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Bruce Dowbiggin

Punch Out: Time To Go Virtual On Balls And Strikes

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Former MLB catcher Gregg Zaun was a young player working behind the plate in a 1980s game umpired by the gruff Ken Kaiser (who moonlighted as a wrestler for a time). Zaun was trying to help his pitcher on the Baltimore Orioles by framing pitchers that Kaiser might like.

On a call that Zaun and his pitcher both wanted called a strike— but the veteran ump Kaiser called a ball— the budding catcher, without turning around, inquired, “Where was that pitch, Mr. Kaiser?”

Kaiser replied, “Son, I just call ‘em. I don’t describe ‘em.”

There is power in sports. And then there is umpire power. As we have seen in the 2021 postseason, the ability of a single umpire behind home to shape an outcome is tremendous. That authority comes from the century before hi-tech allowed TV broadcasters to show a virtual strike zone on screen.

If the ump called it a strike, it was a strike. Despite volcanic eruptions from mangers liker Earl Weaver and generations of players blowing off steam there was no recourse. Eventually players were forced to put their bat on their shoulder and walk back to the dugout. Or to the clubhouse, if their tantrum got them tossed from the game.

Rarely was an umpire publicly fired. Unless it was Dave Pallone who was apparently canned for being gay and upsetting Pete Rose in the days when Rose was an MLB big shot. Certainly none of them were held to any standard in terms of fitness.

Now, however, the fan can see the virtual strike zone. And can see that an umpire like Laz Diaz, who was behind home plate for the Astros 9-2 win over the Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALCS,  needs to be cashiered. This allows reporter/ author Jeff Passan to tweet:

@jeffpassan Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz has missed 21 ball-strike calls tonight, according to @ESPNStatsInfo. That is the most of any umpire this postseason. The green dot in the upper RH corner is the Eovaldi curveball that would’ve ended top of the ninth with the score 2-2.

The game was no exception for Diaz. As our friends at @umpscorecards show that Diaz missed almost ten percent of his ball/strike calls on average during the season (91.9%). One game he called only 87.6 percent of calls correctly.

Which is not to single out Diaz. For instance, Angel Hernandez missed 356 of the 4833 pitches he called this season for 92.6% accuracy. Brian O’Nora (91.8% accuracy), Jerry Meals (93%), Rob Drake (92.1%), CB Buckner (92.7%) Doug Eddings (92.6%), Larry Vanover (92.5%), Ron Kulpa (91.8%)  and the legend Joe West (92.2%) are among the many who leave something to be desired. (We highly recommend following this detailed site if you are a fan or a bettor.)

While the average ball/ strike accuracy in the wider echelon of umpires hovers in the 92-95 percent range, even the best umpires have single games where their accuracy is in the mid-to-high 80s. Were those games that decided playoff spots? Division titles? Pitchers/ batters getting bonuses? Why did MLB not enforce a higher standard?

Look, 92-95 percent for the human eye in a stressful situation where 50,000 people are screaming at you is an impressive stat. And the umpiring today is scrutinized heavily by MLB for patterns that might produce betting scandals. There’s no doubt that the ball/ strike calling is vastly improved from Kaiser’s day when there were “pitchers’ umps” and “hitters umps”.

(Aside: On a Blue Jays TV broadcast this season  former MLB catcher Buck Martinez and sidekick Pat Tabler, a former outfielder, seemed to pine for the days when umps’ expanded strike zones encouraged players to “get the bat swinging” and reduced hitters working counts.)

But the virtual stroke zone shows MLB can have 100 percent accuracy to a defined strike zone. Not to put @umpscorecards out of work, but with a virtual strike zone MLB has the power to remove doubt about the strike zone, end arguments and conspiracies about certain umps and make the games move faster.

One only need look at the Hawkeye system at work now in tennis for calling lines. The days of John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors going ballistic over a line call have magically ended as the computer unequivocally demonstrates that a ball is in or out. The sideshow of rage has now become a shrug of the shoulders as the affected player moves on to the next point, angry at themselves, not the chair umpire or line official.

