Regal Blue

Kings beat ‘Canes, and a long-winded response to umpire review debate (but you don’t have to read that part)

Posted in Uncategorized by gklarsen on November 14, 2009

Our greatest fears were laid to rest on Wednesday night when the Kings beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2.  This was not a blow out until the third, however.  The two teams were tied in the beginning of the third when Ruutu scored his second off Ersberg.*  But a power play goal from newcomer (and alleged deviant) Randy Jones put us ahead for good.

*Ersberg did fine.  The first goal he let in was awful and made this particular blogger feel like any charge by the ‘Canes would result in a goal.  Fortunately he only let in one more the whole night and it wasn’t one which compelled me to think “Quick woulda stopped that one.”  In sum, Ersberg played like a backup.  Way to go.

Simmonds’ goal was one to see for sure.  He moved right around the non-Cam Ward goalie in front and flipped it into the net.  Beautiful work by a guy we’re starting to expect a lot of good things from.  Justin Williams shot one into an empty net in the final minutes to put it away.

It’s not entirely accurate to say that the Kings and Carolina played even through the first two periods even though the score remained close.  Rather, Carolina seemed to struggle the whole way through.  Despite what the Carolina announcers said, Ruutu’s second goal really wasn’t the harbinger of victory.  It was only a matter of time before the Kings jumped all over this one as Carolina had been at or near the breaking point the whole game.

Game tonight against the Atlanta Thrashers.  I’m excited to see this for several reasons, but primarily because I don’t know much about Atlanta.  Kovalchuk is great, etc etc but I’ve not seen them play at all this season.  Let’s hope it’s an educational experience, but not so educational that the Kings can’t beat the hell out of them.

My even-more-irresponsible-than-usual prediction:  Kings 4, Thrashers 2.  Anze and Doughty score.

***

There’s a nice article up on Walkoff Walk regarding umpire replays.  The author calls for a separate replay umpire away from the field who can simply view each play, relaying calls for each close one and responding to any requests by the on-field guys for a review.  Everything but balls/strikes and balk calls with will be reviewable.

I can’t help but agree completely.  Admittedly, I was skeptical of replays when they first came out several years ago.  Like most of America, I worried about delays of game and the whole “Hey man, you’re screwing up the game!  It’s always had umpires!  We love bad calls!  They make life exciting!” sort of thing.  Yet home run reviews have been sparse and take virtually no time.  Baseball continues to be played by human players.*  Everything is fine.

*Except alien cyborg Albert Pujols who is on a mission from his home planet to destroy all baseballs.

When you get down to it, the only argument that people can make against replays anymore is basically the one I made in the above paragraph.  We like tradition in baseball.  Part of that tradition is the tyrannical control umpires have over calls.  Sport writer and ESPN types love it when a manager gets all pissed off and yells at the umpire.  Crowds roar when a player is tossed.

This is an aspect of the game, a dramatic aspect, that fans enjoy.  And I’m not inclined to dismiss that so easily with a glib criticism (…like I did in the above paragraph…).  People enjoy baseball for many different reasons.  In the normal course of human nature we’re prone to believe that our reasons are the best reasons.  We wouldn’t believe something if we didn’t think it was right.

Unfortunately, like many rancorous political debates, the issue is muddled for two reasons.  First, both sides often do not understand the other.  Second, your answer to the umpire review question will typically dictate what sort of baseball person you are and ties intimately into your overall opinions on baseball.

Remember the battle between advanced statistical analysis and “old school” baseball people?  It wasn’t really a battle so much as something to get both sides writing.  Bill Plaschke would write something ridiculous about how valuable Juan Pierre is.  Fangraphs would write to the opposite, providing virtually incontrovertible data to back it up.  Fire Joe Morgan might get a few shots in there.  People like Murray Chass would say OBP is for nerds.  And the cycle would begin anew.

