THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
By Jack Furlong
It was doubly late: late on a Wednesday night in late August when I went to my favorite watering hole to relax before calling it a night. The radio that was on throughout the restaurant caused the television sets above the liquor bottles to be muted, leaving me with only the away video feed (no audio) for the game between the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks and the host Los Angeles Dodgers.
Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker was at bat when home plate umpire Alex Tosi called a strike. Using the inaccurate graphic box that simulates the strike zone for visual context, the pitch was outside; it was a two-seam fastball that purposefully started outside the zone and sunk back towards the plate, but it was probably two inches away from the outside corner as denoted by vertical line superimposed on the screen. Tosi’s strike mechanic triggered displeasure from Walker.
Shortly thereafter, Walker grounded out. When the camera panned back to Walker putting his batting helmet away in the dugout, he was still yelling at Tosi for that call. Walker then slammed his batting gloves against the wall, shook his head again, and planted himself against the dugout railing overlooking the field. His eyes were fixated solely on Tosi as anger and displeasure emanated from every orifice on his head. The sweat that glistened on his bald white scalp wanted to turn into steam or smoke simply to escape the awkward tension, like a scared child that didn’t want to be around an inappropriately angry parent.
The camera would switch back to its normal angle in centerfield to televise each pitch, but the ten seconds of downtime in between each subsequent pitch would be filled with another shot of Walker. Without hearing the audio, I began to wonder about the impetus that would require the camera to continue its intent focus on Walker following his routine groundout. Was a director at the network controlling the broadcast and barking orders to keep focusing on Walker, encouraging the commentators to speak in favor of Walker and against Tosi? Or were the Arizona broadcasters going on an anti-umpire tirade that led the director to simply follow their voices with the appropriate visual shots? Regardless of whether control belonged to the director or the broadcasters, the schtick became saturated, causing me to silently beg the broadcast itself to focus on to the next batter and forget about Walker’s plate appearance.
The raging testosterone fueling Walker’s reaction became secondary to the fanning of the flames being done by the technicians controlling the video telecast. Even without audio, I was being told by the moving pictures to focus on Walker’s frustration and empathize with him, which might then manifest into a detesting of Tosi and perhaps all umpires. I wondered if there was a subconscious protocol being implemented by the director to truly influence the feelings and emotions of the viewers in a way that elevated one party on a pedestal and demoted another for the purpose of gaining ratings and revenue.
I considered myself lucky that I had the ability to abduct such information; the average viewer (especially with alcohol introduced into the equation) probably would never reach the same conclusion without being lectured. But the entire ordeal points to the potential that the media wields to control the narrative of the public. A simple repeated visual focus on an angry ballplayer yelling at an umpire, even without audio, can influence the way people feel, usually by invoking anger or a general uneasiness that points to conflict rather than resolution.
We may not be able to control what is put in front of us as we try to watch a game. After all, the media truly can control the narrative, regardless of whether the context is sports, politics, business, or anything else. But we do have the ability to consciously recognize these sleazy tactics. Perhaps the path to peace requires the vulnerability needed to acknowledge this social engineering, relying instead on our freedom to formulate our own opinions without subscribing to a phony gospel.
By Jack Furlong
Founder, President & CEO
In August 2022 at Chase Field, the Arizona Diamondbacks hosted the St. Louis Cardinals. The only thing hotter than the outside temperature were the tempers of Cardinals rookie manager Oliver Marmol and veteran home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor.
Marmol took exception to some of the calls made by Bucknor on balls and strikes, which led to Bucknor ejecting Marmol. According to reports, the heated argument that resulted included Bucknor commenting on Marmol’s tenure in the league (Marmol being in his first year as a manager). This led to Marmol’s reciprocal retort that demanded Bucknor finally retire from umpiring.
Fast forward to Spring Training 2023 on the east coast of Florida where Bucknor was stationed and assigned to be the home plate umpire for a game with the Cardinals. According to reports, Bucknor refused to shake Marmol’s hand during the pregame plate meeting. This led to postgame comments from Marmol that further questioned his ability to umpire in addition to his class as a man.
