Thursday, March 26, 2020

Virtual Ejections - Robo-Lance Barrett (Compu-Angels)

With MLB's regular season delayed, today's virtual Opening Day produced the first ejection of the computerized calendar. HP Umpire Robo-Lance Barrett ejected Compu-Angels pitcher Robo-Shohei Ohtani (throwing at Compu-Astros batter Robo-Dustin Garneau after warnings for HBP to Robo-Alex Bregman) in the bottom of the 1st inning of the Compu-Angels vs Compu-Astros game.

Following a one out and one on (R1) balk, Robo-Bregman took a 0-0 fastball from Robo-Ohtani for a hit-by-pitch, resulting in warnings after Compu-Houston's virtual Opening Day opponent threw at them for some odd reason.

Replays indicate the pitch was located inside and struck Robo-Bregman in the upper back, the call was irrecusable. Ensuing batter Robo-Garneau then took a first-pitch fastball for a hit-by-pitch, resulting in ejections of Robo-Ohtani and Manager Robo-Joe Maddon, who looked a lot like circa-2018 Robo-Mike Scioscia.

At the time of the ejections, the game was tied, 0-0. The computer ultimately won the contest, 1-0. The home plate umpire was wearing #16, which is Robo-Barrett's sleeve number for 2020.

Baseball, please come back. Video as follows:

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Joe West Settles with Action Network, Accuses Paul Lo Duca of Ignoring Lawsuit

MLB veteran umpire Joe West narrowed his defamation lawsuit, settling his case with The Action Network over purportedly slanderous comments made by Paul Lo Duca during a podcast. While settlement removes defendant TAN, West now accuses Lo Duca of ignoring the suit against him and seeks default judgment from the court.

In October 2019, West sued The Action Network and ex-player Paul Lo Duca after Lo Duca made statements that, according to West, "impugn the integrity, honesty and professional fitness of Mr. West and affect his profession as a Major League Baseball umpire."
Related PostJoe West Sues Paul LoDuca Over Bribery Claim (10/22/19).

Amongst Lo Duca's purportedly slanderous statements were claims made on a podcast produced by The Action Network that strongly suggested West accepted a bribe from Mets pitcher Billy Wagner in exchange for favorable ball/strike calls, as well as claims that West ejected Lo Duca "eight or nine times" during his career.

Fact checks both by Close Call Sports and West's legal team indicate Lo Duca's ejection claim was false—West ejected Lo Duca just once in his career—and that West never actually served as home plate umpire for any game Wagner pitched while Lo Duca was on the Mets.

As West's team wrote in the original complaint, "As a result of the foregoing Plaintiff was damaged in an amount to be determined at trial."
Related PostPants on Fire - Paul Lo Duca's Joe West Accusation (5/10/19).

On January 27, 2020 Judge John J. Kelley ordered that West's team could serve Lo Duca with a copy of the summons and complaint via his Barstool Sports e-mail address because service using more traditional methods, including at least four New York addresses, failed.

On January 29, West's attorney Nicholas J. Zaita submitted an affidavit swearing that he served LoDuca at the e-mail address.

On February 28, Zaita and The Action Network's attorney, Jeffrey G. Landis, stipulated the discontinuance of West's case against The Action Network. In the joint filing, the parties wrote that West's lawsuit "hereby is settled and dismissed, with prejudice, as to the Defendant The Action Network, Inc. only."

Lo Duca's deadline to appear or answer expired on March 9—with Lo Duca having failed to appear or answer.

By March 20, with Lo Duca still having failed to respond to the lawsuit, the Supreme Court of the State of New York updated its procedures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and impending NY "stay at home" order. This update postpones all civil trials indefinitely.

On March 23, West's team requested that The Action Network be removed from the lawsuit (due to the settlement) and that the court, on April 30, 2020, grant West default judgment against Lo Duca because Lo Duca quite simply has repeatedly failed to respond to the lawsuit.

Nearly two full months after West served Lo Duca at his BarstoolSports e-mail address, Lo Duca has yet to respond to the court.

Video as follows:

Friday, March 20, 2020

Reversed - MiLB Umpires Get Spring Financial Relief

A day after our report on Minor League Baseball's purported instruction that its umpires pay money to the league in the wake of Spring Training's COVID-19 prompted cancellation, MiLB, after consultation with MLB, changed its mind about the per diem issue and enforcement of the unemployment clause in the umpires-MiLB collective bargaining agreement.

