baseball

Keep R2-D2 Out Of Sports – A Human Error Story

Here’s the thing – technology and progression is good for sports. No one will argue that. What is frustrating is when someone decides to take the human element out of the game. Rob Manfred, MLB Commissioner, was on the Dan Patrick Show discussing the future of calling balls and strikes. Should this really be a discussion?

There are far too many “fixes” being made that are shrinking the unpredictability of sports and at some point we’ll all be happy just simming a game. Thinking back to the 2015 MLB Playoffs and the variable strike zone the Toronto Blue Jays faced is all the more reason to leave it alone. Were calls being blown left and right? Absolutely, but there’s a vested interest in seeing your team beat the odds.

Coaches challenges, instant replay, goal line technologies and heck, the trapezoid in hockey all have a hand in determining a victor. But has the governing bodies of sport gone to far? Have they come up with too many rules and changes to the sports we love that we can’t truly enjoy human error?

Don’t get me wrong, there have been defining changes that have made sport better such as introducing the forward pass in football, removing the two line pass in hockey and video replay. Looking at video replay is actually a conversation in itself. This area has had amazing breakthroughs in all sports, hockey and football benefiting the most from these in my opinion.

However, all these changes have come at a cost; human error is being all but eliminated and with all the rules and regulations, it’s tough to determine where they’ll stop.

Baseball entertaining the concept of a computer called strike zone would ruin baseball. People thought video replay on foul balls/home runs would be the straw that broke the camel’s back but the anti climactic call that would come with a computerized strike zone would be terrible. The only way they could keep it interesting is if they had a delayed answer like on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

nytimes.com

nytimes.com

Well that or if they had the computer make the call in like a funny, text to landline type voice.

Hockey introducing the trapezoid was a bonehead decision as well because there literally were only two goalies it was created for, Martin Brodeur and Marty Turco. These two, albeit great goaltenders, were not worthy of changing how the game of hockey is played. The PGA “Tiger Proofed” courses after Tiger Woods thrashed course records at the drop of a hat; creating a zone for THESE two guys, give me a break.

An umpire’s strike zone obviously changes from ump to ump and although we hate it, it creates part of the story for that game. Some crew chiefs have oddly large zones, others terribly small; we never know what we’ll get and its the element of human error.

Imagine hockey introduces digital offsides, icings and penalties? You’d stop watching it. I would. Such a fast game has mistakes and even when we yell and berate officials, we need that room for error to keep us interested. The skate in the crease rule in 1999 is a version of that; people still made that call even with the cameras they had.

We need mistakes in every sport and the more commissioners and league officials tinker and toy with those mistakes to eliminate them, the more watered down our sports will become.

Progression across all sports needs to continue but they also need to be wary of what that will do to the future of the game and how its played. Instant replay for many sports has become a way of life and in the NFL the first down line on TV is so amazing, it won 8 Emmy’s the year it was introduced, pretty sure anyways. All My Children’s soap star Susan Lucci didn’t win one for 18 years, and she was arguably THE leading lady of TV. How is that relevant? A freaking yellow line affected real life decisions and now you have no clue how to gauge a first down without it. Sports technology 1, fake TV characters 0 – well, 1 actually but you get the point I was making.

Some changes are needed but don’t take away the strike zone! Don’t let R2-D2 decide baseball!

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Will Blue Jays Feel The Love In October?

Is it World Series or bust for Jays fans this year? Will they still feel the love in October? April 2016?

As Canadians, we tend to like a winner and if you look through all the Canadian sports franchises, there isn’t much to celebrate once the post season begins. The Stanley Cup hasn’t been awarded north of the U.S since 1993; despite the game being created by a Canadian, the NBA championship has never come to Canada, not even close, the NFL and the CFL well….. and of course the Jays won back to back titles in 92/93.

When the Blue Jays last won it all, I was 10 years old and Joe Carter hit a home run that still is vivid in my mind to this day; I don’t need hilites to remind me. Since then, September has basically meant NFL is here and NHL training camps are gearing up. Baseball fans tune out their emotions and watch Boston and New York duke it out.

Toronto has made strides to get back to glory but never all at once. Roberto Alomar, Carlos Delgado, Roger Clemens, Vernon Wells, Roy Halladay, Frank Thomas, Troy Glaus, Scott Rolen B.J Ryan and AJ Burnett; all names that bring both good and bad memories but they played for Canada’s team.

