Monday, June 27, 2011

This Day in Baseball

June 27 has some San Francisco Giant history.

On this day, 1977, Willie McCovey hit 2 home runs in the same inning for the second time in his career.  He was the first major league ballplayer to perform the feat.

And on this day in 1986, Bo Diaz, former Philadelphia Phillies catcher, threw out Robby Thompson, of the Giants, four times. It is the first recorded instance of a player being thrown out as many as four times.

In 1911, when pitcher Ed Karger is attempting to throw a warm-up pitch, while his teammates are taking the field, Stuffy McInnis belts the pitch for a home run. The homer stood up under protest but the rule will be removed.

Kevin J. Marquez

Monday, June 20, 2011

It's Fresno Bus Ticket Time

It's Fresno Bus ticket time for former Milwaukee Brewer and Boston Red Sox hack, Bill Hall.
I'm sure Brian Sabean was  hoping Hall could hit a few homers but he overlooked Hall's penchant for swinging and missing as well as not being able to catch a hit or thrown ball.

The Giants need to catch the ball and execute moving runners along the bases better than they have exhibited up until now.  Because their pitching remains superlative the Giants have been able to get by with winning more than they lose.  But the law of averages will catch up to them if they don't fix these noticeable problems.

They have capable players in their minor league system that can do better than Bill Hall.  They've gotten good defense out of rookie Brandon Crawford and it appeared that Connor Gillespie lost the "dear in the headlights" look out of his facial countenance. Let's give the kid a shot at seeing what he can do.  I'd rather see him play ball than Bill Hall.

Hopefully Hall is on the 12-day contract plan. When it's time is up (sooner than later is preferred) he either gets a bus ticket to Fresno or a polite wave goodbye.

Kevin J. Marquez

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Freddy Chant

Giants’ fans saw what he did last year during the playoffs. He proved general manager, Brian Sabean, right for signing him to a multi-million dollar contract. He is Freddy Sanchez.

In an interview early in the season I recall Freddy being asked by Giants’ announcer, Dave Fleming, what it was like being up in a crucial situation, with the game on the line and the fans chanting your name. And Freddy thoughtfully relayed his enthusiasm by saying , “I love hearing the chant. When I hear that I cannot let them down.”

Broadcaster Mike Krukow has been adamant about the importance of the influence the Giant’s fans have on the players. How often the positive energy is something the players feed off of and many of the players on the team are continually showing their appreciation for the fans. Krukow claims the team gained a boost heading into the playoffs from the positive energy that the fans had given the ballclub. That the dog days of August really had no effect whereas in previous years it may have signaled the beginning of the end. Last year, it was a rejuvenated ballclub that headed into the playoffs.

According to my unofficial count, in games when Freddy comes up to bat in crucial situations and the fans begin the “FRED-DY, FRED-DY, FRED-DY” chant he is 5-for-5. (Five hits in five at-bats.)

During the playoffs I didn’t pay so much attention to Freddy’s at-bats because he was helping the team win games by flashing the leather. But after that interview I have been paying attention to his at-bats and to the Giants’ fans. The fans don’t chant every time Freddy steps up to the plate, only when it’s a crucial situation. I give credit to the fans for not overdoing it. The fans have a similar chant for Cody Ross when he comes to bat in key situations that goes “CO-DY, CO-DY, CO-DY.” Although Cody has had some success it is not nearly as frequent as the second-baseman who wears the number 21.

On the June 5th, Postgame Wrap, Hall of Fame announcer, Jon Miller, repeated what he had mentioned during the game. And that was the Freddy chant seems to motivate this player because he has been quite successful. I’m thinking some statistician handed Miller a note as he was broadcasting the game.

This is the first time someone has brought this up as a topic of conversation and I think it’s good to know if you are a Giant’s fan. Naturally, you can’t expect him to keep up this impressive pace but if it’s something the player likes maybe he can do wonderful things when the chant of “FRED-DY,” is heard throughout AT&T Park.

Right now the “chant” is only local knowledge. But with a little persistence maybe Giant followers can take this show to visiting ballparks when the team is on the road. Make the “Freddy” chant nationally known.

For the Giants to continue this successful run from the 2010 season to the current 2011 season it may take something like a chant to keep the ballplayers tuned-in to their beloved fans.


Kevin Marquez

Friday, June 3, 2011

Catcher

Much is being discussed about the play at home plate where Nate Schierholtz threw a ball to Buster Posey hoping to peg the runner from third base.  Buster's lack of concentration caused him to not come up with the ball cleanly and in the course of his not being able to find the handle the runner saw his only chance of reaching home safely was by crashing into Posey.

Unfortunately, for Posey, he was in a vulnerable position and the runner's forward progress made Posey susceptible to injury.

