"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles CEO, sportsnetwork.com
Huntingdon Valley, Pa (Sports Network) -
Ours is a society where everything from filling and capping bottles at a Coca-Cola factory to sending astronauts into space is automated and the recipient of the most incredible technology the world has ever seen. We watch in awe as documentaries on auto production show assembly lines where human intervention is limited to turning on the switch and making some notes on tally sheets to confirm orders. Ours is a world of the Internet and greater communication than we have ever known. Computers dominate our very being and the complete perfection demanded of them, the paragon of faultlessness that we wish every keystroke to be is challenged without pause.
It is what we want.
It is not, however, what is sought by sports. The matter of instant replay has been beaten up more than one of Jim Brown's girlfriends. The NFL feels compelled to have votes on it from season to season and then send out less than compelling press releases voicing concern over the delays that replay might cause over the course of a game. There are no statistics or research to back up their baseless protestations, only the votes of men who would be better served sitting in a home for the aged somewhere staring at their bank books and deposit slips.
A refereee watches the instant replay during a 1999 game between the Chicago Bears and the San Diego Chargers. (Tom Hauck /Allsport)
The football patriarchs aside, does the umpire's union in baseball really have so much power that the tail is wagging the dog in what was once America's sport? As April approaches, spring training is upon us and suntan lotion becomes a staple of every locker, should we really accept the fact that error is part of the game? Is it too much to ask that the game on the field be treated in like manner to the one off the diamond, the competition and stratagem that takes place in the offices of the commissioner and those of the networks?where every "i" is dotted more than once and "t's" are crossed with perfection?
Recent World Series games were decided by umpiring mistakes that any Little League dad would not have made. Joyous that they occurred as a Yankees fan? Absolutely and chuckling all the way to the refridge. But, objectively realizing that baseball has become as much of a judgment call travesty as believing Vince Carter is the next Michael Jordan.
Let's face it, ground ball to third or short, quick throw to second and the second baseman only has to sweep past the bag, not touch it, before tossing to first to complete the double play and it is a done deal. The umpiring fraternity no longer cares whether there was a tag at second, just that it was close enough to make the call. The sound of the ball hitting the glove of the first baseman to determine if the runner's foot touched the base first no longer works. They are split second determinations. The camera shows the ball in the glove and the position of the foot at that precise second. Helen Keller could make the call in a blink.
Why do they, the leagues, besiege us with the fact that error is part of the game? Why does frailty have a place in the world when it can be eliminated? What is the reason for keeping something broken when it can be fixed? How much time does it really take to decide? "Reasonable" sounds like a good determining factor, almost as good as "clearly evident."
Television cameras are mounted everywhere, on top of the basket, on the goal posts, behind the catcher, on the dashboard at Indy and we are given every view imaginable. The Trinitron screen shows the bad call in living color on the same set that King Kong used at home. It is there for the world to see and 90 million fans at home were witness to the miscue, the botched call. Yet, we are told to accept these human errors, blooper, boners and clunkers as part of the game.
How utterly insane is this? Bats are made under the same scrutiny used to launch missiles, the balls are designed to go farther than a drive off the tee by Tiger Woods on a par five, chemical boosters are employed to break Babe Ruth's records, there is enough equipment in every training room to open a chain of clubs to compete with Bally and the sport tells us, with a straight face, to accept inaccuracy and pratfalls worthy of Ringling Brothers. Baseball had a great clown and he passed away recently. But Max Patkin was there to entertain, to flub intentionally.
The present day arbiters who determine winners and losers look to their union and exclaim, "That's the way it is!" Baseball accepts that statement without so much as a whimper. "It will destroy the grand old game," they say. But they have taken the grand old game to loftier heights that suit their purposes. That part is okay. The grand old game is no longer the sport of the Thirties, Forties, Fifties or Sixties. It is now the sport of the millennium, the sport of Jules Verne becoming a reality. We don't take horses into town any longer and carriage posts are only on Bourbon Street for decorative and tourist enhancement.
Umpires in action during a 1998 game between the San Francisco Giants and the Colorado Rockies. (Otto Greule Jr. /Allsport)
They build stadiums for hundreds of millions with super boxes that are one step short of space age condominiums on the Starship Enterprise but they are reluctant to improve the very game itself and how the outcome is determined. Scary is being kind.
Yes, the call has to be made in a split second and error is going to accompany the way the game is conclusively called because it is a natural outgrowth of the system. That does not make it right. To the contrary, it makes it blatantly wrong. We have advanced the world and the game of baseball itself. Gloves used today could catch a falling meteorite. Players are in better physical condition than the Russian weight lifting team. Fans are being charged enough for tickets to settle the national debt of most Third World countries and the umpires are still huffing and puffing to catch up.
The strike zone has become a travesty. The manner in which balls and strikes are called is more burlesque than Gypsy Rose Lee. All the "That was close" comments by TV announcers cannot hide the trajectory of the ball as seen by the overhead camera or the one behind the plate. They have made a mockery of pitching with balls and strikes deteriorating to the level of stickball on the streets of New York.
Why shouldn't baseball be as much of an exact science as anything else we do today? Beats the hell out of me. It is no longer the grand old game and hasn't been for a long time. Do the owners care, the umpires, networks, fans, and players with walk-in Swiss vaults? You gotta be kidding. There's you, the vendors and me.