Try as you might, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid politics. The polarization of American politics is steadily seeping its way into nearly everything, including baseball. The contentious Senate hearing for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has even brought umpiring into politics.
Texas Senator John Cornyn along with the Family Research Council are supporting Judge Kavanaugh, saying he is someone who “calls balls and strikes.” This analogy seems to irritate retired Major League umpire Jim Evans, who wrote a prospective piece for the Washington Post titled “Sorry, judges, we umpires do more than call balls and strikes.” Evans argues umpires are not machines, they must interpret the rule book constantly. Was a collision interference or obstruction, or simply players running into each other? Umpires also constantly make judgement calls on catches, tag plays, force outs, and yes even balls and strikes. No two players have the same strike zone. Yes, the strike zone is spelled out in the rule book, but the size of the strike zone is larger for Aaron Judge than for Jose Altuve.
Speaking of the rule book. How many amateur umpires, disgruntled fans, have ever sat down and studied the rule book? My guess is not many. It is not their job to know the rule book, but it is also not an umpire’s job to make people happy. Do I get every call correct? No. Do I spend hours studying the rule book? Yes. The rule book for high school baseball per the National Federation of State High School Associations is 88 pages. The rule book for Major League Baseball is more than 150 pages. Have you ever seen a Major League umpire consult the rule book during a game? Nope. High school umpires do not consult the rule book during a game either. The rules of baseball, all of them, should be ingrained in the mind of an umpire. The analogy of Kavanaugh calling balls and strikes is that he knows the rule book, the United States Constitution, and makes decisions based on what the Constitution says. I doubt when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they foresaw every imaginable case the Supreme Court would hear. The Constitution and the various baseball rule books do not cover every possible scenario, judges and umpires must interpret how those rules apply to the case or play before them.
Calling balls and strikes is not black and white. There is plenty of gray. (www.larrybrownsports.com)
Obviously a judge sitting on any bench, especially the United States Supreme Court, has a more profound impact than an umpire. However, simplify umpires into machines is off base. Umpires must make decisions quickly, they cannot spend weeks or months reviewing similar plays and the text of the rule book before making a decision. If an umpire waits five seconds to decide if a borderline pitch is a ball or strike people would complain. Judgement calls are part of being an umpire and they must happen quickly, not slowly and after careful consideration.
There is dignity in all work, dishwashers, mechanics, lawyers, CEO’s. Honest work is dignified work. Do not simplify another person’s job to make a point. Good umpires make a sometimes difficult job look easy, the same way a good teacher makes teaching a class full of energetic First Graders look easy. You only understand how difficult someone’s job is when you walk in their shoes.
Little in life is black and white. On the diamond and in court, interpreting the rules is necessary and creates gray areas. Gray areas necessitate institutions like the Supreme Court to settle disagreements. In baseball the umpire is the judge. Working solo, or discussing a play with your partner on appeal, the umpire is the Supreme Court. Their decision is final. There is no reviewing previous plays, umpires must know the rules, interpret them for the situation, and the render a verdict. They do it all in the snap of a finger. Can you imagine the Supreme Court issuing a ruling in less than five seconds? Neither can I, so stop comparing Supreme Court Justices to umpires. One clearly has a greater impact than the other, yet both deserve respect.
Baseball never stops. It would be easy to fill your day with everything baseball; the games, injuries, trade rumors, player transactions. The amount of information coming out of baseball every day is difficult to fully ingest. Returning from a three week vacation with no internet or cell reception requires you to play catch up. I am not complaining about venturing into the woods and mountains of the western United States and Canada, only it makes keeping track of baseball impossible.
Living off the informational grid for a few weeks is refreshing. As much as I wanted to know the daily scores, it was nice not hearing my phone pinging with emails and notifications about things that ultimately do not matter. Baseball also fades into the background, after all it is just a game.
Upon returning to the world of internet access and cell service I bombarded myself with the news I missed. The All Star Game and the Home Run Derby. I wanted to know who won the Derby. I missed the “controversy” surrounding Bryce Harper hitting too quickly; I was not sorry to miss that part of the Derby.
Hiking a trail up a mountain to get away from the tourists gives you these types of views of Peyto Lake in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Injuries were another thing I missed while in the woods. The first text I received after asking my friends what I missed was the Mets were in first…for the draft. The obvious next question regarding the Amazin’s was had they called up Tim Tebow, because the Mets do weird things. Nope, broke his hand. I also found out about Aaron Judge’s broken wrist. The most surprising news was Noah Syndergaard contracting Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. Easily the most Mets reason ever for a trip to the disabled list. There were other injuries I missed but these were the primary ones I heard about upon my return to the world of information; sorrow from my friends who are Yankee fans and collective laughter about the Mets.
