Baseball On My Brain

More thoughts on instant replay – is this my generation’s challenge?
August 30, 2008, 3:33 pm
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I don’t mean to make more of this than it is, but I was sitting here on Labor Day weekend, enjoying a nice weekend away from the city, while I was reading (and reviewing) Peter Morris’ But Didn’t We Have Fun?

The book chronicles baseball’s early years, from 1843-1870. Baseball went through tremendous change during those years, no different than an infant maturing into a toddler, child, and adolescent.

As professionalism entered the fray, sentiments toward the game changed, and even though the subject matter dealt with a time period over 130 years ago, the struggles of keeping true to baseball’s traditions versus embracing change are readily evident.

It got me to wondering – does every generation have to embrace some kind of change about the game? I was trying to think back over the timeline of baseball…the DH and free agency were the issues of the day in the early to mid 1970s – I’m sure some folks saw those as the end of the integrity of the game — would salaires ruin the financial structure? Or would pitchers not having to hit in one league signal that baseball has become a new game which had abandoned its roots in favor of increased offensive production, and thus more fans and more revenue?

Before that, you had the integration of baseball – Jackie Robinson playing his first game in 1947 meant that fans would have to embrace different colors on the baseball field for the first time. Would African-Americans ruin the game? I’m sure there were those that thought they would; as we have come to see they have made the game better by bringing everyone to the diamond and allowing those who are the most capable access to the game, whereas their skin tone would have excluded them prior.

One of my uncles – who is a much more casual fan of the game than I but nevertheless very insightful and observant, asked me if I thought that the records of pre-integration were as valid as the general populace makes them. I responded that no record is as valid as we make it — the doors to MLB are not wide open, despite having players from countries around the world in the current game. There are still more who have unrecognized talent that could come to the grand game.

Before integration, fans struggled with gambling in baseball — the Black Sox scandal being the issue that brought about much change and took baseball to the depths that it took Babe Ruth to bring it back from.

But back to instant replay — it should be no secret that I despise the idea. In fact, I’m thinking of writing a letter to Commissioner Bud Selig expressing my disgust. Nevertheless – as I step back and look at this without my own feelings involved, it got me to wondering – is this my generation’s challenge? Will this be the next significant chapter in baseball where one era ends and another begins?

If it is, as much as I don’t like it, I am somewhat excited to be a part of it. The idea is intriguing and engaging – and as I mentioned in an earlier post, it will be a interesting day when I get to tell future generations about baseball when umpires made the call without the help of a camera and video machine, and if they were wrong, they were wrong and it was right.


Today marks the end of an era
August 27, 2008, 4:18 pm
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Today, Wednesday, August 27, 2008, is the end of an era.

Hopefully you got the chance to attend a ballgame today, because it will be the last one of its kind for the foreseeable – and as of tomorrow – reviewable future.

Baseball loses some its history and in my opinion, some of its charm when instant replay goes into effect. Boundary calls will suddenly be subject to review by camera and videotape, and human calls can be overturned by the power of the camera.

What bothers me about this is that we have diminished the value of human judgment. We tell ourselves that we are moving closer to perfection by using tools to definitively tell what happened. We think it makes us and the game better; to me, it makes us worse.

We haven’t sharpened the ability of the decision makers, we have reminded ourselves that human ability isn’t and most likely can never be as sharp as our own inventions. We have created tools that when operated correctly by humans, replace the human ability to make the correct call.

Baseball has always been about showcasing human ability: the pitcher’s ability to strike out the hitter, and the hitter’s ability to take a round bat and hit a round ball squarely, all while that pitch is being thrown at a myriad of speeds, directions, and flight paths.

Umpires are no different – they are expected to see those pitches moving through time and space, and those balls sailing away from them, over awkward fences in a multitude of colors and into a sea of people and see exactly what happens. For the most part, they get the call right. Unfortunately, sometimes they miss the call.

We want to make the game of baseball fair and accurate – a noble goal. We want every call to be right and every game to finish wrinkle free. But baseball is no different than the rest of life – sometimes the cop pulls over the wrong car and someone gets a ticket that didn’t deserve it.

It’s stinks, and in microanalysis, it is a travesty. But averaged over the course of a season – or a lifetime – things generally even out. Unfortunately, with the millions of dollars that can come from an appearance in the postseason, those day-to-day events become life changers.

Today, part of baseball history dies, and I mourn it. It will be interesting telling future generations about the days when there were no umpires, no cameras, no tape machines and no phone calls to an office in New York City. It will be a conversation filled with longing when I tell them that we used to rely exclusively on the ability of our fellow human beings, and to me, it was better that way.

