Those annoying delays that occur when a manager strolls onto the field, exchanges pleasantries with the umpire, looks back to the dugout, exchanges more pleasantries, then looks back to the dugout again for the thumbs up or down on whether to challenge a call.
There has to be a better way, right?
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I posed that question by telephone Wednesday to Joe Torre, Major League Baseball’s executive vice-president for baseball operations.
Frankly — and somewhat surprisingly — Torre didn’t see the manager-umpire tangos as a major problem. Other MLB officials, however, say that the delays caused by managers are the biggest discussion point internally. Torre allowed that baseball could address the matter at the end of the season if enough people within the sport object.
“It’s not really an issue now,” Torre said. “The only concern that we’ve seen in a couple of instances — and that there have been some warnings on — is going out there and using (the delay) for other reasons, to freeze a pitcher, to get a pitcher warmed up, stuff like that. That’s a concern because that’s gamesmanship. We said early on that we didn’t want that to take place.
“As far as the replay dynamic and what’s going on, we’re all right with it. The time of game — we’re averaging a little over three hours a game, an increase of a couple of minutes from last year. But a small portion of that is replay-related. We’re really not concerned about it yet. But if at the end of the year it sticks out, then we’ll figure out a different way.”
Torre is correct about the relatively small increase in the average time of games — through Sunday, the average was 3:02:14 for nine-inning games, or 3:23 longer than the regular-season average in 2013, according to Major League Baseball.
The average length of a replay, from the time a manager stepped on the field through the ruling being made, was 2:09. Such delays do not occur in every game — the sport was averaging just over one review every two games.
The numbers suggest that the problem is perhaps not as significant as many of us perceive. Torre, though, admits to being surprised by the sheer number of calls getting challenged.
“I know Tony was preaching this from Day One: ‘Guys, go out there if it’s an obvious miss,’” Torre said, referring to Tony La Russa, another of the system’s architects. “But there have been so many of these bang-bang calls that have been challenged, and a number have been overturned.
“Probably more have been challenged than we anticipated, especially in situations that didn’t seem (critical) — and, as a former manager, I know there is no such thing as an unimportant time in a game. I think we’ve had a lot more things challenged — man at first, two outs, things of that nature.
“A number of managers have gone out in a kneejerk reaction to players’ reaction, as opposed to going out doing what the replay guy is telling them to do. That’s something we also warned them about. I know we want to support our players. But you’ve got something you’ve never had as far as the ability to overturn a call. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is a strategy, not something you should use frivolously.”
Most managers actually do employ the strategy judiciously: Of the 388 total reviews through Sunday, 46.6 percent of the calls were overturned, 24 percent were confirmed and 28.4 stood due to a lack of clear and conclusive evidence (1 percent of the reviews were for record-keeping purposes).
The correction rate of nearly 50 percent, while seemingly high, was not an accurate reflection of the umpires’ performance; the statistic did not include instances when managers leave the dugout but decline to challenge. Through 40 games, that had happened about once every four games, according to a major-league official.
The breakdown of where challenges occurred, meanwhile, was not surprising; 40.2 percent were at first base, where most calls are made, while 24.7 were at second. Yet, as Torre said, managers are not simply challenging egregious calls. They’re looking for any edge they can get, at any time.
So, what’s the answer?
Baseball, by requiring managers to approach the umpire for a challenge, created an artificial delay in a sport that already moves too slowly. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who served as a coach under Torre with the Yankees and Dodgers, has said that he is in favor of throwing flags from the dugout, NFL-style, to signal a challenge.
Baseball officials counter by saying that the majority of managers opposed the use of flags before the system was implemented. The managers instead wanted to engage with umpires, just as they have throughout the game’s history.
Asked specifically about flags, Torre said, half-jokingly, “I hate to see how many would come out of the stands in certain cities.” Torre added that he, too, wants managers to continue interacting with umpires.
“We’ve considered all that — flags, cards, there were a lot of things we discussed,” Torre said. “We didn’t want to take away the kneejerk reaction of a manager running out on the field. We didn’t want to make this thing where you’ve lost that exchange.”
Why not abandon the challenge system completely and only allow umpires to initiate reviews? Because, in the view of some baseball officials, umpires would go to replay more frequently to avoid getting second-guessed on any close call.
Still, no one can argue that the current system is efficient. Baseball showed a willingness to adjust when it clarified the transfer rule less than a month into the season. So, let’s hear some ideas for 2015.
Give the manager an electronic device to signal the umpire. Make a rule that requires a manager to challenge a call if he leaves the dugout. Something, anything, to stop the manager/umpire tangos.
“The thing that we’re finding — the thing I find a little disturbing — is the fact that these managers are arguing after replay decisions, trying to make a case with the guy who didn’t make the decision,” Torre said.
“We’re taking all this in. I have some very smart people that are working the numbers on this thing. We’ll see where everything shakes out and where we feel we have to fine-tune it.”
It’s obvious that baseball needs to start with the way managers initiate challenges.
No more strolls. No more tangos. No more unnecessary delays.