Dale Scott comes out

I am very proud to be associated with Referee Magazine today.  I always am proud of my connection (which consists of writing a feature or three every summer), but especially today.

Two months ago, I read this feature on Dale Scott in the magazine.  It was a pretty typical feature: got to know some of the struggles he went through, particularly with some struggles at the MLB level in the late 1980s (he almost got tossed from the league). And there were some photographs in there as well.  One was of him and his “long-time partner” as they traveled to Australia together for last year’s season-opening games.  I looked at it and went “Huh.  Dale Scott’s gay.”  I think I briefly wondered why I hadn’t known that before, given my greater-than-usual knowledge of umpiring and officials. But then I forgot all about it.

Today, outsports.com posted an article. Turns out that photo was Dale Scott coming out publicly for the first time.  And the story of Scott’s sexuality was in Time magazine today, as well as near the top of the MLB headlines on espn.com.  He’s the first male official of a major American sport to come out (NBA official Violet Palmer did so this past July).  And it’s all over the news.

What I liked about what Referee did was that it did absolutely nothing other than post a photo.  The fact that Scott is gay was about the 20th most interesting part of the article and of him.  I barely remembered it.  Referee just put it in there as it would have put in a shot of any feature subject and his/her family.  And nobody (except for us lucky 45,000 or so who subscribe to Referee) even noted it.  Scott said he didn’t get any comments on the photo. No letters to the editor appeared in any of the issues I have received since.

And now, suddenly, today, this is big news.

I liked it better the way Referee handled it…as not really news at all, just a fact about an umpire.

By the way: way to go to his fellow umpires, who, according to the outsports.com interview, have been universally accepting and supportive, and to MLB itself, who has had Scott’s partner on his health insurance for four years.  Cool stuff, and it won’t be long before similar announcements are no longer news.

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So, how did MLB instant replay do?

Fivethirtyeight.com, which might be the best website in human history, discusses it here.

I love the chart showing the percent of times that umpires have their calls overturned, and the Chris Guccione love that follows. I’m enough of a nerd that I want to see the names attached to every single dot on that chart. More information is good, and as the author, Oliver Roeder, points out, the data on challenged calls is an extremely limited data set (and that limit is stacked against the umpire).

But Roeder nails it with this quote:

But baseball is a survivor — it evolves. And expanded replay will be accommodated. Arguments against replay are largely aesthetic. Largely gone may be the dirt-tossing, hat-throwing and even base-heaving. But if a few calls are resurrected from the graveyard of the specious, for the low, low price of a under a minute per game — who can argue with that?

Who, indeed? I hadn’t anticipated the loss of the stupid manager-as-napless-toddler tirade as a side effect of baseball replay, but from the very first time I was in the ballpark for a replay challenge in April, it was clear that such displays were pretty much going to go the way of the dodo for close calls. They never made sense to begin with. Up until about 2002, it was just feather-ruffling and Urination Olympics; then, for a while, maybe you could talk the umpires into getting help. Now, managers’ sole goal when they get on the field is not to put on a show, but rather to stall a little so the guys in the clubhouse can see a couple of different camera angles, then deciding whether to challenge. When people complain about the time lost, they don’t factor in that this dance probably takes less time than the old tirades that followed close calls used to take, so I’d argue we’re losing less time than even the 53 seconds per game that Roeder suggests.

That said, I have two humble suggestions.

#1, I’d like to know what crews are on duty at the replay center. Maybe we can’t always know what individual umpires are assigned each game. In fact, I doubt they do it that way since they cannot predict overlap between late games and early games that run late. But if an umpire has to lay his name and butt on the line with a call in real time, I think we should know at least who the two crews are that could overturn those calls form New York.

