Full disclosure, I am an Atlanta Braves fan. Full disclosure x2: that call didn’t lose us the game. our defense did. That call however, did crush our chances of getting back into the game at that crucial juncture. Now that we got that out of the way, lets discuss tonight’s outcome and why I’m so vexed. Understand, as a Braves, Dolphins and Islanders fan, losing doesn’t phase me. It is actually the anticipated outcome. Yet tonight left me feeling strange. I will attempt to explore these feelings below.
Did you ever watch pro wrestling as a child? My goodness, the referee would accidentally be felled and the bad man would take advantage and overcome the hero through nefarious means? Childhood you would rage. Your hero had lost, but through underhanded means. This left you unfulfilled. This injustice done would maybe be remedied some day, but that would get you to watch the return match. This of course is copied throughout various forms of entertainment. The comeback from injustice is like the oldest story line ever. It’s in the bible like 45 times.
The problem in this instance of ‘injustice’ is multifaceted:
1) The nature of the sport vs. the nature of the one game playoff format –
Hockey and football are rough, quick hookups. Usually just what the doctor ordered, but baseball is slower. There is no clock on it. It’s like a courtship. It begins in spring, and by fall it’s a full on romance. Baseball is slow. Painstakingly slow sometimes, other times beautifully slow. In the “old days”, before 1995, when they created the wildcard… FOR THE FANS (that’s a lie, they created the wild card for the money it generates) in response to the first Donald Fehr labor strife, we’d get 2 seven game series that would take like 45 days to play, And that was fine, because it was baseball. We accepted baseball’s slowness, because it’s what made it great. This slow romance is a 162 game season. And that’s just the courtship! The lovemaking is in the postseason. Those ridiculously long post-season series, supplemented by a five game appetizer, it was just about perfect. Then this year happened, and with homefield advantage determined by an ALLSTAR GAME?!? baseball decided it’s rituals no longer mattered and the last 2 teams to qualify will get a ONE GAME playoff which flies in the face of everything that is baseball. Nonetheless, this was known all year, it’s just something I wanted to mention.
2) The ‘Human Element’ – This is actually Latin in origin. It means ‘we screw up all the time but don’t want to go through the hassle of changing our traditions so suck it up and deal with it.’ The problem with this preposterous stance of protecting the umpire’s right to blow games and denying them the safety net of ‘instant replay’ is that this commissioner has done everything else in the face of tradition. My blind dead great aunt has a better grasp on the traditions of baseball than Alan ‘Bud’ Selig. I am of course referencing everything from the notion of the wildcard itself to inter-league play to an ALL-STAR GAME to determine home-field advantage in the World Series. We are one step removed from the last spot in Bud Selig’s ‘4 team wild card round robin play in extravaganza’ being determined by the Homerun Derby… that takes place before the ALL-STAR GAME that decides home-field in the world series. This commissioner, that has wrought changes so monumental we will see every day of the major league season next year feature inter-league match-ups is the great protector of tradition? Allow me to tell you why. Other than when the Yankees, or the Jr. Yankees on NESN are in a fall classic, the only time baseball leads sports center is a blown call. Think about it. Galaraga’s perfect game. The 18 inning Braves-Pirates fiasco. The Mets dubious no-hitter. Jeffrey Maier. Tonight. Baseball is at it’s most relevant when the umps get it wrong. Baseball needs controversy to sell now. That’s the difference between the NFL and MLB. The next day after the Monday Night Mayhem in Seattle, the NFL was capitulating to it’s full time referees demands. Selig isn’t about protecting the game. He’s about protecting what sells: Controversy.
3) The Brush Off – The most infuriating part of any big time blown call in any sport. The notion that if you move on quickly as a league so will everyone else. it’s nonsense. It serves to galvanize the wronged fanbase and leads to further discontent. Own it immediately after, Commissioners. Get in on it quickly, say ‘a mistake was made, it can be undone. but we will work to ensure it wont happen again in the future’ then close the book. This isn’t 1967. All the games are on TV and the blown call is on YouTube from 17 different camera angles before the manager or coach storms off the field. There is no hiding it, so why not use it as a teachable moment?
4) The Lack of Closure – Sport is about ritual. Fan is short for fanatic. We as a sport loving people tend to care too much. So when your team loses, it’s time to wear your gear one last time and put it away for the off-season and move on. You congratulate the victor and mentally check out until next year. However. the bad call denies you the simplest of these measures. You can’t be certain the better team won, you can’t feel it’s over until you’ve legitimately lost. How can you close the book when the league, as seen in number 3, does nothing to ensure this is the last time a season ends dubiously?
You can’t. You stew for a few days. This too shall pass, but it takes longer.
Such is the quandary of sport. Sports have become financially prohibitive to casual interest. You are so fiscally invested the emotional investment becomes a given. The athlete has become nearly flawless, as has the coverage. Nothing escapes the all seeing eye in preparation of games to come or reaction of plays that have just happened. The only ones without video hindsight? The men calling the game. As such, I don’t blame them. I blame the man who is willing to buck tradition when it is profitable, but not when it would make the sport less edgy. What do you expect when a used car salesman runs your league?
That’s better. The airing of grievances does that. I’ll put away my tomahawk and see the foul lines chalked in April and be ready again. Hope springs eternal. Spring renews again.
It’s hockey season, anyway. I’m ready.
Oh? What’s that you say? Donald Fehr? Oh bother.