Travel Day

25% of the MLB season is in the books.  Disgraceful umpiring and serious problems for one of MLB’s perennial playoff teams are the stories that dominated the past week in MLB.

I’m Mad As Hell And I’m Not Going To Take This Anymore!

Any serious fan of baseball has observed the umpiring in MLB head downhill the last few years.  While fans, players, and managers of any team are prone to arguing that their team got the shaft from the men in blue in a given game, this problem has gotten completely out of hand and is threatening the credibility of the sport.

Bud Selig’s outright refusal to expand instant replay is puzzling, irrational, and the product of an antiquated mind.  The NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA Football and professional tennis all use replay. Of the major sports, MLB stands alone in placing no priority on getting the calls right.

The arguments for not expanding replay are weak. As far as I can tell, the only major argument against expanded replay is the lengthening of games.  That argument is flawed in its very nature. Apparently those who are against expanded replay feel that saving a few minutes outweighs results that fans, players and managers can accept as valid.  At the end of the day, what people want are legitimacy and the feeling that the best team on a given day won a game. I was always under the assumption that was the reason that people watched sporting events.

Let’s take a look at this year’s Super Bowl between the Giants and Patriots. The Giants key play on the game winning drive was a long pass from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham, who somehow managed to gain possession of the football and stay in bounds.  That completed pass lead to a Giants touchdown that turned out to be the deciding score and the referees working that game correctly ruled it a completion. Replay confirmed that miraculously, Manningham had indeed controlled the ball and gotten both feet down.  One of the men calling that game for NBC, former NFL wide receiver Chris Collinsworth, initially said that he thought the ball was not controlled inbounds and that the play would be overturned on replay.  Collinsworth was wrong, but suppose he wasn’t? For the sake of argument, let us assume that Collinsworth was right, that the wrong call was made. Let us also assume that the NFL did not utilize instant replay.  We would have had an incorrect call ultimately deciding the Super Bowl. Would that victory be accepted as valid? Would fans of the Giants proudly wear their World Champion hats and jackets commemorating the victory? Would the Giants proudly accept and wear their rings?  I suppose some would. They would trot out the tired old clichés like “those are the breaks”, “one play doesn’t decide a game”, and “they would have won anyway”, but we would all know that wasn’t true.  What you’d likely have right now would be the Patriots claiming that they were robbed, taunting the Giants as phony champions, and fans screaming in outrage that something had to be done to insure the integrity of the game.  How satisfying would  that be for anyone?

The most important thing that any professional sports league can have is faith by the fans that every possible thing is being done by the league to insure as many calls as possible being made properly, even if takes a few minutes of review by the officials to make those calls.   It isn’t really much to ask that the calls be made properly is it? Apparently Bud Selig and MLB think that it is.

The Yankees and Reds played a game on Friday night in which the need for replay was made very obvious. In the 6th  inning with the bases loaded and no outs, Alex Rodriguez hit an infield ground ball that was fired home and Derek Jeter was ruled out.  Replay did indeed confirm that the throw had beaten Jeter by inches. There was just one little problem, Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan‘s foot wasn’t on the plate.  In fact, it wasn’t really close to the plate. Home plate umpire Larry Vanover was standing just a few feet away in perfect position to make the call with an unobstructed view and he blew it. As unacceptable as that sort of incompetence is, it is ten times more unacceptable that the call could not be overturned.  The Yankees wound up winning the game anyway, but that isn’t the point.

Technology has grown by leaps and bounds and crystal clear high-definition images can now be seen on television monitors seconds after a play.  The utilization of this technology has become a huge part of sports and it isn’t going away. For Selig to think that fans will just accept blown calls as part of the game is incredibly naïve. Fans don’t care about “tradition” in the year 2012. Fans just want the officials to get the calls right and they don’t care if it takes a few more minutes to insure that they are right.  The longer MLB denies teams and fans instant replay to get the calls right, the further the integrity of the game suffers.

