I was really looking forward to going to bed. Thanks, Bill Miller.
It’s 9:57pm as I start writing this, moments after two horrendously bad ninth-inning pitch calls and the resulting Brett Lawrie freakout. Some people might argue this is the worst time for me to be writing a post about it, on account of the rage-fuelled, screeching banshee-like emotion running through my head. They might suggest I should wait until tomorrow, when I can approach the analysis with a clear head and at least a snowball’s chance in hell of objectively addressing the issue.
No. We’re doing this now, and there’s multiple reasons why.
First, I don’t really do analysis. I can, and it’s fun, but the site makes sort of an indirect promise to entertain more than to inform, and not being handcuffed by an informative obligation is kind of an awesome thing.
But second, and more importantly – it’s this kind of immediate emotion that’s required, I think, to appropriately get the message across.
For starters, here's what basically happened in animated GIF reenactment form.
There are only two possibly ways to describe the actions of Tuesday night’s homeplate umpire Bill Miller - an MLB employee paid for his ability to objectively identify pitch locations - and neither of them are positive.
A. He intentionally called two balls incorrectly as strikes, demonstrating a flagrant disregard for the rules of the game due to some personal motivation and agenda. The fans (aka, customers) accept the fact that the product they pay for may not provide a desired result, but they do – at the very least – expect a fair one. This sort of malicious subversion of the game should earn Miller nothing short of instant and permanent termination as a Major League Umpire.
B. He unintentionally called two balls incorrectly as strikes, because he cannot tell those pitches are strikes, which officially makes him horrible at that job he’s paid a great deal of money to do. This would be a colossal failure of performance, certainly warranting immediate censure and possible consideration for termination as a Major League Umpire.
What’s that? I reached the same conclusion twice? Yeah I think my rabid Toronto-fan feelings on the issue are pretty clear by now.
In case you think that what most of us saw didn’t actually happen, try this on for size.
Those calls can only be intentionally missed, or horrendously mistaken.
“Sure. Because this is the first time a blown call has ever happened in baseball.” – Some sarcastic Twitter idiot.
That sentiment is what has to stop. That idea that this "just happens." That it's "part of the game." And that we should move on quietly, and respectfully - IE, not throwing beers.
Perspective needs a shot in the arm. This is 2012. We have the technology to ensure – with minimal impact to the flow and entertainment value of the game of baseball – that these mistakes (intentional or otherwise) never happen.
BUT HOLD ON - because I can sense you think you can sense where I'm going, and no, this is not that article.
As that same sarcastic Twitter idiot rightly pointed out, what are we to do? Throw robots and video cameras everywhere, consult PitchFX after every disputed call, and sto play every time (and it would be every time, mind you) a manager questions a close call and they need to go to MLB headquarters for the decision?
And can I really suggest this incident should be considered as epically notorious as, say, the Jim Joyce thing? No.
Should that make the outcome any less insulting to a paying fan? Absolutely not.
LawrieGate™ - in a way - is worse, because Millers’ actions don’t just invalidate the officiating. They invalidate Major League Baseball. They render irrelevant the concepts of winners and losers, of fair competition, or the intrinsic and nostalgic value of this well-meaning warmweather pasttime that we worship because it’s fun to play.
Because playing the game – exercising talent to complete an objective – should be the focus. A game decided by an umpire defies the concept of – not just baseball – but sport itself. How can you measure the legitimacy and supremacy of one team against another when the entire context of the experiment is built on illegitimate ground?
People will say, “[Such and such teams] are better than the 2012 Blue Jays and should be in the playoffs because they won more games.” But if incorrect officiating decides those win totals rather than the abilities of the teams themselves, then what does the arbitrary win-loss metric even mean?
The worst thing a fan of anything can ask is, “Why am I invested in this?” There’s no greater trigger for such painful, existential, self-introspection as an officiating error.
But, let’s not selectively call spades spades, here. The Jays were trailing when the calls happened, and they lost the game because of some awful defense. Nothing I say here will change anything about how the game is called or played, and if the Jim Joyce thing couldn’t get "replay in baseball" any traction, two late game missed calls to a second year Blue Jay will be lucky to earn six seconds of airtime on ESPN.
So what really needs to stop? What can we actually do about this?
Control the discussion.
An MLB Network anchor called Lawrie’s helmet throw “inexcusable” after the game, and everyone seemed to agree instantly (almost dismissively, in a foregone-conclusion-kinda-way) that Lawrie will face a deserved suspension.
Let me say that again.
An entitled-to-furious-anger-Brett Lawrie will be suspended because he spiked a helmet into the ground and it maybe-accidentally bounced into an umpire in the way that only a betting helmet spiked into the ground could. But the umpire who flagrantly, maliciously, and intentionally subverted the sport by failing to objectively perform the one aspect of his job he is required to objectively perform...“Oh, well, something might happen to him.”
Lawrie needs a suspension for optics' sake, and he'll get one. But how is Miller's conscious cheating any less reprehensible, or "inexcusable?"
Oh, and then this happened:
Cries from media – both mainstream and social – immediately condemned the irate Jays fan for throwing a beer at Bill Miller as he left the field.
Because a plastic cup filled with beer is a deadly, dangerous projectile – to a man wearing protective clothing designed to stop hardballs coming at him at 100mph like deadly missiles.
Some called the throw an embarrassment. “Oh! That fan threw a beer! So classless!”
Because tonight's on-field behaviour was the epitome of class and pinky-raised tea drinking, right?
If anyone really believes that thousands of other fans shouldn’t have also thrown beer, tomatoes, small animals, spoiled cheese, or any other totally harmless non-lethals at that cheater as he strolled calmly off the field he just took a metaphorical dump on, then I guess this post is directed at you.
It’s a message – a plea, really – that if we’re going to have this giant discussion (SPOILER: we are), then for heavens’ sakes, keep it where it should be.
Lawrie reacting poorly or a fan throwing a completely harmless plastic beer cup at a dirty rotten umpire will be pushed as the major issues here, and I'm not sure they are.
The 2012 Toronto Blue Jays have been the victims of visibly questionable strike calls for some time now, and likely due in no small part to the fact that they’re perceived as whiners when things don’t go their way. Bautista is consistently not getting the close calls he’s enjoyed in recent years, and he complains about nearly every one – likely building a negative reputation amongst MLB umpires not just for himself, but for his team. Umpires don’t like to be shown up (filed under, "Stupid Unwritten Rules of Baseball That Make No Sense").
But here’s the problem with that.
We don’t pay to see the umpires. We really couldn’t care less about the umpires. They’re nostalgic. They’re window dressing. And their job could 100% be done by computers or off-field employees in the video room equipped with the controls to on-field indicators for “OUT” versus “SAFE” and “BALL” versus “STRIKE”.
Fans pay to see a game played. They pay to see a fair contest of skill between trained professionals, to determine who is better at doing a specific thing. When an umpire monopolizes the sport to satisfy his own ego, he robs every paying customer of the very product they’ve paid to see.
Brett Lawrie will be suspended for doing what everyone watching was thinking. Bill Miller will escape with a temporary punishment, and the Toronto Blue Jays will battle umpires' close calls gone not-their-way for the rest of 2012 as the umpiring fraternity's revenge tactic.
Here's hoping the inevitable
cheating officiating doesn't impact anything more distant - or serious - than that.