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Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013

BUD SELIG, DONALD DRIVER: HUH?

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Last week several things baffled the Observers, including their own headline...

 

Frank: We need to apologize to our readers, especially those who know Spanish.

Artie: How come?

F: I was at Paddy's Pub when a friend asked, “Who's this Verdey Oro and what position does he play?” I grabbed a Shepherd and...

A: Uh-oh. I never looked at our page.

F: We got clever about the Packers' exhibition game airing on Telemundo, and our headline was meant to include the Spanish for “Green and Gold.”

A: “Verde y Oro.”

F: It read that way when we filed the column, and on the version that made the website. But the technology that lays out the printed page knows less Spanish than we do, and somehow it moved the "y."

A: Producing something that may be a word, but not Spanish or English.

F: It can't be the first time people wondered what we were saying, but usually we confound them in real language. So we apologize.

A: But we won't try to do it in Spanish.

 

THIS NEEDS SOME REVIEWING

F: After years of talking about expanding the use of replay to review umpiring calls, Major League Baseball unveiled its plans. Bud Selig called it “historic.”

A: That's how Bud rolls; it's all about Bud, his legacy as commissioner. What's really historic is how long we had to wait for this! He can't retire soon enough for me.

F: He says it'll happen after the 2014 season. And I'm sure he sees expanded replay as part of his legacy. But after hearing so often, “We want to do this but we need to get it right,” I don't think they found the best way.

A: You're referring to the “Hello, New York, we have a problem” procedure?

F: For starters. It's good they'll get more things right, but why not do the reviewing at the game site instead of going to a bank of monitors in Manhattan?

A: Um, MLB owns stock in some phone company?

F: We've said for years that there should be a replay official at every game—ideally a fifth umpire in each crew—who's in the press box and sees the almost instantaneous replays that writers, broadcasters and official scorers see off the game telecast.

A: And viewers at home see just as quickly.

F: Those replays are almost always available before the next pitch happens, thanks to the tedious pace of baseball—another part of Bud's legacy.

A: So when the replay ump sees that a colleague may have missed a call, he would quickly alert the crew chief. The fifth guy could either overrule the call or have the crew look at replays too.

F: I don't know why MLB would reject on-site review. Added expense? But the umpires' roster on mlb.com lists 106 names, and even with a full schedule 15 five-man crews would only total 75.

A: Home-run reviews are done by the umps themselves, and MLB said that won't change when the new system starts in 2014.

F: There's another big issue about having managers trigger the reviews with a set amount of “challenges,” like NFL coaches. We'll discuss that on the website, but Ron Roenicke opposes it—and also agrees with us about on-site reviewing.

A: A knowledgeable ally.

F: Roenicke told the Journal Sentinel, “I don't like the challenging. In the NFL it works because a guy is sitting up there with a monitor, he's got a headset, the head coach has a headset. Am I going to start wearing a headset now?... Just sit somebody up in the booth and have him look at plays right away. He calls down and says, 'You missed the call.' Boom.”

 

DRIVER DROPS THE BALL

A: Something else had me thinking we were in some “Bizarro World,” and it involved the Packers, or rather an ex-Packer.

F: The beloved and retired Donald Driver.

A: I heard and read what he said about Aaron Rodgers a dozen times and I'm still bumfuzzled.

F: He definitely had syntax issues, but among other things he told ESPN radio: “...We've always said the quarterback is the one who needs to take the pressure off of everyone else. If a guy runs the wrong route, it's easy for the quarterback to say, 'Hey, I told him to run that route,' than the guy to say, 'Hey, I ran the wrong route.'”

A: Driver went on: “Sometimes you ask Aaron to take the pressure off those guys so we don't look bad. He didn't want to do that. He felt like if you did something bad, you do it. That's the difference. You want that leadership.”

F: So Driver apparently defines “leadership” as letting receivers duck their responsibilities.

A: Exactly! Isn't someone supposed to lead by example, with everyone accountable for their own stuff? That's how you have a good team. Maybe Donald took one too many hits to the head. Are we sure he always had his helmet on?

 

NOBODY'S PERFECT, EVEN MVPs

F: In his ESPN radio interview Driver apparently was asked to discuss Greg Jennings' comments about Rodgers, which were more about Rodgers supposedly feeling he was someone special...