Personally I believe that one of the major obstacles preventing MLB from expanding replay is the lax way in which double plays are called. It has become an unwritten rule that the shortstop or second baseman turning the double play only has to be near the bag or touches the bag before they actually catch the ball and throw to first base.  The argument for the leeway at 2nd base is that injuries are avoided by allowing the fielder to clear off the bag before the slide by the player heading into 2nd base.  With replay, this unwritten rule would have to go by the wayside. I’ve never liked this leeway at 2nd base on double plays. Almost any ground ball hit in the infield results in a double play in this day and age. Announcers don’t even get excited half of the time these plays occur. It’s just a given that a team will turn two. You can’t listen or watch a game now without hearing an announcer say “that should be two” before the ground ball even reaches the fielder.  Double plays are supposed to be hard, and if the rate of double plays falling is one of the major obstacles standing in the way  of instant replay, than it only illustrates how lazy umpires have become and how little MLB cares about getting the calls right.

Further disgracing the game is the conduct and sheer incompetence of many of the umpires working the game. One only had to witness the incidents this past week involving Bill Miller and Bob Davidson to see how reprehensible the conduct of umpires has become.

In Toronto this past Tuesday night, Bill Miller disgraced the game, his profession, and himself.  In the ninth inning Blue Jay Brett Lawrie started up the line to first base after an obvious ball was called on a 3-1 pitch from Rays closer Fernando Rodney.  Lawrie was about a third of the way up the first base line before Miller bizarrely called the pitch a ball.  Lawrie had to return to the plate.  The full count pitch that followed from Rodney wasn’t even close to the strike zone but Miller called strike three. Lawrie crouched in disbelief and then lost his mind, throwing his helmet to the ground and catching Miller on the bounce with it. Lawrie received a four game suspension from MLB for the incident, but what he should have received was a medal for shining more light on the umpiring that plagues the game.

It was obvious that Miller was trying “teach the youngster a lesson” for heading up the first base line after the 3-1 pitch was thrown before Miller actually called a ball.  Miller apparently felt that Lawrie wasn’t showing him enough respect and therefore felt he was entitled to punch him out on a second consecutive pitch that was nowhere near the strike zone.   I wasn’t aware that Lawrie or any player had to kiss the ring of the umpires in order to be recipients of proper and professional conduct by the umpires.

If Lawrie got four games than Miller should have gotten eight games.  How MLB could allow Miller to skate out of this situation unscathed is beyond me or anyone who witnessed this pathetic sight.

As if that embarrassing behavior from Miller wasn’t enough on Tuesday night, umpire Bob Davidson was putting on a disgusting show of his own in Philadelphia the very same night.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was ejected after he went out to argue what he thought was a foul tip and wound up being ejected after words with Davidson escalated into an ugly scene on the field.  What made this particular argument between manager and umpire revolting was that it was the umpire who aggressively escalated the argument, shouting profanities back at the manager in a man bites dog scene.

Davidson was handed a puny one game suspension by MLB for the incident. What was interesting about the suspension was the explanation that MLB gave for it.  Major League Baseball announced that the veteran umpire had been suspended for “repeated violations of the Office of the Commissioner’s standards for situation handling.” And even though umpires have been suspended before, Davidson’s suspension was not the result of a one time incident.  Davidson’s suspension was the result of an accumulation of incidents similar to this one.  Which begs the question, what in the world is he still doing in an umpire’s uniform?

Umpires in MLB are making calls personal and have been for quite some time. I don’t buy the argument that a pitch thrown by Justin Verlander should be called any differently than a pitch thrown by a pitcher who was just called up from Triple A ball.   Derek Jeter shouldn’t have the pitches thrown to him called any differently than a rookie hitting .208 on the season.  A pitch thrown by the pitcher of the home team shouldn’t be called any differently than a pitch thrown by the pitcher of the visiting team. The strike zone should be the strike zone, and it should be called the same for everyone.

This quote from Joe West last year was startling and very revealing of how personal umpires have made things between themselves and teams or players:”It’s pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play”. West was speaking about the Yankees and Red Sox, which must make any rational person wonder how objectively he calls games.

Last year’s ALDS game 3 between the Yankees and Tigers was as disgraceful of a performance by a home plate umpire as you’ll ever see.  Gerry Davis has a lot of explaining to do about how he called that game.  Davis’ disgraceful work behind the plate probably had as much to with the Yankees being eliminated as anything else that happened in that series.  Take a look at the chart of balls and strikes in that game via www.brooksbaseball.net:

Zoneplot

There is no place for a disgrace like this in professional sports.  I find it very hard to believe that someone could have a night as bad as this without some sort of bias.

