Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Pace of Play in Hernandez-MLB Lawsuit Slows to Crawl

As Spring Training kicks into high gear and we prepare for a third MLB season touched by the pending lawsuit of an umpire alleging racially-motivated discrimination, we catch up with the offseason docket activity for Angel's Hernandez v. The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball et al suit.

Quick Recap: In the fall of 2018, we discussed the merits of Hernandez's July 2017 case against the league from a statistical point of view: we found that Hernandez's Replay Review performance as measured by strict quantity of overturned calls outpaced that of at least five other crew chiefs in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and was better than two other chiefs in 2014. As for 2018, Hernandez's regular season Replay performance placed him better than three other crew chiefs, but add in the postseason, even with the three overturns-in-a-game, and one other crew chief still experienced more overturns.
Related LabelUEFL History for MLB Umpire "Angel Hernandez"

Former MLB VP Bob Watson also spoke out.
In fact, Hernandez has never led the crew chief list in overturned calls since replay expanded, and has always performed better than at least one crew chief promoted in his place. Hernandez's original complaint indicated that his ball/strike numbers were better than league average.

Given former MLB VP of Rules and On-Field Operations Bob Watson's prior complaint about MLB's purported lack of diversity in leadership roles (and Crew Chief is a leadership role), we previously concluded that we need more data in order to seek explanation for MLB's decision not to promote Hernandez, and that Hernandez's amended complaint requesting more information from the League would help in accomplishing this analysis. In other words, Hernandez's charges aren't entirely out of left field and they merit investigation.

As we said in July 2017, whether Hernandez is a "good" or "bad umpire," or otherwise is a red herring. As evidence to support charges of unlawful discrimination, Hernandez produced data alleging that MLB has a habitual pattern of not hiring minorities. When it comes to the regular Crew Chief role, Hernandez's complaint indicated that MLB virtually shut out any and all people of color since Rich Garcia chiefed in the 1990s. The gravity of such a charge goes far beyond Hernandez and can't be dismissed by the very tired, "he's just a bad umpire" argument.
Related PostAngel Hernandez, MLB, and Discrimination (Part 1) (7/12/17).
Related PostAngel Hernandez, MLB, and Discrimination (Part 2) (7/13/17).

When faced with an impending request to open its secret files, MLB filed and was granted a request for confidentiality, and at last we spoke, we awaited the two parties to continue discovery and figure out exactly what documents would be shared.
Related PostHernandez's Lawsuit Seeks Replay - A Review of Our Stats (12/4/18).

Where We are Now: Since December 2018, MLB filed more motions to dismiss the suit, answered the amended complaint, Hernandez's team opposed MLB's motion to dismiss, etc.—rather boiler plate legal mumbo jumbo.

January looked like a scene from Boston Legal.
There was a rather amusing sequence in January 2019 when a plaintiff's attorney tried getting himself approved to appear in New York, the court replied that his motion was deficient, and this back-and-forth continued on for about two weeks with more attempts before an amended motion was ultimately granted.

But after this comic relief, the parties got down to business.

In February, Judge J. Paul Oetken referred elements of the case to Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein, and the magistrate subsequently denied without prejudice Hernandez's motion for discovery.

In other words, on January 28, Hernandez's team requested certain documents from MLB. MLB responded on January 30, and the court subsequently denied Hernandez's motion for discovery on February 5.

In the month since this denial (2/5/19 to 3/5/19), there was no activity in this case, which tends to follow the speed of this trial ever since it was first filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on July 3, 2017, though transferring it to New York at the conclusion of the regular season in 2018 spurred some activity, albeit temporarily.

Conclusion: Here we are—Hernandez wants sensitive documents and MLB doesn't want to give them to him (why would an employer want to share confidential documents anyway?). That means we have a stalemate and, more to the point, an increasing possibility bearing mention that this case won't make much meaningful progress before Hernandez's Crew Chief and World Series windows—from a statistical/performance standpoint—are slammed shut by Father Time.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor at a Yankees game.
The Judge's Chambers at Yankee Stadium could render a quicker verdict...but it probably wouldn't be all that fair.

Most likely, the money matter is not MLB's most pressing issue, compared to the optics of having Hernandez serve as an on-field Crew Chief or World Series umpire in contravention of the Chief Baseball Officer's desires. If the league is planning to pay the plaintiff, it'd likely prefer to do so in a way that would limit Hernandez's on-field exposure as -cc or -ws.

Succinctly, this lawsuit has encountered a rain delay, and Hernandez might get called in early by curfew before much significance comes of it.

To be clear, we don't know at present whether MLB has violated any laws or otherwise civilly harmed Hernandez because the very trial designed to answer that question is stuck in a holding pattern. Hernandez accused MLB of wrongdoing, and we're somewhere in the middle of trying to figure that out in a stalled process slower than an extra-inning at-bat featuring Javier Baez, David Ortiz, and Don Mattingly as a coach.

Thus, in a sport that has recently placed such a strong emphasis on pace of play, it would appear that in this situation, we might just be observing an attempt to run out the clock.


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