Tuesday, June 22, 2010

SPORTS>>Nuisances horning in on Majors, World Cup

By Todd Traub
Leader sports editor

I would be remiss as a sports editor if I did not sooner or later mention one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

The World Cup.

There, it’s mentioned. Can we get back to baseball now?

Okay, I admit to not being a big follower of soccer, but there is something about international competition that appeals to my patriotism, so I turned on the second half of the United States’ World Cup match against England televised from South Africa.

It was already tied 1-1 and almost immediately the English sportscaster dared to say England indisputably had the superior players. That got my red, white and blue blood boiling, and I began talking back to the TV from the back of my bandwagon.

“I thought you didn’t care about soccer,” my son said from behind his computer.

“I want to beat THESE guys,” I said, jabbing my finger at England.

Then I noticed this horrible buzzing sound coming from — but not caused by — my TV, and that was my introduction to the vuvuzela, South Africa’s soccer noisemaker of choice.

There is a heated, ongoing debate in this country over soccer and its entertainment value.

On the one hand, it is an internationally popular sport played with skill and endurance and full of close outcomes. On the other hand, soccer allows games to end in ties, and now it has the vuvuzela, a cheap plastic horn rooted in South African tradition
that debuted as a stadium noisemaker in 1992.

Think cicadas on too much coffee and you come close to understanding the annoyance factor of these things.

You want me to sit through a 90-minute scoreless tie? You gotta get rid of the vuvuzela, dog.

Even soccer players don’t like these things. Even South Africans don’t like these things.

I found an article about the vuvuzela, titled “Satan’s Instrument,” with the following quote from South African writer Jon Qwelane: “Nowadays, there is an instrument from hell, called the vuvuzela, which has largely formed my decision to abandon all live games and rather watch on TV, with the sound totally muted.”

The Florida Marlins should have read that article before they handed out vuvuzelas to fans for Saturday’s baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Many players complained about the constant buzzing, some wore earplugs and two older fans had to change seats because of the noise.

“That was the worst handout or giveaway I’ve ever been a part of in baseball,” Rays second baseman Dan Uggla said.

“They’re annoying,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “There’s cool things and there’s very non-cool things. That’s a non-cool thing.”

The vuvuzelas were even blamed for a lineup card mishap that might have cost the Marlins a chance to win.

With the scored tied 5-5 in the fifth, the Marlins’ Brian Barden drew a leadoff walk but home plate umpire Lance Barksdale called him out for batting out of order. Barksdale’s lineup card showed Wes Helms hitting in Barden’s spot, but Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was ejected from the game, said he had explained the switch to Barksdale.

Crew chief Tom Hallion wouldn’t rule out noise from the vuvuzelas as a cause of the confusion.

“It was the most uncomfortable baseball game I’ve been a part of in a long time because of that,” Hallion said. “Whether that had anything to do with it, I don’t know but it could have.”

Maybe the vuvuzelas were responsible for soccer referee Koman Coulibaly’s blown call that cost the U.S. a victory in Friday’s match with Slovenia that ended in a 2-2 draw. The U.S. was bidding to become the first team in World Cup history to rally from a 2-0 deficit and win, and appeared to have done just that when Landon Donovan scored on a free kick, only to have the goal erased when Coulibaly said he was offsides.

So it seems soccer is plagued by bad calls as much as baseball, which is still getting over Jim Joyce’s inexplicable safe call that cost Detroit’s Armando Galarraga a perfect game earlier this month.

And it seems baseball, for better or for much, much worse, now has the vuvuzela.

The difference?

The two U.S. soccer matches I’ve paid any attention to so far both ended in ties while the Rays won 9-8 in 11 innings.

If I have to endure bad officiating and bad noisemakers, at least give me a game where someone wins in the end.