Category Archives: Sporting Daze

Home Plate Collisions – Oh, Excuse Me

OK, I admit it, I’m prejudice.  It has a lot to do with how you are raised.  It has a lot to do with what your parents thought.  So because of my Dad, I didn’t have much of a chance.  My Dad was a catcher.  My older brother was a catcher and, of course, I was a catcher.  I still believe that being a catcher is one of the most important positions on the field.

So, I look at these collisions at home plate and I scratch my head.  Other sports like football and hockey are making heroic efforts to protect their players against concussions.  A player in a helpless position is entitled to protection.  You can’t use a wide receiver who had just missed a pass as a tackling dummy.  If a player takes a cheap shot, it’s 15 yards, an automatic first down and perhaps, an ejection from the game.  Ejections seem to get a team’s attention.  But, exploding into a catcher, that seems to be “good old fashion hard ball.”

Now I’m a reasonably smart guy and before I started this article, I decided to research the rules of baseball.  I wanted to find out what it said on collisions at home plate.  I studied all the rules, particulary  concentrating on “interference” and  “obstruction.”  I couldn’t find anything that specifically addressed the crash.  I found out what the rule was if the catcher pushes the batter out of the way on a squeeze play or if he grabs the bat, but nothing on the runner throwing an elbow into the catcher’s chin.

My Dad taught me how to catch and how to tag a runner out at home plate (Dad played professional baseball for a number of years).  The tag out procedure works great if you have time.  You catch the ball, transfer it to your right fist and if the runner trys to run you down, you step out of the way and tag him with the mitt and the fisted ball.  Balls pop out of mitts, but not out of fists.  Always be to the front of the plate (the ball will get to you faster).

It is obstruction if the catcher blocks the plate without the ball and is not “in the act of fielding the ball.”  “In the act of fielding the ball” is not defined.  I guess if the ball is on the way and the catcher is reaching out for it, he is in the act.  In the 1970 All Star game, catcher Ray Fosse was standing next to home plate and Pete Rose ran him over and dislocated his shoulder.  Fosse did not have the ball and didn’t seem to me to be “in the act of fielding the ball.”  He also seemed defenseless.  Rose clearly could have gotten into home plate without clobbering Fosse.  If Fosse had hit Rose it would have been obstruction and Rose would have been awarded home plate.  But, this is a swinging door that only swings in one direction.

If the catcher has the ball and has placed himself in such a position that there is no place for the runner to go, I can understand the collision.  Sliding into a shin guard won’t get you there.  An impact intended to jar the ball loose seems appropriate.  But not a forearm to the side of the head.

Assuming there is one young future catcher out there reading this, please stay on your feet when you make the tag.  You can maneuver much better from your feet and if you have to dive to make the tag, you can cover more distance from your feet.  Plus, your chance of getting you leg broken is much less.  I’ve looked at Giant catcher, Buster Posey, on his knees just before the collision that broke his lower left leg.  If he hadn’t been on his knees, he would have been OK.  I think the runner, Scott Cousins, could have slid around Posey, but under the present rules, there’s no requirement.  I love to say “good old fashion hard ball.”

Did I have collisions at the plate?  Of course.  I weighed 150 pounds and never got hurt.  Good old fashion hard ball doesn’t require you to be stupid.  My favorite play is the decoy.  You stand at home plate looking like there is no play at all.  Hand and glove are by your sides and you look annoyed.  Then, just as the ball arrives you spring into action.  You snatch the ball and pop the tag on the unsuspecting runner, who never even thought of sliding.

So what do I propose?  My suggestion is very limited.  First, I live in fear that someone out there who knows the rules is going to shoot me down by telling me what I am proposing is already covered.  If that happens, at least we will all be enlightened.  I suggest that something be added to the rules to protect the catcher’s head.  No shoulders or forearms to the head.  That would, at least, be a start.

Requiring the catcher to show part of the plate to the runner and for the runner to go for that part of the plate would be great, but I suspect too much to ask.  After all, we are talking about good old fashion hard ball.