Thursday, we remarked on the treatment disparity between minor league players, whom MLB's March 19 press release stated would receive allowances through (at least) the cancelled Spring Training period, and the umpires, who at the time had been ordered to write checks to the league office to account for per diem advances issued just days before professional baseball suspended operations.
Related PostViral Insult - Umpires Allegedly Ordered to Pay MiLB (3/19/20).

Minor League umps can now keep their cash.
24 hours later, it appears that MiLB's original call to prevent umpires from keeping their Spring Training allowances has been overturned, bringing the policy in line with MLB's announcement in regard to minor league players.

In addition to allowing MiLB Spring Training umpires to keep their advanced per diem payments, the reversed decision also purportedly includes an agreement to waive, with certain limitation, the unemployment clause in the CBA.

Instead of the previous posture that filing a claim for unemployment insurance or compensation based on MiLB's suspended operations and lack of work would effectively tender that umpire's resignation from affiliated baseball, MiLB Umpire Development will now reportedly allow its umpires in full-season leagues (e.g., Class-A, Double-A, Triple-A) to file for unemployment as of Minor League Baseball's originally-scheduled Opening Day (April 9).

Umps out of school or in short ball will wait.
Because short-season umpires (Rookie ball and so-called "Short-A") would not have reported until their respective leagues kicked off later in the summer, those umpires remain bound by the unemployment clause until their originally-scheduled report date (or what it originally would have been), upon which time they may become eligible for unemployment clause relief, just as the full season umpires will be starting April 9.

Naturally, all parties involved hope that will not become necessary as baseball hopes to get going before the dog days of summer are upon us.

The League also purportedly increased per-game pay for Spring Training games, for those minor league umpires assigned to MLB games, and all umpires scheduled for full MLB Spring Training (see below link for a list of Spring invitees and call-ups) received appropriate compensation.
Related Post2020 MLB Spring Training Umpire Roster (2/28/20).

Video as follows:

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Viral Insult - Umpires Allegedly Ordered to Pay MiLB

Minor League Baseball purportedly asked its umpires to write checks to the league office as umps remain out of work, the opposite of the cash flow direction MiLB is taking with its players. Whereas MLB will pay players and major league umpires remain under contract, the story is different in Minor League Baseball, where players will get some help as MiLB's umpire staff remains in a holding pattern—under contract and not technically unemployed, yet unable to go to work, and, now, allegedly asked to pay their employer or risk losing their baseball jobs.

*UPDATE*: Following this article's publication, Minor League Baseball reversed its decision and allowed umpires to keep their Spring-issued per diems. MiLB has also waived the unemployment clause of the CBA referred to in the original article below. The updated article with MiLB's reversed decision is available here: Reversed - MiLB Umpires Get Spring Financial Relief (3/20/20).

Earlier this week, some parent clubs—such as the San Diego Padres—made the independent decision to pay their minor league players' Spring Training allowances through MiLB's originally-scheduled Opening Day of April 8, 2020, but MLB's March 19 announcement of interim support for MiLB players extends the decision league-wide and authorizes "a lump sum equal to the allowances that would have been paid through April 8th."

MiLB umpires are left in the lurch.
For illustrative purposes, the San Diego Tribute indicates that a standard minor league ST player's per diem totals approximately $160-per-week, which in lump sum fashion through April 8 could amount to about $500-650 per player. MLB is reportedly considering further compensation for players to account for delays after April 8.

However, minor league umpires—who earn a monthly salary ranging from just $2,000 to $3,900 during the season and whose per diems run in the mid-two-digits (about $64/day in Triple-A for 2020, per MiLB's website)—remain waiting, just as they had when MLB suspended operations and cancelled Spring Training on March 12.
Related PostMLB Suspends Operations - Defining a Delay (3/12/20).

Waiting to see if they'll receive that paltry salary, much less an allowance. Waiting to see if and when they'll be able to return to work. Waiting for confirmation as to employment status in what can best be described as a "zero hour schedule" equivalency.

Stock photo of baseball and money dot PNG.
All while hoping to continue chasing that big league dream...someday.

Umpires Ordered to Pay MiLB: Minor League Baseball has already hinted to its umpires how that "allowance" portion of compensation may go, purportedly instructing its umpires to return per diem advances to the league office or risk losing their jobs if and when the season kicks off.

