Baseball players are social misfits

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Former big leaguer Brent Mayne has a new post up over at his blog and, like most of the stuff he writes, it’s pretty fantastic.

The subject: how baseball players are shielded from normal social interaction and how that turns them into social misfits. Not in the way we typically hear about athletes being coddled and told they’re special thereby giving them ego problems. No, Mayne’s point is far more mundane: ballplayers don’t deal with airports and reservations and conversations with people and stuff and it makes them, well, weird and insulated. He says it in much more plain and useful terms than I just did, though, so by all means go read it.

Mayne’s observations dovetail in with one of my pet social/political concerns, and that’s social equality. Not financial equality, mind you. I believe people should be rewarded for their talents and efforts. For as much of a commie as I may seem at times, I have no problem with personal wealth for the sake of personal wealth. Indeed, I’d like a great deal of it for myself, please.

But I am a bit distressed at the way that wealth — and not just wealth, but technology too, the access of which can be dependent on wealth — has, quite recently, really, served to cut off people from what I’ll call “the public square” for lack of a better term. Don’t want to wait on line with people anymore? Pay a little extra to get VIP service. Don’t want to deal with the masses in the stands at the ballpark? Spring for club level seats. Don’t want to head to the department store? Hire a personal shopper.

These (and a bunch of other examples) are all matters of convenience or luxury which are understandably desirable. And I’m not suggesting that we try to put a stop to them because they’re just part of the market functioning, and I’m a fan of the market more or less.

I just worry that we’re losing something as a society by not having to wait on line next to one another or assemble in the same social spaces as much as we used to. That, like Mayne and other ballplayers, the ability to eschew interaction with the general public, however understandable, desirable and inevitable it may be, is causing us all to become social misfits to some degree.

I mean, if you never stand next to strangers in close quarters, what’s forcing you to cover your mouth with your handkerchief when you sneeze? Metaphorically speaking, I mean.

And yes, working by myself from my own home for the past several months has had much to do with thoughts like these staying close to the surface. I hate offices. Never liked working in one. But when I go out in public lately, I sometimes feel like I have three heads and that I can’t put two sentences together with people in conversation.

Anyone else feel this way or am I just off in Crazy Craig Land here?

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: