baseball, opening day

Watching the ‘official’ Opening Day baseball slate. In Pittsburgh, the Cubs are visiting (for some reason they have decided to remove the Chicago from the front of their visiting uniforms this year). For the National League this is its 138th Opening Day, while the American League begins its 111th.

The meta-stories this year are the long-discussed adoption of instant replay challenges for any disputed call (not just home runs), the ‘Buster Posey’ rule and the final full-on adoption of ‘Moneyball’ type-statistical analysis to defense, not just at-bats. ‘Shifts’ have been utilized at times since the 1920’s, but ‘optimal positioning,’ as it is now called, is approaching a pitch-to-pitch norm – the Art of Fielding is succumbing to the science. The exponential increase in the use of these tactics have been credited for the success of the defending World Champion Boston Red Sox, as well as the playoff-bound revival of the long-moribund Pirates. What is not trumpeted is that the team that the Milwaukee Brewers, the team that utilized this tactic the most, ended up with one of the Major Leagues’ worst records.

Full-coverage replay is welcomed in most circles as long overdue, although umpires are still eyeing it warily (this will also make soccer/football the only primary world sport not to fully utilize replay). Already employed this morning, the New York City-based video review of Cubs Manager Rick Renteria’s challenge went smoothly, although the anonymity of the reviewers raises some questions of opacity. Arguments and delays to a game that is overly focused on taking too long will certainly not be eliminated, with the other new rule development regarding protecting catchers from home plate collisions (prompted by the season-ending injury to San Francisco Giants star Buster Posey’s season-ending injury in 2011) a potentially big contributing factor.

For those of you who want to get your padded nostalgia gloves on, as well as buffs of arcane trivia, FilmOn’s free VOD service has a couple of great documentaries about two of the classic sports stadiums in Major League history. Fenway Park: The Golden Age (2012), and Yankee Stadium: The Golden Age (2012).

I know in this day of ESPN, everyone who doesn’t live in NYC or Boston is probably sick of the Red Sox and the Yankees, but these documentaries actually show that these two edifices were social centers of many other aspects of American sporting and non-sporting life through the most of last century, and continuing into this, with ample rare newsreel footage of All-Star Games, Presidential addresses, and prize fights.

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Fenway is narrated by Red Sox legendary catcher Carlton Fisk (whom I’m sure would have some interesting views on the ‘Posey’ rule), while Yankee gets none other than “Reg-GIE” Jackson, displaying the slick verbal skills that made him a media star/villain in late ‘70s New York, and got him considered for the role of Geordi LaForge in Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is particularly interesting hearing Jackson, who wore a black armband along with Jewish Oakland A’s teammates Ken Holtzman and Mike Epstein in support of the slain Israeli Olympians in 1972, narrating segments about Billy Graham’s 1957 sell-out sermon and the 1965 Pope Paul address at ‘The House that Ruth Built.’ Play ball!

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