10.03.2008

ALDS Ump'n: C.B. Bucknor in the Hizzy, "PitchZoneTracker" Ain't





In that at bat I just watched in the 8th Inning of the Rays/Sox Game Two, there were several interesting pitches called strikes by home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor (54) during the Nick Swisher at-bat, which ended in a strike out after starting with a 3-0 count.

After 3-0, there was a nice pitch that caught the outside corner. Then a pitch (see picture) that appeared quite high for what usually passes for a MLB strike, but was called a strike. Now it's 3-2.

Bucknor is known for a generous strike zone and my personal assessment agrees with that. He tends to push the borderline pitches to strike calls. Eventually, he punched Swisher out on a pitch that looked outside, leading to a spirited debate between batter and ump.

The announcing team (which includes Harold Reynolds, thank goodness he's back) noted how a pitcher earns strike calls by hanging around the zone. The ump gets used to calling strikes and continues to do so as the game wears on and the pitches drift.

I would call attention to a few points. First, Swisher did himself no favors by taking a starting step toward first after he hit 3-0. It annoys the umpire (A) and (B) causes your strike zone to lengthen if you're being technical.

And this leads to calls like the 3-1 pitch, which was the one that seemed to be most startingly "up". In fact, it was a brilliant call by Bucknor, calling the zone Swisher offered.

As you can see, the pitch is notched as "high" by the "PitchZoneTracker" dealy, and from where Swisher was standing when the pitch was first thrown, it was right. But Swisher did something interesting as this high pitch crossed the plate...he stood up straight.

The zone is a moving target, the area from the hollow of the knee to something resembling half the distance from the belt to the shoulders...and the plate. As you can see, Swisher stands up and makes this pitch within that zone. A lot of umpires would have given up on the pitch (like Swisher) and make the "ball" call in their heads before it even hit the glove. But Bucknor took his time, watched it in and kept his bearings on the batter. Impressive.

This also leads to a criticism of the "PitchZoneTrackerStrikeZoneGraphic" deal that is gaining favor around the networks. First off, the strike zone is three dimensional, so this 2D square doesn't make much sense. Second, the strike zone is ever-changing based on the stance of the batter as he addresses the ball...but the box seems to be the same size for everyone. Not entirely useful product, but fun to look at.

7.13.2008

Taking In the Field





Anyone who doubts the magic of baseball should have been on the Dodger Stadium field last night to watch postgame fireworks. I can't remember the last time I've seen so many giddy people in one place.

Before and after the spectacular, thousands of grown men and women — including me, Hudson, Al Toby, and Adam Graham — ran around the outfield, played games of catch, took pictures, and did pushups (Adam, Mike, and Al). Everyone bent down to run their hands over the immaculately clipped grass and scoop up a bit of warning-track dirt (the sod under the grass is just soft enough for a game-saving, diving catch; the warning-track dirt is surprisingly rubbery). Al pointed out the foul lines were painted on the grass, while I couldn't help kick up the chalk on the dirt. While bending down to smell the grass (I did it at least twice), I noticed that someone had cut out a golf-ball-size trophy for himself. A kid who had succeeded at his gymnastics lessons did back flips and somersaults.

I pantomimed catching a fly ball and gunning down a runner at home. I also stretched into the stands for a pop-up and then quickly relayed the ball back to second to hold the runner. And — this is what I'm most proud of — I slid hard, leaving a grass stain that I hope never comes out of my jeans.

6.26.2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Last Place Cleveland Indians

I am one pissed-off season-ticket holder. All I can say is, "One hit? One goddamn hit?!"

These guys are flailing away like a roomful of Dave Kingmans. I can't believe that they can't score; they can't hit; they can't shoot HGH anymore ... It's despicable.

I've missed more games than I've gone to this year -- mostly because I'm traveling and planning a wedding (my own). But this team is completely uninteresting.

I went to the game where Omar Vizquel returned to Cleveland, and his first at-bat -- an at-bat for a guy hitting .171 at the time -- was the highlight. Un. friggin. believeable.

I'm beside myself. Really.

Who wants some tickets to the Prog?!?!?

6.19.2008

Dodgers draft pick probably inbred

1. He's from Georgia.
2. Members of his family think they can get away with this.
3. I am pretty sure instant replay will be necessary. Here you go:

6.11.2008

Who in the hell is Jeff Larish ?

6.03.2008

To me, they will always be DEVIL RAYS


I hope they win it all. Best team in the AL. Believe It !

5.28.2008

Ump'n Around: Now THIS is an Official Gaffe


You owe me a cold one, Mr. Joyce.


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- In the two-man umpiring system...the one you see in most minor-league and high school games...it often feels like baseball is the fastest game on Earth. How could a game that looks so simple, that you've spent thousands of hours watching and a few hundred playing all of a sudden look so foreign; you're like a tourist trying to score breakfast with only"Kornokova" and "EZ Russian for Dummies" to guide you through a quick-talking and impatient shopkeep while two dozen glaring eyes burn you for holding up the line.

