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VOL. 39 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 13, 2015

Stealing second base beats cheating for trophy

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On the golf course, a 20-foot putt rolls on a green, slows down, collides with the right half of the hole, spins 360 degrees along the rim and winds up hanging on the front edge of its destination. “Call nine-one-one!” a player says. “You were robbed!”

In the pharmacy I frequent sits an array of locally-made signs. A prominent one, legible from the sidewalk, reads, “He stole her heart, so she stole his name.”

An action-adventure video game series called “Grand Theft Auto” was introduced in 1997. Since then, it has released a total of 15 titles and sold 150 million units. Another, called simply “Thief,” has been around since the late 1990s and is still going strong.

Rob. Steal. Thieve. They mean the same thing: to take unlawfully. So, what’s up with this concept that it’s so popular in our cultural lexicon?

We steal kisses, bases, glances, scenes, shows, the spotlight and other people’s thunder – all without real consequence. (Okay, stealing a kiss may literally be assault and/or battery, but truth is this phrase derives from circumstances that were non-actionable.)

The phrase steal one’s thunder seems to go back to a playwright by the name of John Dennis (1658-1734). Dennis, it is said, “invented” a new way to create the sound of thunder in stage plays – something about metal balls in wooden bowls.

The play in which he first used this technique was a failure, but later drama producers ... stole his thunder!

Baseball should be ashamed. The entire concept of stealing a base on the diamond mocks the administration of justice. Stealing is encouraged, and there’s an acceptable manner of beating the rap – uh, the throw.

I hereby call upon Major League Baseball to change the terminology. Rather than saying a base is stolen, can’t you say that it was bought on sale? Or something a little more lawful sounding?

Is it any wonder that, at the top level, some MLB players use performance-enhancing drugs to take more than they are due in terms of statistics, records, exorbitant salaries, and glory? And that, at the lowest level, some teams recruit with one goal and one goal only: winning?

Little League, with capital ells, recently stripped the 2014 U.S. championship from a team because, in essence, they stole the title. Call it what you will, but the evidence indicated that adult insiders somehow gerrymandered boundary lines so that all the best players lived in their district.

And this Little League thing has happened before. At least two other times in history, titles or victories have been forfeited after the fact because of players living outside the drawn boundary lines or being overage.

As for the stories, books, TV shows and movies that have aggrandized characters whose primary achievements in life consist of being able to take money or objects that do not belong to them ... don’t get me started.

NOTE: The I Swear Crossword is now available by email subscription at www.iswearxword.com for a price of, well, let’s just say it’s a steal. Check it out and remember the words of Will Shortz: “Solving a crossword is the mental equivalent of going to the gym and working out on all the machines.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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