Thursday, June 22, 2017

Crew Consultation - Importance of the Call on the Field

Should umpires consult with crew-mates on instant replay plays before going to Review? It's Gil's Call.

When should an umpire confer with his crew?
Ask an umpire, and the answer is "yes." That's the process, always has been, always will be. More on that later.
Ask a skipper on the wrong side of the call—namely Joe Maddon—and the answer is "no."

The Play: A batter hits a fly ball down the right field line and above the height of the foul pole to lead off the game. Initially ruled fair and a home run by the first base umpire, he elects to consult his crew due to the unusual nature of a ball traveling out of the ballpark at such a great height. Although Replay Review is available to the Crew Chief, he allows his crew to complete their conference and come to a consensus as to the ball's status. As a result, a second umpire advises the first base umpire that the ball is foul, and the call is accordingly reversed. Only then does the Crew Chief initiate Replay Review, upon which it is determined that video evidence fails to clearly portray which call is correct. Thus, the foul ball (post-conference, pre-replay) call stands.

Maddon prolongs his argument with Kellogg.
The Complaint: When this scenario played out on June 16, Maddon disagreed so vehemently with the process employed by Jeff Kellogg's crew that he earned an ejection for continually arguing the point.

Naturally, on June 16, had 1B Umpire Clint Fagan's call of "home run" prevailed, Cubs batter Anthony Rizzo would have given his team a 1-0 leadoff advantage. Instead, the crew ruled the ball foul after conferring with one another before Kellogg opted to employ the Crew Chief Review in order to get a final ruling. The verdict? "Call stands."

The Post-Game Comments: After the game, Maddon said the umpires "neutered instant replay by the way it was handled tonight." Maddon went on to claim, "If it had been confirmed foul, I'm fine. But the play stood. So in other words, if we had gone right to replay immediately after it was hit and they said it was foul, I would have been in the game for nine innings."

The Questionable Logic: Maddon claimed he wasn't upset by the foul ball call, but by the process employed by the umpires in getting to that decision.

If reporters were robots as Maddon desires umpires to be, Maddon's quote would have received an immediate: "Does Not Compute" error. It fails the logic test. It might even fail the lie detector test.

Maddon's illogical comments reveal his bias.
Maddon is, after all, the same manager whom Joe West ejected in September 2016 for complaining when West attempted to enforce a pace-of-play procedure and Rule 5.10(l) pertaining to a manager attempting to evade or circumvent the one-mound-visit-per-batter rule. In other words, Maddon has a track record of being ejected for arguing when an umpire points out that he has violated one of the Official Baseball Rules.

Are we really to believe that such a gamesman suddenly cares more about procedure than about the call itself?

Maddon's basis for argument is precisely the reason the on-field ruling—the original call on the field—actually does matter. A "call stands" ruling means there is a "lack of clear and convincing evidence to change it" (Replay Review Regulation II.K.3).

Joe West ejects Maddon after a rules violation.
That means that of all reviewed camera angles and audiovisual replays, the Replay Operations Center was unable to find clear and convincing evidence to prove that the call was incorrect.

Alternately, that signifies that the umpires on the field had the best chance—through their trained positioning, intuition, judgment, and human eye-angles—to get the call right. Although the TV cameras couldn't sufficiently capture the play, this says absolutely nothing about the four pairs of eyes representing the league on the playing field. The so-called tie-breaker, then, is the umpire's on-field call, for no camera purports to have seen what the umpire saw from his angle in real-time.

As Joe West recently remarked, "If you see a rattlesnake, you don't turn your back on it." Whether that rattlesnake is a close fair/foul call or a pesky safe/out call that merits further discussion, do as the Cowboy does and "don't turn your back on it...You cannot back down as an umpire. You can't be scared as an umpire. You have to do what's right."

"The Keyhole" helps umpires get calls right.
If you've read any edition of Tmac's Teachable Moments, you'll know that umpires are constantly trying to get themselves in the best position—often times better than any camera could ever get—in order to get the call right.

It is always astounding that umpiring critics who continually gripe about "getting it right" are usually also the first to complain when the umpires do try to take all legal steps to do just that.

Lost in the shuffle to Maddon—who brazenly admitted that he never actually saw the replay before making his blame-the-umpire remarks and "didn't really care if it was fair or foul"—and those with similar team interests, Kellogg's crew actually did follow proper procedure before employing Replay Review. Not only did Kellogg's crew ultimately get the call right, they got the process right, too.

