Saturday, October 06, 2012

Bad Calls Before And During

The addition of a Wild Card playoff game in each league beginning in the current season has alternately been called a one-game playoff, a play-in game, a winner-take-all game or, after last night's Cardinals-Braves game, a joke.

The alleged brain trust running MLB (hereafter know as ABTMLB) has rarely upheld a protest, especially in the post-season (fact-checkers alert here) and particularly on a judgement call.  Last night's appallingly bad call of the infield fly rule, made by the sixth umpire on the field down the left field foul line, may or may not have altered the outcome of the game, but it underscored the argument that a one-game, winner-take-all playoff in baseball should be restricted only to teams tied at the end of the regular season for a contending spot.

Baseball is a game of series.  Teams never travel to a city, play a single game, and move on (unless making up a rain out toward the end of the season).  That's not the nature of the game with every team normally carrying 4-5 starting pitchers.  It's all about setting up rosters to play a series, not a single game.  Managers spend considerable time trying to set up their rotations for the end of the season to have their top pitchers ready for crucial games.  This isn't football, played once a week in a different city.

The only reason the ABTMLB concocted a second Wild Card spot was money.  No surprise there.  That they limited the playoff to a single game was also pretty obvious:  the season already threatened to extend into November under the previous post-season setup.  This concoction was a travesty before last night's poor call and the fallout will surely increase pressure to revise the system.  The answer would be a shorter regular season, an unlikely development since all those teams failing to qualify for the post-season would probably lose money with fewer dates scheduled.  (Miami would probably save money since it wouldn't have to open its stadium and turn on the air conditioning for the seven fans, 300 ushers, two alligators and assorted other workers in attendance.)  The solution would be to discard interleague play, which the fans no longer give a damn about.  Even the players have little enthusiasm for this novelty whose luster wore off a long time ago.

Last night's call looked bad live; on replay it looked worse. The infield fly rule requires at its invocation that the umpire signal as soon as the ball reaches its apex and the fielder(s) "comfortably" settle under it.  In the Cardinals-Braves game the all came late in the action and the ball dropped because of poor communication by the fielders.  The Braves had played uncharacteristically poor defense last night, leaving them trailing the Cards.  They also failed to capitalize on several scoring opportunities that could have altered the game's outcome. 

But all anyone will ever remember is the bad call.

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