Major League Baseball investigated the incident and eventually came to believe everything was behind them, clearing the air and putting the entire soap opera to bed. However, as media members and fans alike began to dissect the timeline of events, the same refrain of hating the umpire rang in the rafters. The question these people asked was the same: on behalf of his status representing the sport of baseball, why couldn’t Bucknor just be the “bigger man” and forget it?
Can you recall a time when you held a job in an industry such as retail, food service, or hospitality? If so, can you think of an example during said tenure when a customer was nasty, either for no reason or provoked due to a minor mistake? Was your window of tolerance ever so small or closed that it led to a confrontation with the customer that became more than it should have ever been?
That might be an accurate comparison of what occurred between Marmol and Bucknor that day.
Everyone who has or has held a job that involves customers, clients, or other people who are served or serviced by such work usually must encounter people who simply do not understand that the combination of unprovoked poor behavior, finger pointing, and catching people at the wrong time can lead to disastrous results. Emotions and feelings begin to boil, calling upon defense mechanisms for support. Words fly from mouths and through the air with the intent to attack, defend, and wage war without the use of rational thought.
For example, imagine a restaurant customer sitting at a table. The customer is not thrilled with the service of the waitstaff and decides to complain in a belligerent and boisterous way to the manager, taking personal jabs at the waitress assigned to the table. The manager explains to the customer that the restaurant is short staffed that day, as a few workers are sick, and the waitress in question came in on a day off to help. Further, the waitress has been dealing with a terminally ill parent, causing her performance at work to suffer slightly.
The customer refuses to apologize and simply demands better service.
If that customer continued to come back to that restaurant while that waitress was working, what would be the probability that the waitress would refuse to serve this customer, let alone even acknowledge the customer, knowing that what was said prior was hurtful and inconsiderate of what was happening in her life at that time?
Oliver Marmol may have felt that his actions were justified that day for a myriad of reasons (like the “defense” of his players), but the fact of the matter is that his words clearly struck a chord that caused C.B. Bucknor to be quite offended. Even if Marmol was provoked by Bucknor, there can be quite a difference in tenor between noting rookie status and the aging process. Sure, that may not justify Bucknor’s comment, but there is a distinct difference between grotesque phrases that can boil down to not “earning one’s stripes yet” versus being put out to pasture, similar to the difference between verbal taunting and physically assaulting. Further, being the “bigger man” doesn’t always mean to forget that someone treated you horribly; it can mean maturely standing up for one’s feelings.
Perhaps the real sin (or where the line was certainly crossed) was when Marmol decided to question the integrity of someone tasked with upholding the game of baseball.
Imagine a teacher disciplines a young student for bad behavior in school. The student asks, “What did I do? What could I have possibly done to deserve this?”
The teacher responds, “You’re ten years old in your first week of fifth grade and you’re talking back to me. I’m not having that for this entire school year.”
The student responds, “Then you need to retire! You’re terrible at your job and you’ve been doing it for too long! If you won’t give me what I want or deserve, then I demand the school gives me a teacher who will!”
That is essentially what happened between Marmol and Bucknor.
Perhaps a better example would be to translate this to a situation where a police officer has pulled an adult over for a traffic stop. The cop says to the driver, “I saw you driving dangerously, weaving in and out of traffic in a very unsafe way.”
The driver responds, “That’s preposterous. There’s absolutely no way I could have done that. You’re not seeing clearly and should have your eyes checked.”
Here’s an example of what the cop absolutely will not say: “You know what? You’re right. I’m a terrible cop and need to get glasses. Excuse me while I go home and rethink my life.”
Although positions of authority are held by fallible humans who are no better than any other human, the position of authority must be respected, especially if dealing with a comparatively inconsequential environment such as sports. Teachers, police officers, and umpires demand respect when they are on duty or at work. It’s certainly possible that the person holding that authority is not as honorable as we would like, but the uniform still requires the respect it deserves.
