Replay is all about ad money

September 8, 2013

Welcome to the future, folks.

We got a glimpse of the imminent replay era in Major League Baseball in the 10th inning of Sunday’s eventual extra-inning Giants win over the Diamondbacks.

On a missed call that almost cost the Giants dearly, pitcher George Kontos was covering the bag on a grounder to first baseman Buster Posey, when umpire Tom Hallion called the base runner Aaron Hill safe, saying Kontos missed the base with his foot. However, Kontos so obviously tagged the base that the umpires soon conferred to overturn the call, not only ending the inning, but costing Arizona a bases-loaded shot at breaking a 2-2 tie, which instead culminated in Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson getting kicked out of the game for the second time in a four-game series.     

Baseball fans best get used to the sight on calls getting overturned, because next year when full-blown replay kicks in, it’s going to be a daily spectacle. Thanks to the National Football League for the instant-replay revolution. Yes, that is epic sarcasm.

From what I can tell, the NFL has become the most glorified dance-off on the planet. Granted, I was busy watching baseball on the opening Sunday of football season. But during intermittent channel changes between innings, it quickly became obvious that celebratory posturing and posing continues to turn the professional gridiron into a theater of the absurd.

But baseball isn’t far behind. Posing and posturing has been festering in MLB for a generation, from Barry Bonds’ iconic pointing to the sky, to Brian Wilson’s similar gesture, to the Angel Pagan salute and the Pablo Sandoval bow-and-arrow mimicry. Notice when Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez does his Batman shtick, Sergio Romo – owner of one of the most animated celebrations in baseball, no less – loses his shit to insight an on-field confrontation.

Posturing and posing has nothing to do with gamesmanship, mind you. Neither does instant replay. They are both born and bred from the same marketing strategy to keep you, the consumer, watching. Why? Because a vast majority of people in the modern age watch baseball on television. And the more television broadcasts can keep audiences’ eyes trained to the screen during the game, the easier it is for advertisers to do so during commercial breaks.

This is why television commentators are all on the same page in advocating for instant replay. Notice when MLB announced in mid-August plans to expand instant replay in 2014, how the entire broadcasting family banded together in regurgitating what sounded like the same script? Now that’s some serious Big Brother shit.

Football has long since opened Pandora’s box of integrating replay technology with advertising. And boy has the NFL got its act down. During the second quarter of the 49ers’ opening-day win over Green Bay, there was a replay that intervened on Eric Reid’s first career interception.

Fox Sports replayed the interception in question three times – the final time, just before cutting to commercial, drew the focus to the bottom third of the TV screen. Standard operating procedure is to draw focus to the middle of the screen. However, for instant replay, commercials seem to be calibrated to take advantage of drawing the audience’s attention to different quadrants of the screen. And sure enough, the Google ad that followed launched a flurry of movement towards the bottom of the screen; making for a seamless line-of-sight transition from instant replay to commercial advertisement.

This style of subliminal advertisement is rampant in football. Now baseball is following suit. All-Stars like Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson – whose combined baseball salaries are $25-million this season – are endorsing an alcohol-ridden shampoo that damages hair follicles and exacerbates baldness. But if they told people that, millions of consumers would stop using their product every day. So, they aren’t going to tell you that. 

Whether they know it or not, every pose, posture, and dance in which players engage is implicit in the practice of dirty advertising, just as every stride taken in the direction of integrating instant replay into sports. I’m not trying to be judgmental. Just like everyone in the business, I’ve often evoked the spirit of Jerry Maguire by shouting: Show me the money!

But to people on TV, lobbying for TV technology to be integrated into the game, under the guise of doing it for the integrity of the sport….

Bullshit. That’s just propaganda. Plain and simple. And dystopia isn’t too far off, if it isn’t upon us already.


Petit’s fairytale falls short

September 6, 2013

Yesterday, in talking with a friend about the reemergence of Brian Wilson with the Dodgers, the point was made that baseball doesn’t always write the fairytale ending.