Dale Scott's crew consults in 2013.
Maddon may be a smart manager, but when it comes to umpiring, he's far outmatched by those who make careers out of umpiring and supervising.

The Major League Baseball Umpire Manual covers the very issue of crew consultation and getting the call right: "An umpire is urged to seek help when that umpire's view is blocked or positioning prevents such umpire from seeing crucial elements of a play. An umpire is also encouraged to seek help in instances when that umpire has doubt and a partner has additional information that could lead to a proper ruling."

One such play specifically listed in the MLBUM as a candidate for crew consultation? "Deciding whether a fly ball that left the playing field was fair or foul."

Naturally, there are certain plays that do not lend themselves to consultation. For instance, the standard safe/out play at first base (ground ball to second, throw to first base as the runner arrives at the base) is not a candidate for crew consultation. However, the potential existence of a first baseman's pulled foot—visible to the plate umpire, but not the first base umpire—is a potential impetus for conference.

Question: So, the Kellogg crew's procedure was proper, but with Replay Review available, why consume time with a conference at all, knowing that a video ruling is just around the corner?

The rulebook specifically allows for this!
Answer: Precisely because of the possibility of a "call stands" ruling. To turn the tables on Mad-Manager Maddon, Replay Review was never meant to "neuter" the umpires. It was meant to correct the "obvious miss," a fact I have brought up time and time again.

I brought up the phrase "take all legal steps to [get the call right]" earlier for a reason: umpiring conferences are great, in moderation and in appropriate scope.

In the majors (and potentially college or high school state tournaments), with scoreboards and HD video boards galore, there stands a strong chance that while the umpires are in conference, the stadium's entertainment production staff (itself employed by the home team) will display at least one replay of the play on the giant video screens (that may or may not show an angle favorable to the home team). It is of tantamount importance that the umpires do not look toward these screens (unless the call is already under review at the Replay Operations Center or otherwise prescribed by local rule) so as not to cloud their judgment: It is not the on-field umpire's job to pay any mind to video replay while on the field: umpires are to rely on their own judgment, and, through teamwork, that of their crew, in order to come to a consensus and final decision.

Caution: The mere fact that a manager files a challenge or requests a review does not obligate and should not itself call for a crew consultation. The calling umpire's own instinct or judgment relative to doubt or (where appropriate) a crewmate's additional information should govern the conference process. It may be prodded or inspired by a manager's comments, but this is not the same as the manager who unsportingly demands a conference: excessive attempts at influence are irrelevant and inappropriate in determining whether or not to conference. Whether or not it results in a conference, a simple request is reasonable; a demand is unsportsmanlike; repeated demands after being told "no" are out of the question and should likely be met with discipline, from simple warning to exclusionary ejection, and every progression in between. As West said, "you cannot back down as an umpire." That's what "legal" means in this context.

Umpiring means enforcing rules/boundaries.
Umpires exist in order to enforce the rules of baseball so that every team has a chance to win the game in a fair and balanced environment. A coach attempting to unduly influence a call to tip the scales to as much as 51% to 49% has committed an unsporting act of attempting to change the rules or their enforcement so as to create an unfair advantage for his/her team.

Crew Consultation and Getting the Call Right is part of the 50%-50% fair and balanced process, as delineated in the MLBUM, as well as in OBR 8.02(c) ["if the umpires consult after a play and change a call that had been made, then they have the authority to take all steps that they may deem necessary, in their discretion, to eliminate the results and consequences of the earlier call that they are reversing"], 8.02(d) ["A manager is permitted to ask the umpires for an explanation of the play and how the umpires have exercised their discretion to eliminate the results and consequences of the earlier call that the umpires are reversing. Once the umpires explain the result of the play, however, no one is permitted to argue that the umpires should have exercised their discretion in a different matter"], and, most importantly, the General Instructions to Umpires:
If not sure, ask one of your associates...The first requisite is to get decisions correctly. If in doubt don't hesitate to consult your associate. Umpire dignity is important but never as important as "being right."
Umpires have been conferencing long before Replay Review existed in any capacity, and will continue getting together to get the call right long after egoistic managers or players protest a process they know nothing about.

Why? In order to get the call right, the first responsibility of umpiring. | Video via "Read More"
Alternate Link: Apparent home run is called back after consultation; stands after Replay (PIT)


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