LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — Joe Torre just addressed the media at the Winter Meetings to announce the latest developments on instant replay. The latest: not many developments.
Torre said that the matter was discussed at length with managers and general managers here this morning and that, while the league has given general approval of a challenge-based system like the one recently tested in the Arizona Fall League, there are still a number of issues that need to be finalized with respect to implementation. Torre said he is confident, however, that replay will be approved and in place for spring training and the 2014 season.
The challenge system — as opposed to any number of “eye in the sky” or fifth umpire-in-the-booth scenarios — seems unlikely to be changed, even if the specifics of what can and cannot be challenged are still in flux. A baseball source told me that there has been extensive discussion about something other than a challenge system, but that the consensus is still that a challenge system is still preferable. A big reason for this the time between the end of the play and initiation of the challenge. A manager may be expected to challenge swiftly, replay officials may deliberate more. During that deliberation a pitch may already be thrown.
One specific issue I and others have raised about a challenge system is what happens to umpire discretion on the so-called “neighborhood play” at second base, in which umpires — in the interest of fielder safety — will call a runner out even if the fielder doesn’t have a foot on the bag. I asked Torre if there has been discussion about what might happen to the neighborhood play if managers challenge the technical skirting of the rules about force outs. He immediately said “yes, lots of discussion.” I got the strong sense that that issue has taken up a lot of space and time in this whole story.
A person with knowledge of the managerial discussions told me after Torre’s comments that, at the moment, the idea is to make the neighborhood play non-challengable in the interests of fielder safety. Transfer plays, however — in which the fielder turning a double play may bobble the ball while retrieving it from his glove — will be reviewable.
None of this is perfect, obviously. But even a flawed system is preferable to one in which no replay is available. And, my personal criticisms and preference for a fifth umpire in the booth aside, it’s inevitable that whatever is ultimately implemented will improve with usage and practice. Put differently: it’s time for the discussion to end and time for replay to begin. the faster that happens, the quicker the debugging can happen.
A Solar Eclipse
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
In that great journey of the stars through space
About the mighty, all-directing Sun,
The pallid, faithful Moon, has been the one
Companion of the Earth. Her tender face,
Pale with the swift, keen purpose of that race,
Which at Time’s natal hour was first begun,
Shines ever on her lover as they run
And lights his orbit with her silvery smile.
Sometimes such passionate love doth in her rise,
Down from her beaten path she softly slips,
And with her mantle veils the Sun’s bold eyes,
Then in the gloaming finds her lover’s lips.
While far and near the men our world call wise
See only that the Sun is in eclipse.
Over the weekend the World Umpires Association — the umpire’s union — launched a protest in response to what it feels is Major League Baseball’s failure to adequately address the “escalating attacks” on the men in blue. They were specifically upset that Ian Kinsler didn’t get suspended for his remarks in which he said that Angel Hernandez should get out of the umpiring business because he’s terrible. Apparently to umpires truth is no defense. In any event, they wore white wristbands Saturday night as a sign of solidarity or whatever.
Now that’s over, it seems. At least for the time being. The Association released this statement yesterday afternoon:
“Today, WUA members agreed to the Commissioner’s proposal to meet with the Union’s Governing Board to discuss the concerns on which our white wristband protest is based. We appreciate the Commissioner’s willingness to engage seriously on verbal attacks and other important issues that must be addressed. To demonstrate our good faith, MLB Umpires will remove the protest white wristbands pending the requested meeting.”
As many noted over the weekend — most notably Emma Span of Sports Illustrated — this protest was, at best, tone deaf. While officials are, obviously, due proper respect, a player jawing at an umpire is neither unprecedented nor very serious compared to, well, almost anything that goes on in the game or in society. At a time when people are literally taking to the streets to protest white supremacy, Neo-Nazis and the KKK, asking folks to spare thoughts for some people who sometimes have to take guff over ball and strike calls is not exactly a cause that is going to draw a ton of sympathy. And that’s before you address the fact that the umpires are not innocent when it comes to stoking the animosity between themselves and the players.
I wouldn’t expect to hear too much more out of this other than, perhaps, a relatively non-committal statement from Major League Baseball and a relatively detail-free declaration of victory by the umpires after their meeting.