MLB Managers: To Argue or Not to Argue, that is the Question

Major League Baseball finds itself is a peculiar situation. The MLB has provided baseball managers, their coaches and front offices with the tools (e.g., video replay and the corresponding rules) to challenge umpire calls on field. However, MLB also wants to regulate how and when managers argue based on the tools given to them.

ESPN recently reported a letter sent to all Major League managers, which was acquired by the Associated Press:

“Major League Baseball is telling managers to cool it on arguing balls and strikes, and warning them not to rely on replay to bolster their beefs.

MLB executive Joe Torre sent a memo Friday to managers, general managers and assistant general managers that said: ‘This highly inappropriate conduct is detrimental to the game and must stop immediately.’”

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MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre clarified his position in the memo:

“Torre, a Hall of Fame manager and former NL MVP, said skippers are increasingly relying on technology from the clubhouse or video room to argue from the dugout. Every pitch and play is monitored by teams in case they want to challenge for a replay review.

He called that “an express violation of the Replay Regulations, which state that ‘on-field personnel in the dugout may not discuss any issue with individuals in their video review room using the dugout phone other than whether to challenge a play subject to video replay review.’”

Torre’s memo was met with conflicting responses by at least two baseball managers:

“I’m still going to react to what I see in front of me,” Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus

“Joe’s the boss, so I guess we’d better cool it. There’s just some days you can’t stand over there and not say something. They’re always making additions, and I get speeding the game up and sometimes that sort of thing slows it down, so it’ll take a little while to walk through that and see exactly how to play it. But you can’t take the emotion out of the game. Joe knows that as well as everybody, but I understand where he’s coming from,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny

Torre closed his memo with the statement that any manager or coach ejected for arguing balls and strikes “hereafter will be disciplined, including at least a fine.”

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Lawyers are paid to give advice to clients on the law. Lawyers take in the facts from a client to determine actions to take or not and possible results from those actions or lack thereof. What is difficult to wrap your head around in this scenario is that the MLB review rules are confusing and need clarity.

The rules provide that a manager or personnel may only utilize review equipment during a challenge. However, it is inconceivable to imagine policing the use of private equipment when the very organization that gave the teams authority to use it wants to regulate when and how it is used.

As a matter of fact, every baseball team employs a person to sit in the clubhouse or office and to watch games and be ready at any moment for a challenge request. As a matter of fairness, MLB and the umpires have their own staff reviewing plays, so teams can and should have access to their review to make the best, most efficient, and fair decisions to challenge.

As a matter of reality, Torre should know better as a former player and manager that it is highly unlikely that managers are calling back to the clubhouse on balls and strikes because (1) the time it takes to do so, and (2) managers know ball and strike calls are unreviewable.

In an article by Chris Chase via Fox Sports, he explains some ways to change the MLB play challenge rules. Here is one offered solution:

1. Montessori [hyperlink added] schools have more defined rules than baseball’s replay guidelines.

“The rules section on replay review totals approximately 8,500 words. Forty books of the Bible have fewer words than that. (There are 66 total.) That means more than 60% of the chapters in the greatest story ever told have fewer words than a set of fairly obvious instructions to Jim Joyce. Oh, and part of those 8,500 words are about handling replays that overlap with the performance of God Bless America. Seriously.

In that case, you might think, baseball has thought of everything. There’s no gray area, not when 8,500 words are involved. Except that it’s all gray area. Those 8,500 words are just a long way of giving off the appearance of saying something consequential while knowing the meaning is completely hollow.”

The length of the rules is clearly not the issue, but the content therein. Now, we have the reviewing and administrative body, MLB, issuing rulings that contradict what the review play challenge was meant to encourage, making better calls on the field. It is unfortunate in our beloved game that changes to America’s honored pastime cannot be done correctly and efficiently.

You cannot blame managers for using the equipment they were given by the authority above them to do the very thing they were asked to do. On the one hand, it does seem a waste of time for managers to review ball and strike calls when they are unreviewable.

On the other hand, reviewing ball and strike calls and arguing with the umpires about those calls does seem to carry more weight now as managers have the equipment and information to know sometimes better than humanly possible whether the right call was made. Nonetheless, it does seem correct to fine managers who use reply equipment to argue balls and strikes as it slows the game down and again is unreviewable. Torre and MLB would be correct to fine managers for slowing the game down and breaking the rules, but it should clarify the proper use and meaning of the reply challenge.

At the heart of this dispute is whether speeding the game up and slowing it down at the same time is appropriate and the best course of action. Speeding it up through new time limit rules, while slowing it down through the replay challenge. Baseball has been on a mission to speed up the game to compete with football and other sports for television viewers, but what makes our game so great is that because the game has changed so little we can always point to the past and compare players, managers, and the like. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian made a similar statement when ranking the best baseball players of all-time.

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Baseball is also the only game with no clock. Baseball is also the only sport where the defense holds the ball. Baseball is second in attendance per game in the United States and at the top in total attendance worldwide. Unsurprisingly, baseball had the most revenues in its history in 2015, $9.5 billion USD and growing. Baseball is doing this despite being too slow, while playing in too many games. Baseball teams play in 162 regular season games, while National Football League teams play in sixteen. That is 4,860 vs. 512 games.

For one, MLB needs to figure out its goals. If baseball has its highest revenues in its history, why would it need to change the game so many are watching. Some may say greed, others the call to constantly change to keep up with the times. Either way, baseball would be wise to clarify further its goals in business and rules on the field. Otherwise, confusion among the fans, umpires, and managers will continue.

In a lighthearted way, we close with five things you should know about managerial ejections:

  1. Managerial ejections: An analysis via SB Nation Beyond the Box Score
  1. 7 Epic Baseball Manager Ejections To Celebrate Instant Replay via BuzzFeed Community
  1. Six Great Umpire Ejections via No Guts, No Glory
  1. Watch: Top 12 Major League Baseball ejections in 2015 via The Denver Post
  1. MLB Power Rankings: The 25 Best MLB Manager Ejections of All-Time (with Video) via Bleacher Report

Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had some very interesting and funny ejections over the years.  Including some memorable press conferences. If ejections do nothing else than protect the players and push the officiating line a bit further, they provide for some comedy relief.

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Jeremy Evans

Jeremy M. Evans is the Founder & Managing Attorney at California Sports Lawyer®, representing entertainment, media, and sports clientele. Evans is an award-winning attorney and industry leader based in Los Angeles.

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