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Mudville: June 22, 2024 1:47 am PDT

Replay to Ruin


Every week the people in charge of baseball prove they don’t know baseball.

Every week the game suffers.

The latest example of that happened Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field and this was guaranteed pathetic – and just another reason why MLB is in the shape it is under Rob Manfred and his minions like Morgan Sword.

There was a reversal of the out call at home plate when the Rangers, one of the few baseball teams that takes fundamentals seriously in 2023, did everything right on a base hit to left field with two outs – and Elvis Andrus at second base – in a tie game against the White Sox.

Left fielder Travis Jankowski charged the hit as he moved to his right and made a perfect one-hop throw to catcher Jonah Heim, who gave Andrus a lane, and Heim applied the tag before Andrus’ hand reached the plate. To his credit, home plate umpire DJ Rayburn did everything right as well. He was in position to make the bang-bang out call.

Out was the correct call, a call that was incredibly reversed to safe for a “violation” seen by the crew on replay detail in New York. Instead of the game remaining tied 6-6, the White Sox took the gift run and went on to win, 7-6.

Just a thought for Rob and his crew to consider: just think of all the people who bet on the Rangers to win that game and lost because of the call reversal.

As one longtime MLB executive told BallNine on Wednesday: “Everybody wanted replay and you got replay. I say the same thing about the robotic strike zone. Be careful what you wish for.’’

The human eye has been taken out of the game and that’s a bad thing.

Rangers’ manager Bruce Bochy, a former catcher, was livid and later said he was “embarrassed” and “dumbfounded” by the call.

I can understand why. This was another embarrassing moment for MLB.

“It’s absolutely one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen,” Bochy told Bally Sports Southwest after the game. “And it was done by replay. I don’t get it.”

I texted with Bochy on Wednesday and he was still quite frustrated by the situation. Having known Bochy for 35 years, I can say he is the ultimate competitor – but also the ultimate baseball gentleman/manager.

Bochy is not a complainer. For him to be that upset and frustrated by a call shows how badly baseball has messed this up.

Since this rule was first put in place to avoid “egregious” collisions at home plate – the Buster Posey Rule back when Bochy managed the Giants – I have never liked the rule because it takes away baseball reactions and movements from the players (the choreography of baseball and yes, the collisions of the sport as well).

If you don’t care about the players and this decision, at least care about the bettors. After all, that’s the group you have made the game all about now; the odds, the parlays and all the other betting.

It’s ambiguous. Much like the new sticky hands rule. MLB and the MLB Players Association agreed on the rule, but they could never have guessed it would result in such a call as Tuesday night’s call.

Just another overreaction rule by MLB instead of letting baseball be baseball.

The same goes for the Ruben Tejada Rule at second base.

A longtime MLB executive, who is now retired, put it perfectly, telling me, “These rules, they are ridiculous. In the game, people get hurt. And more people are getting hurt because they don’t condition. They don’t do baseball things and these rules, in my judgment, do not help the game one bit. They make a rule that doesn’t need to be made and then when there is a loophole or the rule screws up or something, do they say, ‘Oh we were wrong, we are going to retract that rule?’ No, they then make another rule to try to fix the new rule that didn’t need to be made to begin with.”

Nailed it.

It just gets worse and worse and bit by bit, the game, The Summer Game that we all love, erodes before our eyes.

As for the inconsistencies of the sticky substance rule, and the image it portrays, the executive said, “This business about having the umpires frisk the players. To me that’s a great message for American youth that says on the part of MLB, ‘We know you are cheating, and we are going to catch you, come hell or high water.’”

Those who make these stupid rules are nowhere to be found when the heat is on; and umpires like DJ Rayburn have to hear it on the field even though they made the right call; and managers like Bruce Bochy have to get ejected because you can’t argue replay.

How dare you question replay and our rule making? ask Manfred and his Ivy League (for the most part) overlords of baseball. And as for the former players and managers who are on committees, I’ve been told that is just window dressing, total eye wash.

“Those former players are sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring and it never rings,” I’ve been told.

In addition to not knowing the intricacies of game, Manfred’s rule makers are cowards; they are not there to defend their rule changes that have changed the face of the game. They are not in the firestorm of the moment; that’s why they have umpires to take the abuse, and then you wonder why 10 veteran umpires said “enough is enough” this past year – and retired.

The executive noted all the things that must run through an umpire’s mind these days on such calls: “Think of the pressure that puts on the umpires as far as making a basic safe-out call: was there blood on the ground? Was he in reach of the bag? Did he over-slide the bag?

“It would be interesting to have one week in the season that they call ‘Baseball Week’ and just play the game the way they did 10 or 20 years ago and see what happens,’’ the executive said. “No pitch clock. No guys just standing around trying to remember ‘Gee, what do I throw? What do I do in this situation?

“Just play baseball.”

Here at Baseball or Bust we’re all for that. Just play baseball. Sign me up for baseball and not this Nerd science experiment that’s going on these days in major league parks.

The WBC is the closest thing to that “Just Play Baseball’’ style of play.

