Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Derek Jeter, Employee Number 2

There was hope. Derek Jeter is a Yankee, and will always be a Yankee. The hope was that Jeter and the Yankees would sit in a room and within an hour pick out a salary and contract length that would be fair to both. The hope was that Derek Jeter and the Yankees would rise above a bitter contract negotiation. In the end, it turned out to be perspective employee vs. perspective employer. It was no different than any other player contract negotiation. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances, but those circumstances just became part of the negotiation. It was played out in the media. Depending on the slant you were reading, either the Yankees were being cheap, or Jeter was being greedy. It's done now, but with a bitter aftertaste.

Why? Why did we have hope in the first place? Why did we care about how this played out? After all, Baseball is just another business, right? Well, no. Baseball is a business, but it's not "just another" business. I worked for IBM. My father, brother, and brother-in-law worked for IBM. I check their stock price, but even when I worked there I didn't care about who the CFO was. I didn't follow the negotiations for a new Director of Research and Development. Some people do follow that stuff, but it's because it directly affects their wallet. They might "root" for IBM to "beat" HP in somthing, but it's for a tangible personal gain. When people root for a sports team, there is no tangible gain. What do you get when your team wins The Championship? You get Happiness? Emotional Fulfillment? Temporal Ecstasy? I'd say yes to all of those.*

*If you actually think you gain something to the affect that you, personally, are better than another person because the team you root for beat the team they root for, you need some time on a professional's couch.

So your connection to your team is more emotional than anything tangible. Sort of like your connection to your family. You root for those in your family to do well. You share in their successes and their failures. By being a fan of a team (and I'm talking being a fan that has a real emotional attachment), you are accepting them into your family.

This is why it seemed important that Derek Jeter, my figurative brother, and the Yankees FO, my figurative other brothers could work this out without having a family spat. Jeter and the Yankees have been part of the same family for many years and each has enjoyed success together. Because they are family, don't they both see the same future goals? Wasn't there a compromise that they could agree on because they've been in this together for so long?

But that is a fan's perspective. Derek Jeter is a human being trying to do everything possible for the betterment of himself and his actual family (and future family). The New York Yankees are a business whose number one goal is to make money. You might think that one of their top goals is winning, and it is, but only so far that it gaurantees more money.

Yes, I'm sure there is an emotional attachment to the fans on both the part of Jeter and those that run the Yankees. But their attachment is to the fans as a group, not as individuals. They'll always have a group of fans.

However, try this on for a little perspective. Pretend all of these negotiations took place behind closed doors. We didn't hear the yankees first offer. We didn't know that Jeter's agent was "baffled". We didn't know that Jeter asked for 25 million a year. We didn't hear Cashman tell Jeter to go try to find a better offer somewhere else. What if, all we heard was "Jeter and Yankees agree to 3 year $51 million deal."? After hearing the fans and media that wanted to give Jeter anywhere from $8 million for one year to 10 years and $250 million, I would have thought, "Cool, they both knew what was good for the team and compromised just like a family would do."

It didn't happen that way, though. Time will make this a mere footnote in the Jeter/Yankee history books, but whether warranted or not it changes my perception of Derek Jeter and the hope that there can be more than just a business relationship between a player and a team.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Silver Lining

Tonight, a pitcher lost a perfect game because of a bad call by an umpire. The names do not matter. This was bound to happen sooner or later and the humans involved were happenstance. Actually, my point is to dehumanize this event. I don't care about the emotions involved, the mea culpas, nor the apologies. I just care that it happened. Most of the time blown calls happen during the course of a game, and fall under the "fallacy of the predetermined outcome" when talking about what may ensue. In this case, you know exactly what the outcome would have been if the umpire had properly applied the rules of the game.

The funny part is that it had no bearing on the actual outcome of the game in terms of a win or loss. Worse than that, and only in baseball is this true, it infringed on the history of the game. And while it may be remembered for a long time as the "lost perfect game", it will not have its proper place in the record books. I do hope it will someday be in a book about baseball history as a tipping point of sorts. Of course, I am talking about a huge expansion in the use of instant replay and the striving of getting all calls right.

The evolution of baseball includes the expanded use of instant replay. A big step has already happened, getting home run calls correct by using the technology that is at MLBs disposal. This same technology could have been used so that tonight's unfortunate incident could have been avoided and instead been a celebration of one of baseballs rarest feats.

Rule 6.05(j) - [A batter is out when:] "After a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base."

There is no gray area to this rule. Either first base is tagged before the runner touches the base and he's out, or the runner touches the base before first base is touched and he is safe. Within one minute of this blown call, the technology was there to prove, without a doubt, that this rule was not properly enforced.

