From the Stands

Baseball at its best

Wow! The baseball playoffs have been fun and exciting. How anyone could not find these playoffs exciting is beyond me.

And how about those Kansas City Royals? What a fun story they have become.

Here they are in the playoffs for the first time in 29 years, and it appears that, if there were such a thing as baseball gods, they have granted the Royals a special anointing. Going into this afternoon’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, the Royals have, seemingly, miraculously won seven straight games and can clinch a World Series berth with a win today. Unbelievable.

They have come from behind, have struck for runs late in games to win, and played a record four straight extra-inning games, winning all of them. They have stolen bases and made incredible defensive plays. Surprisingly, after being last in the American League in homeruns during the regular season, the Royals have won playoff games with late-inning or extra-inning homeruns. Go figure.

The Royals are probably my favorite team in the American League—right behind whoever is playing the Yankees. So, I hope they finish the job today and make the World Series, where I will cheer for them if they are playing the Giants.

As a sports fan, I am more prone to have teams I cheer against than teams I cheer for. This results in far less high blood pressure, anger, exasperation and other negative emotions suffered while cheering for a favorite team. But, I do have a favorite baseball team I cheer for—the St. Louis Cardinals. As a kid, I could get the Cardinals’ games on the radio and I became a fan. For night games, I would put the radio next to my pillow and listen with the volume down low in hopes my mom would not hear it and remind me I needed to be going to sleep, not listening a baseball game.

If I were not a Cardinals fan, the ending of last night’s game with the Giants would have little to no effect on my blood pressure, anxiety level, anger level, or overall bedtime disposition. It would have just been an exciting game (I enjoy exciting games regardless of who is playing) and I might have reacted by muttering something like, “Wow, a tough way to lose,” or “How lucky can you be?” Needless to say, neither of those was my reaction. It’s much easier to watch a game without the emotional investment of being a locked-in fan of one of the participants.

So, if the Cardinals, who, like the Royals, hit the fewest homeruns in their league but are winning with homeruns in the playoffs, come from behind and beat the Giants; er, make that, when the Cardinals regroup and beat the Giants, I’ll have to cheer for them in the World Series. First, because I’m a long-time fan. Second, because they will be representing the National League. And, third, because the Royals won last time the two met in the World Series.

However, should the unthinkable happen and the Giants go to the Series, I’ll be pulling for the Royals. They are just too great a story this year—as in, Go, Cinderella!

Where’s the strike zone?

If you’ve ever been to a baseball game, whether at the Little League, high school, college or Major League Baseball level, you, no doubt, have heard fans yell disparaging remarks at the home plate umpire.

Something like this, perhaps: “C’mon, man! You’re blind. No way that was a strike.”

When it comes to the umpires for the on-going American League Championship Series and the National League Championship Series, the first allegation would be wrong, but the second might have some basis in fact.

According to rankings published recently by Bloomberg Businessweek, the umpires working the playoff series are not the top-ranked umps in the two leagues for accuracy of calls on balls and strikes. You might say that Major League Baseball struck out on its call on choosing umps.

For example, The Bloomberg Businessweek rankings list Joe West, crew chief for the ALCS, as the second least accurate umpire behind home plate in the 2014 season. He was ranked 83rd out of 84 umpires who made at least 1,000 total calls. West was deemed to be right 83.91 percent of the time. The rest of his crew ranked from 44th to 75th in accuracy, though all had accuracy ratings in the mid-80s.

The best ball-and-strike umpire working either series is Gerry Davis, crew chief for the NLCS. He ranked 14th among 84 umps with an accuracy percent of 87.38. The remainder of his crew ranked from 16th to 61st.

Not one umpire in either crew was among the top 10 percent in most-accurate strike zone. Two were ranked in the top 19 percent. The rest were below that level.

Based on what I’ve seen watching playoff games on TV, I’m not ready to suggest seeing-eye dogs for the umps, but I wouldn’t oppose an eye checkup for some.

Actually, the real need, I suspect, is not so much a vision check for umps as it is a need for agreement on what constitutes the strike zone. Is the strike zone really what is laid out in the rulebook or is it what each umpire decides is his strike zone?

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One Response to From the Stands

  1. Cindy says:

    The Royals reign! Woohoo!

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