Managers speak out on instant replay
A survey of MLB skippers reveals strong interest of expanding replay in some form
Here at Worldwide Rumblings and Grumblings Headquarters, we never set out to do our George Gallup impersonation and poll managers on instant replay. It just kind of happened, sort of like the formation of the glaciers. And Twitter.
It all started innocently enough, long before the miracle of replay revealed conclusively Wednesday night that Derek Jeter had a little Dustin Hoffman in him.
It actually began last month, during a casual chat with Giants manager Bruce Bochy. We were kicking around the usual stuff -- until the topic turned to replay. At that point, Bochy said he was surprised that no one at MLB had ever asked the managers what they thought about expanding replay.
"We've talked about it, but there hasn't been a survey," he said. "If there was, I'd be curious what the vote would be. My guess is, a majority would be in favor of it."
Well, we told him, we might be able to help you find out.
So while we've never been mistaken for Zogby International around here, we did our best. We were able to survey 24 of baseball's 30 managers on replay. And here's what we found:
• They're in favor of it -- heavily. Of the two dozen managers who responded, 18 were open to expanded replay in some form, only two (Cleveland's Manny Acta and Arizona's Kirk Gibson) were opposed, and the other four said they preferred to no-comment their way through this minefield.
• Most said they would prefer a system in which either an umpire in a booth or a replay official at MLB headquarters decided which plays to review.
• But several -- including Bochy -- said they would favor a manager-challenge system similar to the one tried this year at the Little League World Series.
• There was almost unanimous sentiment for using either replay or some other technology to get fair/foul calls right.
• And most, but not all, of the managers who were willing to get specific favored using replay, in some form, for calls at all four bases.
"I just want to get it right," said Bochy, the man who started all this. "It's OK to lose a game if the other team beats you. But if you lose a game because a call goes against you, it's hard to sleep at night."
"The bottom line," said Baltimore's Buck Showalter, "is let's get it right. Now, to do this, we'd have to make sure we've got cameras overhead and in all the right spots. But that's easy to do. You mean to tell me that in today's world, we can't figure out how we would do it? Of course we can. We review and critique everything that goes on out on the field, to try to get it all right, except [umpires'] calls. What sense does that make?
"So I guarantee you that once we put this in there, people will be going, 'Why in the world didn't we put it in before?'"
We should make it clear that not everyone in the group was that fired up about this idea. Gibson and Acta said they saw no reason to go beyond the current system. And both the Phillies' Charlie Manuel and the Mets' Jerry Manuel were very hesitant about doing anything that would undermine their favorite umpires on the planet.
"I like the fact that baseball has a human element in it," Charlie Manuel said. "And I think it's good that every time a call gets made, you've got two sides to it and people second-guess it and talk about it. I think that's what the game is about. I like that part the way it is, because there's always a conversation piece."
I guarantee you that once we put [replay in place], people will be going, 'Why in the world didn't we put it in before?'” -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter
But the more he kicked it around in his head, the more open-minded he got.
"Getting it right definitely counts, too," he said. "So my opinion is not set in stone or anything like that. If people can show me what the benefits are and what it would lead to I'm definitely open to it if it can be shown that it's for the good of the game."
Well, he might want to listen to his fellow managers expound on those benefits. How, you ask, would they like to see replay employed (or not)? Here's how:
Officials in the booth
By far the most popular idea was to assign a fifth umpire to every crew, station him in a booth with his own monitor and let him be the judge of which calls to review.
"If you could have an umpire in the booth who would review those plays, I'd be in favor of that," said the Tigers' Jim Leyland. "I know this will sound crazy, but we're probably better off if the manager doesn't come out and even argue safe or out, because they never change it anyway. So if somebody in the booth sees that sees a guy was out but he was called safe and wants to change that, then he's out."
Our initial concern about an ump-in-the-booth system was that too many calls would get reviewed and Bud Selig's worst nightmare -- paralysis by replay -- would take hold. But the facts just don't jibe with that nightmare.
A recent study by Outside the Lines of 184 games this season revealed that an average of just 1.3 calls per game were close enough to merit a review. So this theory that replay would cause all games to end at 2 a.m. is total old-school, over-rationalized baloney.
