The overturning of the Pete Kozma play last night was a preview of the upcoming challenge replay system

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Watching the umpires overturn Dana DeMuth’s awful call on the would-be double play ball dropped by Pete Kozma last night made me wonder about the upcoming expanded instant replay system. Hearing Joe Torre talk about it with Ken Rosenthal a couple of innings later made me wonder even more.

My biggest takeaways from it are that (a) it may reveal why baseball wants a managerial challenge system for upcoming expanded instant replay; and (b) it illustrates a pretty big problem with the the managerial challenge system.

In case you missed it DeMuth, the second base umpire, originally said Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma lost the ball while exchanging it from his glove to his throwing hand, getting Dustin Pedoria at second base. He obviously did not, and thanks to the umpires conferring on the play and overturning their colleague, the right call was made.

Observations:

  • The correct call was made, but the entire process took a long, long time. We had the call, one manager arguing, the conference of umps, then the other manager arguing. Ultimately, it led to a delay in play of several minutes.
  • While long overall, once the umpires conferred, it was pretty clear that all of them except DeMuth knew that the call was blown. Arguments aside, the actual decision to overturn DeMuth was pretty quick once the umps focused on it. Like, less than 30 seconds quick.
  • Getting to that conference was interesting, though. It was hard to tell the timing from television, but it appears as though that the other umpires conferring to overturn the call didn’t happen until Sox manager John Farrell came out to argue.
  • When Joe Torre was asked about the overturn later, he noted that he knew the call would be overturned once he was the umpires “converged” or “collapsed” or some word like that. Either way, it was a telltale sign to him that they knew the call was wrong and it would be changed. He said it as if it happens routinely.

Takeaways:

  • How often could other umps overrule their colleagues because they saw the play better? I suspect a lot.
  • How many blown calls are known to be blown by the other umpires but are never overturned because either the manager doesn’t come out to argue like Farrell did or because it’s not as big a situation as that one was on as big a stage as the World Series? Again, I suspect a lot.
  • If umpires are able to confer — to collapse — as quickly as they did to get the call right and if Torre is so confident in them doing that that he knew what was going to happen when they did, why does he and Major League Baseball lack confidence in a replay system driven by the umpires — say, a 5th one in the booth — and want a managerial challenge system so badly?

I suspect that last bullet point is explained by the first couple of bullet points. Baseball worries about umpire ego and knows that, absent Farrell coming out to argue, they’re not going to convene and overturn their buddy out of some dumb code of umpire solidarity. As such, they want to make them do so (via video anyway) upon a manager’s challenge.

Of course, if we look at last night’s overturned call as a defacto manager’s challenge — which I think it kinda was, only without the video — we can see how long that process might take. Sub out Matheny’s arguing, which will presumably not be allowed under the new system, and replace it with the time for a video review. A review that, in this obvious case at least, wouldn’t really be necessary, but which will likely conform to this sort of time frame.

Given MLB’s concerns about delays in the game, and given its apparent confidence in umpires getting together to get calls right, and given the speed with which the calls are correctly made once umpires actually do get together to confer, I don’t understand why MLB doesn’t simply MANDATE umpires getting together to confer in the form of a fifth umpire up in a booth. Instead, they’re forcing these conferences (i.e. video reviews) via the time-consuming manager challenge.

In this case, the call was right and that was good. And in this case the call would be right under either replay regime.  One would take about 30 seconds, however. The other took several minutes and required a rare instance of umpires not acting defensively when one of the managers came out onto the field to challenge them.

Why MLB wants to institutionalize the latter system, then, is beyond me.

Crowd honors Jose Bautista in his last Blue Jays home game

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Jose Bautista ran onto the field on Sunday afternoon, alone, in what was likely his last hurrah as a Blue Jays player. The 36-year-old outfielder signed a one-year, $18 million contract with the club prior to the 2017 season and is not expected to get his $17 million option picked up for 2018. During Sunday’s series finale, he got a fond farewell befitting a decade-long career as one of Toronto’s most prolific hitters, drawing standing ovations every time he stepped up to the plate.