This has got to stop, and it has to stop now. Players should decide games, not officials.  Fans don’t pay money to see umpires decide games.  Never has the credibility or integrity of MLB been lower.  One can only hope that when Selig’s dark reign ends that his successor takes initiatives to overhaul the way that umpires are graded and employed as well as expanding replay.

Pinstripe Peril

After the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs last year by the Tigers, I was asked by a Yankee fan what the Yankees had to do in the offseason to win in 2012. My response shocked and outraged this fan.  My response was “nothing major”.

A team with the media coverage and overzealous fans that the Yankees have will always be scrutinized and analyzed at a ridiculous level, especially after an early playoff exit. While I expected the chaos that followed the playoff loss to the Tigers, I was stunned at the severity of it.

The way I saw it, the Yankees won more games than anyone in the AL last year even though they played in its toughest division. I thought what happened in that playoff series was a mix of bad luck, shameful umpiring in game 3, and being one bat short.

The bad luck was the result of another of Bud Selig’s insane implementations, known as the “Yankees-Red Sox Rule”.  When the playoffs were expanded to include 4 teams in 1994, a season that wasn’t completed, MLB wanted to make it possible for the Yankees and Red Sox to meet in the ALCS.  The possibility of a best of seven series between two teams with a long and bitter rivalry and national fan bases was too much for Selig and MLB to ignore. To make this possible, MLB invoked the rule that two teams from the same division couldn’t meet in the first round.  The fact that this was irrational, illogical, and unfair didn’t matter.  It has never made sense that a team that won the most games in their league in a season should be penalized because the wild card team came from its division.  Why should a 1 seed have to play a 3 seed instead of the 4 seed that they earned the right to play in the first round? No other major sport uses this rule in its playoff system, and teams from the same divisions routinely meet in the first round of the playoffs all the time in the other major sports.  When the Yankees were forced to play the Tigers in the first round, instead of the Rays, it was very unlucky.

Earlier we took a look at Gerry Davis’ performance behind the plate in game three of the ALDS.  In the first inning Davis put the squeeze on CC Sabathia, which ran up his pitch count and resulted in runs.  Verlander was given a zone much larger than Sabathia, to say the least. A fairly called game would most likely have resulted in a Yankee win.

The Yankees were obviously hindered by the performance of their 4-5-6 hitters, cleverly and appropriately coined the three zombies by Albany, NY sports talk radio host Brian Sinkoff. Alex Rodriguez was hindered by a badly injured thumb which resulted in a grip being created by hitting coach Kevin Long in which tape separated his damaged thumb.  Rodriguez was a shell of himself with this injury, and that was understandable.  Mark Texeira and Nick Swisher further grew their legacy of being among the worst postseason hitters in the modern Yankee era by going respectively. Teixeira is now 18-106 (.170) with only 3 home runs in the postseason as a Yankee.  Swisher is now as (.160) as a Yankee.   The Yankees stranded runner after runner in game 5.  Just one timely hit that night would have reversed the outcome.

When you win more games than anyone else in your league and lose a short playoff series 3 games to 2 due to amazingly low production with RISP and a disgraceful night by the umpire behind the plate, you don’t really need to change much.

It was assumed that Jesus Montero was going to DH with some backup catcher appearances in 2012. Montero had a scorching month of September when finally making his long-awaited debut in the Bronx. His opposite field power was obviously tailor-made for Yankee Stadium. Montero figured to start the 2012 season in the 7 spot of the lineup and add a potent bat to the bottom of the Yankee order.  It also figured to surprise very few people if Montero worked his way up to the 6 spot or even the 5 spot.

