Players embrace baseball scoring appeals process

Oakland’s Coco Crisp tracked Robinson Cano’s drive to

right-center. He seemed ready to make the catch – until he got

caught between deciding whether to jump or stay on his feet and the

ball bounced off his glove.

Cano easily got into second base as New York Yankees teammate

Curtis Granderson came around to score. Official scorer Chuck

Dybdal ruled it a two-base error.

To many at the ballpark, the call seemed routine. But the

Yankees were bewildered. They filed an appeal with Major League

Baseball the following day to give Cano an RBI double. And their

wish was quickly granted by MLB executive vice president Joe Torre,

a pattern that is being repeated much more frequently under a

streamlined appeals process for official scoring calls.

”You can see it and then you can appeal,” Cano said. ”It’s a

good thing you can appeal, because sometimes those things, maybe

can be the one that – you can hit 2,000 hits. Maybe a double, you

can hit 500 doubles. Or the RBI – you can get 1,000 RBIs. Who

knows? You know how hard it is to get a hit or double in this

game.”

Don’t forget how hard it is to pitch. The Mets took a shot at

getting R.A. Dickey’s one-hit gem against Tampa Bay on Wednesday

belatedly changed from a one-hitter to a no-hitter. But no luck.

That appeal got turned down.

”We took advantage of the process,” Mets manager Terry Collins

said. ”You can do it, so we gave it a shot. We didn’t win it. We

didn’t expect to win it. Just gave it a try. If we had won it,

we’ve got another no-hitter.”

Both cases have their roots in player complaints about official

scoring during last year’s collective bargaining talks, leading to

a new appeals process and an effort by MLB to try and bring more

consistency to official scoring decisions from city to city and

scorer to scorer.

Team officials are not supposed to ”initiate communication”

with scorers and MLB will punish people who ”intimidate, influence

or pressure” scorers into changing calls.

Instead, a player or team can appeal any call to MLB within 24

hours after it is made. While baseball will not release numbers on

how many appeals there have been this year, scorers, teams and

players say it is up considerably from last year when 12 of 58

plays appealed under the old system were overturned.

”It’s a good thing because it’s less of a distraction as the

game goes on and there’s a call that, at face value, you say,

`That’s a hit or that’s an error,”’ Angels manager Mike Scioscia

said. ”There’s a process in place where you ask the league to take

a look. It’s one less distraction that can happen in the dugout,

where guys are saying, `Are you (kidding) me?”’

After a successful appeal, the call and corresponding statistics

are changed with no fanfare or announcement.

In the play involving Cano and Crisp on May 25 in Oakland, A’s

starter Tyson Ross had three earned runs added to his ledger just

hours after being sent down to Triple-A from 5.94 to 6.51 without

throwing an additional pitch.

”That’s unfortunate because I believe I should have caught

that,” Crisp said. ”That works out in my favor but Tyson doesn’t

deserve those runs. It should have been an error.”

Baltimore’s Nick Johnson was on the winning side of an appeal

earlier this year when Torre ruled a ball Eduardo Nunez of the

Yankees allowed to fall in left field on May 1 should have been a

double not an error.

”I like it,” Johnson said of the new process. ”I think it’s

going to work well. Just another set of eyes to take another look

at it. You hear back from them in two, three days and go from

there.”

Minnesota scorer Stew Thornley said he has had calls overturned

on appeal and likes the new process better than the confrontations

with players or team officials that used to more frequent.

He sympathizes with players who are upset about calls they

disagree with, because he used to do his share of complaining

before becoming a scorer himself.

”You think you got jobbed by a scorer’s call, you’re unhappy. I

totally understand that,” Thornley said. ”That’s part of the job.

That’s why any clown out there can’t do it because boy, I used to

be one of those clowns. `Boy if I were doing this job.’ Then you

find out what it’s like to do it from the hot seat and get some of

that criticism.”

While baseball’s rules say judgment calls by an official scorer

should only be changed if they are to be determined to be ”clearly

erroneous,” players who like the new process acknowledge there is

rarely unanimity on disputed calls.

Oakland shortstop Cliff Pennington said when he polls teammates

about disputed calls, the clubhouse verdict is usually split.

”We’re judges the same way you think of a judge in court,” New

York scorer Billy Altman said. ”It’s not completely possible to

standardize that. No court can standardize how judges approach

things. … If every call was black and white, they would not need

an official scorer. These are judgment calls. They can go either

way.”

The streamlined appeals process is just one change in how

baseball is handing official scorers this season. MLB also brought

at least one scorer from every city to New York this offseason to

try to bring common standards to an admittedly subjective

process.

Like past efforts to try and make strike zones consistent from

umpire to umpire, MLB wants scoring decisions applied

consistently.

”We want more uniformity of calls,” MLB senior vice president

Phyllis Merhige said. ”A little less variation of what gets called

one way in one city and different in another city or among

different scorers in the same city.”

To help achieve that, scorers looked at tapes of last year’s

appealed and overturned calls and had breakout sessions addressing

press box announcements, how to deal with a ball getting lost in

the sun or lights, sacrifice bunts and defensive indifference.

One of the most specific sessions was led by Tampa Bay scorer

Bill Mathews, who is also the head baseball coach at Eckerd

College. He gave scorers clues on what to look for in terms of how

hard a ball is hit, the angle a player takes and a fielder’s

position when a ball is caught.

”There’s still human judgment,” Mathews said. ”Scoring is

about judgment, feel and knowledge of the game. It’s about making

tough decisions under pressure at the right time. That’s what makes

it fun. I’d say 94 percent of plays are a piece of cake. That 6

percent are what you take home and lose sleep over because you just

want to get it right.”

There has been a strong trend leading to fewer errors in the big

leagues with the 11 highest fielding percentages of all-time coming

in the past 11 seasons.

Errors per game have dropped about 25 percent the past 40 years

because of better fielding, improved groundskeeping, better replays

that allow scorers to see bad hops or other factors that could

change an error to a hit.

Some also believe scorers today are less likely to hand out

errors and more likely to give batters the benefit of the doubt

with a hit.

But many players still believe scorers are too quick to call

errors, failing to recognize how difficult it is to get a hit or

field a ball cleanly in the big leagues.

”In Toronto, they mostly score hits as errors,” Blue Jays

infielder Omar Vizquel said. ”The guy is pretty tough. He must

have 10 Gold Gloves because he can make every play out there. I

don’t know if it’s something personal or if he knows about

baseball. Sometimes there are some calls that are very

questionable.”

While a scorer’s call can never change the outcome of a game

like one from an umpire, it still can rankle players who are often

times judged – and paid – based on their numbers.

”I don’t think it lasts very long but it does bother us when we

think we get screwed,” said Eric Chavez of the Yankees, a six-time

Gold Glove winner at third base. ”We have an appreciation for how

tough the game is so we tend to err on let’s give him the benefit

of the doubt whether it’s an error for the fielder or a hit for the

hitter.”

Scorers are sympathetic to frustration by players but get angry

when people try to attach motives to their judgment decisions –

such as helping out a home team player, punishing a disliked player

or making a ruling based on a possible historical achievement.

”I have no problem about people questioning me because when I’m

not scoring, I’m the guy who is questioning as well,” Bay Area

scorer David Feldman said. ”But don’t question my integrity. Don’t

say I’m trying to do something.”

AP Baseball Writers Jon Krawczynski, Janie McCauley and Noah

Trister contributed to this report.