World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

Under Pressure: for World Series umpires failure is seized upon, success is ignored

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BOSTON — An early morning direct flight from St. Louis to Boston the day after Game 5 of the World Series is bound to be full of folks with baseball connections. The lineup for this Southwest Airlines flight is certainly no exception. As I take my place in line to board I notice at least a dozen baseball writers, television personalities and no shortage whatsoever of fans clad in Red Sox and Cardinals gear.

But one person in particular catches my eye in this boarding queue. A balding man with a walrus-like mustache. Indeed, he has an absolutely unmistakable face. Which is sort of a problem. Because, in his line of work, people knowing who you are is generally considered a sign that you’ve done something wrong. The man is a major league umpire, and major league umpires are usually only recognized when they’re on the field clad in blue. And even at that, no one should know their name as easily and readily as people know this man’s name. But this man is the most famous major league umpire of them all. This man is Jim Joyce.

Joyce is famous, of course, for one of the most monumental screw-ups in umpiring history: the blown call of what would have and should have been the 27th and final out of Armando Galarraga’s perfect game back on June 2, 2010. The baserunner was out, Joyce called him safe and from that day forward any chance of Joyce walking through an airport anonymously was gone for good.

And even if there was a chance that the Galarraga call had faded from some people’s memories in the past three years, on this day, in this city, Joyce’s face is back in everyone’s mind due to a much-discussed call less than three days earlier: the obstruction call on Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks which ended Game 3 of the World Series.  That call Joyce got right. But given the rarity of such calls and the spotlight it was given due to when and where it occurred, it brought intense scrutiny down on Joyce once again.

It wasn’t the first time in this World Series that an umpire’s call was a big part of the story. In Game 1 second base umpire Dana DeMuth ruled that Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma made a putout at second on a potential double play ball. It was a clearly the wrong call — Kozma never had possession of the ball to begin with — and if it wasn’t for DeMuth’s colleagues converging on him and conferring to overturn it, it might have changed the complexion of the game and certainly would have stood as one of the worst calls in World Series history.

The hard truth about being an umpire is that no one remembers the best calls you’ve made. The hundreds if not thousands of calls — tough ones too — that you got right. It’s not even that they’re merely expected and thus go unremarked upon. They’re simply ignored as umpire calls altogether and the plays are remembered, if they are remembered, for the players involved, not the call itself. Indeed, I can think of no other job where one’s failure is so thoroughly cataloged and one’s competence or even excellence is so thoroughly ignored.

But that’s how it is. Tell me: which good calls stuck out to you in Game 5, which ended less than 48 hours ago? Give up? Me too, and I was there watching the thing. Now, tell me if you remember a 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reaching over the fence and pulling a Derek Jeter ball into the bleachers for a home run which umpire Rich Garcia should have called fan interference. Or how about Phil Cuzzi calling Joe Mauer’s double down the left field line foul when it clearly was fair, costing the Minnesota Twins runs and, maybe, the 2009 AL Division Series. Or — and you either remember this vividly or have been told about it so much that you feel like you do — how about Don Denkinger’s calling Jorge Orta safe when he should have been out, more or less giving the 1985 World Series to the Kansas City Royals? Indeed, bad calls from umpires, in the World Series or otherwise, are both memorable and legion.

As the 2013 season comes to a close, there is much talk about Major League Baseball’s intent and desire to institute instant replay. If and when it does that — and there are still a lot of “ifs” about it — the most egregiously blown calls will, hopefully, become a thing of the past. But of course not all calls will be subject to instant replay. Balls and strikes won’t be, and while no one ball or strike call draws the intense ire of fans like a blown call on the bases, the low-level ire of each one does make up for it in volume. And even if bad calls are corrected, fans of teams on the short end of those calls will still boo and jeer because, well, they’re fans and rationality is not an essential or even common part of fandom. And when they do, the umpires will feel the heat.

But if Jim Joyce feels the heat, he’s certainly not withering under it.  Back in the St. Louis airport, Joyce is recognized by more people than just a baseball writer.  Fans call him by name. One compliments him on correctly calling obstruction on Middlebrooks in Game 3. Another praises him for that time he saved a woman’s life by performing CPR at Chase Field. Another — wearing a Boston Red Sox sweatshirt — correctly notes that Joyce is working home plate for tonight’s Game 6 and jokingly tells Joyce that, “for the good of the game, your strike zone needs to be toes to eyeballs — for the Cardinals only!”  Joyce smiles, nods and says “no comment.”

Another fan brings up a more difficult subject. He compliments Joyce on the way he handled the aftermath of the Galarraga call. Though the fan focuses on the positives of the incident — Joyce was widely praised for his grace and humility in the days following that game —  it unavoidably serves as an obvious reminder of Joyce’s biggest professional failure.

My eyes immediately go to Joyce’s face, as I want to see if the comment registers with him negatively. If there are any tells that the comment or the memory it no doubt inspires hit Joyce hard.

“Thank you,” Joyce says, again giving a small nod in the direction of the man talking to him.

He says it immediately and effortlessly. There is no trace of a negative emotional reaction on Joyce’s part. There isn’t even a suggestion that his reply was studied or practiced by virtue of having to respond to such things for the past three years. His comment was no different than if you told him you liked his shoes. Everything about Joyce, from the way he stands to the way he holds his carry-on bag to the way he talks to the people around him evinces calm confidence.

