After MLB memo, managers must adjust strategy of ump arguments -

After MLB memo, managers must adjust strategy of ump arguments

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ST. LOUIS ( -- Late last week, MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre sent a memo to managers, calling for them to curtail arguments of balls and strikes and asserting they’re not to use the replay system to try and prove their point.

The memo, acquired by the Associated Press, called the arguments “highly inappropriate” and a “detriment to the game.”

Teams monitor every moment of a game closely on video in case they want to challenge a ruling. The strike zone does not fall under the purview of the review system, but according to Torre (a former manager himself), managers are using the footage to bolster their argument with home plate umpires.

That violates the replay rules, according to the memo.

“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.”

Since balls and strikes aren’t subject to review, managers shouldn’t talk to the team’s video department about them.

Mike Matheny understands the limitations on using video, but was clear this week limiting arguments with home plate umpires may be easier said than done.

“I know [Torre] has a big job, and he obviously remembers what it’s like to stand over here. Sitting on your hands isn’t always an option as a manager,” the Cardinals skipper said.

Especially with the way the game is played now.

Every close play, every home run and every debate on fair or foul can be solved with a look at the tape. Arguments don’t happen on those plays anymore. Instead, it’s a polite call for a second set of eyes.

While that’s increased the accuracy of calls on the field and cut down on lengthy disputes that slow down the game, it’s also limited the use of one of a manager’s best tricks.

Arguments with umpires can be born of anger, but they can also be a performative; designed to take the focus off the players, ignite the fans, or inspire the team to respond emotionally. With replay drastically reducing the opportunity for managers to mount that performance, the man behind the plate becomes the only foil.

“You can’t necessarily get on the other guys. That’s your only target to bring that life, bring that energy. We all care very much about each team, each player, each at bat and each pitch,” Matheny said. “I just don’t see another option as we watch the game and hear what we hear from our players.”

While managers are not supposed to use the official replay system to look at balls and strikes, players have been able to watch their at bats in the clubhouse during games for years. They use film to study pitch sequencing, see where they may have missed a pitch and confirm their theories of being unfairly called out on strikes.  

“Guys can go up and check out their at bats, and if they come back here and start yelling about it being a zone that’s not fair or a zone that’s not close, we can’t just ignore that,” Matheny said.

Managers around the league tend to agree, as many went on record saying they have to have a means of defending their players and can’t overlook a bad zone if it impacts the game.

Still, the days of theatrical displays from the head coach are winding down. Baseball is evolving into a more cordial affair, where accuracy is valued over showmanship and the top priority is getting games moving faster.

The idea is to draw in younger viewers and make the games less arduous to watch, two things the league is correct to pursue. But for old school managers, it means more adaptation is required to survive.

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