SAN FRANCISCO — There are plenty of important things for Major League Baseball to figure out this offseason.
There is a collective bargaining agreement to be hammered out, after all.
But amid all the big negotiations set to come over the coming weeks and months, Major League Baseball should add another:
Define the swing.
Let the way Game 5 of the Dodgers-Giants National League Division Series be the impetus. The two best teams in baseball were battling down to the wire of an exceptional elimination game, only for the contest to end on an incorrect check-swing call against Wilmer Flores.
I say it was incorrect, because Flores held up from breaking his wrists and the bat never went past parallel.
But none of these standards I’m referencing are part of the rulebook — they’re just colloquial understandings of what a checked swing is.
In fact, the definition of a swing is not in the Major League Baseball rulebook. We all know what it is, but we had to figure that out on our own.
Seriously, check it out. Not a word to define “swing”.
Forgive me for thinking that shouldn’t be up to interpretation.
There is a section about a “half-swing” and the appeals process that played out on the final out Thursday, but it provides no further clarity on what a half-swing is, either.
Because a swing is not a defined term in baseball and a checked swing isn’t either, there’s no way that Giants manager Gabe Kapler could have called for a video review of Flores’ final strike Thursday.
Like balls-and-strikes, what is a swing is a totally subjective area, defined by umpires.
And this season, umpires have been unacceptably fallible.
A bad call? Sometimes you can challenge it, but sometimes you just have to accept it.
That cannot be the case moving forward. The integrity of the game is at stake.
Baseball is a sport that’s waining in popularity. What was the national pastime is becoming a regional game. I’m 33, but I fear that I’m in the final generation where baseball is followed in a serious way.
It’s not the umpires’ fault that’s happening, but they’re not helping matters.
Now, the Giants lost Thursday’s Game 5 for countless reasons beyond a bad call to end the game, but a contest and series as great as the one San Francisco just played with their arch-rival should not be remembered for a subjective call that flies in the face of common expectation.
And make no mistake — first-base umpire Gabe Morales’ call will be what people remember from this series.
The call wasn’t fair to the Giants Thursday and I don’t think it’s fair to the Dodgers to have this controversy attached to their impressive win.
By defining, in the rule book, what a swing is, you can then define what a properly checked swing is. Situations like Thursday’s can be avoided moving forward.
I have a feeling that it will be roughly what Flores did Thursday night.
Remember, Thursday’s fateful call was made more than 100 feet away from the plate. From there, Morales determined that Flores swung.
“Check swings are one of the hardest calls we have,” Morales told a pool reporter. “I don’t have the benefit of multiple camera angles when I’m watching it live. When it happened live I thought he went, so that’s why I called it a swing.”
OK, define “went.” What does that entail?
This is no way to officiate a game or run a multibillion-dollar business.
The Ump Show was on too many times this season — I can’t recall a year where we talked about the umpires more. The excellence of Thursday’s game — the entire NLDS — was undercut by a bad decision. It’s hard to take a game seriously when its rules are so arbitrary.
Beyond simply defining the swing, baseball needs to make a decision about technology and officiating. It’s unacceptable that a bang-bang play at first base can be analyzed in 4k video, frame-by-frame so that the call can be correct 99.9999 percent of the time, but the strike zone is variable and checked swings are downright whimsical.
Either drop all technology or embrace it fully — and update the rules so everything (perhaps from the 7th inning on) can be reviewed.
A half-measure to be 100% correct is a full measure to be half-correct.
But start with defining the swing. Whether it’s position relative to the plate, the breaking of the wrists, or a new technology that determines the angle of the bat, there must be an empirical line — put in the rulebook — that separates a swing from a checked swing.
And while I abhor replay, the Giants should have been allowed to challenge Morales’ call Thursday. Their lack of recourse was unfair.
Honestly, it’s incredible baseball’s made it this far without such a rule. How can you not define the game’s most critical motion?
So my suggestion? Fix it.
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