#2. Speaking of New York, why have the replay center there? Yeah, I know that this is where the MLB offices are. But if a West Coast game has a rain delay or some extra innings and stretches beyond midnight, the umpires in New York are up past 3AM when they might have to make a critical late-game decision. Why not have the umpires in Los Angeles instead? Park them there among series in Anaheim, and Chavez Ravine so they can get even more time in one spot. Let them relax, get some laundry done, visit the beach. I’d much rather have the umpires starting early with a 9:30 AM first pitch for a day game on the East Coast than attempting to stay awake and alert past 1AM (as a best-case scenario) and beyond 3AM (I bet someone could track how often that happened this year…when the latest late game finished). Am I the only person to come up with this idea? Establish some adjunct MLB office in LA; have Joe Torre or his replacement as the head of umpiring work out of an office there (and Skype or fly to NYC if he needs to see the commissioner). I think the impact on the quality of late-game replay calls matters more than the convenience of having everyone in New York.

But, at any rate, even with those quibbles, I agree with the article that MLB replay has been a smashing success.

Summer officiating goings-on

It has been a quiet summer in officiating.  Only one major kefuffle, and that involved the opening match of the World Cup, where Brazilian striker Fred went down in the box after the Croatian defender put a hand on him.  With one look at full speed from referee Yuichi Nishimura’s angle, I can understand a penalty.  Unfortunately, Nishimura didn’t have the multiple looks in slow motion and multiple angles that showed Fred diving.  It was what one mentor of mine calls a “fool-the-referee play”, and it worked.  While others grab their pitchforks and torches, I always–every single time–feel sympathy for the official.  As I see it, the only question that matters as far as those critcizing Nishimura goes is this:  did they have a no-call with one look at full speed?

Which brings me to diving.  It seems the issue of diving is similar in my sport of basketball as it is in soccer, except that in soccer the reward for a fool-the-referee play can be even greater.  That said, as players get more skilled at diving (and I think high school basketball players are) and as there are more video angles to create referee excoriation if they are fooled (Nishimura certainly was victimized by this, but even I can be victimized by a Youtube video), that there has to be a strong anti-diving push at all levels.  And it seems obvious how this must happen.

After any game/match, if the video review shows an obvious flop, that player misses the next game.  Period.  The NBA is starting on this with fines, but I’d say stiffer penalties will clean up the game more quickly.

Meanwhile, baseball has added replay.  After that early-season weirdness about the transfer rule, things have settled down a bit.  Until we had this play, which is fascinating in its ramifications for replay.

I’m not sure what the umpires have the power to do.  I’ll take crew chief Bill Miller’s word that they could only go on what happened on the field, in which case he and the replay umprie in New York did the only thing they could do…call Kawasaki out and then count the run.  John Gibbons’ challenge was legitimate as well.

But I’d argue that Melvin’s protest (which turned out to be nothing, since the A’s won the game)  was incredibly important, and I hope MLB does something to clarify the rule.

The issue is this:  The A’s catcher, Stephen Vogt, did exactly what he was supposed to do after Vic Carapazza gave his “safe” signal.  He has to act based on that assumption.  If Carapazza had signalled “out,” then I’m 100% sure that Vogt would have tagged the runner, and we’d have had a double play.  For that reason, it seems to me that if we are going to review that play, we have to call it a double play.

And this is where replay, which I typically suppport, turns problematic.  Umpires are left in a position of determining what -would have happened next- if the call had been made correctly.  And this play, made on a larger stage, might make all sorts of deeper ramifications.  The league office had better come up with some guidelines before the pennant race gets too deep.

I think those guidelines might include reasonable guesses as to what the players would have done had the call been made correctly.  While it’s possible Edwin Encarnacion might have put on the breaks and returned to third in that situation, it’s an infinitessimal chance.  And while it’s also possible that Vogt misses Carapazza’s out call and fails to make the tag, I sort of doubt that too.

So, while I don’t like any possibility here, I think that if you’re going to make that kind of play reviewable, you will have to attempt to reconstruct the rest.

The Summer in Officiating

Pretty quiet, actually.  I went bonkers about Game 3 of the World Series ending on an obstruction call.  I was bothered by Red Sox fans stating that Jim Joyce and Dana DeMuth should have not called obstruction even if it were the correct call because that somehow “takes the game out of the players hands.”  That is, of course, a ridiculous argument.  It was ridiculous when it was made in our state basketball tournament last spring and it was ridiculous during the World Series.  I don’t even have to write about it because Joe Posnanski did, and he covered that ground fabulously.  But it wasn’t open season on the umpires.  Joe Buck and Tim McCarver got the rule right (even if they mistakenly called in “interference” at first) and didn’t attack.  On the radio, Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser were even better.

