Monday, January 27, 2014

You Can Stop Now

The NFL played the Pro Bowl yesterday. Did you watch it? Just a glance? Were you curious at all? I'm betting a fair share of you flipped to it for at least a short while. I did. It was a a different thing this year with a fantasy type draft. It was different this year because teammates could now face each other in a game of all-stars. But it really wasn't.

It may have been different for the players, but as a casual fan it didn't change the game at all. Fans don't care if a Browns player can rag on his teammate for a big hit during the Pro Bowl. We can't relate to that. It didn't seem to matter either when the game was split by conference. I have never felt that extra sense of pride when the NFC won. Most years I don't know who won the game. This year included. I've had to click the link to the score at least 5 times.

You know when the Pro Bowl matters? When the rosters are announced. That's it. That's the only time fans really care. That's when the action is. Who got snubbed? Which team has more players? I love to see multiple Bears players go to the Pro Bowl, but don't actually care how they do in the game. I just hope no one shreds a knee and is lost for the next season. This year it was a close game yet ratings went down as the game got late. By now, no one really cares.

More than anything, this year's twist seemed very self indulgent for the NFL. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, but they were the only people that I saw associated with the Pro Bowl the last few weeks. Even ESPN's recap leads with the Hall of Famers. None of the current young stars like Nick Foles, Andrew Luck, and Cam Newton seemed to be promoted. Why not? I don't want to see retired players, they're irrelevant.

There doesn't seem to be a solution to get casual fans like me interested in the NFL's version of an all star game. In looking through other professional leagues for an idea to make it interesting I found nothing. The NHL seems to change the way their All Star Game is played every few years. The NBA is more traditional with the East vs West format. But that game is entertaining. Baseball has serious stakes riding on its All Star Game.

That may be where Major League Baseball went right. Even though ratings were down for last season's Mid-Summer Classic, it still had more viewers than the Pro Bowl. It matters in baseball. The winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series. There is serious incentive there. We are assured of seeing some great match ups because of that.

There's no real reason in the NFL for players to actually play in the game. Just getting named to the Pro Bowl kicks in contract bonuses. Why risk playing? Why not just name Pro Bowlers for each conference and give them a free trip to Hawaii?  They can choose when they want to take the trip. It's the getting named an All Star that matters. It's about recognition. If they just named the teams and didn't play we wouldn't have 10,000 injury replacements every season. Everyone is spared.

Fix the Pro Bowl? I'd rather just abolish it.

Eric Nathanson
@2outhits on Twitter

Friday, January 24, 2014


For a guy that said he was going to write every day I haven't done a very good job. We all know that it's not because nothing has happened lately. There have been stories everywhere. Is it writer's block? Well I admit to sitting here looking blankly at the screen. Sometimes that even happens after I spend time researching and have pages of notes. But that's not it. I wish it was. Most of the time when that happens it's not because I can't write, it's because I don't want to.

Admittedly, real life does sometimes get in the way of trying to keep up with things around here. But I've had plenty of time lately to write. Stuff pops up for everyone now and then, but it hasn't stopped me from having time in front of the laptop. So I've had to really look at myself and ask, why am I not writing? I think I figured it out.

Fear. It just all comes down to simple human fear. Mine is that people will stop coming here and reading things that I write. It's because of that fear that I totally lost sight of what I'm doing here in the first place. I've sanitized myself a little bit as to not be offensive. I have held back thoughts and ideas because I worried they might piss someone off. The thing that bothers me is that I didn't realize I was doing it.

I'm not the type of writer, or person for that matter, who will be controversial for the sake of it. Don't get me wrong, I love a good debate. I'll dig my heels in and stand my ground with the best em. But I'm not here to get clicks, I'm just here to write. You will read what I write if you like it, you'll click away if you don't. Either way I'm good with that.

I don't mean to sound challenging. That's not at all what I'm trying to convey here. I'm actually challenging myself to just be honest and share my views from now on. If I like something, I'm going to say it. If I don't, I'll say that too. I'm just allowing myself to be the unfiltered, honest Eric.

There's a whole lot of you out there that have been coming around since the beginning. I love you so much for that. I really appreciate all you've done to help me get this far with my writing. I started here because the 2012 San Francisco Giants team deeply moved me. I never dreamed I would enjoy it so much. This place, and the Giants, have opened up wonderful worlds for me. That's what I know best.

Now it's time to step out of the comfort zone a little bit and try some new things. If you don't like something I have to say, I'd love to hear it in the comments. If you do like it, well even better, comment away! I'm still gonna be here tapping away at the keys no matter what.

Eric Nathanson
Follow me on Twitter: @2outhits

Saturday, January 18, 2014

MLB Instant Replay - It's Already A Flawed System

On Thursday afternoon Major League Baseball announced that the owners had unanimously voted for an expansion of the instant replay system. It is structured as a challenge system much like we see in the NFL. Meaning, a manager must request a replay. He must challenge the ruling on the field in a timely manner. If correct in the first challenge, managers will be rewarded with a 2nd challenge. If incorrect, there doesn't seem to be any penalty at all. It's not like you can just arch off 5 yards and keep moving along.

