Let Them Play! – Time to Change the Ejection Rules?

I am supposed to be on a “baseball fast” but I just could not let this go. Anyone else tired of seeing players ejected? They were just talking about it on the Rockie Pre-Game. And with all respect and honor due EdtheUmp…

 

Okay, maybe this isn’t the biggest thing in baseball, but it has been driving me crazy for some time.  You watch baseball to see great players make great plays. Before this season and the advent of instant replay, we often see close plays result in arguments and then….the player and manager ejected for arguing. For years baseball didn’t allow instant replay because…of I don’t know, tradition, it would slow the game down (hence the counter ROOT Sports runs on every challenge), and it would take away from the beauty of the game (yea right, I was a Cardinals fan in 1985 and still don’t acknowledge the Royals World Series win because of game 6 that year).  Anyways, baseball added instant replay, gets most things right (except silly things it can’t review like a 3rd base umpire claiming a runner left early when the ball was caught 300 feet away).  The getting things right has taken away 95% of the arguments, has been quicker (anyone who saw Lou Pinella or Early Weaver argue over a call had any doubt it would be quicker to just look at the replay and get it right). Not only has this been good for the game speed and the “getting right” factor, but it has eliminated the loss of players arguing when they are right.

Which brings us to this week, and the ejection of Troy Tulowitski and Nolan Arenado from games. The rule is that you cannot argue balls and strikes with the umpire. Now, I understand the rule and have always taught kids I coach you don’t argue with the umpires at all – that is my job. But we have a problem – now they are running on every television broadcast whether balls and strikes are correct – and while it is not perfect, as our own EdtheUmp has pointed out, it gives fans a feel for how good the umpire is at getting to the official strike zone. Fans can tell when an umpire is on, or not, when a strike is consistently a strike (and as Ed pointed out recently, the umpires do have a certain consistency to each  of their games.  As long as players know the strike zone, it is fair to each players. And I can buy it but…

First, the strike zone is not known before the game, so the pitcher and the batters start without any firm knowledge of what is in and out of the strike zone. As the game gets going players known what is a strike or not…but what about pinch hitters and relievers? How do they know? And it is time to be honest there are great umpires who are absolutely consistent from game to game and pitch to pitch. They are great! But there are a fairly large number…and I have watched a lot or baseball the past few years not just Rockies…and there are a lot of bad umpires. I am not saying that this is easy – it is not. Heck, calling Little League games has given me heartburn. But this is a billion dollar industry paying players millions each year and teams giving all their money and effort to win games and…it comes down to a guy behind the plate who may or may not be on that night and who may or may not be very good at all. I know that baseball is supposed to be using technology to track how well the umpires are calling games…but we don’t see these ratings.

Here is a great article from a few years back on how well umps do compared to before the invention of the tracking system:

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/08/sports/la-sp-mlb-strike-zone-20111009/2

Here is quote from the NY Times this year (not a usual Times reader but good article:

In research soon to be published in the journal Management Science, we studied umpires’ strike-zone calls using pitch-location data compiled by the high-speed cameras introduced by Major League Baseball several years ago in an effort to measure, monitor and reward umpires’ accuracy. After analyzing more than 700,000 pitches thrown during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, we found that umpires frequently made errors behind the plate — about 14 percent of non-swinging pitches were called erroneously.

Some of those errors occurred in fairly predictable ways. We found, for example, that umpires tended to favor the home team by expanding the strike zone, calling a strike when the pitch was actually a ball 13.3 percent of the time for home team pitchers versus 12.7 percent of the time for visitors.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/opinion/sunday/what-umpires-get-wrong.html?_r=0

 

Okay, so only 14% errors for umpires behind the plate.  Is that good or bad? Well, I think it needs to improve, and we can argue about how to get there: training, computer help, remove the umpire, whatever.  I am not suggesting we get rid of behind the plate umpires or anything like that. That is another discussion for another day. But what I am interested in is how many players who get tossed for complaining about what they thing is the 14% wrong calls.

Some home umpires will take the players complaint…let it go and understand that a player who is hyped-up on adrenaline and all the chemicals your body creates for competition. And you expect that players who are on edge, who see the ball as a ball (or the pitcher/catcher) who see it as a strike and its called a ball and we expect these players to….walk away and read English Sonnets? Really? I love ups who say, “I know your upset, get it out, and let’s get on with the game.”  But we saw a player, Tulo, tossed over a minute later, from his own dugout, for yelling, “That was terrible.” Really, you toss out one of the 5 best players in the game for that?  Too many ups take it personal or who have no patience, just toss out players for complaining about what, we know for a fact, maybe be wrong 14% of the time. This has to change.

In the NBA before you can get tossed you must be assessed two technical fouls. Last year a total of 54 players were ejected from the game (I am not as fussed about coaches getting tossed in any sport…I actually think managers or coaches should be ejected in place of players the first ejection…but again, another discussion for another day). Now if you watched the NBA back in the day there were certain refs you just knew were going to T-up a player on your team at some point. There was a time that NBA fans knew the names of many of the refs…and that is not good. The game is the players, not the officials. The NBA has made a point of changing this over the years. I can only gets stats back to 1999, but that year there were 95 ejections. In the 1980s it was in the 100s. The NBA made a point to say – stop it! Take the abuse and unless they touch you, commit a hard foul, or do something really “out-of-bounds” walk away. The total number of technical fouls has dropped by almost 400% over the years, and ejections with it (remember a player can get a technical before being ejected).

