Saturday, May 7, 2011

No-no kidding

The strangest thing about Justin Verlander's no-hitter today is the fact that I was not at work.

That might not mean anything to you, but it will definitely be the topic of discussion when I return to work next week.

Here's why.

The no-hitter is a unique moment not only in baseball, but also among newspaper sports editors. So many of the events that happen in the sporting world are scheduled -- games, press conferences, award announcements, etc. You know they are coming, so you can prepare. Even events they are "surprises" -- firings, hirings, trades -- usually happen early in the day, so you have plenty of time to adjust before producing a sports section.

Except for the rare tragic event (usually involving an NFL player), the only regularly occurring "sudden events" in sports are the death of a famous athlete and the no-hitter. Someone may score 65 points in an NBA game, but that's not a regular event. A no-hitter happens semi-regularly.

The sports scenario is in direct contrast to the news department, where they're dealing with breaking news all the time. They have deaths of famous people, too. But they also have tsunamis, political coups, tornadoes, and the killing of terrorists.

So, us sports guys cling to the no-hitter as our one guaranteed moment to deal with the unexpected.

Because of this, the no-hitter is always a big deal in the sports department and is always featured prominently on the cover of the sports section. If a no-hitter occurs, the sports editor often must redesign the section, because quite often the no-hitter isn't final until around 10 p.m. EST, and a plan for the cover should be in place by then.

That means there is a love-hate relationship with the no-hitter. We love the no-hitter because designing a cover around a big event is fun, and during the summer months -- when there is very little going on in sports besides baseball -- it gives us something, anything to put on the cover. We hate the no-hitter because it's a lot of work, especially if it happens late at night, on the west coast. That is no fun at all.

So, between April and October, the no-hitter is always in the back of the editor's head. It COULD happen. Every night you think that.

But now I don't think that at all.

That's because for the last five no-hitters, I have been off or on vacation. Roy Halladay's postseason no-hitter? Off. Edwin Jackson's walk-fest no-hitter? On vacation. Verlander's no-hitter today? On vacation, too.

Even for the two recent no-hitters that I have worked -- Halladay's first no-hitter last May and Ubaldo Jimenez's no-hitter in April of 2010 -- I did not design the cover, because both happened on a Saturday, and I was working on the inside pages those days.

That means that the last no-hitter that I dealt with as far as producing the cover of the sports section was on July 23, 2009. That was Mark Buehrle's perfect game, and that was a day game, which means by the time I was at work, it was known to everyone and not problem at all.

Nine no-hitters have gone by since the last time I had to sweat one out. (Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter in July of 2009 was a huge pain in the ass because it happened on a Friday night on the west coast). And that doesn't even include Armando Galarraga's no-hitter-that-should-have-been last year. I was off on that day, too.

This is all common knowledge at work. Everyone knows that if I'm off, the odds of a no-hitter are much greater.

In fact, right before I left for vacation, my fellow editor said to me, "well, there's going to be a no-hitter next week."

He said it as if it he just said "It's 9 o'clock." He knew for a fact there would be one.

And there was. And then another one. (And the two near no-nos on Friday night).

So, if you want a pitcher on your team to throw a no-hitter, you know what to do.

Find a way to get me the day off.

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