The technology is there and ready. Use it. If you can see that a rule was not followed within the time it takes for the next batter to get into the batter's box, it should be overruled. If, within that time period, they don't have enough evidence to overturn the ruling, then move on and call it inconclusive. If the call is egregious enough for the manager to come out and argue, then you have even more time to look at the evidence.

I don't need to get into how communication between overseers and umpires should be handled because it doesn't matter, that technology is already available as well. If the checking is done within the confines of the dead time between pitches, no time will be added to the game.

Oh, the "human element"? There were 3 humans that mattered on this play: the pitcher, the first baseman and the batter/runner. The only other element in play here was non-human, and it's called the Official Rule Book of Major League Baseball.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The (PED) future of baseball

Performance enhancing drugs and sports have a long history together, but now, PEDs are a factor in other facets of life. Jay, over at Fack Youk, wrote an interesting post about students using Adderall to do better on tests and how that compares with the PED issues that surround sports in general and baseball in particular. Bill James had a brilliant essay about steroids and the Hall of Fame*. Before he gets to the subject of the HoF, James talks about how the future of PEDs are going to affect the society at large and therefore will change the moral outlook of people on the use of PEDs in sports. This has been my take as long as there's been a PED controversy. This is science; and the evolution of pharmaceuticals is going from that of cure to prevention to enhancement.

*Where was I when this came out? I don't remember being in a coma (although people probably don't actually remember being in a coma, do they?) nor do I leave the country often or for an extended period of time. I had no idea he wrote this until I was giving my opinion on PEDs to someone and they pointed out that Bill James had written a very similar stance on the subject. Did I miss the media coverage of this? A quick google search tells me that most of the coverage came from blogs. Or, maybe I did just miss it and there was a lot of coverage. I really don't know.

So, we know that PEDs are not some 1990's magic potion that can be just stamped out. Only, Major League Baseball does think that, don't they. The current testing system is in place with the goal that all professional baseball players will be pure, unadulterated, clean, drug free... etc for as long as MLB is in existence. As far as I know they didn't include any out clause that says "Once PEDs are safe, reliable, and equally available to all humans, we will revisit our stance on whether or not these PEDs can be used in MLB.

The future is almost here. The advantages of using steroids and HGH are well documented, but there are other medical breakthroughs that may be just around the corner. Current medical research on replacing old tissue and organs by restoring cell structure could lead to longevity only rivaled by Methusaleh, himself. I believe it. It's not science fiction, it's scientific progress. If MLB stays the course on denying players access to medical breakthoughs that will have the side effect of what they would consider performance enhancing, could we see the following scenario some day?

Donnie McLovin, a 99 year old middle aged man with his two sons, Robinson, age 79 and Jeter, age 77, watch as 27 year old Barak Boone, a sixth generation player, pitches for the Mexico City Llankees.

"It's amazing the sacrifice these players make to play baseball," remarks Donnie.
"To think, Boone has given up the possibility to live 100 years longer just so he can continue to play baseball."
"And look how puny he is, I could pick him up and throw him across the plate myself," notes Robinson.
"I'd like to see that Robby, but unfortunately they installed that sonic fence that only pitchers can go through since they wrote out all those unwritten rules," reminds Jeter.

Far-fetched? Totally. But if scientific progress stays the course and baseball achieves its stated purpose, what I have written is merely a logic extrapolation of what could be.

What is obviously more likely is that, eventually, MLB will have to concede that life enhancing pharmaceuticals, once they are safe and readily available to all, can be used by players. And because these new drugs or supplements will have the side effect of enhancing performance, players will be stronger, have shorter injury recovery times, and receive all the other benefits that the now banned substances provide. Plus, who knows what else will be enhanced.

Will Mark McGwire then be shown to be telling the truth? That is, the skills that it takes to produce on the baseball field are not made easier with the use of PEDs? Or will the common perception prevail with a majority of players hitting 50 plus homers? Maybe a new age of pitcher domination?

What if changes to integral parts of the game need to be made? How would you feel about 500 feet to the left and right field corners necessitating a fourth outfielder or 115 foot base paths to curb hitting. Maybe 4 strike Ks and 3 ball walks, or a level (or concave!) pitching mound to give batters a chance?

Nah. I believe, even when all players are using PEDs, an equilibrium of sorts will be reached. I think the muscle memory that it takes to swing a bat at the precise time at a precise location, or the exact timing it takes to actually have command of your pitches will not be helped by this first round of PEDs that are aimed at longer life and better physical condition. That's not to say that those that are already good ball players won't be great and great ball players won't become Barry Bonds, I think that will still be the case.

