Sunday, September 11, 2011

Like it was yesterday

I know this is by no means an original idea or concept, but 9/11 was my generation's Pearl Harbor and JFK Assassination. It's something we'll never forget. It's an event that we'll always remember where we were and what we were doing when it happened. A quick perusal of your friends on Facebook will probably prove that point. I'm no different. I really do remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in my first year of teaching at Mercer. I had been on the job for less than a month being the Social Studies department as well as coaching softball, junior high track and assistant basketball. My room was on the second floor right next door to the high school office. My first hour class was a Senior elective over the Vietnam War and there was only a handful of students enrolled in that semester-long class. We had finished up taking roll (not a difficult task in a school that small) and were chatting about what we had on the agenda that day and the next few. It was at this time that Mr. Hamilton, the high school principal, opened the door and peeked his head in. I had a satellite dish connection in my room so he told me to turn on my TV to one of the networks because a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. I remember all sorts of thoughts running through me head about how this could happen. Was the weather bad and the pilot had no visibility? Did the pilot have a medical emergency like a heart attack and lose control of the plane? Honestly, the idea of it being a terrorist attack never entered my mind. A few moments later, that thought was forced into all of our minds. As soon as we saw the second plane hit, I left my students for a second and ran next door into Mr. Hamilton's office. I don't know what he was doing, but he appeared somewhat busy. However, I blurted out something along the lines of "The second tower has just been hit!" I returned to my room a moment later and we all sat there with our jaws agape not believing what we were seeing.

The bell rang and my second class of the day came in. It was my 7th grade Geography class. They had just finished up PE and had no idea what was going on. I'll never forget a couple of the students coming in and asking what movie we were watching. I decided to wait until they all arrived to tell them what was going on so that I wouldn't have to explain it a dozen times. After I explained what was going, I had them all turn their desks to the back of the room and we watched TV. That's pretty much all we did in all our classes that day and the next. I told the kids that instead of us learning about history, we were going to watch it unfold. I know they were probably happy to not have to listen to me teach, but given the circumstances, I'm sure they would have rather it been on better terms.

One thing that kind of makes me embarrassed to admit now is what I was thinking when the first tower collapsed. I remember thinking to myself after it fell that it was kind of a bummer but they were probably going to have to tear it down anyway. It hadn't dawned on me yet that there were still so many people still trapped inside. It wasn't until one of the people on TV made mention of it that it hit me.

We also made the news on a smaller scale. Our administration decided to put the building (high school, junior high and elementary were all in the same building) on exterior lockdown. Classes would still go on, but all exterior doors would remain locked with nobody leaving and nobody coming in. This made the local radio news and also led to the administrators receiving some calls from concerned parents wondering if something was going on there. After an event like this, you never know if somebody that was mentally unstable would use this as an excuse or reason to do something stupid, so to hopefully prevent that from happening, we locked down. Fortunately, it never came to that, but better safe than sorry.

The attacks happended on a Tuesday which is a popular high school softball night for many teams. We were to travel to Pattonsburg for a softball doubleheader. Many games and activities in the area were cancelled, but both schools agreed to play the games as scheduled. This controversial decision created a bit of a firestorm for both of us. Administrators were of the mindset that terrorists want us to change the way we do things and get us out of our routines. We knew this was just a high school softball game, but we were going to play it because that's what we were supposed to do that night. We had a moment of silence before the games to honor the fallen and then played the games. Looking back now, I'm still glad we played that night. Not because we won, but because for just a few hours on that day, it wasn't on our minds and things kind of were normal.

That bus ride to Pattonsburg was something else I remember. People had starting speculating that gas prices were going to shoot through the roof. Gas back then was about $1.50/gallon and in some places were price-gouging was going on, it was going for $4-5/gallon and even higher elsewhere. Kids were concerned that the softball and basketball seasons were going to be called off because nobody could afford to travel to games. As we were driving through Princeton, cars were lined up around the corner at Snappy's, all trying to fill up their tanks before the impending price hike. Five hours later, we drove past Snappy's on our way home and the price hadn't move a penny.

You know, I can't remember what I had for dinner last night, but I remember so much about this one day ten years ago. It's amazing how an event like 9/11 can permanently etch itself into our minds for the rest of our lives. That's a good thing. It makes sure that we NEVER FORGET.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Commissioner Flip: 9 Things I’d do to fix baseball

This is part one of a four-part series entitled: "Commissioner Flip" in which I'll discuss things I'd do to make our four major team sports (baseball, basketball, football, hockey, not soccer) better.

