Sports

DAMNED IF YOU DON'T

On August 4 at the United Palace Theatre in Washington Heights, referee Arthur Mercante Jr. stopped a 10-round featherweight bout between John Johnson and Anthony "Chelo" Diaz in the third round. It was a premature stoppage.

Johnson had knocked Diaz down once in the round and had followed up with a couple of head shots, nothing terrible, when Mercante ran between the fighters and broke them up. He stood looking at Diaz as if he wanted to give him a standing eight-count, but then he waved his hand in the air to end the bout. Mercante had last refereed on June 26, when he was the third man in the ring the night Beethavean Scottland was beaten to death on an aircraft carrier moored on the Hudson.

Mercante, a respected referee, and son of Hall of Fame ref Arthur Mercante Sr., has a history of late stoppages. In 1990 he let Razor Ruddock tee off on Michael Dokes. In 1997 he allowed Diobelys Hurtado to take too many shots from Pernell Whitaker, and in January of this year he waited a few seconds too long to pull Michael Bennett off Andrew Hutchinson.

Scottland absorbed 15 unanswered blows to the head in the fifth round while Mercante watched. Max Kellerman, the ESPN boxing analyst working the fight, exclaimed, "That's it! This is how guys get seriously hurt." He was right. The night looked like March 24, 1962, when Emile Griffith pounded Benny "Kid" Paret to death while another respected referee, Ruby Goldstein, stood by, hypnotized by the violence.

In that fight Griffith unleashed a 25-punch barrage while Paret sagged against the ropes, helpless, unable to fall. Goldstein intervened and stopped the fight, but Paret died 10 days later. Goldstein, like Mercante, also had a history of late stoppages. Three years earlier he refereed the Ingemar Johansson-Floyd Patterson bout in which Johansson knocked Patterson down in the second round. The champion rose glassy-eyed and out on his feet, then walked to a neutral corner thinking he himself had scored the knockdown. He was dropped five more times before Goldstein ended it.

So, should Mercante have stopped the Johnson-Diaz bout when he did, although it seemed premature?

"You're damned if you do and damned if you don't," Mercante was quoted as saying afterward. Wrong. No one should damn him for erring on the side of caution.


HERD ON THE STREET

Has anyone else noticed a herd mentality among baseball announcers lately? Certain lines of analysis, most of them flimsy at best, appear to have taken hold among the game's broadcasters, leading to myths that are being parroted as gospel across the land. We're happy to debunk a few of them:

MYTH NO. 1: Any time a hitter fouls off a few pitches, he's having "a great at-bat." We hear this routinely these days from play-by-play guys, whether the plate appearance in question results in a hit or a fly out, as if merely staying alive for an extra pitch or two were worthy of high praise.

But y'know, sometimes a fouled pitch is one that should have been clubbed—Mike Piazza, for example, has candidly admitted that he's been fouling off eminently hittable pitches all season long. Meanwhile, if a player doubles off the wall on the first pitch he sees, how come we never hear that described as "a great at-bat"? In the end, gang, the only great at-bats are the ones that produce base runners, or at least advance them—is that such a hard standard to apply?

MYTH NO. 2: When a batter fouls a pitch straight back to the screen, he "was right on it" or "had it timed just right." Of course, the same analysis could just as easily apply to pitches that are popped straight up above home plate or, for that matter, to many pitches that are swung on and missed. The proponents of this brand of commentary seem to forget a crucial part of the equation: namely, that timing a pitch just right doesn't mean much if you don't make solid contact with the ball.

MYTH NO. 3: You know a slumping hitter is starting to regain his stroke when he starts hitting to the opposite field. Consider the Mets, who've had no shortage of slump-ridden hitters this year: Whether it's Piazza, Todd Zeile, Rey Ordoñez, Edgardo Alfonzo, or Jay Payton, we keep hearing that it's "a really good sign" when they start going the other way. Now, there's something to be said for going with an outside pitch, but there's a reason most home runs—and most base hits, for that matter—are hit to the pull field: A hitter's bat speed is highest during the pull-field portion of his swing.

Hitting to the opposite field may appeal to those who think baseball is about artistry, but it's worth remembering that the greatest hitting artist of all time, Ted Williams, was a dead pull hitter. Next time you hear an announcer talk about how a player "needs to stop trying to pull everything," ask yourself if he would've said that about Teddy Ballgame.


Contributors: Mitch Abramson, Paul Lukas
Sports Intern: Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz Sports Editor: Ward Harkavy

 
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