Not Yet

These are the times that try sports fans’ souls…

Well, okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But honestly, this is the second-worst week of the year. The first, of course, begins the moment the third out is made in the last game of the World Series.

But this one, the one that began when pitchers and catchers started to report to their teams’ training camps, isn’t far behind.

Why? Because, despite what so many people on the Internet and assorted traditional media would have you believe, baseball is not back.

Yes, those who follow college baseball have a different perspective. Their seasons are already in progress. Those of us who don’t root for a college team have to wait.

The first pre-season game involving a major league team–the Arizona Diamondbacks facing the Arizona State University Sun Devils*–isn’t until Wednesday afternoon.

* Does anyone else find it as amusing as I do how heavily the Diamondbacks have stacked the deck in their own favor? Not only do they have the home field advantage, but ASU can’t even use their whole squad–they’re listed as sending a split squad, i.e. their backup players, even though they don’t have a Pac-12 game that day.

The first game available to those of us outside of Arizona and Florida isn’t until Thursday, when the Minnesota Twins host the University of Minnesota Gophers. It looks like the radio broadcast will be streamed through MLB.com (and, one presumes, the MLB app), but I don’t think the TV broadcast will be available anywhere but in Minnesota.

Friday, we’ll finally get the first games between major league clubs. There are fifteen on the schedule, and some of them will be televised outside of the teams’ respective markets.

It won’t be good baseball. The first exhibition games are always rough. Star players often don’t appear at all, and players never stay in for more than a couple of innings*.

* “What, never?” “Well, hardly ever.”

But no matter how sloppy it turns out to be, it’ll still be baseball. In ballparks and on our TVs, radios, and other media consumption devices.

Almost all of the stories we’ll get between now and then, designed to convince us baseball is back, will be nonsense. Nobody cares who’s “in the best shape of his life.” Nobody really cares that Pitcher X, coming off of surgery, took the mound: we expect he did, and as long as he doesn’t re-injure himself, tossing a double-handful of pitches is irrelevant to our view of the world.

In a normal year, the free agent signings would be, by and large, over with by now; this year, for the most part, they’re not happening. Either way, it’s thin gruel to tide us over until Friday.

20-1We’ll get there. As the saying goes, “Hang in there, Baby. Friday’s coming.*”

* I used to own a copy of that poster, back in the dim reaches of history. I’d love to get a new copy, but not at the prices they’re going for on eBay these days.

Not all of the current news is useless. We now know there won’t be a pitch clock in MLB this year–no promises for next year, though.

And, if you’re following the saga of the Athletics’ search for a new stadium, you’ll no doubt be interested to hear BART has definitively ruled out the possibility of building a new stadium near the team’s second choice location. That’s a bit of schadenfreude that’ll keep me entertained until at least Thursday morning.

But actual baseball? Still a few days away.

Signs of Progress

Multiple sources are reporting that the Cleveland Indians are parting ways with Chief Wahoo. Well, mostly. Effective with the 2019 season, the logo–which USA Today describes rather redundantly as “racist and offensive*”–will be removed from the teams’ uniforms and from all their online sales venues.

* Do you suppose Bob Nightengale, the article’s author, can name anything racist that isn’t offensive?

Some team merchandise featuring Chief Wahoo will still be available at the park and nearby, a move described as necessary to prevent third-parties from taking over the trademark and image and marketing it more widely.

Needless to say, the agreement is widely hated. A substantial segment of Cleveland’s fanbase is up in arms over the loss of their treasured tradition, while opponents of the logo are upset that the ban is neither immediate nor total.

To both groups, I say, “Tough. Live with it.”

There’s nothing stopping pro-logo fans from making asses of themselves by continuing to show up in red face paint and historically-inaccurate headdresses. (Though, come to think of it, I’d love to see how the team would handle a complaint under Progressive Field’s code of conduct, which bans “inappropriate dress” and states that “Inappropriate or offensive images or words must be covered or removed from the ballpark”.)