Therefore, can anyone blame Bucknor for feeling so insulted that he would refuse to shake Marmol’s hand the following year? Such a personal attack really seemed to get under Bucknor’s skin. We have no idea if Bucknor was experiencing something that day that might make him more sensitive, but that point is moot when we begin to consider that we should simply be treating others the way we would want to be treated, regardless of circumstances.
By Jack Furlong
Founder, President & CEO
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since March 2020, it’s that fear is one of the most, if not the most, powerful tool in the woodshed.
The concept of fear is rooted in our human ability to sense danger and to avoid it. Ancient man would fear predators in the wilderness for the sake of survival. Presently, we can use fear in more conventional ways, like when we feel uncomfortable around the possibility of skydiving. It’s quite a reasonable barometer in these contexts.
Fear usually encompasses the unknown: we fear what we don’t know. What will happen if I approach this predator? Could I sustain injury if I skydive? Even in situations where we have reasonable security that we can predict the outcome of actions, we’re never one hundred percent sure. A parent may naturally fear his or her child going away to college due to the unknown that awaits ahead, but the parent usually comes to terms with this, perhaps drawing on his or her own experiences, and understands that, although there is no absolute guarantee of safety, the odds are that the child will be okay.
On a simpler scale, fear of the unknown may be the motivating factor for a child to resist trying a new food. Young minds may default to not liking something simply because there is no experience of it yet. If we have yet to understand something, we tend to default to a dislike of it or a fear of it.
Sometimes, fear comes from trauma. If we are bitten by a dog when we have our first experience with one, the pain caused by the physical bite may cause us to fear dogs for the remainder of our lives if we do not work to overcome the fear. If fear can manifest from both the the unknown and the experience of trauma, we can see why fear is so powerful.
Where fear becomes abusive is when our human behavior is altered beyond reason for abnormal motives, such as control, revenge, or wealth. When fear controls us, we are the prime audience for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s quote: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
When the tool of fear falls into the wrong hands, it can be used in acts of poor sportsmanship. Sports teams can use fear to psychologically intimidate opponents, perhaps through embarrassment or threat of injury. Parents can use fear to try to control the actions of their children, causing the children to fear the repercussions if they do not do as the parents say. Coaches may fear their future when their job is on the line. Officials may fear the possibility of a player or coach arguing with them. The list of possibilities is endless.
If we consider the six roles discussed in my book, “On Sportsmanship: A Critical Reader and Handbook” (available now on Amazon for Kindle and in both paperback and hardcover), that encompass the first part of the text, we can see from the above examples that players, coaches, fans, parents, and officials can be affected by fear. What about the media, though?
The fact of the matter is that the media can manipulate the public through fear very easily, and that is an act of poor sportsmanship. These entities have the power to dictate to us how to feel based on what is reported, regardless of whether it is fact or not. If we are told that sports officials are bad by the media, then we can subconsciously begin to believe this. If we are told that our team’s archrival is the enemy, we may see them as opponents in a theater of war rather than on a field, court, rink, or pitch.
Not all media outlets are bad, and not all journalists are nefarious. Further, we can be our own worst enemy in terms of fear, hearing and believing only what we want and refusing to use the concepts of critical thinking and analysis to formulate new breakthrough thoughts.
Consider the path of fear that has traversed the public during this pandemic. We defaulted to fear because the virus was novel; without prior information or evidence, we assumed the worst rather than waiting to examine evidence and compare data. We feared what could happen to us if we left our homes: we didn’t know what might happen if we contracted the virus, so we forced ourselves to stay safe, especially without a cure or vaccine. We convinced ourselves that wearing multiple face coverings and social distancing would stop the virus while we diligently worked for a vaccine. What’s worse, though, is that we convinced ourselves that anything reported to us with a twist of fear had to be fact and, thus, feared.
Before the warmer weather of 2021 and the distribution of vaccines, plausible arguments could be made to support any claim on how to combat this threat; there was reasonable doubt and a lack of supporting evidence that allowed our fear to maintain its hold on us. In fact, fear spread quicker and did more damage than the virus could ever do, harming our mental states in ways that will stay with us for years, if not decades, after this story has run its course. However, we now live in a time and an environment where we have a choice. We have reached the fork in the road, to call back to our post from last month!
