Pardon My Digression: The Rally To Restore Sanity

I know that I’ve said that my blog is all about baseball – the game and its history. However, I just attended an event with my son, Bobby, that I feel that I need to take a couple of minutes to address. I promise that this will the only time that I stray from my baseball theme.

The Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear) was held on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Saturday, October 30. It was more of an anti-rally rally for people who are fed up with politics as usual, the constant barrage of  negative campaigning and the 24-hour News media over-hype.

Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert put on a great event with musical performances by The Roots, John Legend, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Ozzy Osbourne, The O’Jays, Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy, Sheryl Crowe, Kid Rock and Tony Bennett. Other guests included Sam Waterston, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, R2D2 and Father Guido Sarducci.

Attendance estimates range from “well over 200,000” (the Parks Service) to 215,000 (CBS News) to 250, 000 (Canada’s CTV).  This, with original expectations of 60,000. However many people were in attendance, the crowd was large enough to force the shut down of the Washington Metro. It couldn’t handle the volume of people.

I knew that it would be a big crowd when I checked into our hotel Friday night in Reston, Virginia. The manager said that they were unexpectedly busy, with twice as many check-ins as they had expected. Additionally, they were receiving calls from other hotels looking for vacancies. He said that they didn’t know why they were experiencing such a rush. When I reminded him that the Rally To Restore Sanity (and/or Fear) was on Saturday he said, “I forgot about that, that makes sense”.

On Saturday morning, we drove to the Vienna/Fairfax Metro station prior to the crack of dawn to catch a train to the National Mall. The Vienna/Fairfax station is the first on its line but the train was quickly filled. As it proceeded towards the National Mall, it became extremely crowded and reminded me of a ride I had taken on the Tokyo subway system a few years ago.

Since I returned home, I’ve heard all sorts of rumors about the demeanor of the crowd. I must say that it was extremely well-mannered in my experience. I did not witness any problems whatsoever! The crowd was better behaved than some I’ve seen at Little League games. Besides a common disdain for politics as has become usual, the crowd was good-natured. Everyone seemed to have a great sense of humor as well as illustrated by the many creative posters and people’s reactions to them.

The diverse crowd showed that we could all play nicely together. We met people of different nationalities and religions from Virginia, Maryland, Florida, Ohio and California to name a few places. Bobby and I spent most of the day packed in with a wonderful family from Oregon. We all had a great time.The advent of the 24-news stations has been detrimental to both our government and its elections. Political pundits have become the latest stars of reality-TV. Everything is overdone and biased in one fashion or another. Pay them enough and they’ll spin it any way you want. It’s all about “the show” rather than unbiased news reporting and balanced analysis. Of course, the politicians are more than happy to lower themselves to this new level if it will help them gain funding and get them elected. The job of the politician has evolved from serving the public to self-serving. Their primary focus is on campaigning and getting elected/re-elected. It’s all about special interests and their money. Our two party system makes matters worse ensuring that little, if anything, gets accomplished.

I think that Jon Stewart summed it up best when he said that “When we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

Is Washington listening??? I doubt it.

The photos below provide a flavor of some of the sentiments expressed and creativity demonstrated by rally-goers.

My Post-season Prayer

Our Father who art in Cooperstown,
Hallowed be thy game.
The World Series shall come.
Let Yankee celebrations be none
In Arlington as it is in the Bronx.
Give us this year the Rangers vs. the Giants,
And forgive us our hatred of the Bronx Bombers,
As we forgive those overspending, arrogant, Damn Yankees,
And lead us not into more Dark Ages,
But deliver us from the Evil Empire.
For thine is the glory of the National Pastime,
And pitching is the power, and the Yankees have had more than their share of  glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

A friend of mine, posted her Yankee prayer on Facebook. Now that the ALCS is over, I feel that I don’t have to keep my prayer to myself anymore (especially since it worked). The prayers of all of the non-Yankee fans and the inspired Ranger fans have been heard. It also helped having a baseball god, Nolan Ryan, in our corner. Thanks for the inspiration, Peggy.