On the other side, well, we live in an imperfect world. And, while it often seems as if it’s becoming less perfect all the time, this is a step in the right direction. I’d like to see the changes happen faster, but I’m happy to see them happen at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if the logos start disappearing from the uniforms this year. If a couple of pitchers requested it as part of their choice of uniforms, management might decide to cash in on the public relations benefits of eliminating it earlier.

Until racism is completely eliminated, the logo won’t be going away. Look how well we’ve done at eliminating swastikas in the last sixty years.

There’s also the question of the team name. I could be wrong, but I don’t see a name change coming any time soon. If nothing else, the cost would be immense, and I suspect it would take a massive boycott of the ballpark, the TV and radio broadcasts, and anyone who advertises with the team to encourage ownership to make that huge investment.

So this is a baby step. But baby steps are still steps. Let’s celebrate the fact that the baby is walking, rather than than stressing because the baby isn’t going to be skiing in next month’s Olympics.

HOF 2018

As usual, the Hall of Fame election results leaned toward the obvious.

Did anybody seriously doubt that Chipper Jones and Jim Thome wouldn’t be elected in their first years of eligibility? Or that Vlad Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman wouldn’t make it this year after last year’s near misses?

One thing that did surprise me: the plan to make all ballots public got scrapped. That means we’ll probably never know who gave sympathy votes to Chris Carter and Kerry Wood (two votes each) and Livan Hernandez and Carlos Lee (one vote each). Did anybody think those four were likely to be elected? Or even garner enough votes to stay on the ballot another year?

Another surprise: Jamie Moyer won’t be on the ballot next year. I didn’t expect him to make it into the Hall of Fame, at least not via the Baseball Writers Association of America balloting. But I did think he’d do better than ten votes, just under half of the five percent needed to stay on the list another year.

That’s a real disappointment, and I hope the Veterans’ Committee steps up. His path to success was unconventional, but to my mind, that makes his elevation to the shrine of role models all the more important.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the ballot, there were no major surprises, and only one minor surprise. I’ll get to the latter in a moment.

Last year I noted that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens had made significant upward movement in the voting, but that I didn’t expect them to move much further this year. And it appears I was correct. In 2017, Bonds scored 53.8% of the votes and Clemens had 54.1%. This year, they managed 56.4% and 57.3%, respectively.

Upward movement, yes, but not a whole lot. They’ve each got four more years of eligibility remaining, but there would have to be a major change in the voters’ perception of steroid use to give them a realistic shot.

Then there’s Curt Schilling. Last year his number dropped from 52.3% to 45% on the strength of voter reaction to his racist and anti-transgender posts. I expected a bit of a bounce-back, but apparently didn’t allow enough for anti-asshole sentiment. This year he lost another 1.1%. (He also seems to have dropped any idea of running for the Senate, which may be just as well for his sense of self-worth. Massachusetts seems unlikely to swing that far right in the next nine months. But I digress.) I still find that disappointing. There’s certainly no shortage of racist, sexist assholes in the Hall already; the character clause has always been honored more in the breach than the observation. Vote on his performance, guys.

The modest surprise–or perhaps, pair of surprises–is Edgar Martinez. Vote trackers and predictors were in agreement that he would almost certainly do better than last year’s 58.6%. The surprise, at least to me, was how much better he did. 70.4% is a very healthy jump.

The unhappy part of the surprise is how close he came: 20 more would have done the trick. I hope none of those sympathy votes were awarded by voters who left Edgar off the ballot.

Ah, well. He’s got one more year of eligibility, and as several writers have already pointed out, nobody has ever gotten 70% of the vote without eventually making it. I cheer for a lot of “first time ever” happenings in baseball–good and bad–but Edgar not picking up that last five percent would be one I’ve got no desire to see.

Batter Up

We’re about a month away from the beginning of Spring Training–pitchers and catchers report around February 15, depending on their team, and position players come in the following week–so it’s probably time for me to toss out a few thoughts on the upcoming season. Consider it my way of getting into shape before uncredentialed bloggers report.

I’ve seen several reports lately that MLB is planning to unilaterally institute a pitch clock in the majors this year.

Mark me down as neutral on that idea. I’ve seen several minor league games using it, and it really doesn’t get in the way. I’m not sure it speeds games up enough to matter, but I don’t think it hurts the quality of play enough to matter either.

There are already rules in place to limit how long the batter can delay between pitches. They were enforced when they were first introduced–2015, if memory serves–and they did make a noticeable, if minor, difference.

As long as those rules are enforced along with the pitcher’s clock, so defense and offense are subject to the same strictures, I’m willing to take the clock as a given and see how it works out on the field.

Moving on.

Another issue I’ve seen raised multiple times lately is the imbalance between what players are paid and what owners make. For example, Nathaniel Grow, points out that player payroll fell from 56% of league revenue in 2002 to 38% in 2015.

Naturally the players would like more. Hell, I’d like publishers to pay authors more. You probably want a raise too.

But let’s keep a couple of things in mind here. First, Nathan himself notes that 2002 was a record high for salaries as a percent of league revenue. That means the decline puts the current level in line with historic levels. And second, 38% just isn’t that low a number. Over at bizfluent, Elaine Severs states that “Most businesses should shoot for salaries in the 30 percent to 38 percent range…”.

Put another way, how many corporations are there where the CEO doesn’t make several hundred times as much as the average employee?

I’m not suggesting that income inequity is fair, nor do I think the owners couldn’t afford to give players more. It just strikes me as odd that there are so many complaints about the inequity in baseball, when the numbers are right in line with the rest of American business.

Granted, MLB is an unusual case–its anti-monopoly exemption guarantees it–but still.

The usual counter to ravings like mine is something along the lines of “Baseball could exist without the players, so they should get the bulk of the money.”

A doesn’t necessarily imply B here, but okay, let’s run with that.

Popular music couldn’t exist without the performers, so they should get the bulk of the money. Books couldn’t exist without the authors, so they should get the bulk of the money. Schools couldn’t exist without the studentsteachers, so they should get the bulk of the money. Food couldn’t exist without the farmers, so they should get the bulk of the money.

Need I go on?

Let’s face it, underpaying* the producers is a key tenet of American business. (And under the current regime, it’s only going to get more pronounced–but that’s beside the point.)

* As seen by those producers, of course.

That’s what leads to businesses closing when the minimum wage increases, even if the increase still leaves recipients with too little to cover the necessities of life. (Note: As the New York Times points out, that effect may be more perception than reality.)

It’s a systemic problem, and IMNSHO, one we should all be working to solve. But is baseball really where we should be starting?

SAST 08

First things first. Hard as it may be to believe sometimes, this blog is intended to showcase and sell my writing. That means you’re going to get an occasional commercial message.

I’ll be at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento on Saturday, November 18. There’s no plan for a formal book signing, but the festival store will have copies of The RagTime Traveler, and I’ll be happy to sign them.

Moving on.

Thanks to everyone who voted Tuesday. As I’ve said before, here and elsewhere, we elect people to represent our interests, and elections are how we tell them what our interests are.

Or–to put it in terms the current administration should understand, given their focus on business–elections are their annual review, where we, the employers, tell them how well or poorly they’re doing their job, and what the prospects are for a raise next year.

Tuesday’s election suggests that they’re running a solid “Failed to Meet Expectations” and even a cost of living adjustment is iffy.

My Google News feed is still toxic, but at least I feel like someone’s distributing hazmat suits.

Moving on.

The other big news Tuesday was, regrettably, the death of Roy Halladay.

I’ll admit up front I didn’t know him or follow his career. But by everything I can see, he was one of the good guys, on the field and off.

“Any man’s death diminishes me,” and Mr. Halladay’s death diminishes us all more than most. I love to see anyone, especially someone as visible as Mr. Halladay, working to help others. He was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award multiple times during his playing days, and he continued his charitable work after his retirement.