In the case of Wilson, it was a romantic notion that the former Giants’ closer would return from injury to pitch San Francisco back to the playoffs. Not only was that notion not to be. Wilson went on to sign with the archrival Dodgers, leaving many a stomach turning among embittered Giants’ fans.

Yusmeiro Petit’s one-hit performance Friday night was the embodiment of that very feeling. In just his fourth appearance with the Giants, Petit was a strike away from pitching the 24th perfect game in Major League history. But the fairytale fell just out of reach of a diving attempt by right fielder Hunter Pence as Eric Chavez’s 3-2 swing of the bat dropped in for the only Diamondbacks hit of the game.

And despite the Giants persevering for a 3-0 win, the agony of defeat still overwhelming won the day.

However, like the Wilson situation, the way Petit’s outing played out shouldn’t diminish what an outstanding accomplishment preceded it. In the case of Wilson, he should always be heralded as a Giant, even when he ultimately returns to pitch against San Francisco. His place in baseball history by slamming the door on the 2010 World Series with the most important strikeout in Giants’ history is nothing short of iconic. Even Dodger blue shouldn’t diminish that.

In the case of Petit’s win Friday night, that was one heck of a ballgame. And nobody, I mean nobody, could have seen that coming. That’s really saying something, with the Giants starting rotation being stellar as it has been in recent years. Almost every game the Giants play, they run a pitcher out there who is capable of throwing a no-hitter.

Petit, however, who had never thrown a complete game in the big leagues prior to Friday, was, in essence, the Giants ninth starter just a few short months ago. When Ryan Vogelsong went on the disabled list with a broken pitching hand in May, he was initially replaced by Mike Kickham, before Chad Gaudin moved from the bullpen to anchor the rotation.

Then, when Eric Surkamp made a spot start in a doubleheader against the Reds on July 23, Petit made his Giants debut in relief, showing he had the stamina to compete for a rotation spot by throwing 5 1/3 innings.

But less than a week later, Petit was designated for assignment, and wouldn’t make his first start of the season until Aug. 28. It’s still unfathomable to me that another team didn’t claim Petit off waivers – a mandatory part of the process after a player is designated for assignment – and yes, I felt that way when it happened. Since returning to the 25-man roster, the 28-year-old journeyman right-hander has proved an ace up the Giants’ sleeve, going 3-0 in three starts, including Friday’s unreal one-hitter.

When it’s all said and done, Friday’s outing won’t be remembered as one for the ages. But for those who were involved in it, it sure felt like one every step of the way.

Crawford cream of SS crop

September 3, 2013

During the 2010 California League playoffs, I had the chance to ask Brandon Crawford about his future as a defensive infielder.

Crawford was in his second stint with the San Jose Giants at the time. He initially played there in 2009, and after an unreal month of April in which he hit .371 with six home runs and 17 RBIs, he was the first player to be promoted out of High-A San Jose from a talent pool that included Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner.

In 2010, Crawford had his season interrupted at Double-A when he was struck in the wrist with a line drive off the bat of Nick Noonan during a July batting practice. So, Crawford finished the year at San Jose on a rehab assignment. But with the High-A Giants boasting a young defensive wunderkind at shortstop by the name of Ehire Adrianza, Crawford shifted over to third base for two games.

So, my first question to Crawford was simple: Could he see himself ultimately converting to third base fulltime?

Crawford’s answer was one of my favorite in all my years as a baseball writer. He gave me a good stare with that stoic expression which Giants fans have since become quite familiar, and with a noticeably agitated tone in his voice, said quite tersely: “No, I’m a shortstop.”

Not that Crawford wasn’t an adept defensive shortstop. He’d show improvements over the next season while bouncing between the minors and the Major Leagues, but he was always a smooth and rangy presence. It just seemed some mitigating factors were stacked against him in his quest to remain at the position long term.