MiLB allegedly sent advance per diem payments to some umpires earlier in March, before MLB formally suspended operations, and those are the payments the league purportedly wants back (rather than, say, allowing the umpires to hold onto them while times remain uncertain).

Some states have expanded unemployment insurance operations to include employees who, while technically remaining employed, have lost hours due to COVID-19. For instance, employees in California may be eligible for benefits under that state's "reduced hours" benefit. Naturally, this is not a country-wide policy.

However, MiLB Umpires Could Be Fired if They File: According to the minor league umpires' collective bargaining agreement with the league, which obviously was created in a world when there was no global pandemic, filing for unemployment is tantamount to resigning. So while these umpires can legally file a claim, doing so would, for all intents and purposes, end their time in professional baseball or could be interpreted as such.

Court is not usually on an umpire's mind.
In other words, if a minor league umpire files for unemployment insurance—even while drawing a $0 salary from MiLB and even while being ordered to pay money to MiLB—the league can, under the terms of the CBA, consider that as a resignation, even if individual states such as California specifically allow employees to file a virus-prompted "reduced hours" UI claim.

While laws exist regarding EEOC or, in this case, UI-based retaliation, attempting to navigate the waters of whether a world-wide virus scare and federal emergency supersedes an existing CBA is likely a drawn-out legal battle that an aspiring big league umpire wouldn't dare take on.

What is a Minor League Umpire to do? | Video as follows:

Friday, March 13, 2020

NCAA Cancels College World Series, Baseball Seasons

The National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) cancelled its entire Winter & Spring championship tournaments, including the College World Series. Though college baseball season itself did not technically encounter national cancellation, many individual conferences and schools have taken to cancelling seasons at the local level.

Similar stories can be found at the high school level, though the National Federation (NFHS) hasn't yet officially cancelled its calendar and has largely relied upon state associations to make individual calls. For instance, 13 states have presently canceled NFHS basketball tournaments, 16 postponed or suspended them, 10 imposed fan limits, and one (Montana) plans to continue without limitation.

Several cancellations were made in the midst of tournament play, and some of those decisions were made after having first tried to play games with fan limits. Some states also elected to cancel after first trying to suspend or postpone.

The NCAA, which opted to cancel all tournaments, issued the following statement:
NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men's and women's 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships. This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.
College sports' governing body subsequently agreed that eligibility relief, or prolonged eligibility, for graduating seniors and other student-athletes will be considered at a later date.

Little League baseball also announced a postponement of Opening Day festivities.

As for umpires and referees, many officials from the youth and adult recreational to high school, college, and pro-am levels are suddenly out of work, which means the vast majority of sports officials impacted by cancellations and postponements will not be paid as most game officials tend to be independent contractors as opposed to employees otherwise eligible for unemployment insurance or other benefits.

As the Seattle Times wrote, "Gig workers fall through the public health safety net as corona virus spreads in Washington."

Video as follows:

Thursday, March 12, 2020

MLB Suspends Operations - Defining a Delay

Major League Baseball suspended operations, cancelled the remainder of Spring Training, and postponed Opening Day, delaying the start of 2020's regular season by at least two weeks. Not just for MLB's sake, but for NBA, NHL, MLS, NCAA, and other sports leagues, it's important to define our terminology.

Suspension, postponement, cancellation, and delay are nouns which will be bandied about in the coming hours, days, and weeks, but what does each mean? In order to avoid confusion as the sports world modifies its schedule, here's a glimpse at this entertainment industry terminology.

NOTE: MLB, for whatever reason, appears to have interchanged the terms "cancelled" and "suspend" regarding Spring Training in its press release. These are NOT identical terms and carry vastly different revenue/ticket implications, as the following definitions illustrate.

Definition of Terms, Sports
A SUSPENSION refers to a momentary hiatus or pause from an event or activity already in progress. For instance, the NBA suspended its in-progress season, while the NHL put a "pause" on hockey. When something is suspended, similar to a suspended game, it is expected to be made up at a future date, if possible. Tickets held for the original event will be honored for the resumption, and, thus, refunds will not be processed.

A POSTPONEMENT moves a scheduled game to a new date in the future. If Opening Day is postponed, for instance, it will still occur, just at a later time. Tickets for the original event will be good for the rescheduled/makeup date.

