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How to Win

Deliberately Losing

With all the talk of NFL teams resting their stars to keep them from injury entering the playoffs, critics have raised the issue of integrity.

What happened in the NFL the last two weeks is nothing compared to a controversy during the 1981 baseball season. Two big-league managers — Tony LaRussa and Whitey Herzog — said they would deliberately lose games if that’s what it took to get into the playoffs.

The reasoning? People won’t judge your season on how many games you win. They’ll judge you on whether or not you reach the playoffs.

This unusual baseball situation arose because of a lengthy players’ strike that caused about one-third of the 1981 season to be lost. When the dispute was finally solved, the game’s executives decided that instead of resuming the season, they would award division titles for each half of the season.

To baseball’s great embarrassment, this led to scenarios in which a team could actually benefit from losing games.

As things turned out, LaRussa’s team, the Chicago White Sox, didn’t make the playoffs. Neither did Herzog’s St. Louis Cardinals, even though they had the best record in their division that season. Nevertheless, no one was shy about saying they would do whatever it took to make the playoffs.

So the idea of manipulating one game in pursuit of a longer-range goal is hardly new. No one has suggested that any football team dumped a game; they merely protected their best players. Now those teams hope those players do their part and show why they’re considered the best.


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