Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Joe West Opts In, Several Crew Chiefs Out for 2020

MLB's senior-most umpire Joe West has opted in for the 2020 season while at least 10 other umpires have taken MLB's opt-out package, West explaining he feels that COVID-19 is not a threat to his health, despite the League's assessment that West is "high-risk." West also noted he plans to return in 2021 to surpass Bill Klem for the most regular season games officiated in MLB history.

Meanwhile, a source informs Close Call Sports that at least eight crew chiefs and two additional umpires on the full-time staff—including those deemed "high-risk"—have opted out. MLB offered to pay these umpires their full wages (as agreed to for the 2020 season), along with credit for a year of service time.

For instance, MLB's senior-most Crew Chief (as opposed to senior-most umpire-overall West) is Gerry Davis, another umpire who may be deemed at risk, and who is just 43 games shy of achieving his own milestone of 5,000 games worked. Unlike West, however, Davis may well decide to opt out.

Other longtime crew chiefs, in order of seniority, include, Jerry Layne, Brian Gorman, Tom Hallion, Mike Winters, and Fieldin Culbreth. A handful of non-crew chiefs also are in the older age category. Long-time backup crew chief Phil Cuzzi, for instance, will turn 65 in August, while rookie crew chief Kerwin Danley will not actually step on the field to work as a regular season crew chief until he is 59 years old.

Another umpire, Greg Gibson, is sidelined in 2020 with a quadriceps injury.
Related PostInjury Scout - Greg Gibson Out for 2020 Season (6/11/20).

In an interview with The Athletic, West explained that MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem was "taken aback" by West's decision to work the 2020 season, while revealing that umpires will likely fly mostly on team charters during the season, with little-to-no commercial air travel.

With West unable, in 2020, to surpass Bill Klem's record for most regular season games officiated in Major League history, the difference between opting in and out, relative to Klem, would be setting a new all-time games worked record in early April 2021 vs June or July 2021.

In deeming an umpire "high-risk," MLB considered several criteria, including age and medical history, including body mass index (BMI).

As for West, he described his heart as "healthy as a horse's" while stating his belief that coronavirus doesn't personally pose a significant health risk: "Most of these people that they're reporting are dying are not healthy to begin with," adding, "I don't believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus. I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths." West also said he lost 25 pounds over the offseason.

Will umpires like West wear a mask?
According to the Center for Disease Control, however, the greater risk for misclassification is COVID-19 deaths being misclassified as pneumonia or influenza in the absence of positive test results, as opposed to non-COVID deaths being misclassified as COVID-caused.

West's home state of Florida, for instance, which is presently experiencing a statistically significant spike in reported COVID-19 deaths, does not include in its report "probable" cases: in Florida, only "confirmed" cases are included in its death report.

The CDC and John Hopkins University reported 130,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States at the time of this report.

Video as follows:

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

MLB Mulls Reduced Travel for Umpires in COVID Season

When it comes to controlling the spread of COVID-19, umpires are undoubtedly MLB's weak link. In a normal year, umpires travel more than any team, walk through public airports, and take more commercial flights than any other on-field personnel. Consider that an umpire's average age is significantly higher than a player's, and umpires similarly are the most vulnerable uniformed characters in baseball to both contracting and spreading the coronavirus.

For this reason, Major League Baseball is reportedly considering mitigation strategies for its most exposed Tier 1 cohort that go above and beyond COVID testing and other measures already in store for players, coaches, and managers.

Some of MLB's potential plans for umps include:
> Umpire crews may be regionally based and drive whenever possible, as opposed to fly. This means a healthy dose of Los Angeles-to-Anaheim-to-San Diego and New York-to-New York-to-Philadelphia-to-Boston routes.
It is unclear whether MLB will seek to redraw the crews or simply distribute existing 2020 crews throughout the country (and, perhaps, Toronto...will Stu Scheurwater head up a permanent Canada crew?).
Related Post2020 MLB Umpire Crews (Delayed Season) (5/6/20).

> Crews may stay at one site for an entire homestand and not leave after every series.
> Umpires may stay at team hotels, as opposed to offsite at separate accomodations.
> Call-up umpires may be on standby as taxi squads, similar to MiLB players.
> MLB still has the option to forego Replay Review this year, but prefers to keep it in place.
> Face coverings may be encouraged but not required.

Joe West & Gerry Davis are nearing records.
And a confirmed rules change is already in the books:
> Umpires will have the authority to eject any player or manager who leaves his position to argue a call or instigate an altercation with a guideline of a six-foot socially distant circle.

