Two Days in the Valley

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It was a pretty full weekend in Arizona. And yes, I took that picture of Matt Harrison. Kinda proud of it.

I left Tempe Diablo Stadium on Friday afternoon and decided to get some food and a drink. I ended up getting that plus a poor man’s Raymond Carver story out of it, so that was good. You’ll have to read all of that to appreciate it, but it was the first time I’ve ever had a date to go to a baseball game blown off in favor of a Popeye the Sailor man tattoo, but that’s where we are.

My girlfriend flew in for a quick weekend getaway on Friday night. When she landed I broke that diet you guys are sick of hearing about in order to make an In-n-Out Burger pilgrimage because you sort of have to do that even if you’re trying not to die of a heart attack in your 40s. It won’t help it, but you sorta have to do it.

Saturday we headed out to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick to take in a game as fans rather than media. Since it was a Diamondbacks game we amped up the grit factor by eating dirt, rocks and gravel for breakfast. Then we ran through a brick wall. We hoped that that demonstration of gamer-ship would keep Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers from having security throw us out.

Salt River Fields is fantastic. Kinda on the cushy side, even, which probably pisses off Gibson to no end.

Gibson: I’d like to take out the overhangs which provide shade from the desert sun and replace the molded plastic seats with small boulders.

Owner Ken Kendrick: Kirk, please, keep the grittiness to the roster. The fans have to have some luxuries. This is Arizona. Many of them are older.

Gibson: [under his breath] Turnin’ our fans into a bunch of pampered Uptons …

There were over 12,000 in attendance that day but it didn’t feel half again as crowded as some of the older parks feel when they’re packed with 7,000-8,000 fans. It’s practically a major league park. I suppose it’s inevitable that the places will get nicer and nicer as time marches on, but it’s almost disorienting going from that sort of place to, say, Phoenix Municipal, which is how the Soviets would build their stadiums if they had the good sense to like baseball. Oh well.

The game itself was pretty par for the course in early spring training: lots of errors, base running mistakes and at bats which looked a little less-than-planned-out, both from the hitters’ and the pitchers’ perspectives. The highlight of the game for me was messing with the Diamondbacks’ Vice President of Communications, Josh Rawitch:

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I guess I wasn’t technically “messing with” Josh. Because I really was stealing the press box Wi-fi.

Random observations from the game, which pitted the Grit-Meisters against the Texas Rangers:

  • Lance Berkman was the leadoff hitter for the Rangers. He didn’t attempt to steal, but he drew a pickoff throw from Wade Miley while on second base. Spring training is cool.
  • In the space of a few short minutes Martin Prado made a bad throw from left field and Randall Delgado got knocked around a bit and looked kinda sloppy. I guess the Braves win the Justin Upton trade.
  • Kila Ka’aihue came to the plate for the Diamondbacks. Kila Ka’aihue? On the Dbacks? Who knew?
  • I watched Nate Robertson warm up in the Rangers’ bullpen for a while. Over the winter we heard about how he was coming back and how a big part of that comeback was him developing a sidearm motion that was totally different than anything he did before.   After warming up he flashed that sidearm action for several pitches in the pen. It looked good too. Then he went into the game and threw his old overhead business. I guess he doesn’t trust it yet. I’m going to Rangers camp today and I’m gonna ask him about it.
  • Oh, and some skeezeoid hit on my girlfriend:

All-in-all a pretty good day at the park.

I woke up yesterday, read a bunch of weapons-grade stupid from a guy who should know better, and then headed out to Camelback Ranch to take in the Dodgers and Indians.

I like Camelback well enough as a media member, but as a fair skinned person of mostly British/Irish extraction, seeing a game as a fan there is akin to a death sentence given the lack of shade in that place.  Unlike just about every other park in Arizona, it faces south-southeast instead of northeast, which means that the roof of the grandstand provides almost no shade. I have no idea why they built it that way, but they did. We lucked out in that it was pretty cloudy yesterday, but I’d like to hear the explanation for that design choice.

Random things from the Dodgers and Indians:

  • On the way to the park Allison and I wondered who was pitching and each of us agreed that we didn’t care as long as it wasn’t Josh Beckett because he’s a drag to watch pitch. It was Josh Beckett.
  • The Dodgers play a bad cover version of “Centerfield” before the game. It was the only time in my life I’ve pined for John Fogerty’s version.
  • Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis were the only two bona fide regulars in the Indians lineup. I know that veterans usually don’t travel, but I’ve seen split squad games with a better showing than that. I guess everyone else got Sunday off.
  • Jason Giambi was there, however, DH-ing. I tried my best to relish his plate appearances because I think there’s a non-trivial chance he never gets another regular season at bat in the bigs. This really could be it for him, which is kind of sad. UPDATE: Or not. What do I know?
  • Matt Kemp’s bat shattered and a shard of it stuck in the ground like a javelin or something:

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Kinda scary. We’re gonna have another player impaled by a bat one of these days.

  • Yasiel Puig came in late in the game and hit a three-run homer. And it wasn’t a cheapie. He tattooed the ball. I’ve seen him play three times in five days now and I have been impressed. He’s raw and all of that but boy howdy I can’t wait to see more of him.
  • Late in the game someone hit a foul ball and it went back into the open window of Ned Colletti’s box. Colletti retrieved the foul ball and gave it to a fan. Then Colletti gave the fan three years, $30 million. The Dodgers, man.

With the game over I put my girlfriend on a plane and then went and climbed a butte. Mostly because “butte” is a funny word. Say it. Tell me it’s not funny.