Between the crowd at Fenway Park and the people watching Game 6 on television, there will be upwards of twenty million pairs of eyes focusing on everything Joyce does tonight. If something goes sideways with the umpiring in this game, those eyes and millions more will narrow and look askance at Joyce and his colleagues. There will be no one in the world of sports under more pressure given the size of the stage.

But as geology tells us, if you don’t have pressure, you don’t get diamonds. Jim Joyce has felt the pressure before and it has never, ever crushed him. And as such, it’s hard to imagine Major League Baseball wanting anyone other than Jim Joyce on its diamond tonight.

Yasiel Puig visits the Statue of Liberty, meets a Yasiel Puig fan

Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig reacts in dugout after hitting a RBI sacrifice fly against the San Francisco Giants during fifth inning of a spring baseball game in Scottsdale, Ariz., Sunday, March 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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Yasiel Puig is in New York to face the Mets this weekend. Yesterday was a day off so he got to explore New York. You can tell he’s not a New Yorker because he actually went to visit the Statue of Liberty.

I likewise assume that Puig made it to where the boat leaves for Liberty Island with plenty of time to spare, because God knows he’s had a week in which him hustling to make it just in time wasn’t gonna happen.

In other news, Puig made a friend on the boat:

Wade Boggs did not wear his Yankees ring to his number retiring ceremony last night

BOSTON, MA - MAY 26:  Wade Boggs acknowledges the crowd during the retirement of his jersey #26 prior to the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies at Fenway Park on May 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The other day we had the non-controversy of Wade Boggs wearing his 1996 World Series ring, which he won with the Yankees, to a ceremony honoring the 1986 Red Sox. Last night, however, Boggs was feted as an individual, with his number 26 being retired at Fenway Park.

It was an emotional night for him. He was visibly choked up and said all sorts of things which clearly showed how much more, at heart, he is a Boston Red Sox legend than he is a legend of either of the other teams for which he played. And he made a comment about the Yankees ring thing too:

He wore his Hall of Fame ring on Thursday.

“I’m proud of it,” Boggs said of the ’96 Yankees’ ring. “But I didn’t feel like it was appropriate today being that it’s my day, it’s my number and everything like that. So I left it off.”

The dude hit .328 for his career and had 3,010 hits despite not even playing a full season until he was 25. He could wear a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring out there and no one would have the right to say boo to him.

Must-Click Link: Big Brother is Watching Ballplayers

Big Brother
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Over at Vice Rian Watt has a great story about how technology is changing baseball. No, it’s not about sabermetrics or statistical analysis. At least not as you all know and understand those things. It’s about how the players themselves are now becoming the data. About how wearables — little devices which monitor everything about an athlete’s behavior — and analysis of that behavior is changing clubs’ understanding of what makes baseball players excel.

Which is fine if you approach it solely from a technological standpoint and do that usual “gee, what a world we live in” stuff that such articles typically inspire. Watt, however, talks about the larger implications of turning players into data: the blurring of their professional and personal lives:

Welcome to the next frontier in baseball’s analytic revolution. Many of this revolution’s tenets will be familiar to anyone who works for a living—the ever-growing digitization and quantification of things never-before measured and tracked, for instance, or the ever-expanding workplace, the blurring distinction between the professional and the personal, and the cult of self-improvement for self-improvement’s sake. These broader trends are colliding with baseball tradition on backfields and in training facilities around the major leagues, and those collisions have raised questions about privacy, security, and what employees owe their employers.

Players already accept drug testing and rules about personal behavior. But can a club, armed with knowledge about how it affects a player’s performance, make rules about how he sleeps? What kind of shoes he wears off the field? Everything he eats?

I’m the last person to fall for slippery slope fallacies. In most instances there are lines that can be drawn when it comes to regulating the behavior of others and making new rules. But in order to draw those lines you have to ask questions about what is and what is not acceptable. You also have to acknowledge that it’s really easy for technology to get ahead of our ability to comprehend its ethical implications.

Vin Scully recites the “People will come” speech from “Field of Dreams”

James
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You all probably know my thing about “Field of Dreams.” Specifically, that I hate it. Maybe my least favorite baseball movie ever. And I have sat through “The Slugger’s Wife” at least twice. That’s really saying something. At some point I’ll watch it again and liveblog the experience to explain my position on this — I know all of you think I’m nuts for not liking it — but just accept that I don’t like it for now, OK?

But just because a movie stinks doesn’t mean every aspect of it is bad. I loved Burt Lancaster in everything he did and he did an excellent job in “Field of Dreams.” Same with James Earl Jones for the most part. I thought he did a great job playing a character which, at times, didn’t have as much to work with as he could’ve had. No, there are good elements of “Field of Dreams.” If there weren’t — if it were just a total turkey — it wouldn’t inspire the feelings I have about it. If it were an unmitigated disaster, I’d occasionally re-watch it on a so-bad-it’s-good theory.

The “People will come” speech is good. Not necessarily for its content — there’s some hokeyness to it — but because James Earl Jones does a great job delivering it. He could read the dang phone book and make it compelling

Yesterday Major League Baseball launched a partnership thingie with the Field of Dreams site in Iowa. Part of that effort involved having Vin Scully recite the “People will come” speech over some baseball footage. Watch and listen:

Personally, I’d prefer Vin to tell some kooky story about an opposing player actually being a part time flautist or what have you. He’s had many monumental moments, but Scully is Scully for the way he makes the workaday and the mundane sound poetic, not because he takes the already poetic and elevates it further.

Still, this is good. Even to a hater like me. And I’m sure a lot of you will love it.