And finally, just to end on a cheerier note, I see that Pope Francis has banned the sale of cigarettes at the Vatican. The statement announcing the move says “the Holy See cannot contribute to an activity that clearly damages the health of people.”

It’s interesting that he didn’t also ban the sale of alcohol, but I still like the tobacco ban. I don’t support a world-wide total ban on tobacco products–prohibition doesn’t work–but if this is the first step in a program to encourage Catholics to give up smoking, it’s an idea I can get behind.

Darkness Descends

Two thirds correct, but it’s that remaining thirty-three and a third percent that’s the important part.

So, yeah, as I said Tuesday, I did predict one of the two World Series teams. Unfortunately for my reputation as a scientific prognosticator, that team was the Dodgers. I also correctly called them as the ultimate losers.

Oh, heck, I’ll even give myself credit for predicting a “tight, high scoring, seven game World Series”. Game Five aside, it wasn’t that high-scoring, but it certainly was tight, and it did go seven games. Call it an overall seventy percent success rate.

But in the final analysis, I picked the Twins to win it all. Yeah, the Twins. The team who squeezed into the playoffs as the second AL Wild Card and proceeded to get slaughtered by the (pfui!) Yankees.

It was a great series, even if it didn’t get extended to nine or more games. And, despite the disappointment of the fans of the twenty-nine teams that didn’t win the World Series–especially the twenty teams that didn’t even make the playoffs–it was a good year. Because even a year of losing baseball is better than a year of no baseball.

Onward into the Great Darkness.

Free agents can begin signing with any team next week. The Winter Meetings are next month. Spring Training is about three and a half months away. And Opening Day is March 29.

Interesting note: Every team’s first game will be on Opening Day in 2018, thanks in large part to the Players’ Association bargaining for a few more off days during the season. That might make my job of predicting the winners a little easier. Not more accurate, mind you, but easier.

In any case, we do have a few baseball matters to occupy ourselves with during those long stretches of No Baseball. Aside from the usual “What’s Manfred going to do to ‘make the game more exciting’?” discussions, it’s beginning to look like expansion is a real possibility.

There are a lot of potential advantages to adding one team to each league, not the least of which is the chance to realign the divisions. Nobody seems to think keeping the current three divisions in each league is a great idea; that would mean two five-team divisions and one six-team division. Awkward.

So the hottest discussion in baseball right now (after whether the ball has changed) is whether to go with two eight-team or four four-team divisions.

I’ll have more to say about expansion and realignment later, but it’s sure going to be nice to have a distraction from arguments over computerized umpires calling balls and strikes.

SAST 07

Happy Halloween!

We’re not planning to give out any candy this year–although we do have a couple of emergency bags in case someone shows up despite our best efforts to look like we’re not home.

There’s no particular reason we’re being anti-social, just a general lack of holiday spirit.

Beyond that, I am a little distracted at the moment. I’m neck deep in the third draft of Like Herding Cats–I’m hoping to finish before Thanksgiving–and I’m starting to run into the places where I got lazy in Draft 2. See, Draft 2 is written with a pen. On paper. So if I need to add a lengthy stretch of new text, I’ll often just make a note to myself: [Hey, Fred needs to explain why painting City Hall blue was a good idea.]

It’s not that I don’t know why it was a good idea. I just don’t want to have to read and transcribe half a page of my scribbles. And so I defer it to Draft 3, which gets done on the computer.

The downside is that it’s kind of like freeway driving at rush hour in a car with a manual transmission. Cruising along at twenty mph, transcribing the Draft 2 changes. Come to a complete halt while I check my notes–was it robin’s egg blue or sapphire blue–and then creep along at ten mph while I write the scene.

And then get off two exits down the road and circle back because I just came up with a great line that has to go into the new scene.

Anyway, distraction. So you get a bit of a Short Attention Span Theater for Halloween.

Moving on.

Am I the only person out there who got a scam spam of the 419 type from “Jeff Sessions Attorney General” recently?

