“They say that baseball breaks your heart, but what they don’t tell you is that it gives you heart attacks.”– Confessions of a She-Fan
This morning I’m breathing with great relief. My stomach is calm, and my nerves have stopped jangling—and all because the New York Yankees won against the Angels last night, ending an extremely tense playoff series. They’re going to the World Series for the first time since 2003, attempting to wrest the championship title away from the Philadelphia Phillies. If they succeed, that title will be, in my very biased opinion, back where it belongs–in the Bronx, where I was born. At last all will be well, after a long strange decade in the world of baseball.
The last leg of this journey was rough—on me at least. I’ve carried a grudge, since 2002 when they defeated the SF Giants, against the Angels–excuse me, the Los Angeles Angels, as they insist on being called, even though they’re in Anaheim and the Dodgers represent the city. Just look at their fan base—very white Americana. Also–a whole other issue–very LOUD. One of my complaints against them are those damn thundersticks their fans bang around during entire games, no matter what’s happening on the field. I don’t know what they sound like up close, but on television the noise is deafening.
A major problem in this series was the umpires, who made what must surely be a record number of incorrect calls. A typical incident occurred when first-base umpire Dale Scott called Johnny Damon out, and video replays clearly showed he was safe. Nick Swisher was called safe on second base on a pickoff throw that clearly beat him back to the bag, then minutes later was called out at third base on an appeal play, after replays of a would-be sacrifice fly showed he had waited long enough before tagging up and running home. Later in the same game, Robinson Cano was called safe at third base after Angels catcher Mike Napoli tagged him while he was off the bag. One suggested solution to the umpire problem is to use instant replay tapes more, but it would slow down a game that everyone agrees takes too long already. In view of all this, MLB has decreed they will use ‘only experienced umpires‘ in the upcoming World Series.
I’ll let you digest that last sentence while my racing pulse returns to normal.
First of all, I would have thought it was a policy already that ‘only experienced umpires’ would be used in the playoffs, at the very least, and that newbie’s would get their training in the minors. Secondly, the powers-that-be are missing an essential point here.
IT’S THE VISION THING.
It is an established fact in the world of ophthalmology that almost everyone’s vision begins fading at around age 40. From the looks of most umpires, they’re well past 40. Lenses harden, cataracts form, little dots referred to as “floaters” dance in front of our eyes. This ain’t rocket science. The solution to bad calls in baseball is right before our aging eyes:
HIRE YOUNGER UMPIRES!
This isn’t age discrimination: it’s part of the job description.
But back to the players: I’d been nervous for days before this series began, afraid the Angels would be a real threat, based on their rep (I rarely watch them play). Imagine my surprise when, in the very first game, they made three errors, and looked like Keystone Cops running aimlessly around the field. They didn’t play quite so badly in subsequent games, but that first one was a joke. Mike Scioscia, their manager, was right on target when he said, simply, “They outplayed us.” Yer darn right they outplayed you!
I have to admit that not every Yankee was fully up to par. Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, and, most disappointing of all, Mark Texeira, flat out sucked at bat. Their averages tell a sad story. At least these three did redeem themselves defensively, making brilliant plays and preventing the Angels from scoring more than once—but it was Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and, most delightful of all, Alex Rodriguez, who carried the day.
And then there was pitching. CC Sabathia was named MVP for his performance. Last night, Andy Pettite held the Angels to just one run in 6 1/3 innings, striking out six and walking one. He now has sixteen postseason wins, the most in Major League Baseball, and in winning his fifth career series clincher he broke a tie with Catfish Hunter, Roger Clemens and Dave Stewart.
Clutch Rodriguez: A-Rod, who’s always bombed during playoff season, suddenly turned into Mr. Clutch Rodriguez, and his sterling performance is generating buzz all over the media. It was a pleasure to see him so focused, so comfortable and confident at the plate, making base hits and home runs, with girlfriend Kate Hudson cheering him from the stands. Behind every great man…
The pleasure of watching the Yankees play great baseball was matched by the pleasure of watching them celebrate. I noticed, during the final two at-bats, that Mariano Rivera’s lips were twitching as if he were suppressing a smile. I was right: as soon as he struck out the final batter, his face broke into the biggest grin I’ve ever seen, as Jorge Posada came running from behind the plate to hug him. For once I didn’t mind all the replays, as the team’s reaction was shown from every angle, so we saw each and every Yankee going nuts. A divine moment.
One last thing: Along with many other fans and critics, I questioned some of the pitching decisions made by The Other Joe (Girardi). I’m not inclined to trash Girardi this morning—but I’m not sure he’s got the Right Stuff. That’s about to be tested, beginning on Wednesday. I hope I’m wrong.