Thursday, August 21, 2008

To Err is Human; To Replay is Divine?

I’ve introduced you to some new catchphrases that are, I hope, by now, among your favorites. “You suck Coco Crisp.” Obviously. “That guy’s got hands like tits.” Another instant classic. However, fun as it is to say these things, they should not detract from the pleasure we still derive from saying those things we’ve been saying for as long as we can remember. I think we all know what I’m talking about. For one, we have “What are you, blind, ump?” There’s also the ever-popular, “You call that a strike?” Insulting the umpire is a time-honored tradition. One we value as much as that coveted toy inside the Cracker Jack box. You know, back when the thing they called a toy was actually a toy and not a sticker. (On behalf of baseball fans everywhere, I would just like to say to the people at Frito Lay that I’m insulted that you thought we wouldn’t notice.) So, here’s the question: What becomes of this tradition with the integration of instant replay into baseball? Moreover, where do we draw the line?

I’m going to do a little deduction here for a moment—Tim McCarver style. There’s no such thing as a perfect person. Umpires are people. Therefore, I deduce that there’s no such thing as a perfect umpire. They make mistakes. That’s how insulting them came to be a part of the baseball tradition. Sometimes their mistakes come to nothing—they just give us a fun excuse to yell at someone we aren’t related or married to. Sometimes, their mistakes determine games.

As one of my readers pointed out to me, by definition, every time the validity of a home run is in question, the validity of a run is in question. No, my reader was not Tim McCarver, and he actually had a point. His point was that, by allowing instant replay for home runs, the Commissioner’s Office is honing in on only the calls that will almost always be of import—the calls that determine whether or not at least one run will score. Moreover, how often does someone really hit a home run? In every game there is a strike or a tag to contest. However, the home run instant replay is something that will be used in a limited capacity by sheer virtue of the frequency of the occurrence. Therefore, he argues, it is a reasonable way to implement the use of instant replay without going overboard. Seems fair enough. And, yet, because I’m an anxious person, I can’t help but ask again: Where do we draw the line?

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t mind the element of human error in baseball. Why? Well, for one, it’s always been there. It’s simply one of many factors that a player has to deal with—like, say, the wind, or Kevin Youkilis’s facial hair, or a swarm of bugs that descend upon the mound in the eighth inning of game two of the Division Series and begin the ruin of your entire October. Did Joba get a do-over because of the bugs? Not that I recall. And I actually remember that night with crystal clarity. Was it fair that that happened? Nope, pretty sure it wasn’t. Would it have been less fair if he had gotten a bad call on a strike? I don’t think so. There are certain things that you just have to consider part of the game. You’re going to get some bad calls. In all likelihood, you’re also going to get some inaccurate calls that work to your advantage.

They used to refer to my grandfather as five-strike Greenberg because the umps supposedly gave him more breaks than most. On the flip side, in 1938, certain pitchers supposedly wouldn't give him anything to hit because they would be damned if some Jewish kid was going to be the one to break Babe Ruth's home run record. What do I think? I think, anti-Semitism aside, it’s all part of the game. I also think that, in the end, it all evens out. But, then again, what do I know? I’m just the jerk who doesn’t like being shot at with a t-shirt gun.

I’m of two minds about home run instant replays. On the one hand, I get that it’s unfair that someone scores or misses a run because some ump was too blind to call it right. On the other hand, I do think that it’s critical that you draw the line. My fear is that, in allowing the instant replay for home runs, the Commissioner’s Office is opening up a nasty, old can of worms. I simply will not be persuaded that every disputed call warrants the use of the instant replay. If we let that happen, what happens to the umps? Moreover, what becomes of the tradition of insulting the umps?

This brings us back to Tim McCarver’s point. (Or the one I made for him.) Umps aren’t perfect. Their imperfections are just another challenge inherent in the game. Just because we have the capacity to make perfect calls all the time, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should. At least, not until someone makes Kevin Youkilis shave his facial hair.

Speaking of abominations, in response to what I wrote about Mr. Met, my reader Koala has challenged me to say a little something about Warriors mascot Thunder. A difficult feat because, truly, there are no words. But I’ll do my best. The first and most obvious thing I can say about Thunder is that he is named after a sound. Mascots, to be redundant, shouldn’t exist, but they most certainly should never, under any circumstances, be modeled after sounds. Would you ever name a mascot Kablam? No, because sounds are impossible to physically replicate. This brings us to our next point. Thunder is called Thunder and, yet, he has what appears to be a lightning bolt coming out of his head. Lightning is different than thunder. I understand that it was hard to come up with an appropriate costume for Thunder because thunder doesn’t look like anything. That, however, is your fault for picking a mascot that is a sound. It is no excuse for confusing young children who are probably in school learning about the difference between thunder and lighting. Learning that one is a sound and the other is an atmospheric discharge of electricity. If you wanted to cover your mascot in lightning bolts, you should have called him Lightning. Though, truth be told, I would have had a problem with that, too. Finally, it is my understanding that Thunder knows how to break dance. If this is true, then all I have to say is have some dignity, man. Nothing against mascots, but no self-respecting break dancer is a mascot.

Oh, and nothing against Sir Sidney, but watching you pitch is making me cry.


edmond said...

Instant replay in baseball? I'm moving to the woods. What next? Timed innings?

Anonymous said...

Stevie G said: One of my favorite stories about an umpire's controversial call is the one about the Mets' Cleon Jones being hit on the foot by a pitch during a crucial moment in the 1969 World Series. Here's how Mets' pitcher Jerry Koosman recalled it years later:

(In the 6th inning of Game #5 with the Orioles leading 3-0, umpires awarded Cleon Jones first base saying he was hit on the foot by a pitch. Donn Clendenon then homered bringing the Mets back to 3-2 in a game they’d go on to win 5-3, with Koosman pitching, winning the series.)

JK: "That baseball never hit Jones. The pitch bounced in the dirt and rolled into our dugout. Immediately (Mets' manager) Gil Hodges told me to pick up the ball and rub it on my shoe. I did and put a black shoe polish mark on it. Hodges in a split second grabbed the ball and ran out to the umpires arguing that the ball hit Jones and here was the mark to prove it. He sold the umpires on it, they gave Jones first base and that was a big play!. Some people call that cheating but that kind of stuff went on all the time in baseball."

Now imagine if they had instant replay and it showed the ball missing Jones altogether. We would never have stories like this one!