Written be PJ Rice on

Baseball Stats Gone Wild

Computers are wonderful.  You can dump in a bunch of numbers and crunch them until you’re dizzy.  That is what is happening with baseball.  I know the commentators need to fill dead air, but shouldn’t there be some kind of regulator on the spigot.

“Bob, this is the 36th time that Wiffowitz has come to the plate with a man on first base and less than two outs.  And, he has only advanced the runner seven times.”  I quickly grabbed my calculator and determined that good old Wiffo has only advanced the runner 22% of the time.  What does that mean?  Who cares?  If Wiffo had bunted everytime, he would have advanced the runner probably over 80% and would be headed for Triple A ball.

I was watching a commercial for a smart phone and they were telling about how you could take all these photos and put them right on Facebook.  Thankfully they ended the commercial by saying that just because the smart phone gives you the power to do things doesn’t mean its a good idea.  Unfortunately the commercial came too late for Anthony Weiner.  But the message is not too late for baseball announcers.  Fine, you have all these idiotic stats, but is it a good idea to numb us with them?  “Jones is batting .317 in his last seven games” (I guarantee that he isn’t hitting .317 in his last eight games, or for that matter, the season).

Every player has a batting average.  That’s nice to know.  And it might be helpful to know his average against left handed pitchers and right handed pitchers.  I would also like to know if his average goes up or down when runners are in scoring position.  But please don’t tell me what his batting average is when the count is two balls and one strike.  Enough already!

I was listening to a commentator talk about our local team.  He mentioned that if the team only walked three or less batters, their earned run average (ERA) was 2.9.  But if the team walked four or more (9 is more than 4), then the ERA jumps to over 4.5.  I thought about that.  By the use of statistics, he had discovered that putting more men on base resulted in more men scoring.  Heavy stuff.

They now keep track of a player’s home run ratio.  It tells us whether a player hits a home run every 15th time at bat (on average) or, perhaps, every 32nd time.  I guess if Sluggo hits a home run every 15th time and he hasn’t hit a home run in his last 27 times, then the announcer can let us know, “He’s due.”  The truth is that Sluggo is probably in a slump.  But home team announcers are reticent to say that.  They will probably say, “He’s due.”

They have recently come up with a new stat.  OPS stands for On Base plus Slugging.  If you just think of a players on-base percentage (hits, walks, hit by pitch) divided by times at bat, you have half the formula.  The slugging percentage is total bases divided by times at bat.  You add the two stats together and you get OPS.  It must be significant because the all time OPS leader is Babe Ruth.  And they named a candy bar after him.

I’m for coming up with one more stat.  Let’s select the warning track power leader.  This would go to the guy who hits the most balls that are caught on the warning track (OK, we need to count the balls that hit on the track and are not caught).  To select the player with the best warning track power, we will have to deduct home runs from his total.  A player with true warning track power doesn’t hit home runs.  This is a work in progress.  I haven’t ironed out all the issues.  So far, I only have the abbreviation – WTP.

Written by PJ Rice on

Baseball’s Enigma (The Nats)

Yes, I’m a Washington National fan.  Hey, I live here.  I grew up in the St. Louis area, so the Cardinals are numero uno, but when the Nats are not playing the Cards, I’m a big time Nats fan.

I thought about entitling this article, “Nats Hit Like Gnats.”  But gnats can be pesky so I threw out that line.  There may be a team in the league that hits worse than the Nats, but I’m too lazy to look it up.  OK.  OK.  I looked it up and the Nats are the second worst.  As a Team they are hitting .225 and the lowly San Diego Padres are hitting .217.

I wonder if San Diego has three starters batting below the Mendoza line?  In last night’s line up, we started Adam La Roche (.181) at first base, Jerry Hairston (.190) in centerfield and Brian Bixler (.100) at third base.  Egads.  Hairston was playing for Rick Ankiel (.221).   Ankiel is a former Cardinal and a great centerfielder.  I said that last night each time the Phillies hit the ball over Hairston’s head.

