Joe West’s maverick replay review: a wrong that was ultimately right

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By now you’ve probably heard about the big Joe West/replay/fan interference call that took place in the sixth inning of the Phillies-Marlins game yesterday. This was a wonderful set of occurrences because it marries at least three of my personal hobby horses: Joe West bashing, instant replay and Phillies fans. If steroids were involved somehow I probably would have had to have been hospitalized yesterday.

So here’s the video of the play. Probably worth watching it first so we can all agree — and I think we can all agree — that yes, that was a case of fan interference.* But the fan interference itself was not really the critical thing here. Joe West’s use of instant replay to overturn the original call of a double is what really turned this into an argle bargle/foofaraw.

The replay rules say that home runs or potential home runs are reviewable. As the play went down, no one — and here I mean the announcers and the people watching the game live and tweeting about it — thought this was a potential home run call being reviewed. Nor did Charlie Manuel. They all thought this was a defensive play (i.e. a double or a fan interference call) being reviewed, which would seem not to be a reviewable call. So, Joe West reviews it, calls Hunter Pence out and everyone freaks about Joe West cowboying his way into a call that should not have been.

Except after the game West told reporters that this was, in fact, a potential home run call being reviewed. He said that home plate umpire Chad Fairchild thought that the fan interference could have prevented the ball from being a home run, thus rendering the review appropriate. Manuel contends that no one was talking about it being a potential home run when everyone was arguing about it on the field, suggesting that the potential home run contention was a post-facto thing by the umps in order to validate their call. The Phillies have protested, of course. But given that an umpire will be on the record in his report saying that the review was of a potential home run, I’m pretty sure that the protest will fail.

But the protest is not terribly interesting to me. It’s not going to change the fact that the Phillies will win the division. And even if it succeeded, it may be a bad thing for Philly given that they’re already playing 26 games in the next 24 days. Sure, everyone would love to get Roy Halladay another win if possible, but when are they supposed to replay this one if the protest is upheld?

No, what really jazzes me about this is how clearly it illustrates the lame artificiality of the current instant replay rule.  About how the umpires are technically allowed to look at a play if X, but are not allowed to look at and review the very same damn play if Y.

From what I can determine, the validity of this call is based on whether Joe West thought he was reviewing a defensive play or a potential home run. But on what planet is a sane replay system governed by what happens to be in Joe West’s head the moment before he looks at the video monitor?  Why should a call that was ultimately correct even be considered improper based on the premise of the review? Right is right, right?  This rule is akin to one that says a police officer assigned to traffic duty can’t do anything about it if he sees a robbery happen on the corner 20 feet away.

Baseball can’t continue on with this kind of silliness. The calls should be correct, and if a video review can help the umpiring crew make the correct call — even if it’s not a home run call — that’s all that should matter.  And if it takes Cowboy Joe West being Cowboy Joe West for someone in a position of authority to finally own up to this and expand replay, I’m just fine with that, thank you very much.  Only Nixon could go to China, and only an umpire of Joe West’s particular charms can show the ridiculous inherent in the system.

 

*Interference by a Phillies fan, it’s probably worth noting. And I note it because some folks who were sending me tweets about this yesterday were saying stuff like “fan interference on the road screws the Phillies!”  No, my friends, if the Phillies were screwed here it was not by some Marlins fan. It was because of an event that was kicked off by a Phillies fan who couldn’t resist messing with a ball in play.

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

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Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.