Day three – Is this really cricket?

So, today is day three of Friday’s AirHogs – Diablos game, and hopefully, it will get finished this afternoon. Unfortunately, we have the same umpiring crew, so it could be a long afternoon. Friday’s game was under threat of spraying for West Nile virus (actually, against West Nile virus), so there was a hard stop in place – no inning could start after 10:15pm. (The usual curfew for the American Association is midnight, and I think we’ve hit that twice in four years.) As the game went on, I thought “What a stupid announcement. I haven’t seen a game go past 10pm all season and I’ve been to almost all the home games.” Oops. This was not a good thought to have.

AirHogs are leading going into the bottom of the seventh, 9-8. There’s lightning in the sky. We’re about to have chemicals dropped on our heads by our local government. Surely, the umpires will just call the game due to poison. Nope.

AirHogs are leading going into the bottom of the eighth, 9-8. There’s still regular lightning. The poison planes are in the air, according to WFAA’s text message. Surely, the umpires will call the game. It was legal a long time ago, and the home team is winning. Nope.

Top of the ninth. Diablos have men on base, two out, two strikes. Justin Dowdy throws strike three. Game over!! Wait. The umpire says it’s a ball. WTF? Then, it happens AGAIN. Apparently, you need five strikes to get some batters out. The tying run comes in. Dowdy makes a gentle suggestion that the home plate umpire might want to visit PearleVision (I’m assuming.) He’s ejected. Hmm. Maybe he wasn’t talking about glasses.

Then, AirHogs are set down in the bottom of the ninth. Tie game. Still, we have a bit of momentum going. Oh, wait. The 10:15pm rule. Game suspended.

No problem, the Diablos are in town all weekend. So, continue game at 5:00pm Saturday to get it finished before the 7:00pm game is scheduled to start. On the bright side, it should be easy to park, since nobody will know that baseball starts at five and not seven.

Saturday, the heavens over Dallas open. Rain. If it were raining frogs, I would assume the umpires were just the first plague of many, but this is just rain.

The bar does good business. The snack stands do good business. Just after 8pm, everyone is told, “By the way, we’re not playing tonight.” Thank you, Captain Obvious.

The last time this happened, the team got a really nasty letter sent to them, the league and posted on their Facebook page. Apparently, some fans don’t know that baseball is not played in the rain, but they will wait until the absolute last moment to announce this. (The absolute last moment being about an hour to an hour and a half after the scheduled start.) If it is sprinkling, they may play. If it is pouring, have a beer and head for the exits. Trust me.

So, this afternoon at 1pm, the AirHogs and Diablos are finishing Friday’s game. Then, they’re playing Saturday’s game. Then, they’re playing Sunday’s game. Even Ernie Banks would say that’s a bit too much.

Let’s hope they get them in before the spraying (also suspended) starts up again. I would hate to see umpires melting as the pest spray rains down on them. No, wait, I wouldn’t mind that much, at all.

Diablos vs AirHogs, day three. A unique phrase, indeed.

You’re Outta Here!

There is an art to being thrown out of a baseball game. Before I started watching a lot of games at the park, I always thought it was pretty much the same – the umpire made a call, the manager came rushing out of the dugout to argue it, he got tossed. Now, I realize the real action is after the ejection, not before. First, the ejectee has a chance to make his case to remain in the game. This is usually replaced by a few choice comments about the umpire’s eyesight, upbringing or other attributes. Then, there is the walk of shame – at QTP, it’s all the way down the third base line, into the outfield to the far corner of the field to the gate to the clubhouse.

This walk can take quite a long time. Former AirHogs manager Pete Incaviglia would take a tremendous amount of time. It was his evening constitutional. Then, Pete would get so distracted thinking about what he had done (and I’m sure feeling remorse) that he would often leave the gate open. Unfortunately, the game could not proceed until the gate was closed. The umpires would tell the nearest AirHog to close the gate, but the players work for the manager, not the umpire. Eventually, someone would close the gate. Eventually.

