PnP Conversations: Of Men and Robots

Ted: You okay, buddy? Clearly this year’s playoffs have spurred in you a Van Gogh-esque creativity, as evidenced by Fernando’s Tears in the header image (Fernando’s Tears is a great name for a blog about dejected playoff exitees).

Eric: I”m okay, actually. The aftermath of Monday’s game was much worse for me than yesterday’s. If Game 4 was an unexpected knife wound to the stomach, Game 5 was a controlled bloodletting. There is actually a sense of weird psychic relief for me right now; this postseason run, more than any I can remember, really wrapped me up emotionally. Perhaps it was the fact that I had spent the past six months blogging about baseball. Perhaps it was that last year at this time, I was working 90+ hour weeks a political campaign and just didn’t have the time/emotional energy to get wrapped up in baseball. Either way, I sort of feel like I just passed a bladder stone. It was painful. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But the worst is over. Plus, I’ll realize in a few weeks that this was, on balance, a great season to be a Dodger fan.

Now to you: Who do you got in the World Series? Yankees (may Angels?) or Phillies? Or are you just rooting for the umpires at this point?

Ted: That’s a really good point. I went through an era in Astros baseball that was full of the emotion that you describe, including a trip to the World Series in ’05. The playoffs for a committed fan are intense. Every pitch offers the possibility of annihilation. It is the antithesis of the lazy Sunday afternoon regular season game, in which the lulls and gales of one game are rhythmic and calming. The playoffs feel like a constant 60-knot blow, and as a fan you’re a lowly midshipman, gripping the rigging tight with every lurch of the ship and watching your captain navigate without your input. When it’s over, your hands are raw, your eyes bloodshot.
In the last few years, my team has been nowhere close. It keeps me calm, and lets me look outward a bit more, something like the old timer spinning yarns in some port-town saloon, telling tall tales of turbulent times from a becalmed bar stool. I’m not saying I don’t want to set sail again, but I can appreciate the decreased blood pressure that comes with time ashore. To switch metaphors to something more appropriate to your last year’s experience: for the last few years, I’ve been the Al Gore of baseball fans, and you are the Sarah Palin. Rogue!

I’m all Yanks at this point. It’s come to that. I’m enjoying the successes of a strong baseball team. The Phillies have their charms, without question. They are a strong team themselves, and Lidge’s rejuvenation is thrilling to watch. But I can’t help being–with a fluttering attention span that is all-too-typical for me–a little tired of the Phillies. They won it all last year, obviously, and there’s something great about repeating, but a repeat team is inherently less interesting than a newcomer, if you can call the Yanks newcomers.

I’m glad you have the right perspective–a great season to be a fan. Baseball is competitive as all hell. It’s hard to get into the playoffs, and it’s hard to win even one series. The competition itself must be the reward. The win-only mentality is like staking your happiness on the nightly lottery numbers. (Easy for me to say.) When we’re not a fan of either team, we watch for the competition, the struggle, that shines out the trappings of laundry.

Though I haven’t touched on it, I’ll change lanes and ask you about what you brought up: what about the umpires? Do they piss you off, or is human error compelling? Are the stakes too high for mistakes? Should we expect perfection on every pitch?

Eric: You know Ted, I have always thought of you as the grizzled Simpsonsesque Sea Captain of the blogosphere. I like that metaphor. But the Al Gore/Sarah Palin thing is lost on me. If anything, we’re both Al Gore. I’m strung out post-2000 Al Gore with a beard and an identity crisis. You are the settled-in, wise Al Gore with a Nobel Peace Prize and a sense of greater purpose.

I’m going to skip most of the Yankes/Phils stuff because I have a post on that coming soon. But the Lidge rejuvenation is a story I’ve been kind of blind to. I suppose if I was to really pull emotions out of it, I’d be happy for the guy. Hell, I am happy for the guy. He’s not a head case necessarily, but he’s the perfect example of how baseball is 90% mental and half physical. He’s at once dominant and vulnerable. There’s a lot wrapped up in Lidge.

As far as the umpires, it hasn’t really pissed me off. I generally think the stakes are never too high for mistakes — after all, it’s merely a baseball game. The range of emotions an umpire can elicit amazes me. After all, we’re talking not about shit going down in hospital rooms or the annals of the New York Stock Exchange or the halls of the US Capitol. We’re talking about a few mistakes that may or may not determine the outcome of a baseball game. The holier than thou cries for robotic intervention amuse me more than anything. Perfection is something to strive for, but it’s not attainable. Ever. Not by man or robot. (I never thought I would find myself writing a sentence like that on this blog. We’ve really turned into an Isaac Asimov society this postseason). So my opinion on the umpires is this: it sucks when they make mistakes, but it’s going to happen, it’s going to give us something to talk about, and it’s really not that big of a deal.

I read somewhere, I can’t remember where, an article about West Coast teams losing in postseason games played in East Coast ballparks; something about the warm weather/cold weather factor. This is something we talk about a lot in football. And we just saw it with the Dodgers and Angels. Do you think it’s temperature that causes those teams to lose in the big bad Northeast? Or is it something else? I don’t really buy any arguments about “intensity” and “pressure” and “playoff atmospheres.” Baseball is baseball. Or maybe it isn’t?

