Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bleachers Brew #386 (on baseball's new rule changes) The imperfections of trying to make it perfect

MLB's new baseball replay center in New York. Photo by Richard Drew/Associated Press)
This appears in the Monday, April 7, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

The imperfections of trying to make it perfect
The first week of the new baseball season finds the new rules under intense scrutiny
by rick olivares

In the space of a week, a pair of rule changes and their applications have been a part of heated discussions of the very young baseball season.

Last Monday, April 1, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy felt the after effects of a lost challenge. During the fourth inning of a match against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Giants’ pitcher Matt Cain attempted to pick of AJ Pollock who had drifted off the first base bag. The umpire called Pollock safe and Bochy challenged the call.

Major League Baseball’s new instant replay rules allow two manager challenges per team and per game. If the manager wins the first challenge, he will be granted a second challenge. If the first challenge takes places before the first six innings, then the manager cannot call for a review until the seventh inning. Only questionable home runs are exempt from the challenges.

The safe call on Pollock was upheld and a few batters later, with the Diamondbacks’ center fielder still on the field, Cain threw an outside pitch that catcher Buster Posey could not corral. Pollock scooted home with Cain running over to cover home plate. Posey made the throw to the pitcher who tagged Pollock but the Arizona player was called safe.

Pollock was definitely out but because Bochy had run out of challenges, the call stood. And that missed call and botched Bochy challenge told on the match that saw Arizona slip by 5-4.

Two days later at the Rodgers Centre in Toronto, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi challenged a call where Ichiro Suzuki was called out on an infield hit. That would have been an inning-ending play but instead Girardi won the challenge and Suzuki went on to score to help New York win its first game of the season.

But the Yankees were snakebit when one of the new rules didn’t seem to work out as planned.

Against the Blue Jays last April 5, controversy arose about the new home plate collisions rule. Toronto shut out New York, 4-0, and denied the Yankees a run when the Blue Jays John Thole tagged out Francisco Cervelli at home plate.

New rules stipulate that catchers cannot block a runner’s path unless they have clear possession of the ball. Replays showed Thole straddling the plate while awaiting the throw, then dropped his right knee to block Cervelli immediately after receiving the ball.
The Associated Press quoted Girardi as saying, "The way it was explained to us is if you're straddling the base in front, toward third base, that is considered to be blocking home plate. To me, it's clear that he's doing that."
I can understand the new changes in the game: instant replay is meant to correct human error based on judgment calls while the collision rule is meant to prevent injuries. Fans have been worried that all the stoppage will only make what is a long game even longer. On opening day of the new season, each instant replay challenge took an average of 93 seconds for a decision to be made. So in essence, it’s not much.

But there are kinks in the system.

Last April 4, the Atlanta Braves turned party poopers when they spoiled the Washington Nationals’ home opener with the help of an overturned home run for a 2-1 win. Yet the call didn’t seem the correct one at all.

After what looked like an inside-the-park home run by the Nats’ Ian Desmond – the ball was nestled on the padding of the left field wall – Atlanta challenged the non-call and Desmond’s hit was declared a ground rule double so he had to trot back to second base.

Washington manager Matt Williams did not agree with the decision to overturn the home run. Williams pointed out that if Braves left fielder BJ Upton was able to field the ball upon prodding from teammate Andrelton Simmons who waved at his teammate to throw home then it was a live ball. Furthermore, there was no call made by any of the umpires so how can one overturn a non-call?

Talk about a double whammy. Clearly, MLB will have to review this and isn’t that ironic?

Quite honestly, for all the further controversy the new rule changes have wrought, I applaud MLB for implementing them. Obviously there is still a lot to correct in a baseball game. Erroneous calls on balls and strikes are some of the most debatable and agonizing. The changes, many will argue are still woefully incomplete.

Instead of Billy Martinesque or Earl Weaver-esque umpire challenges where they not only kicked dirt at the official but also looked like they were going to bust a blood vessel we now get video challenges.

So now technology has gotten its hands on the last sacred game on earth that has mostly gotten by on tradition.

However, in defense of the changes and amendments, if MLB gets it right then they can add a few more over the next few years. Early on, there are two new rules and it has stirred a hornet’s nest of controversy (and I haven’t even pointed out all the challenges and calls of the first week).

There will always still be controversy as umpires are called upon to make split second decisions and God knows how many games are affected by these calls. But at least they are making a serious effort to make the correct calls.

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