Thursday, August 8, 2013

Who's Responsible Here?

WARNING: What you are about to read will be a rant and if you're not into baseball, especially of the Major League Baseball (MLB) variety, perhaps just wait for my next post when I'm a little more calm.

Oh, so you've decided to indulge my rant, good! Q. Is it just me? Have Major League Baseball players become less intelligent or are the apparent mental mistakes I'm seeing, across the board (although the Toronto Blue Jays appear to be the poster boys) just me getting older and more crotchety (easy there)? What's going on here? The mistakes that I see, and I'll cite examples shortly, are mistakes that were corrected in my baseball career at the Pee Wee level.

We knew that when you're "on base" and a line drive is hit, it's all but impossible to know the exact direction so don't put your head down and charge to the next base. Wait until the line drive gets through the infield so it's not caught by an infielder who throws to the base you've just left, completing a double play.

We knew that when running from first-to-second on a ball that's been hit to right field for a hit, since the ball is effectively behind you, as you approach and begin to think about rounding second base, you look to your third base coach to know if you should proceed or remain at second base. You don't look over your shoulder which slows you down!

We knew that when you attempt an outfield assist to home plate at normal outfield depth, you throw the ball to home plate on one bounce at the cut off man so that he can determine, with the help of the catcher, to cut it off and possibly get a put out by catching the batter who is now the runner, off 1st base or attempting to run to 2nd base, not in the air. Throwing that distance in the air forces you to throw the ball high which means it takes too long to arrive at its destination and the runner, seeing the high throw will move uncontested to 2nd base and in scoring position.

We knew that when running to first base, watch the first baseman. If the throw pulls him off the bag, up the line, that's when you do something you'd normally not do. You "slide" into 1st base so he can't tag you as you run past him.

We knew that as the "on deck" batter, you had two responsibilities when there was a potential play right in front of you at home plate. First, get the bat out of the way to avoid injury and indicate to your teammate attempting to score whether he needs to slide (and the direction of the slide) or remain upright.

I was a pitcher. I knew that when the ball is popped up into the center of the infield, my job was to get out of the way so an infielder can catch the ball, not stumble around the pitcher's mound, effectively getting in the way.

We learned these fundamentals as ten year olds! Everything I've just mentioned, I've seen adult, professional players do incorrectly on a regular basis, all the while making, I was going to saying "earning" but that would not be accurate, millions of dollars.

I wish I had the proverbial nickel for every professional baseball player who missed a sign this season!

Who's responsible for this epidemic of mental errors? Was my father correct when he exclaimed that "Modern athletes are bigger, stronger, faster and dumber".? I don't believe so but something's wrong. Are the coaches whose responsibility it is to prepare these athletes for professional sports failing? I don't know but clearly someone must be held accountable. It's downright embarrassing to watch a professional baseball game! The fans who are paying mightily through a body part originally designed for breathing are the victims (sorry to sound so dramatic, after all, it's a game we're talking about here isn't it).

Umpires are complicit as well. Along with the flood waters of mental mistakes by players are a proportional number of mistakes by the arbiters of the game as replays demonstrate time-after-time. Did you know that baseball does not train its own on-field officials (little wonder it's a mess)? If they did, they might suggest to the umpire patrolling 2nd base to position himself on the outside of the base path like his compatriots at 1st, 3rd and home plate. Planting oneself on the inside of the baseline puts you into a position where on many plays, you're blocked from seeing whether the tag was actually applied to the runner. Inside the baseline, you have to first, make sure you're not in the line of fire from catcher to the player (shortstop or 2nd baseman) covering the base on a steal attempt, by far the most common call at 2nd base. Then after spinning your head like a scene from the Exorcist, you must decide "out" or "safe". Had that same official been outside the baseline, the entire play would come to him (with everything in front) and he could easily see, since base runner always target the outside corner of the base to which they are sliding, whether the tag was applied and if it was, if it was before or after the base runner came into contact with the base. Even if the outfield were to make a play at 2nd base, the umpire would have plenty of time to move so that he could see the play at the base. Oh, I know why baseball would never consider that. Heh, we've always done it that way! Yikes!

Major League Baseball has just handed down sizable suspensions to a number of players who have been using PED's (see my last blog on this subject).* That's a very modern approach to a problem that if not checked, will, in my view, open a Pandora's Box down the road. But this same up-to-date initiative is taken by a game that's currently flush with money all the while sticking its head in the sand when it comes to the positive innovations in our society (can you say "instant replay"?). Baseball does not care if it "gets it right"! If it did, instant reply would be used in every park. As it is, only home runs can be verified by checking the video.

While I'm ranting, why is it that a player can "make a catch" and fall into the seating area whereby the umpire has to guess if he actually caught the ball. Wouldn't it be much better if you had to return to Mother Earth "in" the field of play?

And here's another situation about which I've scratched my head for most of my years. Someone help me here! When a pitcher, usually on an errant 12-6 curve ball, flings the ball into the dirt (it's not actually everyday dirt by the way) to be fielded on one bounce by the catcher, that ball is presented to the home plate umpire who usually removes it from play because it's now "scuffed" (which means its aerodynamics would now favour the pitcher). Can't have that can we! But a batted ball, which is sent careening into that same turf on more than one bounce is thrown to first base, in an attempt to make the batsman, now a base runner, out. That ball, which might be out of "round" as bat met ball with each object moving against one another at very high velocities and clearly scuffed, is returned to the pitcher to be used with the next batter. What's with that?

But all that said, where will you find me on summer evenings, you bet, watching the great North American past time, shaking my head and uttering in as sarcastic a way that I can muster, "PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL"!!!! Except for that immense talent difference, my pee wee team could have bested any major league team, at least in the mental mistakes department!

Before I leave you for today, note to general managers of professional teams and the team coach. The next time (GM) you seek to improve the team, perhaps instead of seeing each potential member of the team as an individual with the "numbers" he/she brings to the table, you might want to consider if this player, and all the players you have under contract can "play together". If that's the case, sign him/her. If not, as the late Herb Brooks famously said, you should stop looking for the best players and start seeking out the right players. And heh coach, I know you can't get on the ice, court, field etc. and make the plays but you are responsible for the "culture" that exists on your team. Make sure it's the culture that brings out the best, not only in each player but in the team. I don't care how good the players on your team are or how good you or they think they are, they must become greater than the sum of their parts. Over to you coach!

* The MLB player receiving by far, the longest suspension is Alex Rodriquez of the New York Yankees. On the day of the announcement of his suspension, he filed an appeal which means he can play, if his team wishes, until the results of the appeal are made known. His team, those same Bronx Bombers, had a chance to support MLB's stance on PED's and not actually put A-Rod into the line up. But play him they did, at 3rd base and in the "clean-up" spot in the batting order. You see, the Yankees this season are getting very little offence from whomever plays 3rd base, or anyone who bats from the right side of the plate for that matter so the wins v losses took precedent and even though the Yankee organization came out with great disdain for the way A-Rod handled his rehab. assignment, the bottom line is not the integrity of the game, or the role model it sets for young people, it's win-at-all-costs. Would any other team in MLB do the same? I'm guessing they likely would. Welcome to the real world of professional sports!

1 comment:

  1. Though not into baseball, or curling (yet), your passion (including reved rants) and pearls of wisdom are entertaining and inspiring ... and hopefully forever young you (never old and crotchety) are once again breathing deep, thinking happy thoughts, enjoying summertime delights and laughing lots!!!