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The juiced ball is not a “looming problem” for the players union


Players have long known it. Scientists have confirmed it. The numbers, quite clearly, bear it out. Eventually even Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball admitted it. The ball is juiced and it’s led to a massive uptick in offense.

How and why it got juiced is a tad more complicated. Major League Baseball is fully and 100% in control of the manufacturing of baseballs. They literally own the company that makes them. They say the juicing was inadvertent. A quality control issue or, looking at it another way, a function of the technology of ball-making being too good. Too exact.

At least one player, Justin Verlander, has publicly accused Major League Baseball of intentionally juicing the ball to increase offense. I have heard through the grapevine that many other players are privately discussing that, even if they’re unwilling to say it out loud. We can’t know for sure without more information, but given the history of juiced baseballs, we can’t rule it out, even with MLB’s denials. I mean, they denied the ball was different for a couple of years before finally acknowledging it, right?

Keep all of that in mind when you read Buster Olney’s column over at ESPN today in which he casts the whole juiced ball thing as . . . a problem for the Players Union:

For union chief Tony Clark and the players for whom he works, there are plenty of looming issues that must be addressed in negotiations. Anti-tanking measures. Service-time manipulation. The competitive balance tax levels. Getting players into free agency at a younger age.

But the discussion about the fate of 2019’s baseball will bear a unique set of challenges, and potential consequences.

Olney’s argument is that, if Major League Baseball ever figures out what’s wrong with the ball and how it changed, it will be union’s problem to figure out how to proceed — and it will pit pitchers against hitters as they proceed, distracting them from other matters — because the rules say you can’t change the baseball without the players agreeing to the change.

Nowhere in his argument, however, does Olney explain why, if MLB changed the baseball, either intentionally or though its own manufacturing negligence, MLB does not have to answer for it or remedy it. To read this column, you’d think that the people who literally make the baseballs are total bystanders with no responsibility in the matter. It’s just Another Problem For The Embattled Union.

Which is a pretty common trope among many national writers, by the way. Any challenge facing the game, no matter its provenance, is cast as trouble for Tony Clark and the union while MLB is either cast as being strengthened by challenge or  just . . . is. You can see that play out in other contexts.  Major League Baseball fired a ton of people from the head office when Manfred took over for Selig a few years ago and it was cast as a bold step forward. The head of MLBAM, Bob Bowman, was forced out amid allegations of workplace misconduct and abuse and the narrative tended to center on renewal. Meanwhile, a month or two ago a high-ranking union official was fired and the story was about “chaos in the union.”

I guess I should just expect that sort of thing by now. Most of baseball media is way more aligned with management and the league than they are with labor and they tend to see things through that lens. I must admit, however, that I never quite expected that slant to be so thorough that a problem fully created by Major League Baseball — juiced balls — would suddenly be cast as the union’s problem.

Video reviews overturn 42% rate; Boston most successful

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NEW YORK (AP) Video reviews overturned 42.4% of calls checked during Major League Baseball’s shortened regular season, down slightly from 44% in 2019.

Boston was the most successful team, gaining overturned calls on 10 of 13 challenges for 76.9%. The Chicago White Sox were second, successful on eight of 11 challenges for 72.7%, followed by Kansas City at seven of 10 (70%).

Pittsburgh was the least successful at 2 of 11 (18.2%), and Toronto was 7 of 25 (28%).

Minnesota had the most challenges with 28 and was successful on nine (32.1%). The New York Yankees and Milwaukee tied for the fewest with nine each; the Yankees were successful on five (55.6%) and the Brewers three (33.3%).

MLB said Tuesday there were 468 manager challenges and 58 crew chief reviews among 526 total reviews during 898 games. The average time of a review was 1 minute, 25 seconds, up from 1:16 the previous season, when there 1,186 manager challenges and 170 crew chief reviews among 1,356 reviews during 2,429 games.

This year’s replays had 104 calls confirmed (19.8%), 181 that stood (34.4%) and 223 overturned. An additional 12 calls (2.3%) were for rules checks and six (1.1%) for recording keeping.

In 2019 there were 277 calls confirmed (12.5%), 463 that stood (34.1%) and 597 overturned. An additional nine calls (0.7%) were for rules checks and 10 (0.7%) for record keeping.

Expanded video review started in 2014.