Monday, September 3, 2018

MLB Declares Pitcher Cards Legal After West Game

After confiscating Phillies pitcher Austin Davis' scouting report card Saturday night, umpire Joe West invoked foreign substance Rule 6.02(c)(7), concluding that the MLB Commissioner's Office will have to provide guidance on the matter. MLB has now weighed in, and the card is legal.

MLB told its teams that P note cards are legal.
After the game, West told a pool reporter that he saw the card as foreign, invoking 6.02(c)(7) in electing to remove the card from play. West said, " I didn't want to throw him out. I know it's foreign, but he's not trying to cheat."

As we wrote in the aftermath, 6.02(c)(7) proper doesn't allow an umpire to confiscate a foreign substance without also ejecting the offending pitcher: Rule 6.02(d)(1) requires an automatic ejection for violating the Pitching Prohibition rules, which includes 6.02(c)(7) (provision 7 is not eligible for warning).

Instead, West's only recourse would be to interpret the card not as a foreign substance, but as an attachment-type foreign object, as in 6.02(c)(7) Comment, which triggers one of baseball's "don't do that" provisions. By rule, an umpire can order the offending pitcher to remove the attachment, without further penalty other than "don't do that."

Thus, West's only legal maneuver here would be to interpret the card as an attachment under 6.02(c)(7) Comment using elastic 8.01(c) and "don't do that" authority of 8.01(b).
Related PostCarded - Why West Confiscated Pitcher's Cheat Sheet (9/1/18).

MLB Steps In: After the game, West tipped off the Commissioner's Office: "Right now, until the office says it's OK to carry this, he can't do it."

Orel Hershiser has his cheat sheet checked.
Accordingly, MLB alerted both teams and the umpires that, going forward, the note card will be legal, as long as a pitcher's use of the card doesn't delay the game.

Precedent: In 1988, Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser brought a similar note card with him onto the mound, but unlike Davis, Hershiser sought out the umpires' permission to use the document during the game, willfully submitting it for inspection. Upon satisfaction that the cheat sheet was not and did not contain an illegal foreign substance, crew chief Doug Harvey allowed Hershier to use the card during his appearance.
Related VideoHershiser has umpires check his cheat sheet during the 1988 World Series.

Why Joe Picked the Booger: Davis isn't the first pitcher across the league to use a scouting report note card, but West is the first umpire to confiscate it. West is MLB's senior-most umpire, he already has the second-most games worked all-time and is going for the record.
Related PostJoe West Passes Froemming for 2nd Most Games Ump'd (8/14/18).

West has less at stake than other umpires.
Gil's Call: This puts West in a unique position: of all the umpires in the league, he has the most clout to stick his nose into an ambiguous rule such as 6.02(c)(7) as old-school baseball—a time when pitchers didn't generally carry anything onto the mound except for a uniform and equipment authorized by rule—gives way to the modern game, when cheat sheets are more commonly used in order to parse the massive amounts of data driven out by statistics-minded front offices.

In Hershiser's day, the card was an exception that could easily be decided on a game-by-game basis because it was not widely used. In the modern era, however, the card is gaining traction throughout the game requiring a standard policy for the sake of consistent enforcement.

A Triple-A call-up umpire likely would never be so bold as to confiscate a pocket-sized note card from a pitcher lest they lose their job as a result (fill-in gigs have been lost for less); a solid young full-timer all the way up to a promising "number two" would similarly stay out of it for fear of losing out on a postseason, or, worse, being denied a promotion to crew chief. A crew chief might stay out of it lest risk losing out on a postseason crew chief assignment.

Umpires like West or senior-most crew chief Gerry Davis (who ejected Adrian Beltre for moving an on-deck circle), however, don't have all that much to lose when diving into such a rabbit hole.
Related PostMLB Ejections 109-110 - Gerry Davis (1-2; Beltre, Banister) (7/26/17).

Younger officials aren't as free to be proactive.
For younger officials, a proactive approach to this kind of thorny issue could prove costly to a career, especially if there's a chance the league won't back them up, as occurred with West and the foreign-but-not-really scouting card.

So senior-most MLB umpire West, whose career and postseason accolades are already well established, takes the note card because he sees it as foreign—just that foreign objects aren't specifically referenced in the rules while foreign substances are, thus West forms his own interpretation of "confiscate but don't eject"—and forces the MLB office to make a decision on an otherwise-unaddressed portion of the rules.

With West, it's just another one of the Cowboy's antics. With a younger official, it'd be a reason to release him from Triple-A or deny that long-awaited promotion to MLBU, #3, #2, or to Crew Chief.

While West comes across as overstepping his bounds, since MLB issued a memo saying the card is legal, his proactive action served a higher purpose, forcing MLB to publicly address an issue that could have proven trickier in the future as time goes on and the cards are used more and more, while making it easier for umpires in the future by clearly establishing what should be done in a similar situation.

Even though MLB all but threw West under the bus for enforcing what he thought was a rule needing to be enforced—a risk West willingly took when he confiscated the card—he's in good company.

Hall of Fame Umpire Dealt With Similar Issue: Longtime National League umpire Al Barlick in 1963 threatened to quit baseball because he and his fellow NL umpires were "fed up with things," namely, that NL President Warren Giles failed to support his umpires when there was a controversy.

HOF Ump Al Barlick faced a similar problem.
In '63, the main issue of contention was the balk rule, with the NL ordering its umpires to crack down on balks. Naturally, this led to a significant increase in balk calls (one memorable game featuring Barlick as the plate umpire saw Cubs baserunner Billy Williams balked all the way home from first base as Milwaukee pitcher Bob Shaw was called for three consecutive balks...Barlick eventually ejected Shaw).

Said Barlick, "We umps have to shoulder too much blame, yet all we do is enforce the rules. We don’t write the rules, just make certain none is violated."

After Barlick went home having threatened to quit, Giles spoke with him and released a statement shortly thereafter: "A misunderstanding has been cleared up. I asked Barlick to spend two or three days with his family. He will rejoin his crew in Chicago on June 21."

He did, and he wound up in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

History Repeats Itself: Likewise, MLB has purportedly cleared up a misunderstanding. According to the Phillies broadcast, MLB legalized the scouting report card, but somehow forgot to inform the umpires of this determination (see video below). Thus, West's action Saturday forced the league to issue its umpires a direction as to the scouting card issue, eliminating ambiguity or confusion that a little piece of paper might cause.

West forced MLB's hand on the card issue.
We've said it before, and it bears repeating: West is a no-nonsense umpire who isn't afraid to get involved, even if it means being accused of over-officiating. Though this riles up fans and rubs some players and teams the wrong way, in this case, the positive outcome is that it forced MLB to take a look and issue a decision on a tweener issue that could have proven problematic had it been left unaddressed in the future.

At least now the standard is clear and umpires can consistently and confidently enforce this rule (card = legal, delay = illegal) without worry that the league office won't support them...until a pitcher actually does delay the game as a result of checking the card, that is—an issue for another time.

Or, as one commenter on the MLB website, probably from Chicago, wrote, "So now I can guarantee that some cheating pitcher (most likely in a red uniform with a bird on it, that plays in Missouri) will have their notes written on the back of a piece of sand paper!"

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Philly broadcast discusses note cards, saying MLB forgot to inform its umps (PHI)


Post a Comment