Baseball’s celebratory red, white & blue banners still had creases in ‘em Friday night when one of it’s post-season entrants was quickly bounced from the festivities amid another firestorm of controversy surrounding game-officiating.
This time it was MLB umpires, not referees, in the media cross-hairs getting lambasted after the Cardinals - Braves one & done, wild-card match-up (6-3 STL). The men in black were under-fire for having the audacity to continue enforcing a canon that's only been on the books since sometime after the Korean War peace accord was signed: the ‘in-field fly rule.’
Sadly for the umpires & TV audience the fans that were handed “the fuzzy end of the lollypop (Monroe)” this time happened to be the home-crowd, unlike the visiting Packers in the now infamous Hail-Mary game (Seattle) a few weeks back. Turner Field fans took cue from hot-heads at Miller Park (All Star ’02) and in protest tossed everything but the kitchen-sink onto their own Braves’ playing field (in what amounted to Chipper Jones’ final game) along with what little dignity each chucker may’ve possessed.
A pattern is now emerging of what’s really behind all the commotion of late surrounding officiating in America’s two most popular spectator sports.
Here’s a hint: the problem ain’t with the officials. It’s not the umpires, it’s not the referees, regular or replacement and it’s not faulty league oversight in either MLB or the NFL that’s to blame.
Here’s another: Chiefs’ Eric Winston and Matt Cassel can clue you in on the real source of trouble, after their disturbing experience in Sunday's game against the Ravens.
Answer: It‘s that face you see in the mirror each AM, at least, that might be one of the culprits. It’s you, it’s me, it's the grousing players and gurus too, Chip Jones excepted: “I think that when we look back on this loss (Cards) we need to look at ourselves in the mirror. I’m not willing to say that particular call (IFR) cost us the ballgame. Ultimately, three errors cost us…mine probably being biggest.” That’s class.
Much blame goes to the press for bailing-out bad behavior and feeding the flames with feigned outrage. Fans can get passionate (some just weak), but media’s situated different. Even a beat-writer should have a degree of detachment in their craft. Too often they feed the anger that follows a dicey call (Rosenthal @ Fox: “wrong decision at the wrong time”; Corcoran @ SI: “it was an awful call”), appeasing hissy-fits and painting a bulls-eye on easy-target, under-fire officials (S. Holbrook) in their verbiage or next day's column.
The ‘cry-baby bandwagon’ made stops in Green Bay and Atlanta this fall. Maybe it’ll visit your town next. Keep in mind, it’s free to board and always crowded but you can wave it on by, if ya' got the guts.
Year of the Manager
With exception of Jim Tracy and Bob Valentine (top-candidates for Boston will rightly think twice now), MLB ‘12 should be remembered as year of the manager. Never before have so many Davids defied Goliaths: Davey Johnson’s Nationals, Melvin’s Athletics, Baker’s Reds, Gonzalez’ Braves, Showalter’s Orioles, Matheny’s Cardinals and again, Joe Maddon’s Rays. Parity schmarity, this is patriotism. Making-do on a tight-budget. It’s what 75% of America’s been doing since corporate out-sourcing (lost jobs) went vogue in the 80s.
It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over
The PED monster still haunts baseball (Mel Cabrera (SF) / Bart Colon (OAK)) but there's one up-side to the bad news. This should put kibosh on any remaining resistance from MLBPA to instituting a mid-season blood-draw for ‘13.
With Miguel & Mike dominating the MVP topic, most took scant notice of another triple-crown threat in person of Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun. With Brewers’ ownership reverting to form and passing on title-contention (Greinke / Fielder), Braun kept his team in the race late (.319 / 112 / 41 / 108R). But Ryan still carries baggage from 2011’s positive testing, heavy luggage he could’ve unloaded in Arizona after the ban was lifted. He might give Mark McGwire a jingle.
Memorables & Forgettables
Decorated stars Tim Lincecum and Albert Pujols just assume forget 2012. The Giants two-time CY winner made his starts (33) but seemed to get baseball’s version of the yips or Steve Blass malady, posting a rough W-L record (10-15) and atypical ERA (5.18). At this writing San Fran is on PS life-support (0-2 Reds) and looking for any kind of hope.
Arriving in Anaheim with suitcase full of cash & awards, Al started slow but finished nicely (.285 / 105 RBI / 30 HR / 85R). He doesn’t get a king’s ransom to be nice, though. Like fellow NL’er Adam Dunn in 2011, Pujols came to the AL with nose in the air, thinking he wrote the book. Both played like couch-potatoes who couldn’t find a book, let alone write one on baseball. Dunn found his power-stroke in ‘12 (41 HR / 96), Angels hope Albert heals-up & bones-up before spring ‘13.
Topping the hit parade of RS memorables, many of whom are home polishing golf clubs and stocking their mini-yachts this 2nd week of October, were back-stops Buster Posey (SF) and A.J. Pierzynski (CWS), AL newbie Prince Fielder (DET), Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre of Texas, resurgents Aramis Ramirez (MIL) and Alfonso Soriano (CHC), Ed Encarnacion (TOR) and Yankees' Rob Cano, Curt Granderson and, still playing like a star in his 18th season, Derek Jeter.
Meritorious moundsmen included David Price (TB), Jered Weaver (LAA), Gio Gonzalez (WAS), reliever Jim Johnson (BAL) and, in only his second full season, dark horse CY candidate Atlanta’s fireman Craig Kimbrel (1.01 ERA).
But three names ruled the roost in 2012: Detroit’s triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera, rookie run sensation Mike Trout (LAA / 129R) and renaissance knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (NYM). At 37 (R.A.), 29 (Miguel) and 21 (Mike), these guys prove that while age can be a factor, it doesn’t have to be.
Can o' Corn