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!
Back in February, an article and news story from the local news from Toledo summed up the plight of youth and high school athletics in a manner that couldn't be more perfect.
The thesis of the article submits that it is the parents who are the biggest culprit in destroying the institution of athletics for our youth, which is the absolute truth. In fact, the only time this isn't the case is when you get a coach who has none of his/her children on the team he/she coaches, yet still is an absolute nightmare.
Why are the parents the problem? It's three fold:
The principle of this argument is very similar to that of a post we featured many moons ago when we transferred our material from our old blog. Officials want to focus "between the lines," that is, on the playing action and not on the dugouts and stands. When players, coaches, and fans berate officials, they take the focus of the official off the game and onto the unnecessary words and actions of people who do nothing but distract officials from doing their best job. It seems the same principle applies to players who want to focus on the game, not their parents pressuring them.
All in all, it's real simple: shut up. Be nice. Treat others how you would want to be treated.
Daniel Webster College is shutting down its Division III men's basketball program. However, the final game for the team was marred by a brawl that resulted in three arrests.
Marquise Caudill, a guard for Daniel Webster's team, was arrested after assaulting an opponent by punching him and stomping on him while he was on the ground. He further threatened an officer working security detail who tried to stop him.
His teammate, Antwaun Boyd, was also arrested for inciting the crowd that surrounded the officer who was trying to stop the fight.
A spectator, 43-year-old Elizabeth Morris, was also arrested for attempting to hold back the same officer from making the arrest.
Apparently, the officer in question requested backup and received the help of 25 other officers to attempt to restore order.
Sometimes, there are just no words for these types of situations. You just shake your head and ask, "What were these people thinking?" Or perhaps they weren't...
In baseball, after a player has accrued three years of major league service time, he is eligible for arbitration for years four through six.
That means that, although he hasn't reached free agent status and go wherever he wants, he does have the right to negotiate his pay with his team (rather than being paid whatever the team says for the first three years, so long as it is at or above the major league minimum). If the two sides cannot agree on a number, they go to arbitration where an independent arbiter decides between the two proposed salaries (one from the team, one from the player).
The New York Yankees hadn't gone to arbitration with a player since 2008 when they defeated Chien-Ming Wang. That streak ended this year when they went to arbitration with Dellin Betances. Betances had asked for an annual salary of $5 million; the Yankees countered with $3 million.
The Yankees won.
Arbitration can be a tough process on the psyche of a player because of its legal practice. As much as the player has to argue why he deserves the money, the team has to argue why the player doesn't. So after you, the player, boast about your qualifications, the team then tears you apart and say you're worthless to them.
Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's the truth. Just like in the real world, all parties in a court case are entitled to competent representation, and the legal counsel will argue whatever it takes to win the case, regardless of how ethical it may be. Even a person being tried for murder will hire an attorney to argue whatever it takes to discredit the witnesses and the prosecution's case in order to get the defendant acquitted, even if he actually did it.
So in the case of Betances v. Yankees, the Yankees went on the offensive during the hearing to explain why the reliever did not deserve the money. They were entitled to do so during such hearing, and it appeared that Betances understood this and was prepared to hear some unfortunate things.
The problem is that Yankees President Randy Levine then held court after the victory and relayed all his statements to the press and the public. Levine basically blasted Betances, claiming he was not elite and his stats proved it. He also blasted Betances' agents as using the arbitration system and process to exploit players and the precedents of salaries in order to get more money for players who don't deserve it.
Betances responded in kind to the press, stating that free agency looked more appealing following this experience. Sounds like bridges are getting burnt already.
First of all, regarding the salary in general, there was no way Betances was going to win this case. In fact, it surprised me that he would even go this far and not settle. Betances showed last season that there are still plenty of holes in his game, regardless of the fact that he made three consecutive All-Star teams. He can't hold runners on base. He can't close out games. He simply did not have the intestinal fortitude to pitch the ninth inning, so putting him in the setup role is the perfect place for him, and he'll still make plenty of money in that role.
From there, however, as unfortunate as the arbitration process is, it's even more unfortunate and dumb that Randy Levine would answer questions about what he said. He's not a lawyer looking to explain his case to the public so society understand what happened to the citizen on trial. He's dealing with an internal issue regarding salary; not a single person's life is on the line here. He should have kept his mouth shut.
And much like the situation where Philly people responded to Gov. Chris Christie's comments, Betances didn't need to come out and say what he did publicly, even if he was very hurt. Why do public figures feel the need to explain themselves in this manner through the press?
I bet Betances is pitching for the Mets as soon as he is a free agent.
As a precursor, I should mention I try very hard to keep politics out of this blog. To my knowledge, I only brought politics up once on this blog when I discussed the poor sportsmanship immediately following the 2016 Presidential Election. So please keep that in mind as we discuss the following story: we want to focus on the sports and sportsmanship side, not the politics.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) is a self-proclaimed fan of the New York Mets and Dallas Cowboys. It's not the most logical combination; it's like how my girlfriend's father, who grew up on Long Island, is a fan of the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Cardinals...makes no sense!
Christie appeared on SNY (the cable home of the Mets) prior to the start of the Grapefruit League season to discuss the upcoming season. In doing so, he made some disparaging comments about the Phillies, their city, and their fans. I won't go into the exact comments, but he not only insulted the Phillies and their fans, but he described the people as "angry, awful people."
In doing so, Christie set of a firestorm of reactions. First, the Phillies responded with a dig that referenced Christie's scandal with the George Washington Bridge and the legal ramifications of closing lanes to get back at politicians who didn't endorse him.
Second, Philly mayor Jim Kenney went even harder at Christie, basically calling him a loser and a bully, citing his failure in his bid for the Presidency and the probability of him finding work following the conclusion of his term.
Third, Mike Trout is at it again. He took a dig at Christie when he said he felt sorry for him being a Cowboys fan.
Okay, boys. Let's all stop being immature and act like adults.
None of these parties is innocent. Christie shouldn't have started the whole thing, especially with his reputation. It doesn't matter if you like or hate him or agree with his policies or not: when you are known as someone who holds the qualities he does and has scandal surrounding him, it's probably not the best thing to stir the pot.
Further, although it is understandable that the parties from Philadelphia would respond in defense after being attacked, they all unfortunately started to give Christie's comments credence by not taking the high road. Let's face it: Philadelphia sports do not have the most pristine reputation.
Finally, I really used to enjoy watching Mike Trout play. He seemed to maintain many of the morals and values of good sportsmanship when he's on the field. But this is his second foul in the category of Eagles vs. Cowboys. Hey Mike: do me a favor and shut up; just go play baseball.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.