Saturday, April 19, 2014

Is It Time to Take My Ball and Go Home?

It started in the NBA. The pro game used to be a joy to watch, a veritable ballet of offense and defense, teamwork integral to the success of the team. The downfall, for me, was in the rise of the modern superstar and the infiltration of "schoolyard" into the game. Where teamwork was once the gold standard, now the "superstar", best personified by Michael Jordan, dominated the game. It used to be that a great team was the ideal, but that gave way to the new system of a superstar, surrounded by a "supporting cast" of spare parts that serve only to inflate the role and importance of the superstar.

Along with this new way, came the officiating that enhanced the standing of the superstar. No fouls called on the superstar, all calls given to him. No infractions, no obstacles. This was excused by the new thinking that the fans were there to see the superstar play, not to endure the game as the superstar was sitting on the bench in foul trouble. Travelling, double dribbles, goal tending, holding, slapping, anything you can think of, now go uncalled for the most part, because it seems that rules of the game only hinder the enjoyment of watching the game by fans that have no clue what they are seeing.

Three point shots, from beyond an arc that can only be low percentage, are launched with a frequency that can only be described as idiotic. Free throws, supposedly the easiest of gimmees, are a lost art, with professionals converting an embarrassingly low percentage. The schoolyard propensity for "run and gun" with shots taken with few or no passes, and indifferent defense, makes watching the game a brutal endurance test.

Then it hit MLB. Baseball closed it's eyes to the steroid era, and all the distortions that it wrought upon the game. Now that Alex Rodriguez is suspended for a year, and the general size of the players has receded to a more normal size, we now have the game instituting a couple of new changes that threaten the very shape of the game, and I don't mean in a good way.

Instant replay, is now part and parcel of the games. With a confusing array of rules governing "challenges" that each manager has per contest, the game now grinds to a halt each time a manager appeals a play, and the umpires trudge off the review the video tape. Most of the time, the call is corrected if wrong, but it hasn't been a total success. Some mistakes have been made in spite of having access to replays, bringing into question the whole enterprise. All I know is that watching a game, and seeing a call overturned, even in favor of my own team, is not a cause for celebration. There is some unnameable queasiness I feel as I watch this whole exercise play out. There is no excitement, and no satisfaction from having the game governed by unseen cameras and offsite technicians. It may be like the difference between playing blackjack against a computer as opposed to a live dealer. There is no feeling of achievement when technology inserts itself into human competition.

Another baffling change is how so many more teams have implemented defensive shifts against the opposition's heavy hitters. It's not a completely new idea, but more and more teams have surrendered to sabremetrics and now their defensive schemes are based more squarely on spray charts and other advanced metrics. Now, when a power hitter strides to the plate, the shift is on and three infielders assume what looks like their interpretation of the Big Dipper, as they form a triangle-like basket on one side of the field to thwart the expected pull hits from the batter.

This shouldn't be cause for concern, because it really ought to be quite easy to thwart these oddball defensive shifts. But guess what? They are working! They are working because the batters, for the most part, do not make any attempt to change their approach to hitting. They refuse to go the other way, they refuse to bunt, they refuse to do anything other than what will play right into the shift.

Brain dead game announcers have opined in the past that home run hitters are paid to hit home runs, not bunt. Somehow the size of their salary is supposed to dictate the way the game should be played. The defense says that, if a power hitter changes his approach, and tries to bunt, or hit the other way, they have "won" because, well, no homer was hit, so even if they bunt their way on base, the defense has achieved a victory of a sort.

This whole thing is just so much hokum and malarkey. The great Mickey Mantle, one of the baseball's all time home run hitters, never hesitated to lay down a bunt to keep the defense honest, and to prevent any kind of bizarre shift being implemented. Hitters of all kinds would fake a bunt, or actually execute one, along with hitting to the opposite field, because the name of the game is to get on base, and score runs. There is no one "acceptable" way to get on base. The art of bunting has become like basketball's free throws, in that it is a basic skill, necessary for all players to be able to do, but alas, the excuse given is "don't ask a player to do what he can't do". Why the heck can't they???

When a hitter slams a ball into short right field, only to be thrown out by a second basemen playing there, (while there is no defensive player on the the left side of the infield,) it's annoying. If it happens again and again, it's a disgrace, and any player that can't or won't make the necessary adjustments is just being selfish and lazy. For teams to condone this approach to the game by it's players, it is damning in it's idiocy.

There's nothing enjoyable about watching a baseball game that is officiated by robotic cameras, and played by teams that excuse hitters from trying to help their teams score because they are unwilling to adjust to crude defensive schemes. The powers that be are ruining a great game. Again.  


  1. OK. So...I can extrapolate from this exposition that you will no longer be GLUED to the TV for every Yankee game? After all, "There's nothing enjoyable about watching a baseball game..." Meet ya in the garage for a massive "Spring Cleaning."