Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

My Letter to MLB

Oct 18, 2005
Allan "Bud" Selig, Commissioner
Bob DuPuy, President & COO
Jimmie Lee Solomon, Executive VP, Baseball Operations
Frank Pulli, Umpire Supervisor
c/o Chicago Cubs
1060 W Addison
Chicago 60657

Dear Sirs:

I am a Cubs fan; I do not like the St Louis Cardinals -- mostly because of their self-righteous and smug fans -- who are as far from the "best" and "most knowledgeable" in the game as Dave Kingman was from being a .400 hitter. I do not respect Tony "Mumbles" Larussa; I believe he is a coward and a skank. I think Jim Edmonds is thoroughly overrated as a player, a delicate daisy and a whiner to boot. If you wish to doubt my sincerity by the end of this letter, you are free to call me on the phone and I'll give you succeedingly longer versions of my opinions on the team, its fans, and persons mentioned until you are satisfied that I have no outstanding affection for them.

I watched the playoff game between the Astros and the Cardinals on Sunday [Oct 16] and was rooting for the Cardinals to lose. Preferably badly, but any loss would have sufficed. ...and I watched Mumbles get tossed out of the game by Phil Cuzzi. I know as well as you do that both players and managers get heaved sometimes well after the specific incident they are griping about. So I wasn't confused that Larussa came out in the 7th to argue with Cuzzi after a pitch quite wide of the strike zone on which Berkman walked.

But frankly, Cuzzi was incompetent all night long.

But if Cuzzi had quit right there, I wouldn't be writing to you now. He didn't, and so I am. I watched Edmonds walk in the top of the 8th, and I watched Cuzzi call the ball four pitch strike two. There is no way on earth that anyone marginally familiar with both the rules of baseball and the composition of the strike zone could watch -- back to back -- the high and inside ball four to Berkman in the bottom of the 7th and the high and inside "strike" to Edmonds in the 8th, and determine:
1] that both pitches were not in the same location relative to the strike zone, and
2] that the umpire made anywhere near a correct call in both cases.

You are going to interject the standard rationalization "umpiring is hard; mistakes are made; judgment calls are final; rules are rules; they're only human..." Frankly I don't accept that, and I will be exceptionally insulted if anyone replies in such a manner. So let us just assume for the sake of future politeness that you have made those idiotic arguments, and just leave them unsaid.

A baseball game is a contest between two sets of athletes using a standard set of rules, arbited by a set of umpires. Each set of athletes has a legitimate expectation that if their athletic activities fall within the parameters of those rules, that the umpires will make certain and specific rulings. If a running back crosses the goal line with the football, he has a legitimate expectation that his team will get six points -- penalties notwithstanding. When the pitcher throws the ball over the plate, between knees and nipples, he has a legitimate expectation that it will be called a strike if not swung at. If it isn't, then there is something wrong -- and it's not with the pitcher.

When players cannot get their legitimate expectations met, then the game -- baseball, football, or basketball -- ceases to be an athletic competition between two teams of athletes following rules; it instead becomes politics, with the "impartial" umpire imparting favors outside the bounds of the rules. I've had quite enough of the "Smoltz zone" by which an uncommon share of umpires gave John Smoltz [et al] 6-8 inches off the outside corner. I've had more than I can stand of the umpires who call a sine wave strike zone, in which part of the game has high outside strikes, later it's low and in, later still it's low and away, and then it become high and in ... and then repeats, seemingly randomly, for the remainder of the game. I've also had my fill of the trapezoidal strike zone which awards strikes from low and in to high and away, as well as the short zone, with versions of all the above variants, but which only allow strikes from sock top to jock top.

And I further cannot tolerate the standard rejoinder given by announcers and other rationalists: "well, at least he's consistent..." He's consistently WRONG, yes. You are correct about that.

Frankly, gentlemen, this is unacceptable. On top of the players having a legitimate expectation of proper rule enforcement by the umpires, so do the fans. In my personal and subjective opinion the fans have the superior expectation for an accurately called ball game. We're the ones who pay your bills, your wages and your way, either directly by buying tickets at grossly inflated prices, or indirectly through patronage of your television sponsors.

A fan who's been watching baseball as long as I have knows what a strike is, what a ball is, and what is close enough that the TV perspective isn't adequate to judge. And fans like me have no tolerance for umpires who get it blatantly wrong and then rationalize why "wrong" was, in this case, right. Then -- as if being wrong and called on it weren't embarrassing enough for many current umpires -- they chase players and managers all over the field to instigate the player, of all arrogant things. The modern "blue" version of a juvenile temper tantrum.

Cuzzi, on Sunday night, was wrong pretty much the whole game. Whether he was wrong "consistently" or randomly is immaterial; he was wrong. Tossing "Mumbles" for pointing it out is one thing; managers sometimes need to make points to the umps and their teams. But tossing Edmonds after being wrong and then being petulant about it is something else entirely, and exceeds even my tolerance for wishing ill upon the Cardinals.

Here, again, there is a standard rejoinder, "Well, Edmonds argued balls and strikes; those are judgment calls -- even if wrong -- and cannot be argued. The umpire is within his rulebook authority to toss the player in that circumstance."


But that does not alter the fact that Cuzzi was wrong about the pitch call in the first place. If you’re going to cite “rules are rules”, then so am I. I'm willing to concede that mistakes are made by umpires -- I wouldn't take their job for a second, because I know I couldn't do better. And if you want to, or need to, justify the mistake by that means, go right ahead. Just don't do it to me.

We are left with a situation, though. A situation that I, as one of the fans who pays you for your front-officership, demand you address to my satisfaction. And just to demonstrate that I'm capable of more conciliation than Donald Fehr when discussing steroids, I'll give you a choice of solutions that would be acceptible:
1] you publically acknowledge that Phil Cuzzi was calling an incorrect strike zone during the playoff game, acknowledge that even though he had the authority to throw Edmonds out of the game, that tossing Edmonds was exacerbated by Cuzzi's own actions, and "fail to renew" Cuzzi's contract for next year; or
2] you publically acknowledge that the current crop of Major League umpires is a confrontational and combative lot, announce a complete ban on umpires baiting players, cite Phil Cuzzi's actions on Oct 16 as an example of what is not acceptible, and "fail to renew" his contract for next year; or
3] you impress upon Phil Cuzzi that no longer are players the only people who are infuriated by umpiring excesses and incompetences, the fans are nauseated as well, and get him to publically acknowledge that, upon review, his strike zone was not in conformance to the rules of the game, that he exacerbated the situation with Jim Edmonds beyond what was reasonable or necessary, and that he submits -- and you accept -- his resignation.

You may have noticed a theme; I want public acknowledgement of glaring umpire incompetence and combativeness, gentlemen, along with public announcement of their punishments, and I want Phil Cuzzi gone. He is among the embarrassments to Major League Baseball, and his embarrassment was coupled with unmitigated arrogance -- in contrast to, for example, Doug Eddings, who was also wrong, but bumbling instead of arrogant and confrontational.

I hope I've made my point sufficiently clear for you to take the corrective action.


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