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Monday, July 8, 2002
Updated: July 17, 2:35 PM ET
Worst sports innovations

Page 2 staff

This week, Page 2 turns its attention to the worst innovations in sports.

Ken Caminiti
What have we gained from a bigger, more powerful Ken Caminiti?
Take a look at our choices, then see how our readers ranked the worst sports innovations of all time. And be sure to vote in the poll to choose the worst sports innovation of them all.

1. Performance-enhancing drugs
Steroids, human growth hormone, greenies and God-knows-what else. Have sports gotten more exciting since these products flooded the market? No. Everyone gets better at pretty much the same rate (just wait -- soon the pitchers will catch up to the hitters, and the old 20 strikeout mark will be obliterated). In the meantime, records become meaningless, and athletes get all kinds of gruesome side effects. Lyle Alzado was a harbinger. More, inevitably, will die young.

2. Artificial turf
Dick Allen said in 1970, "If a horse can't eat it, I don't want to play on it." Norman Mailer said, "The injuries are brutal and the fields stink; at the end of the game they smell of vomit and spit and blood because it doesn't go into the earth. All the odors just cook there on this plastic turf." There you have it: Players hate it, fans hate it. Now that test tube strains of green blades can flourish in all kinds of climates, and real grass fields can be cultivated outdoors and slid indoors when it's time to play, it's time for the plastic stuff to go.

Astrodome
Houston's Astrodome can be blamed for No. 2 and No. 7.
3. BCS
Bowl Championship Series? No. Bad College System. Bowls make big bucks, but the BCS is just a lousy idea that's eventually going to give way to college football playoffs. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Tim Tucker wrote last December, "By putting Nebraska -- last seen giving up 62 points and losing by 26 to Colorado -- in the national championship game, the BCS surrendered all credibility and exposed itself as even worse than we thought, which was plenty bad enough."

4. Aluminum bats
Politicians often do the wrong things, and sometimes say the right things. So we'll just quote from a speech given by Illinois representative Richard H. Durbin in 1989: "Designated hitters, plastic grass, uniforms that look like pajamas, chicken clowns dancing on the baselines, and of course the most heinous sacrilege, lights in Wrigley Field. Are we wiling to hear the crack of a bat replaced by the dinky ping? Are we ready to see the Louisville slugger replaced by the aluminum ping dinger? Is nothing sacred?"

5. Enormous tennis rackets, grooved golf club heads, liquid centered golf balls and titanium
Equipment on steroids. Big, titanium rackets result in 150 mph serves, which lead to lots of aces. Yippee. Big titanium clubs result in 350-yard drives, which lead, inevitably, to longer golf courses. What fun. Altogether, this new equipment has changed the whole balance of power in these sports, and have changed the meaning of records and history.

6. Contraction
Bud Selig does the math and figures that MLB lost $232 million. Forbes magazine does the math and finds that MLB racked up $75 million in profits. As Twins outfielder Denny Hocking put it, "Gee, should I believe a magazine that spends 365 days a year researching finances? Or a guy who has zero credibility?" Can one former used-car dealer from Milwaukee ruin the national pastime? Twenty-nine other owners are hoping to find out. Proof that making a bundle of money doesn't make you an economic genius.

7. Indoor football (NFL domes)
Another strategy masher, for a sport that needs to encourage more innovation, not more sameness. Last year's great Patriots-Raiders playoff game in the snow was a tantalizing glimpse of all we've lost to climate control.

8. Naming rights
We have no beef with Campbell Soup Field, the home of the Camden (N.J.) Riversharks. But think about it. Enron. PSInet. TWA. Fruit of the Loom. What do these companies have in common? They all went bankrupt. What else? They all bought stadium naming rights. Fans don't benefit, and what ballclub benefits by association with the losers of the business world?

9. Off-Track Betting
OTB seemed like a spiffy idea when it was launched in New York City on April 8, 1971 -- state-sanctioned gambling for days when a player couldn't get out to the track. But over the years, it's proved a losing proposition. OTB has ruined racing in New York and in lots of other places all over the country -- the tracks have become wastelands, with attendance falling precipitously almost everywhere. Major stakes races have disappeared, purses have dropped, fields have gotten smaller, racing has gotten worse, as the state drains much-needed money away from a dying sport without giving much back. The sport of kings is becoming largely a studio sport, with little to differentiate it from state lottery gimmicks, except it's a lot slower.

10. Olympic hockey shootout
Although numerous pundits clamored for the NHL to adopt many of the international rules showcased in Salt Lake City, there's no disputing the NHL's sudden-death, let-'em-play-until-somebody-scores overtime method is the best way to determine a winner. Penalty shots are a nice skills showcase, but it's like having a free throw or slam dunk contest to decide a winning team in basketball.

Also receiving votes:
  • The save statistic in baseball
  • NHL's glowing puck
  • Penalty kicks to decide a winner in soccer
  • Publicly funded ballparks
  • Body armor for hitters
  • Zone defenses in the NBA
  • 3-pointers
  • Personal seat licenses