The Baseball Gods Were Listening

I can’t wait for the World Series. Congratulations to Nolan Ryan’s Texas Rangers for knocking off the Evil Empire. What a great story. First, the unbelievable story of Colby Lewis and the game of his life that he threw tonight. ALCS MVP Josh Hamilton’s ginger ale shower. The “redemption” of Ron Washington. The Rangers returning from bankruptcy. And the poetic justice of A-Roid going down looking to end it! Are the Rangers still paying him 🙂 ?

No matter what happens in the NLCS, I just have one thing to say, “GO RANGERS!”

BTW, this was my prayer.

The Party’s Over

OK, I surrender. As David L. Lander who played the radio broadcaster in A League of Their Own (and Squiggy in Laverne and Shirley) said, “Take me home momma and put me to bed. I have seen enough to know I have seen too much.” This script is getting old. The baseball season ended for me tonight. The Yankees may be good for ratings but if the Nielsen folks are listening, you can remove this automatic viewer from your tally. Baseball is becoming the WWE. It’s getting harder and harder to remain a baseball fanatic! Baseball is in an attempt to boost ratings (in light of decreased attendance for the 3rd year in a row) is pitching two choices at us. Either join the front runners and be a Yankee fan or become a Yankee hater and root for whoever they are playing. Neither of those choices really appeal to me so for me baseball season ended tonight. I have lost interest (I can’t believe that I am writing this).

The fix is in and I’m outta here!

Another Near Tragedy Narrow-Lee Averted

Yesterday’s post was pretty timely, here’s a quick addendum.

Another bat exploded yesterday and this time struck Ranger’s pitcher Cliff Lee.  Oakland’s Jack Cust drove a broken bat single up the middle. Luckily, the barrel of the bat sailed over Lee’s head, however, another small piece struck him in the ear, drawing blood. He barely had time to react. It is also lucky that the ball wasn’t hit directly at him as he clearly distracted by the flying bat fragments.

Another near tragedy leads me to the question: WHAT IS MLB AND THE PLAYERS UNION WAITING FOR???? WHEN IS ENOUGH ENOUGH???

How Bad Does It Have To Get???

I also stumbled across a story that I had missed previously of a fan, James Falzon, who was injured by a broken bat. The story on The Gothamist can be read by clicking the photograph. Another full article can be found in the Daily News. The fan is suing the Mets, the batter – Luis Castillo, Major League Baseball, the maker of the bat and ex-Met catcher Ramon Castro who lent the bat to Castillo. I hope that he gets EVERY LAST CENT that he is looking for. Clearly baseball has been negligent and continues to ignore the problem. This should get their attention with the one thing that they pay attention to: $$$. They need to stop looking the other way (as they did with steroids) and address the issue before someone is permanently injured or killed! They continue to be flagrantly NEGLIGENT!!!

A quick update to yesterday’s post. WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR????

It’s Time To Lose The Maple Bats

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Major League Baseball is very slow to react to a problem, preferring to ignore it or explain it away (e.g. performance enhancing drugs) until it has no other choice but to address it. The latest issue I am referring to it is the use of maple bats and the way they shatter into lethal projectiles.

It’s inconceivable to me that the ultimate union also turns a blind eye as well. I am dumbfounded that the world’s most powerful union is more concerned about money than it is about health and safety (re: steroids, maple bats, etc). Does anyone care about the safety of players (or in this case, fans as well)? It’s going to take a real tragedy before the Baseball gods wake up and outlaw maple bats.

That tragedy was nearly realized this past weekend when Chicago Cubs’ rookie Tyler Colvin was impaled with a shard from Wellington Castillo’s shattered bat as Colvin was coming home from third base. The shard punctured his chest, hospitalizing him and ending his season. The results could have been catastrophic had the shard struck Colvin in a slightly different position.