The major news I missed was the run up to the trade deadline. Plenty of trade rumors but coming home, turning on a game and seeing Mike Moustakas in a Brewers uniform was strange, especially as this was how I learned he was traded. The big news of Manny Machado going to the Dodgers was everywhere, but Jeurys Familia to the Athletics? Interesting. The Mets trading Asdrubal Cabrera to Phillies or the Rangers trading Cole Hamels to Cubs. Sure. Even Brad Hand going from the Padres to the Indians and Zach Britton from the Orioles to the Yankees were strange. Adjusting to players in new uniforms takes time. It is even more jarring when you learn they change teams by seeing them in a new uniform.
Baseball never stops, it keeps moving regardless of what is happening in your world. It is difficult to keep up with the daily transactions, games, and news. It is impossible when you miss three weeks. Playing catch up with baseball is a Sisyphean task. The more you know about the game, the less you know. A midseason break makes it difficult to stay up to date on the major stories in the game. My vacation was a reminder that getting away from the chaos of daily life does not mean the rest of the world stops. You can only hope you have people willing to fill you in on what you missed when you return to the real world.
Spring Training and the first few weeks of the regular season are always a time of double takes for baseball fans. Every off season players change teams, by trade or free agency, and it takes some getting use to. This season is no different.
There are three types of reactions to players in a new uniform in the early weeks and months of baseball. First is the big free agent signings. Second are the forgotten players that moved teams. Third are the players who will forever be linked to their old team.
There are the big names that changed teams, and while you know it happened it is still strange when you see it in real life. We all know Giancarlo Stanton was traded to the Yankees, yet it will take some time getting use to seeing him in pinstripes instead of the bright orange of Miami. The buzz around the damage he and Aaron Judge can do together is about all Yankee fans have talked about since the trade happened. Likewise, the signing of Yu Darvish was a major victory for the Cubs. His arrival in Chicago will help the Cubs remain the team to beat in the National League Central and in contention for the World Series for years to come. However, seeing Darvish in a Cubs uniform is weird.
Giancarlo Stanton in Yankee pinstripes still looks odd. (Newsday/ Thomas A. Ferrara)
The forgotten free agents and traded players are often the difference makers for their new team. The Marlins trading Stanton meant many people stopped watching Miami and all but forgot Christian Yelich begged to leave South Florida and was traded to the Brewers. So much drama in Miami means the Marlins trading Dee Gordon to the Mariners early in the off season was forgotten by most. The Brewers have relatively quietly built one of the great outfields in baseball when they signed free agent Lorenzo Cain. The breakup of the Royals seemed to grab the headlines instead of where the majority of those players went. The Phillies signing Carlos Santana away from the Indians could be the jump start that franchise needs to return to relevancy, much in the way the Nationals began their rise after signing Jayson Werth. In Queens, the Mets signing Todd Frazier away from the Yankees gives the Mets flexibility at first and third, by protecting the team if David Wright and Adrian Gonzalez are unable to return to form. The Twins, like the Brewers, have quietly amassed talent and look to be ready to be serious threats in 2018. Minnesota signed Michael Pineda, who when healthy will be a major asset to the Twins pitching staff.
The final group of players forever linked to their old team. Andrew McCutchen will forever wear the black and gold of the Pirates. His arrival in San Francisco was the logical choice for a rebuilding Pittsburgh team and for the Giants who want to win now. McCutchen is 31 years old and should have several good years left. Evan Longoria is the first Rays player to have a lasting impact in franchise history. Yes David Price, Melvin (B.J.) Upton, and Carl Crawford were tremendous players for Tampa, but there should be no argument that Longoria is the player the Rays build their team around for years. Trading him to the Giants does not change the fact that he will forever be thought of as a Tampa Bay Rays.
Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria in a Giants uniform is, in a word, weird. (Ben Margot, Associated Press)
Eric Hosmer and Adrian Gonzalez leaving the Royals and Dodgers respectively will forever be linked to those franchises because they led the charge in their revivals. Hosmer signing with the Padres mean Kansas City lost their leader, among others, and it is time to rebuild. When the Dodgers traded Adrian Gonzalez to Atlanta, only for the Braves to release him two days later, marked the end of a chapter in Dodgers history. Los Angeles traded for Gonzalez from Boston when they were rebuilding after the disaster that was the Frank McCourt ownership. Gonzalez helped bring the fans back and show the team was serious about winning. Gonzalez gave Los Angeles most of his best baseball, his arrival in Queens should help the Mets, however he will be remembered for his time in Dodger blue.