In the outfield with Hairston were Jayson Werth (.226) and Mike Morse (.234).  Morse strikes out 31% of the time.  Sometimes he swings, sometimes he watches the last strike.  Well, at 31%, he is well above the Adam Dunn line.  Dunn struck out 199 times last season.  I wonder if he was going for 200 and the ball got in the way of his bat.  Dunn’s on a 40% pace this year, so if he stays healthy, he should rocket past 200.

Who have I left out of the starting line up?  Danny Espinosa (.219) at second base, Ian Desmond (.235) at shortstop and Pudge Rodriguez (.234) behind the plate.  Opposing pitchers must love to see the Nats come to town.

The question I had is do the Nats have a batting coach?  And, shouldn’t somebody put him on a suicide watch?  I looked him up and his name is Rick Eckstein.  He never played big league ball, but his brother, David, did.  So much for nepotism.

The announcers for the Nats never say anything bad about the team.  Last year the color commentator, Ron Dibble, complained about some of the players and their bonehead moves and Dibble was fired.  So now, when Morse takes a third strike, the announcer will say, “I think he had something in his eye.”

Here is where the egnima comes in.  The Nats have won about half of their games!  I can’t explain it.  Timely hitting?  Good base running?  Great pitching?  Smart defensive play?  Getting rid of Nyger Morgan?  Just lucky?  Take your pick.  But, somehow they have scratched out a number of wins.

Do the Nats have any good hitters?  Yes,  Ryan Zimmerman was hitting .357 before he tore an abdominal muscle sliding into a base and requiring surgery.  Don’t get me started on head-first slides.  If God had wanted us to slide head first, he would have put spikes on our caps.

Then there is a super young catcher named Wilson Ramos (.351).  He divides up the catching duties with Pudge.  I don’t blame Manager Jim Riggleman for playing both of them.  Pudge is a future Hall of Famer and great for the morale of the team.  It is just that Ramos is out hitting Pudge by 120 points and he is a hell of a player.

You want to know the up tick?  Almost all our players have higher career batting averages than what they are hitting this year.  Things have got to get better.  LaRoche (.181) and Werth (.226) both have lifetime batting averages of .270.  Maybe, just maybe, we are a warm weather team.  I got that gem from our announcers.

Written by PJ Rice at

Real Redskin Excitement

Yes, I am a Redskin fan.  Not a happy one.   One who suffers through the season.  I say things like, “If they don’t care, why should I.”  Then something goes right and I get all excited – just to be disappointed again.

I am old enough to remember all the excitement with the “over-the-hill gang.”  Watching Billy Kilmer (Old Furnace Face) follow his stomach up to the line of scrimmage.  Then there were the Super Bowl victories in the 80’s and early 90’s.  The glory days.  It’s been about 20 years.

Ever since Dan Snyder bought the team, it has been a joke.  And I don’t think it will change as long as he is in there tinkering (like a little kid with a toy – when he gets mad, he breaks it).  Does he want a Super Bowl team?  Desperately.  Does he have a clue?  Absolutely not.  Letting his crony, Vinny Cerreto, run the team.  Hiring Jim Zorn as the coach; then shaming him in the middle of the season to try to get him to quit (just to save some money).  Everything seems to be more about Snyder than the team.

Then it dawned on me.  There is still an exciting Redskin season every year.  It starts in February and runs till late summer.  It is only when they take the field against an opponent that I see the house of cards crumbling.

But during the off season, all kinds of exciting things happen.  Like getting a new coach.  Since Snyder took over, we get a new head coach on average better than once every two years.  Exciting names like Shottenheimer, Spurrier and Gibbs.  Marty Shottenheimer lost the first five games his only season with us (So did Joe Gibbs before he took us to the Super Bowl).  He had a reputation for being a tough, successful coach.  Some of the players complained that he wasn’t treating them with the respect they deserved.  After he convinced them that he was in charge, they won eight of their last 11 games.  Snyder fired him.

Snyder brought in Steve Spurrier, the Ball Coach.  I had always been a Spurrier fan.  It turned out he wasn’t ready for pro ball.  He seemed to be clueless.  Everyone in the stadium, the announcers and even the TV fans could see a blitz coming.  But the Ball Coach had called a deep pass and that was that.  Before the wide receiver even made his break, the quarterback was on his rear.  At the end of the first year (7-9), I was still convinced that the Ball Coach would turn things around.  I said, “He was duped and he is too good a coach to let that happen two years in a row.  We won five games the next season.  The Ball Coach took his $50 million and joined the Augusta Country Club.

