BASEBALL: Free the Umps!

There’s an irony growing in baseball that is a drag on the nation’s pastime, one that could weaken the new popularity the game has been growing in this century. It erases the amusement of that momentary uncertainty that the fan feels as an umpire’s arm movement is about to rule ball or strike, out or safe. There’ve been no guarantees of right or wrong. Fans cherish their right to agree or disagree. “Your eye doctor needs to see you, you bum!”

Now that right is gone. The ump is never a bum anymore. All this amusement is gone — sucked away by a faceless panel of analysts tucked away in a supposed array of TV monitors in the nameless canyons of New York City. A group who have the last word on whether the umpires got it right. For starters, who trusts New York?

This relatively new wrinkle in umpiring, intended to get calls on the bases right every time, not only dampens fun for the fans, who revel in umpiring for themselves, it clouds umpiring with a double standard. Calls on bases first, second and third, each with its own umpire, must meet perfection now. But calls at home plate, of balls and strikes, suffer the same delicious margins of doubt, consistent in the mind of the man in the mask and heavy vest, they always have.

Such is the shadow of error on balls and strikes that a batter’s mates in the dugout must refrain from loud dissent to those calls. Any slightly boisterous second-guessing of the umpire can provoke ejection without warning. Even the manager must tread very —very lightly — and converse no more than rarely with the umpire, and always in a friendly voice, or face ejection.

Yet in contrast to the new standards of perfection for calls on the bases, balls and strikes are miscalled with embarrassing regularity. In almost any half inning, a half dozen calls at the plate are likely to be wrong, as computed in the video strike zone that overlays the camera image. The outcome of a game may turn almost as often on a bad strike call as on a play at a base, if such data were kept and reviewed intensively.

No one would argue that the game belongs less to the fans than the players. The players are paid evermore outlandishly, while the fans may cut the family food budget just to squeeze into the bleachers a few times a season. So the least we can give the fans is their right to call the game as they see it, loudly second-guessing the people on the field paid to make them. No other team sport matches baseball in this liberal and incessant impeachment of the umpires, and it has always been a large measure of the popularity of the national pastime. After a close game of close calls, it often runs on irately over dinner and far into the evening, even into fitful sleep. It defines pastime quite perfectly.

So please, MLB, get that unknown panel of video officials in New York out of the game. Get it back to where it rightly has always belonged: the endless war between fans and umps.

Make those “bums” earn their money!

Frank Mensel — August 2015

Betting on The DONALD

My great mate, Dr. Bonny, and I have waged a steak dinner on the 2016 election. If the race IS Hillary against Trump, I win. Any other matchup makes her the winner.

Fox News’ attempt to narrow the GOP field to 10 wannabes produced a huge TV audience and a debate that divided the pundits. Some thought the Trump campaign jumped the tracks on more than one of his responses. I saw his warmly awaited gun-slinging as giving him more momentum – as did the majority of the media.

It seems clearly to me that he leaves the GOP with only one choice: him. Who’s going to break his momentum? Surely not another Bush, though Jeb may well be the best of the lot. George W. left the name and the presidency dripping in the worst recession since the Great Depression, with poverty at an all-time high and the banks near collapse. American voters are famous for short memories, but not that short.

Trump gives the party the ticket-topper it has long dreamed of: billionaire. Romney in 2012 came only close, among other shortcomings.

He ruled the Fox stage from the first question, which had to be aimed at him because he leads the polls by a wide margin. Some cynics suggest that he rigged it – by greasing a few palms.

He was more than ready. When asked if he wasn’t the nominee, would he support the candidate who was, or make a 3rd Party bid, his reply that he was leaving that door open, guaranteed that the whole evening, running later into the inevitable media frenzy, would keep him center stage. I’m liking my odds.

With his fame and fortune rolling onward (what other candidate arrived in Cleveland in his own oversized get, with TRUMP in huge letters on each side?), what are the Republican alternatives? Who might compete with that fame and fortune? Or with his style, so loudly, bullish Republican?Despite the third-strike risk of his name, Jeb seems to have the edge so far. He’s well ahead of the pack in fund-raising, with millions already banked for the campaign. Yet Trump again commands an edge, free to run on his own billions. The candidacy of someone who bears no large debt to any backers has rich appeal to voters.

The dark horse might well be the Wisconsin governor. But the tainted campaigns that have kept him in that post have marked him very plainly as the lapdog of the Koch Brothers. And we all know what the Kochs expect, an economy that remains heavily geared to oil and chemicals, which are the core of their vast holdings. Climate change?

The chances that Trump won’t head the GOP ticket seems most likely to hinge on whether he self -destructs, but there are signs that he’s getting some feel for the limits of bombast he can spout. Yet he carries another obvious handicap that is already working against his party: the war on women. Republicans may be getting more abuse for this than they deserve in general, but it plays as three strikes delivered by fringes on the right: the anti-abortion evangelicals, the opponents of choice, and the men who traffic in flesh.

Trump has shown too little tendency to treat women as equals. His wives have been widely viewed as trophy wives. How it might play in a campaign against Hillary Clinton is uncertain. It may never play on the surface of that matchup. Hillary has to be aware that many women are still unhappy that she didn’t dump Bill for his wanton sex life. But they also know that her eyes were wide open in days they shared at Yale, where his appetite played freely and openly. She chose to marry him for the benefit of his other talents, including his deep love of country, which has kept him public favor.

This will be an interesting subtext to the campaign. How much might Hillary be blamed for Bill’s sins? But she won’t make VP Gore’s mistake of rejecting his support. As a campaigner of unmatched charm, he will be going 24/7 to give her the shot she deserves, and to make himself a first of history: the Hubby in the White House. His health may well be her biggest worry. Some pundits aver that if Trump is nominated, Hillary will carry all 50 States. The women’s vote looms as the largest quandary. There’s no doubt how different Bill is from The Donald. However fairly, the latter is known as a user of women. With Bill, the girls all know they play as their own risk.

My odds keep me laughing. I’m so comfortable with the feeling that Trump versus Clinton is almost inevitable. More debates seem bound to improve my odds.

Frank Mensel — August 2015