A CANCELLATION terminates whatever is in progress and whatever is scheduled with no intent to create a substitute event. For instance, if a college conference cancels a tournament or season, then said tournament or season will simply not occur and will not be made up. Cancellation begets an eventual refund (or ticket exchange).

A DELAY pertains to something happening that day at that event. If a game enters a rain/weather delay, for instance, play will be temporarily suspended, but will ideally resume within minutes or hours. Sit tight and wait it out.

A delay also refers to staying a component of a larger system (e.g., a few innings of a full game or a few games of a larger season), but the whole element (e.g., the game itself) is said to be postponed.

Thus, we might well be looking at a suspension of baseball operations, postponement of Opening Day, and cancellation of Spring Training, and delay the start of the season.

Video as follows:

Monday, March 9, 2020

2020 UEFL Draft and Registration Info

Welcome to the 2020 Umpire Ejection Fantasy League season. The registration and draft form is now open and is due prior to Opening Day. Pursuant to UEFL Rule 1 (Selection of Umpires), you may select umpires at once or in phases until the deadline. Stay tuned for the 2020 Draft Prospectus with stats and scouring information on MLB umpires eligible for selection.

Relevant Links for the 2020 UEFL Season
2020 UEFL Registration & Draft Form | UEFL Digest
UEFL Rules Book | Umpire Roster & Profiles
Twitter 🐦: @UmpireEjections
Facebook 👍: /UmpireEjections.

Registration and Draft Process
The Umpire Ejection Fantasy League is a free-to-play league. All you have to do to participate is fill out the registration and draft form.

How to Fill Out the Form
Step 1) First, indicate your desired username and e-mail address (or other unique identifier). In the event you choose to draft your umpires in phases, this unique identifier will verify your selection. If you comment on Close Call Sports via our DISQUS commenting platform, your username must be the same as the username you use for DISQUS.

If you aren't yet registered with DISQUS, you should sign up so that you can comment. Pursuant to UEFL Rules 4-7 and 6-1, only DISQUS-registered users logged into their accounts may challenge UEFL rulings.

Step 2) Draft 1 Crew Chief, 2 Primary Umpires, and 2 Secondary Umpires. You may draft these umpires all at once or in phases. To draft in phases, simply submit a new draft/registration form every time you wish to select a new member of your five-umpire crew. See the accompanying graphics and UEFL Rules 3 and 4 for specific information on how points are allocated throughout the season.

Registration, Draft, and Roster Deadlines:
Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Final day to submit registration and umpire selections.
Thursday, March 26, 2020: Roster locked and MLB regular season begins.

Any user who has not selected umpires by Opening Day will be subject to random assignment (to take the "Quick Pick" option voluntarily, submit your registration form leaving your umpire selections blank or [N/A]).

UEFL Appeals Board - UEFL 6-4-a:
The 2020 UEFL Appeals Board, as finalized during the 2019 Rules Summit, includes:
Executive Board (x4): Gil (Chair), tmac (Vice Chair), Jeremy (Deputy), RichMSN (Charter).
At Large (x5): Arik G, cyclone14, MarkCanada, jvick2017, MLBUmpireObserver.

Reply here with questions and submit draft picks/register via the following form:
(Click here if you cannot view the embedded form.)

Friday, March 6, 2020

MLB Ejection S2 - Ryan Blakney (1; Joey Bart)

HP Umpire Ryan Blakney ejected Giants DH Joey Bart (strike three call) in the top of the 9th inning of the #Giants-#Brewers game. With two out and none on, Bart took 0-0, 0-1, and 2-2 pitches from Brewers pitcher Phil Bickford for called first, second, and third strikes.

QOC is unavailable for this Spring Training game, as electronic measurements were not used at American Family Fields of Phoenix. At the time of the ejection, the game was tied, 5-5. The contest ultimately ended in a tie, 5-5.

This is Ryan Blakney (36)'s 1st ejection of Spring 2020.
Ryan Blakney now has 0 points in the UEFL Standings (0 Previous + 0 Spring = 0).
Crew Chief Jeff Nelson now has 0 points in Crew Division (0 Prev + 0 Spring = 0).

This is the 2nd ejection report of Spring Training 2020, second of the preseason.
This is San Francisco's 1st ejection of 2020, 1st in the Cactus League (SF 1; All Others 0).
This is Joey Bart's first career MLB ejection.
This is Ryan Blakney's 1st ejection since August 27, 2019 (Amir Garrett; QOC = Y [Check Swing]).