Several managers predicted that the ump-in-the-booth plan might even make games move faster than under the current replay system. In fact, what managers liked most about having a designated replay umpire was that calls could be reviewed -- and fixed -- faster than you could say "Don Denkinger."
"I think it would really streamline the process," said the Angels' Mike Scioscia. "I don't know what the average delay is now on the home run reviews but if you had somebody in the booth who had instant access to the replay, the umps [on the field] wouldn't even have to look at it. So we could do it in -- what? -- 20 seconds?"
Well, maybe not 20 seconds. But we could get it done before 2 a.m. That's for darned sure.
The manager-challenge system
If baseball can't be sold on that ump-in-the-booth brainstorm, the other way to implement replay is with a version of how the NFL does it -- with some sort of manager's-challenge system. But we also ran across a couple of vociferous critics of that idea.
"I don't want to turn this thing into a farce," Leyland said, "throwing red flags out there or however we'd do it."
Obviously, we don't know how MLB would do it. But we do know how the Little League World Series did it last month when it tested a manager-challenge system. Each manager was given one challenge per game -- but if he challenged a call and got it right, he kept his challenge. If he got it wrong, he was done challenging for the day.
So how'd that one work out? In 32 games, there were only 16 calls reviewed. Half those calls turned out to be wrong. The average review took a whopping 52 seconds. And the average total delay -- from the moment the manager requested a review until the decision was announced -- was only 1 minute, 50 seconds. So you can't say that system slowed any games to a Molina-esque crawl, either. Can you?
The upside of a manager-challenge system is that it guarantees very few calls would get reviewed. Plus it would at least let managers pick their spots. And several managers we surveyed heavily endorsed that thought.
"But I think it has to be unlimited, where you go to the umpire and say, 'I want a review on that,'" said Washington's Jim Riggleman. "If you only have one challenge, you could go a week without challenging. But then you might have one game where you'd need four or five of them. You use that one challenge early, and then you can't do it later? I disagree. I know it's limited in football, but I don't agree with that. It's either a challenge or it isn't a challenge."
The Padres' Bud Black suggested that baseball could protect itself by adding an addendum by which -- much like the NFL -- the umpires themselves could decide to review a critical call in the late innings. But as Scioscia said: "Who knows, in baseball, what run will end up being the winning run? You could score a run in the second inning that ends up being the difference in a one-run game. So I don't like that idea."
We don't love it, either to be honest. But our policy at this point is: Any expansion of replay is better than none.
Which plays to review?
We surveyed managers on a variety of different uses of replay. Here are the most representative responses:
• Fair or foul: "Replay is perfect," Scioscia said, "for fair/foul calls that the umpire might not have seen." "If we could get an electric eye to see if the ball went over the base or hooked foul, that would really make it simple," said one manager who didn't want to be named. "And the technology is there."
• Trap or catch: "That's a 'no' for me," Leyland said. "To me, you've got to draw the line somewhere." "Now baserunners are involved," Seattle's Daren Brown said. "An umpire needs to call that and get on with it."
• Calls at the plate: "Plays at the plate, definitely," said Bochy, who is still unhappy about a blown call at home on what would have been a game-winning run in July. "You know, there's a lot happening on some plays at the plate. The catcher's blocking it. Did the foot get in there or not? You might get blocked by the catcher, the runner or the guy on deck. And you might not get a good look at it."
• Calls on the bases: "I'd even like to see it on calls at first," Bochy said. "I'm sure Jim Joyce would say he'd like to have had a review on that [Armando Galarraga] call. He's such a fine umpire, getting that call wrong was the last thing he wanted to do."
• Balls and strikes: Derek Jeter's Academy Award-worthy exhibition aside, just about no one was in favor of going this far. But one manager who didn't want to be identified did quip: "Oh, there's a way to do it. Some kind of infrared or laser, and you'd have a little beep that would go off. But I'm not ready to go that far -- yet."
The human element
Can we ask an important question here? Who among us isn't in favor of the human element? Last time we checked, most of us were humans ourselves. So we understand that humans aren't perfect -- whether they're wearing umpire's outfits or baseball uniforms.
