Garbage In, Garbage Out

in Sports

Even though my team lost, I’m more proud than ever to be a Braves fan tonight. For the Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in tonight’s “first ever” NL Wild Card Game, by a final score of Braves 7, Cardinals 6. Wait a minute, you say. Well, the box score says 8-3 Cardinals, but that doesn’t show the runs the umpires gifted to St. Louis and took away from the Braves.

Don’t get me wrong: I love baseball. I’ve always loved baseball, for as long as I can remember (one of the oldest Christmas presents I can remember was a plastic bat and ball), and I’ve always been a Braves fan, even before 1991. But there are only a few times I’ve truly been proud to be a fan: the 1992 NLCS, where the Braves beat the Pirates on a play that is forever known as The Slide, banishing Pittsburgh to baseball mediocrity for a generation; 1995, when We Won It All, 1996, when a back-to-back championship was all but stolen by bad umpiring, and now, where Chipper Jones’ last shot at any sort of championship had the same result.

Most sports pundits will point to the dropped fly ball that was called an infield fly, even though it was no where near the infield, and the only infielder involved lost any notion of where the ball was. That call cost the Braves at least two runs, but there was another, earlier in the game. In the 4th inning, Andrelton Simmons was called out for interference after a bunt, when the pitcher’s throw to first hit him in the head and bounced into right field. With runners on the corners, this would have scored at least one run, probably two given that the Cardinals’ first baseman bobbled the ball in right.

Instead, Simmons was called out, and the runners were brought back to their starting points, in the first of many “letter of the law” calls. Strictly speaking, according to the rulebook, Simmons was interfering, since he was on the inside of the baseline. But that’s a call I can’t remember ever seeing made. It’s the baseball equivalent of the Tuck Rule, something that’s only called to make sure a favored team advances.

The infield fly call, then, only added insult to injury. And the fans showed their displeasure in the only way open to them: they threw everything they could grab onto the field. But, unlike the media reports, they didn’t “trash” the field, they merely added to the garbage that was already there, in the guys of six men wearing black. The only way this umpire crew could have been more biased was if they could somehow resurrect Eric Gregg and have him call balls and strikes. High strikes were consistently called for the Cardinals and against the Braves. It’s a travesty, and not because of the 20-minute trash cleanup delay (which, of course, didn’t remove the cause of the problem, merely the effects).

But this is not a one-time thing. Since becoming effectively a wholly-owned subsidiary of FOX, Major League Baseball has waged a war against the Braves. This might sound like the deluded ramblings of a fan disappointed in his teams’ loss, but hear me out. Before the FOX takeover, before Bud Selig became commissioner for life and ruined every tradition possible (the subject of another post), Atlanta was America. TBS showed Braves games to everyone in the country that had even basic cable, every home outside of a major market was a Braves home. Then FOX arrived, and decreed that local fans must watch local teams. Ted Turner, the wizard/stubborn mule that used to own the Braves (come back, Ted, we miss you!), wanted none of that, but his successors in the Atlanta front office, and at TBS, didn’t want to fight the money machine of FOX. So they gave in, and the Braves became a local team like 28 others in the majors. (The exception, of course, is the Yankees, which get a free pass in all of this because they are ESPN’s favorite team, and ESPN can compete with FOX in pure dollars.)

Because of Turner’s reluctance, the last few years have shown an obviously anti-Brave league. Broadcast rules that hamstring Braves telecasts (which caused the demise of Turner South), severely biased announcers on national FOX games [NB: in this sentence, I mistyped FOX as FIX, which seems appropriate.], and bizarre umpiring decisions, like Bill Hohn’s “picking from a lineup” ejection call. (For reference, Hohn was the home-plate umpire for a Braves game a couple of years ago. he made a horrible call, and some of the team started yelling at him for it. One particular comment angered him enough to eject someone, but he couldn’t tell who said it, so he said he would just go down the lineup card and pick one at random if the perpetrator didn’t come clean. Chipper finally owned up to the comment, if only to end what can only be considered a baseball hostage situation. The next Braves game Hohn called was so biased that everyone noticed.)

We are now seeing the fruits of FOX’s labor. In 2006, the Braves lost their division championship streak, and national sportswriters were joyous. The story of the collapse last year was almost totally ignored by ESPN, but FOX spread it far and wide. Now, the first time in a long time that fans everywhere could see the Braves on TBS, as they were meant to be, we get this. Announcer Joe Simpson said–under duress, I’m sure–that the fans were an embarrassment. No, Joe, the embarrassment was the call on the field. Come on, MLB, that’s why you have 6 umpires in playoff games instead of 4, to make the right calls, not the best. You just watched the NFL get berated for a month because of poor officiating, and now this?!

I’ll still be a Braves fan, but now, in a bitter twist of irony, I’m rooting for the Cardinals to win the World Series. Because I know that that win would be forever tainted. It would always bear the mark of its MLB-given giftwrap. I certainly won’t be watching any of the games, though. Hope you’re happy, FOX.