OK I'll quit with the NFL analogies. The fact that MLB's new system seems to mimic the one the NFL has had in place for almost 25 years is bothersome to me. But I'll get to that later. Back to he new system. Major League Baseball shared all the details of the system in a press release. Not all plays are allowed to reviewed. As we've all read the "neighborhood play" will stay in place. I'm grateful for that. The very reason an umpire will call the out there is for player safety. If the fielder happened to push off the bag a split second before receiving the ball, there is no reason to penalize him. More often than not a runner is sliding right in to that base for his own safety as well as to maybe break up a double play.

Let's be honest. If it didn't hurt so much runners would be trying to crash into fielders at full speed in hopes to jar the ball loose. But they don't. What do they do? They slide as a safety precaution. It's self preservation. That's all the "neighborhood play" at 2nd base is during a double play. A built in safety measure to try and protect the players. So just because the replay is going to show us that yes, in fact, the fielder's foot came off the bag before he caught the ball, it does not need to be overturned. You have to look away. There's more to it than just black and white there, and I'm glad that won't come under scrutiny.

Major League Baseball issued a press release and in it was an outline of what can and cannot be challenged.

The following play types will be subject to review:

Home run
Ground rule double
Fan interference

Stadium boundary calls (e.g., fielder into stands, ball into stands triggering dead ball)
Force play (except the fielder's touching of second base on a double play)
Tag play (including steals and pickoffs)
Fair/foul in outfield only
Trap play in outfield only
Batter hit by pitch
Timing play (whether a runner scores before a third out)

Touching a base (requires appeal)
Passing runners
Record keeping (Ball-strike count to a batter, outs, score, and substitutions)

All other plays will not be reviewable; however, the Umpires may still convene on the field at any time to discuss the play.

There will be designated communication locations in each stadium. The umpires at the park will be connected to the Replay Command Center (MLB's term, not mine) in New York, where one of eight MLB umpires will be watching the game on monitors. The same replays will be relayed to each clubhouse so that teams can know when to challenge. It is also beneficial to fans because from now on all replays will be shown in game. No more screens going to something generic after a close play. That used to lead to murmuring and not the discussion that public replays will bring.

Bud Selig was also quoted in the release touting the new system:
I am very pleased that instant replay will expand to include additional impactful plays. The new system will give managers valuable recourse in potentially game-changing situations.
Upon reading this my mind immediately filled with more questions. That's not a good thing when something is supposed to be a solution. I know that Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre had a lot of input in presenting options to the club owners. What I can't seem to get past is how all 30 teams voted yes. Why wasn't there single dissenter? Someone to step up and say, it's still broken. Because this new system is very flawed and fragile. Don't get me wrong I'm thrilled that there is at least something in place, but I think there are better solutions.

The quote above from Bud Selig is very telling. I think using a phrases like "impactful plays" and "game-changing situations" is very reckless. I really don't understand how 2 recent Hall Of Fame managers could allow Selig to sell certain plays as impactful and others as not. Any situation can turn out to be a game-changing situation. Among the rules of this new system is that after the 7th inning the umpires can initiate a review themselves. So on any of the above plays if they are unsure after it's over, they can contact the replay booth. If a manager has a challenge still at that point they can use it. But that's pretty pointless. If there's a blown call most likely everyone is going to see it and know a replay is coming. Umpires are correct just under 100% of the time. I think you'll be surprised at how few stoppages we see.

No longer will we have to live with Jim Joyce blowing a call for a perfect game while everyone in the building knew he blew it. It can be fixed. And although Jim Joyce showed himself to be a stand-up man the next day, he never should have had to deal with it in the first place.

After all, that's what an umpire wants. To get the call right. When an umpire is zeroing in and making a call, that's all he's thinking about. Calling a bang-bang play correctly is a source of pride for an umpire. That's what they want, to get it right. That's why I don't quite understand this whole system. Why put the challenges in the hands of managers. Has there been some sort of template to say that managers will make the right decisions? In going back to the comparison of the system the NFL uses let's look at how often these challenges are actually correct. In 2011 coaches were able to get the call overturned 52.6% of the time. In the few years before that the number was never better than 50%. So, does that mean NFL coaches are dumb? No it just means that another strategic decision is on their plate. And that burden now falls on MLB managers. In a split second they have to decide if this is the one "impactful play" worth challenging.

It gets complicated with the replay feeds coming straight in to the clubhouse. Now teams will have to send a coach or veteran bench player back to monitor the situation. Who wants to be the player that told his manager to challenge and then it's wrong? No one. So then a coach maybe? But then which one do you choose. All the coaches are constantly working in that dugout. Duties are spread around among them. One coach may position the infield, another the outfield. I really think teams need to hire a specific "replay consultant". It doesn't sound like a pretty job and I wouldn't want to do it.

This is a whole lot to get through huh? Well thanks for hanging in so long. I have a solution or 2 to fix this. But first, let's take a minute and a half to laugh thanks to Improv Everywhere.

Sorry, I just love that one. What guy doesn't want to yell "I Am Spartacus!" just once in his life?