Baseball, “America’s Pastime,” is one of the great institutions in our society. It’s a part of our lives whether we want it to be or not. Songs have been written and movies have been made about the game more so than any other sport. You can’t turn on the TV or look at magazines without seeing it’s players and managers in there somewhere. It’s so different from other sports that it has a charm all it’s own. It’s one of the few games where the defense has the ball and it’s played without a clock. It’s truly a great game. However, it’s not a perfect game, nor will it ever be a perfect game. It has it’s flaws and always will. However, as Commissioner, here’s nine things (one for every inning) that I’d do to make a great game even better. These are in no particular order:

1. Move up the deadline to sign drafted players- The MLB First-Year Player Draft was held over three days from June 6-8, 2011. Teams had until midnight ET August 15 to sign the players it drafted. As usual, most of the top picks didn’t sign until the very end of the signing period. The biggest holdups on the signings are due to players (more likely their agents) wanting more money and holding out trying to get a bigger deal. Those players basically wasted two months of their professional careers which can actually be more like a year. After signing in mid-August, they’ll be sent to rookie ball which is finishing up already, then head to something like the Arizona Fall League. The sooner you sign, the sooner you can begin your ascent up through the organization and make it to the Bigs. Move the deadline up from mid-August to mid-July, like July 11th, one week after Independence Day. This gives teams a month to try and sign the dozens of players they’ve drafted and once that’s done, they can turn their attention to the Trade Deadline of July 31st. This also gets draftees into organizations faster or let’s their colleges that might be counting on them know if they’re coming or not.

2. Expand the use of instant replay- I’ve already written about this and I’m not going to beat a dead horse, so if you want to know my thoughts on this, go check out the entry from July 30th: “After further review, baseball needs expanded replay policy.” (Yes, this is a shameless plug for people to read other posts if they haven't read them already.)

3. Make the All-Star Game an exhibition again and give home field advantage in the World Series to the team with the best record- See #2 and check out July 11th entry “All-Star Game: Exhibition or Competition?”

4. Schedule a minimum of two early games every day- Honestly, this is probably my favorite suggestion of the nine. I’m a baseball junkie and want to watch it as much as I can. One of my biggest annoyances is when I look at the schedule and there’s 15 games that day, none of them starting before 6:05 CST. There needs to be at least two early games in the late morning/early afternoon everyday to help satisfy our thirst for more baseball, because it doesn’t matter who’s playing, if it’s on, I’ll watch it or follow it on the computer/iPhone MLB AtBat app.

5. Double-bag first base- This one might make me sound like a girl that’s spent too much time playing and coaching softball, but we’re so big on player safety now that it just makes sense to use a double-bag. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, a double-bag is a regular first base with another first base attached to it in foul territory. They use these in youth leagues and high school softball as a safety feature. The first baseman is to use the regular bag (the white portion) and the runner trying to leg out an infield hit uses the bag in foul ground (usually orange). Once the runner hits the orange part, it’s not used again. This doesn’t eliminate, but does decrease the chances of bad collisions at first between the first baseman trying to snag an errant throw and the runner busting tail down the line. Derrek Lee broke his wrist on a play like this several years ago and still hasn’t bounced back to the form he was in before. I think we’ve all seen the Albert Pujols play which resulted in his injury (also could have been avoided with proper footwork). First basemen are some of the biggest names in the game and we should do what we can to keep them in the game as much as possible.

6. Limit September call-ups- During the regular season, each team has 25 active players on it’s roster. However, when September rolls around, teams can expand their rosters to 40. This can give some of those Minor Leaguers some Major League experience when their season is over. But the issue here is you could have a bunch of Minor Leagues making a major difference in playoff races. Let’s say the Diamondbacks are battling for a playoff spot and it’s the last series of the season which happens to be against the Dodgers who were eliminated from contention months ago. Meanwhile, the Giants and the Rockies are also duking it out to go the playoffs. They all have 15 Minor Leaguers they’ve called up to finish the season, some of which are getting their first tastes ever of the Big Leagues (assuming they were on the organization's 40-man roster). The Dodgers are looking at guys for next year that will probably be starting in AAA again in April, but the D-Backs are playing mostly their Major Leaguers. The Giants and Rockies are using Major Leaguers against each other trying to make it to the postseason. Who benefits the most from this? That’s right, the Diamondbacks because they’re basically competing against a JV team when the other teams are seeing each other’s studs. I’m all for calling up some of the very top prospects at the end, but 15 is too much. Expand the rosters from 25 to 30, not 40.

