If replay is expanded, it can’t have a challenge system

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Howard Bryant has an article in ESPN the Magazine about expanded replay and some of its potential worrisome unintended consequences.  It’s a good piece, noting the untenable nature of the league’s traditional insistence that it always has and always will survive blown calls.  It also has an interesting quote from Tony La Russa — Bud Selig’s point man on these sorts of matters — which puts lie to the idea Selig keeps floating about how no one really cares about replay. Seems, per Mr. La Russa, that they do.

The general upshot, though, surrounds how problematic it would be to implement a challenge system, noting that in other sports such as tennis — with which Bryant is intimately familiar — challenge systems create some altogether new problems, such as umpires afraid of overruling the line judges and then, themselves, being overruled by a challenge.

I asked Bryant on Twitter about why he assumes a challenge system and he said that he doesn’t personally, but that a challenge system is what Major League Baseball officials are talking about.  I really hope that’s not the league’s focus, because a challenge system seems like the worst possible option. Both for the reasons Bryant notes in his article and because it would do maximum damage to the game flow that MLB itself seems most interested in preventing.  Fixing one problem — blown calls — should neither create more nor fundamentally change baseball strategy, which would certainly happen. Give a manager a lever, he’s gonna pull it.

The only workable option for a rigorous and useful replay system would be to have the umpires manage it themselves as a closed system. Put a fifth ump in the booth and make him a full member of the umpiring crew. Have him be the eye in the sky who is only heard from if he sees something his colleagues missed.  Make it explicit that umpires will not be penalized or judged harshly by the league for getting initial calls wrong or being overturned by replay.

The most important thing is to make replay a tool for the umpires to do a better job, not a threat that risks exposing them when they do a poor one.

Must-Click Link: Where’s Timmy?

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Tim Lincecum last pitched last season for the Angels and he did not pitch well. Over the winter and into the spring there were reports that he was working out at a facility somewhere in Arizona with an aim toward trying to latch on to another team. He didn’t. And, given how his velocity and effectiveness had nosedived over the previous few seasons, it was probably unrealistic to think he’d make it back to the bigs.

But now, as Daniel Brown of the Mercury News reports, he seems to simply be gone.

He’s not missing in any legal sense — his friends and family know where he is — but he’s out of the public eye in a way that most players at the end of their careers or the beginning of their retirements usually aren’t. He’s not been hanging around his old club, even though the Giants say they’d love to honor him and give him a job if and when he announces his retirement. He’s not hanging around his high school or college alma maters even though he makes his home in Seattle, where they are. He’s gone from being one of the most identifiable and conspicuous presences in baseball to having disappeared from the public eye.

Brown’s story is an excellent one, touching on Lincecum’s professional rise and professional fall, as well as the personality traits that may suggest why he’s not eager to be making headlines or posing for pictures. A good read.

 

Major League Baseball claims it will “redouble its efforts” on expanded netting

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Yesterday, during the Minnesota Twins-New York Yankees game at Yankee Stadium, a young girl was injured after a foul ball flew off the bat of Todd Frazier and into the stands along the third base line where she was sitting. In some parks that ball would be stopped because of netting down the line.

There was no netting that far down the line in Yankee Stadium, because (a) Major League Baseball does not require it; and (b) the Yankees have still not committed to expanding it like other teams have.

A few minutes ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement about the injury:

I’m not sure how baseball can “redouble” its efforts given that its efforts thus far have been to completely delegate the responsibility of expanded netting to the 30 clubs.

This delegation came in December of 2015 when Major League Baseball released its recommendation — not its mandate — that teams provide expanded netting. Teams were “encouraged” to shield the seats between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate) and within 70 feet of home plate with protective netting or other safety materials of the clubs’ choice. At the same time, they launched “fan education” guidelines about where to sit and whether or not they’ll be protected.

While these recommendations were better than nothing, they also seemed far more geared toward diminishing the liability of the league and its clubs than actively protecting fans from screaming projectiles.

The stuff about fan education was obviously a creature of an assumption-of-the-risk calculus. It was, essentially, a disclaimer of the “don’t say we didn’t warn you” variety and, as such, was aimed more at shielding baseball from liability over batted ball or bat-shard injuries than at directly shielding fans from such injuries. Even the netting recommendation could be construed as MLB insulating itself from being joined in a lawsuit at a later date if a club were to get sued over a fan injury. A way of saying “hey, we told the Yankees [or whoever] that they should do more, please don’t sue us too.”

It’s one thing to do all of that and walk away, as the league seemed content to do in 2015. It’s another thing to walk back today, as Manfred is, claiming that the league will “redouble” such transparently ineffective efforts. It’s frankly insulting. Yet this is baseball’s approach to the matter. The league is, for whatever reason, afraid to tell its clubs that it has to do something that is so clearly prudent. It, apparently, is waiting for a someone to be killed by a foul ball before mandating netting rather than meekly suggesting it.

Oh, I’m sorry. Waiting for someone else to be killed. Because it has happened before. Absent prudent protections it will, inevitably, happen again.

While Major League Baseball may have been safe from being held responsible for such things due to its ticket disclaimers and assumption of the risk arguments in the past, it won’t be in the future. One would hope it will not take death or debilitating injury of a fan for the league to accept it.