Umpire Egos Continue to Outweigh Fairness in MLB

We’re well into the 2016 season for Major League Baseball. Each year, MLB adjusts the rules to resolve safety issues and to improve fairness.  Unfortunately, there is still a part of baseball that continues to be unfair, the calling of balls and strikes by the home plate umpire.

The technology to accurately call balls and strikes has existed for several years. During TV broadcasts of games, networks frequently show a display after pitches, which shows whether or not the ball was in the strike zone.  Some umpires do a good job of calling pitches.  However, even the best umpire does not get pitch-calls right every time.  The result is that not every batter gets a fair at-bat.

I really like to watch baseball.  However, I am disgusted every year by the fact that the MLB will not adopt a computerized system for calling balls and strikes. There is only one reason this change is not made, and that is umpire egos.  The show put on by most umpires behind home plate when they call strikes and ring up batters is apparently more important than having a fair contest.

Computerized calling of balls and strikes would not eliminate the need for the umpire behind home plate.  Calls still need to be made as to whether the batter checks his swing, for plays at home plate, and for plays in the infield.  Umpires are not needed to call accurate and consistent balls and strikes.  MLB will never truly be in the 21st century as long as the broadcast networks have a better means of calling balls and strikes than the players get in the game.

I couldn’t care less whether umpires’ egos are bruised by eliminating them from calling balls and strikes.  I want to see games that are fair to all of the teams and all of the players.

Arbitrary rules in MLB post-season

I have been a baseball fan for most of my life. I’ve been watching the post-season games even though my team, the Mariners, did not make it to the post-season. The game I watched this evening was game 2 between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets.

I think it’s very important, no matter what game you’re playing, that the rules of the game are applied to all players in the same manner. The only way the game is fair is if everyone must play by the same rules.

In the bottom of the 7th inning, the Dodgers had a man on first base. The next batter hit the ball, which was picked up and thrown to the Mets shortstop. It looked like it was going to be a double play. The shortstop had his foot probably less than an inch from second base as he was taken out by the player running from first base. On the instant replay, the shortstop’s foot was “in the neighborhood” of second base. The replay also showed that the runner from first base never touched second base. The second base umpire called the runner out, but this call was challenged.

After a review by the umpires in New York, the call was overturned and the runner was awarded second base. On top of all this, the collision of the Dodger base runner with the Mets shortstop resulted in the shortstop breaking his leg. I could not believe the ruling on this play.

It is so common in Major League Baseball for umpires to call runners out at second base when the defensive player doesn’t actually touch the base. It’s know as a neighborhood play. In the case of this play tonight, the umpires awarded the base to the runner because the shortstop didn’t actually touch the base, even though the runner never actually touched the base either.

So, the bottom line is that Major League Baseball is not a game governed by rules. Apparently, the rules are just guidelines and the umpires have the ultimate authority to decide who wins and who loses. I have no real interest in either the Dodgers or the Mets. But what went on tonight in the way this play was rule upon was just plain wrong. Either a rule is a rule or it isn’t. If the rules are not going to be uniformly applied to everyone, what’s the point of playing the game?

I have been disgusted with Major League Baseball because the technology is available that would allow balls and strikes to be called fairly and correctly for all players. Clearly, MLB believes umpires are more important than game integrity. In my opinion, even with an instant replay review tonight, the umpires who overturned the original call got it wrong. In doing so, they likely changed the outcome of the game.

It’s the end of the world, my baseball team is losing

Let me clarify, right at the start, that the title of this post does not reflect the way I feel.  Yes, I am a fan of the Seattle Mariners, and, yes, they are losing this year.  I read another blog post today that talked about how embarrassing it was to be a Mariners fan and how bad it makes the city of Seattle look to have such a poor team representing them.  The blog was written by a fellow Mariners fan (at least that’s what he claims to be).  After I finished reading the post, I just sat here and shook my head in disbelief.  This person places such importance on having a winning baseball team that he cannot bear the thought of not winning.  I’m still shaking my head.

Since when is a city only great if it has a winning baseball team, or a winning football team, or any kind of a winning team?  When the World Series is over in a few weeks and one team out of 30 is declared the winner for the year, the other 29 home cities will continue to be, more or less, the same as they were at the start of Spring Training this year.  I do not love Seattle any less because their home baseball team is doing poorly.  Seattle is not a bad city because their baseball team is not doing well.

Major league baseball is a spectator sport and the game of baseball is not an easy game to play.  If the game was easy, I’d probably be making $5 million a year playing left or right field.  I chose the Mariners as my team because of my love for the city of Seattle, the State of Washington, and the Pacific Northwest.  If the Mariners don’t get into the post-season, I will still feel the same way about the Pacific Northwest.  I will also still love the Mariners because, win or lose, they are my baseball team.

My advice for any sports fan is this.  Take a step back and examine how fanatical you have become about your chosen team.  Is it really the end of the world if they don’t win?  I’ll admit, it’s not enjoyable to watch a game where the Mariners can’t seem to do anything right.  That’s where the off switch on the TV becomes useful.  No one says you have to watch every game.  I like to watch my team win.  But, when all is said and done, there’s still a tomorrow, win or lose.