7. Balance the leagues and divisions- I posted something along these lines on my buddy Skip’s blog ( a while back. Currently there are 16 NL teams and 14 AL ones. Each league has to have an even number under the current format where Interleague is only done sporadically throughout the season. I say ditch the way we do Interleague now because the novelty has worn off. It used to be a big deal, now not so much. My solution (one that’s been thrown around a little already) is to take Houston from the NL Central and place them in the AL West. You’d now have 15 teams in each league with 5 teams in each division. This means there would be at least one AL and one NL team playing each other every day. This would also help with #8 on the list…

8. Create a more balanced schedule- I think as it is right now, teams play too many games within their own division and not enough outside it. I’m going to pitch my suggestion then try to rationalize.
- Teams would play non-division teams in the their league in a home and away 3 game series each season (10 x 6 = 60 games)
- Teams would play each team in the other league in a 3 game series, alternating home each season (15 x 3 = 45 games)
- Teams would play each team in their division 14 times in two 3 game series and two 4 game series (4 x 14 = 56 games)
This is a total 161 games. To get to the 162nd game, each team would add 1 game to an Interleague game against a predetermined rival (Royals-Cardinals, Cubs-White Sox, Mets-Yankees, etc.) making it a 4 game series with the site of that series alternating each season. I love this format. As a Cubs fan, it stinks that this year was the first time in ten years that they’ve played in Kansas City. Under this format, they’d be out here every two years. I think this would be something fans would like more than the current Interleague format. And it doesn’t extend the season at all.

9. Enforce speed up rules- The game doesn’t have a clock and that’s one of the nice nuances of it. But sometimes clocks exist to speed things up because our attention spans can’t last long enough. Games are averaging over 2 hours and 40 minutes now. It’s not uncommon to see nine inning games last over three hours. The Yankees and Red Sox played a low-scoring nine-inning game this week that was over four hours long! As much as I love the game and could watch it all day every day, even I think that’s too much. It is “America’s Pastime” but it shouldn't take up all our time. So here’s how we fix that:
​- Enforce the 12-second rule. When no one is on base, the pitcher has 12 seconds to deliver the next pitch from the time he receives the throw back from the catcher. Umps need to enforce it and call a ball if it’s not followed.
​- Keep batters in the box. They’re as much at fault for pitcher’s taking too long. There’s no need for batters to step out after every pitch to check their signs and go through some lengthy elaborate pre-hack ritual (see David Ortiz and Nomar Garciaparra back in the day). If the batter is taking too long to get ready to swing, call a strike on him. After all, if we can call a ball on pitchers, we should be able to call a strike on batters.
​- Limit the number of trips by catchers and all other defensive players to the mound to once per AB. They don’t need to make the trot out to the bump more than once per batter. If they want to go out there and change the signs with a runner on second after a steal, that’s fine, that’s your trip for that AB. Go out there and calm the guy down after a blast, that’s your trip for the next batter. Runner gets to second while the same guy is batting, you better already know what sequence of signs you’re going with because you used your trip, buddy.
​- Enforce some hustle from players, coaches and managers. No more long, slow walks by pitching coaches or managers to buy the guy in the bullpen two or three extra tosses. If a coach does this, limit the number of warm-up pitches a reliever gets on the mound. If it becomes an issue with the same guys over and over again, fine them. And relievers need to get out there a little quicker, too. They don’t necessarily need to do the Heath Bell sprint from pen like he did during the All Star Game, but a little more effort would be nice.
​- Limit trips to the mound to 30 seconds per trip. They still have the same rules as for going out there once per inning for free, but the second trip yanks the pitcher. Now they only have 30 seconds to get off the mound and then hustle back to the dugout. If a coach/manager violates this, they get a warning the first time, tossed the second.

Well, those are my nine ways that I think I could improve baseball as commissioner. I’m sure there’s a lot of things that I’d do that don’t make much sense, so I’d be the right guy for the job. After all, me and Bud Selig have that in common.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Time to work out, not pork out

Today is the first day of a new school year. Like many teachers, I approached the start with great trepidation. Nobody likes knowing their summer has disappeared and the responsibility of work suddenly reappearing seemingly out of nowhere. I especially wasn’t looking forward to returning so soon. This isn't because I dislike my job (on the contrary I love it, there’s not a better gig in the world) but now I’m not getting the thrill of being a “stay-at-home dad.” I’ve grown very fond of sleeping in each morning and playing with Caffrey all day long. I’m truly going to miss that. However, I needed to get back to work so that I could get back in a more healthy state.

In the spring, shortly before we went on summer break, the school district offered it’s employees a chance to have free physicals done here in Odessa. If we didn’t do them, we could see our insurance costs go up so I think every person in the district took advantage of it. It was an eye-opening experience as my results were quite poor. To quote Navin R. Johnson from The Jerk: “I failed everything but the date of birth.” My LDL (bad cholesterol) was high and my HDL (good cholesterol) was low. My BMI (Body Mass Index) was horrible. According to the people doing the physical, for my age and height, I should weigh somewhere between 160-190 pounds. I don't think so. If I ever get that low I’ll look like a shorter version of Shawn Bradley or a dude version of Kate Moss. Oh, and my blood pressure was high as well. I told the nurse that if she had my job of working with disciplinary issues everyday and finish the basketball season on a 22-game losing streak, her blood pressure would be high, too. Surprisingly, the only result that was normal was my glucose. This shocked the heck out of me and almost caused me to spit out the Sweet Tea I was drinking at the time.

