Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why I am for Umpires

Fort Wayne Daisies player, Marie Wegman, of th...Image by State Library and Archives of Florida via Flickr

Much misery has arisen this playoff season due to inept umpires. I haven't taken the time to see if the same umpire is responsible for some of the frustration from the Twins/Tigers series and the Angels/Yankees series or the Dodgers/Phillies series, but it certainly has plagued all three series. In the Dodger/Phillies game the other night, but teams suffered due to the home plate umpire's radically inconsistent strike zone. Bad umpiring is a difficult thing, because it causes a team to lose hope that their best efforts will still not be good enough.

When this happens, there is always a call for allowing replays in baseball. But despite how much bad calls can disrupt a game, I'm against them.

Baseball is different than most sports. It isn't a simple linear game, or a game regulated by the clock. It is our nation's pasttime, and it encompasses a different spirit than football, which is far more warlike, and basketball, which is, well...I don't know what basketball is.

Baseball is a game of traditions, symbolism, and meaning. It is a where one man, part of a team, goes against another man, also a part of a team. He might completely defeat that man in their battle (home run), or he might get on base through his own skill (a hit), or through the pitcher's inadequacy, or even strategy in deflecting the challenge (walk). The homerun might be his alone, or through his victory, he might be bringing other men home as well, but in the end, his sole victory contributes to the more important victory of the team. How American can that be? One's individual accomplishments combine to bring about the victory or loss of the team. You stand alone, but you are wearing the uniform of the team, your accomplishments are credited to the team, and your well-being is tied to the team. You don't race to the finish line or the goal across the field, directly ahead of you, you run in a circle (or almost a circle) and numerous things want to keep you from progressing your way around until you are safe at home again.

In the midst of that, you have superstitions, preparations, comradery, infighting, etc., that always lend themselves to victories or losses. You even have weather go against you (rainouts). Even rally towels, lights, and noise can be attributed to your downfall, or your enemies.

The umpire is a huge part of this dance. He is there to make sure things are fair, but he isn't always on the ball. He is limited by his own abilities. And that is reflective of life as well. We don't have instant replays in life, and baseball is honestly a microscosm of American life in so many ways.

And so can men in authority who can make mistakes. Accidental or purposeful misjustices happen. And they are probably more rare than we would like to life and in baseball. But when they do happen, they sting, and they sting hard. And the only answer to it in the game is to have been so much better that bad calls would not have made a difference. But at times, they do. And that's life.

And really, would you want baseball without the arguments with the umpires, the managers getting called out, the force of authority to focus all aggression on? That's part of life, too.

As a mom, sometimes I know that too often, parenting my kids is like calling balls and strikes. Sometimes it is clear, others it is not, and I have to go with what my eyes see, and sometimes I make bad calls (or good calls believed to be bad), and I feel the weight of claims of injustice and scorn, as do cops who are handing out tickets, pastors who are keeping unrepentant sinners from the communion rail, and politicians. The umpire and his ability to make a bad call and to have it remain a bad call on balls and strikes is really another aspect of how baseball is a reflection of life. Taking away the ability of the umpire to be wrong though and still hold on to his authority, denies a part of the life that baseball symbolizes. The life that all of us civilians live (since most linear sports are more like war), the metaphor of the plight of the working man.

And in baseball, the umpires often have the hardest lives -- like the street cop or the line manager, or the school hall monitor. He doesn't make much, comparatively, yet he has authority and insists on respect. He travels even more than the baseball players....and deals with everyone hating him....because he loves the game and knows he adds to it. I think that should continue to be respected, and the umpires should be allowed to have their balls and strikes to themselves. They should lose their jobs if they are truly bad at it, but there is no arguing balls and strikes -- and the camera shouldn't argue them either.

The umpire has bad days. And some will say that there is more at stake than should be allowed to rest on the shoulders of a man having a bad day. But in the end, that's life as well. My kids "suffer" from my inadequacies when I am not on my game as much as other days. Cops are more fair some days than others, teachers have bad days, and kids might be at the other end of their crankiness. But we need to keep in perspective. What is beautiful about the umpire, the baseball game, while bets are lost, hearts break, dreams are really is just a game, and the anxiety and grief produced by a bad call really have less ramifications than in almost any other sphere.

And that, is what I love about baseball. In the end, there is kind of a joy in being able to have catharsis over the playing out of the tragedies and joys of life in a game, rather than through the realities of life. My team is out of it, and partly due to the fault of an umpire who, at least three nights ago, was appallingly inept. But there is always next season.

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