Regular readers of this space know I have been a huge proponent of expanding instant replay in baseball to far more than just boundary calls. For the most part, save when Angel Hernandez is umpiring, the current system works fine. I wanted baseball to do more, to stop more of the gaffes. I advocated a manager’s challenge system akin to the NFL’s for plays on the bases and catches/traps in the outfield.
Well, it seems like I got my wish Thursday, when manager challenges were announced for next season. But to my own surprise, I’m not happy about it. File this one into the too-much-of-a-good-thing category.
I was thinking one challenge a game, something most managers would save until the late innings. Now we’re getting three per team per game, one each in the first six innings and two each from innings 7-on. That’s way too many.
I can’t even imagine the delay tactics that will be used as managers wait to hear if they should challenge a play from someone who will inevitably be in the clubhouse watching on TV. And get this: There could be more than six challenges a night. If you challenge a play and are correct, you don’t lose that challenge either.
Basically every beat writer in America had to quiz their manager about the potential changes Thursday and most of the answers were boilerplate stuff, largely centered on skippers worried about delays in the game and needing to see the actual rules before they could offer hard and fast opinions.
Some wondered about teams that use all their challenges and then have something else go awry late in a game — think Don Denkinger in the 1985 World Series — that can’t be fixed because they’re out of appeals. Others worried about the time involved, although Braves president and special committee member John Schuerholz insisted Thursday these reviews could be done in 75 seconds rather than the current average of slightly over three minutes.
One reason for that is the real plus of the plan: the fact that the umpires on the field can’t blow the call twice, as Hernandez did on the disputed Oakland home run earlier this year in Cleveland that should have been reversed and wasn’t. Now, instead of the game umpires reviewing calls, there’s going to be a war-room setup in New York, just like the NHL uses. Good call there.
About the most interesting nugget I saw — one that I never thought of — came from Mets manager and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Collins. Speaking to the New York media prior to Thursday’s game in San Diego, Collins pointed out he’s concerned about replay actually causing more injuries because of the long-accepted “neighborhood play” at second base.
On double plays, most umpires call a runner out at second whether or not a shortstop or second baseman actually touches the bag on their relay if they’re close to it — in the neighborhood — and the ball has beaten the sliding runner there for a good bit. It’s a way to cut down injuries to middle infielders getting wiped out by sliding runners.
But Collins said with replay available, that’s a situation managers will start to challenge.
“What you’re going to see happen one of these days is, someone’s going to challenge that the second baseman was off the bag and the guy will be called safe,” Collins said. “And now you’re going to make the second baseman stand on the base.”
That’s not going to be good. Second basemen, in particular, will be on the bag with their backs to incoming runners. Collins pointed out how the Yankees, for example, aren’t going to be happy if Robinson Cano gets crushed by such a play.
“You’re going to see some banged-up second basemen,” Collins said.
And there were these forboding words from Mets reliever LaTroy Hawkins to the New York Times about the players’ union’s role: “We haven’t agreed on it. The umpires haven’t agreed on it,” Hawkins said. “I don’t know what the purpose was of making an announcement. I know every party has to agree, if I’m not mistaken, so what’s the purpose of it? Trying to put public pressure on us? No. It doesn’t work like that.”
I asked for it here a lot. Now I got it. Hope it’s not my bad come 2014.
Eyes might have it
Most everything is going right for the Braves but a notable exception is the bat of second baseman Dan Uggla, who has the lowest average (.186) among major league qualifiers and has 146 strikeouts. Pretty big negatives when compared to his 21 home runs.
Uggla went on the disabled list last week and announced he’s taking on an immediate solution to his prolonged batting slump – undergoing Lasik eye surgery. He should be back in 2-3 weeks. Uggla was wearing contact lenses and hoping to put off surgery until after the season, but a 2-for-41 slump sealed his decision.
“I’ve been struggling pretty bad and battling with the contacts and grinding with those things day in and day out,” he said. “I think the best thing to do is just go ahead and do it now.”
Uggla batted .287 for Florida in 2010 with 33 homers and 105 RBIs but his numbers have dropped sharply since. He batted .233 and .220 the last two years for the Braves before bottoming out this season.
Herd fit if tied
I’m getting asked about the Bisons’ playoff situation in the event of a tie. So here’s my rundown of International League scenarios:
1. Pawtucket will not be involved in any tie. The PawSox had a canceled game earlier this year against Charlotte that will not be made up and will thus play only 143 games. They can only finish a half-game in front or behind a team, including the Bisons.
2. If the Bisons and Rochester finish tied for the North Division title and both teams have records good enough to qualify for the playoffs, there is no one-game playoff. The winner of the head-to-head series takes the division and the other team is the wild card. The Bisons lead the series, 7-5, with four games left. If it ends 8-8, the tiebreaker is record within the North and that will likely be in Buffalo’s favor.
3. If the Bisons and Rochester finish tied for the division title and Norfolk qualifies for the wild card, Buffalo and Rochester will stage a one-game playoff Sept. 3 for the division and the loser would be out.
4. If the Bisons finish tied with another team for the wild card, there is no wild-card playoff. The postseason slot is determined by head-to-head. However, a Buffalo-Norfolk tie could not be solved there because they went 4-4. The next tiebreakers are records within your division and records against the three division winners.
Around the horn
• How much impact is Alfonso Soriano having for the Yankees? He had 18 RBIs in a four-game stretch through Friday, tying an all-time record last reached by Sammy Sosa in 2002. But before that, it hadn’t happened since 1939. Soriano had 13 hits in the four games, making him the first player ever with at least 12 hits and 18 RBIs in four games. Jeez.
• Some incredible pitching notes from the Elias Sports Bureau: Five of the last six games at Wrigley Field through Friday have been shutouts, with the Cubs losing four of them. The last time five blankings in six happened in The Friendly Confines was all the way back in 1919.
And forget 1919. How about never? That’s how many times both starting pitchers had allowed at least eight runs and 10 hits without pitching more than four innings. But it happened for the first time in the Giants’ 14-10 win Friday in Miami. Marlins starter Nate Eovaldi allowed 11 runs on 12 hits in three innings but Giants starter Chad Gaudin couldn’t stand the prosperity, allowing eight runs on 11 hits through four-plus innings.
• When Ryne Sandberg took over as Phillies manager Friday, he became the third person elected to the Hall of Fame before taking charge of a big-league dugout. Luke Appling managed the Kansas City Athletics for the final 40 games of 1967 and Ted Williams managed the Senators/Rangers from 1969 to 1972.