For sure, when thetragedy does occur, it is going to cost baseball A LOT OF $$$. Yes, they spend a significant amount of money on insurance protection. However, insurance does not protect you from negligence, and this is clearly a case of negligence. No insurance or disclaimer on a ticket will stand up to this blatant ignorance of an obvious safety issue.

It is true that all wooden bats break. However, it is also true that maple bats break in a extremely different manner than ash bats. They explode into sharp shards that fly at dangerously high velocity. That is a rare occurrence with an ash bat. There have been many close calls with both players and fans since the advent of the maple bats and tragedy has been narrowly avoided on several occasions.

I hope that Major League Baseball and/or the Players Union wakes up and does something before it’s too late.

Big Plaque, Small ?

At the risk of sounding like a Yankee basher,  does anyone else think that the George Steinbrenner plaque recently unveiled at Monument Park in Yankee Stadium, was just a little over the top? It dwarfs those of the baseball immortals that played for that proud franchise. Once again, it goes to show that it’s all about the money.

After the unveiling, during the game broadcast, Bud Selig blurted out “I don’t like to comment on these things, but do I think George should be in the Hall of Fame? Of course I do.”  Bud should focus on things he knows more about like giving meaning to exhibition games. On what basis does George M. Steinbrenner belong in the Hall of Fame? The Yankees are much better off now than before his reign – but what about the rest of baseball? I don’t think so. And let’s not forget that the new Yankee dynasty didn’t start until George was banned from baseball and the real Hall-of-Famer, Gene “Stick” Michael and his baseball people were allowed to run the team.

Listen, George did a lot of great charitable work (of course, it was tax deductible), but by all accounts, he was not a great man. He could be mean and unreasonable. He was a great business man, however. He had a lot of success with the Yankees and made a great deal of money at  the expense of the health of the game.

I guess shouldn’t be surprised that his plaque is ostentatious, but come on, it’s insulting to all of the other greats of the game honored in Monument Park. The Boss may be gone, but he’s still controversial.

How Long Is Too Long?

When I started out to write this post, I planned on addressing the pace of the game. But what actually evolved was an analysis of game length. The objective became to look at the length of games over time and present the analysis in a fashion that can spark some discussion.

MLB has been concerned with the pace issue and has implemented rules to it. There have been some positive impact, however, any effect on the length seems to have been minor and temporary.

For now, let’s look at the average game length (of a regulation 9-inning game) over time. (Note that there is no game length data currently available for 1949.)

I have always felt that the optimal length for a baseball game was 2 to 2 1/2 hours. After constructing this chart, I began to wonder if that was just because I was a product of the environment at the time that I became a fan. In the late 60’s, it turns out that the average game time was about 2 1/2 hours.

Average Game Time By Decade

What is striking to me is that from the first recorded game length data in 1920, the average length of a 9 inning game has increased by over an hour from 1:48 to 2:52. That represents an approximately 60% increase. Of course, a major factor affecting both the pace and length of a game is television commercial time but that is not the only cause. I hope to be able to have the patience to sit through a game or two before the end of the season and record the actual game time vs. the down time (e.g. commercial, warm-up, etc.). If I do, I will make it the subject of a subsequent post.

MLB has made some temporary inroads in shortening the length of the game. In 2003, there was a decrease of 6 minutes per game, however, since then the game has given back 5 of those 6 minutes.

Another interesting way to look at game length is examining the extremes (i.e. games less than 2 hours and greater than 3 hours) rather than the averages. This results in a chart that illustrates change more dramatically.
Besides the obvious trends, there is an anomaly in the 1999 – 2003 time frame. There was a large spike in games exceeding 3 hours, followed by an even larger “correction”. At the moment, I am at a loss to explain this. Given some time, I may try to understand this interesting divergence.