A way to enjoy baseball, win or lose

So far this season, I have been enjoying the fact that I’m not following a local team.  When I decided that Washington State was where I would like to live, I switched my favorite major league baseball team from the Los Angeles Angels to the Seattle Mariners.  I have been a subscriber to MLB.TV for several years.  As an Angels fan, I could never watch a live game on MLB.TV.  Because of exclusivity agreements, teams in the viewer’s local market are blacked out from live broadcast.  It forces you to watch the game on a local television network.  Now that I follow the Mariners, I can watch every game live.

There was one problem with this arrangement as an Angels fan.  Angels games are not always broadcast on a channel that everyone in the local market can receive.  Take this evening, for example.  The Mariners were playing the Rangers with a first pitch time of 5:05 pm Pacific Time.  I was enjoying the game up until 7:00 pm when the Angels game was supposed to start.  My wife is still an Angels fan.  The TV channel guide and the MLB web site said the game would be broadcast on Fox Sports West.  But there was no game being broadcast.  Instead they were running something called Car Wars.  After exhausting other resources, I checked the Twitter feed for Fox Sports West and found a tweet that said the game was being broadcast on KCOP Los Angeles.  No Angels game for my wife tonight.  We don’t get KCOP.

The Angels have not been doing well of late.  My wife made the comment that it didn’t matter the game was not televised for us, the Angels would probably lose again anyway.  Her comment didn’t register until the game I was watching came to a close.

For the game this evening between the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers, the Mariners were ahead for most of the game.  Early on, they scored 2 runs off of Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish.  The Mariners pitcher, Felix Hernandez, did a great job.  In the bottom of the 9th, after leading 2-1, the Mariners ended up losing 3-2.  It was a disappointing end to what was mostly a great ball game.

After the game was over, I went online and noticed some comments on social media.  Many were not pretty.  In fact, there were several comments that were quite rude.  All of a sudden, it hit me.  Why are we watching this game if we are not enjoying it?  We might as well watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune instead, which is what my wife had to watch.

I really like to watch baseball.  For the last half of the 9th inning, I didn’t enjoy it.  No one likes to see a team lose that they are cheering on.  But is it really the end of the world if they do lose?

Many years ago, I had a set of golf clubs, which I used regularly.  I probably played golf for a total of about 5 years.  During that 5 years, I think I broke 100 once.  Anyone who knows anything about golf knows that is not very good.  I was just not very good at golf.  I lacked consistency in my play of the game.

The times when I played golf and kept score, it was common for me to not enjoy the game.  It was especially frustrating to be trying to play with other golfers trying to pass me from behind because they believed I was playing too slowly.  The times that I really enjoyed playing golf were times when I left the scorecard in the golf cart, untouched.  If I did not keep score, I could enjoy the good shots and try to learn from the bad ones.

After thinking about my experience with golf, a light came on this evening.  I can’t enjoy watching baseball if every time the team loses is a disaster.  If the Mariners don’t make it to the post-season this year, is the Earth going to stop turning?  It would be nice to see them in the post-season, but that’s not why I watch baseball.  I watch it for the great plays, the home runs, that diving catch.  I also watch the Mariners because my heart is in the Pacific Northwest.  They are now my team, win or lose.

Tomorrow, when I watch the final game of the 4-game series with the Rangers, perhaps the Mariners will come out ahead and then head for Miami with a series record behind them of 2-2.  What I won’t be checking is the standings.

If you enjoy the game of baseball and your team isn’t in first place, my advice is to stop looking at their record.  Watch and enjoy the great baseball plays you see most games.  Baseball is not an easy game and the players are not perfect, they are human.  Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s game, I will enjoy it more than I did today.

Baseball Smorgasbord in Phoenix Arizona

Last week, I took a trip to the home of the Cactus League, Phoenix, Arizona.  I have been a baseball fan most of my life.  When some friends suggested that we should take a trip to Phoenix this year for Spring Training, I agreed because it gave me the opportunity to travel somewhere I have not been before.  Going for the baseball games seemed secondary since Spring Training games do not count toward the regular season.  My experience was a pleasant surprise.

I had not realized before this trip that there are 10 baseball stadiums around the greater Phoenix area, all of which are an easy drive from anywhere in Phoenix.  Playing in the 10 stadiums are 15 major league teams, including the 2 teams I follow; the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels.  If you’re looking for pure baseball enjoyment, Phoenix is a good place to visit during the month of March.

My experience reminded me a little of my days when I played golf.  Golf was something I was never particularly good at.  When I kept score, I usually experienced disappointment at the end of the game.  The games where I did not keep score were the most enjoyable.  Even though scores are kept and statistics are tracked during Spring Training, the results don’t count when it comes to making it to the post-season.  You do get to see some great plays.  The general atmosphere is more relaxed.  The number of fans at any particular game is usually 8,000 to 10,000 instead of 30,000 to 50,000 for a regular ball park.  At some stadiums, like Tempe Diablo Stadium, you can sit close enough to carry on a conversation with either the 1st or 3rd base coaches, depending on where you sit.

It’s common to see fans wearing team gear from many teams, even ones that are not playing at a particular stadium.  You can follow around one team or you can get a variety and see several teams play.  During my visit, I went to 3 games and saw the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels, Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Not bad for just 3 days.

This trip made me a Spring Training convert.  You can be sure that next March, I will be traveling to Phoenix again to get an early baseball fix.  It was a great vacation!