Sunday, May 24, 2015

Nor Free Lunch

Basketball has this thing: free throws. When a player is fouled or, for those who are less familiar with the game, mugged on the way to making a basket, he or she gets a chance to toss the ball through the hoop without being interfered with in any way. Unless you count those panting, sweaty folks lined up on either side while the attempt is made or the thousands of screaming fans urging you to "miss" or take up some other line of work, like masonry. It should be noted that the fifteen feet from the free throw line to the basket has remained constant for the time since the game was invented. The addition of a three-point line didn't change things, since each free throw is only one point. Because they are a gift, after all. An award. Sorry about that, we're going to give you a chance to make good on that attempt you were making when that rather rough looking fellow from the other team hopped on your back and started pounding on your forehead. That would make it hard to get the ball through the hoop from any distance. Here's a free throw.
In baseball, if a batter makes the mistake of standing in front of a ninety mile an hour fastball, he or she can be awarded a free base. That player is given a "walk" to first base. This is not a point, but if enough of these are strung together, they can turn into points, or "runs" even though the players who receive them tend not to break out past a brisk trot on their way down the base line. That is, if they are able to make the trip at all, depending on how and where the ball made its impact. It's a gift of ninety feet, like it has been for more than a hundred years. Way back in the late 1800's, Hughie Jennings made a career out of those free passes: Two hundred eighty-seven HBP. It took nearly a hundred years for anybody to get close to that, when Craig Biggio leaned in for two hundred eighty-five. Over time, was it worth it? In his last season, some in the baseball community ridiculed Biggio for not going for the record. Not exactly the type of thing they make movies about.
In the upcoming NFL season, what was the equivalent of the free pass and free throw will be made less of a gimme and more of a gotcha. The extra point will be kicked from the relatively safe distance of fifteen yards away. Safe, but not exactly sure, since the ball used to be placed on the two yard line. There were still extra points missed back in those days, way back last year. But not very often. That's why the brain trust that is the front office of the National Football League decided that there should be no easy play. Suddenly that chip shot that hovered at the ninety-nine percent will be moved back to something more like ninety percent. The reasoning behind this measure is to try and convince more teams to try the riskier two-point conversion which will still be placed at the two yard line. In which case everyone in the stadium including the opposing defense will know what is about to happen. More competitive? Maybe. More fascist? Almost certainly.

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