The Blue Jays came out swinging against the Yankees, building an eight-run lead on Teoscar Hernandez’s first-inning home run and a smattering of hits and productive outs from Darwin Barney, Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Kendrys Morales. Bautista supplemented the drive with his own RBI single in the fourth inning, plating Hernandez on an 0-2 fastball from reliever Bryan Mitchell.

Later in the inning, he nearly scored a second run on a Kendrys Morales two-RBI single, but was caught at the plate on the relay by Starlin Castro.

It’s an encouraging end to what has overwhelmingly been a disappointing season for the Toronto slugger. Entering Sunday’s finale, he slashed .201/.309/.365 with a franchise single-season record 161 strikeouts in 658 plate appearances, numbers that somewhat obscure the six straight All-Star nominations, four MVP bids and 54-homer campaign he once enjoyed with the team. Even a bounce-back performance in 2018 likely wouldn’t command a $17 million salary, but there’s no denying his impact on the Blue Jays’ last 10 years, from his signature bat flip to his tie-breaking home run in the 2015 ALDS.

The Blue Jays currently lead the Yankees 9-2 in the top of the sixth inning. Expect a few more standing O’s before the end of the game.

Why more baseball players don’t kneel

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Bruce Maxwell was the first baseball player to kneel for the National Anthem. There may be others who do so, but I don’t suspect many will. Indeed, I’m pretty confident that the protests we’re seeing in the NFL today, and will see more of once basketball season begins, will not become a major thing in baseball.

Some will say it’s because baseball or baseball players are more patriotic or something, but I don’t think that’s it. Yes, baseball is a lot whiter and has a lot of conservative players who would never think to protest during the National Anthem or, for that matter, protest anything at all, but I suspect there are many who saw what Colin Kaepernick and other football players have done — or who have listened to what Steph Curry and LeBron James have said — and agreed with it. Yet I do not think many, if any of them will themselves protest.

Why? I think it mostly comes down to baseball’s culture of conformity.

Almost everyone in baseball comes through a hierarchy. Even the big names. Even if you are the consensus number one pick, you do your time in the minors. Once there, conformity and humility is drilled into you. This happens both affirmatively, in the form of coaches telling you to act in a certain way and passively, by virtue of all players being in similar, humbling circumstances. Bus rides, cheap hotels, etc. In that world, even if you are ten times better and ten times richer than your teammates, you fall in with the crowd because doing otherwise would be socially disruptive.

The very socialization of a baseball player is dependent upon them learning to talk, walk and carry themselves like all those who came before. No one is given special treatment. In the rare cases they are, it’s head-turning. Bryce Harper was a more or less normal minor leaguer, but since he got their earlier by bypassing his final years of high school, he was thrown at and challenged in ways no other minor league stars are. It does not take much for a guy to be singled out for punishment or mockery and even the superstars like Harper are not on solid professional ground as long as they’re still in the minors. Indeed, between a player’s education, as it were, in the minors and their pre-free agency residency in the majors, it can be a decade or more before a unique personality or a true showman is able to shine through, and by then few are willing. They’ve been conditioned by that point.

Even budding superstars can be roundly criticized for the tiniest of perceived transgressions or the most modest displays of individuality. Think about all of the “controversies” we have about the proper way to celebrate a home run or run the bases. If that’s a cause for singling out and, potentially, benching or being traded or being given a shorter leash, imagine the guts a baseball player has to have in order to do something like take a knee during the National Anthem. A guy with multiple MVP Awards would likely be in an uncomfortable spotlight over such a thing, so imagine how brave someone like Bruce Maxwell, who has barely 100 games under his belt, has to be to have done it.

CC Sabathia, a 17-year veteran, spoke out yesterday, but I suspect he won’t kneel for the National Anthem when he lines up with his teammates before the Wild Card game next week. Other ballplayers will likely wade into the fray in the coming days. But I suspect baseball’s very nature — it’s very culture — will keep ballplayers from following in the footsteps of the many NFL players who took a knee today.