KANSAS CITY — Managers, coaches and players must face the music publicly after things go wrong on the field, and a longstanding complaint they’ve had is umpires don’t have to do the same when the mistakes they make turn the outcome of a ballgame.
Michael Weiner, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, indicated Tuesday during his 50-minute conversation with members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America that’s one subject his staff has raised in discussions with the umpires union and the commissioner’s office “about areas we think need to be addressed.”
“Evaluation, discipline, the word that players use most frequently is accountability,” said Weiner. “Players understand they are accountable, a player has a good game, he gets credit, a player has seven good games in a row he gets credit and then he has one bad game and he’s accountable for that. He blew a game, he blew a game. They think umpires should be the same way.
“There have been instances when an umpire stands up and says I blew it and I may have cost that team a game, or may have cost that player a statistical milestone, and when that happens, that generates tremendous respect among players, because they understand umps aren’t going to get it right all the time, they just want the guys to be accountable.
“It’s not so much about specific areas as making sure umpires have the kind of accountability they should.”
Additional replay would certainly help out but commissioner Bud Selig and Joe Torre, executive vice-president for baseball operations, made it clear during an earlier conversation with BBWAA members that isn’t going to happen quickly.
Baseball officials continue to work through issues regarding implementation of replay on fair and foul calls down the lines and trapped catch plays, but they’ve turned out to be far more tricky than initially expected.
“I thought at first that groundballs over the bag would be a no-brainer,” said Torre. “Then you realize that, first of all you’re relying on the umpires to call a base hit. In the case of fair or foul, balls over the bag, if it’s really close and they think it’s foul, the smartest thing to do would be to call it fair. If replay shows a foul ball is fair, where do we put the runners. Now you’re going to have the arguments starting. You have somebody at first base that could have scored, or stuff like that.
“It’s become more complicated.”
As for expanding it further beyond those two areas, Selig dismissed that, saying, “There’s some people who think we’ve gone too far already.”
“We’re going to expand instant replay when we have the technology to do it, I guess is the right way around it,” he continued. “I am impatient there, as you know, more than impatient. One of them is bullets hit down the right and left field lines, the other is trapped balls. But everybody I talk to, nobody is anxious to increase instant replay anymore. And I concur with that. That doesn’t mean we won’t continue to review it, continue to do things, but baseball’s a game of pace. You can’t compare it to other sports. So we have to be very sensitive, very careful of how we proceed.”
Below are selected excerpts from the sessions with both Selig and Weiner.
Q: What impact did the Roger Clemens verdict have on your view of the Mitchell Report?
Selig: “I’m as proud today of the Mitchell Report as I was then. I took a lot of criticism at the time, internally, as well as externally. But no other sport that ever had an outsider come in to examine it — and I never would have conceived 10-15 years ago that I would do such a thing. The Mitchell Report … we knew right from the start it was impossible for them to get every … who knows what everything is? We’ll never know. But they not only examined and found a lot of things, but they made 19-20 suggestions that were really good, all of which we have adopted, all of which have cleaned up clubhouses. The only objective in all that was to make the sport clean. Things that have happened 10-15 years ago and whether they have or not, we can get into a debate of, ‘Well, you should have done this or that.’ But the Mitchell Report will stand when history judges it as another very constructive step in the process to clean up the sport quickly. Whether the Clemens situation — again, I know I’ve heard lawyers debate. I’ve had lots of people talking to me about what it meant or didn’t mean, as the case may be, is not relevant to me. The Mitchell Report stands as a very constructive part of a process.”
Weiner: “They are clearly connected in this sense: But for the Mitchell report, you wouldn’t have had a Rogers Clemens trial, you wouldn’t have had Roger Clemens testifying before congress and you wouldn’t have had a criminal trial. I think in the end, what you think about the Mitchell Report, is really independent of Roger’s case. I know the commissioner feels very, very ardently that the Mitchell Report was the right thing to do, I didn’t think the Mitchell Report was the right thing to do. At that point and time before the Mitchell Report, we had reached a new drug agreement, we had common ground with the commissioner’s office that we needed to do much better, we needed to have tougher penalties and tougher enforcement, and there was an acknowledgment that there had been some problems in the past. What the Mitchell Report did was give the commissioner’s public authorization for anybody who wanted to go back no matter how far and dig things up. I think it has lengthened the discussion and the profile of performance-enhancing drugs in the game and from my perspective, I don’t think it was a productive exercise. … The Roger trial is an unfortunate byproduct because Roger Clemens was exonerated legally, but everyone knows, Roger himself, there’s really no win in that. He can be exonerated legally and people are still going to think what they’re going to think.”
Q: Would you have any objections to Barry Bonds rejoining the San Francisco Giants as a coach or in some other capacity?
Selig: “That’s between Mr. Bonds and the San Francisco Giants. Next.”
Q: Where do things stand with the 2013 schedule and how will interleague play work?
