Thursday, June 7, 2012

Quick Takes - Umpires shmumpires!

No! Stay out! It's a trap!

People have been up in arms lately about umpires. Up in arms doesn't actually do it justice, people have been pissed. And, while I normally love a good anti-umpire revolt, this latest one is just way off-base. Frustrated fans have finally pushed the red button and fired their nukes, not realizing what the foggy aftermath is going to be like. We need umpires, and we need them to be human (weird, huh?). Umpires are what actually hold the games together -- we need their consistent-inconsistency -- and I'm going to tell you why.

Umpires, contrary to what the leagues want fans to believe, are not the unbiased, neutral third. Their only purpose isn't to blindly enforce rules, they are more of a facilitator of the sport, of the game, and they make a lot of calls based on the contextual moments within the greater spectrum of the sport. They let their emotions into the game as much as the players do, and they should! Anyone who thinks umpires should be robots is an idiot and doesn't understand the human element of sports. Why not just replace the players with robots too? They'll be far more accurate. Why not get rid of the pitcher and replace him with a pitching machine. Those things throw strikes all the time. The reason why we don't get rid of the players is because we enjoy and appreciate the human element. We enjoy their mistakes as much as their successes, because it's honest and genuine to performing. It adds drama to the games, we get to experience something uniquely human through them, and it should be no different with umpires.

Yes, umpires make mistakes, but there are two kinds of mistakes: Positive and negative. A positive mistake is an umpire contextualizing a moment and figuring out a way to remove himself from the moment and let the players settle it. That happened in 1995 when Randy Johnson threw an iffy strike three to send the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. That umpire easily could've called it a ball, but in those moments -- the same way there's an unspoken rule in boxing that you have to knock out the champion to take his belt -- the players should settle the outcome, not referees or judges making arbitrary decisions about play. And they are arbitrary, and no amount of instant replay can fix that.  The same type of thing happened this year when the umpires missed a base-hit off the chalk and called it foul, giving Johan Santana a get out of jail free card which he used toward the first no-hitter in NY Mets history. It doesn't always work in a team's favor, the way that Johnson strikeout did; just look at that blown call from a couple seasons ago when Armando Galarraga was denied a perfect game by a blown call. That was terrible, obviously a "negative mistake," and it adds a lot of credence to the robot umpire cries. But one missed perfect game does not beget destroying sports. And yes, instant replay and all that bullshit would destroy sports.

The common knee-jerk people jump to is to just add more widespread use of instant replay. They're doing it in baseball now, which means baseball is going to take even longer to finish a damn game. But it's a reaction in the wrong direction. There should be no instant replay. Not a little bit. Not even for quick consultation. It's asinine. Instant replay is the opposite of what should happen. The NFL is the court jester when it comes to instant replay, sending an umpire into a 1920s photo booth for five minutes to watch video from a billion angles slowed down beyond speeds that the human eye can even register. What is the point of that? Just make a call and MOVE. FORWARD. That's all you can do.

Instant replay kills momentum, and kills the passion of the fans, rendering them helpless in the stands while a human reviews the same play he just saw and makes a second arbitrary decision with slightly-more evidence (often useless evidence too). It's not worth the fuss. Umpires make bad calls, get over it. They make great calls too, and they don't make calls that a robot or a booth reviewer would've, because sometimes you just have to let the players settle things on their own. All of those ups and downs are part of what make sports great. Yes, umpires should have their "missed calls" reviewed, and yes, the leagues should take punitive action against umpires who consistently perform under the bar, but you don't replace them with pitch-tracking computers and 5 billion frames per second replays because of a few missed calls.

We need umpires. We may not always like them, but we need them. We need their mistakes, we need their emotions and their arbitrary, emotion-fueled calls. These are sports between people, for people, and if we take the human element out of refereeing them, we will muck up sports beyond comprehension. And besides, who enjoys yelling at inanimate objects, when there's a perfectly-acceptable human at the ready?

