Yesterday, MLB owners approved the expansion of Instant Replay in baseball, meaning that more calls would be reviewable, like fair/foul, safe/out, basically it’s a lot more than the initial home run rulings in 2008. Also included in this overhaul is the manager’s right to challenge, like in the case of NFL head coaches. Managers would get two challenges, which could be used from innings 1-7. with any further calls to be handled at the umpire’s discretion.
Now, depending on who you are, you either find this to be a major improvement, like Bruce Bochy and Max Scherzer, or the equivalent of going to the dentist for a root canal, like many sportswriters had predicted.
My guess is if you’re one of those fans who feel that your team is constantly jilted by bad calls, this may just give your team a few extra wins. Maybe also if you’re a technophile, you are intrigued by how the integration of computers will affect such a pastoral game. And to be honest, good for you. You know that the sports world has been changing for years. You saw it in football, then in basketball, then in hockey, and soccer and tennis, and pretty much every sport under the sun, it was about time that baseball adapted to modern times, after all, this is the big four league that has gone the longest without adding an expansion franchise, was the last to add a league-centric network, was the last to adopt interleague play, let alone year long interleague play, and has two teams that play in ballparks that predate World War I. So clearly, this is a victory in your mind.
On the other side are the purists, and to be completely honest, you have to feel for them. I’m talking more about the pre-1970 purists, those who feel that the game has been watered down by the three divisions in each league, the introduction of the Wild card as well as the expanded wild card, the decision to make the All-star game a deciding factor for home field advantage in the World Series. Those who feel that Florida and Arizona were only meant to be Spring Training sites, not homes to major league teams, domed and retractable roof ballparks, and of course, the dreaded designated hitter. They feel that there should be a human element in the game, that umpires have a right to make a mistake once in a while, and that the inclusion of the replay system clearly undermines the umpire’s authority and destroys one of the cultural hallmarks of a pastime, making it more serious than it should be.
If I were to put myself onto any side, I’d probably label myself as a progressive baseball fan with a few purist leanings. By the time I became a fan in 2002, the three division per league concept had been the norm for almost a decade, interleague play was in its fifth year, the wild card had started to gain a certain degree of relevancy, thanks in part to the Florida Marlins 1997 title as well as the Wild World Series of 2002. A year prior, the Diamondbacks had proven that being an expansion team was not an excuse to get high draft picks, and the retractable roof ballpark was a great way for fans to enjoy baseball without the pain of a rain delay. I love the World Baseball Classic, and the idea of globalizing the National Pastime. Every time I see a player who comes from a new country, I’m impressed that he’s managed to make it out of his country’s culture into ours. It’s fascinating.
However, for all of the progressive things that I liked, there were things that I disliked. When the All-Star game format was changed in 2003, I saw it as stupid, even if I had only had seen the dreaded 2002 game which ended in a tie. I found that steroid testing was ridiculous, and instant replay as a way of saying that umpires were too stupid to make the right call. I find that a lot of contracts these days are starting to get out of hand and teams are paying dearly for last year’s statistical output. I find mascots to be cheap and stupid ways to entertain kids who clearly shouldn’t be at games if their attention can’t be held for more than five minutes (this is sad, as our generation seems to gravitate towards that trend more and more each passing day). I dislike teams trying to go back to minimalist looks with generic roundel logos instead of carving their own identities (I’m referring to the Indians, Pirates, Padres, Nationals, you get the point). I hate how people are starting to mix politics with sports, like the Chief Wahoo debate, and I really can’t talk to anyone who forces the newfangled sabrmetric inventions like UZR and WAR on me Just leave me with my old fashioned stats and scouting reports, and I’ll be fine.
But that doesn’t answer the question fully, What about this new form of Instant Replay?
First of all, I did make a legitimate gripe against instant replay in my purist rant. I feel that it demeans the umpire. The umpire is a human being after all, and is bound to make mistakes. Granted, some of those mistakes are bound to get him blacklisted by a certain team’s fans, see Don Denkinger and the Cardinals, Jim Joyce and the Tigers, Jerry Meals and the Pirates, but if you really feel that you need to kill an umpire or do him bodily harm for making a mistake, then you are a sad excuse for a human being. Nobody’s perfect, mind you, and life isn’t fair. If you feel that the only way to get rid of that disappointment is to exact Hammurabi’s Code on that person who screwed you over, then you really have issues. I’ll admit that I’m a technophile. I like jumbotrons in stadiae, sue me. I’m inclined to check my fantasy team once every three innings during a game. I’ll tweet during a game or post a Facebook status. But in regards to the instant replay, I feel that that’s going too far. What about those teams that do benefit from the miscalls? Would the Marlins have won the Series in 1997 if Livan Hernandez didn’t have the strike zone he did? Would the Royals have managed to claw back in 1985 if Denkinger hadn’t made that call? And for the teams that feel that they were screwed by bad calls. Would Armando Galarraga have had a great major league career if Jim Joyce had called Jason Donald out? Would the Orioles have gone on to become a dynasty if Jeffery Maier hadn’t stuck his glove over the Yankee Stadium fence?
There are bad calls, and then there are egregiously bad calls. We saw this in 2012 in football, when the replacement referees screwed the Green Bay Packers and unintentionally made Russell Wilson into a star and the Seahawks into America’s favorite team. Would Russell Wilson won Rookie of the Year and led Seattle to the playoffs if Ed Hochuli’s crew had refereed that game?