So there wasn’t much to write about–my radio silence wasn’t solely based on my laziness.

But now I’ve got a big reffing year ahead, and I’m back.  I hope you’ll join me.

Some disjointed thoughts on the infield fly rule

1.  The infield fly rule is responsible for my marriage.  No, really.
2.  An unpopular suggestion:  Sam Holbrook made the right call, since the shortstop was standing there for a time waiting for the ball and had put forth no extraordinary effort to get there.
3.  It may be that this play shows a shortcoming of my infield fly rule as written. Should there be a geographic component…an actual line out there that is “too far” for an infield fly rule to be called? Or should that be left to judgement as well?
4.  As either Chris Singleton or his play-by-play partner Jon Sciambi suggested as I listened on the radio…if a major, Jim Thome-style shift is on, and the second baseman takes up residence in shallow-to-mid right field, should that be an IFR situation?  Under the letter of the law, it would, but under the spirit of the law, it would not.
5.  Umpires are required to call the letter of the law, not its spirit.
6.  This is why I love Hank O’Day’s call on the 1908 Merkle Boner play more than any call in baseball history.
7.  But the fact that he followed the law won’t stop people from vilifying Sam Holbrook, and for that, he has my sympathy, since the rule isn’t his fault.
8.  I missed most of the media firestorm that followed the game.  Looks like it was bad.  But Sciambi and Singleton were measured on the radio, which I appreciated, even though they disagreed with the call and I agree with it.
9.  If the.re’s an MLB version of Mike Pereira available for the commentators to call, this doesn’t develop into quite the torch-and-pitchfork situation it has become.
10.  If you’re scoring at home, the era of unprecedented ref-love that began with the standing ovation for NFL ref Gene Steratore’s crew in Baltimore last Thursday lasted exactly 8 days.
11.  I still need to blog about last Sunday’s ref camp.  That won’t happen tonight

Jeff Kellogg is a stud

In the past, I’ve likened an official’s job to that of a policeman on the beat.

At Camden Yards, it’s more literal than I might like.

Security there has had a lot of trouble with fans running on the field this season.  Last week, a fan ran on the field during the 7th inning stretch and eluded security, including many uniformed policemen.  He ran onto the infield and slid home.

Fans cheered.

Then, umpire Jeff Kellogg tackled the doofus from behind and held him until the cops got there.

Fans cheered louder.

My favorite part of the video: the nonchalant way Kellogg walks away from the scene.  Love it.  Couldn’t do it myself, but love it.

Joe Posnanski gets it right

Regarding last night’s controversial safe call that ended the 19-inning Braves/Pirates game, Joe Posnanski thinks that Jerry Meals got the call wrong.  His discussion about the call and its controversy morphs into a support of instant replay in MLB (which I’d like to see happen).  But in the course of this, he addresses one of my pet peeves since the officiating-controversy-nadir year of 2005/6:  people who see definitive evidence where there is none.

Almost every response I saw to the missed call seemed, um, overwhelming somehow. I saw photos that APPEARED to show McKenry tagging the runner, but not quite. I saw video angles that APPEARED to show the tag, but again, not entirely. And people sent these around as if they were ABSOLUTE PROOF. I got one photo via email 12 times, and no matter how closely I look at it I cannot make out a connection between McKenry’s glove and Lugo’s leg.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.  To this day, I can’t say whether the nose of the ball broke the plane before Roethlisberger crossed the goal line (I actually think it did).  I can’t tell whether that pitch to Pierzynski hit the tan dirt or Josh Paul’s tan glove.  And I don’t see how anyone can look at any replay of those (or, for that matter, last night’s play) and say there’s definitive, oh-my-god-he’s-incompetent evidence.  In any event, in the post Joyce/Galarraga world, most will admit errors on plays like that anyway.

It’s good to see someone point this out, and I’d like for it to become our default position on matters such as this.  (Dream on, Paul.  Dream on.)