May 14, 2014
The Lineup Card
10 Ways We'd Improve Umpiring or Replay
1. Surlier Umpires
Sure, Engel looked like a jerk. But the game needs jerks. And as much as I love that umpires are finally getting the calls right, I'll miss screaming at them for getting them wrong. —Sam Miller
2. Obnoxious Klaxon in the Umpires' Ears for Incorrect Calls
Really loud noises, all in the umpires ear, when they mess up a call.
That's it, no robot umpires (who will no doubt be hellbent on taking over the world once they become sentient), no holographic renderings of the strike zone for the umpire to see live, no frills and flash. Just, a loud and blaring klaxon that sounds off as soon as an umpire misses a call. I think this would make umpires more alert and less likely to get a call wrong. There'd be no "personal strikezone" for umpires because seriously, who would want to put up with the blaring alarm that accompanies one's personal preference for giving the outside corner to lefties? Everyone would be absolutely on top of check swings and bang bang plays at first. Umps would be running wind sprints out to center to make sure a catch is a catch.
I really do think that these blaring, annoying sounds that would ring for wrong calls could succeed where our sophisticated and fancy technology has not. —Mauricio Rubio
3. Legalized Umpire Bribing
Yes, I know that this would never happen (and that's certainly for the better), but it sure would give us some nice information about how teams really value things on the field. —Russell A. Carleton
4. Legally Blind Umpires
And all of this is futile. There is a limit to how good an umpire is as long as he has human eyes and a human brain. Even with instant replay, the umpires (on the field or in a room in New York) are left to interpret what the computer sees and still, even with digital replay technology, they mess the calls up.
This leads me to ask: is baseball going in the wrong direction? Is trying to get correct calls from 99 percent to 99.1 percent worth all the effort? I say no. I say more human element. Eliminate instant replay? Yes, but that’s not enough. Outlaw umpire schools? Not enough.
The time has come for legally blind umpires.
Think about it (but not too hard):Tthe underlying assumption behind every single baseball argument is that one team was unfairly burdened by a bad call. The umpire was trying, so the thought goes, to get the call right, but made a mistake. For players and managers, that’s grounds for being upset. But, what if all umpires ever did was make mistakes? What if making a mistake, a horrible, nonsensical, almost randomly generated mistake was so commonplace it was the expectation? All arguments would cease, replaced by resignation and, one assumes over time, a growing and generalized love for humanity. And the fans? They’d get to love it. It’s the human element! We all love the human element! It’s a sport for humans so the more element of humans elementalized by and for humans, the more human the elements of the sport. The founders of baseball had always intended the sport to be played this way! Right of course!
Fans of the Twins and Royals and Mets—especially the Mets—would love it, because never before did grounding into a double play carry with it the possibility of a three-run home run.
So, baseball, listen up. The only way to fix umpiring is to make it worse. Hire umpires who can’t physically do their jobs and let’s all see how perfect this wonderful sport can be. —Matthew Kory
5. Ask the Fans
The system would have its own biases to confront, but democracy is messy. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers complained last night that referees made a call that “everyone in the arena” could tell was wrong. Well, let’s see if the fans can do a better job than the umps. —Dan Rozenson
6. Strike Zone Buzzers
Taking away the calling of balls and strikes from the human is impractical (where is the top and bottom of the zone, and when is it established?). But why not help the umpires out a little—right now left-handed batters get a wider strike zone than right-handed batters. We also know the zone changes size during at-bats, and so on and so forth. Let's make the zone a bit more consistent, shall we?
That's all it takes. A little buzzer in the pocket of the home plate umpire. The sides of the plate offer the easiest (only?) place for the use of the proverbial robot umpire.
So where's my idea? Use it spring training: Put a remote buzzer in the umpire's pocket that simply vibrates any time a pitched ball is detected to have crossed the plate. This will train umpires to better recognize the edges of the strike zone, leaving the top and bottom for us fan types to fight over.
Don't like it? Then let's go talk about pressure sensors inside first base and home plate. —Harry Pavlidis
7. Preserve Unprecedented Mistakes
8. Clarify the Collision Rule
9. Stop the Stalling
but the “walk slowly and make small talk while glancing back toward the bench coach” stall tactic most managers employ to buy their replay personnel time has grown tiresome. Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix. The most obvious alternative—forcing managers to make a decision immediately or forgo their chance at a challenge—would likely lead to fewer accurate calls. And while it’s not too late to scrap the challenge system and decree that every close call trigger a review at MLB’s centralized replay hub, that method would present problems from a presentation perspective. Would we ever feel free to celebrate if we never knew whether a completed play was about to be overturned from afar?
Here’s one idea: MLB could shorten the time allowed before a challenge but also give each manager one more of them. With more margin for error, managers would be more willing to challenge with less knowledge about the outcome, but not so willing that they’d waste time with frivolous requests for reviews. And if they did ask umps to go to the videotape more often, the resulting increase in game length would be balanced out by the reduction in boring bench coach Kabuki. —Ben Lindbergh
While the players might not mind logging another 10 or 15 minutes in uniform, many of the fans watching in person or from home would prefer to put that time to better use, especially because much of the additional length is attributable to the athletic equivalent of dead air. While we could come up with any number of exotic proposals to quicken the pace of play, the most practical would involve enforcing two existing dictates that are often ignored.
First, there’s rule 8.04, which limits pitchers to 12 seconds before delivering his next pitch, after receiving the ball and after the batter is “in the box, alert to the pitcher.” (I’m working on something about the percentage of pitches this season that have violated this rule, so stay tuned for that.) Second, there’s rule 6.02, which says that the batter “shall take his position in the batters box promptly when it is his time at bat” and also forbids him from removing both feet from the box, except in certain circumstances.
While part of baseball’s appeal is its identity as the sport that frees spectators from the tyranny of a ticking clock, it might be time to equip more umpires with one. The second-base umpire already carries a stopwatch to monitor the time between innings; why not task him (or another crew member) with tracking the time between pitches, too? Or perhaps a high-tech alternative: install an LED on the inside of the home-plate ump’s mask that displays PITCHf/x timestamps and automatically calculates the time between them. After a warning or two, offenders would start to suffer the penalties laid down by (neglected) law.
Strictly regulating the time between pitches wouldn’t do anything to reduce the bloat arising from advertising breaks and frequent pitching changes, but it would still slow or even reverse a worrisome trend. This fix had the intended effect in the Atlantic League; now it’s time for the same process to go pro. —Ben Lindbergh