The Week That Was in Baseball: January 13-19, 2014
Like it or Not, Here Comes Video Review • Alex Rodriguez's Emotional Rehab
Baseball's First $30 Million Man • Clark the Cub Gets Introduced—And Beaten Up
Upon Further Review, This Still, Still Stinks
It’s official: Baseball will institute wide-ranging video replay this season, after both the players’ and umpires’ unions signed off this past week. In approving the system, there was yet more tinkering of the process that was initially rolled out last summer. While perhaps a slight improvement, MLB’s replay vision still pales to what we suggested a few years back.
The main problems exist: Managers’ challenges and quotas. Rather than have a replay booth determine a video review, the onus will be on the managers to do it—and they’ll have to be choosy about when to go with a play worthy of a challenge, because if they get overturned once, they won’t get a second chance. And a second chance is all they’ll get; managers are restricted to just two successful challenges a game. (Umpires will have the option of calling for their own replays—but only from the seventh inning on.)
So if you love the NFL’s method of video review, you’ll love baseball’s system. But guess what: You’ll be in the minority.
The one-strike-and-you’re-out philosophy employed in the process reduces the risk of a manager corrupting the system by getting frivolous or using a challenge to buy time for a reliever warming up in the bullpen, but if he loses out on a real close and crucial play, he won’t get to challenge something more obvious that could prove even more critical later in the game.
Under the new process, umpires will have to accept a challenge and leave the field to view a monitor in conjunction with another set of umpires reviewing the play from MLB’s “war room” back in New York. This raises another issue: Length of time in reviewing a play. Under the TGG method, no review would interrupt a game for more than a minute. You can bet that with MLB’s process, no review will ever be under a minute. In fact, go grab your stopwatch and time the umps this season; expect an average delay of three minutes, maybe longer.
And although this is an unlikely scenario, this is possible: With the daily full slate of games, what would happen if, say, there were reviews called for from five different games at the same time? The war room would be inundated, and umpires back at the ballparks would have to wait like customers at the grocery deli holding numbered ticket stubs. And the fans would be wanting to know why.
So Long as You’re in the Neighborhood
There’s also this weird aspect of video replay: Among the calls that won’t be eligible for review will be the force play at second base. Yes. The neighborhood play, in which a runner could be called out simply because the ball got there before he did (regardless of whether the infielder has his foot on the bag), lives. The thought is, if replay were to include the force at second, infielders would be forced to actually touch the bag. But isn’t that the idea? Yes, but they also risk injury when they do and a runner slams into them. Most common sense-thinking people would consider that a consequence of playing the position, but baseball sees if differently.
Heed Our Warning
We said, when baseball announced its video replay process last summer, that a year later the Lords would be wishing they hadn’t gone this route. We stand by that. Keep that in mind this summer, when the frustration and furor over all of this grows.
Look, It’s Enrico Palazzo!
With comprehensive video replay, MLB will also now allow for close plays on the main video board at all major league ballparks. This had previously been banned so fans didn’t get overly riled up at the umpires—yet, with monitors planted from the luxury boxes to the grandstand ceilings, a good chunk of paying fans were already getting a close look.
Silver Linings Playbook
Last week was the time to bury Alex Rodriguez after he got slammed with a shortened but still crippling 162-game suspension per arbitrator Fredric Horowitz’s decision. This week was one of rehabilitating the client, as lawyers, media and Rodriguez himself took a step back and tried to throw gray matter onto the façade.
There was, as expected, Rodriguez’s own legal team trying to forge public sentiment onto its client’s side. Lead attorney Joe Tacopina once more hit the airwaves and suggested in one on-air interview that Rodriguez certainly isn’t the only one using steroids, stating he wouldn’t name names but suggested that one of them is “God-like in Boston right now.” Memo to Tacopina: If you’re going to go after someone, it shouldn’t be someone like David Ortiz (let’s face it, that’s who he was referencing) who did do steroids some ten years ago, may or may not be now, and is, yes, a God-like hero in the eyes of Bostonians right now. Maybe he figured the boos can’t get any louder for Rodriguez at Fenway Park, so what’s to lose?
The media also chimed in, following up its (rightly) blistering rebukes of Rodriguez with some tough jabs at MLB’s pseudo-addictive search-and-destroy mission to nail him to the fullest extent. There was a bit of embarrassment to be shared at MLB Central this past week when it became established that a $49,513 wire transfer to Bosch from Rodriguez early last year had a legitimate purpose and wasn’t the bribe baseball had initially suggested.
There were also members of the Yankees, who many believe don’t want anything to do with Rodriguez now and forever. Yet owner Hal Steinbrenner was open to having Rodriguez back in the Yankee fold once his suspension is up in 2015, calling him an “asset…when he’s on and when he’s healthy.” (Rodriguez is also an expensive asset; Steinbrenner still owes him $61 million from 2015-17.)