One path leads us to sanity. We will come to understand that we have the tools to live normal lives without fear of this virus. We have vaccines that work when we receive our full dosage and booster (not to mention that will continue to be studied since they were expedited without the examination of long-term data). If you’re not a fan of vaccines, we still have plenty of other things to help protect us, such as using good hygienic practices (washing our hands, not touching our face, etc.) and staying home when we’re sick. And we also have the medical tools to help us feel better when we are sick, either via at-home remedies or in medical facilities. We can take off the masks, throw them away, ditch the mandates, and be ourselves.
The other path leads us back to irrational fear. We can sit at home and not live our normal lives, afraid that the virus will get us if we leave the four walls that surround us. We can think that contact with anyone could lead to contracting the virus. We can think that the vaccine and all other methods of prevention and cure are simply not enough, perhaps tainted by other entities such as the government. We can wear multiple masks, believing that this piece of magic cloth has the power to prevent all illness and is the key to preserving what remains of life in this apocalyptic existence. We can never go back to the way our lives were because the fear of what if will keep us safe and prevent anything bad from happening. (Spoiler alert: said fear will not prevent bad things from happening.)
One path teaches us to fight fear the same way we fight poor sportsmanship: leading by example, empowering those who support the same ideals, and being beacons of good morals. The other path encourages fear and poor sportsmanship, promoting its growth and spread like a virus.
I know which path I’m taking. Which will you choose?
As 2019 comes to a close, we wrap our year with one final topic before we move on: the ignorance of pundits to facts.
However, we're not talking about politics or the news. That's beyond the scope of this blog. The one item to address: Game 6 of the 2019 World Series.
In Game 6, the Washington Nationals almost self-destructed into handing a championship to the Houston Astros. Trea Turner was called out due to runner's lane interference by umpire Sam Holbrook, causing a frenzy both on the field and in the media. Manager Dave Martinez was ejected from a World Series game due to this. Fans all over social media were ready to lynch Holbrook. The championship of baseball was about to be determined by an umpire's call for interference...until Anthony Rendon hit a ball into the seats and extended the series to Game 7, where the Nationals would ultimately win.
The problem? The call was CORRECT.
Every person who complained about the call failed to realize that it was the correct call. The runner cannot run outside of the lane in the last half of the distance from home to first base. But even after cooler heads prevailed and Thanksgiving approached, Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo and his cohorts continue to harp on the fact that interference should not have been called.
Russo doubled down on his claim by stating that MLB officials were thankful for the Rendon home run because it took the focus off the play in question. Perhaps the statement was more opinion than fact, and perhaps MLB was prepared to stand by the call if necessary as the correct call, even if it meant the entertainment value of the sport was severely diminished. But the constant pushing of such an opinion rings of the older pundit who refuses to accept that the opinion is simply wrong.
Maybe this is a microcosm of our society in general. We dig our heels in when our opinions are challenged and claim that we are allowed to have our own opinions, even when they are wrong. Our defenses go up because our integrity appears to be challenged. It's a tired song and dance that speaks to our inability to have a meaningful conversation and progress as a society.
Note this, though: to progress as a society does not have a correlation to being a stereotypical progressive. It has nothing to do with the alignment with the left and the right of the political spectrum. It simply means being respectful to the facts and understanding that nobody will think less of you if you happen to change your opinion.
The issue is that it's easier to just turn off the television or the radio than to actually offer a differing opinion.
The fact of the matter is that we're not here to push an agenda. We're here to simply awaken people to civil reality and ask that they treat others the way they would wish to be treated. It has become a difficult task, but one we at OSIP are proud to undertake.
That's why we are here to announce that our blog, The Strike Zone, will be changing. Namely, the posts will be few and far between. The success of our podcast, How You Play The Game, has taken more of our attention, and there is only so much time to go around. Both the blog and the podcast duplicate the same purpose: for us to discuss issues of sportsmanship in a particular manner. We may continue to use the blog for some posts from time to time, and we will not be taking our posts down. But the regular posts on the third Wednesday of each month will cease, and we encourage you to listen to our podcast, which is released on the 1st and 15th of each month. And like we said above, perhaps we may change our minds later and come back to the blog. We know you won't think less of us!