Wrap: San Francisco Giants vs. Milwaukee Brewers (Spring), 3/6/20 | Video as follows:

What to Expect from MiLB's Robo-Ump Test

With Minor League Baseball's Florida State League (Class-A Advanced) set to debut the Automated Ball/Strike System (ABS), Baseball America posited that insertion of so-called robot umpires would collaterally atrophy the pitch-calling skills of FSL's human umpire staff, to which I say, "not so fast."

Today's Gil's Call speaks to the officially unacknowledged reality of baseball's ABS from its time in the Atlantic and Arizona Fall Leagues—namely that the technology is faulty and prone to catastrophic and multifaceted failure.

In other words, ABS—whether TrackMan's doppler radar in 2019 or HawkEye's optical system in 2020—has a nasty tendency to miss pitches entirely. In the words of MLB's senior-most umpire Joe West, "It missed 500 pitches in April and when I say it missed 500 pitches, that didn't mean they called them wrong. They didn't call them at all."
Related PostVideo - Truth About Baseball's Electronic Strike Zone (5/30/19).

Speaking with umpires who have encountered this technology during gameplay, one thing becomes readily apparent about this not-ready-for-primetime experiment: It perhaps is more stressful to work an ABS game than to call balls/strikes in the traditional manner because, with ABS, the plate umpire never quite knows when the computer will miss a pitch.

Delayed calls will complicate matters.
And when ABS misses a pitch—as it did 500 times in the period referred to by West—the human umpire must fall back onto tradition and call "ball" or "strike" just as one would do without the technology.

Yet due to the electronic system's habitual timing problems—ABS is notoriously delayed in a sport where such delays sometimes are unacceptable [e.g., a 3-2 delayed call with a runner trying to steal]...according to one account, ABS once announced "strike" in an umpire's earpiece mid-play, only after the batter's ground ball had been fielded by the shortstop—the plate umpire can never really be sure (at least not within a two- or three-second window) whether ABS has failed to capture a pitch or whether ABS is simply going to squeal "ball" or "strike" after a metaphorical eternity of processing time.

Not for nothing, MiLB is heading into this 2020 experiment blind—HawkEye hasn't been tested in live gameplay yet (recall that 2019's vendor was TrackMan)—so outcomes aren't entirely predictable.

FoxTrax's static strike zone limitation.
In conclusion, I would expect that FSL umpires, despite encountering ABS in a majority of their games, will not atrophy in their collective pitch-calling ability as suggested by Baseball America, simply because the technology's shortcomings and untested nature mean that human umpires must be more alert; however, by that same token, the umpires will encounter more stress, which in the workplace can lead to a higher human failure rate or potential burnout.

In other words, see what expanded Replay Review has done to MLB umpires on the bases and you might have a clue on what to expect from ABS in the minors...that is, once professional baseball can prove that the technology actually works.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

UEFL Profile of MLB Umpire Chad Whitson

Presenting the UEFL Profile of MLB Umpire Chad Whitson.
Name: Chad Robert Whitson
Pronunciation Guide: CHAD WITT-sun
Date of Birth: December 8, 1981
Place of Birth: Dublin, Ohio

MiLB Leagues Worked: Appalachian, South Atlantic, California, Arizona Instructional, Eastern, International.
MLB Debut: May 15, 2014 (MLB)
Level: MLB
Umpire Uniform Number: 62
Crew Chief: No

2019 Ejections: 1.
Ejection 053 (DET DH Miguel Cabrera; QOC = Y).

2018 Ejections: 1.
Ejection 134 (WAS C Matt Wieters; QOC = Y).

2017 Ejections: 1.
Ejection 123 (WAS C Matt Wieters; QOC = Y). *First Career MLB Ejection*

2016 Ejections: None.
2015 Ejections: None.
2014 Ejections: None.

Ejection History: 0 (2014), 0 (2015), 0 (2016), 1 (2017), 1 (2018), 1 (2019).

UEFL History: Chad Whitson

Postseason and Special Events History
World Baseball Classic: -
All-Star Game: -
Wild Card Game: -
Division Series: -
Championship Series: -
World Series: -

Notes: Hired midseason in July 2019 to replace retiring umpire Mike DiMuro.
» Called Jake Arrieta's August 30, 2015 no-hitter, as a Minor League call-up umpire.
» Graduated from the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School in 2005.