Do me a favor and pick up the 8/26 Seattle PI
August 26, 2008, 10:40 am
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Why? Because my letter to the editor got published today.

Check it out.

Have you ever noticed…
August 25, 2008, 2:25 pm
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…we refer to the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, but not the MLB?

Just crossed my mind.

The tug
August 21, 2008, 7:50 pm
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Catching up on my magazines today and was reading the 8/18/08 issue of the Sporting News, in which there is a good discussion about the forthcoming implementation of instant replay in Major League Baseball.

Players, managers and executives were polled, and when the question of “Is making the correct call the most important thing?” was posed to Dodgers’ VP Charles Steinberg, he replied as such:

“Preserving the integrity of the game is the most important thing. The game, in its perfection, includes errors. The inhuman elements of baseball are perfect. Natural grass, real dirt, naturally occuring limestone, wood bats, yarn-and-hide balls, mud from the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. It’s the human element – always imperfect yet always striving for perfection, albeit futilely, that is its tug.”

My Lord! Those might just be the most beautiful words I’ve had the pleasure of reading this season.

I’ll tell you why I go
August 21, 2008, 6:28 pm
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Seattle PI reporter David Andriesen wondered why Mariners fans still go to ballgames, depsite the team’s horrible record.

I just sent the following response to the PI’s letters to the editor section:

David Andriesen wonders why fans still go to Mariners games (M’s fans still true despite season, August 21, 2008).

I go because baseball is still the best game around. Every game, anything can happen – someone could throw a no-hitter, or hit four home runs in a game. Or it could go 20 innings, I could catch a foul ball or get an autograph from my favorite player.

I could see a kid hit his first homerun – and maybe that kid goes on to become a Hall of Famer. Or I could see a great player in his last season before he walks off the field for the final time.

Or I could just sit in the fresh air of the northwest and watch tremendous athletes carry on a tradition that has been part of our country – and now our world – all while enjoying the company of friends, family, and thousands of other like-minded folks.

I go because baseball is the game of endless possibility, and it reminds me that life is the same way: every day is a new day, every game is a new game, and something tremendous could happen in either one. And no matter what – both are only as fun as you make them.

I’ll let you know if it gets published. In the meantime, share your thoughts about why you go to games – especially if you go to a team that’s not doing so well.

When a bad baseball season (or two) consumes you

This might possibly be my worst year in or around baseball. Which I really can’t complain about, because heck – it’s baseball. It beats a lot of things I could be doing with my time, so I don’t expect a big collective boo-hoo.

But between my own baseball team, currently 2-15 and on a 3-game streak of giving up 20 or more runs in a game, and the Mariners, 46-80 and on a 6 game losing streak, I haven’t had much to get excited about when it comes to performance.

In some ways, all I can say is “Thank God for the Washington Nationals,” because at least they are worse than we are. But all that means at the end of the day is that they’ll end up with the top draft pick in the 2009 draft, which really doesn’t help our situation. Being mediocre is the worst thing you can be; but being the second-worst team in baseball is, well, a pretty close second.

Unfortunately, my adult league team is the equivalent of the Washington Nationals. Not much to rejoice about there.

Identifying with a team’s successes and failures is one of the most unique aspects of sports – especially in that you don’t see it nearly as prevalently with other things. How many times do you see people feeling down because their symphony orchestra is having a bad season?

There’s an insight I’m trying to get to – but it’s kind of hard to explain, much like the seasons of these two teams. But both of them have taken their toll on me – and at times I really wonder why, while at other times I seem to know exactly why.

We get emotionally involved – and emotions can be tiring. Baseball, for as much as some people don’t want it to be, is emotional – at least to me it is. You don’t want it to run your life, but in some ways, if you get too involved, it does.

To call upon Jim Bouton, baseball’s got me in its hand, and it’s squeezing pretty tight right now.

Onto other things though…

A couple articles caught my eye recently — this one from the NY Times about the founder of Little League and their guidelines about paying to play, and this piece, also from the NY Times, that captures the vibe of an old-time autograph collector.

Also – if you get a chance to pick up the August 25, 2008 issue of ESPN The Magazine, read Buster Olney’s article about “hired guns.” Within that article in a bottom sidebar is an intersting look at the behind-the-scenes process of getting Manny Ramirez to L.A. and the Dodgers.

Speaking of that issue – it was also their college football preview issue. Maybe I’m being a bit oversensitive, but to only see one serious baseball article in the issue as we traverse through August and into the final five to six weeks of the season is a bummer. I get that a lot of people are into college football, but to think that baseball is almost non-existent at this time of year is disappointing. Maybe I should write to them and request more baseball coverage. I’ll think about it and let you know what I decide to do.