Ruling of error to save no-hitters cheapens legitimate no-hitters

September 15, 1991|By Frank Dolson | Frank Dolson,Knight-Ridder News Service

A no-hit game in the major leagues used to be something special, an event to be cherished.

There's nothing quite like it in sports. Inning after inning, a pitcher shuts down the opposition. Slowly, surely, by the fifth or sixth inning, everybody in the ballpark becomes aware of that big, shining zero under the hit column. Batters come and go. Innings pass. Seventh . . . eighth . . . ninth. Excitement grows. Tension mounts. Each strike, each out, becomes a major event.

A baseball fan considers himself lucky to have witnessed a no-hitter in person. Philadelphia Phillie Terry Mulholland's gem against the San Francisco Giants last season remains seared in our memories, truly one of the great moments in 21 years of baseball at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.

That was a legitimate no-hitter. Unfortunately, not all no-hitters are legitimate. Some are downright embarrassing.

Three and a half weeks ago in Kansas City, the Royals' Bret Saberhagen was credited with a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. In that game, Dan Pasqua hit a drive to deep left that glanced off the glove of a leaping Kirk Gibson. What should have been a hit was ruled an error.

Wednesday night in Atlanta, three Braves pitchers held the San Diego Padres hitless for 8 2/3 innings. Then Darrin Jackson, who can run, hit a slow, high chopper toward short. Third baseman Terry Pendleton had the only hope, however slight, to make the play. He couldn't do it. The ruling came quickly: error, Pendleton.

"I never touched the ball," Pendleton said, "but I'll take an 'E' any day for that."

By "that," of course, he meant the no-hitter. What Gibson did in Kansas City, and Pendleton did in Atlanta have given new meaning to "taking one for the team." What those hometown scorers did was a disservice to the game and to all those pitchers who have thrown legitimate no-hitters. They cheapened what was, and should be, a monumental achievement in the sport.

It's nothing new for hometown scorers to save no-hitters. On July 20, 1970, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Bill Singer pitched a 5-0 no-hitter against the Phillies at Dodger Stadium. In that game, Don Money hit a slow roller toward third that, under ordinary circumstances, would have been scored a hit. These circumstances weren't ordinary. Singer grabbed the ball and made a desperate, wild throw. The ruling: error all the way.

And then there was Bob Forsch's 5-0 no-hit win over the Phillies on April 16, 1978. In that one, Garry Maddox hit a grounder into the hole between third and short. Ken Reitz, the St. Louis Cardinals' third baseman, lunged to his left . . . and the ball skipped past him. A single any other time, it, too, was scored an error.

Baseball puts so much stock in its statistics that recently a committee was appointed to "clean up" the record book. And yet a sport that can act so concerned over "correcting" the record book remains unconcerned over the qualifications of the people who determine the raw statistical material. "Cleaning up" the record book without "cleaning up" the scoring is an exercise in futility and foolishness.

If statistics are really the game's lifeblood, as so many claim, how can baseball continue to permit scoring by men who may or may not be qualified, may or may not be "homers" and who score by widely varying standards?

For years, it has been argued that baseball hire traveling scorers who would be trained in scoring rules and the interpretation of those rules. On Sept. 10, 1910, Sporting Life, the premier sports publication of its time, published an editorial on the subject.

"Ask any ballplayer if he favors a corps of scorers to travel around the circuit like umpires and in nine cases out of 10 he'll favor the appointment of such an organization," it began. ". . . The appointment of [such] a corps of scorers would take the problem of scoring out of the hands of everybody but a regular corps of officials . . . and obviate any kicks about partiality or anything else."

That was written 81 years ago, but the problem persists. The only difference is, with virtually all games on TV, we now can see for ourselves when an error was really a hit, a no-hitter really a one-hitter.

Baseball has never been accused of moving too quickly, but this is ridiculous.

Think how simple it would be to train a corps of scorers. Put someone in charge, give him an administrative assistant or two for each league, hire, say, 20 trained scorers who would travel a three- or four-city circuit. Perhaps it would cost $30,000 or $40,000 per team; that's not much for owners who routinely pay players millions a year for being on the disabled list.

Maybe then a sport that takes its statistics, its records and, yes, its no-hitters so seriously would make it possible for all of us once again to take them seriously, too.

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