Until next time, as we say on the podcast, treat each other with respect.
During the course of the 2019 MLB regular season, there was an increase in poor behavior that required policing, thus drawing the ire of the public and the media. But the ire was not drawn because of the behavior, but rather the psychological projection onto those visibly doing the policing.
The most obvious example is the New York Yankees, whose culture of class that was so prominent in the days of Jeter and Rivera cannot be matched by Judge and Gregorius. The "leaders" on the team, notably manager Aaron Boone and elder statesmen CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner, have led the team into being examples for kids that promote behavior that continues to divide our society and grow hatred rather than understanding. The umpires, who are the on-field police (as opposed to the league office, which is practically invisible), become the target of hatred spewed from the uneducated and primitively toxic men playing the game, and yet the umpires are gagged by the league to refrain from responding to such personal attacks.
The media perpetuates this due to their platform, mixed with their lack of research done on the subject of officiating. Not since the great Vin Scully has a broadcaster actually given the officials their due respect and silently demanded that those who listen to his voice do the same. And outside of our friends at Close Call Sports, rarely (if ever) has a journalist with prominence stepped up to the plate with the defense of the integrity of the officials.
What those who bash the umpires fail to realize is that the psychology of their words and actions speak volumes about their egos, characters, and personalities.
As Gil Imber from Close Call Sports has said in an eloquently written article (and quoted on his various audio/video posts), criticism of sports officials in a position of authority, especially in such settings with vehemence, is actually a projection of the dissatisfaction with oneself onto an innocent victim. To say, "I'm dissatisfied with this umpire," is really translated to mean, "I'm dissatisfied with myself."
Let's make a quick clarification, though. The above translation does not mean, "I disagree with this umpire." We are allowed to share a different opinion, especially if the call was incorrect. A pitch that is two tenths of an inch off the outside corner of the plate is, by rule, not a strike, regardless if it's "too close to take." But respectful disagreement can be communicated without the behavior of a petulant child.
Back to the psychological projection, though: we must also remember that the denial we may have in accepting this fact is par for the course. People are afraid to lower their defenses and be vulnerable, especially when it comes to the almost certain inner examination of one's shortcomings. If we can avoid feeling something bad, why would we put ourselves in a position to feel less than desirable emotions?
The first step to closing this division is empathy. Somebody has to extend the olive branch, and perhaps that someone is you. Can you feel empathy for the players who feel wronged, even if you don't agree with their reaction? Can you feel empathy for the umpires who are not out to be unfair towards a certain player or team? Can you feel empathy for the media members who are lost when it comes to discussing the topic?
The second step is to begin to stop identifying with your point of view or opinion on the subject. To identify with it means to be unable to separate who you are from that particular thought. When dissent occurs and it differs from our opinion, we take that other opinion personally and believe that others are out to attack us. This is what happens all too quickly on the field: players and coaches immediately believe that umpires are attacking them with their judgments and interpretations, as opposed to simply doing their job. When a player stops thinking that he has been "wronged" or personally offended by what he perceives to be a bad call, that player will stop projecting such dissatisfaction with oneself onto the entity he thinks slighted him.
The third step? Love. Sportsmanship. Practice what you preach.
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.
Beware of the media!
No, this isn't anything political. This is a wake-up call to how the media uses our self-esteem to play on how we receive stories in the business of making money.
How many times have you seen a movie where a character or a team had to overcome an obstacle or obstacles to find a victory? Have you noticed that the number of obstacles is directly related to how good you feel after the big climax in the plot? And how many of these situations revolve around a sports movie?
Most people find themselves rooting for the character(s) to succeed because they project themselves onto that group trying to overcome the odds to win the day. And perhaps that's the goal of the transaction of paying for entertainment: I give you $15 to go see a movie, and I want that movie to entertain me for two hours. But we should beware! This should not be a substitute or a model for our own lives.