People are outraged by the behavior of the runner.  But you have to remember this play didn't happen slide by slide the way some newcasts have shown the play to develop.  The play happened much faster and therefore the runner had little time to ponder what might have been. He pretty much made up his mind the minute he stepped off third base.

Some are talking about changing the rule.

How about someone in charge of the umpires calling a meeting to discuss why the rules ARE in the rulebook.  Discuss why the rules we have for such a play exist and see if the rules are antiquated in any way. Because you can't expect an umpire to determine intent when no two umpires have the same interpretation of the strike zone.   

Personally, I say a runner has as much of a right to the base as a fielder has a right to prevent him from getting there.  But the defensive player must have the ball to be able to block the runner's path.  Buster never had the ball.

Secondly, the way I interpret the rule is that a player can dislodge the ball from the fielder's hands by the manner in which he slides into the defender.  The runner's slide may distract the fielder enough that he takes his eye off the ball, resulting in not catching the ball.  Or the runner's foot may just happen to arrive at the play just before the ball. So whatever happens after that point has to be allowed. It's bang-bang. Ballet at the ballpark, if you will. (How some shortstops or second-basemen are able to jump or contort their bodies to avoid contact is a thing of beauty.)

What cannot be allowed is when someone goes out of their way to cause physical harm on another player. The Pete Rose/Ray Fosse collision in the All-Star game was unnecessary and Rose should have been reprimanded for his uber-wrestling maneuver that had him crashing into Ray Fosse, sans the ropes.  

I played Little League ball as a catcher. And I never liked getting into collisions at the plate. But I learned from each and every one of them. For instance, those plays where I got flattened and the ball trickled out of my glove I just told myself I had to concentrate more and get a better grip on the ball.  Those plays where I got decked without the ball I learned how to get out of the way.

Of course, I hated it when an opposing player was going all-out to bowl me over. So I would learn the best position to be in as the ball was arriving home.  If I could see the runner (out of the corner of my eye) was more than half way and the ball hadn't reached the infield yet I would drop to a knee. Some might call that "going to church" if a grounder was hit to an infielder he was taught to drop to a knee behind the glove to assure the ball didn't go through his legs. Well, this was the same thing except it had nothing to do with preventing the ball from going through my legs.  It had everything to do with the runner flying over me instead of into me.  I figured if the runner didn't care about my well-being that it was only right not to consider his well-being.

The  runners who were crafty enough to slide around the tag were the players I respected.  They were the ones who taught me the most. Because I had to adjust to what the runner was doing they made me a better player. I had to anticipate what might happen if... I gave these players the benefit of the doubt because they earned it. Those who chose the WWF method, of crashing into another player, were primitive both athletically and mentally.


Kevin J. Marquez

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Strike Zone

The Strike Zone



It is essential that we understand the rule as it is written in the rulebook before we heckle the home plate umpire for missing a pitch or two. With some home plate umpires you would think it was the plate that was moving and not the ball.

Rule7, Section 4a of the (Softball/Fastpitch/Slowpitch w/stealing) rulebook states: a strike is called by the umpire for each legally pitched ball entering the strike zone. Slow Pitch each legally pitched ball passing through the strike zone before touching the ground and the batter does not swing.

Rule 1, Definitions for the Strike Zone. That space over any part of home plate, when a batter assumes a natural stance adjacent to home plate, between the batter’s (Fast Pitch) Arm pits and top of the knees. (Slow Pitch) Back shoulder and the front knee.

Why is it so difficult calling balls and strikes for Major League umpires? The rules clearly state what is and is not a strike. Is too much being left for the individual umpire’s interpretation? There is even a diagram that has planes rising up from the 17” front-of-home-plate (part that faces the pitcher’s plate) as well as from the points (of the plate) facing the catcher. Both sides being 12” in length. The rulebook “strike zone” is multi-dimensional. Now, taking what the rulebook is telling you and what you know from when you played baseball, there is no excuse for interpreting the strike zone as some arbitrary place where balls pass through.

My suggestion to those umpires who constantly battle what they rule to be a strike is to get access to a pitching machine. Get a cardboard cut-out, or ask one of your umpire buddies to stand in the batter’s box. Go to the pitching machine with plenty of baseballs and begin loading them into the machine so you can see from the pitcher’s perspective what a strike looks like. After so many pitches, say 1,000, go back behind the plate and have someone load the machine with baseballs and watch another thousand pitches go over the different portions of the plate where the ball enters the strike zone so YOU can get a full understanding of what a strike is so the next time it’s your job to call balls and strikes, the strike zone doesn’t fluctuate from batter-to-batter or inning-to –inning. Remember, all anybody wants from you is consistency.