So anyways, this was the kick in the pants I needed to start getting healthy. I joined the Grain Valley Community Center’s gym and was working out five days a week throughout the month of May. Everyday after work, I would get on the elliptical for 30 minutes and lift for 45 minutes. Heck, I was even getting there and working out before school on some days. I was feeling great and dropped 10 pounds. The plan was stay there for May, and then in June, we’d all join the Y in Blue Springs. My GVCC membership ended in early June, but we didn’t join the Y. I was swamped with basketball camps and had the bad cases of gout and there was just no way that I could workout in that condition. It wasn’t until mid-late July that we did our membership at the Y. And wouldn’t you know it, that month of work that I put in to drop 10 pounds in May was all for naught as it came back and I’m right back where I started from. I wasn’t working out, and my eating habits that I had established during the last couple months of the school year went down the drain just like that month of working out. I was eating and drinking out of boredom (dang you, McDonald’s Sweet Tea and Smoothies!). You see, I’m a very routine-oriented person and being at home all day with a baby means no routine. Now that school’s back in session, I can get back to my morning and afternoon schedule:

5:55 Get up and get ready for the day (including drop CC off at daycare at 6:50)
7:20 Get to work, walk the halls a little, get ice from the lounge for my waters
8:30 Eat breakfast of yogurt and granola, nutragrain bar, or oatmeal bar
10:00 Go for a walk in the building then eat a 100-cal pack for a snack
12:30 Lunch consisting of leftovers from night before with 100-cal pack or granola bar for dessert
3:05 Head home, have a snack, workout, get CC, go home and wait for Laura to get home for dinner.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. My summer went nothing like that except for the “wait for Laura to get home for dinner” part.

So that’s where we are. Since today is the first day of the school year, it’s the first day that I’m getting back on the health wagon. Not only do I need a routine (which I now have again), I also need motivation and accountability when it comes to stuff like this. Here’s where you and this blog are going to help. Each Tuesday, I’m going to post something on here about my current weight and just a short note or two about the workouts. If you feel that I’m slacking, I want you to tell me about it. Now, with that being said, according to my weigh-in this morning, I’m tipping the scales at just over a deuce and a half. Ok, 260 to be exact. My hope is to be down to 225 by the time we have our first basketball game which is 105 days (15 weeks) from today. It’s going be tough to reach that goal with my birthday, Halloween and Thanksgiving between now and then, but with all your help, I think I can I can make it. Then the trick will be to maintain it. After all, I have a reputation as one of the most "nattily-attired basketball coaches" in the area and I’ve got some kickass suits that I need to be able to suit up in again this season ;)

Ok, it's now time my for my 10:00 snack. Probably do some butt-clinches at my desk, too. There's no time to waste.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Updating SB54: What is and isn't fine.

Today was our first day back to work. It was highlighted by an hour-long presentation by our district's lawyer on school laws and policies such as FERPA (confidentiality) and student allergens. About halfway through, we were briefed on SB54 and it's impact on us as teachers. Come to think about it, the presentation and the bill were similar in that SB54 was neatly tucked into the middle and that was really the only thing anybody there was really concerned with.

A handful of us diligent educators and administrators stayed afterwards to discuss some issues with the lawyer and now I feel that I should make some updates to my previous blog over this which was posted last week. Unfortunately, I have the ability to think rationally and that hurt me when discussing SB54 the first time.

First off, let me once again preface this by saying what was reiterated to us several times today and that is it is up to the individual districts to create their policies on this. They have minimum guidelines to follow but can be more strict if they choose. Right now, the issue is that school is preparing to start, but since the bill was just signed recently, most districts don't have their policies yet. Odessa is one such district.

I visited privately with the lawyer afterwards and she said that any former student (and let me remind everyone that includes anybody 18 or under and not graduated) isn't to be "friended" on Facebook or texted privately. As I interpreted the law, you would still be okay having them if you weren't in the same district because the law says "IS employed." Not the case. So, I've got some work to do deleting a bunch of Lexington kids as well as a handful of Marionville and Mercer ones. Fortunately, Laura is friends with some of them, so I'll be able to be in contact with them through her which is fine.

Another interesting item was dealing with parents that are teachers. I remember reading somewhere on Facebook that somebody said the law exempts parents that teach their kids. Guess what. Not the case. There is no exemption according to the letter of the law. Now, that being said, the lawyer said there was no way that would ever hold up and she would "gladly defend" somebody that got in trouble for it and that's fine.