The biggest challenge Crawford faced was in being a left-handed hitter. There simply aren’t many left-handed hitters in the history of the game to have succeeded as everyday shortstops. Before Crawford arrived in the big leagues, the most accomplished left-handed hitting shortstop in San Francisco Giants history – really the only one – had been Ernest Riles.

Then there was the presence of Adrianza. Sure, prior to the 2010 season, Crawford was named the Best Defensive Infielder in the Giants system by Baseball America. Since then, however, Adrianza has earned the honor three years running. So, early in his minor-league career, he seemed hard-pressed to be able to stick at short.

Crawford proved to be right though. As teams expand to 40-man rosters entering into September, Crawford – in just his second full season in the Major Leagues – has already been equated by many as a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop, while Tuesday marks Adrianza’s first day in the bigs. And as it stands, those two games Crawford played at the hot corner for San Jose in 2010 are the only two games he has played as a non-shortstop in his pro career.

Adrianza still seems to have a bright future ahead of him, although he is now the one that will have to move off shortstop if he ever wants to be an everyday player with the Giants. The 24-year-old switch-hitting Venezuelan has certainly paid his dues in the minor leagues, accruing 701 at bats over parts of two seasons at Double-A Richmond.

That is significant, because Richmond’s The Diamond is one of the toughest hitting environments in all of baseball. While Adrianza arrives in the big leagues as a career .254 professional hitter, his average spikes to .268 with his Double-A numbers omitted, including a .310 mark (45 for 145) this season at Triple-A Fresno.

But the Giants acknowledge Crawford is a special player, and it’s precisely that x-factor that was the driving force in his landing the starting shortstop job outright heading into the 2012 season. Crawford actually broke into the big leagues in 2011, and through 66 games struggled mightily at the plate. His anemic offense forced the Giants to acquire veteran Orlando Cabrera during the stretch drive, after which the Giants faltered and went on to miss the postseason.

“In 2011, the team played much better with [Crawford] at shortstop,” said Bobby Evans, Giants vice president and assistant general manager. “After we traded for Cabrera and sent Crawford down, I think it was one of the reasons that we struggled…. As much as Crawford struggled offensively, he was a strong presence in the middle of the diamond, even in 2011. So, I think when we went into 2012, we looked at him as a guy we weren’t going to overbuild our expectations on what he would do offensively.”

And while he is still just 26, Crawford has improved in each of his three years as a big-league hitter, going from a line of .204/.288/.296 in 2010, to .248/.304/.349 in ’11, to a current line of .260/.320/.380 through 129 games.

“He’s a guy who can drive the ball in the gap, has the occasional long ball that he can hit,” Evans said. “If he can have reasonable patience at the plate, he’s going to get on base a little bit for you…. And he’s obviously very exciting at shortstop. So, this is a fun guy to watch. He’s a very interesting player.”

Crisp & Pence close on 20-20

September 2, 2013

Alright, quick quiz. And no cheating. As of Monday night, who has more home runs on the season: Hunter Pence or Coco Crisp?

Haha! Trick question. Pence and Crisp are currently tied with 17 home runs apiece. I do not apologize for the trick question. (However, I do apologize for the “Haha!” Admittedly, that’s just bad form.)

Crisp’s power production is big news though. With a pivotal two-run blast Monday in Oakland’s 4-2 win over the Rangers, Crisp set a new career high in home runs. He previously hit 16 homers with the Indians in 2005, and that was in 594 at bats. He has tallied just 426 at bats in 2013 thus far, and with 25 games remaining in the regular season, the 33-year-old switch-hitter has a legitimate shot at hitting 20 home runs. He is concurrently three steals/three homers short of a 20-20 season.

With the Giants, Pence too is closing in on the 20-20 mark. Monday, he swiped his career-high 21st base in San Diego, leaving him just three homers short of the esteemed plateau.

