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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: We have come to believe MLB must have a diabolically brilliant plan in the works to make robot umps inevitable

A GRIP ON SPORTS • If there is one thing we’ve come to learn over the years about Major League Baseball, the entity that oversees the professional version of our national pastime, is that those in control make the right decision about as often as their NCAA counterparts. Too mean? Or too accurate?


• We sat down to watch the Mariners play in Cleveland last evening, looking forward to a tight game between two of the best teams in the American League. A warm summer night watching baseball? What could ruin that?

Not what, actually. Who. Doug Eddings. And our knowledge of what could be – and won’t.

Let’s start with Mr. Eddings, someone we’re confident you don’t know personally. We don’t. But, if you watched just the first hitter last night, one J.P. Crawford, you know Mr. Eddings’ work. And it may have made you regurgitate your dinner.

The Guardians’ Tanner Bibee delivered his first pitch. A 94-mile-per hour fastball. About three inches off the plate. Just a bit outside, according to MLB’s approved balls-and-strikes machine we all see on TV.

But not to plate umpire Eddings. Strike one. Crawford was, well, surprised. And obviously upset. He stepped out, stepped back in and took a ball high and away. The next pitch? A curve ball that stayed up, missing the top of the strike zone box by an inch or so. Again, Eddings saw it differently. Strike two. One more pitch, a swing and a miss and the M’s started the game with their leadoff hitter – and shortstop – headed back to the dugout thinking he had been robbed of an at-bat.

And carrying a grudge.

That was obvious a couple innings later when the Guardians were in the midst of one of their many rallies against Bryan Woo, making his first start since his arm issues were cleared by the Seattle medical staff. Watching at home, we saw Woo deliver a close pitch in the 8-0 loss. Closer than either of the pitches Eddings called strikes on Crawford. And Eddings decided this one was a ball. Crawford, in the lower right corner of the TV, reacted badly. We could see it at home. We’re pretty sure Eddings could see it as well.

Why would we bring that up? Well, Crawford’s third at-bat of the game included three 94-mph fastballs. All borderline. All called strikes. The calls seemed a bit vindictive. And designed to elicit a response.

There earned more than one. A thrown bat. A thrown helmet. A thrown-out hitter. And manager. Quickly. The least-athletic person on the field asserted his control over the athletes we pay – with our wallets and/or our time – to watch. How special.

Which brings up our other point. The MLB hierarchy is blowing another call.

ESPN and others reported this week the powers that be in New York have settled on how they want to institute the inevitable: Computer-assisted ball-and-strike calls. If you didn’t know, Triple-A games the last couple seasons have featured two methods, split evenly between their six-game weeks. One has featured all pitches called by computer. If it’s in the video box, it is a strike. Not? Not. The other three games feature an umpire doing what they’ve done for decades. Calling the pitches. And each team gets a limited number of challenges. The bottom line? The computer-assisted call is the right one.

One seems simple, the other cumbersome. So, guess which system is coming?

Forget for a moment that baseball, according to the rule book, has a hard-and-fast strike zone. One that shouldn’t allow for interpretation. A strike is a strike, a ball a ball. The closest analogy? In-or-out calls in tennis. Guess what pro tennis, run by its players, has done? All line calls at major tournaments are done electronically. The ball is either in or out and the call is made quickly. Smoothly. The game shines. The technology works.

Balls and strikes should be the same. But aren’t. And won’t be.

So, in the not-so-distant future, Crawford’s first at-bat will play out like this: First pitch, strike. Challenge. Review. Ball. Challenge retained. Third pitch, strike. Challenge. Review. Ball. Challenge retained. How fun is that? And slow and cumbersome and stupid? But hey, Mr. Eddings is allowed to stand behind home plate and be embarrassed on national TV.

Wait, maybe that’s why the challenge system is coming. Rob Manfred and company are playing three-dimensional chess. Let everyone fret and fume and complain about the way-too-complicated system, all the while preparing the world for the inevitable takeover by robot umps.

OK, the MLB hierarchy isn’t the NCAA. It is the modern-day equivalent of Machiavelli. The plan within the plan is brilliant. We can’t wait until it plays out. If we’re still upright. And our love of the game hasn’t died a slow death.


WSU: We don’t really have any stories to pass along that are Washington State-centric. We did, however, find this mention of a long-ago Cougar basketball star, Gale Bishop, who will be inducted into the Blaine Hall of Fame this summer, but that’s it. … Wait, this story out of North Carolina about another former Pullman resident, Matt Chazanow, features a lot of nice comments from his ex-co-workers. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Jon Wilner examined the financial documents Washington’s athletic department presented to its regents recently and tried to determine the money the Big Ten will be distributing to its members this upcoming year. … John Canzano ruminates this morning on what is ahead for the Pac-12. The road seems filled with on-and-off ramps. … We found this prediction of the 12 playoff teams interesting, though we were not surprised the Pac-12 was not represented. Again. … Yes, the Oregonian’s football numbers countdown continues, with No. 73 for Oregon and Oregon State. We’re starting to believe we didn’t think this through enough. There are a lot of stories to go. Not sure anyone is reading all of them. … We pass along this Colorado opponent story because it is on Colorado State, which just happens to be an Oregon State opponent this season as well. … This is a new job on the college basketball scene. Utah has hired a general manager. … Oregon State women’s basketball coach Scott Rueck thinks college athletics are “upside down.” … Finally, former Stanford star Cameron Brink was set to play in the Olympics as a member of the U.S. 3x3 team. She tore her ACL playing for the L.A. Sparks and will miss the rest of the WNBA season and Paris.