The game is weighed down by so much extra baggage now.

But again, that’s what you get when the people in charge don’t know the game. Many of the new rules have altered the game to such a degree that it’s not recognizable from the great game that America loved in the ‘60s, ‘70s, 80s, and 90s, up until the Nerds changed the game.

That’s why I’m constantly saying, “this ain’t baseball.”

Let baseball be baseball. Try all the new rules you want but if there is something wrong with the rule, fix it, get rid of it, don’t let it continue to be a confused situation. Is it that hard to admit something isn’t working? Is it that hard to do the right thing?

This situation also shows you that Pandora’s Box has been opened with the replay rule. Back when Bud Selig got replay into the game in 2008 he said, “I believe the extraordinary technology that we now have merits the use of Instant Replay on a very limited basis.”

So much for that limited basis.

Replay rules the game. The human element, the human eye has been replaced by the eye in the sky and the metrics that are recited as gospel.

Watch any game now and replay is everywhere. It’s a pathetic sight when a baserunner is called out on a close play and his first reaction is to put his hands over his ears, calling for his manager to challenge the call through replay.

That’s a crybaby move but that is the Pavlovian response that baseball has created, a type of learning process where an individual develops an involuntary response to a given stimulus.

Close calls used to be accepted as part of the game, part of life, and the umpire’s word meant something. Now it’s a second-guessing world, putting the hands to the ears. If a bad call was made in the past, and there were plenty of bad calls, you moved on. You might have had a good old-fashioned argument that would entertain the fans, by the way, and let the manager blow off steam, but that was all part of the game.

No one can just move on anymore. Technology is baseball’s master now.

The only replay I would be in favor of is that if there is such a bad call, like an obvious out at first base that was called safe, let the umpires get together and decide or get help on a home run call. That’s fine. That makes sense, that would be part of the game. Let the umpires decide to go to the replay. Let them have it in their back pocket as a failsafe.

Jonah Heim #28 of the Texas Rangers tags out Elvis Andrus #1 of the Chicago White Sox as he attempts to score a run during the eighth inning at Guaranteed Rate Field on June 20, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. Jonah Heim #28 was called for a violation for blocking the plate and Elvis Andrus #1 run was overturned after the Chicago White Sox challenged the play. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Essentially, MLB said Rangers’ catcher Jonah Heim was in “violation” because of his early setup when he was standing and observing the play and reading where the throw might take him. As he got into his real setup, when he was able to judge where the throw would take him, he made sure to leave a lane open for the runner.

That is a decision that has to be made quickly.

Has Manfred or any of his Army of Nerds ever made a bang-bang tag at the plate?

Essentially, this was a “thought police” violation and that is what bothers me most of all about the call reversal. There was no violation as the play actually happened – but before the play happened there was a “violation.” That’s just a ludicrous call and for the crew at replay central to initiate this call was a baseball injustice.

I love what Heim said about the call and the thing that bothered him most, which was “the unknown of the rule.’’

Rules should be black and white, that’s why they are rules.

There should be no grey area, no area left up to interpretation by someone in a replay center. No thought police. I talked to someone on Wednesday who worked at the replay center for years and he said that when such a play happens, there is discussion among the group, and a supervisor is involved too, and then a final decision is made.

I still can’t understand how they came to the conclusion they came to on Elvis Andrus’ slide. Forget about Elvis leaving the building, baseball common sense has left the building. Then the umpires on the field have to dutifully submit to such a call.

Where is the common sense in all this, Commissioner?

Where is all the common sense in all this, Morgan Sword?

Owners? Do you see what is happening to the game? Trust is being lost.

If you don’t care about the players and this decision, at least care about the bettors. After all, that’s the group you have made the game all about now; the odds, the parlays and all the other betting. Hypocrisy comes with every box score now.

This is latest pathetic example of why baseball is going down the road to ruin – because baseball people are nowhere to be found in positions of true power.

“I maintain that umpires miss calls far less frequently than players strike out, miss ground balls, miss fly balls, (make) base-running mistakes, etcetera,” the former executive said. “Boundary replay, (home run calls) because of the way the parks are built now, became a necessity but the form of replay that they have now, first of all it’s anything but instant, because the umpires have to gather, then in the ultimate, whatever decision is made by replay is made by an uninvolved individual hundreds of miles away with many more camera views than the umpire has and you are just moving the element of human judgment from the field to someplace hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.

“It’s a second-hand after the fact opinion.

“In typical MLB reaction they came up with this rule, but through the years I’ve had two veteran catchers tell me it’s just this simple: If you’re a competitor and you don’t mind mixing it up and you don’t mind taking a hit on behalf of your club, block the plate. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t block the plate. You don’t need a rule that says, ‘Well, was the runner’s butt down, did he have a clear lane, did the catcher have possession of the ball, was the catcher moving toward the runner,’ that’s all Nerd bullshit.

“Deciding games like this or on clock violations, this is insanity, in my opinion.”

Yes it is. That’s Manfred’s MLB 2023.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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