A: Special, like a league MVP might be.

F: Driver did say something about it being hard for Rodgers to hold himself accountable for his own mistakes and that he told Rodgers, "Don't forget where you came from because the people are the ones who put you on that pedestal. You didn't put yourself there."

A: Same goes for receivers.

F: I will say that from watching Rodgers in games, I have the impression that he's maybe a little more demonstrative than some other QBs in gesturing when he thinks someone messed up—pointing at a spot or moving his arm in frustration to indicate where he thinks the route should have gone.

A: Well, hasn't he earned that right? And isn't that exactly what a QB is supposed to do? If a guy screws up you tell him so, and you say, “Don't do it again.” I don't see anything wrong with a guy doing that. It's a tool Rodgers uses to get these guys' heads into the game. And if a guy doesn't want to get “called out” on the field, he won't make the same mistake again.

F: Now, as to whether Rodgers is similarly quick to admit his own mistakes, well, I suppose that might be something Driver was trying to say...

A: Except that he didn't say it! He said Rodgers was supposed to baby the receivers.

F: As we've seen more features and commentary about Rodgers over the years—the “60 Minutes” profile last November comes to mind—one thing we've learned is that he seems to have had a chip on his shoulder since the 2005 draft, when he “plunged” from the expected No. 1 pick to 24th. Some stories indicate that he gets annoyed at any reminder of that.

A: But that's one way he motivates himself to be the best he can be. What's wrong with that? I'm sure Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have their own mental gymnastics to keep themselves working hard.

F: In the “60 Minutes” piece Rodgers was rather prickly toward a fan who said something innocuous about his seeming smaller in person. That's at odds with the guy in the commercials who doesn't mind having some fun poked at him. But so what? It doesn't mean he's a bad guy, just that real life and selling products are different things.

A: One last thing about Driver's blathering. He might have some kind of beef that's really more about the team than Rodgers. After all, he decided not to retire last year but then hardly got on the field in games. And besides, all those wide receivers are just divas.

 

BACK ON AN EVEN KEEL

F: Now you've watched two Packer games in Spanish, and the second one translated very nicely into a 19-7 win over the Rams. Satisfied?

A: I guess, as much as a 1-1 record in games that don't count can make me.

F: I didn't see the game, but from the next day's paper I guess there were no major injuries.

A: The only one they reported was some kind of “arm injury” to Matthew Mulligan, the tight end who's known for his blocking. No one said it was major but you know how that goes; in a couple of days we might hear that he's done for the season.

F: I see that innate pessimism is still strong.

A: Innate and informed pessimism. It's happened too many times in the last couple of years.

F: I guess so. The main injured guy from the Arizona game, Datone Jones, hasn't gotten back on the practice field yet.

A: They're counting on the rookie to contribute on the defensive line. And then there are some key guys who haven't played yet, like D-backs Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward. I sure don't want to see any of them suddenly appear on the PUP list.

F: That's Physically Unable to Perform, right?

A: Yup. A designation I myself carry on a permanent basis.

F: Well, the Packers' offense sure seemed to perk up against St. Louis.

A: Yeah. Eddie Lacy ran like a beast. He reminds me a little of Jerome Bettis—a big guy with moves and power, and he had a nice screen-pass reception. Graham Harrell looked sharp, like a No. 2 quarterback should. His passes had some real zip.

F: After his dismal showing in the opener, I guess he felt he was playing for his job.

A: And I guess Vince Young and B.J. Coleman were OK too, but for the second time in two Spanish-language games I was into siesta mode by midway through the third quarter.

F: Unlike the first game, the Packers also got to see their kicking competition under game conditions.

A: Mason Crosby was 3 for 3 in field goals, from 34, 48 and 30 yards. Giorgio Tavecchio made one from 38 yards and missed from 49. All in all, the game was encouraging. We'll see if that keeps up against Seattle in the first exhibition we'll hear in English.

F: The third game will be the big tuneup for Rodgers and the other first-stringers.

A: They might go a little into the second half. But remember, in the exhibitions nobody is really showing any of the special stuff they're planning for the games that mean something.

F: Not unwrapping their secret “packages,” huh?

A: It ain't Christmas yet. That happens on Sept. 8 against the 49ers!