Public Facebook pages (such as the one for the Odessa Cross Country team and any others like it) are perfectly okay. It's classified as a "work-related internet site" and because anybody can follow it (there's no request to follow like when you try to friend someone) and there's not "exclusive access" it's fine.

Text messaging was another sticky issue though. Those group texts to your athletes or club members would violate the law. However, if you allow parents to be included on the group text list, that's fine. The possibility of having parents sign a consent form or waiver giving coaches/sponsors permission to text their son/daughter is out there as well. The funny this is that it's okay to call kids, you just can't text them. Doesn't make a lot of sense. I guess the General Assembly's feelings are that you can't show inappropriate pictures in a phone call, so that's fine.

Well, those are the major issues that I felt I should revisit now that I've been educated on it a little more. My brother has his district's day where they'll be briefed by their lawyer tomorrow, so maybe he'll be able to shed a little more light on the subject as well, and that's fine.

Time to get to deleting and that's not fine.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

SB54 shows that everybody overreacts

Missouri Senate Bill 54 was recently signed into law by Governor Nixon a couple of weeks ago and now all of a sudden people are up in arms about it. It's a perfect example of how the government can do something that sounds good in theory, but application is another issue. It's also a perfect example of people getting all worked up about stuff without reading the fine print.

SB54 is a lengthy bill sponsored by Democratic Senator Jane Cunningham (the same Senator that has been a major proponent of ditching teacher tenure and instituting merit-based pay on a four-tier system) that has many things in there to protect students. Things like more background checks and requiring districts to report sexual abuse allegations within 24 hours after the allegations have been made. It's known as the "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act" after a student that was sexually assaulted by a teacher many, many years ago, most people are jumping to the part of the bill that deals with electronic communication, mainly Facebook, even though it's never mentioned by name in the bill.

Here is what the bill says about teacher-student electronic communication which is what Facebook would be categorized as:

"Every school district shall, by January 1, 2012, promulgate a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communication. Such policy shall contain at least the following elements:
Appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with or included in any policy on sexual harassment; and
Appropriate use of electronic media such as text messaging and internet sites for both instructional and personal purposes, with an element concerning use of social networking sites no less stringent than the provisions of 2, 3, and 4 of this section."

Ok, here's where it starts to get saucy:

"3) No teacher shall establish, maintain, or use a work-related internet site unless such site is available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian.
4) No teacher shall establish, maintain, or use a nonwork-related internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as prohibiting a teacher from establishing a nonwork-related internet site, provided the site is used in accordance with this section."

The first thing that everybody jumped at was the words "former student." As soon as people started seeing this they freaked out that they wouldn't be able to "friend" students they maybe had in class 10-15 years ago and might even be co-workers with now. The status updates were nuts yesterday, filled with dozens of current teachers talking about no longer being friends with students they may have had years ago and they were going to start unfriending them and so on. If you want to do that, be my guest. But as I said in the headline, it's an overreaction.

Nobody likes to read bills from the General Assembly, which is the combined name for Missouri's House of Representatives and Senate, or our state version of Congress (there's your Government lesson for the day). Heck, even Senators and Reps probably don't like reading this stuff. But to understand things more fully, you have to get in there and read some of the nuts and bolts.

The first part we need to discuss is "exclusive access" which is defined in the bill in the section before the stuff about teacher's setting up the sites (the definitions are part of Section 2). It states "the information on the website is available only to the owner (teacher) and user (student) by mutual explicit consent and where third parties have no access to the information on the website absent an explicit consent agreement with the owner (teacher)." You can have current students or former students as friends on Facebook, you just can't send private messages to them. You can post stuff on their wall, such as "happy birthday" or "good game last night" or anything else that would be deemed socially appropriate there because it's public or "non-exclusive." You just can't put your private stuff in their in-box. That'll get you in trouble in more ways than one.

Secondly, let's address "former student." Contrary to popular belief, it is defined in the bill, it's just not one of the parts that's getting a lot of publicity right now. This is defined as "any person who was at one time a student at the school which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated." So guess what guys. You can keep your friends that you taught if they're over eighteen and graduated. And it also says IS employed, so you're okay if you're in a different district.

Also, let's not forget that it is the individual districts' responsibility to create their own policies. What might be permissible at one district might not be at another. So, you could end up seeing districts creating board policy stating that you won't have any current students on there and to be honest, that's probably the safest thing.

