The umpires are pissing me off.
Okay, so yeah, I know. “Grab a number,” say you. But really, it’s getting bad. Floating strike zones, blown safe calls, absolutely, positively refusing to check with the first or third base umpire on check-swing calls. It happens every year. But, and this might just be me, it seems like it gets a little worse every year.
Joba Chamberlain had 12 strikeouts in his start against Boston last week. At least half of them were umpire-aided.
I am one of those rare fans who doesn’t cheer when her own team catches a break on a strike call. I don’t even like it when Mo gets a call. I don’t like it because it’s unfair. When the playing field is shifted that way, it’s frustrating to watch. It’s one thing when the umpire has a weird strike zone but that zone is consistent. It sucks, but if a hitter keeps staring at something that the ump calls a strike and has been calling a strike all day, then they don’t get the benefit of the doubt. Foul it off if it’s close, or else tip your hat to the pitcher or catcher in question who threw it/framed it in the right place to get the call.
It’s when the strike zone is sometimes two inches into the RH batters box but then isn’t, but it will get an inch or two low, until it doesn’t. It’s when neither hitter nor pitcher has any clue what will be called a strike. It’s when hitters have to protect everything from the letters to mid-shin and two inches on either side. It’s when pitchers have to throw it down the middle in order to get anything called a strike. It’s when CB Bucknor is umpiring the game, people.
And don’t get me wrong, I love the human element. I like that there are a whole bunch of things that machines simply can’t do. They can’t display judgment. They can’t deal with human emotions. They don’t have the immediacy of human calls, and, of course, they are cold, impersonal and programmed. Possibly they could be hacked.
But they also can’t get fooled by framing. And they don’t change what’s a ball and what’s a strike based on the service time of the pitcher or hitter in question. They can measure each pitch in all three dimensions without bias and clearly see where a pitch crosses the plate. One day, when computers umpire the game, never will you look at Gameday, see the blurred white box of the strike zone and freak out that the called third strike was two inches outside on your favorite hitter with the bases loaded, down by two in the bottom of the seventh.
And it is at that moment, when you know that the strike zone is being called fairly and CB Bucknor or Angel Hernandez or Joe West is not focused on his self-importance, that you will welcome the umpiring robot overlords too.
Which is pretty much what I’ve been doing for the last three weeks. I should just say that I’m ashamed of myself. Simple. Clear. Definitive.
I’m ashamed of myself.
Neither here nor there when all is said and done, because there’s plenty to discuss. There’s Zack Greinke’s incredible streak; there’s the Marlins’ collapse; there’s the Mets winning streak; there’s the powerhouse NL Central that no one seems to be saying a lot about; there are the Angels constant injuries, the A’s miserable start, Toronto’s insane hot streak, A-Rod’s return, Evan Longoria’s April and the Dodgers home win streak (which may be snapped as I write this). And of course, there’s Manny. There’s always Manny.
So much has happened, and I haven’t been saying a damn thing about it. Well, there’s nothing to do except apologize.
And come back.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how much we can trust what we see, particularly of late. A few weeks ago, I was watching 60 Minutes (yeah, I’m a dork) and they had a story about how testimony that is based on eyewitness accounts has been contradicted by DNA evidence. Then I watched a story the next week on Sunday Morning (okay, yes, I am officially the most boring 20-year-old ever, stop judging me) about the various mistakes that humans make, in particular with our sight. I found out that I have a form of blindness–not in the technical sense, but rather that when my brain focuses on a particular object, I can’t see a change in another. It’s basically what keeps us from seeing the editing errors in movies. They used the famous tollbooth scene from the Godfather, and I realized for the first time that Sonny’s windshield is blown to bits at the beginning of the scene, but totally intact when he’s laying dead on the ground afterwards. Since my attention is on Sonny and not on the car, I don’t notice. But indeed it’s true.
Of course, because I am a total dork, I immediately thought of baseball. Over the last few years, much hay has been made about what we can measure with our eyes versus what we can measure with spreadsheets. And as a statistically inclined young lady, you know where I fall on the spectrum. But I have never been against the more romantic parts of the game. I’m a fan. It’s what I do. I love cheering a seeing-eye single, or alternatively, cursing it. I love screaming at the television that a certain pitch wasn’t a strike, or being outraged at a trapped catch.
I love the memories I take away from baseball. But those two stories make me worry. Because what I see with my eyes isn’t to be trusted. My brain is hoodwinking me, even when it attempts to be forthright. What will happen in a few years from now when I look back at the baseball I’ve seen? Even now, trying to remember exact games is difficult. I can’t remember my first visit to Yankee Stadium. I can only recount pieces of it, but even the pieces I have don’t add up because as I’ve tried to find the boxscore on BB-Ref and only a few games come close.
I suppose that I’m afraid of becoming what I so easily deride: someone more consumed with the faded visions in my head than the practical numbers that stand as a record of what’s happened. My mind–my fragile, human memory–can’t hold everything. It can barely hold what I will it to, let alone what I hope it can. I look to statistics and records to hold up what I suppose from my mind, but how much can I record? Sure, there are boxscores, but what about moments I share? What about leaping catches, or plays at the plate, or people I meet, or players I watch? When I’m not even able to remember how old I was when I saw my first live professional baseball game, or where I was for Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, how will I remember what I felt when I watched Mike Mussina’s last pitches?
I suppose if I can’t notice a destroyed windshield, a boxscore will do.