I know the Trump administration is, shall we say, a trifle challenged, ethically-speaking. But really, Jeff, there are faster, easier, and–dare I say it–even legaler methods to separate fools from their money.

Now, you may say it’s probably not Mr. Sessions sending out these letters, and you’re probably right. Perhaps it’s some flunky in the Justice Department trying to curry favor–or line his pockets at the boss’ expense.

But there’s an more likely explanation. Read the letter I got:

Now ask yourself: who in the current administration is well-known for cranking out dozens of grammatically-suspect, logic-deficient electronic missives in the middle of the night?

Yup.

Donald, put down your phone and go play golf.

Moving on.

A sneak peek at Thursday’s final summation of how I did in predicting the playoffs: I got one of the two World Series teams right. Go, me!

As others have pointed out, it’s far too soon to anoint this the Best! World! Series! Ever! But it’s not too early to say it’s been a great one so far. Close games, mostly not decided until the final inning. Lots of home runs, some interesting strategic decisions to argue about, and a fascinating sideshow in the Yuli Gurriel and Bruce Maxwell stories.

We’re getting Game Six tonight and, if the Dodgers do us a solid, Game Seven tomorrow.

But.

I don’t know about you, but I’m having so much fun with this series, I don’t think even seven games will be enough. I’m hereby petitioning Commissioner Manfred to extend the World Series to twenty-three games. If we alternate two games in each city with a travel day in between, that’ll wrap it up with Game Twenty-Three on November 24, the day after Thanksgiving.

Let’s not forget that Los Angeles and Houston are warm weather cities. No worries about games getting snowed out. And really, isn’t twelve a much more satisfying number than four?

And the best part: consider the advertising tie-ins! Everyone can watch that climactic Game Twenty-Seven on the new TV they picked up that morning in a Black Friday sale.

What do you say? Who’s with me?

Go, Uh…

We’ve arrived at the season after the season, i.e. playoff time. I’m posting this today to give you all time to run down to the mall or get your overnight-shipping orders in: the first game of the playoffs is tomorrow, and you want to have a cap, shirt, or big foam finger for your guys when you kick back in front of the TV, right?

As usual, my congratulations to those of you who normally root for teams that made it into the playoffs. Y’all can come back Thursday; today’s post is for those of us who need to pick someone to root for.

Remember, this has nothing to do with predicting the World Series champion. (I did that back in April. It’s going to be the Twins.) This is about where we invest our emotions for the next month.

The first five rules haven’t changed since last year, but I’ve clarified a point of confusion and contention. Rule Six, of course, has had a significant change.

Rules for Rooting, 2017 edition

  1. Unless it’s the team you follow during the regular season, you must not root for any team that has been promoted as “America’s Team” or otherwise held up by its owners and/or the media as the ultimate expression of the sport.
  2. You should not root for a team from your own team’s division.
  3. That said, you really ought to root for somebody from your own league. Crossing the league boundary without a really good excuse is in bad taste.
  4. Possession of team merchandise with sentimental value OR a history of following a favorite player from team to team trumps Rules Two and Three. It does not override Rule One. Nothing overrides Rule One.
  5. Teams with a record of futility or legitimate “misfit” credentials get bonus points in the decision process. A record of futility means multiple losing seasons, a lengthy stretch without a playoff appearance and/or title, or a generation-long demonstration of the ability to choke in the clutch. What constitutes legitimate misfittery is up to you. Be honest with yourself.
  6. All other rules notwithstanding, you are always free to root for the CubsIndians. By virtue of winning it all last year and holding together well enough to make the playoffs this year, Chicago has forfeited their position as the council of desperation. That role is now filled by Cleveland, holders of a sixty-eight season World Series championship drought.

So let’s break it down.

The American League playoff teams are Boston, New York, Cleveland, Minnesota, and Houston.

As always, I’m tempted to invoke Rule One on the Red Sox, and this year they don’t have the David Ortiz farewell tour to swing sentiment in their favor. So out they go. Blame ESPN. The Yankees, of course, are also banned under Rule One.

None of the teams, IMNSHO, qualify as misfits. As for futility, we’ve got the Indians under Rule Six and the Twins by virtue of their 103 loss season last year, which capped a run of losing seasons (only one year over .500 since 2011).

So, if you normally root for a team in the AL East or West, take your pick between Cleveland or Minnesota. AL Central fans, your only choice is Houston. Sorry.

Over in the National League, we’ve got an interesting slate: Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Arizona, and Colorado.

Rule One clearly applies to the Nationals. The Dodgers are still flirting with a Rule One ban, but since so much of the media attention this year was legitimate–their run at the single season win record, followed by their epic slump in August and September–I’ll give them a pass again this year.

As in the AL, there are no obvious “misfit” candidates. As for futility, the best we can do is the Rockies, who’ve never won a World Series–but then, the team’s only been around since 1993. Twenty-four years isn’t much compared to the Astros’ fifty-five year career without a Series victory.

So your choices are straightforward: if you normally follow the NL West, you get the Cubbies as they try to repeat. NL Central and East fans, take the Rockies. They just squeaked into the playoffs, not clinching until the next-to-last day of the season, and they could use some love.

That leaves you unaffiliated folks. You can align yourself with a team based on where you live, and then follow the above guidelines. Or you can just make the easy choice and root for Cleveland.

Me? As a Mariners fan, I get to do the Indians/Twins coin flip. Or I could go with my fallback Giants and Mets, which would leave me cheering for the Cubs. Given those choices, I’m all-in on the Twins.

And, naturally, rooting for seven-game series all the way; Division Series, Championship Series, and World Series alike.

My Twins take on the Yankees at 5:00 Pacific tomorrow as they start their march to the title. I can’t wait!

Regression

Okay, so the regular season isn’t quite over, but we’re pretty close. Everybody’s last game will be Sunday afternoon. And, while the playoff lineup isn’t quite set, it’s close. Darn close, as in “could be settled by tomorrow”. So let’s get the postmortem on my predictions out of the way. If you don’t care about my prognostications, come back Tuesday when I’ll tell you who to root for in the post-season.

Getting the most depressing news out of the way first, none of the teams I follow regularly made the playoffs. The Mariners have extended their “no playoff” streak to sixteen years*; the Mets missed out on winning their division by a mere twenty-six games or so; the Orioles are, as of this writing, nine games under .500; and the best the Giants can say about their season is that it’s mathematically impossible for them to lose more than 100 games (if they manage to win one of their last three, they’ll keep the loss total to double digits–a pyrrhic victory if I’ve ever seen one).

* Two years ago, they were eliminated on the last day of the season. Last year, it was the day before the last. This year it was a week before the end of the season. Moving in the wrong direction, guys!

Worse, I predicted most of those debacles. On the face of it, that means my overall predictions should look good, right? Well…

As you may recall, last year I picked seven of the ten playoff teams and this year I was shooting for nine.

My picks in the NL–and I’m not even going to bother talking about division winners versus wild cards–were the Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers, Rockies, and Nationals.

We already know the story on the Mets. The Cardinals could still make the playoffs. If they win their last four games and the Rockies lose their last three, St. Louis will be in the playoffs and Colorado will be out. The odds at this point favor the Rockies. The dark horse here is the Brewers. It would take an unlikely combination of Brewers wins and Rockies losses for Milwaukee to make the playoffs. It could happen, but for the sake of this post, I’m going to assert that Colorado will be the second NL Wild Card team.

And my other two NL picks, the Dodgers and Nationals, nailed down their playoff berths weeks ago.

So, unless the Brewers pull off a major upset, I’m three for five in the National League. (If the Cardinals pull off an even bigger upset, they’ll be in and the Rockies will be out, so no change in my score.) So much for 90% accuracy.

Moving on to the AL, I called the Rays, Twins, Astros, Indians, and Tigers. All of those races are settled; there’s no chance of a change between now and Sunday in the AL. Picture me wincing.

