Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Sign Stealing Scandal - Prepare for Retaliation, Umps

In November, we analyzed the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal and an umpire's role in such thievery (hint: it's nearly nonexistent). With MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred's penalties doled out, umps should prepare for retaliation in 2020, given the league-wide response from various players to the entire episode.

To review, sign stealing is a legal enterprise that, absent Little League modifications or NCAA's rule regarding video communication equipment, does not fall under an umpire's jurisdiction. For MLB specifically, even if the scheme abuses technology (and trash cans), umpires do not have basis in the Official Baseball Rules to intercede.

In this case, a professional umpire's only potential response is to notify the league office after the fact in a post-game report. That's it.
Related PostAbuse of Technology - Umpire's Role in Sign Stealing (11/18/19).

And with that out of the way, we turn our attention to widespread reaction from non-Astro players largely denouncing Houston's actions as 'cheating' and otherwise nefarious, for even though sign stealing isn't prohibited in OBR, the on-field aftermath/revenge is left to the umpires to manage.

With Braves player Nick Markakis just the latest to advocate for some measure of retribution ("every single guy over there needs a beating"), umpires must acknowledge the very real probability of retaliation during regular season games (teams generally don't go for revenge during Spring Training, but Grapefruit League crews should still keep the possibility in mind).

Vegas has a betting line for 2020 Houston HBP.
For MLB umpires, it would be improper to judge whether implicated players escaping Commissioner Manfred's punishment is a just outcome or not; instead, umpires must remain cognizant of opponents' reactions and messaging.

Despite the Commissioner's statement that retaliation, most likely in the form of intentional hit-by-pitch acts, will not be tolerated and could result in enhanced discipline, umpires have no say in before- or after-the-fact matters: the only concern is what happens on the field, and at this stage, it is growing increasingly likely that on-the-field retaliation will occur, and potentially on multiple occasions.

And when it does—whether a pitcher intentionally throwing at a batter, a runner spiking a fielder, fighting, or otherwise—umpires must be ready to respond evenhandedly and readily, for in this case, as Ron Kulpa once infamously declared in Houston, an umpire must be prepared to "do anything" necessary to restore order after an unsportsmanlike incident, which in this case may include, warnings, ejections, or other actions.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Sign Stealing Scandal - Prepare for Retaliation (CCS)


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