The unintended consequences of the replay challenge system

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Reader Chris Rochon tweeted a good question to me a little while ago:

The “neighborhood play” meaning those times, especially on double plays, where the runner is called out at second even if the shortstop or second baseman doesn’t tag the bag when he has the ball. It’s very common and allowed because allowing it is in the interest of protecting players from getting their legs broken. But yes, technically, those plays should not result in outs under the rules.

So what happens to that in a challenge system? My guess — unless MLB specifically prohibits challenges on neighborhood plays — we get a varying system where neighborhood plays aren’t challenged in blowouts but are in close games where a runner on second means a lot. And in order to prevent that, shortstops will hold the bag longer in order to get the runner and eventually someone gets hurt.

Or, if we’re lucky enough to where that doesn’t happen, we get into dumb arguments about the “unwritten rules” of challenges. Where it’s sometimes OK to do it and sometimes OK not to and it just adds another layer of derp to these sorts of discussions like we’ve seen when someone bunts to break up no-hitters or steals a base when up by six runs. That’s uplifting. Let’s call it the “full employment for talk show radio hosts rule.”

On the other hand, if MLB does outlaw challenges on neighborhood plays, it has essentially institutionalized the neighborhood play, which it has never seen fit to do before. Which will open the floor, logic dictates, to other safety-driven defacto rule changes. Catcher collisions maybe? Which, hey, that’s cool. I’d be open to talk about all of that stuff. Larry Granillo wrote about the neighborhood play a little while ago and, as he pointed out, maybe it’d be a good thing if it were gone.

MLB just needs to realize, though, that when it takes the application of the rules out of the hands of umpires and into the hands of the managers it looses control of the situation pretty quickly, the game gets changed and it has to do a lot of work to make sure things are even-handedly applied. None of which I think it intended when it proposed a challenge system.

MLB executive: Bruce Maxwell’s kneeling may keep him from finding work, not his arrest

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In September 2017, former Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major league player to kneel during the national anthem, joining the handfuls of NFL players who had been doing the same to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Maxwell’s effort was laudable, but he got into trouble a month later when he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. Maxwell allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery person.

Maxwell, 27, played sparingly for the Athletics in 2018 and then was designated for assignment at the beginning of September. He officially became a free agent on November 2 and has had trouble finding work in the month-plus since.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Maxwell fired his agent, Matt Sosnick on Thursday because he’s still jobless. According to an unnamed MLB executive Slusser spoke to, “It’s the kneeling thing that might keep him from getting another job, not the arrest. Owners aren’t going to want to deal with that whole anthem issue.”

That makes a lot of since since abusive players haven’t had too much trouble finding new work otherwise. Addison Russell, Jeurys Familia, and José Reyes, among others have either stayed with their teams or quickly found new work. Given the relatively weak catching market, had Maxwell only had the assault charge, there is no doubt he would have been signed to be a backup catcher somewhere.

In the NFL, Colin Kaepernick — who popularized kneeling during the anthem — has remained unsigned even though teams have opted to sign and start clearly inferior quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, and Sam Bradford, among many others. Team owners tend to run conservative in terms of politics, so they may not like the protest to begin with, then there is the public blowback to signing such a player as those who dislike such protesting make up a slight majority in the U.S., according to various polls including one done by the Washington Post.

It’s worth noting that Maxwell has a career .240/.314/.347 triple-slash line in 412 plate appearances. We’re not talking about J.T. Realmuto or Buster Posey here. That being said, there have been 15 other catchers to have put up a lower aggregate OPS since 2016 (min. 400 PA). One of those players, Derek Norris (.600 OPS since 2016), signed a minor league contract with the Tigers just three months after being suspended by Major League Baseball for violating its domestic violence policy. Makes you think.