Friday, April 9, 2010

Piling On West

Aviv more than covered the problems surrounding umpire Joe West's tirade directed at the Red Sox and Yankees over the amount of time it takes them to play a game. But I want to get my two cents in as well.

From the unnecessary language to the blind spot surrounding the umpires' own culpability in games going too long, West took aim at a legitimate target but went completely wide of the mark.

If you watched the game Opening Night, you stayed up to midnight to watch the whole game. You also got to watch Joe West call a strike zone that was about the size of a deck of playing cards one moment and then without boundaries the next. Perhaps if pitchers knew they were going to get consistent calls, they would be more apt to deliver timely pitches. Instead, they have to figure out which strike zone West is going to call. Will it be wide or narrow? Short or tall? Perhaps some form only found in non-Euclidean geometry? But no, West should really ignore that part of it.

Also take into account that these are the two top teams in the game today. When they go up against one another, it's not like having a Pittsburgh/Houston tilt. They have the bats to tag the other side's pitching, pitching that tends to overwhelm lesser teams. It's like Ali-Frazier; those guys would wade through lesser opponents with ease but then have to beat the living hell out of each other for 15 rounds. You want a game that goes three hours or less? Go watch the Jays.

As Aviv pointed out in his post earlier today, Boston and New York have to answer to their fans first. We want winners and - unlike most other fanbases - we get winners. And the style that New York and Boston employ to win (working pitch counts, controlling the pace of the game) tends to eat the clock. Yeah, that does get annoying after a while. No one likes staying up past midnight to watch a game. But I'd rather suffer that problem now and again, and have the Red Sox win, than get in bed by 11 while my team goes 70-92 for another year.

Then there is the language West employed, calling the way Boston and New York play "pathetic and embarrassing" and "a disgrace to baseball". If a player used this kind of language to describe, say, Angel Hernandez's atrocious play-calling at first base on Opening Night, they would be levied a hefty fine. If a manager called Joe West "a disgrace to baseball" back in 1990 after he slammed Dennis Cook to the ground while breaking up a brawl, they would have likely been suspended. It goes without saying that using this language will not help the games go any faster and may result in a backlash from the teams.

The truth is that yes, Boston and New York play a style of baseball that takes longer. But the umpires also contribute to this problem by calling uneven and constantly morphing strike zones, and missing calls on a semi-regular basis. To be blunt, crap umpires like Angel Hernandez are a bigger problem in baseball than the fact that Jonathan Papelbon takes a few extra seconds between pitches.

Joe West had a legitimate gripe about game time. But the language he used completely overshadowed that gripe and rendered it pointless. Combined with his ignoring the role umpires play in this problem, he only helped to point out that the problem is larger than just two teams on the East Coast.

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