Why? Because in two-man, your positioning is the most important thing on your mind. Whatever happens, you have a responsibility for a part of the field and the added responsibility of getting your posterior to a certain piece of real estate. And everything changes depending on the hit, a guy on first, a guy on third, a guy on first and third...at times, you're so happy you hit your spot and claimed your field that you forget to even pay attention to the call you were supposed to be making (cough, cough).

Sure, after a while it becomes natural for the pros. And in the Majors, you even get two more dudes to help out. But positioning and responsibilities remain the first priority for umpires once a ball is in play.

Tonight's Angels-Tigers game provided an example of why this is so...an example of an extremely rare occurence that the MLB umps warned us campers about to no end...don't make a call that isn't yours. If you're at third, don't call a guy safe at first. If you're at second, don't call a play at the plate.

These are obvious, but on the lines, it can get tricky. Balls down the lines are the Home Plate umps call to the base, then they transfer to the baseline ump. Several times at camp we'd get caught excitedly calling a ball fair or foul down the line when the call belonged to our partner. No big deal...so I called it fair before he did. So what?

Quothe the Instructors:

"That's great...until you're at a ballpark full of fans and you've got your arms up because you saw it foul and about 10,000 people start screaming and you look over and see your partner calling it fair. That's not a situation you want to be in."

This grounder went beyond 3rd, and the call belonged to Ump Fav Tim Tschida (4). He called it fair and Detroit's 3B easily threw the runner out. But...uh oh.


"Looks like a dammed Village People concert out there!" -- Possible Clever Comment From Leyland

Home Plate Ump Jim Joyce (66) saw it differently, much to the upset of James Leyland. To his credit, Tschida took it like a pro and managed to exhibit only a mild look of annoyance having been shown up by his partner (see top photo...classic!). Fortunately for everyone, the batter was out two pitches later and all was peaceful in baseball land. But if he had hit a dinger and started a rally. Mama Mia! Like I said, THIS is a real error of officiating and because these guys are so gulldang good, it is extremely rare to see.


POSTSCRIPT: True to form, the announcers brought up instant replay on this play, though not terribly passionately as they were the Angels team. "These kind of plays might one day be up for review," one talker said.

No it wouldn't. Once a foul signal is given, the play is dead. There would be no fair way of overturning the call. And replay is stupid anyway.

new depths

while you guys debate the future of baseball, i've gotten to the bottom of a bigger story.

5.27.2008

Fair Ball: A Fan's Case for No Replays

Inspired by Craigory Schmidt, here we go...

(Executive Summary: MLB should fix the bizarre set-up of ballpark fences/foul poles instead of falling into a trend of adopting replay technology that only adds to the controversy and takes away from the game itself.)

If anyone here watched the Lakers/Spurs Game 4 on TNT just a few minutes ago, the case not only against replay but against this obsession of TV and Radio to nitpick calls speaks for itself. Long story short, the Lakers won by two...the last play involved contact between Derek Fisher (laker) and Brent Barry (Spur) that could have, but was not called a foul.

As the game ended, Doug Collins of the TNT crew spoke of nothing but the non-call. On the LAKERS broadcast, there was little discussion of much else. The post-game on TNT was about nothing but the non-call.

So you'd imagine the Spurs players and coaches would be livid given such a controversial call.

Pop: "If I were the ref, I wouldn't make that call."
Duncan: "They're not going to make that call."
Barry: "No. That isn't going to get called."

So if the OTHER TEAM doesn't even care, where exactly is the controversy? In the fan's minds, that's where...thanks to the laziness of the telecasters, who in lieu of actual analysis, look to stir up the emotions of the still-raw fans. Why? So they'll watch the post-game! Call in and talk about it! Indeed, Lakers fans had already come up with their arsenal of "bad calls" that hurt their team through the game. It's a bunch of garbage that has nothing to do with who won and why. Dissecting a professional game in any sport is hard. It requires a lot of thought, caution and professionalism. Putting a last minute call into question is much easier. (and more sexy, because any boob with an opinion can play this game.)

POINT #1 -- Replay solves nothing. Controversy will always exist because it is easy pickings for analysts.

Evidence: Are there fewer arguments over calls in College Football or NFL these days?

Unfortunately, the discussions of calls are put in dire terms by play-by-play teams, when they often have a loose if not outright incorrect understanding of the rules. The strike zone, for instance, is not a static area...it is a changing shape determined by the stance of the batter. A catch isn't a catch until the ball is successfully transfered out of the glove. Doubtful many fans or announcers could put these concepts to words or practice. That doesn't stop them from trying to make snap judgements about whether a call was right or not (I've never heard an announcer say, "You know, I don't really know that how that rule goes.") NOTE: The great announcers didn't and don't waste much time with this nonsense. They would just say, "That's a close call at first" or similar.

Which leads to point #2:

Point #2: The real issues is no one understands the rules beyond the officials.
Evidence: Did you watch ESPN's saturation coverage of all these "blown" HR calls?

ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball featuring the Mets v. Yankees was the starting point for this current rush to install replay in MLB. A deep fly ball to left tailed out near the foul pole, took a wicked turn off something and went into the crowd. At least 20 replays of this ball were shown in the next hour, with neither announcer noticing the ball actually hit the top of the wall before hitting the corner of the foul pole (which was strangely painted black at the bottom in Yankee Stadium). So the 3rd Base ump called it right as a HR, but asked for backup. The three others thought it was foul, so he changed his call. The Mets won by like 10, but that didn't stop ESPN from acting like this was the biggest mistake in the history of professional officiating.

Would replay have solved this? Maybe. But attention would then only turn to calls at first, plays at the plate, borderline catches, etc. A HR barely getting over the wall or being foul or being a double is really no more or less important than a close third strike call with two outs. So who cares? This solves nothing. ESPN will still focus on stirring up controversy and the replay will solve none of it.

The week following, each SportsCenter featured a BRAND NEW controversial HR call or non-call. The funny thing is, I watched them all and honestly couldn't call 80 percent of them. I don't know the ground rules for those stadiums. Sometimes the wall is in, sometimes not, sometimes the line is on top of the wall, sometimes three inches under, sometimes above the wall.

I know this might sound a bit, uh, logical, but if what you're really after is clear HR calls...FIX THE STUPID WALLS SO THE BOUNDARIES ARE CLEAR. Each stadium -- especially these new ones -- has some jacked up outfield boundaries to give the place personality, while at the same time compromising clarity as to what is or is not in play. Seems to me, you could pretty easily paint a line of yellow atop all walls, and push any structures that are out-of-play further back from the in-play area to prevent this. This is the Big Leagues. It's like if in the NBA you had the shot clock in a different position and a bunch of stairs perched atop the backboard in Phoenix, but then a restaurant behind the glass in NY. It's silly. Push that garbage back 5 feet and this would never come up again. Put a little netting basket along each wall if you like. And as for the foul pole...these calls get made correctly all the time. This one at Yankee Stadium is a direct result of the bizarre wall set-up, where the wall comes in three feet ahead of the foul pole, which is also strangely painted black at the bottom, unlike the rest of it.

Or, we could just waste time and energy instituting a new replay system that will only lead to more nitpicking of calls and ultimately slow the game down to a bareknuckled crawl...all to feed the addiction of the ESPN generation, which will spend days and days arguing about whether a play was called correctly or not -- yet never actually understanding the rules they are so adamently debating. This is not a solution to anything...just ask the NFL, or watch a College Football game with the ESPN crew and honestly tell me replay has helped the game.

5.22.2008

There's No Replay In Baseball

At least...not yet. I'm sure most could guess where I come down on this story.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3408154

The Incredible Shrinking Gagne

This is a photographic representation of Gagne's career...



2004


2008

Legend: One is considerably smaller, less interesting and looking to be over...

5.17.2008

Lotsa Goodness in Tigs v. Diamondbacks -- Bunts, Rules and Jonesy

If the Tigers are a legitmate contender, their performance in Phoenix might just be the first evidence we've seen. The Diamondbacks are the real deal so far this season, and the Tigs have played them very strong for two straight. Losing a squeaker yesterday and winning their first "solid" game I've seen. 3-2. Well done.

In fact, this was their first win in over 40 games when they've scored 3 or less.

Better than this, however, was a rules quirk I learned today about bunters. In the 8th Inning, the Diamondbacks got Stephen Drew on as the leadoff guy. Hudson then came up to bunt him into scoring position. On a 2-1 count, Hudson pops up the bunt. Pudge lets it drop and the Tigs ended up with a double play. (See pics below)


Pudge lets the pop drop...as Hudson stews at his mistake.


...and picks off Drew who was in a pickle at first to start the 2-4-3 DP.

Turns out, a batter attempting a bunt loses the protection of the infield fly rule. I've seen a lot of popped up bunts, but never saw this. And I certainly didn't know the rule, making my decision to leave the gray pants in the closet a wise one. So many awesome rules!

Better yet, Todd "The Cooler" Jones came in, hit the leadoff guy in the 9th and had his usual high-wire act ending up getting the final out in Maggs glove on the right field warning track. Which inspired this celebration on his part, paying homage to his teammates who have started wearing high socks as a "team" thing. Jones reports he doesn't own a pair of high socks. (Yes, those are NBA logo socks)



It's been a long journey to get here. It started poorly back in '01. Not a big fan. And it wasn't great in '06. Then at some point in the postseason, with a playoff game against the A's in the balance -- bases loaded with the Big Hurt batting -- I realized he is perhaps the most even keeled baller I've ever witnessed. Last year, after giving up two runs and loading them up with the game on the line, he got the last out and did a mock "fade-away jumper" pose. This year, he's just taking his shirt out the moment the game is over. Yes, we've had our moments. But now, so many years later, I love Todd Jones.