Weiner: “We’re very close to having a final format for 2013. We have given a short extension to the commissioner’s office from the July 1 deadline, if you look at the CBA, there were certain parameters though so there couldn’t be fewer than 16 interleague games but there can’t be more than 20. There’s been 18 traditionally. There has to be an unbalanced schedule, that was part of this … it has to have interleague play, at least one interleague series at each what I call window when games are played, there will still be blocks of interleague play and I know it was an important goal from our perspective, particularly at the end of the season that no team have to play ideally more than one series outside their own league rules for the last month, the last five, six weeks. … It may be that a team has two interleague series in September, but they wouldn’t have two away interleague series so they wouldn’t have to add a DH or lose their DH for more than three games. …
“There will be either an American League or National League team playing those last three games under different rules, and the same thing will be said for opening day. Nobody wanted that, that’s not a plus of the system, but the other plusses of going 15-15 were so overwhelming that we live with that.”
Q: Will division rivals play the same interleague schedule?
“Not the exact same but very, very close, much closer than now. For example, every team in the AL East will play, and I don’t remember which division they’re matched up against, a five-team division from the National League. If they’re matched up against the Central, every team in the AL East will play three games against every team in the NL Central, that will make up 15 of those games. In addition there will still be traditional rivals, so the Yankees will still play the Mets. Exactly how many games is subject to negotiation, but it will be fewer games than in the past, it won’t be a home and home. …
“There will be some differences but what we call the identity of opponents will be much closer than now than it was before. That’s one of the advantages of moving to 15-15. …
“We have a draft, we are in the process of reviewing it for violations and for other things.”
Q: What was your reaction to the booing of Robinson Cano by the fans in Kansas City for not choosing Billy Butler of the Royals for the home run derby?
Selig: “I felt badly last night, I will say that. Robinson Cano certainly picked the people he thought should be honoured, as Prince (Fielder) did last year, as Matt Kemp did this year. I understand hometown loyalties and that and I’m sympathetic to that, but this was tough.
“The other side of the coin, since we went to captains — and they’ve enjoyed doing it — picking guys, we get everybody that we want. It’s really made it interesting, because the players do it themselves, rather than one of our people calling and so on and so forth. We’ll talk about this, but while I understand Kansas City and while I understand the whole Billy Butler thing, I felt bad, I felt really bad for Robinson and I felt really bad in Phoenix for Prince. This was tough, but it’s also hometown loyalty.”
Weiner: “It struck me that it moved a little bit past traditional good-natured booing, particularly for an event like that and got into another rare. It’s unfortunate but Robinson Cano was born in the Dominican Republic, grew up in the Bronx, plays for the Yankees, he’s going to be fine.”
Q: Could there be in-season and post-season testing for HGH next year?
Weiner: “There could be. What our agreement said was that there was a commitment to the spring training test that occurred, every single 40-man player was tested for blood this spring. … I think that’s an unprecedented circumstance, starting this off-season all 40-man roster players are subject to random testing of blood for HGH, what our agreement says is that the parties would get together to discuss the possibility of extending random testing into the post-season. Those discussions will happen at the end of the year, we’ve already begun to discuss with players their views on that. …
“There is at least a possibility, I’m not going to predict which way it’s going to go, but there’s at least a possibility that we can have in-season testing of some form next year.”
Q: Do you have any concerns about the Tampa Bay Rays, who despite having a strong team, continue to struggle at the gate and have no stadium solution imminent?
Selig: “There’s a study of attendance every day. Looking at where they are to see that they’re No. 29 in attendance, it’s inexcusable. Nobody can defend that. This is a very competitive baseball team. The average major-league attendance is between 31,000 to 32,000. If my memory serves me well, Tampa’s at 19-something. If they were in a club in last place the last five years, you’d say ‘Well, after all you are what you are and you’ve got to do better.’ But it’s disappointing and I know some people are going to be offended. Not the fans, not the people that go every day. I know they have great intensity with the people there. As all of you know I watch many games every day. I pay attention to attendance. To use an old line my father told me, ‘Nothing is ever good or bad, but by comparison.’ I’ll rest my case. It’s disappointing and I’m concerned.”
Q: Ryan Braun says the decision to overturn his suspension proves he didn’t use a performance-enhancing substance, is that accurate?
Weiner: “There’s two parts to that, first is the characterization. I don’t think it was resolved on a technicality, Ryan doesn’t think it was resolved on a technicality, it was a fundamental piece of the agreement that all the procedures have to be observed and they weren’t. That’s in the eye of the beholder, whether you want to call that a fundamental error or whether you want to call that a technicality. I saw a quote attributed to Ryan, in terms that we proved what we proved and what we didn’t prove. What we proved is that this was not a valid collection and therefore the collection had to be thrown out, the case did not proceed to questions beyond that. I’m not going to differ from Ryan Braun, with whom I have a very strong relationship as to his characterization of it, but the case was about whether it was a valid collection and it was deemed to be an invalid collection and that was the basis for overturning.”
Q: Some teams purposely overdrafted players in order to create spending room within their signing bonus pool to be used elsewhere. Philosophically, does it matter to the union how the money is distributed, or just that it is distributed?
Weiner: “It was very important to us that drafted players retain the right to individually negotiate, so it was very important to us that teams had flexibility within their pool to have those kinds of individual negotiations. There’s no question that one of the positives of the things we’ve seen is that different teams have had different approaches to getting that flexibility and generally speaking that’s a good thing. Exactly how it’s worked out in terms of overdrafting or underdrafting, how teams decided to try and use the resources they had under the new system, that’s something we’re going to have to carefully study. But understand that it was and remains very important us that drafted players still retain the right to negotiate individually, and if we think that was improperly impinged upon, we’re not going to be pleased with the results of the first year of the draft.”