Barry Bonds hit some monster home runs, but isn't Mickey Mantle still credited with the longest ever? There are a few pitchers throwing 100mph these days, but wasn't Nolan Ryan doing that in the 60's, and anecdotally Bob Feller, Lefty Grove and Walter Johnson in years gone by? Until there is actual human evolution that affects bone, tendon and ligament strength I think there will still be limits to what we can do physically. But then again, maybe I'm wrong and there will be PEDs in the near future that will change the entire structure of the human body. Who knows what will be possible.

In the end, I think baseball will survive, and maybe even be better, when players are playing to the best of their (enhanced) abilities.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Booing shows what type of person you really are

Javier Vazquez got booed during his 2nd start against the Angels. A blogger I read and enjoy, Craig Calcaterra, called those that booed "classless and ignorant". Not only is he right, I think he didn't go far enough. By the way, I was born a New Yorker, and I've been a Yankee fan since the early 1970's.

Let's start with a few "reasons" given by some that say it was okay to boo Javy Vazquez.

"He is performing badly, I should get to boo him!!"
At the time of the first boos, Vazquez had pitched a total of one game this year. Should someone really be judged/booed after one game? The boos continued after coming out of the game giving up 3 runs in 5+ innings (yes, 4 after all, but the fourth came after Al Aceves came in to relieve). So 3 runs in 5 innings is boo-worthy to some?
Ignorant Yankee fans 1, informed Yankee fans 0.

"He performed badly in the 2004 ALCS!"
Really? You think it's ok to boo someone who did something 6 years ago? Especially when I could name at least 10 players who had more to do with the collapse than Vazquez?
Ignorant Yankee fans 2, informed Yankee fans 0.

"I pay a lot for these tickets, it's my right to boo!"
Okay, Let's take something that is considered "classy," the opera. In New York, you can go see Der Fliegende Hollander at the Met. According to an online ticket site you can get tickets for somewhere between 42 and 595 dollars. Maybe it's not 1000s of dollars to sit behind the dugout in Yankee stadium, but $595 is not chump change. If the person playing the role of Senta, Doland's daughter (soprano), is off key a few times, how many opera goers are going to boo her? Zero, because they have class.
How about the Symphony. the NY Philharmonic is playing at Avery Fisher Hall, ticket prices up to about $200. If the trombone player, Joseph Alessi, gets out of time with the others for a few beats, will the audience boo him? No.
Classless Yankee fans 1, Classy Yankee fans 0.

"These athletes make a bajillion dollars, the deserve to be booed when they don't perform like I think they should!"
When Frank Sinatra performed live (how much was he making per year?), if he coughed during the singing of "New York New York" would a classy listener boo? No.
When David Copperfield performs in NY, he screws up a couple tricks, would a classy audience boo? No.
Classless Yankee Fans 2, Classy Yankee fans 0.

Lets go a little further. If you went to the premier of Rocky V and Sylvester Stallone was in the audience, at the end of the movie would you have gone up to him and booed him to his face? No.
Cowardly Yankee fans 1, sane Yankee fans 0.

If you had a VIP pass to be in the dugout during the game when Vazquez pitched, would you have booed him as he walked back to the dugout? No.
Cowardly Yankee fans 2, sane Yankee fans 0.

So, the totals here are :
Ignorant, classless, cowardly Yankee fans 6, informed, classy, sane Yankee fans 0.

I don't boo. The only time I would consider booing is if I know someone I paid money to see was not putting forth his/her best effort. I can't read people's minds nor know there current condition, so there's no way for me to know if a player is not putting out his/her best effort given his/her current physical or mental status. Therefore, I don't boo.

And really, what do people that boo, get out of booing? Vazquez gets pulled out of the game, he's walking to the dugout, you stand tall, boo your loudest, then sit down. Was it worth it? Do you feel better about yourself? Did you really "give it to him"? In the end, you sit back down, and the Yankees are still down 3 to 1. You've changed nothing. You said to him, behind the blanket of others booing (because you are a coward), "you have displeased me" or "you suck!!" or "I hate you even though you probably did your best, but you let me down because you didn't live up to my standards that (not all but you because of something that happen 6 years ago) have to throw a no-hitter each time out and then, maybe I'll cheer for you".

Wait, you will cheer for him once he starts performing better??? Well then, I think we can add one more thing to the list:

Hypocritical Yankee fan 1, knowledgeable Yankee fan 0.

There's a reason people don't throw rotten vegetables at actors in theaters any more. It's because those that go to the theater are no longer ignorant, classless, cowardly, hypocritical jackasses.

It's time to evolve.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

To Gloat, or Not to Gloat

As a Yankee fan it doesn't get better than it is today.
Current champions + most historical championships = the perfect storm of fandom.
Fans of other teams may try to minimize the accomplishment of our favorite team. They'll point to the payroll, ex (or not) PED users, and/or paid off umpires. But now, and as long as they keep the record books, a list of World Series Champions will include 2009 - New York Yankees.

