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WWHE #4: The Bully Pulpit.


Trust-buster? Bust this. –Elaine Benes.

The Bully Pulpit is a position sufficiently conspicuous to provide an opportunity to speak out and be listened to.

When coined by Theodore Roosevelt, he was using ‘bully’ as a descriptor synonymous with good, superb, wonderful.  As in:  the White House provides a terrific platform from which to advocate an agenda.

As the term bully took its now more common form – harasser of the weak – so too has the Bully Pulpit become less a platform and more a bludgeon.

In the world of sports there is no bigger platform with as many bludgeon-wielding blow-hards than ESPN.  With their bully pulpit, ESPN can drive the discussion and drive it however it suits them.

Propagandists have demonstrated over and over that logic and truth are less important in the mass shaping of thought than repetition and a need to belong.  That’s how newspeak words like ‘regressive’ get used without irony even by Orwell readers.  That’s how regional acceptance of ‘can’t have too many pass rushers’ occurs.  And that’s how ‘more replay is good because getting it right is most important’ becomes prevailing thinking among sports fandom.

Item:  Not everyone buys into more replay for baseball.

There are plenty of people out there who share my disdain for replay.  For today, let’s narrow the aperture and look at replay in baseball specifically.  Here are some views not heard amidst the din of the stampede toward more replay.

Ex-player Doug Glanville cautions:

Tulo gets it.

We can force systems to get better, and sometime worse. We can overrule, overturn, overthink, and even overreact and delete that last post. But let’s be careful because we may not want to know how deep the rabbit hole goes when we try to make perfection.  Maybe a missed call will be a thing of the past. Maybe that is a good thing. But I get the feeling we may actually miss a missed call, no matter what we say in 140 characters or less.

Current player Troy Tulowitzki:

I have mixed emotions about it.  I think baseball has been known for so long by the respect for the umpires and the calls they make. Right or wrong, you just go about your business and play.

Mark Kiszla from the Denver Post nails it in his piece from Thursday:

More replay in baseball? To determine whether a ball raked down the right-field line is foul or a double? Really? … This just in: Life’s not fair. Why should baseball be any different?
It’s only a game, not to mention a game that already takes three hours to play way too often.

Wisdom and depth from sports types.  Whoa.

But if you consume sports from the same places I do, those opinions are not what you generally hear.  Because one guy with a microphone can get on a kick and dominate the discussion… if the microphone he holds has ESPN on it.

Jayson Stark’s raison d’être:  Get more replay into MLB, ASAP!

Wants more replay and shorter games.  Ohhh-kayyy…

Stark’s pieces earlier this week prompted this WWHE.  Here’s the first, Eight ways to improve umpiring:

1. More replay.

Well, there’s good news. More replay is coming. A lot more replay. Like next year. It might not all kick in at once. But at some point, it’s possible nearly every type of call except Ball one … Strike one will be reviewable. And that will solve everything.  All right. No it won’t. But it’s a start. As Angel Hernandez proved last week, even with replay, some calls will still get hopelessly messed up. But not nearly as many. And Angel will be happy to hear that an important byproduct of expanded replay will be better technology.

And this, MLB must get replay right:

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 12.36.49 PM

The Stark replay words. Lots of words.

Replay isn’t perfect. It’ll never be perfect. We get that.
I don’t know what happened in that replay room, when Angel Hernandez and his crew were trying to decide if Adam Rosales had just hit a game-tying home run. I just know I’ve gotten crushed on Twitter for even trying to offer possible explanations for a call that — let’s be honest — was completely screwed up.
So let’s fix this, OK? ASAP?

A quick sidebar here.  ‘It’ll never be perfect.  We get that.’  No Jayson, I don’t think you do.  Because so long as it’s not perfect, there will be mistakes, and so long as there are mistakes games are prone to be affected.  As you were unable to accept the mistake last week, you empirically DO NOT GET THAT.

But Stark has been banging the table for replay for years.  Here’s sixteen of his by-lines crying for instant replay.

Christ, here he is in 2003:

Use instant replay
White Sox GM Kenny Williams says he would love to “give our manager one of those little challenge flags.” OK, baseball can’t use replay for everything. Nobody wants to wait 10 minutes to confirm a foul tip. But replay would work great to decide whether balls are fair or foul, out of the park or off the wall. And why not? Nobody uses long division if they have a calculator handy. Technology marches on. Use it.

Why wouldn’t we want to wait 10 minutes on a foul tip?  What if it decides the game?  Isn’t getting it right the main thing?  Doesn’t technology march on, therefore mustn’t we use it?

So there’s really no boundary to instant replay expansion.

That’s one of the main strategic problems with continuing to expand replay.  Common sense and agreed-upon boundaries will not be accepted.  One blown call and the Jayson Starks are coming out of the woodwork to have MORE REPLAY.

And the problem with ESPN’s bully pulpit is that one shrill Jayson Stark with 260,000 twitter followers on a replay jihad drowns out any of the reasonable counter-arguments noted above.

Just accept it, I suppose.  You’d have to be a jerk not to want to get it right.

Everyone gets tired swimming upstream.  I’m just one guy and I’m not going to change anything.  So we’ll close this post with the wisdom of Michael Cuddyer and wish all god speed with the replays because you’d have to be a jerk not to want to get things right at all times.

“Replay … I’m all for it,” Rockies outfielder Michael Cuddyer said Thursday. “It boils down to getting things right. And I think everybody that pays to see the games deserves that. I think everybody that plays deserves that. And I think the umpires deserve that.”