I had some major wounds to tend to after Saturday’s drubbing that hit the Yanks so hard that I felt it all the way in Brooklyn. Also, have you heard that the new YS might be a launching pad? If you haven’t, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Either that or you’ve been relying on me for news.
Anyway, fourteen games or so into the season (depending on your team), we’ve already gotten more than a few surprises. Toronto is leading the AL East (and their Pythag suggests that it’s not luck while their BABiP says otherwise); the Pirates are over .500 and third in the NL Central (behind the expected leaders: Chicago and St. Louis); Seattle and Texas are at the top of the AL West while the Angels are at the bottom (it’s like a production of Macbeth in LA); San Diego has a better record than San Francisco; the Marlins have baseball’s best record while the rest of the NL East is at .500, and Carl Pavano has pitched three starts. It’s this kind of glance at the season so far that makes baseball special, because so little of the season has passed (less than 10%) and still so much has happened. Can Toronto keep up the pace? Will Cleveland, a pre-season pick for a contender in the AL Central, make a surge forward? Can Detroit’s pitching hold? Has Cole Hamels’ elbow fully recovered? Will Daniel Murphy ever figure out how to field? What value will Jake Peavy have at midseason if he keeps pitching this way? When and how will Carl Pavano injure himself?
Of course, with over 148 games left to play, most of these questions will be answered. And most of the unexpected will regress or improve, and we’ll be a lot closer to where we expected to be. But any given week, month or season of baseball is just the same as any baseball game: at the very beginning, it doesn’t matter what the odds are: anything is possible. At any moment someone could throw a perfect game. At any moment someone could hit for the cycle. When you least expect it, Joel Zumaya will hurt himself making polenta. Daisuke Matsuzaka will walk two, give up a hit, strike out three and still allow no runs all in one inning. And for a brief time, the Pittsburgh Pirates can say they’re playing better than the World Champs.
OMG, Nick Swisher pitched.
And he was better than most of the pen.
Today is the last day of the EI free trial, and I’ll miss it terribly. I couldn’t watch every game (I simply don’t have enough hours in my day), but I kept up with so many more with EI. It really is a matter of you don’t know what you’re missing until you get it, because I had been just fine “watching” games via GameDay until I was able to see the action. There are so many subtle features to a game: light, wind, precipitation, positioning, the way a batter holds his bat, the type of foul balls that are being hit (foul pop ups, foul line drives, foul grounders), a batter’s discomfort at the plate, a pitcher losing his footing on a mound, what separates a routine grounder from a tough play, and dozens of other things. It’s impossible to get a feel for it through GameDay, and yet it adds so much to the story of a given game.
Sometime last night, I had a conversation with my mother about why you can’t just watch highlights of games. I used the example of the Colts-Patriots AFC Championship game in the 2007 calendar year. It was an epic game. It was colossal. But if all you saw were the highlights, you weren’t really getting it. There was pace to the game, a sense of inevitability in the first half that created the euphoria in the second (or horror, if you were a Pats fan). There was something about watching it from beginning to end that had you wringing your hands, sitting on the edge of your seat, entirely engrossed in it…and it’s impossible to capture in a highlight reel.
Baseball isn’t the same as a football game, but it’s pretty easy to make a quick comparison. The Braves-Phillies finale this week, where the Phillies came back from a 10-3 deficit to win, was weak sauce when stuffed into a highlight reel. So I’ll definitely miss getting the opportunity to get into the rhythm of a bunch of different games from different teams that I usually wouldn’t have the opportunity to watch.
I won’t miss the awful ads for EI, though. Seriously, they were just terrible.
When you have only one television in the house and you are twenty years old and your mother is a former gymnast who could break your fingers when you fight over the remote, television debates are important. The EI trial is going to run out by tomorrow, but my mother has already grumbled about me watching so much baseball. All of this would be solved if only I were allowed to sell either one of my siblings into slavery. Then I could use the money to buy MLB.tv, and everyone would be happy. Unfortunately, my parents insist that it is not only impractical but illegal and downright wrong to sell one of my younger siblings into slavery, so I continue to suffer.
Anyway, the main point of this is that I didn’t actually watch the entirety of the Mets game because C.C. was on the mound and I wanted to watch that instead. However, I did keep tabs on it, and the Mets handed the Fish their first loss of the season, pounding Ricky Nolasco for four runs and then getting the most out of the Marlins’ defensive miscues. However, in the bottom of the 9th, the Marlins started to make a little bit of a run, or at least looked less pathetic (two runs off of Livan Hernandez? For realz?). Anyway, my father (who is trying to get into baseball more now that I am blogging), began opining that the Mets were in danger of losing the game. I, a more seasoned baseball fan, told him that he was being absurd and paranoid. He said that I was too used to being a Yankee fan, and that he had built a bond with the Mets that made him sure that they were going to lose. I told him that a six run lead becoming a mere five run lead with one out down in the bottom of the ninth inning was unlikely to become an “L” for the Mets. He continued to tell me that I was wrong.
My mother then chimed in (on my dad’s side of course), and said that it was inevitable that the Mets would fuck it up because that is what they do. I said that the Mets were pretty much okay and that they just needed another two outs–perhaps a DP. Both of my parents continued to disagree and applauded Manuel’s decision to bring Francisco Rodriguez into a five-run game (not like he was hurting for work or anything). I secretly hoped that K-Gasm would fuck it up and load the bases, thus causing my parents actual distress and making me laugh for delicious irony, but he did not. Read more…