UEFL rhetorical question: Will we see an increase in ejections or will players/coaches/managers respect MLB's guidelines?

Additionally, high-risk umpires may be offered paid opt-out options for health and safety concerns, likely with credit for service time.

For instance, Joe West, born on Halloween 1952, enters the 2020 season at the age of 67. Gerry Davis (February 22, 1953) is not too far behind. West and Davis comprise the senior-most members of the full-time umpire staff and both veterans are seeking to officiate milestone games in the not-too-distant future: Davis needs 43 regular or post-season games to achieve 5,000 MLB games worked and West is 60 regular season games short of all-time regular season games worked leader Bill Klem (5,370).

Coincidentally, West needs 60 regular season games and MLB's proposed 2020 season is exactly 60 regular season games in length. The question is whether West or other umpires would choose to opt out and try and set their respective records in 2021, presumably with fans in attendance.

Video as follows:

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Umpire Storylines for MLB's 60-Game 2020 Season

As MLB's plans for a 60-game season for 2020 proceed, we preview the umpire storylines for the abbreviated baseball year from July through the fall's World Series.

Will umpiring crews follow the list crafted prior to the season or will umps be regionally based, given umpires' vulnerability and exposure whilst traveling via commercial aviation? What happens to the new crew chiefs?
Related2020 MLB Umpire Crews (5/6/20).
Promotions: Danley / Iassogna / Marquez / Reynolds.

What rules changes should we expect, such as a pitcher's batter minimum or replay challenge time limit?
RelatedMLB's 2020 Rules (2/13/20).

Who's hurt and what would happen if an umpire were to test positive for the COVID-19 virus?

Will any umpires enter the 2020 season with a suspension or other discipline?
RelatedRob Drake's Twitter War (10/24/19).

Will Gerry Davis and/or Joe West achieve milestones and subsequently retire after the season?

What happens to Angel Hernandez's lawsuit against MLB in which the league claimed a "total absence of any evidence" of diversity issues? What of Randy Marsh?
RelatedRich Garcia 'Fed Up' Following Marsh Testimony (5/19/20).

Video as follows:

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Plate Meeting Teachable with Brian & Jeff (Part 1)

In Thursday's premiere of our Plate Meeting Teachable series, umpires Brian deBrauwere and Jeff Gosney join Tmac and Gil for video analysis from an officiating perspective. The debut at 6pm Eastern Time discusses timing, positioning, game management, and umpiring technique.

Visit the Close Call Sports YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/CloseCallSports) and subscribe to the channel to receive updates on every video that we post.

To view this episode, click here or watch below:

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Injury Scout - Greg Gibson Out for 2020 Season

Although MLB hasn't played a game since Spring Training on March 12, famed home plate umpire Greg Gibson has nonetheless suffered an injury and will be sidelined for the entire 2020 season, if there is one, after tearing his quadriceps tendon.

According to The Daily Independent, Gibson tore his tendon in late May while loading an off-road vehicle onto a trailer at his farm in Boyd County, Kentucky. Had MLB not been subject to a COVID-19 shutdown, there's a strong chance Gibson would have been on a baseball field instead of at home when the injury occurred.

The 85% tear resulted in surgery on June 1, with recovery and rehabilitation slated to take an additional six months—or the entire baseball season. Fortunately, Gibson, who graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in 2019 with a degree in Risk Management and Insurance, can still work his office job at the insurance agency.
Related PostGreg Gibson Fulfills Goal, Graduates from College (5/12/19).

Gibson halts a postgame cooler dumping.
Said Gibson, "If you're gonna get hurt, this is the year to get hurt." He anticipates returning to baseball in 2021, estimates his umpiring career has a life of approximately six or seven years remaining, and hasn't ruled out working Replay Review HQ in New York later in 2020, if the major league players and owners agree on terms of a season.

Gibson missed time in 2019 not solely to graduate and receive his diploma, but due to injury as well (he later rehabbed in Triple-A in July and put a quick stop to a post-game in Omaha in which some players looked poised to dump a celebratory gatorade cooler on Gibson to commemorate his imminent return to the major leagues).
Related PostInjury Scout Update - Greg Gibson's Triple-A Plate (7/20/19).

Gibson was scheduled to be the Number 2 umpire on Jerry Layne's crew in 2020, alongside Will Little and first-year full-timer Jansen Visconti.
Related Post2020 MLB Umpire Crews (Delayed Season) (5/6/20).