The part that I was beginning to worry about the most was the part about text messaging which has been an overlooked aspect also. As a coach, I have every basketball player's phone number stored in my phone. If I need to contact them, I send out a mass text because that's so much faster and easier than trying to make 30+ phone calls. I'd say most coaches around the state do this. However, under the letter of the law, text messaging a student/athlete would violate the law because text messaging has been lumped in with electronic communication and then you get into the "exclusive access" portion of the bill again because the texts wouldn't be public or going to a parent/guardian. But here's where I hope we as coaches can get around this. There's mention of an "explicit consent agreement with the owner (teacher)" which would be like a contract from a parent giving you consent or permission to send private messages (such as texts) to the student/athlete. Once again though, it all is based on what each individual district wants to create as part of their board policy. My district might just do a blanket policy of zero texts to kids. That would upset me because text messaging is one of the main forms of communication for kids nowadays. It's unfortunate that kids would rather punch up some letters on their phones than hit the numbers and talk to a person directly, but that's the society we live in now. If my district says that's the policy, so be it. I'll abide by it.

I probably have 200 friends on Facebook that were either students of mine at one time or that I coached (I counted 100 and was only in the J's, so I decided it was time to ballpark it). Many of them have graduated and gone on to start their own careers, get married, have families. Some of them are still in school in other districts that I've worked at and I've added them because I still like to follow them, see how they're doing and continue to show them pictures of my gorgeous baby girl. However, I've never allowed a current student/athlete of mine to be included in any of my social networking sites. I've had several students try over the years and I tell them the same thing: "Graduate, and I'll add you." Makes for a very cheap graduation present. I even included it in the syllabus that I would distribute and go over with the students on the first day of the school year. I have nothing to hide, but it just helps keep me safe from kids seeing or reading something that they probably shouldn't.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

After further review, baseball needs expanded replay policy

Unless you've been living under a rock or Arkansas for the last week, you probably know of the latest controversial blown call by an umpire in a Major League Baseball game. If you don't know what I'm talking about, let me reset it for you:

Pittsburgh is in Atlanta and it's the bottom of the 19th inning (yes, 19th inning) with the score tied 3-3. Julio Lugo draw a one-out walk for the Braves and advances to third on Jordan Schafer's single to center. Schafer then took second on the next pitch making it second and third with only one out. Atlanta was out of position players on the bench, so reliever Scott Proctor stepped up to the plate to hit for himself. Proctor smacks a grounder to third and with Lugo going on contact, looks to be dead to rights as Pirate third baseman Pedro Alvarez tosses it to the catcher Michael McKenry. The ball beats Lugo by a mile. But Lugo being the cagey vet that he is, stops short on his slide forcing McKenry to do a swipe tag and then Lugo steps around McKenry to touch on the plate. Plate umpire Jerry Meals (not a spring chicken, dude's been in the league for over a decade) calls Lugo safe saying McKenry "ole'd" (his word, not mine) on the swipe and Lugo was safe. Game over. Or should it be? After numerous replays after the fact, you could see that Lugo was hit on the leg. Heck, even Lugo was amazed he was called safe. The game should have continued. Oh, and another thing, if you haven't watched the entire replay, check out Proctor after he hits it. He takes about three steps and completely wipes out just after reaching the grass, once again showing the world why pitchers shouldn't hit.

One thing that has really annoyed me in the aftermath of this play is that everybody is saying the game should have gone to the 20th inning. Let's not forget that had Lugo been called out, that would have been the second out of the inning. McKenry after the tag wasn't even thinking about going to first for the potential DP after Proctor scraped himself up and scampered to the bag. This would have made it first and third with two outs and Martin Prado coming up with a chance to win it again in the 19th for Atlanta. Granted, Prado was having possibly the worst day of his career as he was 0-9, but hey, dude was due. He could have gotten a knock, been the hero and totally redeemed himself.

So now you know the backstory leading me up to the point that I'm trying to get to: Major League Baseball needs to expand it's review policy. Since 2008, MLB has allowed instant replay to be used only on homers, whether they cleared the wall, there was fan interference or if the ball was fair or fall. That's it. Nothing else. They have two main arguments against expanding it. 1) They think it would make the game too long. Games are already close to three hours on average as is. What's another five minutes for a replay or two? 2) The human element has always been a part of the game. Of course it has, but with the technology we have today, human error shouldn't determine the outcome as much as it does now. It cracks me up when announcers or umpires or league officials say the important thing is to "get the call right" but when they miss it, not being able to go back and fix it if they didn't.

So anyways, without further adieu, here's my plan for expanded replay reviews in MLB:

1) It's a challenge system. The manager gets one challenge a game. I've heard people talk about throwing a flag like in football but that's unnecessary. Baseball is pretty much the only sport where managers/coaches are allowed to run onto the playing surface after a play to debate or argue a call. Play's done, the manager can simply run (or waddle as Sweet Lou Piniella used to do) onto the field and inform the crew chief that he is challenging that play. The crew chief then goes to the phone/monitor setup that each park has and then has three minutes to make the ruling with the help of the guys in New York and make any necessary changes after the play has been reviewed. The decision can't be made in three minutes, then there probably wasn't "substantial evidence" to overturn the call and the manager loses his challenge.

