STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES by Brad Eastland, The Sports Philosopher

August 22, 2010
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      If you follow golf at all (and maybe even if you don’t) you are probably aware that a nice young fellow named Dustin Johnson was disqualified from the PGA Championship last week—more specifically, disqualified from being in a 3-man playoff to determine the PGA champion—for grounding his club in a bunker on the tournament’s 72nd and final hole.

      (Brief golf lesson: “Grounding” your club means resting or touching your club face on the ground behind the ball right before you hit it.   Which is what a golfer does on pretty much every shot.  Except when he’s in a sand trap, otherwise known as a “bunker”.   That’s not allowed.)image0012

      Anyway, Johnson was told he was DQ’d right before he was about to tee off in a 3-man playoff with Martin Kaymer of Germany (the eventual winner) and Bubba Watson of the United States, the two chaps he was tied with after four days of otherwise brilliant, top-class golf.   It was a shocker.   One minute the guy is getting ready to play the most important three holes of his life, the next minute he is being told that the 2-shot penalty he has just been assessed for not following the rules means he’s out.   You mere mortals out there probably have a pretty hard time conceptualizing such a cataclysmic disaster happening to you.   Me too.

      At first Johnson was the very definition of a sympathetic figure.   The so-called “bunker” he was playing his 2nd shot out of on the 18th hole on Sunday was little more than a small patch of sand with a bunch of footprints in it, and everyone knows that the one thing you will never find in a proper, well-manicured bunker is footprints.   The course they played the PGA at, Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, has over 1,200 bunkers, and most of them are every bit that shoddy and poorly defined.   The one thing working against Johnson was that the course officials had issued a paper, sort of a pamphlet, at the beginning of the tournament, affirming that indeed many of the 1,200 or so bunkers were small and shoddy and trampled over, and might not even look like bunkers, but that if they were bunkers to begin with they would be treated like bunkers, even if they were outside the ropes, meaning no relief and no grounding of one’s club.

     Then Johnson admitted, in various post-match interviews, that he hadn’t bothered to read the local rules.

      The rules were 97 words long.   “Just 97 words, not the Federal Tax Code”, as one wry reporter later put it.   The rules were posted in the locker rooms.   An additional copy was given to every participating player.   But Johnson didn’t bother to read them.


      Didn’t bother to read them?

      And that is about the point where Dustin Johnson lost the sympathy of just about everyone; including the Sports Philosopher.   And rightly so.

      It’s hard to believe that someone who plays golf for a living wouldn’t read the local rules before any tournament, much less a tournament the magnitude of the PGA.   I mean this is their job, right?   Can you imagine a lawyer entering a courtroom without knowing the rules of the court?   Can you imagine a doctor operating on a patient without first reading that patient’s chart?

      But Dustin Johnson didn’t have time to read a 97-word pamphlet on the rules.   The accepted response “what an idiot” just doesn’t do this guy justice.

      But what Johnson’s gaffe did do was get me thinking that some of you out there are probably counting on me to come up with a list of some of the other dumbest gaffes in the history of Sports.   Fortunately for you, I do have a few ready-made examples knocking around my head.

      And let’s make one clear distinction.  I am not going to focus on dumb things athletes do away from the field of battle.   That would take too long.   I am going to focus only on dumb decisions sports people did and do while on-the-job.   So that leaves out every athlete that gets drunk and totals his car or OD’s on drugs or cheats on his wife with 120 women, and it even leaves out the redoubtable Plaxico Burress deciding to smuggle a loaded gun into a New York nightclub and then cleverly shoot himself in the leg.  (That’s a column worth re-reading by the way.  Here it is: )

      Here we go.

      Remember Chris Webber?   The ex-NBA-er, when he was in college at Michigan, frantically called a time-out with a few seconds left in one memorable playoff game.   That’s fine.   Except that his team was out of time-outs.   Cost his team the game.   By cracky, that’s always a video worth watching….

      When I think of dumb decisions in football, I think of a playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos in 1977.   Denver running back Rob Lytle tried to vault over the goal line, but dropped the ball almost immediately.   The Raiders’ Mike McCoy grabbed it and ran 98 yards for a touchdown.   But the refs were determined to join the immortal pantheon of dumb decisions, and ruled that Lytle was “already down”.   That’s code for “we have no earthly idea what happened, weren’t watching the play, Denver is at home, we all hate the Raiders, and we are so confused and stupid we hope that nobody notices that we are about to give this game to Denver, and hope that nobody writes about it three decades later (as I am now).   That single play caused me to forever view pro football and the NFL in a different light….

      As always, I always come back to baseball.   Did you notice that Bobby Thomson died the other day?   He was 86.   He was also the author of the single most famous moment in baseball history, namely his one-out, last-of-the-9th home run off of Ralph Branca of the Brooklyn Dodgers, giving the New York Giants a 5-4 victory in the 3rd and deciding game of a 3-game playoff, and, by extension, the 1951 National League pennant.   That means that Thomson had been famous for the final 59 years of his life for one solitary swing of the bat.   It even has a cool nickname: “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World”.   

      Here’s the dumb part.

      First base was open.

      That’s right.   The score was 4 to 2 at the time, one out, men on 2nd and 3rd.   First base open.   And Thomson owned Branca.   He’d already homered off him earlier in the playoff, homered off him during the regular season as well.   He was a savvy veteran ballplayer.   And Branca was his bitch.

      What made pitching to Thomson really dumb was that there was a scared-to-death 20-year-old kid in the on-deck circle.   Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen could have walked Thomson (who Branca was helpless against), set up a force at every base, set up a possible double play even, and then pitched to the scared bleepless 20-year-old.   The fact that the 20-year-old kid was named Willie Mays, and that the name Willie Mays would mean something a few years down the line, is irrelevant.   On October 3rd, 1951, Mays was no better equipped to handle the pressure of such a moment than Prince Poppycock is likely to handle the finals of America’s Got Talent in a couple weeks….

      Tommy Lasorda was so impressed with Dressen’s brilliance that 34 years later, with 1st base open, he pitched to Jack Clark, who hit a monstrous 3-run homer to give the Cardinals the pennant over the Dodgers.

      Dumb in 1951 is just as dumb in 1985.

      So how do I put all this into perspective for you?   How do I weave this theme into the endless, ongoing global lunacy called Existence we are all suffering through?   For that is, of course, the purpose of the Sports Philosopher column.   To view the world more clearly through the prism of Sports.   I even had to correct the publisher of this newspaper on that point recently; he had made a silly remark about my column being logically confined to sports etc etc.   Nothing could be further from the truth, nor farther from the limitless reach of my mission.

  image0029    So here goes:  People do really dumb things sometimes.

      I’m on my way to Ohio.   That’s all I got. 

meet….The Sports Philosopher!

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and hater of unnecessary dumbness—in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of his best fiction work can be discovered within the mysterious links below:





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