This morning I’m off to Surprise to see the Rangers and Padres. Surprise being approximately three miles east of Los Angeles, it may take me a while to get there.

Something needs to change to avoid future incidents like Machado-vs.-Welke

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On Monday, Major League Baseball announced that Padres third baseman Manny Machado was suspended one game and fined an undisclosed amount for “aggressively arguing” and making contact with home plate umpire Bill Welke after a controversial strike three call in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against the Rockies in Colorado. The clip of the incident is below, showing that Welke’s call was poor. Machado’s behavior was also poor, as he indeed made contact — inadvertently or not — with Welke and repeatedly swore at him. Machado also threw his bat, though it was not in anyone’s direction and no one was put in harm’s way.

Machado chose to appeal his suspension, as is his right. While that matter is in the process of being resolved, the Major League Umpires Association put out a lengthy statement on Facebook and a shorter but hashtag-laden post on Twitter. The statements were problematic for a number of reasons, chiefest being that the union is publicly commenting on an ongoing matter. MLB can keep Machado’s suspension at one game, which seems likely, or it can reduce his suspension to zero games. The league can also choose to reduce or remove the fine as well. Once the matter is resolved, the MLBUA should feel free to comment publicly on the matter.

MLBUA’s statement was also poorly proofread, hyperbolic, and creates a very legitimate argument for bias against Machado and/or the Padres going forward. The MLBUA described Machado as “violently” throwing his bat “with no regard to anyone’s safety.” It continued, “It is NOT okay to throw a temper tantrum and physically touch someone of authority, just because you don’t agree.”

MLBUA then moralized, asking, “What does this teach the MLB’s immense and ongoing influential youth movement trying to attract young fans to the game? Major League Baseball has to always lead by example in all cases of violent behavior, on and off the field.” It closed out, saying that the union was “extraordinarily disappointed” in MLB’s “inaction.”

Among the hashtags MLBUA used on Twitter were “#TemperTantrum,” “#RepeatOffender,” and “#Nonsense.”

Major League Baseball then released a statement on Tuesday night, saying, “…we do not believe it is appropriate for the union representing Major League Umpires to comment on the discipline of players represented by the Players Association.” The league added, “We also believe it is inappropriate to compare this incident to the extraordinarily serious issue of workplace violence.”

Whoever put out the message on behalf of the MLBUA should have asked themselves, “What is my purpose here and for whom am I posting this?” The entire purpose of a trade union is to create a cohesive unit, establishing bargaining power on behalf of labor versus capital. So, MLBUA is not writing this for fans, for players, or for MLB executives; it is publicly commenting for umpires. An ancillary benefit might be to engender public support for umpires vis-a-vis Welke.

It must then ask itself if the statement creates solidarity among umpires. And I think that’s a solid no. Machado is not the first player and will not be the last to make contact with an umpire and to throw a “temper tantrum” of that magnitude. So why single Machado out and die on this hill today? I would be shocked if more than a handful of umpires outside of Welke and his closest confidantes appreciated the MLBUA reacting the way it did. It doesn’t help them achieve any union-specific goals and might actually hurt them. Repeatedly referring to Machado’s actions as a “temper tantrum” and “nonsense,” and calling him a “repeat offender” is unprofessional. It’s something an Internet commenter would write in the heat of the moment, not the representative of a trade union in one of the most profitable industries in the country. Furthermore, in singling out Machado, Machado himself as well as his teammates have a legitimate reason to believe Welke and his crew might be biased against them not just for the remainder of the season but for the foreseeable future.

On a more pedantic note, the MLBUA wrote that it is not okay for players to act the way Machado did against “someone of authority.” It’s not the power that should shield umpires from workplace violence; it’s their humanity. Machado should no more or less scream and yell at an umpire than he should anyone else in any walk of life. However you rank umpires, coaches, front office executives, teammates, opponents, fans, etc. — they should all be treated equally.

All of this being said, there was one part of MLBUA’s statement that rang true. As mentioned, Welke did suffer violence in the workplace. I disagree with MLB that the comparison was inappropriate. There is nuance to what constitutes “workplace violence.” Is it a mass shooting? Of course not. But in no other employment setting would it be appropriate for one person to scream, curse, and throw items across the room during a disagreement. The union correctly wrote, “Physical contact simply cannot be tolerated.” The crux of all of this is that Major League Baseball doesn’t discourage altercations between umpires and players/coaches. Things have gotten better since the implementation of instant replay, but some instances — especially ball/strike judgment — can turn into very heated altercations.

MLB needs a flat rule instructing players and coaches not to argue with umpires. The team of the offending person(s) would incur an in-game penalty as well as a potential fine and suspension. In exchange for this loss of power on the part of players and coaches, the umpires should be subject to actual oversight. As it stands, umpires are almost never punished in any way for any kind of behavior towards players and coaches, nor are they often punished for poor results in terms of correct calls made. The umpires already have the advantage with their authority; their lack of oversight puts that advantage on steroids, which is why there’s often so much frustration. Umpires instigate confrontations a non-negligible amount of the time. If they felt like they would actually be held accountable for it, they might be much more reluctant to act, for example, the way Ron Kulpa did towards the Astros in early April.

MLBUA helped gain that power imbalance for its members, so it isn’t likely to give it up very easily. I don’t see my utopian dream coming to fruition anytime soon. But that’s the crux of every umpire-involved confrontation: authority. Umpires and players/coaches need to be on a level playing field in that regard, and the rules need to be crystal clear on what kind of behavior is allowed from both sides. Until that happens, we’ll be seeing a Machado-vs.-Welke incident once or twice every year ad infinitum.