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.

Predictions

Bleah!

Yes, it’s a cat post and a baseball post. Take that, haters!

Happy New Year once again!

Winter is officially over. Whether you’re a Reform believer who considers the season to have begun on 3/22 in Australia, a Conservative believer looking to San Diego Sunday night, or an Orthodox believer honoring Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon*, you can agree that the first game of the season has been played. Even if your team lost, all is right with the world for this one day: baseball is back.

* Or Cincinnati, for the truly Orthodox.

OK, I know there are a few Ultra-Orthodox believers who consider the concept of official games in March to be heresy. I presume that both of you will be glued to your TVs this afternoon for your Opening Day.

Naturally, the media are filled with predictions. For what it’s worth, the Dodgers are the early favorites in Vegas to win the World Series (11/2 odds; it’s amazing what winning a couple of religiously dubious games will do for your reputation). By contrast, Vegas has the Astros at 250/1 odds and almost* everyone else has them down for a dead last finish.

* See below.

There’s a long-standing tradition of calling on pets to pick the winners–and many of the professional predictions read as though they had been picked by a pet. Last season’s best feline prognostication came from Baseball Prospectus. To make everything crystal clear: I’m using “best” to mean “most entertaining”, not “most accurate.” Note that none of the selected teams made the playoffs.

But it’s a tradition, and I, being a traditionalist, figured I should do my part. I chose to avoid the usual approach of having the cats choose all of the divisional winners, the winners at each stage of the playoffs, and the World Series winner. Not only does that help make this post slightly less of a clich√©, but it also made the project practical. By the time I herded five cats through a process that long and complicated, we would already know the World Series winner, and be looking ahead to 2015.

I settled for just asking the crew to pick the winner of the AL West. To give a basis for judging each cat’s reliability and interest in baseball, I also asked them to recall who won the division last year. Maggie graciously lent a hand (two hands, and at least one hip, actually) to the task of feline management. Thanks, Maggie!

It's Texas, damn it!We kept it simple. One piece of paper with the logos* of the five teams in the division. One treat for each logo. We told them to eat the treat that was next to last year’s division winner. After they scarfed the first treat down, we replaced it, and asked them to eat the treat of the team they thought would win the division this year.

* We used the teams’ logos rather than their names because we’re pretty sure that only Kokoro is literate. (Yes, ‘Nuki and Rhubarb are fond of reading the newspaper, but they’re traditional feline butt-readers; we were quite sure that they would not be sitting on the treats.)

The Results

2013

  1. Oakland – The As won the division last year by 5 1/2 games. None of our panel correctly identified them as the winners.
  2. Texas – The Rangers finished the season second in the division. Yuki recalled them as having won. Yuki is the cat who has been most interested in watching baseball on TV, so it’s not too surprising that he came closest to getting it right.
  3. Anaheim (Don’t get me started on that whole “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim thing. Sheesh!) – The Angels finished the season 18 games behind the As. Watanuki remembered them as the winners. My assumption is that since ‘Nuki is the most avid birdwatcher in our crew, he was irresistably drawn to the Angels wings and feathers.
  4. Seattle – 25 games back. Rhubarb identified them as the winners. In his defense, he did see or hear portions of most of their games last year. Maybe the name just stuck in his head.
  5. Houston – The Astros were the only team to lose more than 100 games last year and finished 45 games out of the division race. Kokoro and Kaja both pointed to them as the division winners. Ladies, I don’t know what to say. (Kaja at least has the excuse of having been isolated in Maggie’s office for most of the season, so she can legitimately claim to have been out of touch. That doesn’t explain Kokoro’s pick. Maybe she was confused by the Astros’ peculiar ability to beat the Mariners (9 of 19, including four of six in April and four straight in September).

Our panel went 0 for 5 in picking last year’s division winner, right in line with the standard set by the Baseball Prospectus team!

Maybe I should have asked Grey Tabby to participate. She may not see much baseball, but at least she understands competition.

Moving on. What about the panel’s predictions for this year?

2014

  • Mariners?  Pblthhhhhhht!
    Yuki picked the Rangers. As the panelist who came closest to retroactively picking last year’s winner, his prediction for this year bears a certain amount of authority. I wouldn’t venture to guess whether he’s made a rational assessment of the odds, or just likes Texas.
  • I'm not going to wear the damn cap.
    Kaja also picked the Rangers. Interesting that the two major antagonists on the panel reached the same conclusion. Maybe there’s something to this Texas bandwagon.
  • Texas?  Don't talk to me about Texas.
    Or maybe not. ‘Nuki disdains Texas. He was born in California, and by gum, he’s going to pick California teams. For this year’s division winner, he’s chosen Oakland.
  • I'll get you for this.  Just you wait...
    Kokoro has joined ‘Nuki, also picking Oakland. Did she copy off his answer sheet? Did she belatedly realize that the As have won the division the past two years and decide they’re poised for a third victory? Or does Ms. Koko-poof just have a sneaking fondness for the As’ center fielder, Coco Crisp? She’s not telling.
  • Oh, God!  Why did I pick Houston?!
    So far we’ve got a tie with two votes for the Rangers and two for the As. Rhubarb is the tiebreaker. His choice is… (dramatic pause) The Houston Astros! Um, what? Was that supposed to be a vote for the Rangers? I could see how he could have gotten confused: Arlington and Houston are only about 250 miles apart. Or maybe Mr. Rhubarb has a fondness for the underdogcat. After all, he did retroactively pick the Mariners for 2013. Come to think of it, given his namesake, it’s highly appropriate for him to pick the loveable losers to go all the way.

There you have it. According to a fully qualified team of feline experts*, the 2014 AL West Division champions will be the Rangers. Or the As. Or the Astros. Given the demonstrated accuracy of felines in picking sports winners, my recommendation is to put your money on the Mariners or Angels.

* Translation: They are unquestionably expert at being cats.

Services are again being held at convenient temples across the country. Time to make your plans to sneak out of work and soothe your soul at least once this season.

Just one word of advice: no matter how much they enjoy watching games on TV, don’t take your cats to the ballpark. They’ll complain when you refuse to buy them a hotdog, try to run onto the field to chase ground balls, embarrass you by cheering for the wrong team, and fall asleep in the second inning, leaving you to defend them against foul balls and suicidal seagulls.