Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Soon, Nats or Astro fans will join us in the dark certainty that they wuz robbed

This is untimely to say, given the sad death of MLB umpire Eric Cooper, age 52, due to a blood clot. And let's wish for a speedy recovery for ump Jeff Nelson, who took a foul to the head in game three of the ALCS, and who won't return this month. These guys are blue collar heroes, troopers, salt of the earth, in every sense. But last week's Yankee-Astros series showcased on national TV an arbitrary, haphazard system of calling balls and strikes - a minefield of mistakes that altered the course of every game. It was awful. 

You cannot predict baseball, Suzyn. But here is a certainty: Next week, either the Astros or Nats will be sitting at home, kicking puppies, knowing they were were screwed by bad calls on balls and strikes.  

Time after time last week, the Yanks and Astros dealt with botched home plate calls - so often and so blatantly that the Fox announcers Joe Buck and John Smoltz had to mention it - amazing revelations for employees who are paid handsomely to look the other way. But when the strike zone automation shows a pitch eight inches off the plate, and it's called a strike - well, you cannot un-see it. Last week, with supposedly the finest umps in the game, blown calls happened with regularity. 

And each one carried a huge impact. A count that should be 2-1 becomes 1-2, putting the batter at a huge disadvantage. (How often this year did Aaron Judge become victim to an imaginary strike zone worthy of Andre the Giant?) And here's the dirty little secret: They don't equal out. 

That's the crapola they feed us: That the occasional bad call gets balanced out by another bad call. When Gary Sanchez came up in the critical 11th inning of Game Two, his single at bat lasted 10 pitches and eight minutes. At one point, instant replay showed Sanchez striking out, though the ump declared it a foul tip. A few pitches later, the ump called out Sanchez on a pitch well off the plate. So, said the spin doctors, everything came out fine in the end, right? Justice was served, and Sanchez went down. But that's bullshit. 

Several times last week, close calls at first base were overturned - in this case, they regularly favored favor Houston. But who can grouse? The calls were done correctly, forensically, and the right decision was made. There were no arguments, no screaming matches. The players simply turned and yelled for a replay, and one was done. It worked quite smoothly. 

But at home plate, there are no challenges, no replay, and numerous at bats were corrupted by horrible calls, dramatically changing the outcomes. 

When Aroldis Chapman faced George Springer in the fateful bottom of the ninth of game six, it looked as though one of the pitches clipped the corner - but the ump called it outside. Thus changed the dynamics of the entire at-bat. Instead of striking out, Springer walked, pissing off El Chapo and setting up Jose Altuve for the final home run. Well, so be it. Good riddance. But in the course of that game, the calls did not even-out. I don't buy that. For my money, they favored Houston. (Yes, I'm biased, but I know what I saw.) 

As we speak, the NFL faces an existential crisis due to the stark inability of refs to police the game. On virtually every play, some penalty occurs. It's a crap shoot as to which one gets flagged. New replay reviews of pass interference - an almost impossible penalty to define - have only made the game more frustrating. I'm a lifelong Giants fan. In part because the horror show of the franchise, I've found games almost impossible to watch. But one huge problem is the number of flags that fly - canceling big plays with the knowledge that other transgressions were simply missed. Maybe football is too popular to fail, but with every 10-minute video replay delay, the game becomes harder to watch.

Comparatively speaking, baseball has no such problem. Instant replays can be amazingly easy. For decades, umps fought video reviews; now, they quickly go to the booth and make the right call. 

I have always believed the zeitgeist of umpires should have changed with the millennium. Long ago, umps were big, brawny cops - 300-pound linebackers who ruled the game with shouts and fierce stares - God bless 'em. For better or worse, they shepherded the pastime for 100 years. But today, the burly man thing doesn't work. For starters, umps shouldn't rotate: The first base ump should be a specialist, who always works there. He should be young, tech savvy and carry an iPad. Rather than make a call, he should quickly use his own camera and other video angles - with full transparency on the Jumbo-tron - to get it right the first time. (The fact than an ump on the field made the wrong call should not affect the video decision; this bit about "overturning the on-field call" is pure crapola. Often, that call is wrong.) The right call should take 30 seconds, not five minutes and a commercial break. We can wait for it. Once a call is challenged, we have to wait five minutes, anyway.

