THE COUCH SLOUCH

Calling a foul on the grammar police, replay apologists

Calling a foul on the grammar police, replay apologists
Kevin C Cox/Getty Images

Note to readers: I had not planned to pen a second consecutive column on officiating, but a couple of readers got me really riled up.

So one reader emailed that I "misused" the term "slippery slope" and another told me I had "misappropriated" the term last week when I wrote that replay as an officiating tool is a slippery slope.

Balderdash.

Incidentally, whether I use or misuse, appropriate or misappropriate any term is up to me. It's my column, my time, my two cents' worth – well, at least until we ban the penny. So bug off and go read The New Yorker if you crave more precise and correct use of the language.

And, what, now we're going to have replay challenges on my column? No, no, no, no, no. I write it, you read it, and we move on. I'm not going to sit here beholden to every Tom, Dick and Harriet googling my every proclamation and preposition.

I stand by my work, week in and week out. Like Andy Reid just said, "Not all of Mozart's paintings were perfect."

But I digress.

For those of you who found my "slippery slope syndrome" explanation wanting, let me then switch replay gears and present my "small barking dog syndrome."

Sometimes there is a small, barking dog at your ankles that keeps nipping at your pants cuff. It's irritating, yet not enough to do more than shake your leg occasionally to free yourself of the dog's grip. But then you look down several minutes later and notice that this small barking yapping irritating creature has ripped your pants leg completely wide open.

And, there, my friends, you have the basic problem of replay as an officiating tool.

So I again plead to Sports Nation – let's return to kinder, simpler pre-replay days.

(People often fault me for "living in the past." Uh, I can't live in the future, can I? I am the product of two centuries; both have their merits and their flaws. Alas, replay as an officiating tool was mindlessly birthed in the 20th century and is reaching its devastating potential in the 21st century. Then again, since I have serious doubts if there will be a 22nd century, this problem might solve itself.)

Many people think officiating, particularly in the NFL and the NBA, is worse than ever; it's not. The officials are just scrutinized more than ever.

Do you think there was replay review when the games used to be only on radio?

Are games harder to officiate now because athletes are bigger, stronger and faster? Maybe. But it's definitely harder to officiate when millions are officiating alongside you. There are even websites, like footballzebras.com, that assess and review officials' calls 24-7.

Trust me, it would not be half as fun being an actuary if every line of your work were under replay review.

And when's the last time you saw, say, a ballet or an opera stopped because of a replay challenge? Man, those would be momentum killers – for instance, La Boheme would lose all of its steam if, just before Mimi's climactic coughing fit, Schaunard questions the receipt on the pink bonnet that Rodolpho has bought for her and throws the challenge flag.

The fact of the matter is, there are fouls and penalties committed on virtually every possession in basketball, football and life.

If you whistled every foul in the NBA by the book, every player would foul out.

If you called every holding by an offensive lineman or every pass interference, NFL games would take five hours.

If you held a U.S. president accountable for every high crime and misdemeanor committed while in the Oval Office, we wouldn't have a president.

Sometimes – particularly on the field of play – you just have to let stuff go.

(Best I can tell, the major professional sport least affected at this point by replay is hockey. So, maybe, just maybe – I know I'm going to regret this – NHL, here I come! When does the regular season start?)

Ask The Slouch

Q. When the Chicago Bears announced Mitch Trubisky injured his "non-throwing shoulder," did your finely honed journalism instincts lead you to ask if the team could be more specific? (Jeremy Sandler; Toronto)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. Even the slightest improvement in equipment can give an athlete a competitive advantage. Shouldn't some company start making underwear for left-handed men? (Jack Leininger; Spokane, Wash.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q.Do you have any insight as to whether NBA referee Scott Foster is the "whistleblower" that President Trump is looking for? (Elliott Jaffa; Arlington, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q.Do you miss when the Washington R*dsk*ns used to win the offseason? I mean, it was a win. (Mike Garland; Washington, D.C.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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How significant Astros spring training revelation highlights even more reasons for optimism

The Houston Astros had a very successful season in 2023 which led them back to the ALCS for the seventh-straight season, but despite another deep playoff run, their pitching did regress from the prior year.

While many would point to their historic bullpen in 2022 and say they had nowhere to go but down, that doesn't paint the full picture. It was the starting rotation that really fell off in 2023. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, and Jose Urquidy all saw a spike in their ERAs from the previous season.

According to a recent report from The Athletic's Chandler Rome, we might have an explanation for Jose Urquidy's down year.

The Astros and Urquidy believe he was tipping his pitches. Which would explain why the slugging percentage against his fastball jumped from .482 in 2022 to .632 in 2023.

When hitters know a pitcher is tipping, they often start hunting fastballs. Also, his strikeout percentage went down last year and his walks went way up. He had 2 more walks per nine innings in 2023 than he had in 2021.

Part of that could be him aiming for corners and refusing to give in to hitters because his fastball wasn't performing up to expectations.

His WHIP in 2023 really jumped off the page as well. He finished with a WHIP over 1.4. While his career WHIP is 1.143. That's a huge difference.

Back to the big picture

Until last season, Urquidy never finished with an ERA over 3.95. He recorded a 5.29 ERA last year. So when we factor in his shoulder injury that cost him three months of the season, and the fact he was tipping pitches, we believe he's in store for a bounce-back season.

And the Astros are going to need him, especially with Justin Verlander and JP France possibly not being available for the start of the season.

What will the rotation look like early on?

The Astros haven't ruled Verlander out yet, so he could be ready to go. But if not, and we base this off what we saw last season. The rotation will likely include Valdez, Javier, Brown, Urquidy, Ronel Blanco, and Brandon Bielak.

Don't miss the video above for the full discussion!

Catch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) with Charlie Pallilo, Brandon Strange, and Josh Jordan every Monday on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.

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