Our self-esteem shouldn't correlate to a movie, whether it be due to our projection and investment into the plot or due to our demand for entertainment. Further, our demand for these movies should reveal how actual competition does not fulfill our needs.
This season, former MLB outfielder Gary Sheffield contributed to a piece for The Player's Tribune under the guise of being Commissioner of MLB for a day. Some of his ideas were legit (the Wild Card playoff should be a series), while others were contentious (the DH should be in the National League). However, a few were down right stupid.
Sheffield's first point of ridiculousness surrounds the idea of throwing at batters. He believes that hitters should be allowed to charge the mound and retaliate against pitchers who purposely throw at hitters.
I'm going to stop and let that sink in for a second...
I really don't have to continue writing to prove how lost Sheffield is, but for the sake of the piece, let's keep going.
Second point: the sliding rules (bona fide slide and catchers blocking the plate) have made us soft. Sheffield actually endorses the idea of hurting a guy to break up a double play. He equates it to contesting a jump shot in basketball.
I'm no basketball genius, but I'm pretty sure trying to block a jump shot doesn't involve a high speed collision where someone could end up with a broken leg.
What else does he say that will make you bleed from your ears? Instant replay is ridiculous. The infield shifts should be banned (he actually called the sport "computer-geek ball"). And the best part? MLB is not strict enough in suspensions for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.
Wait a minute, Gary. Aren't you a cheater? Didn't you get caught using steroids?
Back in April, respected baseball journalist Jon Heyman released a list he created of 50 current baseball players to admire or follow. It's a good thing he added the clause "or follow" because a good chunk of this list includes players who should not be admired.
In fairness, as I perused the list, I saw a lot of names of people I did admire: Kris Bryant, Corey Seager, and Matt Szczur jumped out immediately. (Originally, I was going to include both Mike Trout and Anthony Rizzo on this list, but both have made some dumb decisions to already make me think twice about them.) But the majority of the rest of the names were questionable to me, and a lot of it comes down to one thing: attitude/sportsmanship.
Right off the bat, here are the names of people you can follow, but should not admire: Manny Machado, Noah Syndergaard, Madison Bumgarner, Miguel Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, Bryce Harper, Robinson Cano, Chris Sale, Josh Donaldson, Yadier Molina, Joey Votta, Jose Bautista, Javier Baez, and Aroldis Chapman. Great players? Sure. But each one has something in their character that should be a huge red flag. If your child idolizes one of these players, that kid is going to be let down one day.
Further, how does Andrew Miller only make the "on the bubble" list? The guy is one of the most dominant relievers in the game today, and his comments about being team-first have made Yankee fans cry when he was traded.
The bottom line is that these lists are always flawed and subjective and usually fall into the category of "having to write something just to fill up the space" (which we covered recently). But combining a list of people to admire with a list of people to follow irks me, especially when the people to admire is a small faction compared to the people to follow.
(Post Script: I had to go back and edit this post numerous times and remove names from the list of players that jumped out at me to admire. It's amazing how people you think are worthy of admiration can so easily disappoint you.)
Last week, we discussed an article about the unwritten rules of baseball. I was reluctant to discuss the article specifically and decided to focus on its content, namely plunking batters in retribution. However, I've gone back on that decision with new evidence.
As Yankees radio voice John Sterling has pointed out numerous times, writers and media hosts have to come up with opinions in order to talk about something. Their job is to fill the space (whether it is print/Internet media or broadcast air) with content, specifically content that will attract readers/viewers. The problem is when the opinions of those people become so ludicrous that it actually turns people away from the person producing the content.
Take Tom Gatto, for example. Gatto wrote the article about the unwritten rules of baseball. I've never met Gatto, nor do I care to. However, shortly after he wrote the article on the plunking, he produced a few other articles that were equally as ridiculous.
