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THE HOT CORNER: Getting used to game full of mistakes

by Jim Allen (Oct 22, 2009)

Mistakes are part of the game. Players who get paid hundreds of millions of yen a year make mistakes that cost their teams games. They drop balls, make bad throws, throw stupid pitches, have poor plans at bat and get themselves out.

Players accept such mistakes as part of the game, but when an umpire blows a call, why do so many managers, coaches, players and fans treat it as criminal negligence?

We want to see contests between human beings, with games decided by the exact interaction of each club's successes and failures. Put umpires into the mix and the precision is suddenly lost and any blown call impacting the game is the umpire's fault.

Pitches over the plate are called balls, runners who beat the tag are called out and the game is no longer between two teams but between three.

In order to ensure a win, you have to beat your opponent so decisively that an umpire's mistake can't take it away from you. If a game is even, the margin for error by the umpires is non-existant.

The umpires should be held accountable for their performance in the same way players and managers are. In other words, an umpire deserves his job as long as he's better than the best guy who is out of work.

The leagues are responsible for providing the best possible umpires and improving the standard of their work; in other words, making sure they enforce the rules.

While the leagues do their best to put quality umpires on the field, they fall down horribly when it comes to actually enforcing the rules as they are written.

The most obvious example is the phantom double play, where the pivot man touches the bag with his foot and has the ball in his possession, but not at the same time. He then throws to first to complete the "double play."

Umpires allow catchers to break the rules by blocking the plate without the ball, denying runners before the ball gets there in a flagrant violation of the rules. This in turn leads to runners plowing into catchers trying to knock the ball loose.

"In the States, if I'm running and I see a catcher blocking home plate and his intention is to block me, I'm not just going to give up," the Yomiuri Giants' Alex Ramirez told The Hot Corner on Wednesday.

Catchers responded to potential collisions by covering up the ball and making no effort to tag the runner. This tactic worked because umpires took to calling runners out in collisions whether or not they were tagged, as we saw in Monday's CL Climax Series first-stage clincher between the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Chunichi Dragons.

With the Swallows' Kazuhiro Hatakeyama trying to score the tying run in 2-1 game that would send the winner on to the second stage, Dragons catcher Motonobu Tanishige sat on the plate and buried the ball in his mitt, covering it up so the runner would have a very hard time trying to jar it loose.

With nowhere to slide, Hatakeyama had one choice: run Tanishige over and hopefully knock the ball loose. Instead of taking the much smaller Tanishige head on, he slid to the catcher's left in a vain attempt to find a way home.

The collision, such as it was, had no impact on Tanishige, the ball or the scoreline, but it did lead to home plate Katsumi Manabe calling Hatakeyama out before Tanishige could tag him.

There should have been no call, but no one argued--because baseball people are accustomed to the rules on the field being different from those in the book.

"I think the umpires see the ball there and just assume the guy is going to be out," Ramirez said.

Asked about the play, Tanishige said: "I tagged him."

When it was pointed out that the umpire had called Hatakeyama out before he even made a tag, Tanishige said: "OK, but I was going to tag him," and demonstrated how he had intended to stick the mitt to the hapless Hatakeyama.

"He never touched the base, and he wasn't going to. I could have tagged him."

But if there was no tag, why the call?

"I think he [Manabe] just got caught up in the moment," Tanishige said.


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