It’s amazing they still call it ‘hardball’

Other than when I posted the All-Star stuff, I suspect this is my first double-entry day since starting this site. I’ll admit I haven’t updated this nearly as much as I would’ve liked, but I hope things change once I learn to organize my time more. And when I get my new computer and Casey and I are no longer sharing one in a house with wireless high-speed internet, her iPod and The Sims on her Mac.

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I wonder what Bob Gibson would say today. Or Don Drysdale. Or any other tough pitcher from baseball’s heyday who knew how to pitch inside, to intimidate and, when necessary, back up his teammates.

There was an incident in last night’s Mets-Rockies game that started with a hard slide at second base and ended with Braden Looper’s ejection. On a ball hit to the right of shortstop Wilson Delgado, Rockies rookie catcher J.D. Closser slid hard into second baseman Joe McEwing, taking out his legs, requiring McEwing to be helped off the field and taken to a hospital for X-rays. There was little chance McEwing would’ve even attempted a double play, but that’s not Closser’s concern. He has to go into second hard and make sure that he does what he can to help his team by turning a potential two-out grounder into a fielder’s choice forceout.

But the Mets, too, have a right to their view of the play, and they felt Closser went a little too far — too far past second base, for one thing. As Mets manager Art Howe said, “I don’t think it was a clean play. He [Closser] was airborne and Joe was on the shortstop side of the bag. I don’t know if he touched the ground till he touched Joe.” The photo seems to back up that claim. Taken from the third-base photo box, it clearly shows Closser in mid-slide, already even with the bag. I watched several replays last night, and I don’t remember seeing Closser even touch second base. At that, the umpires are allowed to use their discretion and call the batter-runner out at first, though they rarely do. It wouldn’t have applied in this case, anyway, since McEwing didn’t even attempt to get off a throw.

When Closser came to bat again in the eighth, Looper threw one behind him. It was low, and had Closser not hopped backwards into the pitch, it would have gone behind him. I don’t think he was trying to get hit, but that’s beside the point. Closser had barely turned to first base — he hardly looked at Looper, showing no anger, as if to show he understood it was part of the game — when home plate umpire Lance Barksdale ejected Looper from the game. Howe argued — “He threw it behind him!” he yelled, sprinting from the dugout — but, obviously, it didn’t do anything. Barksdale, who maybe at this point understood, or realized something, didn’t eject Howe. Whether or not Howe went far enough to warrant an ejection, I have no idea.

Looper’s ejection was unwarranted. In today’s soft game, a warning would’ve been appropriate, but who cares if the umpire felt Looper was throwing at Closser? Why does he need to eject him right there? The Mets should have the right to answer what they see as a dirty play that injures one of their players. If you have to issue a warning after that, fine, but at least let the Mets send their message, even the score. In my mind, Barksdale showed no awareness of the game situation. If he did it in an effort to “get control” of the game, that’s ridiculous too. He hadn’t lost control of it. But in the second game of a day-night doubleheader, when the pitching staffs of both teams are clearly going to be stretched (and the Mets had already lost Mike DeJean in the first game on a ball hit off his shin), Barksdale has to show more understanding of the situation.

What pissed me off from Closser’s standpoint is his lame excuse and clear lie. “I know the guy got hurt,” he said. “But I don’t feel like I slid past the bag or anything like that. I just slid into second. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to turn a double play right there. I’m just trying to slide in and break up a double play. He’s standing on the bag like he’s going to take it, so I don’t know.”

What he should have said was, “I was just sliding hard into the bag. It’s too bad he got hurt, but I’m just playing the game hard.” If he didn’t realize he slid way past the bag, it’s amazing he can even find the base if his sense of direction is that messed up. Even the photo shows him, butt still an inch or so off the ground, already even with the bag, well on his way past it.

I think baseball’s gotten too soft. Barry Bonds dresses up like a 12th Century knight every time he goes to bat, and then he complains when pitchers throw at him or a strike is called inside. Hey Barry, if your elbows are over the plate when you stand in the box, a pitch beneath your arms can still be a strike.

For the most part, umpires wait until a clear retalitory beanball before doling out warnings to either side. But why? Why is there a need for warnings? Ejections should clearly come if there are fights, but if the Red Sox plunk Jeter and the Yankees respond by hitting Manny Ramirez, the Red Sox should make the next decision on their own. If they throw a ball at A-Rod’s head, they know they’ll have to deal with the Yankees going after David Ortiz or someone. I don’t think teams will go much farther than one intentional beanball each for fear of losing players to ejections or injuries.

Clearly, all this policing is the result of Bud Selig’s Disney-fying baseball and the politically correct, anti-violence, baseball-as-a-product television era we’re in. It’s bullshit. There are inherent risks in any job, and one of the risks of being a professional athlete is the chance that you could get hurt playing the game. Roger Clemens may be an asshole for throwing at Mike Piazza’s head, but the Mets were pansies for whining about it for two years and waiting for Clemens to come to bat in a regular season game at Shea Stadium and leaving it up to Shawn Estes to do the dirty work. The next inning, or whenever his next at bat was, Jeter should’ve been on his back and it all would’ve been over and done with. Maybe the gods would’ve been happy too, and maybe the Mets’ karma would’ve changed. Maybe Piazza’s bat never would have broken in Game 2 of the World Series, he would’ve homered, Clemens would’ve lost, and the Mets would’ve won the series in six games.

What?? It could’ve happened.

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After watching the replays during tonight’s Mets pregame (which disclosed that McEwing was placed on the DL with a fractured fibula), Closser did indeed touch the base. In fact, his slide consisted of a jump in the air (to block any throw or view of first) in which he came down directly on top of the bag and McEwing’s legs. So his comments are even more bullshit. McEwing, too, may have indeed gotten a throw off toward first, but I don’t remember exactly because I was focusing on Closser’s positioning on the slide. I will correct myself, however, and say that the possibility that McEwing could’ve been making or prepared to make a throw to first was greater than I first thought. But still, it was a bad slide, a terrible slide, if not dirty.

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