We could relate, then, to Jerry Manuel -- one of the least gung-ho managers we surveyed -- when he said: "I want to keep the human element in the game. The only thing I would be in favor of would be some kind of outside help to decide fair-or-foul calls, as well as home run calls. Other than that, I really don't want to do anything to take it out of the umpires' hands. By and large, they do a great job."
And you know what? There wasn't much disagreement on that point. Several managers went out of their way to say they don't want to use more replay to undermine the umpires. They want to use it to help the umpires.
"The umpires want to get the right call, too," Florida's Edwin Rodriguez said. "I actually think they'd be relieved [if they could use replay]. I think it would take some of the pressure off umpires, not add pressure."
"You want to diminish the animosity toward umpires? This is the way to do it," Showalter said. "Do you see the same kind of animosity anymore toward college football officials or NFL officials? No, you don't, because they've got that safety net."
And now we'll let you in on one more secret: It isn't just managers -- or knuckleheads like us -- who want more replay. Umpires want it, too. Oh, we can't prove that, because they're not allowed to talk about this. But we'd be willing to bet that if we could survey umpires the way we surveyed managers, they'd be overwhelmingly in favor of more replay under the right circumstances.
"No umpire wants to have to go to a press conference in October and try to explain a call he knows is wrong," one manager said. "He'd much rather get that call right and have nobody ever mention his name."
And how do those umpires know they got that call wrong? Because the first thing they do when the game is over is what else? look at the replay.
We know there's another school of thought on this. That's fine. In a sport with the long history and traditions of baseball, there's always a place for the old school.
"But," Showalter said, "how 'bout we just get it right? That's as old-school as it gets. Isn't it?"
Ready to rumble
• Manny-wouldn't: Two weeks and 49 plate appearances into his White Sox career, it's hard not to notice that Manny Ramirez has zero extra-base hits and zero RBIs. So if this is Manny's free-agent marketing campaign for 2011, it sure doesn't portend well for his future earning power.
"This, to me, is a pretty good indication of what he's got left," said an official of one club that has had interest in Ramirez in the past. "He's only an American League player now. He's back in a league he knows, where he's had success and where he only has to hit. So based on what he did in L.A. pre- and post-positive testing, I think this is a major indication he might not have a whole lot left in the tank."
If Manny prices himself low enough this winter, he can probably find work. The problem, the same official said, is that Manny is one of those guys "who you have to pay a lot of money to keep him interested, but if you have to pay him a lot of money, you're not interested. What's that book -- 'Catch-22?' I think that's exactly where Manny is at right now."
• Generalizing: There won't be anywhere near as many changes in general managers' offices this winter as there will be in managers' offices. But there are continuing rumblings that there is trouble brewing in Seattle and Flushing.
One baseball man who has spoken with the Mariners brass reports that team CEO Howard Lincoln is still unsatisfied with GM Jack Zduriencik's handling of the controversial Cliff Lee-for-Josh Lueke trade, even though Zduriencik just agreed to fire his longtime friend, director of professional scouting Carmen Fusco. (Lueke pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of false imprisonment with violence, stemming from a May 2008 incident.) While Zduriencik is expected to survive, he's now described as being "on a short leash."
Meanwhile, there are more indications that Mets GM Omar Minaya won't be GM-ing much longer. High-ranking Mets officials have been poking around behind the scenes, kicking tires and asking questions about a variety of potential replacements for Minaya.
• Puma Watch: Lance Berkman has shown some recent signs of life in New York, raising his batting average as a Yankee to .290 and his on-base percentage to .388. But he's still slugging just .377 for New York and .425 overall for the season. So with his 35th birthday less than five months away, Berkman is another one-time All-Star with an uncertain future.
|Ryan Howard just reached 100 RBIs for the fifth straight season. Only five active players have a current streak longer than that. Can you name them? (Answer later.)|
"What he wanted to have happen," said one old friend, "was to go have a two- or three-month intermission in New York and then go back to Houston. But I don't see that happening. So I don't even know if he'll be playing next year, unless Nolan [Ryan] thinks he's a fit in Texas."
But a Berkman-to-the-Rangers scenario doesn't seem likely, either. So with his name about to pop on to an overcrowded first-base/DH market this winter, are there any other potential employers for Berkman that make sense?