Back to baseball. I know I have been picking apart flaws in this system. I'm just as baffled as you are that the trap play will only be for the outfield. I also don't get why the fair/foul decision is limited to the outfield as well. There are some hard hit balls down a line fielded around the bag. It seems to be an altogether confusing system. The point of replay is to get the call right on every play.

I give MLB credit for one thing. Eight new umpires will have full time jobs starting this season. That's because there will be 8 umpires rotated through the command center at any time watching games. The final decision on replays will come from the umpire at the command center. That's a good start. It puts finality on the ruling as a player or manager cannot argue after the final call is made.

The command center is where I want to start with my own solutions. Like I said they got it right on this. The umpire in the command center should absolutely have final say. In the system that is now in place, the umpire in the command center can only overturn a call if asked. I can't imagine it's going to sit well with umpires to see a bad call not get overturned. Remember, an umpire just wants the call to be right. That's his job. So I just can't see some of these guys being comfortable seeing a play stand just because some manager did not challenge the call. That should always be the main focus of any replay system, to get the call correct.

For a league that is trying to clean up it's image with PED's by showing it's fair and balanced, MLB needs to be even more transparent. Why not try to put the product (players) in the best position to succeed? I propose that not only does the command center umpire have final say, he should also have a say in when his input is given. Instead of having managers challenge, or an umpire call in for help, there should be a system in place for the replay umpire to contact the umpires at the park. Maybe have the dedicated phone line go to a representative at the park. At that time the representative can get the attention of the crew chief to signal that a review is under way. I'm not sure how, but I am leaning towards some sort of sound or noise that comes over the public address system.

All of the same plays will be reviewed. The bang-bang play at first, tag plays, and home run calls. As it is now, I agree in not reviewing strikes and balls or checked swings. Those are just too hard to break down. I'm also on board with adding something like the line technology that is used in professional tennis. It tracks whether or not a ball touched a boundary line. Can't this be used for fair/foul calls?

For some reason though we are left with what we have. Major League Baseball has managed to come out of the Stone Age by accepting replay, but at the same time made it a complicated and convoluted mess. Why it's so hard for the league, and umpires, to just have a checks and balances in place is beyond my understanding. That's why I think it just needs to be simplified and streamlined. Take all replay decisions out of the hands of anyone at the ballpark. Give the command center umpire total autonomy to decide when something needs a further look, or if the play was called correctly in the first place.

As fans, all we have ever wanted is for the game to be fair. That's part of why baseball has such an appeal. Things get settled in the open. If you want to put all players and managers in a position to succeed, take any control of the replay process out of their hands. I'm really hoping that the umpires that sit in the command center get uncomfortable at seeing mistakes passed by because a manager didn't want to waste a challenge.

The time has finally come. Major League Baseball will now use instant replay to determine calls on the field. I wish I was more excited about it, but I'm really just hoping it doesn't turn in to a disaster.

Eric Nathanson
Follow me on Twitter: @2outhits

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Goodbye Tumbleweeds

Is this thing on?


Is there anyone still out there? Does this thing still work?

Oh, OK. Here we go.

What's up folks?  It's been tumbleweeds around here for a while, huh? Seems like I should shake the rust off a little bit.

We're midway through January 2014 and it's time to get this cranking again. If you didn't already know (and if not, welcome to the party), I had been writing for Around The Foghorn over on the Fansided network of blogs these past few months.

Recently though, I've decided to step away and concentrate my efforts here. I will still be contributing over there from time to time, but the bulk of my writing will be right here from now on.

I want to thank Around The Foghorn and specifically Melissa, Denise, and Chris. You gave me opportunities to grow as a writer and talker of baseball  I have learned much more than I expected. You're all great people and I love the AtF family.

So where was I again? Oh yea, I remember now. It's that I'm planning on putting something new up on a daily basis. It's not going to always be San Francisco Giants or even baseball centric. But there will be something new up every single day. Now that doesn't mean if I miss a day that you should tweet me and remind me dear friends. We all have lives that get in the way. But you get the point.

I've got some ideas for a weekly umpire related theme post. I started umpiring at the age of 10 and continued for 20 years. Back in 2004 I even went to school in Daytona Beach to try and break in professionally. I've got some great stories from those 6 weeks that I will share over the next few months. 

I'll be in Arizona for a weekend of Spring Training in early March. You can bet that I will be writing while in Scottsdale. Other than that I have no real set plan on what I'll be writing about for the time being. I'm going to take it as it comes. 

You can bet money though that 4 posts a week will be about baseball. Let's face it, that's what I know. It's the reason I started to write in the first place. You don't leave your true love, you foster it. So that's what I'm shooting for now.

There's a podcast in the works. I'm not sure when it will be up and running. Baseball will be dominant but not the only thing discussed. I may end up spending all my time defending Jay Cutler. That's something non baseball I definitely feel strongly about. I love that guy and can't understand why Bears fans don't want him as the leader. Sigh, I'll leave that for another day.

It's good to be back. I'm glad you've stopped by. Keep on coming back. I mean, I can only get better at this, right? 

Eric Nathanson
Follow me on Twitter: @2outhits