Episode 7: July 15, 2010
Carlos Beltran returns to centerfield for the New York Mets tonight while Jose Reyes sits out. The Mets injury management over the past two seasons has been abysmal.
Also: the “get it right” argument in support of instant replay is based on a misunderstanding about the role of umpires and how the rules are enforced. Is instant replay more for the fans than for the game?
Please note: this is not an exact transcription of the episode.
The Mets sure had a lot of injuries last year. They had so many injuries that what started out as a very good team, became a circus by mid-June. I think all Mets fans are glad to have 2009 behind them. And, well, unfortuntely if *you're* a Mets fan it's time to get ready for a little trip back to 2009.
I'm Alex Reisner...
OK, so it's not really that bad, but as you probably know Jose Reyes did not play in the All-Star Game because of a strained right oblique. Now, Reyes got this injury on June 29th or 30th, he was out for a week, then played three games (went 3-for-11) in pain. He started a fourth game and by the 7th inning David Wright had watched enough of Reyes' grimacing, called out Jerry Manuel, and had Reyes removed from the game. The silver lining is obviously that David Wright has the confidence and presence of mind to do take charge in that situation, but Reyes came back too soon from what is, by all reports a pretty mild injury. That doesn't mean he can't turn it into a more serious injury by coming back too soon.
[I'm going to talk about the Mets for a little bit here but if you're not a Mets fan just hang on because there's some other stuff coming too.]
Remember last year, you know, 2009, when Reyes had a mild calf injury in May, was out for a week, came back, exacerbated it, and then ended up tearing his hamstring in a rehab start two weeks later? Both of those injuries were in his right leg so...well, I'm no doctor so I'll leave it up to you to figure out if they were related. The oblique injury doesn't seem that serious now but neither did the calf injury last year. "Not that serious" doesn't mean "no injury." It's not September, the Mets don't automatically lose every game Reyes sits out, but there's some weird sense of urgency here on the part of the Mets... And I know guys play through injuries all the time, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't; with Reyes's history, why take the chance?
And by the way, when Reyes came back last week the Mets had him batting right-handed only. No left-handed at-bats, just to be careful, and that seemed pretty smart to me. But then, on Sunday, the day after he re-aggravates the injury and the day before the All-Star Break, he's taking left-handed swings in batting practice! I don't know... I guess, as with so much that happens with the Mets, I just have to pretend I didn't know about that.
In some other exciting news, Carlos Beltran is coming back tonight and starting in center field. Great! Right? Wait, a minute, Carlos Beltran? The guy who hasn't played a Major League game all year? Starting in centerfield?
OK, first of all, six weeks ago we had Jerry Manuel saying that Beltran would be back in a week. Again, I have to pretend I didn't hear it because I can't imagine what made him say that. Did Manuel know where Beltran was? Beltran at that time was playing in simulated games, not even minor league baseball games. There was absolutely no way that he was about to play for the Mets.
So, anyway, that happened.
And now Beltran is coming back for real, from an injury that's way more serious than Reyes's oblique. And he's going to be the Mets everyday starting centerfielder.
You've got a rightfielder in Jeff Francoeur who's been struggling for basically the whole season, is 5-for-31 in his last 10 games, the only starter with a lower average is the catcher... That would seem to be the spot for a guy returning from a serious knee injury who hasn't _really_ played in a Major League game at full strength in over a year. Center field is covered by Angel Pagan, who is the team's best hitter after David Wright (.315, 6 HR, 17 2B), tied with Jose Reyes for most stolen bases, and has been doing a great job defensively. But Jerry Manuel has already decided to platoon the switch-hitting Pagan in right field with Jeff Francoeur, and put Beltran in centerfield every day.
Not only is Beltran's performance at this point a total unknown... Look, we've waited a year for Beltran to be healthy, through a decision not to get surgery last June when he got injured, a fiasco when he tried to come back in September and he wasn't even close to ready, then he got surgery in January on his own without telling the team, reinforcing the feeling that the Mets have the situation under control... He's going to be wearing a knee brace which restricts his range of motion (and, according to Omar Minaya, he runs with a limp), he hasn't played in anything tougher than Single-A games in Port St. Lucie. What the hell are the Mets doing? Everything about Carlos Beltran's injury has been a disaster, and you really have to wonder if he'll ever fully recover. He already came back too soon once... Reyes has come back too soon multiple times...