One constant feature of these back and forths was the acrimony that baseball writers in particular had for opposing views.  Many (Chass, Plashcke and many others were prime examples) would dismiss statistics outside of wins and batting average altogether.  Statistical analysis sites would ignore any arguments about leadership, drive, ‘clutch’ or whatever.  Baseball writers claimed that new analysis completely forgot about the human element of the game.  Stat sites ignored it because it couldn’t be quantified and the whole idea of the ‘human element’ was irrelevant to performance.

The point is that sometimes in a debate the opposing sides can summarily dismiss the arguments of the other, believing in the righteousness of their own cause and bypassing their arguments in favor of bolstering their own.  Thus, they rarely address the other side’s concerns without being a bit insulting about it.  Certainly more “old school” people have been guilty of this far more often in recent years, often resulting to willful ignorance to stay comfortable in their own viewpoint.  The fact remains, however, that one should take the other side seriously, or at least pretend, when crafting their arguments lest the misunderstandings continue.

Second, and probably the more tricky issue, is that reformers and conservatives aren’t just dry, sterile points of view.  These are lifestyles, in the baseball fan sense (fanstyles?).  Not only does this heighten the possibility of insulting the other side, but it erects significant barriers to rational argument and ultimate resolution.

For example, “I’m a fan of traditional baseball.  Umpires are part of the overall game of baseball and I respect that.  Sure some calls get blown sometimes, but overall it evens out and it’s exciting, it fires up the players and the fans.  I like it when a player gets his uniform dirty, I like diving plays, it’s how I’ve always enjoyed the game.  Forced replays would significantly spoil what I’ve come to love.”  Here, we’re not dealing with some argument based on facts and figures, but with how a fan enjoys the game as a whole.  Something like umpire mistakes, bad calls and kicking managers out of the game are part of his baseball game.  You can’t simply say that this fan is ignorant or stubborn.  We love all baseball fans in this wonderful community of ours.  He likes what he likes and I venture to say that conservative fan is in the solid majority.

Similarly, there seems to be a community of fans, reformists, who loath the fact that batting average continues to carry so much weight.  They read extensively, study extensively and learn extensively about all aspects of baseball whether through history of statistics and often belong to strong communities who blog, write and study the game together.  Accuracy and objective truth is a big part of this fan’s lifestyle, so umpire replays would naturally be an object of wise reform.  Maintaining a faulty system just doesn’t make sense.  This is their game.

Anyway, all that being said, I fully expect umpire replays to continue to creep slowly into the game.  The objective truth of the matter will wade slowly in, all the while assuring conservative fans that the game will still be the same.  Like home run calls, fans will forget that there was ever much of a debate, and the reform will take another step, then another.  Ultimately, perhaps within ten years, all calls will be subject to review just as the article wants and rightfully so.

This is a good thing, in my opinion.  Naturally the theater of umpire and manager and player debates will be missed by conservative fans, and casual fans as well.  It is, after all, entertainment.

Yet with the incredible and cheap technology we have available to view every play instantly from a dozen different angles on high definition the objective desire for accuracy simply must outweigh the legitimate desire for a few fights on the field.  Those like me will welcome it, as I believe that the dumbest reason to do something is because it’s how it’s always been done.

The home plate umpire will continue his tyranny for many more years to come.  Terry Francona will get kicked out because Ellsbury will be called out on a bad pitch.  The drama will still be there, but it’s easy to imagine a time where even a home plate umpire will seem arcane, unacceptably old time-y, inaccurate and dumb.  The cycle will repeat again and there indeed will be a future when umpires are more relic than judge, placed upon the field as ornamentation more than utility.

Conservative fans, at least, will have material for articles and recollection about the good old days.  Reformers, meanwhile, will undoubtedly be working on something, perhaps getting better stats on the scoreboard.  Couldn’t you imagine going to Dodger stadium and seeing OBP and SLG and wOBA where batting average and RBIs once reigned supreme?  That’d be cool.

***

And I thought I wasn’t going to write today.

Game preview of Kings/Thrashers by a fan much more educated than me is here.

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