We know the three teams he told the Astros he'd go to before the trading deadline were the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. We also know the White Sox, Angels and Dodgers had some degree of interest in him before the deadline, but Berkman vetoed the idea of going to any of those clubs. So could he surface with any of those teams next year?
"I don't think he wants to venture too far from Texas, to be honest," his friend said. "So I don't know. I don't think money will be a major issue. It would have to be the right fit. So he may just pull the plug."
• Rock-a-bye? At some point, after the Rockies finish blitzing through September and possibly October, they have major rotation questions to address. They have two left-handed starters -- Jorge de la Rosa and Jeff Francis -- headed for free agency. (Francis has a $7 million option that clearly won't be picked up.) And while they've said publicly they would like to bring both back, it will be fascinating to see how hard the Rockies work to keep them.
Francis has won eight times in 41 starts since the end of the 2007 World Series. He missed all of last year after labrum surgery. He has been shut down two different times this year. And there are indications the Rockies wouldn't offer him any more than a modest one-year deal with incentives.
Then there's de la Rosa. On one hand, he's only 29 years old. He's left-handed and breathing. And he has averaged better than a strikeout an inning in back-to-back seasons. On the other hand, toss out his 16-3 finish in 2009 and he's 33-41 lifetime, with a 5.30 ERA (including 8-4, 4.25 this year).
So in an ugly free-agent starting-pitching market, he might start looking way more attractive on paper than he is in real life.
"You're going to need to do your homework on him," said one GM. "He could be Oliver Perez."
• Under the palms: Two first-place teams -- the Yankees and Phillies -- visited the state of Florida this week, and attracted so many empty seats in Tampa Bay and Miami, it made us wonder one more time what the future of this sport is in Florida. So we asked a baseball executive who once worked for one of these teams and knows the Florida baseball scene well.
"I'll tell you exactly what Florida is," he said, the frustration evident in his voice. "It's a spring-training state. They consider that their baseball season. You look at [minor league] attendance in every city that hosts spring training. Attendance is terrible in every one of them."
The Marlins at least will have a new ballpark to breathe life into their franchise in 2012. But the future in Tampa Bay has never looked less promising.
"You know the best thing that could happen to that team?" the same executive mused. "Get out of their lease and move. But it would take some seriously underhanded politics to do that. And then I don't know where they'd move to."
One ex-Ray told us recently he thinks the Rays brass would love to move the team somewhere in the New York metropolitan area, possibly to North Jersey. But there's a better chance of moving Yankee Stadium to St. Petersburg than there is of the Yankees and Mets signing off on that.
• Wild things: Always-thoughtful Angels manager Mike Scoscia told Rumblings this week he disagrees with last week's proposal to add a second wild-card team in each league. But he does agree with our premise -- that baseball needs to create more incentive for teams to finish first.
"First off, I think the wild card should have to play the team with the best record [in the LDS], and I don't care if it's a team from the same division," said Scioscia, a member of Bud Selig's special committee for on-field matters. "Then, if it's a five-game series, I'd only give the wild card the first game at home, and then they go on the road for the last four. And if it's a seven-game series, the wild card should only get two games at home and the other team gets five.
"To me, when you play 162 games to decide who the best team is, I don't like the fact that we're putting the wild card on the same footing as the division winner. I don't think that's right."
• Angel eyes: There are continuing vibes that the Angels will put Mike Napoli on the market this winter. And he could be a major attraction, after a season in which he's on pace to hit a career-high 27 homers.
"That's a good name to market," said one scout. "I just don't know whether to look at him as a guy you should take as a catcher or a guy you play at first base. He's not a very good receiver. But the guy is so strong it's unbelievable. He can swing the bat. So if he's out there, he'd be a pretty attractive name."
• A to Z: Has Carlos Zambrano's big finish (6-0, 1.59 ERA since his return to the rotation) caused the Cubs to reconsider whether to trade him this winter? Uh, not necessarily. If anything, it may have confused them. We know it's definitely confused other clubs' ability to know what to make of him.