Joe Gibbs will always be my favorite coach.  But even he couldn’t win with Snyder looking over his shoulder.  Poor Jim Zorn.  He happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when Snyder had chased away all the legitimate candidates for head coach.  Zorn had the same two-year record as the Ball Coach (12-20)!

Now we have Mike Shanahan.  While his first season was 6 & 10, we Redskin fans never give up hope.  Onward and upward.

Changing coaches isn’t the only thing that happens in the best part of our season.  Two years ago, we paid $100 million for Albert Haynesworth.  That was exciting.  The problem was he was out of shape and didn’t play that much (he got tired).  Then, when Coach Shanahan came on board, we switched to a 3/4 defense (three men down and four linebackers).  Haynesworth would have been a pretty good nose tackle (plays right over the offensive center), but he didn’t want to play that position.   Shanahan made all of his players pass a physical fitness test to show they were in shape.  Haynesworth failed and failed and failed.  Breaking news in the DC area was Albert had passed the test and could now practice.  Then, he announced he only wanted to play on passing downs.  Things went down hill fast.  Then, he told the GM that he wanted no more direct contact with Coach Shanahan!  Goodbye Albert.

Last year during the exciting part of our season, we traded for Donovan McNabb.  We were getting a Pro-Bowl quarterback.  The problem was that a good QB needs a good line in front of him.  We didn’t have one.  Shanahan inexplicably benched McNabb in the Detroit game (which we still had a chance to win & McNabb had a reputation for bringing his team back).  Of course, we lost.  The very next week, Snyder signed Donovan to an extended $78.5 million contract.  Donovan should have read the fine print.  Only $3.5 million was guaranteed and I suspect that is all McNabb will see.

Now we have the draft coming up.  That’s an important part of our exciting non-playing season.  Of course, we usually have traded away our draft picks.  This year we have our first and second round picks, but no third or fourth round picks.  And who will we pick?  A QB?  A wide receiver?  I hope not.  We desperately need someone who plays in the sand on offense or defense.  We can use help in both places.

I have to go and start thinking about the draft.  Egads, this is exciting.  I shouldn’t have another set back until the first pre-season game.

Washington Capitals, Celebration, Castigation, Huh?

On March 19, 2009, the Washington Capitals beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.  In the first period, Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals’ star and last year’s league MVP notched his 50th goal.  After the goal, he celebrated by dropping his stick and acting as if it were too hot to pick up.  If we were talking about the NFL, this would not be worth mentioning, but in hockey, you can knock out the opponent’s front teeth, but you shouldn’t be over zealous in celebrating a goal.

The coach for Tampa Bay is Rick Tocchet.  He was upset about the celebration and said, “I grew up in the old days in the Spectrum [Philly arena] where in the first period, after that happened, it might have been a three-hour first period.”  There are three periods in a hockey game.  Each lasts twenty minutes on the clock.  It usually takes 30 – 40 minutes to play a period.  Tocchet’s three-hour period would have consisted mostly of brawling.  Blood on the ice is consistent with hockey etiquette.

The name Rick Tocchet sets me off.  Back in March 1997 (so what if it was 12 years ago), the Capitals entered into a trade with Boston which brought Adam Oates and Rick Tocchet to Washington.  Oates showed up and became a big part of the Capitals.  Tocchet let it be known that he didn’t want to be here and left the first chance he got.  He mentioned that he had played in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Boston and wanted to play where there was a rich hockey tradition.  I felt bad, but I understood that Washington, back then, did not have a “rich hockey tradition.”  So where did Tocchet go?  He went to Phoenix!  In the term “rich hockey tradition,” the emphasis was on the word “rich.”  Where will I get the most bucks.