I could not find the stats for the NHL in part because leaving the bench for a fight is an automatic ejection (it’s not strangely in baseball), and there are game-misconduct penalties for excessive hits. But there are not ejections for complaining. Never seen one despite all the verbal abuse I have heard tossed at refs in hockey games (and trust me, it gets rough language wise and yelling wise). NHL refs toss players out for in-game things that are dangerous. That is it. Football is the same way. If you touch a ref – your gone. But the worse you get for excessive complaining in 99% of the cases is a 15-yard penalty. In all the years of watching football (which I happily gave up 2 years ago), I think I saw 20 players tossed? Maybe.

So baseball has a problem. It doesn’t get balls and strikes right 14% of the time. Or 10% or whatever. It has players that people shell out a lot of money to see. It has a tension filled moments, especially when a batter is trying to hit a 95 mph fastball that is 2 inches off the plate or 1 inch inside. And the result is…well, not perfect, and often filled with a lot of emotion. And your not supposed to argue balls and stikes? You toss players out because you don’t like what you hear? Really? It is time for a change.

So here is my suggestion, and I would love to have more, because with a new commissioner next year maybe we can get things a little better in the best game on earth. So here we go:

1)      Players have 90 seconds after an AB to complain all they want, without addressing the umpire with a perjorative term, until they reach the dugout. If they go on for more than 90 seconds, they risk being tossed. Once they are in the dugout – they are free to say anything again as long as its not a personal insult of the worst kind. The dugout is where the team has the right it think or say what it wants.

2)      You may not eject a player at-bat for complaining without using personal insults. You stand in against Champman and have a ball called a strike inside and tell me you wouldn’t complain. It happens. Adrenaline is flowing. Again, its in the AB – let it go Mr. Ump.

3)      Players who touch and umpire are ejected – period. That remains sacroscant.

4)      If you throw your equipment at the umpire – that too is an ejection. They throw bats and helmets all the time – but directed at the ump should be an ejection.

5)      All ejections are reviewed by the league office. If it was seen as unfair, the umpire is suspended 1 day. Additionally, all player ejections are a loss of 1 day pay – all monies to go to the charity led by the umpires. I know ups are not rich, but if you eject a key player incorrectly in a big game (like Tulo was on Wedneday and when his spot came up later in a key RBI situation and its was …DJ LeNoHit in his spot…you changed the potential outcome of a key game) you should suffer.

6)      We get rid of the strike-zone on television. All it does is rile up the fans who can do nothing about it.

7)      If a manager complains, in-between innnigs the behind the plate  umpire can be asked to talk to the review umpire and receive feedback on key balls and strikes of the prior inning. It will mean more attention is paid by the NY review ups, but heck, hire some more to help – this is a big money game afterall. The home-base umpire then can change his strike zone if he is informed of a problem. If he does not, the manager may file a review request and again, if the umpire after being warned has more than an 14% error rate, he can be suspended. Again, in game improvement is what we all want.

8)      At the end of the year the league releases quality of balls-strikes for the whole year, for every ump, but without names. We don’t need to know who is doing a great job, but knowing that there are those doing well or poorly helps the fans. Especially if the league agrees that 3 years beyond an error rate of 14% results in a suspension (yes, this is going to have to go to the union and all).

9)      And we all agree that we will never use computers to umpire the game. Ever! The umps have a hard job but its better than arguing with my laptop!!!!

 

Baseball knows its players are the reason people want to see each game. Not the umpires. We want them invisible but good. That is not a lot to request. We can improve the pay to the umpires as well, with a bonus for being under the 14% rate of error. But players should not be tossed for complaining within the game – as long as it doesn’t go on too long – 90 seconds to get back to the dugout (or 60, whatever) is fine. And live with complaints from the dugout – just like people complain from the stands.

I am tired of seeing players get tossed when they complain about what I am complaining about at home – without having my job depend on it I might add. Umpires –we respect you and know you can’t get it right 100% of the time. But live with complaints. I have worked for people who were real….of you know. I took a lot of verbal abuse doing a normal days work. It was wrong, but I lived with it. Work on any phone line that handles customers and you will hear things that will turn you blue. Its wrong but these people put up with it for $10/hour. People complain. That is life.

To quote the Bad News Bears Breaking Training (worse of the bunch) – Let Them Play!!!!

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Gary
Gary
6 years ago

Doc_C. I agree with the basic idea that the umps have gotten to defensive[or full of themselves] and it hurts the game to give a quick hook to anyone not being abusive.I too would like to see the strike zone app on the screen go away,as I often disagree with it also.I hate the angle for most Rockies games as it really distorts the zone from side to side.Back in the early days of WGN and H.Carey they used a… Read more »

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