Yesterday’s news about Tony La Russa fixing baseball was apparently part of something far more grand:
Managers Tony La Russa Jim Leyland, Joe Torre and Mike Scioscia have been selected for a
committee that could recommend expanded instant replay and playoff
format changes. The group was selected by commissioner Bud Selig and also will examine scheduling, umpiring and pace of game. No players or umpires are included.
Everyone knows that one famous quote about how to really screw up it takes a committee, but I think that accusing committees of mere incompetence is to go too easy on them. Committees are typically put together for one simple reason, and that’s to make people think you’re doing something when you’d rather do absolutely nothing all. Or, put more succinctly, “A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.”
As for the substance, it’s probably worth noting that I was present for La Russa’s, Leyland’s and Scioscia’s press availabilities at the Winter Meetings last week, and each of them was asked about replay during their sessions. They each said something about the human element being important and how they were worried about the pace of the game and all of that. Indeed, their answers were really, really similar.
In hindsight, one wonders if they had already been selected for the committee beforehand and had been coached to adhere to those (admittedly common) talking points with the idea of that being the ultimate conclusion of the committee: “Hey, we’d love replay, by we don’t think it’s workable beyond the home run calls.” As for the other issues: I don’t know why it takes a committee to deal with scheduling and pace-of-game issues. There are tweaks to these things every offseason, and no one needs a conclave for that.
But then again, Bud Selig is a big fan of using self-selected committees and task forces to (a) make findings that he’ll later tout as gospel as he tries to achieve his own ends; and (b) give him political cover on tough issues. He did it with economics. He did it with steroids. He’s doing it with Oakland. Now he’s doing it with rules, scheduling and pace-of-game issues. I’m guessing it’s because he wants to either do something truly radical or absolutely nothing at all.
In any event, they should put a conference room table on Selig’s Hall of Fame plaque.
Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:
Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.
The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?
Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.
The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.
I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.
ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.
MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.
Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.
Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: