Ron Washington, Joe West, Angel Hernandez

Joe Torre talks about umpires, makes very little sense

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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.

Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Ballot: Lou Piniella

TORONTO - JULY 9:  Manager Lou Pinella of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during batting practice prior to the1991 All-Star Game at the Toronto Sky Dome on July 9, 1991 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Lou Piniella

The case for his induction:

He notched 1,835 wins, made seven postseason appearances, a won a World Series as a manager. That win total is good for 14th all time. Of the 13 men ahead of him, 12 are already in the Hall. The only who isn’t is Gene Mauch, who was under .500 for his career. Connie Mack and Bucky Harris are in that crowd and they were under .500 too, but Mack is kind of a special case as the all-time wins leader and Harris, well, I dunno, he hung around forever and the Veterans Committee was a different beast back in the 1970s. Point is, if you have Piniella’s win total and you’re over .500, as Piniella is, you’re probably getting in, at least eventually.

A lot of those wins came in some good places and at some good times, adding some psychological weight to that record. Taking the 1990 Reds to the World Series and beating the heavily favored A’s was a great story and, as the Reds’ last title for 26 years and counting, stands as a more memorable accomplishment than doing it someplace else. Likewise, his next job, in Seattle, coincided with the franchise’s best seasons thanks to the emergence of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez under Piniella’s command. Mariners’ history fundamentally changed during the Piniella era and he will always be associated with that. Oh, and his 2001 team set the single season record for wins with 116. He made two playoff appearances with the Cubs too. That’s been eclipsed by the 2016 team’s exploits, but it was a pretty big deal at the time.

It’s also worth noting that Piniella likewise had a very fine playing career, with 18 seasons of 109 OPS+ hitting, a Rookie of the Year Award and a couple of World Series rings on his resume. That’s not enough by itself to get him in the Hall, but he presents a nice total package as a Baseball Man Supreme who has been thought highly of for close to 50 years now.

Oh, one other thing: he was colorful. He had a temper and a repuatation as kind of a red ass, with a good number of on-the-field incidents which stick in people’s minds. That sort of thing doesn’t necessarily make someone a good manager or a good person, but Piniella has been seen as a guy who mellowed with age and, at various times in his career, showed that he had a sense of humor about all of that stuff which makes it play a heck of a lot better. For Hall of Fame purposes, it certainly plays a heck of a lot more memorably.

The case against his induction:

His years in Tampa Bay weren’t all that great and, by the time his days in Chicago were over there was a sense that he was sort of running on fumes and padding that win total to get him into that top 14. In both places Joe Maddon eventually came along and did better things and, in some cases, undoing some bad things Piniella did. Some believe he should’ve won another pennant or two and, yes, some of those Mariners teams disappointed in the postseason. Some people look less amusingly on his temper tantrums over the years and, I suppose, one could characterize them a bit more sinisterly than I did above without being too dramatic.

Would I vote for him?

I think so. As I mentioned in the George Steinbrenner entry, when it comes to managers and executives, I put a lot of weight on whether one could tell the story of baseball in a guy’s era without mentioning his name. Piniella is no Joe Torre, Bobby Cox of Tony La Russa in that regard, but he’s pretty close to that group in terms of the figure he cut in the game and, as I mentioned, he’s critical to the story of a couple of franchises. Certainly the Mariners but also the 1970s Yankees as a player and, possibly, the 1990 Reds. I tend to be a softer Hall of Fame touch than a lot of people, so I get that people may disagree, but I’d put him in.

Will the Committee vote for him?

Hard to say. On the one hand, Piniella feels like the sort of baseball man that gets rewarded by the Veterans Committee. On the other hand, the Veterans Committee took ages to vote in some other notable managers such as Whitey Herzog, suggesting that maybe Piniella will have to wait. This is the first year for the new composition of the Veterans Committe, however, so it’s hard to say if they’ll be tougher or easier graders. He may be the hardest call of all of the guys on this year’s ballot.

Twins hire James Rowson as their hitting coach

BOSTON, MA - June 4: The Minnesota Twins logo is seen during the fifth inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Twins have announced that they have hired James Rowson as their hitting coach.

Rowson was the minor league hitting coordinator for the New York Yankees for seven of the last nine seasons, interrupted by a short stint with the Chicago Cubs as minor league hitting coordinator. He also worked at the minor league levels with the Los Angeles Angels. He played in the minors for the Seattle Mariners and Yankees.

Rowson replacesTom Brunansky, who was hitting coach for the past four seasons.