almost every tennis match before the professional level is played without line judges, which means that the players on the court are the umpires. Every amateur tennis match is played based on the honor code. Without the honor code, playing a tennis match would be impossible. Because of that, a tennis player that lies is a cheater.

But what about when there is an umpire and line judges? Is it "heads up tennis" to lie to a chair umpire? In the NBA, players are fined for flopping.  The truth is that, while Raonic didn't deserve the point according to the rule book, he did deserve the point. He reached the drop shot and he hit the winner. His foot tapping the net did not affect the point. It took a little bit of poor sportsmanship, but the right player won the point.

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