  • Reason #1 why a lot of sports fans and other professional athletes think golfers are stuffy boners (mmm) who can't handle a little adversity; from the Memorial this past weekend: "It makes it very difficult," Bubba Watson said. "Ever since they made that rule that cellphones are allowed, it's just not fun playing." Oh no! A camera shutter clicked in your back-swing! You poor thing! You should withdraw from the tournament and angrily/ironically text the PGA commissioner during your round to voice your distaste for cell phones! (Watson didn't do that, but Phil Mickelson did, and if Stuffy Boners had a centerfold, I would ... not buy that magazine.)
  • Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee is winless this year, thanks to the Phillies scoring 16 runs over his nine starts (1.78 rpg). I think I just found the Mariners a trade partner for Chone Figgins!
  • The San Francisco Giants aren't happy with Pablo Sandoval's weight. The hefty third-baseman has been told by manager Bruce Bochy that he needs to get in better shape, because if he can't play third base he'll be of no use to the team. I can't help but picture Bruce Bochy hitting warm dumplings at him at third base with a fungo bat.
  • Bruce Bochy: When you focus on baseball, when you concentrate... you stink.
    [Pablo frowns]
    Bruce Bochy: But perhaps that is my fault. I cannot train you the way I have trained the Giants. I now see that the way to get through to you is, with this.
    [pulls out a bowl of dumplings]
    Pablo: Oh great, 'cause I am hungry!
    Bruce Bochy: [laughs and pulls the bowl away] Good. When you have been trained, you may eat.
    [He eats a dumpling]
    Bruce Bochy: Let us begin.
  • The Miami Heat are one game away from missing out on a championship, and the reaction from fans and pundits alike is too much for me to ignore. Listen, I hate the Miami Heat, I hate the way they play and how they've almost single-handedly turned this league into a dog and pony show where players are more concerned with their clothing lines and # of appearances on TMZ than they are winning. I hate it. But, damn, relax everyone. People are calling for the Heat to "blow up" and start over, basically recreating the LeBron James Cavaliers. That didn't seem to work out too well, did it? The point is that the playoffs are hard, they're supposed to be hard! It's the freaking playoffs! Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had to fight and scrap and claw their way through the playoffs every year, as did the Magic Johnson Lakers and every team ever. You know why? Because the playoffs are hard for fuck's sake! The Miami Heat have been extremely successful with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (and Chris Bosh? I guess?) as the focal points of that team. Just because you don't win every championship ever doesn't mean you should blow up the team and start over. This is a team on the brink of a championship. I don't think they'll win it this year, because they have some glaring holes, but they are still two wins away from going to the Finals. This offseason, if they retain their core nucleus and simply add a pass-first PG and an interior presence, they will be as good as anybody else in the league. Where is the goddamn patience in sports? Are people that fickle now that they can't handle not winning a championship every single season? Are the players that stupid to think they're going to pick out a ring like they're shopping at Jared? Just relax.
  • I just read the headline: "Report: Ex-players to combine concussion suits," and was severely disappointed when I opened the link to find that it wasn't about Iron Man, but was, of course, about lawsuits. I am a child.
  • Hey everyone! Get out now and vote for your favorite players for the MLB All-St.....zzzzzzzz....
  • I have to admit, I was a little bit bummed the other night when the Seattle Mariners didn't take high school phenom outfielder Byron Buxton with the third pick in the MLB Draft. They couldn't take him, because the Minnesota Twins picked him second overall, leaving me droopy and pathetic. Until! Until Buxton gave his post-pick interview to the MLBTV crew covering the draft, where he answered a question about whether or not he knew the Twins were interested with, "I don't know, I'm just a Twins now." Ah, yes, just a Twins now. Byron Buxton, all your base are belong to us.
  • In Euro 2012 news, Ukraine manager Oleg Blohkin thinks players on his team were victims of sabotage (I put that in italics because it's basically the coolest thing you can accuse someone of) after 10 players on the national squad suffered food poisoning the day before a 2-0 loss to Turkey in Germany. "It happened in Germany, but it is impossible to establish the causes - all ate different food. It may have been sabotage, I do not know. It cannot be accidental." It was the Germans, in the pub, with the expired sausage!

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