Why is it so difficult to calls balls and strikes for nine (9) innings? For some umpires the strike zone becomes intermittent, disappearing and reappearing as the umpire struggles to decide if he wants to call the high strike or the low strike. The inside corner or outside corner of the plate. With some umpires you get the feeling they don’t know what to do with all the possibilities of what a strike is and in their mind they just cannot decipher what is and isn’t a strike for whatever reason. Say the batter is over six feet tall and has an unusual stance. You can’t let that aspect of calling strikes interfere with how you perceive where the ball crossed before entering the catcher’s glove. Because it isn’t where the catcher’s glove is when he catches the ball, it is where the ball crossed the plate. It’s bad for the game. Usually, the pattern is, when you cannot determine what a strike is the zone will change throughout the game. This is referred to as a “floating” strike zone.

Furthermore, it is just as important to know who the umpiring crew will be when you are facing a particular team. Just as it is important to know which pitcher’s will be going up against your squad. The same way you will have match-up issues with the batter versus the pitcher, certain pitchers may have histories with the home plate umpire. A manager has to know these things so he can adjust the lineup accordingly. (The umpires rotate, from first base to home to third to second base.)

An umpire will issue a warning against a pitcher for throwing at a batter but what happens when an umpire displays poor sportsmanship towards a pitcher? Nothing. Perhaps it is just an idle threat. Mentioning the umpires and how proficient they may be at calling tag plays and how quickly they respond to an unusual play that requires a fast determination based on what the rulebook says should be done. But I believe this is something that is done to appease the players, coaches, and or managers. They think that something actually might happen to reprimand the umpire. Personally, I think a player, coach, or manager needs to call the League’s bluff once in a while to see what happens next.

Major League baseball is like any other big business in that it has its idiosyncrasies and hypocrisies. When it comes to how they handle the arbiters of baseball the powers that be may be considered eccentric. When a player, coach, or manager complains about the poor umpiring that was displayed during a recent game the league can’t fine the person fast enough. Even if there is proof supporting the accusatory claimant. Umpires can be consistently inconsistent, have an attitude in need of adjustment and just think they have to play the part of a buffoon. The stereotype of how most people think of umpires. You would think the umpires would want to change that stereotype once and for all. But, unfortunately, because there is no accountability for umpires they generally do whatever they feel is appropriate.

We should all be so fortunate as to have a vocation of autonomy. A rulebook to an umpire is like the Bible to a clergyman. Their livelihoods depend largely on how they interpret the meanings in each of these books. And yet with the umpire there are rules spelled out that seem to go unnoticed by their fellow umpires and their immediate supervisors. Example: No umpire shall wear sunglasses because at some angle or point of view the sunglass may distort the ability to see the ball which would mean the umpire would be unable to make a call. This goes especially for fair or foul balls down the line that have a tendency to get lost in the tint of the glass.

Baseball is America’s pastime. Everything about this wonderful game oozes in the daily lives of many people. The clich├ęs and catchall phrases that both relate to baseball and everyday life are innumerable.

When you have a game like baseball you cannot be so conditioned to want to add or delete rules unless the times have changed to a point that the rules have become antiquated. Occasionally something happens, out of the blue, that you just have to file under, “out of the blue.” While other times something continually occurs to the point that it is not out of reason to consider rule changes. Especially if modern technology can lend a helping hand to the situation. Because in the world of officiating, it is all about keeping the game fair and getting the calls right. Not how long it took to come to a conclusion but that the conclusion that was arrived at was accurate. We don’t want to see robots who were made for the sole purpose of calling balls and strikes because that would lose the human element of the game. And we don’t want other professions to take note and invest in their own mechanically- built suitable substitutes to replace human beings. We just want umpires to do the job they were hired to do. To be in position to make the call. Not be so upset when someone has a suggestion with how they can correct the situation (using decorum, of course). AND TO HAVE A SIMILAR STRIKE ZONE TO EVERY OTHER UMPIRE. The strike zone interpretation should not be worlds apart the way they are in major league baseball. What you see in the rulebook definitions is what their guidelines should be and nothing else. This is a rule, not left for interpretation. The only amendment that should be applied to the rule is how each individual umpire adjusts his body to better see the ball cross the plate.

I want to live to see the day that it doesn’t matter who yells, “Play ball!” Because the strike zone will be as it is in the rulebook. Of course, some people put much more attention to detail into the things they do in life. That cannot nor should it be changed. Ultimately, the goal for the powers that be who run the beautiful game of baseball, is to hire the type of person who follows the rulebook by the letter. The type of person who interprets the rules as they are written and not the type of individual who interprets things in a manner that best suits their needs. Baseball needs people who are willing to sacrifice their personal needs for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the game.

Kevin J. Marquez