"It's an interesting philosophical question," said one NL executive. "Do you roll the dice and say this means he's got his head screwed on right now and he's back to the guy he was before? Or could he just detour right back to being the guy who caused all the problems? I don't think we know yet."
Zambrano's velocity isn't back to its one-time mid-90s heyday. But he's gotten on top of his sinker consistently. And one baseball man who has watched him says: "He seems more focused now. It seems like he's out there with a purpose."
So maybe the biggest test will be this: What happens the first time he gets hit around again, or an umpire misses a big call, or his defense falls apart behind him? Those have been the developments that caused those fabled Big Z volcanic eruptions in the past. We haven't seen one since his return. So, as always with this guy, stay tuned.
• Deal the Cards: An unhappy ending to the Cardinals' once-promising season is right over the horizon. But there are forces at work that make it tough to look at what happened to this team as just One of Those Years.
"I look at that team, and I don't get it," said one NL exec. "At the end of the day, they've got two aces in the rotation [Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright] and a third guy [Jaime Garcia] who could be the rookie of the year. They have the best player in the game [that Albert Pujols dude]. And it's hard to find a better group in the 3-4-5 holes than Pujols, [Matt] Holliday and [Colby] Rasmus. They haven't had their key guys hurt. So they're just not clicking on all cylinders, and I'm not sure why. I don't get it."
What makes this troublesome is that this is going to be the structure of the team for years to come, assuming they give Pujols his $300 million to stick around. He, Holliday, Carpenter, Wainwright and Garcia would then be signed, and in place to serve as the core of this team, through at least 2012.
So considering that just those core players could be raking in close to $80 million a year by 2012 among the five of them, the best description the same exec could come up with for this roster template -- especially for a franchise with a 2010 Opening Day payroll of $93.5 million -- is "top-heavy."
"If you're locked in at those dollars for those guys, you've got to win with that," he said, "because it's going to be them and a surrounding cast built with a lot of low-dollar guys. So you're at the mercy of those guys performing and staying healthy -- because if they go down or don't perform, you can't replace them."
• Rollins' leg-acy: In Philadelphia, Jimmy Rollins has now missed 99 games with a series of calf, ankle, foot and hamstring issues since his MVP season in 2007. And with Rollins heading into his free-agent year next season, both he and his team are looking for a common thread that might explain those injuries.
"It could have something to do with age," said Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr., "and the fact that he's probably played more games than anybody on the planet over the last 10 years at one of the most challenging positions on the field."
It's true that the 1,392 games Rollins played from 2001-09 were the second-most in the NL in that span, behind Albert Pujols. And Pujols was the only National Leaguer within 600 of Rollins' 6,457 plate appearances. The question is whether the Phillies will recommend adjustments in Rollins' conditioning program in an attempt to keep him on the field more regularly.
"I know Derek Jeter did something distinctly different in the offseason a couple of years ago, and it seems to have helped him," Amaro said. "When you start getting older, you have to prepare yourself a little different."
But the GM stopped short of saying that the Phillies would get proactive to coerce Rollins into making similar changes. To that, Amaro only said: "We'll see."
• Brown-out: One more Phillies development: Amaro took issue with our suggestion last week that their blueprint in right field for next season, assuming Jayson Werth goes off to hit the free-agent lottery, is to give Domonic Brown the job and complement him with a veteran right-handed bat.
"That's one possible solution," Amaro said. "But I'm not anointing Domonic Brown as a major league player. He's not our right fielder yet. People think he'll automatically be our right fielder next year. But he's got a long ways to go before that happens."
The Phillies have urged Brown to play winter ball to work on his outfield play, and baserunning in particular. But in the meantime, Amaro made a point of saying, "We could have a right fielder who's on our roster right now." And by that, he didn't even mean Werth.
The name he dropped: Ross Gload. For the record, Gload has started just 36 games in right in a nine-year big league career.
• White lightning: The Royals took a flyer on West Virginia quarterback Pat White this week after he was released by the Dolphins. And a scout who once covered White as a high school baseball phenom says: Don't be shocked if they hit the Powerball with this gamble.
"The trouble is all the time he's missed," the scout said. "But if someone can come back and make up for that time, I don't know of a better athlete more capable of doing it than him. The athleticism is off the charts. He's got game-changing speed. He had a fast bat and pull power. And I've seen that kid throw 92-93 [mph] off the mound.
