Ron Washington, Joe West, Angel Hernandez

Joe Torre talks about umpires, makes very little sense


Joe Torre was on Colin Cowherd’s radio show yesterday. The topic of discussion: Umpires Gone Wild. Or, rather, the recent dustups between Joe West’s crew and, well, everyone.

Now to be clear, Joe Torre has a tough job here. He has his job mostly because he’s a respected figure who players and coaches and stuff won’t second guess when he metes out discipline or proposes change. He’s been there, and has legitimacy in that world, with those people.

The umpire stuff is a bit different, however, in that they probably view him as the guy they argued with for years, and who may not appreciate their job in an objective fashion. And of course, there’s an entire overlay of labor/union issues with umpires that, if Torre is able to deftly manage, it’s because he picked it up someplace else other than in Major League dugouts for the past 50 years or so.  In light of that, it’s understandable if he treads a bit more carefully when he’s asking about umpiring than if he’s asked about, say, player discipline.

With that caveat, however, can we still agree that this exchange, with Cowherd asking the question and Torre answering, makes no sense:

Do you believe we should tweak the system where a bad umpire in baseball can be demoted?

“I think certainly there is a responsibility with umpires. They are all aware of that. If we find that responsibility isn’t being lived up to then we address it. Does that mean are you going to say that you are going to be fired? No. I think you have to find a number of ways to try to fix it especially if you feel the umpire is talented and I know you are talking about the issue of temperament and stuff like that. In that temperament, the only way, and I’m not trying to be the authority on this, but I managed for 20 years and if you have a player who can sometimes be a problem because of his temperament, but he has a great deal of ability and he can help your club win ball games you gotta try and find a way to make it fit. That’s where I am with the umpires as far as what we can and can’t do? That remains to be seen, but we certainly are aware of it and we are working on it.”

Actually, ballplayers really aren’t given as much latitude when it comes to temperament as people like to think. Sure, as long as they’re producing at a super elite level they’re OK, but the minute they drop off, baseball players with bad attitudes or baggage get shuttled out of the game a bit more quickly than their skill sets might otherwise call for.

But even if that wasn’t true, the comparison between umpires and players in this regard is not an apt one. There are scores, maybe hundreds, of outstanding umpires throughout minor league baseball who could call balls and strikes and safe vs. out just as good if not better than the guys in the majors. Yes, there’s a promotion system like there is with players, but it’s nowhere near the meritocracy that it is for players, as there are so few jobs at the top and so little turnover.

Put simply: there is a huge supply of competent umpiring talent just waiting for the chance to move up, and nowhere near the chasm between the talented and the not-as-talented in the umpire ranks as there is in the player ranks.  In light of that, baseball should be even less tolerant of umps with attitude issues, not more.  They should be treated as what they are: replaceable. At least within reason.

Playoff Reset: The AL Wild Card Game

Wild Card

Each day throughout the playoffs we’re going to be doing what we’ll call a reset. Not always a preview, not always a recap, but a generalized summary of where we stand at the moment and what we have to look forward tonight.

Today, of course, is Day One of the playoffs so we can really only look ahead, so let’s look ahead to what’s on tap in tonight’s one and only game.

The Game: Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees, American League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern. Or thereabouts.
The Place: Yankee Stadium, New York
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Dallas Keuchel vs. Masahiro Tanaka

The Upshot:

  • Dallas Keuchel is the Astros’ ace and may very well win the Cy Young Award, but he’s (a) pitching on three-days’ rest; and (b) not in Minute Maid Park, where he is clearly superior compared to how he does on the road. At the same time, (a) the Yankees haven’t figured him out this year, going scoreless against him in 16 innings and striking out 21 times, including a poor performance against him in the Bronx a month or so ago; and (b) lefty sinkerballer types are basically the platonic ideal of a pitcher you want to throw against the Yankees to drive them crazy. While, historically, pitchers going on short rest in the playoffs fare poorly — in the past 20 years they are 18-37 — sinkerballers and extreme groundball pitchers fare much better than most. It ain’t a perfect setup for him, but you gotta like Keuchel here.
  • Meanwhile, Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka has made one career start vs. the Astros: this year, back on June 27. He got beat up, allowing six runs in five innings, receiving no decision. Those disclaimers about past performance not being indicative of future results you see in financial services commercials should apply to this and all other past matchup stats you see in the postseason, however. One random start here or there — or two in Keuchel’s case — doesn’t tell us a ton. This is baseball and tomorrow is always another day. At least if you don’t lose the Wild Card Game. More of a concern for Tanaka: rust. He has pitched only once since tweaking his hamstring against the Mets on September 18 and it wasn’t a good outing. At least he’s rested?
  • Both teams are dependent on the longball but both teams have struggled at times on offense down the stretch, with the Yankees’ bats being particular quiet in the season’s last month or so. Someone needs to wake up A-Rod. And Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley and Brian McCann for that matter too. Of course, all of that firepower may not matter. The playoffs often see offenses go quiet and pitching come to the fore. Both teams have decent bullpens — the Yankees’ far, far more than decent — and given Tanaka’s rust and Keuchel’s short rest, this one is very likely to come down to multiple innings of hard-throwing relief. That favors the Yankees if they can keep it close.
  • Both teams are basically stumbling into the postseason, with the Yankees having lost six of their last seven games. They’re also under .500 since the end of July. The Astros swooned themselves in the second half, going 11-16 in September before rebounding in the season’s last week. Good thing momentum generally isn’t a thing in the playoffs — remember those 2000 Yankees losing 15 of 18 before the playoffs started and then won the World Series! — because neither team here has much of it.

This is the Astros’ first playoff game in a decade. While the Yankees haven’t been in the postseason since 2012, there is a lot of playoff experience here, making this an interesting study in contrasts from a storyline perspective. At least if you’re into storylines. Personally I’m not. I’m more into baseball games and in this baseball game I think Keuchel is a tough draw for the Yankees, even on short rest. For New York to advance they’re gonna have to be a team they haven’t been for weeks and maybe months: one that lays off junk down low and hits the ball hard.

Mike Scioscia will return as Angels manager in 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 21:  Manager Mike Scioscia #14 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the dugout during batting practice before a game against the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 21, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

It was assumed already, but Mike Scioscia made it official during Monday’s press conference for new general manager Billy Eppler that he will return as Angels manager in 2016.

Scioscia, the longest-tenured manager in the majors, has been at the helm with the Angels since 2000. There was a clause in his contract which allowed him to opt out after the 2015 season, but he has decided to stay put. He still has three years and $15 million on his contract, which runs through 2018.

Jerry Dipoto resigned as Angels general manager in July amid tension with Scioscia, so there were naturally questions today about what to expect with first-time GM Eppler in the fold. According to David Adler of, Scioscia isn’t concerned.

“I think we’re going to mesh very well,” Scioscia said. “If we adjust, or maybe he adjusts to some of the things, there’s going to be collaboration that’s going to make us better.”

Eppler is the fourth general manager during Scioscia’s tenure with the team.

After winning the AL West last season, the Angels finished 85-77 this season and narrowly missed the playoffs. The team hasn’t won a postseason game since 2009.