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 1.03.51 PM

Exhibit A: Nihilism implicit in the modern quest.

Not quite the wisdom of Doug Glanville but whatever.  You betcha Michael.  Hell.  Don’t stop with ‘everybody deserves.’  Take it to the ethos of the current Sprint ad and frame it in terms of human rights:

I need, no, I have the right to be unlimited.


Slightly off-topic and on the other hand, slightly appropriate.  Here’s an interesting take on that Sprint ad:

It seems to demonstrate the nihilism implicit in the modern quest – even the word “right” no longer refers to an intrinsic quality of human dignity, but to unrestrained self-assertion.  Coupling “right” with the word “need” seems to turn it into a masked ethical imperative to be unlimited – my nature obliges me to transcend, nay, cast off my nature. Existence is a limitation. If limits are a problem, then existence is a problem.

I agree.  But hey.  I’m old.

Here’s that Sprint commercial if you haven’t seen it.


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  2. clevelandfrowns says:

    Regressive: “The opposite of progressive;” “Becoming less advanced; returning to a former or less developed state;” “retrograde; backward; recessive.”


    You may carefully remove the smouldering tinfoil hat now.

    • jimkanicki says:

      yeah… i actually gave you more credit than to feign an obtuseness about this. here is regressive’s current meaning which you well know:
      One who is opposed to women's rights, minority rights, universal civil rights, religious freedom, freedom of dissent, universal equality, and cares little to nothing for his fellow man.

      the problem in your definition is with the ideologically-based definitions of advanced and backward. you call me regressive; but i’m neither backward nor receding/recessive (?).

      indeed it is Newspeak… it couldn’t be more insulting… and your last sentence sums up well the nature of its use by true-believers.

      and w.r.t. tin hats… yeah i was way off base to suggest the IRS or Justice Dept. could be abused in a political way. pfft.

      • clevelandfrowns says:

        Newspeak: When a perfectly simple and useful word is used to express an idea that Kanicki doesn’t like, such as when one of his own backward ideas is accurately described as such.

        Got it!

        And yes, some low-level government employees in Cincinnati made a mistake with some tax applications, therefore conclusively proving that Jimmy Haslam is being railroaded by none other than President Obama himself. You should take another victory lap on that one LOLOLOL.

  3. jpftribe says:

    Nice post Kanick. And I agree with the no replay in MLB. Fair? Baseball? Why are the Yankees perennial contenders / champions? Fair? No, money. Big market, small market clubs hardly fair.

    Point two, Umpiring is an intrinsic part of the game, taught from a young age. My 15 year old son is a catcher. He has been playing since he was 4. He is a pretty good one, could be a great one if he wasn’t blessed with his Dad’s footwork. He played a regional EMEA tournament with LLWS Ump’s flown out from the USA. One told me, ‘best catcher I’ve seen here’, another said after a game’ you know, I’m not sure, but I think he was working me.’ That’s my boy! Of course he was working you, and not as a blunt instrument. It is a subtle art form. Where is he calling them, low, high, away, inside, breaking balls? Build a rapport, ask where he is missing, is a guy crowding the plate, out of the batters box? Talk about warm ups

    And you know what, those guys never made a bad call. Never. No one ever argued a call, and if they did, is was gonzo from the tournament. We taught those kids that they were always right, no matter what and you move on with the game. It was amazing how good those guys were, and were talking LL here. By the time they hit the majors, they have done so much work it is incredible. Then a major league season; 162 games, 300 pitches a game, 60-70-80 AB’s, do the math and their accuracy is unbelievable.

    • jimkanicki says:

      i’m going to try to go a month without bitching about umps/refs. and no passive-aggressive ‘I’m not saying anything’ tweets where you know exactly what i’m not saying. gonna go all in on this.

      your second point is a great one and i wish to add to it. you watch those LLWS umps and they OWN that field. they are in control and it’s not a question. somehow.. when you introduce replay.. that control is removed. second-guessing is no longer something you mutter to yourself. it’s enshrined as part of game.

      you also raise an ethereal point that i haven’t even touched: sportsmanship. it’s not too hard to construct a thread that replays provide a predisposition to second guess the umps and somewhere there’s an erosion of that innate good of sport.

      lookit, i’m no saint in this area. but lately you hear the crowds in some NBA playoff games have graduated from the BULLSHIT chants and now are onto a WE GOT FUCKED chant. it’s made me stop to think about loss of sportsmanship and acceptance of boorishness.

      ‘getting it right’ is a lot bigger than correcting a wrong homerun call.

      • jpftribe says:

        i was right there with you until you brought up the NBA. I’m not even sure what constitutes traveling or a foul anymore in the NBA. Lane violations seem to be something they call when they are pissed at someone or trying to make a point. But the refs are the least of the NBA’s worries.

        • jimkanicki says:

          if you start with the idea that the nba is closer to pro-wresting than any of the major sports, it helps. (was that a bitch about refs? damn. ok.. starting my pledge .. now.)

  4. humboldt says:

    Wow, so much going on in that Sprint ad – I suppose it’s a bit of a Rorschach Test. What I see:

    -A total bastardization of the concept of a human right

    -An utterly irresponsible suggestion that self expression can be fully achieved through consumption patterns

    -A subtle evocation of death anxiety and the implication that it can be assuaged by capturing all lived experiences in pixelated form, storing them in the ‘cloud’, and sharing them across vast social networks.

    -An appeal to abject narcissism

    You can almost see Don Draper doing a glib description of the concept of the commercial as the camera slowly pans in with Madison Ave buildings in the background…

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