Now there's a novel idea for your average Major League player during this time of year: Just hit pitches, and then you won't have to worry about whether the ball is maybe a centimeter outside. Better yet, just shut up before, during and after you leave the on-deck circle and approach the plate with an offensive mindset instead of a defensive one. Just remember the things your Little League coach used to tell you about protecting the plate and swinging at anything close with two strikes on the count.
Just play better, period.
If you do those things more often than not, you won't have to fret over what the umpire does or doesn't call behind the plate.
Exhibit A: The Royals are meeting the Orioles in the American League Championship Series, and the Cardinals will face the Giants in pursuit of the NL pennant. They all got this far by doing everything I just said, but only in their own little way. In contrast, the Dodgers and the Nationals are among those still whining somewhere with the bat on their shoulder.
During their American League Division Series, the Tigers complained about the pitcher-friendly strike zone of umpires in their opening two games against the Orioles -- you know, the same pitcher-friendly strike zone that Tigers pitchers enjoyed. With an imploding bullpen at the end of both of those games, you would think the Tigers would have been more concerned about that than umpiring.
Well, you would think.
In the other ALDS matchup between the Angels and the Royals, the Angels complained about a called third strike on Erick Aybar in the bottom of the 11th of Game 1, because they thought he checked his swing. Who knows, and who cares? The Angels had more pressing issues, since sluggers Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton vanished at the plate during that game and others along the way to getting shoved into the offseason by the Royals.
The NLDS wasn't immune to grumbling about some of this and a lot of that regarding umpires. Even now, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond will tell you that he checked his swing on a called third strike Tuesday night in San Francisco in the top of the ninth of his team's fourth and final game in the series. A few days earlier, Nationals second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera had a helmet-slamming fit after he was called out on a third strike. Not only was Cabrera ejected from the game, but so was Nationals manager Matt Williams.
Yep, it was the umps, all right, and not the Nationals failing for the second time in three years to find ways with their bats, arms, legs and gloves to reach the NLCS, despite having the league's best record both times.
Then there was Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp telling reporters after his team was eliminated by the Cardinals that home-plate umpire Dale Scott needed glasses or something Monday in St. Louis.
"Terrible, terrible strike zone," Kemp said, serving as the unofficial spokesperson for many in the Dodgers clubhouse. "I've never seen anything like it. That's disappointing because you've got guys out there battling. You know, this is two good teams going at it, and it's supposed to be the teams, not the umpire, and I just feel like the umpire took the bat out of our hands today. He had a very generous strike zone. It's hard to face good pitching when you've got a guy throwing a ball in the other batter's box, and it's called strikes."
Yeah, well . . . swing the bat.
Just like those on the other team that won.
I have no patience with umpiring bashing. Contrary to what many believe, it is astounding how rarely Major League umpires are wrong. It's just that we live in a world of instant replay and of 24/7 sports channels, where they spend entire news cycles (and often more often than that) showing the most dramatic gaffes of umpires and of referees. There also are all of those strange-sounding analytical Internet sites that can tell you everything you wanted to know about an umpire, along with stuff you wouldn't think of knowing.
You've got the umpire pages at Baseball Prospectus and oddsshark.com, and you have baseball savant.com, portal.closecallsports.com and several more for folks with too much time on their hands.
The late Eric Gregg wouldn't have a chance these days. That is, if he wanted to stay off of ESPN SportsCenter. Gregg was noted for the widest of strike zones, and that never was more apparent than his work behind the plate during the 1997 NLCS between the Braves and the Marlins.
One by one, Braves hitters stepped into the batter's box with either little or no intention of adjusting to Gregg's strike zone, and one by one, they made a U-turn back to the dugout with angry looks. Just like those associated with the Dodgers, the Nationals and others these days, those 1997 Braves grumbled loudly about how the home-plate umpire did them wrong.
Those 1997 Marlins had the same Gregg strike zone, but they adjusted, and they swung their bats, and guess what?
They eventually won a World Series championship.