The similarities between Pence and Crisp are noteworthy, especially for two players who have appeared to be the antithesis of one another throughout their respective careers.

For Pence, the power production comes as no surprise. He has hit over 20 home runs in each of his five full seasons in the Major Leagues. Valued as a five-tool player, he has consistently been a power-first threat, with his speed on the bases a serious, but secondary commodity.

Crisp has long been renowned as a speedster. When he signed with the A’s prior to the 2010 season, he had notched 20 steals four times in his career. He went on to become one of the most feared base stealers in the game over the next three years, setting a career-high with 32 steals through just 75 games in ’10, before surpassing that mark by swiping 49 bases in 2011. Last season, he maintained his prowess by stealing 39 bases.

Despite past differences, the respective abilities of each Pence and Crisp seem to be intersecting this season. It just goes to show how good players must continue to evolve in establishing successful careers. So, it’s fitting that Crisp’s big blast on Monday helps keep the A’s continue on the path of realizing another place they’d like to see the green-and-gold intersect with Pence, that being the winning of a World Championship.

With Monday’s win, the A’s move into an outright tie with the Rangers for first place in the American League West. And something catastrophic would have to happen for both teams not to advance to the postseason. In the wild-card race, Tampa trails the top seed by three game – meaning if the season ended today, all three would qualify for the playoffs – one by virtue of a division title, and the other two advancing to the one-game wild-card matchup. The Orioles are the first team currently outside the postseason bubble, and they currently trail the Rangers and A’s by 5 ½ games.

Crisp does have a World Championship to his credit though, as member of the 2007 Red Sox. And since the A’s optioned relief pitcher Hideki Okajima to the minor leagues, Crisp in the only player in the A’s clubhouse to boast a World Series ring.

Giants roll through desert

September 1, 2013

So, it seems the Giants have a pretty good Triple-A team this year.

With the major league rosters expanding at the start of September, the Giants got some big contributions from some relative unknowns to down the Diamondbacks 8-2 and take a three-game series in the desert. In his first game back with the big club, second baseman Tony Abreu made the defensive play of the game on a rocket off the bat of Miguel Montero to turn a sweet backhanded nab into a tailor-made double play.

But the big story continues to be the emergence of Yusmeiro Petit. In just three appearances this season, the right-hander has proved he belongs in the big leagues. And Sunday’s outing may be the best of his career. In returning to Arizona – where he posted a 9-19 record from 2007-09 – Petit dealt for six innings while notching a career-high 10 strikeouts to up his record to 2-0.

Still, it was the Giants big boppers that showed up in Arizona. Through the heart of the order Sunday, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Pablo Sandoval combined to go 8 for 13 with four RBIs and five runs scored. In the series, the trio went 16 for 35 at the plate, even though the Giants scored just four runs through the two games of the series.

As a Giants fan, I’ve got to admit, it was good fun kicking in Arizona’s teeth. While the Giants have all but been eliminated from the pennant race, the Diamondbacks are still very much in the hunt, but with Sunday’s loss they fall to six games off the wild-card bracket behind the Reds.

For the Giants, the pivotal series win seems more personal though. Friday night, the Chase Field security Nazis once again invoked one of the stupidest rules in baseball by forcing the Giants fans sitting behind home plate to remove their San Francisco garb. Of course, this isn’t exactly breaking news. The national media covered the story earlier this year when two Dodgers fans befell a similar fate. And yes, Giants fans, if you didn’t stick up for the Dodgers fans in that situation, shame on you.

The two kids behind the plate Friday night got the last laugh though. They politely threw on the requisite Diamondbacks colors to remain in their TV seats, until, that is, the ninth inning, when they dawned their Sergio Romo jerseys to back the Giants’ closer en route to his nailing down a 1-0 Giants win.

With weekend play all said and done though, the most notable thing is that, for three days, the Giants looked like the defending World Champs. Yes folks, the orange-and-black is still one of the best teams on the planet. Especially when they come to play.