Monday, June 8, 2020

MLB Argues No Evidence of Diversity Problem in Suit

MLB filed a motion in Angel Hernandez's lawsuit alleging racially-motivated discrimination, writing that the Latino umpire's claim of a diversity problem within umpiring suffers from a "total absence of any evidence," and that Hernandez's quality of work, not discrimination or disparate treatment, explains why he hasn't been promoted to crew chief or worked a World Series since 2005.

Disclaimer: This article and accompanying video is an opinion and not presented as be-all-end-all fact.

Part 1: Did MLB Use a "You Filed Too Late" Defense?
MLB filed a motion amidst USA civil unrest.
MLB argued that Hernandez's discrimination claim filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on May 11, 2017 precludes investigation of discrimination "that accrued before July 15, 2016" pursuant to a 300-day statute of limitations under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a three-year statute of limitations under New York State law and four years for federal section 42 USC §1981 (equal rights under the law).

Thus, MLB argued that any allegedly discriminatory act that occurred against Hernandez from 2011 into 2013 is inadmissible, even if it did occur: that would mean that claims for the 2011 and 2013 crew chief decisions and the 2011-12 World Series assignments were untimely under all codes, the claim regarding MLB's 2013 World Series and 2014 crew chief decisions were untimely under all statutes except for §1981, and Hernandez's claim relative to MLB's 2014 and 2015 World Series decisions are untimely under Title VII.

Part 2: MLB Also Called Out Several Incidents From Hernandez's Career.
Did AH receive disparate treatment for errors?
With all attention paid to statutes of limitation and timeliness or lack thereof, claiming some of Hernandez's claims dating to 2015 and earlier are inadmissible or otherwise ineligible, MLB nonetheless included in its filings several items outside of the relevant period ending in 2017, the backdoor appearing to be Hernandez's complaint that MLB's discrimination continued into 2017, when the lawsuit was filed.

For instance, MLB included both Hernandez's 2012 no-hitter autograph discipline (remember, Randy Marsh testified during deposition that he was disciplined for a similar infraction) and 2013 Cleveland double vs HR replay call (Hernandez claimed MLB's statement regarding the incident was disparate relative to a statement issued in response to a game-ending blown call by Jerry Meals in Atlanta, and also claimed the Cleveland video technology was deficient...MLB replaced the technology after the 2013 season).

Yet while Hernandez filed suit in 2017 relative to events that had occurred prior to and inclusive of that date, MLB also referred to the 2018 American League Division Series as evidence Hernandez held onto past events and an inability to "get over it" (three replay overturns at first base...despite Hernandez working the next game behind home plate and putting up the best plate score of the entire series...three overturns in a game was a feat also accomplished by crew chief Larry Vanover in August 2017 [we reviewed Vanover's game and actually marked four calls that should have been overturned, with Replay Review incorrectly ruling "call stands" on one of them; we also noted the disparity in notoriety Hernandez received after his three-overturn postseason game vs Vanover's three-OT regular season game]), and August 2019 substitution delay in Tampa Bay (compare, e.g., to crew chief Fieldin Culbreth's 2013 pitching change rules misapplication at Angels-Astros). Culbreth and Vanover, for the record, are 2020 crew chiefs. Hernandez is not.
Related PostReplay Oddity - Vanover Overturned 3 Times Thurs (8/11/17).

Does this unique suit belie systemic racism?
The issue of 2016 Replay Review performance also arose: Hernandez was overturned 12 times that year...but so were Bill Miller (crew chief), Jim Reynolds (promoted to crew chief in 2020), and Dale Scott (crew chief). And, according to the 2016 record books, overturned 13 times that year was John Hirschbeck (crew chief), 14 overturns for Paul Emmel (promoted to crew chief in 2017), 15 overturns for Jerry Meals (crew chief), 16 overturns for Gerry Davis (crew chief), 17 overturns for Tim Timmons (not a crew chief), and 22 overturns for Dan Iassogna (promoted to crew chief in 2020).

Is there a larger issue at play than MLB's argument, which appears to be a long-form expression of simply attacking Hernandez's job performance while white umpires with similar faults do receive the coveted promotion Hernandez claims he has been denied because of race or national origin?

MLB also argued that certain data presented by Hernandez was not statistically significant enough to indicate a diversity problem. For example, at the time Hernandez filed his suit in 2017, Richie Garcia was MLB's last full-time minority crew chief in 1999: perhaps the 18-year gap is not statistically significant...but perhaps it is.