2) If the challenge is upheld, the manager of the challenging team gets an additional one. This can continue until a challenge fails and then they can't challenge anymore.

3) Once the pitcher toes the rubber in a normal manner to begin the process of taking signs for the next pitch, the previous play can't be challenged. This would prevent managers from waiting till the last second and running onto the field to challenge a play as a pitcher is starting his wind-up or delivery. I hate it when football coaches call timeout to "ice the kicker" at the end of a game. This would prevent that from being an issue in baseball.

4) Challenges by managers that are done as stall tactics or ways to make a mockery of the game can be shot down by the crew chief. Let's say it's the bottom of the last inning and the starting pitcher is still in the game with a shutout intact. He runs into some trouble with a guy reaching that was obviously safe. The manager, wanting to give his reliever a little more time to prepare, challenges the play even though the batter-runner was out by five steps. Obvious stall tactic, crew chief denies the challenge and the game continues. Now I know what you're thinking. If the manager comes out there to talk to the crew chief he's still getting extra time for his reliever to warm-up which is basically doing the same thing. True, but he's not getting the extra three minutes and if he doesn't leave the field in a timely fashion after his challenge has been denied, he could be ejected.

5) All plays are reviewable. It's dumb that they only use it now for home runs when those account for such a small part of the game. The plays you'd see challenged the most would almost undoubtedly be safe/out calls at first on bang-bang plays. I was listening to some talking heads on the radio this week and they were advocating replays of all plays at the plate where there might be some doubt. I don't like that. Let's say a guy hits a ball down the right field line and is ruled fair when it should have been called foul (a call umpires rarely miss, but we're going to use if for this example) and the batter-runner gets a three-bagger out of it. Next guy hits a clean single scoring the run. No replay would have been used under that proposed idea, but the run still shouldn't have scored because he should have still been in the box after the errant fair/foul call. Get the call right.

6) Absolutely no reviews of called strikes, balls or checked swings. You want that so-called "human element" to remain? Well here you go. The only pitches that are reviewable are swinging strikes where there was possible contact for a foul ball or catcher's interference. Also, it could be used to determine if a batter was hit by a pitch. I think this would be used very rarely, but at lease you'd have the option if need be.

7) All challenges and rulings by the umpires must be communicated to the fans via an announcement by the crew chief just as the referee does in football games. I haven't seen or heard too many people bring this up, but I think it would be a nice wrinkle to add in there to help keep the fans informed and maybe give them a little better understanding of what's going on out there.

Under my plan, you still have the human element with the balls and strikes and you'd still have it if teams were out of challenges. Another reason I think this system would be better for baseball is it give managers something else to do before the 7th inning when they start fiddling around with match-ups and making calls for situational hitting. Up till that point, they're basically sitting there spitting their seeds and scratching themselves while the game unfolds.

Just think how things could possibly be different if MLB used this new system instead. The Royals might not have won the 1985 World Series (more on that in October as I have a blog planned for that debate). Armando Gallaraga would have gotten his perfect game instead of a one-hitter after Jim Joyce's botched call in the ninth and Gallaraga's career might not have gone in the tank afterwards. The Pirates (definitely in the playoff picture) might not have lost that game and in the race they're in, every W counts.

If the most important thing to get it right, we need to use the tools we have to get the job done. Now's the perfect time to start before it's too late and another missed call makes history.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Let's kick soccer outta here!

Another year of World Cup soccer has come and gone. Dozens of real American soccer fans and millions of bandwagon jumpers will now have to find something to do to kill the time till the next one comes in a few years. I guess our women did well. I was told they finished second, losing to Japan, a team they'd never lost to in 26 matches. Don't get me wrong, I want to see the US win everything. Doesn't matter if it's basketball or tiddlywinks, I'd rather us win than somebody else. I'm just not going to lose any sleep over somebody else winning the Women's World Cup. I know people are going to say that the success of the US women will help propel soccer's popularity in the US, but I just don't see it ever gaining a major foothold. Get it? Foothold! Soccer humor.

