Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rain, Rain, Go Away...And Take the Whiners With You

Maybe I missed something. Were there crocs lurking in those standing puddles? Was the rain turning the infield mud into quicksand? Was it acid rain?

I'm not saying the game shouldn't have been suspended or delayed. Quite the contrary.

I think Bud Selig handled the situation exactly right (ugh, just threw up a little in my mouth). The infield had become modern baseball's version of unplayable and the driving rain couldn't have made hitting, throwing, or catching very easy. Just seeing the ball was probably pretty challenging. With the game tied and Cole Hamels nearing the end of his rope (Rays' starter Scott Kazmir had already departed), there was no reason to continue playing.

For that matter, I think Selig has handled the preset-postseason schedule admirably.

Of course, I'm on the West Coast so this is probably a little unfair, but I had no problem with the late start to Game Three. The game was scheduled for that day, the fans paid and planned to see the game that day, and the television schedules planned for the game to air that night. It was far from ideal, but so would have been the solution.

What, postpone the game? Jumble the fans' lives and the television schedules to accommodate that? And what happens if the weather doesn't clear up? I've never lived in Philadelphia, never been there. But I don't imagine late-October/early-November is a particularly warm and sunny season.

This is the Northeast we're talking about. In late autumn. Not a wonderful time to be waiting for several hours of clear weather.

You're telling me people wouldn't be whining if that scenario had unfolded? Bull excrement.

As for all this nonsense about suspending the game earlier, give me a freakin' break. Once again, you're telling me the Ken Rosenthals of the world wouldn't be taking to cyberspace with equal zeal, writing about how much of a disadvantage it is to cut Hamels off so early and deprive the Phils of a complete fill of his services? Or to force the Rays to dwell on a deficit for hours? Or something else?

But my favorite nasal utterance is how unfair it was to allow the Rays the "advantage" of hitting in the top half of the sixth without allowing Philadelphia that luxury in the bottom half.

Sure, there were standing puddles in the infield and around home plate. But most of those puddles were in the basepaths. Am I the only one who saw B.J. Upton barely score from second on a two-out base hit? The man can fly and was off with contact, but Pat Burrell almost threw him out.

Yes, Burrell's throw hit a puddle and he couldn't charge the ball with the same vigor due to the slick surface. But Upton faced his own obstacles; look how gingerly he rounded third or how slow his normally lightning-quick break was. Not to mention that Burrell was able to play much more shallowly due to the elements. Or how about the fact that both Upton and Carlos Pena had to see a Cole Hamels pitch well enough to make solid contact through a driving rain?

The point is the elements made the game conditions difficult for both teams. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver correctly pointed out that the sloppy field actually might have been more damaging to Tampa Bay because speed was such an important weapon for them.

The only thing that compromises the integrity of competition is an unfair advantage that one team possess over the other. Weather, even weather as bad as last night's, simply does not qualify because both teams must deal with it. It hinders performance to be sure, but that is not compromising the integrity in any negative sense of the phrase.

Hitting. Fielding. Throwing. Pitching. Running. Seeing.

These are the things that are harder to do in the rain and they must be done by both teams. Perhaps it disfavors a team that relies more heavily on speed than others. MAYBE. But that would be the Rays in this scenario so the issue is moot.

The point is, if you tell the whole story (as usual), there really is no controversy.

The conspiracy-for-dollars guys out there will tell you the rainy top of the sixth was an advantage for the Rays because they tied the game. That shouldn't surprise anyone. They'd be telling you it was an advantage for the Phillies if it had ended in their favor.

Controversy increases media revenue and is easy to create if you have a platform from which to tell one side of the story.

And that goes for the poor umpires as well. I take little pleasure in writing that sentence.

Like anyone who competed, I'm not a fan of umpires, referees, or any other rule-keeping official. It's a natural relationship of tension between those who play the game and those who officiate it. That said, everyone whining about the umps needs to grow a spine.

If you don't like the blown calls, then stop bitching and moaning every time someone tries to introduce replay or automated strike zones or any other technological advance. You can't have it both ways. If you don't like technology, the main reason is that you like the imperfection of human umpires. It's eradication is the only reason for technology's proposed introduction.

You might not admit it, but that's what you're saying.

I was a rabid six-year old fan of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985 when Don Dinkinger cost my Redbirds the World Series and I'm still waiting to see my favorite team win a title. So I'm for getting rid of umpires all together. But unless you're in my camp, you don't have the right to gripe when they blow calls unless they are blatantly awful.

And they haven't been blatantly awful.

The only really egregious error was when the third base chump missed the tag on Jimmy Rollins. That play where Jamie Moyer shoveled it to Ryan Howard and caught Carl Crawford was a bang-bang play that the ump had to make without the benefit of sound since Howard bare-handed the ball. Not only that, he was blocked off in an unusual way due to the awkward angle at which Moyer delivered the ball. That's a rough call to make and the guy blew it, then owned up to it. No shame there (remember, I'm rooting for Philly).

The balls and strikes haven't been great, but they haven't been as bad as certain media members would have you believe. Take Game Five.

Kazmir was definitely getting squeezed in the first, but those pitches called balls side-to-side weren't strikes. And the pitches called balls up-to-down (which were strikes) were called balls consistently all night. I really only saw one or two wide strikes that Hamels got and he got the exact same vertical calls. When ruling something like the black area of the plate, consistency is all you can expect.

Furthermore, how about all the good calls Blue has made?

I've seen quite a number of great calls on close plays. And as McCarver pointed out, they correctly handled the infield fly rule after such adverse elements turned each pop-up into an adventure. That's not an obvious thing to do, but it was the right move.

Of course, when you tell the whole story, it's harder to find an opening through which you can bash the collective bargaining agreement that's soon to expire. And guess what you'll be reading about during the offseason, when fodder for stories runs short?

Hint: it's abbreviated CBA.

If you're gonna complain about something, complain about the decisions made many months ago. The decisions to stagger starts and avoid as many multiple-game days as possible. To squeeze maximum television revenue out of the postseason, even if it means moving games to a neutral dome site and playing into December.

Since when is there a day off between Game Four and Game Five? There's no travel necessary. Never been the off day before. And while we're at it, how about the several days of downtime between postseason series? Why are those necessary?

Television. Pure and simple.

That makes this whole thing really disgusting because most of the criticism is coming from guys like Ken Rosenthal. Guys who work for the very organism that created the problem. They attack baseball for costing their employer ratings and not moving games willy-nilly, which is particularly transparent because the networks would complain as vehemently as anyone if they had to televise a game when they had some premiere scheduled.

They have the audacity to not only try to blame this problem on an easy and unsympathetic target (Bud Selig), but to do so without acknowledging their roles in its creation.

Do you really think, if there were no such thing as television, MLB's postseason wouldn't have ended weeks ago? Do you really think the scarcity of day games and plethora of off days has to do with attendance?

Rosenthal, in particular, chastises Bud Selig and Major League Baseball for not postponing Game Three and allowing Game Five to continue for so long. He says this is the World Series and the powers-that-be need to start acting like it.

That would be Ken Rosenthal who works for Fox Sports; the very same Fox Sports that has been televising the postseason. The same Fox Sports that presumably negotiated the postseason schedule, which is really to blame for all this consternation.

The same Ken Rosenthal to whom I would reply:

You are an allegedly respected journalist. You start acting like it.

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