There are actually rules about when someone can get tossed – theoretically, you can say anything about the call (“that was a horseshit call”, but not about the umpire (“you’re a horseshit ump.”) Ultimately, it’s the umpire’s decision, so like many decisions, ejections will be questioned, as in a couple of cases below.

Here are the three tosses from the past week and a half or so, two of which were in the same game  –

Ricky VanAsselberg, AirHogs manager. The plate umpire had a strike zone that moved more than a popcorn kernel in hot oil. The batters were swinging in defense, and our pitcher was getting really flustered. Ricky headed to the mound to calm the pitcher down. After the usual pause, the home plate umpire waddled up to the mound to break it up. Ricky kept talking. Then, Ricky started discussing something with the umpire. Then, the hook. I’ve meant to ask Ricky what he said, but I’m sure it was something about if the umpire knew how to keep a strike zone consistent, Ricky wouldn’t be out there wasting time trying to calm down his pitcher. I’m sure it was reasoned and polite. Although, he did get ejected, so I’m pretty sure the term “horseshit” was used somewhere in the calm and reasoned discussion.

Antagonizing the umpire – Ricky stormed off towards home plate, and kicked dirt all over it. It was covered. This I find pretty funny, but it’s been done before. Then, he headed to the dugout to dump his equipment and put someone else in charge, since he was leaving. While this was happening, the umpire brushed off home plate.

Umpire’s Fatal Error – Home plate is between the dugout and the walk of shame. So, Ricky covered home plate in dirt. Again. His catcher was snickering as the umpire bent down to clean it off. Again. That was hilarious.

Mike Conroy, Wichita Wingnuts outfielder. Mike played with the AirHogs before, so I’ve met him a few times. He’s a very passionate guy, so you just stay out of the way, expect the usual outburst every now and then, and nobody will get hurt. He was up to bat, took a third strike, and dropped an F-bomb. It was “slightly” loud, since I could hear it from my seat by the first base dugout. Here’s the interesting part – he wasn’t actually challenging the call. He wasn’t even upset at the umpire, he was upset at himself. Then, the hook. WTF? What is he getting thrown out about?

Antagonizing the umpire – If you tell Mike Conroy “You’re outta here!”, I’m pretty sure he hears “Please tell me how you feel about my officiating, since you are now out of the game and can speak freely. Also, if you have any questions about the legitimacy of my birth or my mother’s alleged former hourly occupation, please feel free to discuss those as well.”

Umpire’s Fatal Error – After Mike discussed the call to his satisfaction and was storming towards the dugout, the umpire called for three more balls. He was signaling the bat boy, but Mike was happy to oblige. A handful of baseballs came raining out of the dugout. As Mike headed down the walk of shame, the bat boy was trying to gather them all up, and was having problems because he was laughing. If you can make someone laugh after causing them work, that’s a pretty good ejection.

Brian Rose, Wichita Bench Coach – I would have never known why Brian was thrown out, but we had lunch with him the next day, and it was being discussed, so I have the quote. Brian is the last person I would have expected being thrown out of a ball game. He’s a bench coach – the voice of reason. Brian’s a calm guy. (He was the AirHogs’ bench coach before he moved to Wichita, so we’ve watched him on the field.) Still, a player had a called third strike (in the same game that had seen Mike tossed a few innings earlier), and the player questioned the call briefly, and then returned to the dugout. So, that was that, until the hook appeared. At first, I didn’t know who had been ejected. It turns out Brian had asked a very innocent question – “How many more of those are you going to get wrong?” Apparently, the umpire took offense. Ironically, this is probably a legitimate ejection, since Brian was questioning the umpire. (He was not alone in this, but you can’t do it out loud if you’re in uniform.)

Antagonizing the umpire – After he was ejected, I really don’t think Brian was antagonizing the umpire as much as blowing off steam after having the same crappy officiating for six days. If you are the bench manager of a team, living on the road while battling cancer (visit Brian’s page for more info), I really don’t think you need a 19-year old working home plate, especially when he’s apologized for blowing calls before. It’s bad for your stress levels. That said, I believe Brian heard basically the same quote as Mike when he was ejected, “Say, since you’re leaving us, what do you think of my officiating? Do you have any constructive criticism for me?”

Umpire’s Fatal Error – You ejected Brian? He’s the one person keeping managers from killing you in the parking lot. That is not going to win you many karma points, dude.

We Win!

The AirHogs beat the Captains tonight, 3-1, so the teams split the four-game series. The AirHogs are in first place in the division by six and a half games, with Shreveport in second. It’s interesting that on the way home, I realized that I wasn’t happy or elated by the win, I was relieved. That’s how bad this umpiring crew has been. (Yes, I’m bitter.)

Since tomorrow starts a new series with Ft. Worth, hopefully, we’ll have a new officiating crew. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many crews in the area, so I’m sure we’ll recognize them. If nothing else, a change would be good, even if it is the equivalent of changing a dirty diaper for one that is merely wet.

My next project in my copious spare time is to learn how to become an umpire in the American Association. The procedures for affiliated and major league ball are on the MLB website, but the only mention of umpires on the American Association’s website is the email address for the director of umpires. I think I will drop him a short note, asking about the procedures and qualifications. Hopefully, if I’m polite, he’ll answer it when he gets through all of the hate mail and protests he must receive.

I must apologize for bitching about the umpires as much as I do, but after seeing AAA ball in Nashville and the Frontier League in Lake Erie (with a two-man crew), I have to say that many of the American Association umpires would not last in another league. Their indecision and their wrong decisions make you start to question every call. When I  hear players yelling at them about the strike zone moving, and see someone thrown out at first because there was another out on the play that wasn’t called verbally so the defense threw to first for a force-out double-play, I started to realize that I may not be paranoid, they may actually be incompetent.

To me, this is unfair to the players and the fans. The players deserve to have a consistent strike zone and umpires that keep the game moving and officiate fairly. The fans deserve umpires that don’t interfere with the outcome by making bad calls.

The most distressing aspect to me is that the umpires often seem hesitant. This just builds distrust. You’re a freakin’ umpire – you cannot be second-guessed. There is no video replay. Just make the call and stand by it. If you can’t make the call with confidence, right or wrong, you need to find another profession.

Blind

Shreveport-Bossier Captains 4, AirHogs 3

I’ve calmed down enough to not say “A day that will life in infamy”, but I’m still pissed.

An umpire is not supposed to affect the outcome of a game, but Danny Hymel and the rest of the truly inept officiating crew at QTP tonight did just that. Hymel called an obviously foul ball fair, which gave Shreveport a two-run home run in the top of the ninth. They won the game by one run.

I was in the stands, watching the ball fly off towards the outfield, thinking “F*ck!”, and then I saw it turn foul and land far outside the foul pole. Whew. Then Danny called it fair. F*ck! Everyone with functional eyes protested, but the Three Blind Mice gathered together and discussed it, and I have never seen a call reversed, so the ruling stood. AirHogs lose.

It is disappointing to me that a game can be lost by an umpire unable to be in the proper position to see a ball go foul. This is the second time this week a foul ball has been judged fair, but this is the first one that lost a game and doubled our closer’s ERA.

After some of the bizarre calls last year, I really hoped that we might get some umpires that actually knew the rules and how to work a baseball game. Unfortunately, no.

The real pity is that the league’s umpiring crews must be local, as we see the same idiots again and again. It’s hard enough beating our opponents without having to put enough extra runs on the board to beat the umpires as well.

It’s interesting that the American Association website doesn’t say anything about requirements for being an umpire. I think I will ask, because now I’m actually interested in the procedure, assuming there is one. MLB and MiLB sites have detailed instructions on how to become an umpire, and the progression from minor league to major league. I guess in independent ball you just need a blue shirt.