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October 11, 2009

On the Beat

Post-season Weekend Update

by John Perrotto

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Phil Cuzzi barely had enough time to mistakenly signal a foul ball when advocates of expanded instant replay started howling for change. Major League Baseball begrudgingly became the last major North American professional sports league to implement the use of television replays to help aid in umpiring calls in August, 2008. Replay reviews are used on boundary calls concerning home runs, and Commissioner Bud Selig had to have his arm twisted almost off to agree to that.

However, many people inside the game believe MLB will be spurred to being using replay to determine other calls after what happened in the 11th inning of the Yankees' 4-3 win over the Twins in Game Two of the American League Division Series on Friday night. With the score tied 3-3, Twins catcher Joe Mauer led off the inning by hitting a drive down the left-field line that bounced off Melky Cabrera's glove, landed a foot inside the chalk, then bounced into the stands for what should have been a book-rule double. Instead, Cuzzi ruled the ball was foul and Mauer singled later in the at-bat. The bad call ended up making a big difference-the Twins loaded the bases but failed to score, then Mark Teixeira's home run in the bottom of the 11th gave the Yankees the victory and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series, putting them in position to finish a sweep tonight at the Metrodome. "There's a guy sitting over in the umpire's dressing room right now that feels horrible," umpiring crew chief Tim Tschida said after the game. "Nobody feels it worse than the umpire."

Cuzzi's mistake was the most glaring of a number of calls that have been missed, particularly on the bases, during the first nine games of the postseason. Thus, it seems certain that the idea of expanding instant replay to possibly include fair/foul and safe/out calls will be on the agenda at the general managers' meetings in Chicago next month. Following a loss at Oakland in July on a controversial call at home plate to end the game, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that MLB should steal a page from the NFL and allow managers to throw one red flag per game to challenge a call. Surprisingly, he has backed off on that idea despite potentially losing a post-season game because of a blown call. "The great thing about baseball in the human elements involved and we always want to keep it that way," Gardenhire said. "We made enough mistakes ourselves and we missed opportunities to win the game. It just goes that way sometimes."

Given time to reassess his challenge flag idea, Gardenhire realizes it would not work without having a coach assigned to the press box level. "I couldn't see the play (from the dugout on Friday) so I would have had to have coaches up in the booth calling into my ear on my headset," Gardenhire said. "Give me a headset and give me a red flag and we can fix this stuff, but I would need to have somebody upstairs calling me and saying to throw the flag and question the call."

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is an admittedly old-school manager after 31 seasons. While La Russa would prefer there be no reviews of plays, he does think MLB should use expanded replay rules in the postseason. "Replay is something that has already happened, so if you're talking significance and you are in the postseason, it's something that should be considered if it were really quick," La Russa said. "You could have replay people there and they could just blow the whistle and say, 'Wait a minute, we're going to change that one.' It seems like the postseason would be the obvious place to do that and make sure you get it right."

The Dodgers' Joe Torre is another veteran manager, having first taken up the skipper's duties when he replaced Joe Frazier for the Mets during the 1977 season. What are his thoughts on the subject? "There are certain plays where the umpire is going to be blocked out like in the case with (Cuzzi) and Melky, so I think there may be a future to help umpires with replay when they cannot get a good look at a certain call," Torre said. "My only concern, though, would be the length of games. Games are getting longer every year and you might have some games that become interminable if you keep going to the replay."

All of the bad calls on the first four days of the postseason make it appear that the state of umpiring has never been worse. Torre, who made his major league debut as a player in 1960, doesn't necessarily agree with that premise, though. "I wouldn't say they're making more wrong calls than they did years and years ago," Torre said. "I think we just more ways to look at it and scrutinize it than we did back then."

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Dennis Gilbert has the most recognizable name among the leaders of the three groups vying to buy the Rangers from Tom Hicks. However, Chuck Greenberg and his group is emerging as the favorite, especially since the Pittsburgh lawyer has enticed Rangers president and living legend Nolan Ryan to join his bid. Greenberg is a relative unknown in major league circles, but he operates two very successful minor league franchises, High-A Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League and the State College Short-Season A-ball club in the New York-Penn League. Before selling his third franchise after last season, he also owned Double-A Altoona in the Eastern League, a franchise that routinely drew over 400,000 fans a year despite playing in a city with a population of 46,000.

Greenberg is on the board of Minor League Baseball, and is the personal attorney of a legendary athlete in another sport, hockey's Mario Lemieux. He helped broker the sale 10 years ago when Lemieux bought the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins from Howard Baldwin and Morris Belzberg, and he was also a driving force in getting a new arena in Pittsburgh, the Consol Energy Center, which is scheduled to open next season.