Likewise, it's time for automated home plate trials in the minor leagues. They should start in the low levels, so that prospects of every franchise are affected. By including it slowly, the full impact of automated balls and strikes can be tweaked, so eventually the network cams - which give every player the same strike zone - can be perfected. In three to five years, a change could be made at the Major League level.

Before you start screaming, listen: It's going to happen, eventually. 

Yes, I realize that such a change will rob the professional game of yet more of those homespun, cracker barrel vagaries of humanity. Well, that ship sailed long ago. Baseball's great bond with its fans comes in the high school and Little League levels, where there's always an insurance agent or firefighter behind the plate, earning $10 per game. That won't change. But at the corporate, billion dollar level of MLB, why are we still pretending the human element is sacred? It's been thrown overboard since we were young.

Sometime next week, we Yankee fans will be joined by our counterparts from either Washington or Houston. They will suffer from a form of PTSD. They will have watched their team - in crucial at bats - get certifiably robbed. The calls won't balance out. One team will simply get screwed. All condolences to Mr. Cooper and Mr. Nelson. But it's time to start the change.


Parson Tom said...

Great column. Dead on.

In baseball, it's amazing that humans are allowed to call balls and strikes since the technology that we see on our television is so comprehensive and accurate and often at odds with what the umpire decides. The human eye cannot process nearly as much as the current tracking technology, which is only going to improve.

As for football, what a joke. The simple task of spotting the ball decides many games, and yet they can't get it right. There has to be a better way that doesn't rely on middle aged men to simultaneously run to a spot while keeping tack of the world's fastest, biggest athletes in the middle of car-accident collisions. And then even when they put their foot down at the correct position, they start tossing the ball around two or three times so that two or three other guys have to estimate where to put it.

This has no impact on how much the Giants suck, but it does have a major impact on just about every game. Well, not including last night's drubbing of the Jets.

Anonymous said...


In the past I have been against robot umps for balls and strikes but after reading what you wrote today I realize that I am wrong.

I particularly like your suggestion about having specialists to cover each bag. Someone should tell MLB because that's insanely correct.

In any crew there's going to be one person who is the best at calling balls and strikes and one who is the worst. Why do they rotate?

And having an i-pad and looking at the feeds (along with the rest of the stadium) would take as you pointed out - mere seconds.

This needs to be done sooner rather than later.

Doug K.

Anonymous said...

And, as promised, here is my Happy Yankee Thought for the day...

Happy Yankee Thought #2 (Out of 30. Collect 'em all.)

Despite our frustrations with the team's inability to get over the top and with the obvious greed, stupidity, and lack of will by the front office to go the extra mile and get it done (Don't worry it gets happier)the Yankees won the most games of any MLB franchise for this decade.

Yes, it is reasonable for us to ask, "Where are the Championships? Where are the World Series appearances?"

But, what this statistic means is that most, in fact the vast majority of times, when we sit down to watch a Yankee game we get a win.

Maybe not the final win but last year we were happy at the end of 108 games out of 171. So, as a Yankee fan, we get to be more happy than not.

Doug K.

HoraceClarke66 said...

I agree. Terrific piece, Duque, and it is past time. You can't have SOME calls decided by intense scrutiny, and other left to the ump's individual definition of things like the strike zone.

This would also eliminate things like catchers' relative advantages in framing pitches—one of the few, superior skills that Sanchez still has left. I thought that Minnesota suffered throughout the ALDS because he was doing it so awkwardly, always jerking his hand up. The ump probably called some pitches balls that really were strikes.

