Ken Rosenthal spoke to Tony Clark, head of the MLBPA. The topic: smokeless tobacco. Tony Gwynn was a personal hero of Clark’s, and Rosenthal asked him if Gwynn’s death — almost certainly caused by smokeless tobacco use — was enough to get the union to either push for or agree to a ban on smokeless tobacco among major league ballplayers.
Clark’s answer: a diplomatic “no”:
“The MLBPA continues to discourage the use of smokeless tobacco products by its members or by anyone else. As you know, the subject of their use is a collective bargaining issue, and new regulations regarding the use of smokeless tobacco products were introduced in the last round of bargaining. In general terms, included in the smokeless tobacco policy negotiated in 2011 are restrictions/prohibitions on its use, increased emphasis on education and cessation programs, as well as oral examinations. At this point in time, Player education continues to be a focus of ours.”
I can’t say I have a problem with that.
I’d never use the stuff. I’d strongly urge anyone else not to. If I was in government I’d consider taxing/regulating it to bring its actual cost as a product in line with the medical and social costs it inflicts on taxpayers and society. And I would certainly make great efforts to keep it away from kids. But the stuff is legal and ballplayers are adults. They’re stupid adults if they use it despite the clear health risks it occasions, but part of being an adult is having the freedom to make dumb choices.
Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:
Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.
The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?
Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.
The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.
I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.
ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.
MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.
Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.
Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: