Saturday, May 30, 2009

Even The Losers Are Not Losers Anymore.....

I am an ardent baseball fan. Well, in the interests of full disclosure, I am an ardent fan of the Yankees and a somewhat more casual fan of the exploits of the other MLB teams. While I am not so old that I can remember Bob Gibson's Cy Young-winning season in which he pitched to a microscopic ERA (1.12 I believe), I am old enough to have borne witness to the evolution of the game over the course of the past thirty-five years or so. Like all evolutionary processes some of the developments have been positive and some have been.....well, not so much.

Last evening I caught the final couple of minutes of the Yankees Pre-Game Show on YES (one wonders how much longer YES will be able to use the moniker "Network of Champions" since the Bombers have not won a WS in this century yet and the other team whose games are broadcast on the network, the New Jersey Nets, have not finished above .500 in at least the past two seasons) and while I am not sure who the in-studio host is (although I think it is Bob Lorenz), in less than one minute he referred to two of my least favorite, sissifying statistics that have entered into the baseball lexicon within the past few years.

The first one was the "quality start", a facade created to reward a pitcher for pitching 6 innings (2/3 of the game) and giving up 3 runs or less. For years, baseball survived just fine thank you very much in how it classified the manner in which a starting pitcher who pitched 6 innings or more and surrendered 3 runs or less had performed. If said pitcher's teammates scored more than 3 runs, then he was in line for the win. If said pitcher's teammates scored less than 3 runs, then he was in line for the loss. And if at the end of his time on the mound, the two teams were deadlocked, then he was in line for a no decision. That was it, nothing more, nothing less. Out of the ether, statisticians have created some faux category apparently for the purpose of giving starting pitchers another plank upon which to build their negotiating platform when their present contract expires. It is sheer idiocy.

It would stand to reason that if I qualify for a "quality start" simply by giving up 3 runs in 6 innings then I should qualify for something better than that if I give up fewer runs during that span, would it not? Perhaps 2 runs in six innings could become a "Super Quality Start"? One run in six innings? Well that would be a "Five-Star Quality Start", of course. Suddenly, phrases such as "no hitter" and "perfect game" would have no currency, no panache.

Not one to neglect the long-suffering middle relievers who man the bullpen (you know, the blokes called upon to pitch the 7th and/or 8th inning after Captain Quality has surrendered his 3 runs in the first six innings), baseball statisticians have invented a category for them as well. And unlike their starter brethren, who at least have something now that has a title that sounds mature and perhaps a bit masculine, middle relievers have been saddled with something that seems to have had its genesis in one of those dreadful Nicholas Sparks novels. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the "Hold".

Once upon a time, pitchers came in from the bullpen as relievers armed with the knowledge that their task was one of two things: (a) when entering the game with the lead, do not give up the lead; or (b) when entering the game with their team behind, do not pour gasoline onto the fire. And how did they know this was their job? Simple. On every MLB payday, they received a check.

Getting paid to do the job was not enough reward in and of itself apparently. Now each guy who comes into the game and does not make the situation any worse than it was when he arrived gets a "Hold". More than one can be earned by a team in a game. Depending upon how the game was played the night before, you might peruse the box scores in your morning paper and think a Scrabble game had broken out with all the letters interspersed among the names of the pitchers. Again, abject silliness the purpose of which must be directed towards the business of baseball such as contract negotiations because it has not a damn thing to do about the on-field aspects of the game.

Devaluation of what people do at the highest level - in any walk of life - occurs when we try to make it kinder and gentler. Several years ago, the Motion Picture Academy changed the way in which presenters announced who won the Oscar from "And the winner is" to "The Oscar goes to" because they said they had received numerous complaints from people within and outside of the film industry that identifying one person as the winner made everyone else feel bad. If you think I am making that up, Google or YouTube footage of an Academy Awards ceremony from 15-20 years ago and then one from this past year.

Making people feel good is fine - to a point. I get it when my 9 y/o receives a "Participation Award" at the end of the Little League season (well, I actually have a bit of a problem with that as well). It is not a terrible idea to make children feel good about themselves just for trying. But in the Major Leagues, one presumes that all of the combatants wear big boy pants. Pants that you/I helped pay for through our purchase of tickets, t-shirts, etc. No one at that level needs to be rewarded for just showing up other than the paycheck each of them receives.

Good Lord, wait until the position players start demanding equal time. An out made on a particularly hard hit ball or a particularly good defense play will get a "GT" placed next to it on the scorecard, signifying that it was, indeed, a "Good Try". An error made on anything other than a routine play will earn a "NT!" for "Next Time!"

The more inane, touchy-feely statistics that intrude upon America's Past time the more I think of the Seinfeld episode - from early on in the show's run - in which George and Jerry are having their "who is the bigger idiot" debate. They are at an apartment that overlooks part of the course for the New York City Marathon for a party. Immediately after George utters, "For I am Costanza, King of the Idiots" one of their fellow party-goers shouts out to the runners, "You are all winners!", which prompts Jerry to turn to George and say, "Suddenly a new contender emerges."

And, amazingly enough, they never stop emerging.


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