And then there was Rodriguez himself. Making a promotional appearance in Mexico City (of all places) to help christen in a new gym, he spoke in Spanish to reporters who showed up and admitted that a sabbatical wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. “I think that in the year 2014, the league could have done me a favor because I’ve played 20 years without a timeout,” he said. “I think 2014 will be a year to rest mentally and physically prepare myself for the future and begin a new chapter of my life.”
Wild Will West
Milwaukee minor league pitcher Will West was given a 50-game suspension last year for testing positive for PEDs; once he finishes that to start this season, he’ll start a new suspension—this one for 100 games after testing plus for amphetamines and a “drug of abuse.” Some people just can’t help themselves—but we already knew that, thanks to Alex Rodriguez.
Clayton Kershaw was rewarded for his early-career greatness—and for being a member of the cash-rich Los Angeles Dodgers—by becoming the game’s first $30 million-a-year performer with a seven-year, $215 million extension. The total package eclipses the $180 million contract for pitchers currently being enjoyed by Detroit’s Justin Verlander; sweetening the pot for Kershaw is that he gets to opt out after five years (when he’s 30) and seek even higher wages if he can.
For the Dodgers, breaking the $30 million barrier comes with little sweat; after all, the mammoth, local TV deal yielding $340 million in annual revenue kicks in this season for the team. And besides, the Dodgers’ biggest worry will be trying to keep the ice cool at Dodger Stadium when it holds an outdoor NHL game this coming weekend with temperatures predicted to reach 80 with the threat of wildfires raging in the hills above.
The Self-Congratulatory Tour
Bud Selig wants to pat himself on the back and end his commissionership by going on his own farewell tour of all 30 major league ballparks. Whether we’ll see big pregame ceremonies honoring Selig is as yet unknown—and it may be an uncomfortable existence given that the boos may outweigh the cheers when introduced—but Selig says he definitely wants to return to his ownership roots and just mill around the stands talking to the fans, the vendors, everybody. “I’ve got a lot of people to thank,” he said. We’ll see if the people return the love.
Cute, Cuddly and Castigated
And apparently castrated if you note that the first Chicago Cubs mascot in nearly 100 years wears a shirt but no pants to cover…well, nothing. (Deadspin apparently added a “package” as a joke—and a Chicago web site accidentally applied the image to a story on the maligned new guy.) So poor Clark the Cub, the perfect mascot for every four-year-old, is introduced this past week in a drawing worthy of Peter Puck and gets criticized from all corners, including local ones such as the Chicago Sun Times’ Neil Steinberg, who wrote: “…I predict (that Clark) will be quietly withdrawn sometime in 2016, if not before. Please God.”
The Cubs, who perhaps now understand what it must have been like when New Coke was unleashed on the masses in the 1980s, defended Clark after the initial pan—calling it something “strictly for kids and family entertainment.” If that’s the case, then don’t let this guy wander amid the Bleacher Bums—because that ain’t your target audience.
This Friday, Japanese wunderkind pitcher Masahiro Tanaka—who was a perfect 24-0 with a scintillating 1.27 ERA last season—will decide on which one of five major league teams who’ve submitted bids on his services he’ll accept. The final five are: The Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox. Each offer is said to be at six years and over $100 million; that does not include the capped $20 million posting fee his Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, will receive should he sign.
Auction of the Week
Jackie Robinson’s Rookie of the Year award—the same honor that would soon bear his name—was sold in an auction this past week for a staggering $401,000 and change. It was initially announced last summer that it would be auctioned and, at that time, the asking price was $1 million. We’re not sure why the price came down or why it was being sold in the first place, but there you have it. It certainly would make for a nice ornament in somebody’s gameroom.
All in All, it’s Just Another Bloke in the Wall
When the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks start the season in Australia this March, let’s hope the fences Down Under are sturdier than the ones players were running through just in the past weekend.
In the Record Book…and on the Rap Sheet
Wladimir Balentien set the all-time Nippon Professional Baseball record when he belted 60 homers last year for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, but apparently that hasn’t made him a happy man. This past week, Balentien was arrested in Miami for imprisonment and battery upon his spouse, for whom he is in the midst of a divorce with.
I’m Back, And Here’s Why
So much for Tim McCarver’s retirement. The long-time analyst for whatever national network covered MLB games has decided that he hasn’t covered his last game; he’s signed on to do 30 games for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. McCarver, 72, said that returning to St. Louis (where he began his playing career 50 years ago) is “fabulous, a complete merry-go-round. It’s wonderful.”
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