In the present social environment of race reality, will MLB's apparent tactic in giving the appearance of attempting to get the case dismissed through summary judgment by criticizing Hernandez and writing there is a "total absence of any evidence of a demonstrable [diversity] 'problem" while pointing the finger at minor league baseball for its hiring practices relative to the Triple-A hiring pool simply kick a racially-charged can down the road?

Central to this argument is 2016 umpire composition and diversity (remember, the suit was filed in 2017, so the last full statistical year at the time of filing was 2016).

For MLB players, the league was 64% White, 27% Latino, 7% Black, and 2% Asian.
For MLB umpires, those numbers were 89% White, 5% Latino, 6% Black, and 0% Asian.
And for full-time MLB Crew Chiefs, that number was 100% White.

Video as follows:

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Real Time Call - Quick Thinking in the KBO

Most umpires across the globe officiate in leagues without instant replay, and even for an umpire backed by video review, the original on-field ruling is of tantamount importance. In this Real Time Call, we look at a bang-bang play at first base involving two runners.

In a world where so much of officiating education is spent on You Make The Call type scenarios, complete with multiple replays from multiple angles and at multiple speeds, we've decided to place added emphasis on real-time gameplay: this is a play any umpire should be able to quickly decipher on slow-motion replay...but can you figure out what happened in game-speed, on the first viewing? This is a real time play.

To set the scene, this play occurs in the top of the 6th inning of a Korea Baseball Organization game between the SK Wyverns and Doosan Bears. There is one out and the bases are loaded. For the purposes of this play, there are two shoes we'd like you to wear. Keep in mind, runner R3 Choi Jeong is attempting to score from third base and batter-runner Choi Joon-woo is attempting to beat out a ground ball, with R1 Jeong Eui-yoon and R2 Jamie Romak filling in the gaps.

First, rule on this play as 1B Umpire Lee Min-ho. Who's out, when, why, and how?
Then, rule on this play as HP Umpire Lee Yong-hyuk. What's your call, if any?

Video as follows:

Sunday, May 24, 2020

CPBL Ejection, Bench-Clear - Deciphering HBP Intent

Chinese Professional Baseball League HP Umpire Ji Huawen ejected Brothers pitcher Ariel Miranda for throwing at Guardians batter Lin Yiquan in retaliation for a prior HBP, resulting in a benches-clearing incident and learning opportunity for umpires on how to read body language as clues toward deciphering pitcher intent during throwing-at events.

Taiwan's CPBL beanball war cleared benches.
The story began in the bottom of the 3rd inning, when, with two outs Brothers batter Zhang Zhihao took a first-pitch fastball from Fubon Guardians pitcher Henry Sosa for a hit-by-pitch, resulting in a game-ending leg injury and immediate substitution of pinch-runner Chen Zihao.

In the top of the 6th, Guardians leadoff batter Lin Yiquan took a first-pitch fastball from Miranda for a hit-by-pitch, resulting in a game-ending leg injury and Miranda's immediate ejection for intentionally throwing at a batter, care of HP Umpire Ji Huawen; warnings had not been previously issued. At the time of the ejection, Fubon was leading, 4-1. Fubon ultimately won the contest, 7-3.

Reactions sometime confirm an ump's call.
Gil's Call: Watch both pitchers—Sosa in the 3rd and Miranda in the 6th—and note their body language and facial expressions. In the 3rd, Sosa clearly looks distraught and upset about his having injured an opponent with a mistake pitch. In the 6th, Miranda has a blank expression and shows no contrition or other emotion to indicate the expected empathetic response. This should communicate to an umpire or referee that the player either intended to harm the opposition or intended to cause a disruption to the game via HBP or other similar pitch. Player response or micro-expression should not be the only factor in an umpire's decision-making, but can help guide the process.

In April 2020, Sosa threw at Rakuten Monkeys batter Guo Yanwen in retaliation for an illegal bat appeal, resulting in warnings from HP Umpire Lin Jinda.
Related PostCPBL Fight - Illegal Bat, Bean Ball Prompt Bench Clearing (4/19/20).

On May 14, Wu Jiawei ejected Brothers Manager Chiu Chang-Jung and pitcher Esmil Rogers over a runner's lane interference dispute.
Related PostCPBL Ejection - Wu Jiawei (CTBC Brothers) (5/14/20).