There are other pluses. Frankly who is also not happy to forgo the site of middle-aged tennis officials at Wimbledon or Roland Garros stuffed into tight pants and clingy blouses like sausage rolls, looming over the court like people waiting for the kettle to boil. Other than an ad for Weight Watchers it’s a sight we can consign to the past.

So why doesn’t MLB use the tech they’ve got? Some suggest they’re leery of upsetting the influential umpires union who guard their privilege zealously, even in the face of some completely useless colleagues. Other still hold with the dinosaurs who say the virtual strike zone is inaccurate or can move unexpectedly.

This just in: Even if the virtual strike zone is off an inch or two it’s the same standard for both pitchers and all hitters. There’s also no need to put people out of work. The home-plate ump can still make calls on foul tips, swinging strikes, plays at the plate and the running of the game. Enough already.

While MLB is at it, use the Hawkeye system for foul lines, foul poles and outfield fences, too. The technology is there. Forget the 19th century nostalgia.

Addendum: The Atlanta Braves toppling of the mighty Dodgers is genuine MLB karma for Atlanta. You may remember that commissioner Rob Manfred acquiesced to the Woke mob this summer when Georgia instituted stricter laws for voter authenticity that require photo ID. In a panic to seem progressive he took the All Star Game away from Atlanta and awarded it to Denver.

Mostly is it was another Hate Trump ploy to curry favour with the Media Party that broadcasts his games. Now Atlanta gets the World Series. Hope they remind the precious people everyday what those bastards did to them and rub it in mercilessly. Hope Manfred gets asked for his ID everywhere he goes. Other than that, we’re fine with it.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author of Cap In Hand is also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, his new book with his son Evan is called InExact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Are We Ready For A Russian To Become NHL’s Top Goal Scorer?

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With the grinding war in Ukraine showing no signs of ceasing and Biden-led sanctions doing nothing tangible to deter Vladimir Putin, Russia’s image in the West has rarely been this low. So now might be a good time to ask if the NHL is prepared for a Russian to become the greatest goal scorer in league history.

As the league prepares for its annual draft on Thursday/ Friday, the top pick in the 2004 Draft is showing every sign that he will pass the game’s greatest Canadians in goal scoring. Going into 2022-23, the 36-year-old Capitals star is just 21 goals behind the immortal Gordie Howe in second place and 114 back of Wayne Gretzky, the Prometheus of NHL scoring.

  1. Wayne Gretzky. 894

2. Gordie Howe 801

3. Alex Ovechkin 780

Given good health Ovechkin will surpass Howe next season and probably leave Gretzky in his wake in four seasons. Even in a time of peace it will be interesting to see the public reaction in Canada and the U.S. to Ovechkin’s passing No. 99. While the No.1 pick in 2005, Sidney Crosby, has had a squeaky clean image, The Great Eight has been a little salty for some folks.

He plays a game Howe would love, dispensing devastating hits as well as brilliant goals. His gap-toothed sneer has not always endeared him to many. Nor has his proximity to Putin himself. In November 2017, Ovechkin started a movement called PutinTeam in support of Putin during the 2018 Russian presidential election .

In recent times he’s sought to have a foot in both camps. “I don’t know what’s happening out there. I know it’s a hard situation, but it is what it is. You know, I play here, and this is my second home. I don’t want to fight between two countries, because it’s going to be a mess.”

Too late on that front, Alex. Putin’s naked aggression and Biden’s desire to unseat him (he’s endorsed assassination) have put the West on the brink of a war with nuclear potential. Few can say where the conflict is headed, except that it’s highly unlikely the West will be surrendering its sons to the battlefield when NATO runs out of Ukrainians willing to die.

One thing is certain. As we point out in our book Inexact Science: the 6 Most Compelling Drafts in NHL History, Ovechkin put an end to the bias against Russians at the top of the NHL draft. While there had been Russian Hall of Fame selections in the middle to lower rounds of the draft (Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure, Sergei Zubov) Ovechkin’s No. 1 overall was considered a risk at the time. He changed the equation.

