Monday, January 17, 2011

Sailing and Baseball

There were a lot of constructive and insightful comments to my post Fairness which bemoaned the threats to the fairness of my favorite game - Laser racing - from two sources... Mommy Boats and Crap Sails.

We've explored the Mommy Boat issue (aka pesky coach boats at regattas) from many angles on this blog before, but a wise commenter named Brass came up with a new question on the topic...

Like it or not, sailing is a 'coached game'. What would you think if the Yankees decided to go into a play-off game without their coaches on the field?

Hmmm. That's a good point. What can we learn from the role of coaching in other sports? Baseball is my favorite "American" sport. Never really did get into pointy football or those tall dudes in baggy shorts running back and forth. And baseball has lots of coaches, and there are several ways in which they are involved in the game during play.

"What would you think if the Yankees decided to go into a play-off game without their coaches on the field?"

Hmmm. I guess you can take that question two ways. Firstly, what would I think if the New York Yankees played the Boston Red Sox (yes, they do make the playoffs some years) and the Red Sox had coaches on the field and the Yankees didn't?

Well, of course that would be grossly unfair. One team has coaches on the field and the other side doesn't? What sport would allow such a terribly inequitable situation?

Ummm. Sailing? Yes. That's exactly the problem I've been ranting on about here for years. Some sailors at a regatta have coaches to help them; others don't. Of course it's unfair. Can you imagine a baseball game where only one side had coaches?

Or perhaps Brass is asking a different question. "What would you think if major league baseball games were played without any coaches on the field at all?"

Great question Brass.

Let's first explore what coaches do in baseball. Each team has several coaches who work with the players in Spring training and between games on such things as fitness, conditioning, hitting, pitching, catching, fielding etc. etc. That's fine. That's equivalent to sailors working with coaches to improve their skills between regattas. I have no objection to that.

But baseball coaches also play a role during the game. Two of them, for the side at bat, are actually on the field during play. One at first base; one at third base. What do they do?

According to this site the job of a first base coach includes...
  • Whenever a player gets a hit the first base coach is the first one there to pat him on the bottom and tell him good job

  • Remind a runner how many outs the team has gotten.

Whaaaat? Pat him on the bottom? Remind him how many outs there are? Come on! Some superstar baseball jock earning $10 million a year can't perform unless some creepy old geezer pats him on the bottom every time he gets a hit? And he can't count up to three? Two actually. Geeze. Isn't this the ultimate in the pussification of a sport? Is this a role model for sailing?

The job of a third base coach is a little more complicated. Among other things he spends a lot of time patting the top of his head, and scratching his nose, and making the sign of the cross to signal to the players what the team manager wants them to do on the next play. God forbid the jocks should actually have to decided how to play themselves. This would be the equivalent in sailing of a Mommy Boat driver sitting at the windward mark and patting his head three times to mean, "The wind is dying and there's no boats close behind you, so go low on this reach." More pussification.

Is this what we want for our sport?

So yes Brass, I think baseball would be more fun if the coaches weren't on the field. And so would sailing.


B.J. Porter said...

Gotta disagree with you on the baseball analogy. You'd not have as much strategy in the game without a coach and a coach is an integral part of the team. You could designate a player-manager, like Pete Rose did for the Reds in the last few years of his career, but he WAS primarily a coach. Setting the strategy and managing it tactically - but they are an integral member of the team.

Baseball would be weakened and chaotic without coaches & managers - someone on the team would have to fill that role anyway. In baseball you have plays that need to be coordinated for several players and called at the appropriate times. You can't call a hit and run or a suicide squeeze on your own too easily.

I think on the water coaches are more like swim coaches, or skating coaches. They can watch the matches and offer suggestions, compare notes on the competition, and make sure the athlete is hydrated and nourished and in peak shape during the meet. But unlike baseball the coach doesn't get involved in the execution of the actual competition.

And yes - a coach on site at a swim meet versus none I think would make a huge difference for kids. Less so for adults.

Tillerman said...

Can I take my tongue out of my cheek now?

Brass said...

Dunno about the wisdom T'man.

I've gotta come clean: I knew Sailing wasn't a 'coached game' like baseball about two nanoseconds after I wrote that para, but I so desparately wanted to provoke you into committing to a decision about baseball that I left it in there.

Of course sailing isn't a game where coaches direct 'on-field plays'. Rule 41 expressly forbids that from the moment the Prep signal flies until boats have finished. But, just like field sports, soccer, field hockey and a host of other games, sailing permits coaches to 'hang over the fence' and advise their charges during breaks in play (and bring along the warm jumpers, 'hydration' and Uncrustables).

Obviouisly a competitor who doesn't have a coach/support boat with these things available is at a disadvantage compared to one who has.

Sure a kid with wealthy parents who can afford coaching can gain an advantage over a kid without any coaching, that the wealthy kid has done nothing to deserve. But what about a non-wealthy kid who gets extra work, and scrimps and saves to pay for a coach to help him or her live the sailing dream. How is 'buying' a coach any different from buying a set of super foils, or a stiff new hull, or a top section of a brand that isn't known to break?

My question is: is it a big enough disadvantage, and enough of an unfair disadvantage, compared to all the other advantages and disadvantages that go to make up the 'rich tapestry' called sailboat racing, so that we need to go trying to invent very difficult to enforce rules to outlaw or restrict it?

Tillerman said...

That's the heart of the matter Brass. And I think in Laser sailing it is a big deal.

In Laser sailing you can't buy a set of "super foils"; you can only buy the standard foils from the same factory as everybody else.

In Laser sailing you can't buy a "top section of a brand that isn't known to break"; you can only buy the standard top section from the same factory as everybody else.

For 40 years the class has worked hard to make the game of Laser racing as fair as possible. I see no reason why we shouldn't continue to do so, especially in the two areas I highlighted in my Fairness post.

And remember I'm against Mommy Boats not only because of the fairness issue. I've written about several other reasons in the past, including the reason that it leads to the pussification of our sport. (I love that word. Thank you Scuttlebutt.)

Baydog said...

Or as Ed Rendell said, the "Wussification". The Chinese coaches would be swimming around the perimeter of the racecourse, doing calculus all the while.

Anonymous said...

What about an alternative - You are allowed your precious Mommy boat to carry your packed lunch and tell you which way to sail


The rules state that Mommy boats are not allowed within 20 feet of any competitor.

That way they would have to relay advice by shouting or by using a megaphone. Then everyone in earshot can make use of the information! It would re-level the playing fiend and also make the act of transferring lunch a much more fun activity.

Pandabonium said...

Mommy boats should be limited to sign language.

Anonymous said...

That would give the deaf an unfair advantage.

Mojo said...

Picking up on Baydog's comment, what would Amy Chua have to say about mommy boat coaching?

(I am imagining her "respect" for the proposed rules suggested by some...)

PeconicPuffin said...

I like how it's done in tennis matches, where the coaches can not so much as give a hand signal. They just watch.

Lindy said...

I'm of the opinion that sailing is an individual sport, not a team sport. Coaches are needed for team sports. Trainers are needed for individual sports. To call a trainer a coach is not accurate.

Mommy boats are just that. When I was a younger man I raced motocross, and for a short time professionally. The racers that showed up in the brand new motor home with the brand new enclosed, air-conditioned trailer, the brand new bike and all new gear were generally blown into the weeds by the likes of me. We showed up with the bike in a set of bumper racks on the back of a '72 Buick LeSabre. It was cool trying to figure out where to put the trophy...

I've posted here before about attitude in young sailors and providing them with nothing but the best, including mommy boats, creates bad ones.

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