(I've already told you that the Mets are going to nose-dive in the second half, well, get ready.)
Even Beltran himself admits that he's not playing anywhere near the Major League level yet, so what the heck is wrong with some Triple-A rehab starts? Or Double-A? Anything higher than Single-A. And if for some reason you can't do that, what's the problem with putting him in right field so you don't have a liability in center and so you don't lose Pagan's bat every other day? Who ever heard of platooning your second best batter, who's also a switch hitter?
Anyway, this is all pretty standard for the Mets. It's nothing we haven't been seeing for years...the over-anxiousness of the management, the lack of planning...the try-it-and-see-what-happens approach... You know how I think the second half is going to go. We'll see what happens.
Let's talk about something a little happier--how about Ozzie Smith!? Remember Ozzie Smith doing cartwheels across the field on opening day? Isn't that better?
A few days ago I heard Ozzie Smith interviewed on the Boomer & Carton show and they asked him about instant replay and he said what a lot of people saying, which is: if you have the technology to get it right, you should get it right. Now I talked about this back in the third episode and I think I'm going to be perceived as a luddite, or someone who's afraid of change, but I'm stil not convinced that more accuracy is what baseball needs. I think, as fans, we've accepted a certain amount of inaccuracy for years and that it's actually good for the game.
The best example I can think of is the neighborhood play. The neighborhood play, in case you don't know, is basically on a ground ball double play where the umpire calls a runner out even though the fielder at second didn't step exactly on 2B, or didn't quite tag a sliding runner. They have to step very close to the base or tag close the runner's leg and the umpire gives the fielder the out despite it not being, technically, an out. As far as I know this has been going on for decades and the reason is to avoid injury to the fielder--it gives him an extra fraction of a second to get out of the way of the runner. It evolved for a good reason, and it's being called less and less over the past 10 or 15 years as cameras have gotten better and more people have high definition TVs, and so the umpires are afraid to call it.
Now I know I'm in murky territory here: the neighborhood play isn't really general knowledge, it's certainly not in the rulebook, and I know and that letting umpires do it is a little like letting cops throw people in jail, but I think preventing injuries is a very nice abuse of the umpires' power. Like I said, I think it evolved out of a legitimate need, and I think that's a good thing for baseball.
We're kind of out of touch with this idea these days, but "justice" isn't always as much about being "right" as it is about being "fair." Rules and laws in baseball and society are guidelines for fairness, but they need to be interpreted and applied in each situation or the original intent of the law is lost. I think there's a good case to be made that when a runner is coming at an unprotected fielder with his spikes in the air it's fair for that fielder to have a little leeway in where he steps. I don't know...maybe, maybe not. I can really see it both ways. But my point is that replay will kill what's left of the neighborhood play and any other unwritten rules that have evolved naturally within the game for good reasons.
The players and the umpires, the people who are actually affected by the rules, have an understanding about these things. In ESPN's poll earlier this season the players voted overwhelmingly *against* instant replay and I think it's because of things like the neighborhood play. I think instant replay is for the fans who can't tolerate a little uncertainty, it's not really for the game. The game needs room for umpires to do their job without being criticized for missing things you can only see with a super slow-motion camera. The game needs umpires to be "fair" more than just robotic rule-followers.
And, to repeat my argument from the third episode, when you have a game where the foundation, the strike zone, is so vaguely defined and so hard to see, I don't think you have that much room to argue that all plays need to be called exactly by the book. It's just not possible, and it's not smart.
And you can add things like the neighborhood play to the rulebook, and get your robot umpires who see everything correctly and don't make any exceptions, but then you lose the natural evolution in the way the rules are enforced that has to exist as the game changes, and equipment changes, and the game becomes unfair in ways you can't see from the stands.
I think the results of the player poll are telling. Jim Joyce, the guy who missed the call on Armando Galarraga's perfect game, was voted the best umpire in baseball, by far. He got over half the votes. 77% of players also voted against the use of instant replay on the basepaths. As fans we just don't know the intricacies of the game well enough to demand more scrutiny on close calls. I think it's clear the players respect the umpires more for being fair more than for being 100% correct. And I think that's the bottom line. Instant replay will not improve baseball. It will give some hard-ass fans the feeling that things are correct, but I don't think it will be good for the game.
I'm Alex Reisner and you've been listening to Game of Chance. Give me a call if you've got something to say. 32323 00 233. For comments and discussion check out the web site at gameofchance.alexreisner.com.
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