Let’s See That Again

One of the drawbacks of being a British follower of North American sports is the time at which these damn things are played live. It’s the morning of Sunday 13th October 2012 and I’m watching two baseball games from the night before on MLB.tv. Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees and St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals.

In order to ensure my spoiler free enjoyment of the games, I have to avoid the internet entirely. Of course, back in the pre smart phone days, this was easy. Get up, watch the game. What could possibly go wrong? But now, there’s that morning ritual of checking every piece of social media your phone can possibly handle.

What did I miss whilst I slept? Did one of my friends awake in the night to post some witty comment on their profile? What about all those American celebrities I follow on Twitter? I couldn’t possibly have missed another plug for their latest product…What if they think I don’t care? Respond!

And so, my day becomes further disrupted. I can’t check Facebook, Twitter, ESPN, until I’ve seen the game, lest it be spoilt and I’m forced to watch a 60 second summary (by the way, highlights less than five minutes long? Don’t even bother…).

So, the challenge is first to get out of bed and get to the PC without the compulsion to check my phone, then navigate to the site to watch the game without spoilers. Although I have all the archived game pages as bookmarks, MLB.com has an annoying habit of advertising forthcoming games across the top of their home page. It doesn’t matter if you go straight to the archive for Orioles v Yankees, above the stream will read ‘NEXT GAME: TIGERS v YANKEES GAME 1’ thereby spoiling Game 5 of the AL Divisional Series.

Squint, take your glasses off, whatever it takes to not make out what those names are in the ‘forthcoming games’ advertisement. Then you’re in, home free.

Then you get the next big problem with archived games. It’s nothing to do with MLB.tv, in fact it’s a personal fault. Were this to be included in the Jedi Academy Entrance Exam, you could have weeded out Anakin Skywalker as a heavy breathing asshole long before he started towards the Dark Side.

Obi Wan Kenobi: “Now young Skywalker, you must sit and watch last night’s Cardinals v Nationals game.”

Anakin Skywalker: “Doesn’t sound so tough. Bring it on.”

Obi Wan Kenobi: “Ah, but you must resist the compulsion to fast forward through replays, video reviews and all that time spent walking to and from the plate.”

Anakin Skywalker: “But you can cut this down, make it so much quicker to watch…”

Obi Wan Kenobi: “Sith! SITH! Get him out of here and burn the bastard.”

If you’re watching live, then fine. Time taken to review the play, take a look at a slow motion replay etc, it’s all part of the experience. But when I’m not watching live? I can rewind it anyway if the play was so amazing (or questionable). Don’t do it for me, dude, I’m a grown man who can call my own points of interest.

So why not just watch the highlights, I hear you ask? Or maybe a condensed version of the game? Whilst I don’t mind condensed games (NFL Game Pass does this particularly well, including every play) I still want the experience of having watched the game live, but without the extra hour or so of ad breaks, time outs, reviews and replays. Give me the game, as-live, without the fluff.

Which leads me on to my main point, which is one about endless replays. As you can tell, I find them particularly irritating. Let’s see it from the side, from above, from below, from reverse, upside down, thermal imaging, through a sniper’s lens… It’s particularly noticeable in Baseball broadcasts, because I find, in Baseball more than any other sport, the network’s seem hell bent on demonising the officials.

Every slide to base, every strike called, every out. I get that it’s all part of the analysis of the game, but those umpires must be the best in the world, right? After all, there’s no competitive league that comes close to MLB. And we saw just how awful the standard was in the NFL this year when they brought in a scab labour force. So why try to trip them up?

Watching some of those plays at normal speed, I’m amazed at how keen an eye a Baseball umpire has. They need to watch so many things at once that they need the eyes of a fly grafted on to their face to aid their play calling. In fact, that’s the only way to make their calling more accurate. Matrix Bullet Time Fly Eyes. That would truly be awesome. And probably a little creepy for their families.

As a bit of background, when it comes to the officials using video replays, Major League Baseball was the last of the four major sports leagues in America to implement it. In fact, it was implemented as late as August 2008 by Commissioner Bud Selig, who stated “I believe that the extraordinary technology that we now have merits the use of instant replay on a very limited basis. The system we have in place will ensure that the proper call is made on home run balls and will not cause a significant delay to the game.”

Video review has limited uses in Baseball, and rightly so. It’s used to determine a fair or foul ball on a home run, to determine if the ball has left the field of play and in cases of spectator interference. In its first two years of operation, video review was used 123 times, resulting in 48 overturned calls.

What does that tell us about the officiating over that period? It tells us that the majority of the time, the officials made the right call on questionable plays.

But my big issue is one which a number of fans have taken up as an issue. And that’s baserunning and plate calling. Yes, there are elements of MLB fandom who want to slow down America’s Pastime even more by reviewing questionable calls at the bases or home plate.

First off, I couldn’t bear things slowing down any more. I find the frequency of video review in the NFL to be infuriating at times, so slowing Baseball down would just be intolerable. Secondly, why do we need it? Those umpires are right on top of the damn play. We’re not talking about the British Baseball Federation sending one umpire to the game. They’re pretty much everywhere that they need to be.

I’m sure these fans are aggrieved by blown calls in the past. Hey, I’m not saying the officials are perfect. They blow a call every now and then. Perhaps there’s no bigger blown call than June 2nd, 2010 at Comerica Park in Detroit. The “Imperfect Game”.

On that night, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was set to become the 21st pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game. Facing the Cleveland Indians, Galarraga retired the first 26 batters he faced.

Then, first base umpire Jim Joyce ruled Indians batter Jason Donald had reached home base safely on a ground ball. It was a botched call and it cost Galarraga his perfect game. He finished with a one-hit shutout in a 3–0 victory. He faced 28 batters and threw just 88 pitches (67 strikes and 21 balls), striking out three.

Joyce realised he’d made the incorrect call and was devastated. He made a tearful and heartfelt apology to Galarraga, who classily accepted the apology and told reporters after the game, “Nobody’s perfect” and supported Joyce throughout the media backlash that followed.

And Galarraga was right, nobody is perfect. But does that mean we need everything scrutinised to such a degree?

Where I lay the blame for this strength of feeling is not with officials who may have botched a call, but with the media who replays every call over and over. Questionable or not. It bugged me throughout the two games I’ve just watched. Was he in? Was he out? Was that a ball or a strike? Well, the umpire ruled it one way or another and we can’t change his decision, so who cares?

It’s an attempt to make a story out of nothing. How will the Cardinals recover from that blown call? Would the Yankees have the lead now if it wasn’t for that ruling? Let’s look at it again!

I’m not saying censor the network’s footage. Not like the NFL tried to do this year with their scab officials. Following three weeks of awful calls (including a shit storm of a call during Monday Night Football between Seattle and Green Bay, when two officials made two different game-ending rulings), the NFL encouraged their media partners to not replay calls made by the scabs. Flag on the play? Cut to commercial. Goal under review? Cut to commercial.

That was an attempt by the league to strengthen their decision to use a scab workforce. An attempt to dissuade fans from supporting the real officials.  In Major League Baseball, the officials have a damn fine eye, but the media seems so suspicious and distrustful with their replays.

Don’t show me five hundred angles of the official’s call, show me one. The best you have. The one closest to the umpire’s point of view. Could you make that call at normal speed? That was a tough decision and the umpire had a split second to get it right. Do you think it was a good call?

Let me decide, based on what the umpire saw. It’s so easy for the media to make us all armchair refs with multiple angles and slow motion. Baseball doesn’t need it. So enough of the replays. Get on with showing me the damn game.

I’m Dave and I don’t need to look at it again.




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