The Yankee rotation in 2012 figured to be CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, AJ Burnett, and some mix of Hector Noesi, Bartolo Colon, Phil Hughes, or perhaps a bargain free agent signing.  Freddy Garcia tailed off badly at the end of the season and was battered in his only playoff start, a start that exemplified that smoke and mirrors didn’t bring the same results when facing a good team that could hit.  While Burnett remained everyone’s favorite scapegoat, he had a respectable month of September and came up huge in game 4 of the ALDS.  Burnett’s performance in game 4 exemplified that for all of his problems,that his stuff would always make him dangerous on the mound in any playoff game and brought back memories of his finest day as a Yankee in game 2 of the 2009 World Series. Burnett was under contract for two more years and as no team was going to give the Yankees anything back for him in a trade or pay much of his salary if they did accept him in a trade, he figured to be part of the 2012 roster.  Colon had been the best pitcher on the staff for a month in 2011, and while he tired at the end of the season that was to be expected after his long time away from baseball. He looked like a candidate to get another one year deal.

It basically looked like 2012 was going to bring the same type of rotation that the Yankees had in 2011. A solid ace, followed by some question marks and inconsistency but good enough to get the job done with a stellar bullpen backing it up.

It also looked like the Yankee lineup would be about the same as it was in 2011 other than the addition of Montero.

It appeared that GM Brian Cashman was not going to bow to pressure to make big moves.  Cashman did nothing in the month of December other than the no brainer to extend Sabathia.  It was a boring offseason in the Bronx while the big name free agents were signing with the Angels, Marlins, and Tigers.  On January 13th, all of that changed.

By now everyone living in reality realizes what a tragic trade Cashman made when he finally took his chips down on Montero and traded him for an unproven starter with exactly one half of a good season under his belt.

Cashman was quoted as rationalizing that 21 game winner former Yankee Ian Kennedy didn’t have stuff that translated to the AL East.   Cashman signed a pitcher from the same NL West that Kennedy now calls home to a one year, ten million dollar deal.  That pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda, is struggling mightily for the Yankees in 2012.

Cashman also chose to give Freddy Garcia a 1 year, 4 million dollar contract for 2012 rather than give a contract to Colon, who wanted 1.8 million dollars.

The results of these blunders by Cashman are on display in the Bronx right now, and it is getting ugly.  The Yankees now lead the Red Sox by only game for 4th place in the AL East.  While the Yankees have lost closer Mariano Rivera for the 2012 season, his loss so far has only cost the Yankees one game in the form of one David Roberston blown save.  To blame Rivera’s loss for the Yankee’s problems would simply be inaccurate.  While the loss of Brett Gardner has hurt the Yankees, the Red Sox have gone the whole season without closer Andrew Bailey and LF Carl Crawford. The Red Sox have also been without star CF Jacoby Ellsbury for most of the season and trail the Yankees by only one game.

This Yankee team is struggling because they don’t hit and because Cashman made terrible moves.  It’s really that simple.

The Yankees don’t have a single pitcher getting the job done with any consistency.  Even CC Sabathia has struggled this season.  While the starters in their rotation have displayed enough talent and flashes to lead one to reasonably believe that at some point this season they could be good enough for the Yankees to go on a roll, the hitters haven’t.

The Yankees are simply too weak in the lower part of the lineup.  Russell Martin is so bad at the plate he may as well be non-existent, Teixeira looks as bad as he has in his career, and everyone on the team seems to have a mental block hitting with RISP.  This Yankee slump is not an aberration, it is the result of overvaluing their need for pitching rather hitting in the offseason.  The fact that Pineda is out for at least a year and that Kuroda has been miserable was simply the icing on the cake.

Without some midseason trades to bolster the Yankee lineup, this team isn’t going anywhere and could easily miss the postseason.

If The Playoffs Started Today….

In the AL, the Toronto Blue Jays would host the Tampa Rays in a one game playoff to determine who would play the Orioles in the 2nd round while the Rangers would play the Indians.

In the NL, the Marlins would host the Mets in a one game playoff to determine who would travel to Washington for another one game playoff.  The winner of that game would then face the Dodgers while the Braves would play the Cardinals.

Tweet Of The Week

“I’m having 80′s and 90′s flashbacks.  Not the good kind.”  @melonsports talking about the current state of the New York Yankees

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About Michael P.

I am a Saratoga Springs, Ny resident whose been sports obsessed since I was 5 years old.

Posted on May 21, 2012, in Travel Day. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice Recap Mike that state of the Yankees are concerning. Once the (Hockey) Rangers are done with the playoffs the New York Papers are going to feast on the poor play from the bombers.

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