First, he goes on a spree about MLB umpire CB Bucknor. During a game between the Braves and the Nationals in April, Bucknor had a questionable strike zone that led Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth to immaturely charge the umpire after his team had won the game. Werth was taking a page out of the book of immaturity written by Bryce Harper, who dropped an f-bomb directed towards umpire Brian Knight the previous year after Knight ejected Harper (rightly so), only to have the Nats walk off shortly thereafter. (Harper rushed back onto the field after he had been ejected, which is not allowed, pointed at Knight, dropped the naughty word, and the cameras caught it all. Harper was suspended one game for this, which ended up being one half of a doubleheader.)
Prior to Werth's actions, however, Bucknor kicked a call that would have ended the game. On a swinging strike three that would have been the final out of the game, Bucknor actually called it foul, even though the bat missed the ball by almost a foot. The Nats were already on the field celebrating (as was the grounds crew doing its post-game work), when the umpires huddled and declared the game not over. Thankfully, the Nats won just after that, but the scene was a circus.
You know what umpires call that? A bad day. Or a bad game. Bucknor had a bad game. It happens to all of us. What we don't need is Tom Gatto (and every other sports pundit) demeaning him for his error.
It's true that CB Bucknor was notoriously known as being a poor official. He has been in the big leagues for approximately two decades, and his reputation precedes him from time to time. However, Bucknor, like fellow official Angel Hernandez, has actually worked on his craft to try and improve. The league has noticed this because Bucknor (like Hernandez) has received some postseason assignments. The problem is that the average fan or writer (read: Gatto) only sees it when an official makes a mistake. Nobody notices when an official is perfect or right. Therefore, Bucknor (like Hernandez) gets ripped when he has a bad game, not recognizing the fact that he may have had a streak of good games prior.
An umpire colleague relayed this story to me. When he was walking off the field after a game, a fan yelled at him, saying he had missed ten pitches that game. My colleague politely replied, "Thank you! That means I got the other 290 calls right!" Umpires cannot win. They are expected to be perfect, and then improve from there. And to clueless people who don't have the ability to empathize or see the big picture (like Gatto, who needs to fill space with his opinions), this is perfect banter that will attract readers.
A few days later, Gatto wrote an article about a game between the Rays and the Tigers. In the bottom of the ninth, the Rays were trailing by one run and had the bases loaded with nobody out. On a full count pitch, Steven Souza Jr. attempted to check his swing, then dropped his bat and started heading to first, assuming he had just received a base on balls. The problem? Home plate umpire Larry Vanover called it a swinging strike and pumped Souza out.
Rays manager Kevin Cash came out to argue and was immediately ejected by Vanover. After a prolonged argument, the next pitch was hit for a routine double play that was supposed to end the game. However, when Jose Inglesias tried to make the turn at second base, he slipped on second and fell down, causing his throw to go wildly past first base and allowing two runs to score, giving the Rays the win. There was no fault on the Rays for interference; Inglesias lost his footing by himself. However, the runner who was bearing down on him legally slid into second and right into Inglesias' face, causing him to lay on the ground in clear pain while the Rays celebrated a come-from-behind victory.
So what does Gatto do in his article? He rips Vanover, says the Rays win on the good "juju" from Cash's ejection, and barely mentions the fact that Inglesias was hurt.
Can we clear something up here? Whether Paul O'Neill agrees with it or not, it is the home plate umpire's call first and foremost on whether a batter swung at a pitch. If he thinks he swung, he can call it. He doesn't need to get help from a base umpire. Secondly, the home plate umpire can only go for help when he calls the pitch a ball and doesn't call the batter on a swing; only then can he honor the appeal and go to the base umpire to see if the batter actually swung. These are the damn rules of the game! Vanover got everything right! (And for what it's worth, replays show Souza swung.)
Analysis of all these plays aside, why do people like Gatto need to write this stuff? And more importantly, why does the general public eat this stuff up? Are people that stupid that they can't see into the opinions of media members and make a personal and individual decision not to believe everything they read?
I'll stop there because I could cross the line into politics, which is not my goal. The intent here is to call Gatto out for his poor choice in topics and opinions and to get people to take a step back and understand a little more about how the game of baseball works in conjunction with humanity.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.