Ted: I’m with you all the way on umpires, I have nothing to add but my support. And By Man or Robot should be a Will Smith movie.

Cold weather baseball blows. It hurts. It’s annoying as hell. I can’t even imagine mis-hitting a baseball with a wooden bat. Well, I can imagine it, and it’s something like grabbing an electric fence with both hands. I think there are players who are better at blocking out the sheer aggravation that comes from playing a summer sport in chilly weather. Some can’t block out the potential hand-numbing stinger that lurks around every corner. It’s got to have an impact, but no one in their right mind would admit to it. Hints might come from which players is wearing the more ridiculous facemask on the field. Clearly, for those players, warming up their ears is worth wearing the most ridiculous of field costumery. I’d like to see a study of statistics as they correlate to the temperature-to-headwear-to-performance ratio. You show me a middle infielder with a full ninja mask in 45 degrees, and I’ll show you the Mendoza Line.

Eric: I agree. It hurts to play baseball in the cold. I’ve done it too, and it’s not fun. Then again you are from Houston and I am from Los Angeles. We are, for all of our lives’ journeys, sunshine boys. I remember a David Justice card from my youth in which he is wearing the Ninja Mask. It always made me laugh. Why would anybody wear something so silly, I thought to myself, staring out the window at another 78 degree November afternoon.

This entry was posted in PnP Conversations. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to PnP Conversations: Of Men and Robots

  1. Alex says:

    78 in November is not natural!

  2. Kenneth Morgan says:

    The “umpiring” has really pushed me over the edge this postseason. Which is surprising to me since I wasn’t strongly emotionally invested in any of its participants. We really need to extend the use of replay a bit after what we’ve seen. Would it really change the fluidity of the game if we had an extra official in the booth who was patched into the crew chief to let him know when an egregious error had been made in a black/white subject such as fair/foul? It would take a fraction of the time of the zebras in football. I say we only extend it sparingly to very objective things like “HBP, fair/foul, and possibly check swings (least objective of the 3, I know).”

    Look at game 163 this year. Top of the 12th, bases loaded in a tie game and Brandon Inge’s jersey is clearly hit by the ball, umpire misses it and the Tigers don’t end up scoring during the inning. To me, this isn’t a situation where you can just say, “Oh well umps are human and make mistakes, sorry Brandon that you didn’t get that RBI you deserved.” Would you be opposed to the implementation of a system, similar to the one a proposed above, as long as it got the call right and had minimal interruption? I know that Brandon and some Tigers fan would be interested.

    Another thing that really grinds my gears. Check out the strikezone for last night’s game:
    http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfx/szone.php?xml=http://gd2.mlb.com/components/game/mlb/year_2009/month_10/day_21/gid_2009_10_21_lanmlb_phimlb_1//pbp/pitchers/218894.xml&innings=yyyyyyyyy&s_type=3&sp_type=1&h_size=700&v_size=500&extraStr=|10/21/2009|Los Angeles Dodgers @ Philadelphia Phillies

    (sorry I wasn’t able to compress this link for some reason)
    I mean holy hell that is a poor job of calling balls and strikes, especially in a playoff game. I’ll use only shapes that are fully inside of the box(since this tracking system is accurate to within an inch) but I count 19 pitches inside of the strike zone that were called balls, that is just embarassing.

    I’m not saying that we should push our current system all the way to the extreme with an umpiring crew that would rather beep and flash lights, but I think we should continue to use technological advances as long as they don’t ruin the fan’s experience. Tennis purists were very reluctant to use replay to get their “fair/foul” plays right. But I’d say that their new challenge system not only gets these calls right but doesn’t trip up the flow of the match.

    Although maybe the only reason I want more deregulation of umpires is that I’m still bitter about what transpired in Super Bowl XL…

  3. Ember Nickel says:

    I second Alex.

    Not sure where else to put this, but does the act of blogging influence which teams you support? I had a post planned for the Twins’ eventual elimination (or winning it all), and similarly have an idea of what I’m going to write when the Angels lose or win. So, at least from a scheduling standpoint, I was hoping that those two results wouldn’t happen within days of each other (and they didn’t, lucky me). Possibly a silly case, but I’d be interested to hear how blogging has changed your rooting patterns.

  4. Harry says:

    Eric, while I agree with you completely that baseball is just a game there are stakes higher than trophies — MONEY! I may be a bit naive about the inner workings of the MLB, but an extra three home games equate to ticket, merchandise, and food sales as well as more patrons at the local pub. Winning is good for the economy!

  5. Eric says:

    Kenneth: The umpiring has been bad. I don’t share your frustration.

    Harry: Sure money is a consequence of winning. But you really think that’s what fans are thinking about? Plus bad umpiring can also have the impact of prolonging a series.

    Ember: I don’t know if it has actively affected what team I root for. But I certainly find myself rooting for players who I have written about to do interesting things, I certainly find myself hoping that the more interesting storyline unfolds. For example, I am working on a piece right now hinging on the Yanks winning. For bloggish reasons, sure, I’d rather they won so I can publish it. But personally, I think I’d still rather see the Angels in the series.

  6. Kevin M says:

    I think there should be replay for obviously blown calls. That double play the other night after the rundown? Have a dude in the booth get word to the field. If the call is close enough that it warrants a few angles and replays, let the men play.