It's common knowledge that myself, and most of the members of my family, hate soccer. Okay, hate is probably the wrong word. What I should have said was despise soccer. We may even abhor, detest and/or loathe it (gotta love the Thesaurus). One of the greatest fears that I have is that Caffrey will be a soccer girl. I dodged a bullet the other day. Every morning, Laura wakes up Caffrey, feeds her and then puts her in bed with me as she's going to work. When we both wake up again, we go in the living room and watch SportsCenter while I eat my cereal and she gets her mid-morning booby milk (from a bottle, not me). I finished my breakfast and was getting ready to go to the bathroom shortly before SportsCenter was about to be over. I put Caffrey in her little bouncy chair on the floor and positioned her so that she could see this week's edition of "Not Top Ten" because that stuff is usually hilarious. Well, I got done doing my business and started walking back to the living room. As I entered the room, I glanced at the TV and it wasn't SportsCenter anymore. They had switched over to their coverage of the Women's World Cup! At that moment, time slowed down. I let out a gutteral shout of "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" I dove onto the couch and reached for the remote. As I hit the cushions, I rolled and pointed the remote, and hit the "Last" button, ala Axel Foley capping Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills Cop (was on HBO the other day and hadn't see it in years.) The TV was sent back to The Today Show. Unfortunately, they were in the Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb portion of the show which isn't much better than soccer. The whole event couldn't have lasted more than a couple of seconds, but it felt like an eternity. After everything settled back down, we flipped it over to ESPNews to regain some semblance of normalcy. Whew, close one.

So, you might be asking yourself why I have this disdain and other words that mean that towards soccer. Oh soccer, how do I hate thee? Let me count the no particular order.

1) I'm an American and I like to see sports where there are teams that score. When I first began doing the research for this blog, I was going to fill it with all kinds of fantastic statistical analysis such as in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, there were only 145 goals scored in 64 total games which equals 2.3 goals/game which was the lowest ever since going to a 64 game format. After I dug up that jewel in about two minutes, I decided I didn't need or want to look up anymore soccer stuff because there's only one thing more boring than watching soccer and that's reading about soccer (unless it's my blog ripping on it). Seriously, I dare you to watch soccer highlights on TV. You'll never see another sport that shows misses more than soccer. I don't want to see misses, I want to see makes! If I wanted to watch teams miss shots I'd pull out of my game films from when I was in high school. Definitely not much scoring going on there ;)

2) Soccer players are the most overdramatic bunch of goofballs in the world. It's like watching a soap opera sometimes with the acting so bad. You watch some of these schmucks running around on the field (I refuse to call it the "pitch" because that's a term for a real sport called baseball) and they get a little bump and you'd think somebody snuck a sniper rifle into the stadium and was picking people off. Get up and prance around kicking your little ball again, loser.

3) Soccer players with one name. Pele, Marta, Ronaldo, etc. I'm sure your parents gave you more than one name. Use them both.

4) Soccer is the only sport I know in which the clock runs the wrong way. You get 45minutes to play a half. Why in the heck start at 0:00 and run the clock up instead of starting it at 45:00 and counting down like most people do in real life? Oh, that's because you might have to add on...

5) Stoppage time! One of the most ridiculous things about soccer is that when a player goes down like a cheap hooker and lays on the ground for a couple of minutes before almost getting strapped down to a stretcher but then miraculously healing and continuing to play is that the clock keeps on running and the referee just estimates how much time they need to add on at the end. This is extremely arbitrary and nobody really knows for sure when the match is going to end. Hey ref, stop the clock until the douche with one name scrapes himself up from the field and when the action resumes, restart the clock until the next overdramatic "injury" takes place. And repeat.

6) Goalies wear different jerseys than the rest of the players. I know the reason is that Goalies are the only players smart enough to use their hands and it makes it easier for the ref to tell who's the Goalie and who's the cheater trying to use his hands. Wouldn't the gloves kind of give that away, too?

7) I know this one here has been beaten like a dead horse (another activity more fun than soccer) and that's how they determine the winner after ties. Normally, a game ends with the score tied, it's declared a draw. But when you get into "Knockout" play at the World Cup and the score after the second half is tied, you go in "Extra Time" which is a 30-minute non-sudden death period. Game still tied after Extra Time? It would make sense that you keep on playing until somebody scores and a winner is determined. Nope, not in soccer. We're going to Penalty Kicks! That's right. You're going to determine the champion of the tournament that you hold once every four years by doing something so stupid it defies logic. This would be like having the gold medal basketball game in the Olympics go into overtime, stay tied and then playing free throw knockout to decide the winner. This is asinine. Here's an idea that I stole from every other legitimate sport in the world: play the game while it's tied like you did the rest of the time until somebody wins it the right way. Hockey is kind of like this. During the regular season, game's tied, you play five minutes. Still tied, go to the shootout to determine the winner because they did away with ties/draws because those are stupid. They only do this in the regular season though. Playoff time, we're putting twenty minutes on the clock, first to score wins. That's not enough, we do it again, and again, and again until somebody wins. Now that's legit.

So anyway's it's over and people can stop pretending they love soccer, I won't have to risk life and limb to make sure CC doesn't get corrupted by it and ESPN can finally get back to showing more important sports like Poker and the Spelling Bee. Life can finally go back to normal, just the way I like it.