"Instinctively, in center field, he needed some work. But that would have come in time, and it still could. But I'll tell you this: He was more advanced as a baseball player than Carl Crawford coming out of high school. So I think it's a great move on Kansas City's part. And whatever happens, they're going to have some fun watching him develop."
• What's ump with this? For reasons we can't fathom, Major League Baseball has told umpires it doesn't want them talking to the media anymore. And it's getting almost embarrassing for the sport.
It's bad enough that we've had way too many instances in the past couple of months of umpires making critical, controversial calls and hiding behind some mysterious edict that MLB has ordered them not to talk. No respectable sport should tolerate, let alone encourage, that lack of accountability.
But the most ridiculous episode in this saga rolled around last week, when Jim Joyce returned to Detroit for the first time since The Call, was assigned to work the plate for an Armando Galarraga start and -- can this really be true? -- wasn't allowed to talk to the press about it? What a joke.
This wasn't just some general policy he was citing, either. Joyce said he specifically "got a call from Major League Baseball" informing him he couldn't do any interviews without advance approval -- about what was merely the most uplifting and humanizing umpire-player saga of the whole stinking season.
With the postseason approaching, we should all be paying close attention. MLB deserves to get skewered for every instance in which an umpire refuses to speak to the media from now through the last out of the World Series. Absurd.
The Rumblings Scouting Bureau
Once again this week, we check in with America's greatest scouting minds:
• On Scott Kazmir: "The biggest thing now is, he pitches with fear. He really pitches around contact too much for me. And he just doesn't compete. At times I guess he does, or at least it looks like it. But when he really has to throw a good pitcher's pitch on a fastball count, he'll give in. You know, he's still got a good arm. But talent only takes you so far. And he lacks the intangibles to really make himself a successful pitcher."
• On Roy Oswalt: "He needed a challenge, and he's responded to it. He's gone to a highly competitive, demanding city and answered the bell. This is what this guy always had the ability to do. But it wasn't going to happen where he was."
• On Rafael Soriano: "I've seen him five times, and right now, he doesn't worry me in any way. Before, he'd come out and you'd never have the feeling the game was over. Now he comes out there with that slam-the-door mentality. He's really thrived in that environment, on a team that's winning, in an atmosphere created by Joe Maddon where they're always focused on the positive."
Quotes of the Week
• From Tigers manager Jim Leyland, when Rumblings asked where his team would be this year without Miguel Cabrera:
"If he wasn't here, you'd be asking this question of somebody else, because I wouldn't be here. It would be somebody else's problem -- because I'd be out of work."
• From Cubs catcher Koyie Hill (courtesy of loyal reader Ken Vangeloff), explaining to MLB.com's Carrie Muskat how manager Mike Quade wound up playing him at third base at the end of a crazy 18-5 loss to the Mets:
|Alex Rodriguez (just reached 100 RBIs for the 13th straight year), Albert Pujols (just got there for the 10th straight year), Miguel Cabrera (now over 100 for the seventh straight), Mark Teixeira (also now at 100-plus for the seventh straight) and Bobby Abreu (seven in a row through last year, would need 28 to make it to eight, but still considered "current").|
"I was trying to talk my way into playing center. He asked if I wanted to play second or third, and I said, 'Center field.' He said, 'Second or third?' And I said, 'Pitcher.' He said, 'Second or third?' And I said, 'Second.' And he sent me to third."
• From Phillies manager Charlie Manuel (to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb) on how he was able to scramble out of the way of a bat that flew into the dugout this week:
"I had that bat all the way. I did. I started to try to catch it. But I had it. I saw it. The old man can still move every now and then."
Tweet of the Week
From our tweeting MVP, "Late Show"-quip-writing genius Eric Stangel (@EricStangel), on a 13-inning Yankees-Rangers game that zipped along in a mere 5 hours and 12 minutes:
This game has gone on so long, it's already in the 6th inning on YES Network's Yankees Replay
Headliner of the Week
From the witticists at sportspickle.com:
MANNY RAMIREZ GIVES PREGAME INTERVIEW IN FLEMISH
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.