Always typical with any sports franchise on the cusp of doing something great: have a plethora of talent in one area but not the other. Pitching goes south and the bats catch fire, bats go dead and the pitching is lights out. You’d think because there isn’t a salary cap that the Jays could buy there way out of trouble.

They did. But never more than one star at a time.

Their other problem was that as soon as they developed a star, they traded him away because they weren’t in a position to win and felt they could just keep flipping and building, flipping and building. Why not struggle like the Rays did and eventually have a plethora of talent at your disposal?

Well, it looks like Rogers Media has pulled out all the stops and wunder GM Alex Anthopoulos has put together a dream team of sorts.  Anchored by some original talent like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays have definitely put their money where their mouth is this year.

Trades bringing in Josh Donaldson for oft-injured Brett Lawrie, David Price and Troy Tulowitzki; big name signings like R.A Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Russell Martin have all put the Jays in contention to not only win the AL East for the first time since Full House was a staple of my Tuesday night viewing, but a chance to win the World Series and maybe keep some of the big stars around for a few more years.

But what if the Jays lose out to the Yankees by game 162 and slide to the one game playoff spot? Where will the Blue Jays fan base be? Can the bottom fall out that quickly? These are some pretty big questions that will be asked if it all falls apart.

The MLB post season is an enigma. Teams that run the table all year can be upset in one game or run into a hot team at the wrong time. With Toronto’s recent success, there have been struggles as well. Mark Buehrle has been less than perfect lately and Marcus Stroman is ready for return. R.A Dickey can knuckleball his way to a Cy Young but can he do it to the World Series?

Are the Blue Jays faithful going to be just that as this gets closer and closer? Hockey season is getting close and the immediate market Maple Leafs will be vying for the whole pie as will the Raptors. Winning fixes everything so maybe now IS the time for this to happen.

Sellouts and Blue Jays haven’t been said in the same sentence for many many years and now you take a look in the stands and seats are hard to come by. The nice thing about the real baseball fan and I believe there are tons in Toronto, is that they don’t appear corporate.

When Air Canada Centre opens for business in October, the suits will take over and the real fans will be stuck up top. Here’s where the Jays can really put a stranglehold on that cold month. If they are winning or assured a playoff spot the fans will be there.

Over the final month of play, the Jays have just over 24 games left. Seven of those are against the Yankees, a quick set against the Braves and the rest against the Red Sox, Orioles and Rays. I venture to say it will basically be playoff baseball here on out.

Even though the Jays have made their amazing push, the only let down for the Yankees was their series awhile back vs. Toronto. They haven’t let up. Its going to be a “who flinches first” race to the finish and if the Jays can hang on, they have the fire power both in their starting rotation, bullpen and their batting order.

Winning will make this all very sweet but even in defeat, Toronto has managed to keep even the most casual fan interested. Josh Donaldson’s season long heroics have been things of legend even on the wrong side of the score as have Edwin Encarnacion’s hit streaks and yard balls.

The addition of Tulowitzki and Jay killer David Price have put the Blue Jays over the top and only a monumental collapse could derail this train. The Jays are for real this time and every dollar has been spent to ensure they get a proper chance to succeed.

Fans are coming out in droves, new fans are being created, bandwagoners are buying merch and the thought of watching post season baseball on Sportsnet with Buck and Pat gets me excited.

Hoisting the World Series trophy is rarely done with a home grown team, ok aside from the St. Louis Cardinals. The Blue Jays won with some pretty big splashes back in the 90’s adding Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter and a few other notable players, so this isn’t the first time they’ve struck it rich.

Cash is king in baseball and winning it all by drafting, developing and making a run is practically impossible. However, just because you spend the big bucks, doesn’t mean you’ll win it all. It can be done on a shoe string budget, just ask the famous “Moneyball” GM Billy Beane.

So even though the Blue Jays spent their money a few times in the last year or two, the clubhouse they have right now is producing wins, fans and if they have it their way: a third World Series Championship. But if for some reason it all falls apart and they come up short, don’t expect this revitalized fan base to simmer down.

The fans are pulling for this team and the belief is real. No more let downs come mid September. The Blue Jays have what it takes to endure the marathon that is the MLB. AA has put together a winner and confidence has never been higher.

I wouldn’t mind seeing 1993 replay itself with a walkoff Bautista dinger.