My personal view on the “hot stick celebration” is that it was probably too close to the Tampa Bay goalie.  Using an NFL analogy, you don’t spike the football at the feet of the defensive safety.  I don’t think there was any intention to embarrass the goalie, but, Alex, move a little farther away.  But to have Rick Tocchet playing the roll of the righteous indignant observer boggles my mind.

In February 2006, Tocchet was served with a criminal complaint accusing him of financing a nationwide sports gambling ring based in New Jersey.  Janet Jones, the Great Gretzky’s wife, was also charged.  In May 2006, Tocchet and Jones notified New Jersey that they intended to sue for 50 million dollars for defamation (back before the Obama Administration, that used to be a lot of money).  Anyway, the ploy didn’t work.

On May 25, 2007, Tocchet pleaded guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling.  It’s unfortunate when one is caught conducting criminal activity, but if someone is over zealous in celebrating a goal, then one is required to indignantly speak out.

Tocchet said that Ovechkin “went down a notch in my books.”  Well, I only have one such book and Tocchet can’t get much lower.  I will try not to be too over zealous in my celebration when Tampa Bay (24-52) fires him.

Winning Isn’t Everything (Unless You’re in Mortal Combat)

When I was a little kid, I couldn’t stand to lose.  If losing was inevitable, I would take my bat and ball and go home.  Crying all the way.  By the time I got to high school, I didn’t cry as much, but I was still a fanatic about winning.  I believed if you treated winning as a life or death struggle, you would seldom lose.  I still believe there is a modicum of truth in that statement.

In high school, I played basketball with the same intensity as I played football.  An albino kid from up state was trying to go by me on a fast break.  I tried to plant a block.  But as he slipped by me, I slipped my hip into him.  My attitude was, if you don’t know how to fall, you have no business on the floor.  Well, he didn’t know how to fall and we had to delay the game until he woke up.  By the time he woke up, I was on the bench.  It was the only time my dad ever told me that what I had done was bad.  I was stunned.  My best supporter.  It was bad enough being booed by my home town crowd.

Today, I still try to win.  I want to win very much, but I try to do it without making an ass out of myself.  This is quite an improvement over high school.

When I was appointed as Chief Counsel at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), I discovered that we had a softball team.  The Chief Counsel’s Office would play against other NHTSA teams, Rulemaking or Plans and Policy or Research and Development.  The second game I played, I almost got in a fight with one of the players from Plans and Policy.  We made up the next day, but I felt terrible.  Here I was, a high level government official and acting like a jerk.

I had a meeting the next afternoon with all my teammates (they all worked for me).  I told them I had some good news and some bad news.  I told them the good news was that as people got older, they relaxed and were not as intense as they were when they were young.  The bad news was that I had already passed through that stage and what they saw yesterday was the more relaxed, less intense guy.  Some of them shuddered.

I apologized and told them it wouldn’t happen again.  My new mantra was, if you can keep from getting hurt and not show your ass, then, by all means, win.  I have had good luck with this new approach.

Now days, in some leagues for younger kids, they don’t keep score.  Of course, the little kids do keep score.  They just have to figure it out in their heads.  Who are these characters who have decided its bad to keep score.  I don’t believe losing teams will be scarred for life.  I’ll bet the people who decided not to keep score lost a lot of games when they were kids.

Vince Lombardi wanted his team to win, and they usually did.  But somehow it has become politically incorrect to say the most important thing for this team to do is to win.  Everyone knows it is important.  Coaches get fired when their teams don’t win.

Coaches now say, “I just want my boys to go out and have fun.”  Go out and have fun?  How do you go out and have fun?  If you get your butt kicked, is that fun?  What if you outplay the other team, but they get all the breaks and beat you?  Is that fun?  Can you think of any scenario where you lose the game, but you have fun?  I’ll tell you what I think.  I think “having fun” is a code word for “winning.”

Picture this.  A team just lost a heart breaker, but some of the guys are joking around in the locker room.  Having fun!  The coach comes in and says, “What’s going on?”  The players say, “Coach, we’re just having fun.”  Then the coach says, “Of course, what was I thinking?  Please have some fun.  Don’t mind me.  I’m just going into my office and cut my wrists.”