It began in 2004, when the Capitals selected Russian phenom Alex Ovechkin, maybe the greatest pure goal scorer the NHL has seen. A number one pick who has lived up to the billing of “generational player,” Ovechkin maybe would have been even more widely hailed as that “Next One” had he developed under the intense hockey media spotlight of Canada, or North America in general.

Never before had an international player earned the kind of accolades Ovechkin received leading up to his draft year. After all, he was only the second Russian ever to go that high on draft day. But the fact he wasn’t a Canadian kid may have tempered the headlines around “Ovie” and made some fans skeptical about his supposed wizardry. 

He wasn’t helped by how easily a stacked Team Canada had handled him and his Russians in the World Juniors of 2004 and 2005. In retrospect, “The Great 8” was actually undersold as a generational legend. But all of this made his majestic rookie season as a 20-year-old in 2005–06 more of a revelation than it would have been otherwise.

CAA agent J.P. Barry says that some resistance remains. “Even with Russian players, we’ve seen a hesitance in the past. A few teams have said to me, “Sorry, we just don’t draft Russians. End of story.” I know of several teams that did make that an internal memo. Some even said, “We can’t take a Euro in the first three rounds!” I don’t think there’s any team that could say any of that anymore, though. Way back when, however, there were these unwritten internal policies that were just silly. 

There was definitely a period there where teams didn’t want to touch Russians, because they didn’t feel that they could get them to come over. Sometimes they were teams impacted by something negative that happened in the past and let it change their course of action.”

If Ovechkin didn’t entirely smash the Russian stereotype then his countryman Evgeni Malkin, selected right behind Ovechkin in the 2004 draft, sealed the deal. (Ironically the two were rivals for a long time, only reconciling in recent years). Lifetime, Malkin has 444 goals and 702 assists in an injury-riddled career.

To the NHL’s credit, it hasn’t banned or sanctioned its Russian stars as some have done. The country’s teams are banned from international soccer and hockey tournaments and the Paralympics. Russian tennis players Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev (the top-2 ranked Russian male players) were barred from participating at Wimbledon. Many Russian artists have seen their concerts cancelled.

For now Ovechkin is walking a tight rope. He’s called for peace without mentioning Russia or Ukraine directly. In May 2022, he reiterated his support for Putin, as well as retaining the Russian president on his Instagram profile photo. Much depends on the progress of the war, and how much Canada and the U.S. are drawn into the combat.

The best advice is probably to keep his head down and his politics to himself if he wants to be celebrated for passing Howe and Gretzky.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

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Bruce Dowbiggin

A Drag Prescription: Kids Party Like It’s 2022

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Back in the days before Toronto became a sensitivity chamber, people would head out to the old St. Charles Tavern on Yonge Street to see the annual Halloween drag-queen parade. As the local talent strutted, the crowd hooted, whistled and generally laughed at the circus. For the paraders the attention was bliss.

In those days trans people, cross dressers and drag queens were an exotic diversion in a city that had yet to take itself too seriously. They had no pretensions to glory. So naturally those who remember the tacky Halloween Drag Parades are probably confused to find that drag has ascended to the heights of Woke sensitivity.

Ru Paul’s Drag Race is the hippest TV attraction on mainstream TV. Drag queens have replaced clowns at children’s birthday party as the entertainment. Trans activists have turned public bowel movements into a political education seminar. Having a prominent trans figure is a sign of the highest corporate awareness.

To the chagrin of feminists, blacks, immigrants and Wanda Sykes , trans is the new holy caste in leftist politics— which is to say their protection is the solemn duty of CBC, MSNBC, The Toronto Star, corporate inclusion VPs and educators across the continent. The former allies of the Left have been left on the curb; Mom’s got a new beau.

As conservative David Reboi tweeted, “You’ve got to think that most Americans—even the shitlibs—never gave drag queens a moment of thought before recently. Now, it’s the greatest form of self-expression imaginable. Amazing how quickly it happens.”

