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Clap Clap ClapClapClap / For the Love of God: Penalties for Blown Guarantees in Pro Sports

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 13, 2008

One more promise I couldn’t keep

When Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins won the National League MVP last year, there was outcry from certain corners that his award was undeserved. And sure enough, if you compare his stat line to other high finishers in the voting, such as Colorado’s Matt Holliday, Florida’s Hanley Ramirez, and perhaps most comparably, the Mets’ David Wright, Rollins mostly pales in comparison. He did have a couple things over those guys–more games played, better sunglasses, and a much cooler superstar name, for instance (though Holliday’s name might be even starrier, somehow). But really, if you’re gonna pinpoint the main reason J-Roll took home top honors, it’d be this: He made a bold prediction, and it came true.

“The Mets had a chance to win the World Series last year. Last year is over. I think we are the team to beat in the NL East, finally.” Though Jimmy had to have been sweating this one a little bit in say, late August, come the end of September, the Phils had battled back in the NL East, and assisted by the Mets undergoing one of the greatest late-season meltdowns in sports history, he was proven right–thanks in no small part to his 30+ homers, 40+ swipes, 200+ hits and 0 games missed. Now, up until recently, I had mostly concurred with the haters that the award was underserved. But thanks to certain athletes whose similarly ambitious promises went unrealized, I’m starting to think that maybe rewarding Rollins for actually being right with his wasn’t such a bad idea.

Jameer Nelson, former St. Joe’s superstar and current starting point guard for the Orlando Magic, recently attempted Rollins-like prognostocation when asked about the then-upcoming Game 5 between his team and the Detroit Pistons. “We’re going to make some adjustments and we’re going to win this game,” said Nelson. “I’m not being arrogant or cocky or anything like that. I think [Saturday] we let it slip out of our hands. Game 2 we let it slip out of our hands. We’re going to win this game in Detroit.” Fair enough, but perhaps Jameer should’ve considered the facts a little more–namely, that his Magic were by nearly all accounts a far inferior team to the Pistons, who were up 3-1 in the series, had appeared in the last five Eastern Conference Finals, were returning home to the Palace in Auburn Hills for Game 5, and in all possibility might’ve been re-starting their temporarily injured point guard and team leader, who they’d still managed to win without in Game 4 in Orlando.

However, no matter–were Nelson to be proven right, all this would matter little, and he no doubt would’ve been showered with accolades for his self-fulfilling prophecy. Somewhat needless to say, though, this was not the case, as the Pistons squeaked out a 91-86 win over the Magic in Game 5, eliminating Orlando and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals yet once more. Now, Jameer’s performance itself could not likely be blamed for this outcome–Nelson had 14 points on 6-7 shooting, four assists and only two turnovers, by no means a game-making performance, but roughly par for the course for Nelson. But it goes both ways–Rollins won an MVP regardless of the fact that his numbers weren’t really there, and Nelson will take the heat for the Orlando loss regardless of the fact that his numbers may well have been.

Or will he? Sure, there’s going to be a lot of mockery to be had, especially eminating from the more northern sections of America, and Nelson will no doubt have to hold his head high in a lot of dispiritng post-game interviews on the subject. But is anyone really going to take Jameer Nelson to task for not coming through on his guarantee? Is coach Stan Van Gundy going to take Nelson into his office tomorrow morning and say “I’m just not sure if I can trust you as my starting PG if you can’t even keep your word on the outcome a single game”? Is commish David Stern going to issue a 50k fine or six-game suspension to Nelson for effectively lying to the general public? Is Nelson ever going to have to issue a formal apology to the fans of Orlando, promising to keep his more flamboyant fantasies in check in future high-pressure circumstances?

Policy about this needs to be changed, and sooner rather than later. Sure, no one really thought Orlando was going to win the series, or even this game, and outside of Orlando, it’s doubtful anyone was particularly invested in it one way or the other. But what of Anthony Smith, safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who guaranteed a Week 14 win over the then-undefeated New England Patriots, only to not just lose the game, but be personally embarrassed by Tom Brady and Randy Moss in the process? Many of us, myself especially, really wanted to believe in Smith’s assurances, wanted to see someone, anyone take down Belichick’s evil empire. For him too be shown to be so cruelly misguided, despite his confidence…it just didn’t seem fair.

So what should the penalty be for such a breach of trust? I think a fine should be automatic–let’s say 20k for first-time offenders, then 50k, 100k and so on for repeated felons. Then, depending on the severity of the discrepancy between guaranteed outcome and actual outcome, and the amount of assuredness you displayed in the guarantee, you might need to work in a one or multiple-game suspension as well. And if your performance is one of the direct reasons for said discrepancy, as with our Mr. Smith, there should be a mandatory penalty of filming a PSA, warning your fellow athletes about the dangers of excessive, illogical hubris. (For basketball, this sort of commercial wouldn’t even seem particularly out of place–“The NBA: Where Accountability Happens”).

You listening, Carlos Beltran? Well, in four months, you might not have a choice.

2 Responses to “Clap Clap ClapClapClap / For the Love of God: Penalties for Blown Guarantees in Pro Sports”

  1. Victor said

    Under the law of contracts; If I financially relied on Jameer Nelson’s promise, by say, printing a whole bunch of Magic game 5 champions T-Shirts to sell, I could sue him for damages.

    Of course that’s assuming if that promise was directly to me.

  2. […] However, with all this statistical analysis comes an accountability the likes of which most sports prognosticators will never quite be held to. The criticism of Baseball Prospectus, and often of Sabremetrics in general, is that it attempts to reduce baseball to a statistical science, when professional baseball is far too human a system to be treated or analyzed so clinically. So to counter this argument, the Prospectus pretty much has to be right, if not 100% of the time, at least with a healthy majority of its predictions–since if not even the think tank of baseball geeks behind this tome can accurately predict baseball, clearly the doubters are right. And indeed, the book’s back cover brags about a number of predictions it got correct in the 2007 edition, including the ascendance of Fausto Carmona into the SP elite, the breakout rookie seasons of Troy Tulowitzki and Tim Lincecum, and even the Phillies’ NL East title, which they must’ve been sweating down the stretch almost as much as Jimmy Rollins. […]

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