Wrap: Fubon Guardians vs CTBC Brothers (CPBL), 5/24/20 | Video as follows:

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Rich Garcia 'Fed Up' Following Marsh Testimony

Does MLB have a culture problem? Longtime AL crew chief and former umpire supervisor Richie Garcia is "fed up" with Baseball after Randy Marsh's testimony during an Angel Hernandez v Commissioner lawsuit deposition in which Marsh commented on Garcia's 2010 termination from the league office.

Garcia recently told the AP that he is "sick of it," referencing the circumstances surrounding—and following—his abrupt dismissal from the supervisory role, and Marsh's on-the-record comments might have forced Garcia to speak out.

To recap, Marsh, in response to questions surrounding umpire discipline for misconduct, mentioned that Hernandez had been disciplined for attempting to collect memorabilia from Homer Bailey following a no-hitter and on behalf of another umpire that had officiated the milestone game.

Marsh then stated, under oath, that he personally had also been previously disciplined, and that supervisor Garcia had been fired in 2010 for going to watch son-in-law Vic Carapazza work a minor league game when he was under consideration for a big league job: "His son-in-law was umpiring in the minor leagues, was in strong consideration for promotion to the major leagues, and he was told not to go watch him work, because of being related to him. He continued to do so. He had been told not to do it, and he continued to do it."
Related PostAngel's New Evidence - Supervisors Wanted Hernandez in World Series, But Woodfork Said No (4/26/20).

Marsh admits his testimony was inaccurate.
Garcia has consistently stated he didn't want anything to do with Carapazza getting a big league job, so as to avoid the appearance of nepotism, conflict-of-interest, or otherwise: "I wanted to clear his ability to be a big league umpire and not have people think he got there because of me."

Then-World Umpires Association President Joe West backed Garcia: "''I don't want to be in a situation where I have a conflict of interest because he's my son-in-law,'' West recalled Garcia explaining. 'And then he said, 'I'm just not going to write a report on him.''"

Both Garcia & Hernandez named Manfred.
Marsh replied to an AP inquiry and said that his deposition statement—testimony given under oath on penalty of perjury—was inaccurate: "I probably mis-worded it when I was deposed. It shouldn't come out like that," further explaining, "I had no idea what reasoning they gave him for being fired and had heard from working with Rich Rieker, who was a supervisor during all those times, was that at one point he was told not to go watch his son-in-law umpire."

Garcia believes he was fired due in part to then-MLB Executive VP for Labor Relations Rob Manfred, whom also has provided deposition testimony during the Hernandez lawsuit, albeit in his capacity as MLB Commissioner. Then EVP for Baseball Operations Jimmie Lee Solomon similarly disputed the content of Marsh's testimony: "There was a desire, a general desire, to upgrade our situation a little bit. The old-school ways we felt were going to end up biting us, and we needed to get some new blood in."

Video as follows:

Friday, May 15, 2020

KBO Demotes 6th Umpire After Manager Ejection

The Korea Baseball Organization reportedly demoted umpire Hoon-Kyu Oh to the minor Futures League following an incorrect foul tip or third strike call during the week. The demotion marks KBO's sixth less than two weeks into the 2020 season.

According to KBO insider Daniel Kim, the umpire—who initially ruled a batter out on a swinging third strike—affirmed his out call following a subsequent conversation with Lotte Giants catcher Bo-geun that was captured by Korean broadcast MBC's microphones and, according to Kim, "went viral. He had to go," suggesting the umpire's verbal remarks to a player may have contributed to KBO's decision as much as his on-field judgment call.

To be clear, video indicates the umpire stuck with his initial "out" call and did not change his call as a result of his conversation with the catcher. Replays indicate the baseball appeared to contact the bat prior to touching the ground and ultimately entering the catcher's mitt.

Unlike Major League Baseball's MLBUA umpires' union or Minor League's AMLU association, KBO umpires are not part of a union and do not enjoy collective bargaining power nor protection.

KBO reporter Dan Kurtz indicated, "As far as I know, the umps are considered individual contractors."

In the United States, although umpires and referees for youth, high school, and most college leagues and conferences are considered independent contractors, MLB and MiLB umpires are employees of the leagues in which they work.

Nonetheless, this might be a good time to refer to our October 2019 review of umpiring and social media: word choice applies to what an official says both off and on the field.
Related PostRob Drake's Twitter War, Umpires and Social Media (10/24/19).

Video as follows: