Armchair criticism, or "Here, have a Dorito..."

Sofa, so good...

On the perils of over-reaching your bounds of expertise.

"Hitting a round object with another round object as it is moving, is the hardest thing to do in all of sports." Ted Williams


The origins of the "Here, have a Dorito..." meme come from our viewing of American Ninja Warrior at SnakePit Towers. if you haven't seen the show, it's a fiendishly tough obstacle course, which pretty much kicks the asses of everyone who tries it, through its testing of strength, stamina and agility. We found ourselves sitting on the sofa, offering pointed criticism of participants as they crashed and burned. But the meme is our way of realizing and embracing the irony of doing so, as we sat on the couch, far less able than the competitors to complete the course.

Such behavior is something which rears its head in particularly notable fashion, every four years, when the Olympics show up, and we are suddenly exposed to sports which we never see the rest of the year. And, typically, immediately become armchair experts in them for the duration. You may find yourself yelling at the screen during a particularly tense exchange in water-polo, even if your aquatic talents extend little further than "flailing to the bottom." I think it's probably human nature, to snort derisively after some Romanian moppet fails to spot the landing quite impeccably on her Arabian Double Front.

It's worth bearing in mind with regard to our criticism of baseball players too. What they do is inherently hard, as Williams' quote above suggests - and that comes from the man who was perhaps the best "pure" hitter the game has seen since World War 2. Easy to forget how hard it is, when we see Gerardo Parra flailing at a pitch down in the dirt, and snort derisively. "Why can't he lay off that crap?" we think, from our comfortable position on the sofa. This conveniently forgets that even the worst major-leaguer - and Parra isn't that - represents one in about every 275,000 of the US population. Put another way, he is in the top 0.0004% of people in this country, at playing the game.

In that context, the likes of you or me criticizing him from the comfort of our couches, is about as credible as Miley Cyrus Tweeting that Stephen Hawking failed to carry a three. Of course, it's very easy to criticize with hindsight, after the ball sweeps out of the strikezone, and the hitter flails wildly, looking like a Little Leaguer, in the middle of a sugar-induced high after one too many Capri Suns. But as a challenge, the next time you're watching a game, try and call out "Ball" or "Strike" before the ball nestles in the catcher's mitt. Not quite as easy to get right, is it?

But that's basically what the hitter has to do. As the video below shows - featuring former Diamondback great, Steve Finley - a 95 mph fastball arrives at the plate, literally quicker than the blink of an eye, in less than four-tenths of a second. In particular, pay particular attention at the end of the video, where you get to see what one of them looks like from the perspective of the batter. To borrow a famous line from a very wise man: "Don't blink. Blink and you're dead. Don't turn your back. Don't look away. And don't blink. Good Luck."


That's fractionally less than four-tenths of a second there. And you don't even get all of that to decide what to do. The first 100 milliseconds or so, are devoted to the batter's eye seeing the ball coming out of the hand, and sending the appropriate signal to the brain. It then has around 75 milliseconds to process that information, and about 25-50 more to actually make the decision whether or not to swing, and if so, where about the ball is going to be. This is, remember, all based only on information concerning the ball's flight over roughly the first quarter of its journey, factoring in its velocity, direction and spin.

Oh, yeah. And if your swing is early or late, by seven milliseconds, the ball will probably sail foul. Frankly, I'm astonished anyone ever hits the ball at all. Yale scientist Robert Adair, who wrote the excellent book The Physics of Baseball, may only have been somewhat tongue-in-cheek when he said that hitting a fastball was "clearly impossible." To which assessment, I offer this carefully-considered counterpoint: Paul Goldschmidt. But the bottom line is: hitting is damn hard, and I tend to be cynically dubious of someone offering helpful tips and suggestions, unless they have previously demonstrated at least some ability in handling 95 mph pitches.

Personally, I feel on slightly more solid ground addressing either managerial decisions or GM moves, though even here, we need to remember that we are operating from a restricted knowledge-base. We may question why Kirk Gibson doesn't use, say, Will Harris in a given situation, but Harris may have told Gibby before the game that he's feeling ill and isn't available. The same goes with trades and signings: we may only know a part of the picture. Certainly, assuming or believing we are somehow simply smarter, seems a tad egotistical!

None of this is meant to stifle or suppress criticism, just to give it a little bit of objective context. So, while it's undeniably frustrating to see a hitter swinging at a pitch that ends up well outside the zone, the next time it happens, bear in mind the extraordinary chain of events and actions which are necessary, in order for anything else to happen but a swing and a miss. And then? Here, have a Dorito. :)

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