And I know that one of the "great" Yankee moments—Tino hitting that grand slam against SD in 1998 after he had taken what should have been a called strike three—happened because the ump had told the SD catcher to stop trying to frame pitches, that it was just throwing him off. When he did not desist, the ump called a strike a ball—something that would've enraged us.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Very true, Doug K.—and the long season has always been more meaningful to me than the postseason, anyway. It means less now that teams are divided into divisions, but still!

What concerns me more is that Yankees playoff games are becoming almost unbearable to watch. FOUR HOURS of watching a new pitcher every inning, and batters swinging from the heels with almost no chance of getting a hit?

By the end of the evening, you feel like you've been hit with a hammer. This is not entertainment!

HoraceClarke66 said...

As for what to do about umpires, too, I wonder if there's some kind of electronic fix on the bases, too.

Right now, umps at first base go as much by ear as anything, listening for the ball hitting the mitt and the a foot hitting the bag. You can see how it would be easy to mistake the one for the other.

If, maybe, the bag would light up when a new foot hit it, or hit it from that direction, the ump would not have so much sensory overload.

As to what to do about football...who knows?

13bit said...

Football has become - to me - the equivalent of "Pro Wrestling" - just a big show with sumo-types bouncing off each other. I know it's not the simple or accurate, but it's just not what it once was - to me, at least.

Umps do seem to have gotten worse. Or have TV cameras gotten better? I don't know. Either way, the game has gotten less fun to watch and, for better or worse, as with everything else, I blame big money. Stupid Money. Silly Money.

Anyway, I'm tired. Later, my friends.

Anonymous said...

A follow up on my Happy Yankee Thought #2.

Like many of you I am a die hard NY Giant Fan...

(Side Note: Parson Tom, I agree with you totally on what you wrote about officiating in the NFL.)

In the last ten years the team won one Super Bowl (2011)

Their record from 2010 - now (including playoffs): 72-83

This includes no small number of totally unwatchable games. Misery incarnate. Take the last two years alone 3-13, 5-11 and this year's debacle and you know what I'm talking about. Not a lot of happiness there.

Would any of us here trade a single World Series win (or even appearance) for a decade of horrific baseball? Watching something along the lines of 800 to 900 bad losses (and I mean bad losses.)

I know that it's not really the same and it doesn't change my opinion of the Yankees front office, but it does give some perspective.

I'm just sayin'

Doug K.

Anonymous said...












Anonymous said...


JM said...

The human element most often works as a positive in Frank Capra movies. In real life, not so much.

ranger_lp said...

I haven't heard or read anything about this so here goes...haven't we gotten to the point that these pitches are so fast that umpires who don't have the reaction speed due to age can't consistently call a ball or strike properly? It's not their fault that they are not between 20-30 years old where processing ability is at their prime. Eyesight and cognitive skills wane after time (don't we have enough folks that can attest to part of that? :-))

We are going to an AI world, like it or not. I've seen it first hand as some of you know. They are talking about driver-less cars, robot lawyers and judges, kiosks instead of order takers and that's the immediate future.

Recently, I heard a discussion about football referees and their subjective calls. Now, wouldn't some of those calls changed if the media had access to them after the game? Wouldn't be different in baseball?

Today the fastest pitch is 105 MPH. That will go up to 110 MPH in a few years. It's too much to ask a human to decide if it's a ball or strike at that point. I don't think I'm off base here.

Let the machines decide. Let's take the Joe West bias out of baseball calls. We're putting too much pressure on these humans to make correct calls with these pitch speeds.

ranger_lp said...


Honey Barnes said...

These are all proxies for the real truth. 2019 has proved, one again, Good pitching defeats good hitting, and the Yankees refuse to believe.
Just saying.

13bit said...

Can someone here please explain to me how this article correlates to our experience with Domingo? One of us must be wrong here:


TheWinWarblist said...