The Indians, Astros, and Twins are in, but Tampa Bay is currently half a game behind Seattle. While they could theoretically finish a mere two games under .500 (the same as Seattle), that’s not even respectable. But they’re still better off than Detroit, who are currently fighting San Francisco for the worst record in baseball.

Three out of five in the AL as well.

Six out of ten overall, a slight regression from last year–with the slim possibility of the Brewers dropping that to five out of ten, a regression all the way back to my 2015 prediction.

One final note: You may remember that I looked at revising my predictions based on the first week’s play. Had I done so, I would have correctly called the Yankees and Red Sox as playoff teams in the AL–but would have incorrectly picked the Angels and White Sox. So I would have still been three for five in the Americal League. Similarly, over in the National League, I would have added the Cubs and Diamondbacks to the list, but only at the cost of adding the Phillies and Reds, neither of whom will even come close to .500. Again, three for five. A longer baseline, it seems, does nothing to improve the accuracy of the tool.

I will, of course, continue to refine my methodology. It’s something to do during the long, dark months of the off-season.

Are We There Yet?

A bit of weirdness went down at the Oakland Coliseum yesterday.

Over on the East Coast, the Yankees and Red Sox are feuding over sign stealing. At issue is the Red Sox’ admitted use of Apple Watches in the process. (Let’s be clear here: despite what the headlines say, Apple’s technology has nothing to do with the actual theft. Video replay staff have been picking up signs from the TV feeds and using the watches to transmit the catcher’s calls to the dugout. They could just as easily have used cell phones, semaphore, or canine couriers. The whole process would be impossible if MLB had resisted the lure of video replay. Law of Unintended Consequences, anyone? But I digress.)

Apparently baseball teams over here on the West Coast can’t get their hands on Apple Watches. Rather than resorting to Android watches, it seems they’ve fallen back on more primitive technology: the human eye.

Seems that the Angels think the As’ batters are stealing signals by looking at the catcher. The As have not, as far as I can tell, denied the charge. And there’s no reason they should. Players on the field stealing signs has been a perfectly legal element of the game for more than a century.

And there are plenty of logical actions a team can take if they believe their opponent is stealing signs, including switching to an alternate set of signals or changing the sign after the batter looks away. Instead, Angles’ catcher Juan Graterol chose to give the As’ hitters the old hairy eyeball.

A literal example of “an eye for an eye”.

Graterol apparently also told several As to stop looking at him, which worked about as well as it ever does in the back seat of the car. “Mom! Make Mark stop looking at me!”

As you might expect, Graterol’s chastising wasn’t received with good cheer and a spirit of friendly sportsmanship. His words were met with other words. Possibly some that included four letters. The umpire stepped in, ejected As’ third baseman Matt Chapman, and warned both teams to shut up and play baseball. The game went on without Chapman.

From the stands–yes, I was there–it was an odd moment. We couldn’t hear what anyone said, of course, so we didn’t know why Chapman was tossed–or why Graterol wasn’t. Usually when only one player is ejected, it’s because he’s said something to the umpire, but we didn’t see any sign of that. Chapman kept jawing at Graterol, yes, but even on replays, I don’t see him saying anything to the umpire.

The crowd, unsurprisingly biased in Oakland’s favor, called for Graterol to be hit by a pitch on his later trips to the plate, but fortunately for common sense, the As’ pitchers declined to retaliate. It might have been justified under those “unwritten rules” we’ve talked about before–might–but putting a runner on base in a game you’re leading by only a run or two would be nearly as stupid as complaining about sign stealing.

I don’t expect anything to come of yesterday’s contretemps. The Angels and As don’t play again this season. Graterol and Chapman have a collective total of 100 major league ballgames under their belts; I’m sure some of the older players will take them aside and give them the “You coulda handled that better” speech.

But if a bunch of As’ players find Apple Watches in their Christmas stockings, we can safely assume they didn’t come from Santa.