Not that the other bidders don't have their own spread of experiences with the industry. Gilbert was once the most high-profile agent in baseball, representing such stars as Barry Bonds, George Brett, Jose Canseco, and Mike Piazza. He now serves as a special assistant to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and is co-founder of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation. The other bid is led by Jim Crane, a Houston native who has made his fortune in the freight forwarding business; Crane came up short in his bid to buy the Cubs, who were eventually sold to Tom Ricketts this past week.

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The Rockies are in the postseason for the second time in three years, and their National League Division Series with the Phillies is tied 1-1. However, Clint Hurdle is on the outside looking in while they celebrate "Rocktober" in Denver. Hurdle managed the Rockies to a miracle late-season run to the postseason and their first World Series berth in 2007. However, the Rockies fell to 74-88 last season and they fired Hurdle this year on May 29 after getting out of the gate with an 18-28 record. Bench coach Jim Tracy was elevated to interim manager and the Rockies went 74-42 through the remainder of the season to win the NL Wild Card. Hurdle had hired Tracy as his bench coach last winter after Tracy sat out last season following his dismissal as Pirates' manager.

However, Hurdle told the New York Times' Jack Curry that he has no resentment about being fired after eight seasons on the job and watching his old team have so much success. "It's kind of like being a contractor," Hurdle said. "You're told to build the house. There's no guarantee you're going to sit in the backyard by the pool sucking down lemonade forever. We didn't get out of the blocks well this year. They made a managerial change, and you move on. One of the things I always stressed to my players is if you look for good, you will find good. You look for bad, you find bad. I've always looked for good."

While Hurdle is now part of the media as he is working as an analyst for MLB Network, he readily admits that he isn't objective when it comes to the Rockies. He is rooting for them. "I'm a realist," Hurdle said. "Once I was fired, I was fired. I'm not the manager anymore. That doesn't separate you from your heartstrings, your thoughts and your emotions. I'm pulling like heck for them."

---

Another manager-turned-broadcaster, Bob Brenly, told the Chicago Tribune's Dave Van Dyck that he has spoke informally with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo about his team's managerial vacancy when Washington visited the Cubs at Wrigley Field in late August. Brenly is currently the analyst on Cubs' television broadcasts and there has been speculation he might become the manager when Lou Piniella retires. Brenly was also in the running for the Brewers' job last winter but it went to Ken Macha. Brenly managed the Diamondbacks from 2001-04, and led them to their only World Series title in his first season.

"I did have a conversation with the Nationals, and at that point it was too premature," Brenly said. "At that point he couldn't say exactly what they were going to do. I always enjoy talking to baseball people and if I have the chance to go for interviews, I'll surely go."

Brenly is also said to have interest in the managerial opening with the Indians. He grew up as an Indians fan in Coshocton, Ohio. Whether he'll be among those interviewed remains to be seen. Indians GM Mark Shapiro and his top assistant, Chris Antonetti, have started conducting phone interviews with candidates. They plan to eventually bring between three and five of them to Cleveland for face-to-face interviews in the next two weeks. The Indians have not gone outside the organization to hire a manager since they brought in John McNamara in 1991, but it seems certain they will go that route this time, though Triple-A Buffalo manager Torey Lovullo will at least receive an interview. Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell could have the job if he wants it, but there have been conflicting reports about his interest. Others who reportedly are on the Indians' list include bench coaches Brad Mills of the Red Sox, Ron Roenicke of the Angels, and Ron Wotus of the Giants, along with Dave Clark, who finished the season as the Astros' interim manager.

Clark is considered to have a shot at becoming the Astros' full-time manager. However, Manny Acta, Don Baylor, and Jim Fregosi-all of whom have big-league managerial experience-are also expected to get interviews along with Red Sox first-base coach Tim Bogar.

Meanwhile, interim manager Jim Riggleman might wind up as the front runner for the Nationals' opening. He led them to a 33-42 record after being promoted from bench coach at the All-Star break, that after the Nationals had gone 26-61 under Acta.

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings: While Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer still appears to be the front runner to become the Padres' next GM-although he may stay put in Boston, where he is well compensated-two other names beginning to surface are Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng and Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine. The White Sox have decided to try to re-sign outfielder Scott Podsednik rather than pursue Chone Figgins as a free agent, leaving the Cubs and Yankees as the likely favorites to sign the Angels' leadoff hitter, who can play a variety of positions beyond his present duties at third base. Figgins isn't the only key Angels player likely to leave as a free agent, as right-hander John Lackey's price tag figures to be too much for their taste. The Rangers and Mets are expected to make serious bids. The Braves will at least consider making offers to free agents Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, but are more likely to seek a right-handed hitting outfielder with power via trade. The Diamondbacks plan to exercise right-hander Brandon Webb's $8.5 million option for 2010, even though he made only one start this season before being shut down and eventually undergoing shoulder surgery. After making him off limits at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, the Brewers will consider dealing third baseman Mat Gamel for starting pitching; shortstop J.J. Hardy will also be available.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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