THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
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.