The point of this post was to take a look at the length of games over time, and see what questions that analysis may raise. The charts clearly illustrate the lengthening of the game over time and achieve that objective. Now here’s your chance to provide your thoughts on what this analysis shows. Does it make sense? What are the likely causes? What about the anomalies? What do you think is the optimal game length? Does MLB need to place a focus on game length as well as pace? Please take the time to share your thoughts.

Pardon this short commercial message. The information I summarized in this post was based on data from Retrosheet. They have generated databases including Boxscores for every major league game from 1920 through 2009 as well as a wealth of information and may be used at no cost. Retrosheet, was founded in 1989 for the purpose of computerizing play by play accounts of as many pre-1984 major league games as possible (data for games since 1984 have been collected by Project Scoresheet/Baseball Workshop and other organizations).

Year Avg Game Time (9 innings)
1920 1:48
1930 1:57
1940 2:04
1950 2:20
1960 2:33
1970 2:30
1980 2:34
1990 2:48
2000 2:58
2009 2:52

Finally, Just in Time – the Real McCoy

I have been wanting to add McCoy Stadium to my list of minor league stadiums for quite a while. But as often is the case, you tend to overlook or take for granted things that are in your back yard. Although my quest has taken me around the country and around the world, and the drive to Pawtucket only takes 2 hours, I didn’t see a game there until now. As time was ticking down on another season, Bobby and I decided to take the short trek and catch the last game of the 2010 regular season. It was a contest between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Syracuse Chiefs.

As it turned out, it was a special occasion to boot as Jim Martin ended his 17-year tenure as the Paw Sox Public Address announcer, working his final game at McCoy Stadium. He threw out the first pitch and then announced the starting line-ups from the field. Martin will continue to work as the voice of the Boston Bruins.

McCoy stadium seats about 10,000. The stadium itself is nice – a little quirky with some unique nuances. There is a little grassy “berm” in left field and bleachers in right. For one, the luxury boxes are located on the field level. All other seats are raised above the level of the field. This presents an interesting challenge for kids to get autographs. Since they don’t have “direct” access to the players as they are about 10 feet above them, some creativity is required. To surmount this obstacle, they lower buckets, bags and modified milk cartons containing the item to be signed down to the players via a rope. Once the item is signed, it is retrieved by pulling it back up.

Our seats were all the way out in section 1. Turns out that section 1 is even with the first base bag.

There is a lot of history reflected in the building with pictures, plaques, etc. The most prominent item details the longest game in professional baseball history. The game was 33 innings and played over the course of 3 days: April 18 & 19 and June 23, 1981. They have a marvelous tribute to this historic event.

Oh, and the game, it had its moments as well. In the first inning, Michael Martinez was picked off of first but when everyone failed to cover first, he was able to slide back in safely. Meanwhile, R.A. Ramirez struck out 7 in 5.2 innings. Did I mention that Jason Varitek was re-habbing? He was a crowd favorite and went 1 for 3. The most embarrassing play of the game occurred in the top of the 6th inning involved Pete Orr of Syracuse who hit a solo home run earlier in the game.With Chase Lambin on first, Orr singled to right advancing the Lambin to third. After rounding first, Orr turned and headed back to the bag. As the right fielder, Aaron Bates returned the ball to the infield, shortstop Niuman Romero quickly relayed to first to first baseman, Jorge Jimenez who tagged the unaware Orr for the third out of the inning. This helped Pawtucket to hold on for a 4-3 win to close out their season.

After the game, Pawtucket continued their traditional end of the season celebration of thanking their fans. The entire roster was introduced and lined up on the field. They then spent several minutes throwing souvenir “baseballs” into the stands to the excited fans in a gesture to demonstrate appreciation of the fans. It was a nice way to cap off the season.

The game was over, so was the Pawtucket season. It was another notch on the belt for the Baseball Stadium Connoisseur and all that was left was the ride home. But before departing, who did we run into in the parking lot….

