Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Looking only at one side

A few days ago, the Bleacher Report, which is full of fascinating lists relating to sports, published a list titled “The 20 Rarest Sights in Sports”. The list was:
  1. “Winning the Heisman Trophy Twice”
  2. “NBA quadruple-double”
  3. “An Unassisted Triple Play”
  4. “Repeating as Olympic 100 metres Champion”
  5. “Winning Four Consecutive Golf Majors”
    • done only by Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones in 1930 and Young Tom Morris in 1872
  6. “Major League Baseball Batting Triple Crown”
  7. “U.S. Men’s Soccer Team Beats Mexico in Mexico”
  8. “Decade(s)-Long Droughts”
    • This is the one case which is not a “positive” rarity
    • Long droughts are familiar to many football and even rugby (Cronulla) fans in Australia, though none rival the Chicago Cubs’ World Series drought
  9. “Olympic Gold and Stanley Cup in the Same Year”
  10. “Triple Crown (Horse Category)”
  11. “Major League Baseball Perfect Games”
  12. “A Perfect Season”
  13. “Never Missing an NFL Game”
  14. “NBA 60-Point Game”
  15. “Pittsburgh Steelers Changing Head Coaches”
  16. “Hitting 600 Home Runs”
  17. “A City Winning Multiple Championships in One Year”
  18. “The Oakland Raiders Hitting on a #1 Draft Pick”
  19. “Major League Baseball No-Hitters”
    • the comment says that:
      “Verducci makes the case that the steroid era greatly impacted decades of pitching, and now that baseball has worked to eradicate them from the game, pitchers are once again king. If that's the case, we might have to reassess this slide in a few years.”
  20. “Three-Peats”
    • the comment says that they were common before the 2000s but there have been none since 2003.
    • There have been only four in Major League Baseball since 1901, three by the New York Yankees and one by the Oakland Athletics
What is problematic about this list is that only one side is shown: the best feats, and not the worst. Having the experience of football and rugby statistics that I do, I wonder why things like:
  • “A Perfectly Bad Season”
  • “A full game with no possessions”
  • “A goalless football team”
  • “Not reaching an opponent’s Quarter” (in rugby)
  • “A walk to second base” (I’ve never seen or read about it; would happen if four balls occurred and first base was occupied)
The Bleacher Report is slightly exaggerating when it says that there are too many games in most sports for a perfectly bad season. Apart from baseball, ice hockey, soccer and basketball, few sports actually play many more games than football or rugby.

However, both perfectly bad seasons and goalless matches have far more near-misses that actual occurrences (like Swan Districts in 1968 or Melbourne in 1981 for perfectly bad seasons; Carlton in 1991 and East Perth in 1956 for goalless matches). The fact that near-misses are much more common than actual occurrences of most rare sights in sport makes me think people should be aware of the many potential lessons from such horrific experiences as Sturt in 1995 losing every game by at least four goals, or the experiences of Hawthorn and North Melbourne in their early years in the VFL when one or the other failed to win a game three times in their first seven years. The league was too easily swayed by the interests of clubs rather than culture and fundamental economics.

The near-miss of a goalless game by West Coast in 1992 at the Western Oval is instructive, especially when compared to the Eagles’ amazing dominance in bone dry April and May 1991. During that period, they conceded only 59 points per game to teams that scored 118 against all other defences. However, their super-hard defence lost its edge on such a slow ground and their great speed became a liability.

A full game with no possessions I have only heard of a few times from full forwards, notably Scott Hodges at Moorabbin in 1991 and in the 1996 SANFL Grand Final. A rugby team not reaching an opponent’s quarter I have never checked for or seen - it would not necessarily be a shutout because a team could still kick a penalty goal. It would indeed by almost impossible under present-day rules with the 40/20 kick.

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