The point is, there is a time for progressivism in sport, and there’s a time to criticize referees and umpires for making a mistake, but to undermine their authority by letting a soulless robot do the judging is clearly overstepping a boundary. It’s a big mistake, and it’s going to hurt baseball, not because it will be time consuming but it erodes at the pastoral aspect of the game.
If there was any doubt that Team USA third baseman David Wright was captain material, it was erased on Saturday night. Wright and the Americans were out in Phoenix playing Pool D winner Italy, who had come off of two surprising upsets, a shutdown of Mexico, and an outright curb stomp of a strong Canada team. Things started out bad for the Americans, when they fell behind by two, and the growing concern was that they were, as usual, overhyped. Fortunately, they tied the game up by the fifth inning, and loaded the bases for Wright. Wright followed with a blast off of Italy pitcher Matt Torra, and the Americans kept the lead for the rest of the game.
With this game, all the Americans have to do is beat the Canadians and they advance with Italy to the round 2 bracket.
But moving on from that…
David Wright is no stranger to heroics in the WBC. Four years ago, Wright dumped a go-ahead single into right field against Puerto Rico in a Round 2 game, which ultimately led to the US team facing Japan in the semifinal, a game they ultimately lost.
Wright, who has also scored two runs so far against Team Canada in the final Pool D game, actually relishes playing in the Classic, and has been viewed as one of the game’s biggest proponents.
But the real point of this post is the issue of Wright possibly becoming a Captain for the Mets.
Sandy Alderson, Terry Collins, and Mets ownership should put some serious thought into having Wright as a captain, the first since John Franco left the team in 2004.
The role of captain is not as prominent as it was ten years ago, when players like Franco, Jason Varitek, Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko, Mike Sweeney, etc. were given the title, and in some cases, a C patch. Today, only Konerko and Jeter remain as true captains of their respective teams.
If Wright’s status as a leader in the WBC were to somehow turn the heads of Mets management. putting the C patch on his jersey would not be out of the question. Wright is everything a typical Captain should be. He’s been there the longest, been with the same team his whole career, (or in the case of Konerko, for ten or more years). and players look up to him, no matter if they are younger or older.
If Wright can show his leadership on the international level with teammates that he’s going up against on any other day, Mets management should definitely make the move without hesitation. Not only will this show that the team is shedding the past, but it also shows that they are ready to fully embrace the change they need in order to get back into legitimacy.
This is a series that will profile the World Baseball Classic, or to be more specific, the teams. The first team that will be covered is The Netherlands.
The Netherlands is a country in Europe, northwest of Germany, northeast of France, southeast of Great Britain, and southwest of Denmark. It has or has had territory in the Carribean, in fact, that is where most of the Dutch baseball talent comes from, in particular, the Netherlands Antilles.
Major League baseball players, current, former, and future, on the 2013 team include Boston Red Sox top prospect Xander Bogaerts, a shortstop, Washington Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina, Atlanta Braves second baseman Andrelton Simmons, Minnesota Twins pitcher Shairon Martis, Baltimore Orioles infield prospect Jonathan Schoop, and former Major Leaguers Andruw Jones, Wladimir Balentien, Bert Blyleven, and Hensley Meulens; the last two of whom serve on the Dutch coaching staff.
The Dutch baseball team was one of the original sixteen nations that participated in the first World Baseball Classic. They played in Pool C at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, Panama, and host Puerto Rico. In their first tournament, the Dutch were easily dispatched by Puerto Rico and Cuba, but pulled a save-face 10-0 win over the inexperienced Panama team to save them from finishing at the bottom of the pool.
Three years later, the Dutch, who were in Pool D with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Panama, surprised many by pulling off a 3-2 upset win over a heavily favored Dominican Republic team. They then went to the winner’s bracket where they lost to Puerto Rico in another close game, then shocked the world again by beating the Dominican Republic a second time, 2-1, giving them a rematch against Puerto Rico in the Group final. Again, they lost, but moved on to the second pool, where they competed against the United States, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the Netherlands could not kill anymore giants, as they bowed out quickly after losses to both the US and Venezuela.
On Saturday, the Netherlands started their third tournament, in a group that contains Australia, Chinese Taipei, and 2009 Classic runner up South Korea, which is arguably the weakest of the four groups.
The Netherlands started off with another giant-killing, as Diegomar Markwell headed a four-hit shutout of Korea, while Bernadina led the offensive charge with two RBI in a 4-0 win.
On Sunday, the Netherlands will play Chinese Taipei, who, thanks to a strong pitching effort from Chien-Ming Wang, beat Australia in the first game of the Classic. They will finish on March 5th against Australia.
The Netherlands look to be a dark horse in the Classic again. With a convincing win against the 2009 runners up, there is every possibility that the Dutch will come out of this pool as winners. However, it would take a favorable draw for them to get past the second round, and by that , they would have to hope for, at the best, another upstart nation to finish second in their pool, or maybe even Japan, who is considerably weaker than in the previous tournaments, as evidenced by their wild win against upstart Brazil. If the Netherlands however, can live up to the giant killer moniker once again, expect this team to go far in the tournament, possibly even to the quarterfinal.