In-game video returning to baseball for 2021

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For Chris Owings‘ first seven years in the majors, he could pop into the video room to take a look at his at-bats during a game.

Then last season, the utility infielder for the Colorado Rockies had to make due with a printout.

“You’d come back in the dugout and you’d say, `Hey where was that pitch at?”‘ Owings said Monday. “It would be like it is on the MLB app where it just shows where the pitch crossed the plate. You go from seeing every pitch where it crossed, where your swing was, to just being able to see where the pitch was on a piece of paper.”

It was a jarring change for some hitters during a down year for offense during the pandemic-shortened season. But Major League Baseball has cleared the way for the return of in-game video on dugout iPads beginning on opening day, with catcher signals clipped when they are displayed on a computer.

Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who opted out of last season because of COVID-19 concerns, called video “a huge part of the game.”

“A lot’s been said about video rooms and how some people incorrectly used them. But I think we’ve kind of handled that situation,” he said. “Having the delays with the live feeds and things like that allow you to basically squash all of that stuff.

“Hitters and pitchers, honestly, use video during the game, and it gives us the best chance to be successful and it gives us the best chance to, basically, put the best product on the field. Things like that, that help us perform better, should be able to be used.”

For decades, baseball players retreated to a clubhouse video room to check out their at-bats or take a closer look at a reliever entering a game. Then Houston was penalized in January 2020 for an electronic sign-stealing scheme during the Astros’ run to the 2017 World Series title and again in the 2018 season. The coronavirus pandemic also led baseball to limit clubhouse access.

The prohibition of in-game video access coincided with a .245 MLB batting average during the shortest regular season since 1878, the lowest since .237 in 1968 and down from .252 in 2019. The average number of home runs per game declined from the record set in 2019, and the difference between strikeouts and hits increased despite the short season.

“It definitely made it a little more difficult for hitters,” Texas Rangers outfielder David Dahl said. “You can’t go back and look at where was that pitch, how are they throwing me, what my timing looked like, little things like that that I checked out in the past.”

Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa, hired in October, likes how players will be in the dugout with the iPads rather than going back to the video room.

“If you’re always going in the clubhouse to watch your at-bat and then you come out after three outs, you lose a sense of the game,” said La Russa, who last managed in the big leagues in 2011 with the Cardinals. “I think the fact that they would have it in the dugout is a step in the right direction.”

How much in-game video helps depends on the hitter. For some, it’s a major part of routine. Other players don’t find it as helpful.

Chicago Cubs manager David Ross said he wasn’t into video during his playing career, but he understands why some guys rely on the tool.

“When you can see that on video, of where they’re trying to attack you, rather than the feedback that you get without seeing it, maybe you’re like `OK, maybe they’re trying to attack me in and exploit a weakness in,’ and you start kind of setting your eyes and your sights there,” Ross said.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.