This may be the start of something truly special. #thehuntforblueoctober

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

It’s 4th Down, Bottom Of The 9th With The Goalie Pulled

When it comes to football, baseball and hockey, the blame game often lies on the Quarterback, Pitcher and the Goalie. Is it their fault the rest of their team blew their assignments to put all the pressure on these guys? Depends on who you ask I suppose. These three positions are quite similar in how the public views them and what is asked of them by their coach and team mates. Who has it worse? Who deserves the most blame? Even championships can’t save these guys.

It’s Sunday Night Football, Brady vs. Manning, Rodgers vs. Romo; the spotlight is shining brightest on the man behind center. The matchup is always QB vs QB, not team vs team. Quarterbacks are paid the big contracts and are the face of the franchise. Who starts on Sunday is the big discussion on talk radio and when the chips are down every throw, run and sack is scrutinized.

Baseball takes a different approach by employing the starting rotation. Every team has 5 guys they deem are worthy of leading their team to victory once every 5 days. The pitching duel isn’t as relevant but again they face the most scrutiny because they are the players that start every.single.play.

Goaltending in hockey shares the spotlight that the other two positions do; the flip is that they are the last guy to beat before a goal is awarded. Unfortunately, the goalie is the one often blamed for a team’s misplays. It doesn’t matter if the defense is brutally awful or the forwards can’t cross center ice without giving up the puck, if the puck goes in, cue the boo birds.

Every Sunday the best quarterbacks in the league can be hung out to dry by a stellar defense or an offensive line that has more holes than swiss cheese. The QB is commonly the one to blame and his performance is the lightning rod for why his team did so poorly. The amount of study that goes in to one game is mind numbing: option reads, deep plays, the run game and the unforeseen flag all go into how a team fairs when they have the ball. A poorly timed pass can result in an interception that could end the game.

Once the pitcher steps onto the mound it’s his game. All the preparation and game tape can change in an instant when the first pitch of the game goes deep over the left field wall. Thankfully, baseball is played a pitch at a time and even a badly executed pitch can be recovered by a well positioned fielder. Quarterbacks can relate to a degree, the game is in their hands until they let go, then it gets real.

Even though a goalie doesn’t have the puck to start the game, it takes seconds to have them involved. Goalies have it pretty rough. There is so much that has to happen before its their fault, however, one mistake by anyone on their team can be forgiven if the goalie does his job properly. Goalies can be asked to steal games when the guys up front aren’t necessarily equipped to get the job done on their end.

What links these 3 positions together?

Aside from the crazy hate, relentless criticism and the ability to lose their job because they don’t win EVERY SINGLE game; all of these people share a remarkable mental toughness and are celebrated for doing a job most players wouldn’t want to be responsible for. Putting a blatantly obvious interception in the rear view mirror when it puts his team behind takes a special type of athlete and even more special when he can engineer a game winning drive in the last 2 minutes.

Having a pitcher give up consecutive home runs or walking in the go ahead run to have the reliever come in and strikeout out the side to get his team back in is something most athletes don’t want to be responsible for. Or maybe its the flip side and the pitcher has a perfect game or a no hitter going; its the loneliest place in the world but you know your team will do whatever it takes to keep it alive and it doesn’t matter who you cheer for, you want to see it happen.

Behind the mask, the puck is the ultimate decider of fate. A quarterback can throw an interception but the game isn’t necessarily over, a pitcher can give up a hit, doesn’t mean the winning run comes in; with goaltending, when the puck crosses that line, you failed. Its final. So much can be put on the tender for what HE didn’t do to keep the puck out when a blown assignment by his defense gave the goalie no chance aside from a miracle. Its a cruel, cruel game.

As the great Uncle Ben from Spiderman once said “with great power, comes great responsibility”. Nothing rings truer than these 3 positions. Championships are won and lost on a bad pitch, an overthrown pass or a screened shot. ERA, WHIP, pass completion, QB ratings, touchdowns, interceptions, save percentage, GAA, shutouts, perfect games and no hitters; none of that matters unless there is a W attached to it.

The pressure to perform at each of these sport’s biggest positions is incredible but the rewards can turn an ordinary Joe into Joe Montana. If I had to pick, goaltending is the hardest. The split second decisions are so drastic that a teams downfall can happen quite quickly. I don’t envy any of those guys.

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