Another postseason, another postseason riddled with controversy. I haven't watched the baseball playoffs. My tolerance for baseball that is not Mariners baseball has dwindled to almost nothing. But on some mornings I take a slow browse through the sports world to keep myself current. Brett Favre taxed and without a prominent sports personality dead, killing or raping, mainstream sports talk has centered on the game itself, or at least the umpiring.
Graham and Jeff have done solid watchdog work at Lookout Landing. Both are right in their assertions that Major League umpires should be assisted or replaced by an objective, more accurate system. As Graham succinctly put it, that argument is beating a dead horse. Their appeal to use technology to make or assist umpires in making accurate and dispassionate rulings is so simple and so rational as to be common sense. Yet professional sports organizations and even some fans fight this and invite this stupid controversy into the game.
A matter less discussed is the role of the fan. Fans have unprecedented access to information and unprecedented ability to distribute their opinion. I watched several videos this morning that purportedly showed Mariano Rivera spitting on a baseball. I also watched a clearly botched call by third base umpire Tim McClelland.
McClelland later admitted his mistake. It didn't save him from a fire storm, but criticism is expected. Sportswriters everywhere know the value of a distinctive opinion on a current event, and in a crowded and ultra competitive marketplace, finger-pointing paired with Simpsonian hyperbole form an amazingly effective combination. If anyone still cares about credibility, its import is fading and a new era of hucksterism is stampeding new media. The brightest smile, loudest call and most attractive offer wins page views. Who cares the product?
So McClelland screwed up. He stood before reporters and explained his thinking and admitted where he was in error. The incident weakens the game but briefly helps the product by making it newsworthy. Rational opinions about instant replay and computerized strike zones are written and buried and forgotten.
What is our responsibility as fans of the game? I considered that while watching an entirely inconclusive snippet of video purportedly showing Rivera spit on a baseball. Rivera spits and he is holding a baseball, that I know. This, I do not:
Personally, the video you are about to watch (brought to my attention by figgifig) is pretty amazing: I would say this is pretty conclusive evidence of why Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera is able to throw only one pitch that has unpredictable, yet precise movement.
That post, written by Rev Halofan, is followed by the now infamous video. The post netted Halos Heaven a huge traffic spike after it was linked to by the New York Post. Major League Baseball investigated the accusation and determined Rivera was not using a spitball. You can imagine the resulting hubbub. The Yankees get the calls. The Steelers get the calls. The game is fixed.
Rev Halofan is not an amateur, but he is a fan. Whatever the facts of the incident, his post was a huge success for his website. It attracted national attention and thousands of new readers to his site.
With this unprecedented access, what is our responsibility as fans? We can watch almost any sport anywhere, record it, distribute it, distribute portions of it, distribute our opinions anywhere and without any qualifications or code of ethics. We have a stated bias and run in circles of shared bias. Anyone crying "unfair" is sure to find supporters. Is there a team anywhere whose fans haven't felt unfairly persecuted? I imagine Yankees fans feel reverse persecution.
I won't waste your time calling for a spontaneous improvement of human nature. I have typed some ideas, been sidetracked reading about the Scopes trial and taken a short walk, but maybe that is where this ends. Without a one-liner or simple solution, maybe this opinion is dead before posted. H.L. Mencken said "Freedom of press is limited to those who own one." The internet allows almost anyone the power of a printing press. Mencken wouldn't be surprised with what we've done with it.