JSU over ULL? Don't call it an upset
Thursday, June 5, 2014 1:00 PM
As soon as Jackson State's noble baseball team defeated No. 1-ranked ULL this past weekend, the all-too-predictable U-word started popping up on newspaper websites, Twitter, Facebook and television news.
The U-word: Upset.
This upsets me.
Repeat after me: There is no such thing as an upset in baseball. There is no such thing as an upset in baseball. There is no such thing as an upset in baseball. There is no...
Jackson State defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 1-0 Friday night. The Tigers beat them, they edged them, they nipped them, they surprised them. But the Tigers did not upset the Ragin' Cajuns - not if you're using the sports form of the word "upset."
Here's the dictionary definition of that kind of upset: "to defeat or overthrow an opponent that is considered more formidable."
In baseball, that happens so often you just can't call it an upset.
Now if you're talking about the other kind of upset - "to disturb mentally or emotionally; to perturb" - then, JSU danged sure did that to the Cajuns. They perturbed them mightily. They did more than perturb them. They chapped their backsides is what they did.
But they did not upset them in that other way, the sports way.
Baseball is different. Baseball is that most capricious and whimsical of sports. Mediocre teams beat great teams often. Really bad teams beat really good teams. That's baseball.
The 1927 New York Yankees - replete with Murderer's Row - won the pennant by 19 games. But those Yankees lost 44 games. Those weren't all upsets.
Casey Stengel's amazingly awful Mets of 1962 lost 120 games in a 160-game season. They were so bad they caused Casey to mutter these immortal words: "Can't anybody here play this game?" But guess what? Those Mets won 40 games. Some of those victories were over really good ballclubs. They were not upsets. They were baseball.
Ron Polk used to hear a sportscaster call a baseball victory an upset and he'd roll his eyes. "It's that football mentality," he'd say, spitting out a piece of his chewed-up cigar with obvious disgust.
He was right. Alabama would beat Jackson State 100 out of 100 times in football. Not in baseball. The biggest, strongest, fastest, most talented team doesn't always win in baseball.
Sometimes, one pitcher, normally mediocre, has a career day, while the opposing pitcher, normally a beast, can't throw a strike. That's baseball.
Sometimes, a team hits the ball hard 25 times in 27 at bats, but every line drive finds a glove. That's baseball.
Sometimes, an outfielder loses the third out in the sun and runners, who should be headed for the dugout, head for home plate instead. That's baseball.
Sometimes an ump misses a crucial call. That's baseball.
Ground balls find holes. Bloopers fall. Line drives get caught. Tape measure shots go inches foul. Sometimes, a double play ball that would end the game hits a pebble instead. That's all baseball.
But none of it is an upset.
So what should the newspaper headline says when Jackson State, a team that had a losing record in its own conference, defeats the unanimously No. 1 ranked team in the country? My suggestion:
"JSU 1, ULL 0 - that's baseball"
But it's not an upset.
There, I feel better.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.