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The Big Kahuna's Essay Column  

October 1, 2016

          There Goes The Neighborhood: In the past, we spent a fair amount of time in this column discussing the relative merits of Major League Baseball's replay system. 
          While I am of the mind that "getting the call right" is important, I am bitterly opposed to any method of replay that relies on challenges, or any other type of system with any other arbitrary limits on how many calls might be reviewed. Rather, I have always advocated that, if you are going to have a replay review of umpire calls, there should be a fifth umpire, whose sole function is to review all calls and make a fairly immediate determination.
          Even if baseball adopted this type of replay system, the use of replay further erodes baseball tradition. There is no greater example of this erosion than Major League Baseball's decision to allow the "neighborhood play" to be open to review.
          The neighborhood play, and its expert application by the most savvy of middle infielders, is not only a time honored baseball tradition, it is one of the little facets of the game that allows the sport to remain a part of human expression and not the techno-centric homogeny that organizations like the NFL strive to be. 
          The difference between baseball and football, at the highest professional levels is sometimes similar to the difference between a great local restaurant and an upscale chain. The local place has its own vibe and feeling, and the chain tries to replicate the same experience, regardless of where you find it.
          Eliminating accepted oddities, such as the neighborhood play, brings baseball one step closer to losing that special intimacy that exists between the sports and the populace.
          It seems to me that in an effort to maximize technology for the purpose of getting all the calls right, we are sacrificing some of the art of the game.
          To drive this point even further home, the Major League Baseball Rules Committee approved some changes last week, including a rule which will allow a pitcher to intentionally walk a batter without having to throw the pitches.
          It is inconceivable to me how this new rule is supposed to enhance the game.
          What's next? Courtesy runners? Not having to run the bases after a home run? Why not use a softball instead of a baseball, pitch underhand, and let hitter use aluminum bats?           
          Which brings us to the suddenly hot topic of bat flipping.
          Recently, there has been a lot of debate about bat flips, fist pumps, and showing up the opponent.
          One one hand, some people feel that bat flipping after a home run, of fist pumping after a pitcher records a strikeout, are thing that make the game more fun. 
          Really, I can't see how. If your team's player has just hit a key home run, or if your team's pitcher has just worked his way out of a jam with a big strikeout, and you need him to exhibit some gratuitous show of emotion for you to enjoy the moment, I think, it is safe to conclude, that you are not a baseball fan.           
          On the other hand, a big home run, or really any great performance, is exciting on its own merit. It provides its own punctuation, regardless of the (mostly choreographed) celebration by the player involved.


Relevant Question Of The Month: Even though you have been opposed to the wild card system in the past, don't you agree that having extra teams in the playoffs is good for baseball?-G. D. Sevierville, TN
          It depends on how you look at it.
          From a business standpoint, yes, increasing the number of teams, is beneficial to Major League Baseball. Fans of, otherwise, mediocre teams are able to remain interested in the outcome of the season longer. This leads to greater ticket sales, more TV viewership, and, ultimately, greater revenue.
          However, watching a bunch of barely over .500 teams lurch toward the post-season on the backs of, something like, an unimpressive 12-15 record down the stretch, is not good baseball.
          A team could stumble its way through the season, sneak in to the playoffs as the second wild card, catch a few breaks in the post-season, and win the World Series having won barely more than they lost. All season.
          That's not good baseball either.


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