HoraceClarke66 said...

Honey Barnes, don't know if you're trolling or what, but I'd say everybody here is pretty fucking aware that good pitching beats good hitting. I've been aware of it since the Johnson administration.

Nor is anyone here trying to excuse the Yankees. We all felt they lost because of what they did and did not do—and because Houston did it better.

We're just saying that it's weird to have a replay system, but not have it extend to one of the most vital parts of the game.

HoraceClarke66 said...

I will say, though, that there is a double standard for the Yankees and everyone else when it comes to behavior.

If a Yankees executive had stood there and screamed that at reporters—and then HAL had excused it—it would now be considered a war crime.

And it IS pretty awful.

Austria's Only Baseball Fan said...

I saw someone referred to José Altuve as a "dwarf" the other day. I just did some internet research and - yikes! - I am exactly 1cm taller (and 15kg lighter).

Now that I've posted the most important thought of the day, about those umpires... Yeah - they need to be controlled somehow. I can't recall a season when they made so many BLATANT mistakes. And, just like players and mangers, they need to be able to be tossed from a game for arguing an obviously bad call. Time for some technical checks to be implemented. I love the tablet idea.

Meanwhile, in Texas: Max - K K K K K K (end of the 3rd). And now Washington has tied (2-2).

So I'm back to sleeping days and awake at nights. After getting over the Saturday night trauma (which ended for me at about 06:30 a.m. and then an hour of recovery time before sleep), it was kind of nice to stroll to Naschmarkt and buy €10 worth of the last Italian figs of the season and catch some sunlight.

Oh - and they finally got some Scherzer T-shirts in size Small back in stock so I ordered one.

Austria's Only Baseball Fan said...

And umpire assholeism is starting: "“So it evidently goes down as a strike as apparently no one else saw the bat hit the glove.” And from the replay it obviously DID hit the glove and was catcher’s interference."

Austria's Only Baseball Fan said...

Winnie! 13bit! Hoss! Anonymous Doug K! JM! Sweet Rufus! Where are all my pals tonight? Did Alphonso arrange some kind of week-long alcohol-fueled retreat and coerce them to participate?

13bit said...

We're standing outside your window, AOBF!

Actually, it's raining here in New York and I'm getting into bed with a good book soon.

On the topic of umps: https://www.sportingnews.com/us/mlb/news/umpire-joe-west-sues-former-mlb-all-star-for-claiming-took-bribes/123b4bb69kqpe14xpe84ll1zaq

TheWinWarblist said...

I'm here AOBF. I'm here. I haven't left but my mood is singularity black right now. Plus, I'm getting hammered at work every day. As I told some of us at the Stadium Day Outing, I do the heavy lifting of medicine. The lifting has been heavy, even for me.

Go Nats!

TheWinWarblist said...

Go Expos! Or whatever the fuck you are!!

TheWinWarblist said...

Oh, and I'm willing to go on record on this, Joe West is a royal scumbag of the highest order, that diseased prick.

TheWinWarblist said...

That's good. Leave Cole in until he is completely gassed, so he has nothing left for Game 4 or 5. Fuck him.

HoraceClarke66 said...

I'm here, Austria! And enjoying the game, which I had on delay. I was talking on the phone with my Cousin Dan, down in Florida—the same cousin who thought that Stanton was going to be awesome in the Stadium.

Ah, well. He's a salesman. Not, say, a baseball executive paid a fortune to assess such things...

Anonymous said...

I am here as well. I wasn't on my computer while watching the game.

My only comment would have been that the Astros stadium apparently has a billboard from Halliburton and that pretty much says it all.

I'm glad they lost. Let's hope it's a trend.

Doug K.

ranger_lp said...

@Doug...Yanks had Koch Industries advert in rotation behind home plate and that pretty much says it all also...

ranger_lp said...

@Doug...and the RedSox has same advert somewhere in Fenway Park...

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