Heaven forbid anyone ask why kindergarteners need a drag shows or the propriety of men competing against women in sports. Showing a disinterest in drag generals is a one-way ticket to Stephen Colbert’s late-night gulag. Pointing out the insanity of making 0.01 percent of the population the focal point of a turning society is a hanging offence.

The first sign that trans had matriculated to the first ring of heaven was the language used to describe their painful past. Using words like cross dressers, trannies and queens was made a banishment-level crime. New vocabulary— following the example of other grievance causes— put the discussion on wheels and steered it away from rational debate of facts. The Media Party compliantly fell int the pit. It was now about words, not deeds.

George Orwell foretold this tactic during his time fighting in the 1936-38 Spanish Civil War. “For the first time, I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.”

What’s next? The current Jan. 6 show trials demonstrate cancel culture’s relentless manicuring of history to put half of society offside with power. This happened because the Left— former home of wit and humour— lost any sense of honest laughter or proportion between 2016 and 2020. Writes Matt Taibbi. “In that time they perfected an attitude of imperious condescension and entitlement so grating that at least half of America wouldn’t piss on someone like Adam Schiff if he were on fire.”

If Sykes’ sneering middle-part America doesn’t like it, tough. @ScottAdams “The Jan6th hearings are basically an updated Russia Collusion Hoax with a new topic. That’s how Democrats signal that they know they can’t compete on policy and competence. They need hoaxes to win.”

But there are signs that this has turned disastrous for the Left. The SCOTUS Dobbs v. Jackson abortion decision “was the result of decades spent building a political project so incoherent, unsellable, and untrustworthy to ordinary people that in 2016 they chose Donald Trump over the person Barack Obama called the most qualified candidate in history.

“The justices who cast the critical votes Friday were picked by a man denounced by all of institutional America prior to election. All those voices were ignored. That total collapse in trust, not Jill Stein’s candidacy or Putin’s Facebook ads, led to Dobbs v. Jackson.”

Sadly for Canadians there is no remedy for the pissy smugness of its media and opinion makers. Loathing Republicans has a long history with postmodern Canadians dating back to the Viet Nam war. This self-satisfied detachment of a kept people mirrors that which Taibbi sees in the U.S.

Canada’s traipsing PM paused from interfering yet again with the RCMP to proclaim that Canada would be an abortion clinic to any Americans who can’t find services in their own states. Trudeau preens in this way, because he thinks that, having paid off the media, he will never face reality on abortion so long as CBC tut-tuts that it’s a loser issue.

But as we wrote in December of 2017 Trudeau’s 1980s liberal conceit has been been overtaken by a more nuanced reality. “Medical innovation has shifted the issue since Canada’s pols ran like Good Sir Robin away from the fight. In today’s world, 50 to 70 percent of babies born at 24 to 25 weeks, and more than 90 percent born at 26 to 27 weeks, survive. Conditions such as Down Syndrome are no longer seen as socially acceptable reasons to terminate a pregnancy. There is a need for children for adoption.”

Polling also agrees it’s time to revisit a compromise on the issue. While a majority of Canadians favour some form of abortion, 70 percent are against unlimited abortion. 85 percent are against sex-selective abortion. “All these factors have lurked in the background as the public debate was stilled. But if Trudeau wishes to use his absolute abortion standard as a yardstick to measure funding viability he may find a public far more willing to accept limits on ending some pregnancies than it was even a decade ago.”

As Friedrich Hayek wrote, “In Germany the Nazis were able to succeed because the Socialists had already done most of their work for them, especially the intellectual work of weakening the desire for liberty. By bringing the whole of life under the control of the State, Socialism necessarily gives power to an inner ring of bureaucrats, who in almost every case will be men who want power for its own sake and will stick at nothing in order to retain it.”

So drag is now the lapdog of the bored suburban liberal female demo. If this transcendence is a little too on-the-nose to those who stood by the St. Charles, a bit provocative, a lot in-your-face… that’s the point. You’re meant to feel unsettled, insulted. It’s a design feature.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

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