Certain players should only wear certain uniforms. The early stages of each baseball season are when we all adjust to seeing players in new uniforms. Like seeing Babe Ruth in a Boston Braves uniform or Willie Mays in a Mets uniform, players are remembered with certain uniforms on. Every off season players change cities and uniforms. It always takes some getting use to, but eventually we adjust and return our focus to the game instead of the player in an odd uniform.
Fantasy sports have been in the news plenty in the last few months. The debate continues over whether Daily Fantasy is gambling, and if so how to regulate it. I personally have never partaken in Daily Fantasy or gambling in general just because I have no real interest. However, playing season long fantasy baseball is great, as it allows me to follow players and teams outside of my normal fandom. The league I play in, Infield Lies, along with the rest of The Winning Run, and others does not play for money. We play for something far more important than money, bragging rights.
This year we did an in-person live draft, except that Bernie couldn’t attend because of a tiny obstacle – a 10-hour one-way drive. Having previously done the draft online, the live draft was a much different experience. Our draft is fairly early for most people who play fantasy baseball, most people seem to get distracted by College Basketball in March. This year, however we held our draft in mid-March, later than usual as we had to work around people’s schedules. Typically, our league tries to hold the draft before Spring Training games begin. Blind drafting in a way, you do not get the advantage of watching who is hot and healthy through Spring Training. Researching and reading what experts are saying about the players poised to have breakout seasons shape who you draft and when. You cannot avoid a player who gets injured before the season either. Constantly reinventing your team separates people and gives the league more competition as it reduces the dumb luck factor.
The completed draft board. Somewhere on here is a championship team. (The Winning Run)
The live draft was different though. We still followed the same process as previous years, but with much more screaming and yelling in person. My perfect team was ruined by the other people, because they are spiteful and decided they wanted good players too. Among the many strange occurrences during the draft, the most odd was Jesse’s 7th Round pick of Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs. Schwarber is an excellent pick, especially when healthy, however Jesse failed to realize that Schwarber had been picked in the 4th Round. As he verbalized his displeasure, it turned to laughter as we had to tell Jesse that in the 4th Round he, Jesse, had picked Kyle Schwarber. Special.
The later into the draft you get the more cross over you have between teams, in terms of who you want. In the early rounds you are basically grabbing the best player available. The middle rounds are about grabbing the remaining stars. My own moment in the sun occurred in the 14th Round when I selected Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles. A solid closer, but there was a tiny problem, it was not my turn. I had not only skipped ahead of one person, but two. Britton was gone when my turn came, though I did get Glen Perkins so I cannot complain. Oops.
The Phillies draft room looks much more composed and formal than our draft room. (www.grantland.com)
The late rounds are reserved for grabbing players to fill a void and for taking a gamble on a hot prospect or veteran. Bernie selected Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees in the final round. A player Jesse had seen play only a day earlier when he was in Tampa. The Yankees sent Judge to their minor league camp the day after our draft. Sometimes you strike gold, and sometimes you hit the waiver wire. It is worth the gamble to grab the hot prospect if you can/and know to. Last year Jesse grabbed Kris Bryant. He had an undermanned team for a few weeks, but having Bryant around definitely helped Jesse throughout the season.
Then there is John’s 11th Round selection of J.P. Arencibia. A fine player with the Blue Jays for several years. However, before we allowed John to select him we had to double check he was on a major league roster, which he is. John made a clever pick with the backup catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. Later when it was time to enter our draft selections into the online league program, it would not recognize Arencibia as a major league player. Sorry about your luck and wasted draft pick, John.
I love fantasy baseball for what it is, a game that gives me an additional excuse to talk baseball with my friends all season long. Every one of us wants to beat the others, but ultimately our league is about having fun and gaining a more holistic view of the Majors. The rise of Charlie Blackmon, John alerted us to that a few years back. Jesse alerted us to Billy Hamilton as he made his way through the minors. Bernie brought us to Andrew Miller well before the media. I found Jose Altuve’s speed while looking for a good contact hitter. Fantasy baseball can help put you ahead of the curve before the media starts talking about a player. Why not enjoy an extra season or two of a potential future superstar?
The Infield Lies tropy, the prize at the end of each fantasy season. (The Winning Run)
Fantasy baseball is a fun game that makes the game of baseball more than just your local team. It allows those who want to learn about the game to access the game like nothing else. I love playing with my friends, and each of us will do everything we can to beat each other each week and to win the championship. As the season is has just begun I will say a final good luck to everyone playing fantasy baseball, especially Jesse, John, and Bernie as I attempt to turn my back to back championships into a three-peat championship. It is good to be the king.
2X defending Infield Lies Champion