The Cutoff Man: No April showers, no May flowers

Baseball has managed to make it through three weeks of the season with only one rainout, and it came on Friday. That’s a pretty impressive feat — not that anyone but Mother Nature really had a say in the matter — when you consider that April weather tends to wreak havoc on baseball. In 2007, Cleveland’s entire opening series with the Seattle Mariners was snowed out, and the Indians ended up having to host their “home opener” in Milwaukee.

So April has been relatively cooperative, at least weather-wise. But baseball is baseball, and nothing ever works out quite the way it’s supposed to; for every team that makes a remarkable comeback to win a game in the bottom of the ninth with clutch hitting, there’s its opponent losing a game on bad pitching. Only rarely does a team blow a game only to say, “They beat us despite our best efforts. We made our pitches and they hit them; we made our plays and they just beat us.”

The Pirates played their first two weeks like they were a real team, giving us that small glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, they’d finally put the right group of guys out on the field to mix the winning formula. After they swept the Reds on April 15–17, the Pirates sat in second place with a 7–5 record.

Then all hell broke loose. The Pirates played a gracious host to the Brewers last Tuesday through Thursday, throwing meatballs across the plate and not scoring any runs, as they fell rather disgracefully 8–1, 8–0 and 20–0. They then butchered any chance of climbing back over .500 for a third week in a row by dropping their first two games against Houston, 4–3 and 5–2.

On the bright side, those losses were the first time this season that the Pirates had lost by less than six runs.

There’s still hope, though — there’s always hope. Yogi Berra and the 1973 Mets were in last place as late as mid-August before rallying back to make it all the way to the World Series. “Ya Gotta Believe” was the slogan Tug McGraw coined that year, and you have to if you’re a real fan.

But believe it or not, there’s been more baseball this month outside of Pittsburgh. The Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees are battling it out for first place in their division and quickly leaving the other teams behind, most notably the Boston Red Sox, who need to make a decision quickly on their former star of all stars, David “Big Papi” Ortiz. Now I’m not a Spanish major, nor do I play one on TV, but after watching the sadness and frustration in Ortiz’s eyes after he struck out for the umpteenth time and was eventually pinch-hit for, I’m certain that “Big Papi” is Spanish for “Bruce Banner.”

There’s also been a lot of outrage among fans and, more inappropriately, commenters on about some controversial baseball over the past week. On Saturday, a 12-inning affair between the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals ended when Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy bobbled a grounder but recovered in time to throw to second base. Royals speedster Scott Podsednik was called out to end the game, which would have been fine — if he had actually been out. The naked eye, replays, radio and television announcers from both teams, and pretty much everyone but umpire Greg Gibson saw Podsednik slide in safely. Alas, Royals’ manager Trey Hillman’s argument was to no avail, and the game was over.

Earlier this week I wrote in my blog, “Jonas On Baseball,” about how it’s better when an umpire admits he’s wrong. It shows professionalism and it shows dedication to the game and its values. No game is ever considered a good one, no matter how close, if it hinges on a blown call. Anyone who watched A.J. Pierzynski run down to first base after he struck out in the 2005 ALCS knows that; anyone who watched Gibson call Podsednik out on Saturday knows it.

However, contrary to the belief of some “fans,” Gibson’s bad call was not because he is biased against the Royals. No umpire could ever do that and get away with it. No matter how unprofessional an umpire is or how bad of a call he makes, it will never have to do with bias or other such preference. He just made a bad call, or at the very most, he’s just a bad ump.

Let it be known, though, that with the exception of some I cannot name (one rhymes with “Bad Bairchild”), most umps are good, professional umps.

The other controversy is over the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira, who barreled hard into Angels catcher Bobby Wilson on a play at the plate on Friday night. Wilson, who was in position to tag Teixeira out before the ball got away from him, suffered a concussion and a possible ankle injury when Teixeira slammed into him full-force, Teixiera’s shoulder appearing to make contact with Wilson’s face mask. While Wilson had to be helped off the field and taken to the hospital, Teixeira didn’t look back after touching home plate and getting into the Yankee’s dugout.

Was it unprofessional of him not to check on Wilson? No. It would have been very professional of him to go out there, but not doing so was probably a better choice given everyone’s sensitivity to intentional collisions nowadays. Teixeira’s best option to try to score was to barrel over Wilson, and he did it well. Nationwide, Teixiera is being ripped apart for knocking over Wilson, but people need to realize that although baseball is a gentleman’s game, hard-nosed baseball is good baseball. It’s not about courtesy and sunshine and flowers. It’s about winning and playing the game right.

Tune in next week and check out for daily updates on the happenings in Major League Baseball.