THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
Have you ever had a bad day? Have you ever had a bad day at work (or, if you're young, at school)?
If the answer is anything other than a resounding "yes," stop reading now because you do not exist.
Now, you may go to an office for your job. If you don't go to an office, you probably go to some "place" to do a job. (Even someone self-employed has to go somewhere, even in the house, to do their job.) Do you know where people involved with sports go when they go to the office?
It may be described in a number of ways: the field, the stadium, the park, etc. It all means the same thing. But if you're a professional athlete or official, your office is literally the playing field.
So if a star athlete has a poor performance, is it not fair to say he or she had a bad day at the office? Does that give others the right to boo that athlete and make sure he or she knows that fans disapprove of their performance?
Let's put it another way: if you're having a bad day at the office, how would you feel if people who didn't work at your office came into your office and just verbally abused you over the job you were doing?
If the answer is anything other than a resounding "bad," stop reading now because you do not exist.
The next time you're not happy with a player or an official at any level in any capacity, keep one thing in mind: that person is trying very hard to do their best. Your negative critique isn't helping and serves no purpose.
This past MLB season saw something happen that not many people noticed:
The World Umpire Association (WUA), which is union that represents MLB umps, rebranded as the Major League Baseball Umpires Association (MLBUA), and became the fifth of the "big five" professional team sports to have a major online presence through websites and social media.
MLB umpires join officials from the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLS as becoming more transparent to the public. Granted, the public will probably go the way of abusing this privilege (see the #RefWatchParty that occurred during the NBA Finals), but the intent to keep the conversation open and ongoing is a fantastic thing.
The union has actually been very active on Twitter (@MLBUA), showcasing good calls by umpires in an attempt to educate the general public on how they work. Possibly the best part of this work, however, is even more highlights for the UMPS CARE charity.
Officials in these major sports take unfortunate abuse from the uneducated public. Players, coaches, and the media have a tendency to speak and act in ways that do not represent the educated point of view of the official. These actions speak to a psychological issue of scapegoating, leaving the officials as the common enemy among rivals.
The officials are tired of being treated as sub-humans. These platforms will allow their voices to be heard. The public would be smart to recognize this and know they are proud to uphold the integrity of the game and do their job.
On August 31, 2018, a feat occurred in a baseball game between the Yankees and Tigers that doesn't happen too often: both managers were ejected.
Aaron Boone (Yankees) was ejected by Home Plate Umpire Nic Lentz for arguing balls and strikes. Ron Gardenhire (Tigers) was ejected by First Base Umpire Paul Nauert for arguing a check swing no-call. Both cases contained an element of absurdity that further proves that the theater of baseball disqualifications regarding managers is not only a joke to the game, but also an abhorrent way to influence others who witness it.
Boone took exception with the strike zone of Lentz to the point where he made contact with the umpire and put on a demonstration in a catcher's crouch that did nothing more than delay the game and solidify his ignorance towards the arbiters of the game. What Boone probably didn't know is that, according to the official plot of the zone after the game by Brooks Baseball Pitch f/x tool, Lentz really only missed two pitches the entire game.
Further, Boone was clearly upset at his team's lack of offense and used the ejection as a way to "fire up" his team. This translates to the idea of yelling vociferously at an innocent umpire to vent your frustrations over your own team's inability to hit with the hope that your players decide to change their ways somehow.
The fact of the matter is that these arguments are rarely filled with the tirade we think they are. Usually, the manager is yelling about how bad his team is, leaving the umpire the unfortunate target of hate where the fans usually pile on him as the bad guy for tossing the manager (assuming it's the home team). In fact, even if the manager is yelling about his displeasure with an umpire, the confrontation has the ability to make even a professional umpire begin to question his calls, resulting in more displeasure.
On the flip side, Gardenhire was ejected when Nauert ruled that Yankees hitter Luke Voit did not swing at a pitch. It was a close pitch and a tough call to make in real time, but the replay seemed to make me think the call was incorrect: Voit did offer at the pitch. Gardenhire's argument resulted in ridiculous accusations that Nauert could obviously see through, but it wasn't until the argument finished that it was clear it was a joke of an argument.
As soon as Gardenhire turned around to walk back to the clubhouse, he looked right at Voit who was standing on first base (the no-call resulted in a walk) and asked him, "Did you swing?" as he walked by, followed by a smirk .
Even Gardenhire knew this was a joke.
A few days later, Boone was hit with a one-game suspension for making contact with Lentz during the confrontation. To quote Boone:
"I was arguing, I got kicked out of the game, I reacted how I reacted. Unfortunately, I got a little too close, and I do regret that. I always want to be in control of my emotions, to a degree. But sometimes you also have to state your claim and defend certain things that are important. I definitely shouldn't have nicked his cap."
In this brief statement, we got a cop-out about responsibility for one's actions and emotions as well as evidence of misplaced priorities. No mention of an apology...no mention that Lentz actually was doing a good job...just a lame way of getting around talking about something where Boone was at fault.
Sorry, Aaron. Cancer is important. Poverty is important. Borderline pitches are not.
We've praised Janis Meredith before for her work as a parenting coach. She recently wrote an article on a topic we have discussed many times before: abuse of officials. Her thesis: how to stop it.
Meredith begins by doing the obvious and the easy: telling people to JUST STOP. You would think it should be that easy, but unfortunately, it's not always that simple. She goes on to give three steps to assist with the process:
1. Sit down. Many parents get up close and personal (or within earshot) of officials so they are sure officials can hear them. If you want to stop it, just find a seat and relax.
2. Imagine the official is your child. In the vein of "treat others as you would wish to be treated," take a moment to imagine how you would feel if you observed someone berating your child in the same way that you might berate an official. Doesn't feel so good, does it?
3. Remember who is watching. Can you imagine what would happen if someone used their phone to record your poor behavior and spread it everywhere? You could lose your job, among other things, if your employer didn't want you associated with the company after seeing it!
If that's not enough for you, then become an official. After a year, you'll change your tune. Trust me.
Put aside the tumultuous ride that was Mike Francesa's "retirement" and return to sports talk radio in New York for a second and look at where his content and opinion is headed in the future.
Francesa has been very clear that much of his future plans involve interaction with fans (as sports talk radio usually does), but it goes beyond just calling in to his show. He has an app for fans to use. In conjunction with this plan, he did something that he said he would never do (until they told him to do it): join Twitter.
In an interview with ThePostGame.com, Francesa was asked about his methodology for Tweeting, and the answer is not surprising because it works: negativity sells.
Think about it. Whether you read, watch, or listen to any news, be it sports, politics, or any other topic that gets reported, discussed, and dissected, the negative news gets far more play than the positive news. The report about the good deeds being done at the local animal shelter are pushed to the last segment of the local newscast so that doom and gloom can headline the show.
The same goes in sports. The discussion about a player's inept play gets far more attention than the praise of a masterful performance. People are looking for heads to roll or a target to point their finger when their team doesn't win, and this type of outlet feeds that.
Nobody is suggesting that sports talk in any form should be eliminated. Debating sports is a great escape. But perhaps all sports fans need to take a step back and savor the sport for what it is: sport. It's supposed to be fun and entertaining. It is never supposed to be life and death.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.