Players embrace baseball scoring appeals process

Associated Press  |  Last updated June 16, 2012
Oakland's Coco Crisp tracked Robinson Cano's drive to right-center. He seemed ready to make the catch - until he got caught between deciding whether to jump or stay on his feet and the ball bounced off his glove. Cano easily got into second base as New York Yankees teammate Curtis Granderson came around to score. Official scorer Chuck Dybdal ruled it a two-base error. To many at the ballpark, the call seemed routine. But the Yankees were bewildered. They filed an appeal with Major League Baseball the following day to give Cano an RBI double. And their wish was quickly granted by MLB executive vice president Joe Torre, a pattern that is being repeated much more frequently under a streamlined appeals process for official scoring calls. ''You can see it and then you can appeal,'' Cano said. ''It's a good thing you can appeal, because sometimes those things, maybe can be the one that - you can hit 2,000 hits. Maybe a double, you can hit 500 doubles. Or the RBI - you can get 1,000 RBIs. Who knows? You know how hard it is to get a hit or double in this game.'' Don't forget how hard it is to pitch. The Mets took a shot at getting R.A. Dickey's one-hit gem against Tampa Bay on Wednesday belatedly changed from a one-hitter to a no-hitter. But no luck. That appeal got turned down. ''We took advantage of the process,'' Mets manager Terry Collins said. ''You can do it, so we gave it a shot. We didn't win it. We didn't expect to win it. Just gave it a try. If we had won it, we've got another no-hitter.'' Both cases have their roots in player complaints about official scoring during last year's collective bargaining talks, leading to a new appeals process and an effort by MLB to try and bring more consistency to official scoring decisions from city to city and scorer to scorer. Team officials are not supposed to ''initiate communication'' with scorers and MLB will punish people who ''intimidate, influence or pressure'' scorers into changing calls. Instead, a player or team can appeal any call to MLB within 24 hours after it is made. While baseball will not release numbers on how many appeals there have been this year, scorers, teams and players say it is up considerably from last year when 12 of 58 plays appealed under the old system were overturned. ''It's a good thing because it's less of a distraction as the game goes on and there's a call that, at face value, you say, `That's a hit or that's an error,''' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. ''There's a process in place where you ask the league to take a look. It's one less distraction that can happen in the dugout, where guys are saying, `Are you (kidding) me?''' After a successful appeal, the call and corresponding statistics are changed with no fanfare or announcement. In the play involving Cano and Crisp on May 25 in Oakland, A's starter Tyson Ross had three earned runs added to his ledger just hours after being sent down to Triple-A from 5.94 to 6.51 without throwing an additional pitch. ''That's unfortunate because I believe I should have caught that,'' Crisp said. ''That works out in my favor but Tyson doesn't deserve those runs. It should have been an error.'' Baltimore's Nick Johnson was on the winning side of an appeal earlier this year when Torre ruled a ball Eduardo Nunez of the Yankees allowed to fall in left field on May 1 should have been a double not an error. ''I like it,'' Johnson said of the new process. ''I think it's going to work well. Just another set of eyes to take another look at it. You hear back from them in two, three days and go from there.'' Minnesota scorer Stew Thornley said he has had calls overturned on appeal and likes the new process better than the confrontations with players or team officials that used to more frequent. He sympathizes with players who are upset about calls they disagree with, because he used to do his share of complaining before becoming a scorer himself. ''You think you got jobbed by a scorer's call, you're unhappy. I totally understand that,'' Thornley said. ''That's part of the job. That's why any clown out there can't do it because boy, I used to be one of those clowns. `Boy if I were doing this job.' Then you find out what it's like to do it from the hot seat and get some of that criticism.'' While baseball's rules say judgment calls by an official scorer should only be changed if they are to be determined to be ''clearly erroneous,'' players who like the new process acknowledge there is rarely unanimity on disputed calls. Oakland shortstop Cliff Pennington said when he polls teammates about disputed calls, the clubhouse verdict is usually split. ''We're judges the same way you think of a judge in court,'' New York scorer Billy Altman said. ''It's not completely possible to standardize that. No court can standardize how judges approach things. ... If every call was black and white, they would not need an official scorer. These are judgment calls. They can go either way.'' The streamlined appeals process is just one change in how baseball is handing official scorers this season. MLB also brought at least one scorer from every city to New York this offseason to try to bring common standards to an admittedly subjective process. Like past efforts to try and make strike zones consistent from umpire to umpire, MLB wants scoring decisions applied consistently. ''We want more uniformity of calls,'' MLB senior vice president Phyllis Merhige said. ''A little less variation of what gets called one way in one city and different in another city or among different scorers in the same city.'' To help achieve that, scorers looked at tapes of last year's appealed and overturned calls and had breakout sessions addressing press box announcements, how to deal with a ball getting lost in the sun or lights, sacrifice bunts and defensive indifference. One of the most specific sessions was led by Tampa Bay scorer Bill Mathews, who is also the head baseball coach at Eckerd College. He gave scorers clues on what to look for in terms of how hard a ball is hit, the angle a player takes and a fielder's position when a ball is caught. ''There's still human judgment,'' Mathews said. ''Scoring is about judgment, feel and knowledge of the game. It's about making tough decisions under pressure at the right time. That's what makes it fun. I'd say 94 percent of plays are a piece of cake. That 6 percent are what you take home and lose sleep over because you just want to get it right.'' There has been a strong trend leading to fewer errors in the big leagues with the 11 highest fielding percentages of all-time coming in the past 11 seasons. Errors per game have dropped about 25 percent the past 40 years because of better fielding, improved groundskeeping, better replays that allow scorers to see bad hops or other factors that could change an error to a hit. Some also believe scorers today are less likely to hand out errors and more likely to give batters the benefit of the doubt with a hit. But many players still believe scorers are too quick to call errors, failing to recognize how difficult it is to get a hit or field a ball cleanly in the big leagues. ''In Toronto, they mostly score hits as errors,'' Blue Jays infielder Omar Vizquel said. ''The guy is pretty tough. He must have 10 Gold Gloves because he can make every play out there. I don't know if it's something personal or if he knows about baseball. Sometimes there are some calls that are very questionable.'' While a scorer's call can never change the outcome of a game like one from an umpire, it still can rankle players who are often times judged - and paid - based on their numbers. ''I don't think it lasts very long but it does bother us when we think we get screwed,'' said Eric Chavez of the Yankees, a six-time Gold Glove winner at third base. ''We have an appreciation for how tough the game is so we tend to err on let's give him the benefit of the doubt whether it's an error for the fielder or a hit for the hitter.'' Scorers are sympathetic to frustration by players but get angry when people try to attach motives to their judgment decisions - such as helping out a home team player, punishing a disliked player or making a ruling based on a possible historical achievement. ''I have no problem about people questioning me because when I'm not scoring, I'm the guy who is questioning as well,'' Bay Area scorer David Feldman said. ''But don't question my integrity. Don't say I'm trying to do something.'' --- AP Baseball Writers Jon Krawczynski, Janie McCauley and Noah Trister contributed to this report.
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