Calling for a Review of Instant Replay

Instant replay has now been part of the game since August 28, 2008. Currently, it applies only to boundary calls, that is, whether home runs are fair or foul, whether they actually leave the field and whether or not a fan interfered with the ball. This implementation of the rule makes sense to me since these are the calls that are the furthest from where the umpire is positioned and therefore some of the most difficult calls to make.

Missed it by that much

However, problems can arise with plays that are right in front of an umpire as Armando Galarraga found out when he was about to close out the 21st perfect game in MLB history. On a ground ball, the highly respected, now-infamous (who said that life is fair) Jim Joyce called Jason Donald (an answer to a new trivia question) safe at first base, although he was clearly out. Joyce demonstrating his class, admitted that he blew the call and apologized to Galarraga. But the point here is that an umpire, one of the best, missed a call and all replays clearly showed that Galarraga and the ball beat Donald to the bag and the final out of the perfect game should have been registered. This is a text book case where proponents of extension of the instant replay rule would have righted an egregious wrong. The question is, “is the current rule adequate or should it be extended”?

There is one side note that I must mention. The “Galarraga” call resulted in a great uproar from fans and the media for Bud Selig to “fix” the call and effectively alter the record book. Now, I am not a fan on Selig in any shape or form. In fact, I think that a lot of baseball’s current ills are the result of the eviscerating of the Commissioner’s Office. But that’s another story. However, I do need to give credit to Selig for ignoring all of the pressure and letting the call stand. He had no authority to make such a change and if he had, it would only have compounded the issue. So, kudos to Bud Selig for taking a hard line on this one, it was the right thing to do.

source: Jeff Danzinger, NY Times

Back to the instant replay rule, the biggest concern that I have is what effect this would have on the pace of the game. This pace has already become a problem (and that will be the subject of a future post) so anything that can adversely affect an already challenged part of the game worries me.

Clearly, unlimited replays could not be permitted or each game could become a mini-series. The first thought is that certain “plays” would have to remain non-reviewable. For example, ball-and-strike calls should be excluded. But that still leaves a lot of opportunities for calls to be reviewed. Maybe the best way would be to also limit the number of plays that could be reviewed in a game.

It doesn’t seem right that it should be based on some kind of arbitrary definition of “important” calls such as only calls that occur late in the game, like the Joyce call. So, that one could have been “fixed”. In this implementation, if the call had occurred in the first inning rather than the ninth it wouldn’t be reviewable. Worst is that the “importance” of the call wouldn’t be revealed until later in the game and you obviously couldn’t go back after the fact.

There are two options that I can come up with that are worth discussing. I am sure that there are many smarter people than I that can come up with others but, for now, I’ll stick to these two. They are two distinctly different approaches: one initiated by the officials and one initiated by the managers.

Before  any alternative is considered,an important footnote to consider is that it must be ensured that camera angle coverage is comparable across the different stadiums. This may or may not be the case currently, although if I were to hazard a guess, I would think not.

The “manager option”would be something similar to the approach taken in football. Each manager would be allotted a certain number of challenges for nine innings. Additional challenge(s) would be provided for extra innings. It could also have a stipulation such as some sort of auto-review by the officials “late” in the game, although, my feelings about that type of provision should be obvious per my previous example.

The main difference between the football version and the baseball version would be the consequences of a challenge that doesn’t get overturned. There are no “time-outs” to be forfeited and I can’t think of an appropriate substitution that wouldn’t further affect the integrity of the game.

The “official option” would require a “replay”official to watch the game and initiate a review when he sees something questionable. Again, there would have to be some sort of limitations on types of calls that can be reviewed if not also, the number that can take place in a game.

There might a third option that is a hybrid version that combines aspects of the two outlined. For my money, I’d leave it the way that is and accept the human element of the game. Anyone out there that might have some thoughts on these or some other options that they’d like to share?

So, what’s YOUR call?