THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
By the time you read this (based on when it is published in the long line of blog posts), the 2017 World Baseball Classic will be long over. And I'm happy to say I stayed up way too late on some nights to watch games in Korea and Japan.
I made it a point to follow four teams: USA (since it's where I live, is my proud home, and is the greatest country in the world), Italy (which holds the overwhelming majority of my heritage), Netherlands (I developed an affinity for them in 2013 while watching them play...they were fun to watch and quite good), and Israel (after interviewing their general manager, Peter Kurz, on our radio show and realizing just how good of a roster they had, I felt compelled to be in their corner to help not only them, but the game of baseball).
I happened to catch two of the three games the Netherlands played in the first round. In both games, however, I realized something: players on the Netherlands are a little too serious and argumentative. They were the ones who were chirping with the umpires over called strikes and close plays. And in one situation where the first base umpire completely kicked a call against them, the dugout went nuts; it was to the point where the home plate umpire, MLB's Ted Barrett, had to step in and tell them to calm down.
As the first round went on, I saw more argumentative tendencies, mainly from some of the Latin players. Mexico was chirping about the strike zone (no relation) in one game. Fans of Mexico were making threats against the families of players from Puerto Rico, causing the entire team to rush out of the dugout to defend their families. And who could forget the scene of ejections from Columbia when their hopes of advancing were slowly slipping away as they couldn't push across that winning run to upset the Dominican Republic?
Now, some of this is the fault of Major League Baseball and the governing body/rules of the World Baseball Classic. The tournament is held concurrently with Spring Training, which means that everyone, including umpires, are not in mid-season form. Even the countries that play all year round still have a break in the action of their schedule, so umpires could be a little rusty. Further, teams and umpires from around the world are traveling through time zones to different hemispheres; they may just not as sharp as they should be. And above all else, when the majority of the players in the tournament are playing Major League Baseball, they're used to the benefit of instant replay; unfortunately, the early rounds of the tournament do not use replay for anything other than boundary and home run calls.
In fact, one international umpire was having such a bad day while calling balls and strikes that both Venezuela and Italy practically gave up trying to argue.
However, there is no good solution to some of these issues. Outside of the use of replay being expanded to what it is in the MLB regular season, no other decision could really improve upon the quality; it would be more of a side-step than a step forward. Would it be fair to the Netherlands if all the umpires from their pool in Korea came from Korea? Would MLB want that? They make it a point to have two MLB umpires on every game, and the umpires who are from other countries need to have some understanding of the English language in order to communicate with coaches and players.
The point here is that all of these players, fans, and countries need to take a step back and look at this tournament in perspective. Nobody is in mid-season form. The rules are different, especially when you consider that these games are round-robin and single elimination, rather than best-of series like the game was meant to be played. Kudos to the Americans who have appeared to have shown good sportsmanship, even when they failed to hold a lead against the Dominican Republic in the first round. That's an opportunity to be proud to be American!
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.