Gonzaga: Hey, another Paris reference. Mark Few will be there, an assistant for the U.S. men’s basketball team. But his GU roster won’t be a worry. It’s been filled and, as Theo Lawson tells us, Few feels it’s been filled with players who do things the Zags have lacked for a while.

EWU and Idaho: Around the Big Sky, we can pass along this story on the University of Montana’s Football Hall of Fame.

Indians: There was a doubleheader at Avista Stadium on Wednesday. The Indians won the first game 3-2 over visiting Eugene but the third-place Emeralds raced to a 9-1 win in the nightcap. Dave Nichols covers both in this story. … Elsewhere in the Northwest League, Vancouver edged Tri-City 4-3 despite having an 11-4 margin in hits. … Hillsboro is all alone in second after sweeping a doubleheader at Everett 7-3 and 4-1.

Seahawks: Pete Carroll exited the stage in January with an assurance he would play a role in the organization going forward. Some six months later, one wonders what that role is. Bob Condotta tries to answer that question and more.

Storm: Seven road games out of nine contests. That’s a tough, pothole-filled, stretch. Seattle broke an axle last night, losing in Las Vegas 94-83.

Mariners: Yes, we had our thoughts on the umpiring above. J.P. Crawford had his and they will cost him a few thousand dollars. Ours? You have to decide what our opinion is worth. Not a few thousand, probably. But $1.98 maybe? Seems appropriate. … Luke Raley has brought a different vibe to the clubhouse. … We wish this Willie Mays’ tribute was available yesterday morning. It comes from Tom Boswell, one of my favorite baseball writers. … We were going to link this long Athletic story about the trade deadline, mainly because it included a lot on the M’s. Instead, we will just quote it for you:

“The Mariners plan to be aggressive with their push for some kind of offensive addition, and they boast an array of minor-league position players to deal from in order to get the job done, multiple evaluators said. Five Mariners prospects landed in The Athletic’s Keith Law’s recently updated top-50 list: shortstop/second baseman Colt Emerson, shortstop Cole Young, shortstop Felnin Celesten, catcher Harry Ford and outfielder Jonny Farmelo, who will miss the rest of the season because of a recent knee injury. Ford is the only one over the age of 20 — and he’s 21. Rival scouts like all of them, and then some. Also on people’s radars: Double-A third baseman Ben Williamson, 23, who has earned rave reviews for his defense and strong strike-zone judgment. And across both levels of A ball, there are more names scouts are keeping tabs on. Indeed, the strength of the Mariners’ farm system is their position players, particularly their infielders. That surplus would be the logical area for the Mariners to trade from, but rival clubs also like Seattle’s major-league-ready starting pitching depth such as Bryce Miller, who is already occupying a spot in their rotation, and Emerson Hancock, who is in Triple A. Scouts from opposing clubs also are intrigued by Double-A pitching prospect Logan Evans, but beyond him, the Mariners do not have any other young arms close to being major-league ready. The Mariners don’t expect money to be an issue, people familiar with the club’s thinking said. So the challenge for them instead is striking the right balance between satisfying their short-term and long-term goals, especially given how they’ve developed well with their best players being homegrown.”

Kraken: The pressure is mounting on the Panthers. They don’t want to be the second team, and the first since World War II, to blow a 3-0 Stanley Cup Final lead. Heck, only four times ever have NHL teams rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs.

Sounders: It seemed as if Seattle was conceding its midweek contest in Houston. The youngsters started, fell behind by two goals at the half and seemed lost. But the second half was a different story. The Sounders were the dynamos, scoring twice and heading home with a 2-2 draw.  

Olympics: There have been some great stories from Indianapolis, as older swimmers are reaching back and re-capturing their past – and future. … There will be great stories from Eugene as the track and field trials get underway Friday.


• Pardon our grumpy attitude today. Maybe it’s because it is the summer solstice. At 1:51 p.m. (PDT) today, the earth begins its long, slow changeover toward perdition. Or, as it’s better known, toward winter. Yes, today is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, if you define “day” as time with the sun above the horizon. From now until late December, the sun starts to retreat. Every day. Just a little. Our mood brightens no matter the weather on the day of the winter solstice. It darkens no matter the weather on this one. Not as much as we celebrate a bit in December. Today we’re more grumpy than angry. Just before 2 this afternoon we will stop a second, raise our right fist in the air, thrust it menacingly toward the orb in the sky and decry the inevitable we can’t stop. Yep, our journey through life has passed through the Bart and Homer Simpson stages. We are now Abe Simpson. Use your memes appropriately. Until later …