Should you be happy? Yes.
Should you be proud to be a Yankee fan? Yes.
Should you defend the players and organization against the accusations outlined above? Yes.
Should you gloat? I say no.

The definition of "gloat": To express great, often malicious, pleasure or self-satisfaction.

I guess I'm against gloating in general. Even when it comes to victories that I actually have something to do with, be it slow-pitch softball, ping-pong, or cribbage, I feel winning in and of itself should be enough to give you a sense of contentment in a job well done.

But when you're a fan of a sports team, you're really just lucky you picked the right team to root for. You have nothing to do with your team's success or failure. I'm no psychologist, I haven't played one on TV, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but to gloat unprovoked about your team winning seems to me to be a defense mechanism to hide your own deficiencies.

Let me qualify this a little. I am using the literal definition above which includes the word "malicious." If you have friends that you can play a little give and take with while being jovial about it, this I understand. I also don't include trash talk in general, say, in a pick-up basketball game or fantasy football league as gloating.

What I'm against is walking up to a stranger with a Red Sox hat on and saying some form of "Ha Ha my team is better than yours." And doing it anonymously on the Internet is even worse due to the cowardliness of the act.

The majority of Yankee fans are good fans, but there is a subset of fans that have created a general "Yankees' fans are jerks" sentiment amongst the masses. Whether or not there's a chance to change this perception at all is a question I can't answer, but I think it doesn't hurt to try.

So, I say, put your Yankees championship jerseys and even your Yankee hats away for a couple more weeks. Your friends know you're a Yankees fan, and strangers really don't need to have the fact that the Yankees are the greatest team of all time shoved in their face. The truth is, they already, grudingly, know it.

Game Six, Final Thoughts

Some people, ok many people, these days say baseball is boring. The problem is that it takes a long time and a lot of patience to learn the game. The payoff for that time and patience, however, is the ability to enjoy the game at it's fullest. If you've played the game, you have a leg up. And, of course, a rooting interest also pushes the level of excitement up a few notches. Throw in a potential clinching World Series game, a potential clinching at bat, a potential clinching pitch and for my money you are witness to the apex of viewing excitement.

What's going on inside your head when you're watching exciting baseball? One could say that thinking is a way for your mind to banter with itself. During exciting baseball moments, the banter becomes more frantic. Everything you know about baseball: games you've watched, games you've played, things you've read, mountains of statistics that have taken residence in your brain, it all plays into your constant inner dialogue. Using that historical base of facts and figures, your thoughts turn into a constant stream of observances, predictions, and desires. Depending on your state of mind, your optimism, pessimism, or realism you continually try to anticipate the ensuing events. In the heat of the moment, what comes through? Do you lean on your optimistic desires? your realistic observations, your pessimistic predictions? or as is probably the case for most, a mixture of everything?

I decided to take a look back on the last pitch of the year. Live, I watched from my couch, alone with my thoughts (kids in bed, wife doesn't care). The following is a re-creation of my thoughts during maybe 10 seconds of the live broadcast. Obviously, I couldn't remember everything that went through my mind, but I was surprised that many of the same thoughts I had the first time came back on revisiting the video (I still have the game on my DVR).

We join my brain in progress just after Mariano Rivera has thrown ball 3 to Shane Victorino, running the count full.

-damn, victorino is giving him a tough at bat-
Buck "Good at bat by Victorino"
-that's my thought-
-what was that study i saw on guys that foul off a lot of pitches in an at bat? i think it was inconclusive-
-if victorino gets on, back to back homers from utley and howard and it's still tied-
-just get him here and finish it-
-he keeps going inside, try the outside? but he's been missing outside-
-get him here, don't walk him-

Shot of Ruiz on second
-don't care about the guy on second-
-no more fouls, i can't take the pressure-
-man, is mo really as calm as he looks?-
Mo Comes set
-posada set up outside, don't get too much of the plate-
-looks like a strike-
-he's swinging-
-crap, he hit it-
View of grounder skipping across the infield.
-don't find the hole-
Buck "To the second baseman, Cano...."
-yes, don't boot it please-
Cano picks it up.
-yes, good throw please-
Cano throws
-yes, catch it please-
Teix catches it
Buck ".. The Yankees are back on top."

Teix streaking across the diamond.
-time for the pileup-
-who's in there?-
-damon trying to jump in-
-posada on the outside looking in, ha, doesn't want to get hurt-
-here comes melky-
-cool, they did it-
-where's joe-
-how long until pitchers and catchers?-

Yes, as exciting as it gets, once it sinks in that it's over, I realize I am merely a viewer. I was a lucky bystander, but a bystander nevertheless. The excitement is gone. The long and un-exciting off season is upon us.