 

SENDING MLB SOME CHALLENGES

F: There are still a lot of questions MLB has to answer about expanded replay. Such as, how long will a manager have to throw the red flag, or bag of sunflower seeds, or whatever, to signal a challenge?

A: A big question, considering that Roenicke's point about headsets implies that every team will have to have a coach or somebody else in the clubhouse monitoring the game telecast.

F: Presumably, that person will have to tell the manager mighty quick whether a particular play is worth challenging. And if the challenge has to be made before the next pitch, might that not invite some delaying tactics? Like an unnecessary visit to the pitcher or having a batter take an agonizingly long time to reach the plate.

A: As usual, Bud talked about his great desire to avoid “stalling.” But as usual, it doesn't seem like he's really done anything about it.

F: Braves president John Schuerholz, a member of the replay committee, said managers would no longer be allowed to argue “reviewable calls.” But MLB still hasn't specified what calls will be reviewable, except that they won't include ball-strike, hit-batter or check-swing decisions.

A: The MLB honchos say there'll be more discussions and the details may be tweaked before the system goes into operation. And even that timing is uncertain—maybe the 2014 regular season, maybe not until the playoffs.

F: Seems like after years of hemming and hawing about expanding replay—the home-run reviews began back in '08—MLB seems to have trotted this thing out too quickly.

A: Hey, gotta start the hoopla for this part of Bud's legacy. But back to the fact that the reviews will come from a central command, like the NHL does it for goal disputes. Bob Costas raised another issue, namely what happens if a review is needed at more than one ballpark at the same time?

F: Schuerholz said the aim was to have reviews done within 1 minute 15 seconds, which one article in The New York Times said “seems optimistic.”

A: In the extreme.

F: Now I want to get back to the fact that this system will put the onus for reviews on the managers—but also limit them to one challenge in the first six innings (renewable if it succeeds) and two from the seventh inning on. Among other things, how does MLB know that there will be more questionable calls late in the game?

A: How does anyone know when, or how often, a questionable call will happen? What if there are two bang-bang plays in the first inning? Who's to say they might not turn out to be crucial as things play out later?

F: Somehow the manager is supposed to make these judgments. But isn't the main objective to get more calls right—or in the umpires' view, to verify that the vast majority of calls are right? So why shouldn't MLB be the one that initiates a review?

A: They're just making this way more byzantine than it needs to be.

F: Once MLB figures out the details, the replay committee of Schuerholz, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa presumably will hold tutorials for managers during spring training.

A: What a laugh! Tony La Russa, a guy who's responsible for dragging so many games along with his constant squawking and his incessant pitching changes, gets on a committee that's supposed to cut down on “stalling.” What the hell does he know about improving the pace of the game?

F: La Russa said managers would just have to adopt the challenge rules as part of their strategic choices.

A: Easy for him to say, now that he ain't managing anymore.

F: If Bud wants to do something about the pace of the game, why doesn't he really get on the players about all the time they waste between pitches—both on the mound and in backing out of the batter's box?

A: One of the articles last week noted that the average time of game has ballooned from 2:33 in 1981 to 2:58 now, tying the 33-year high.

F: Even though The Wall Street Journal recently ran a study concluding that there's only about 18 minutes of true action in an average game.

A: Still better than the NFL, which makes billions by having roughly 11 minutes of action in a three-hour game. But of course the longer a game lasts, the more concessions and T-shirts teams can sell.

F: Every three or four years MLB makes a few noises about “picking up the pace.” And in a few years the average game times go down a tick. But there's never a concerted effort to enforce the penalties that already exist for pitchers who take too long to deliver (an automatic ball) or batters who routinely leave the box (an automatic strike).

A: Hell, if Bud wants a legacy, how about getting umps to call the strike zone as it's written in the rules?

F: Which my official MLB rulebook states is “that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.” Instead of the “lower thigh to belly button” that seems to exist in a lot of games.

A: Playing by the rules. That would be a legacy worth some respect!

F: We won't hold our breath on the strike zone. But as far as expanded replay is concerned, we think there's a simpler, quicker way than MLB favors.

A: But that's Bud; things are never simple and quick with him. Those words do not exist in his dictionary.

 

MAKE THAT B-ROD

A: One more bizarro thing last week was the “60 Minutes” report that A-Rod's “people”—whoever such dimwits can be—were the ones who leaked Ryan Braun's name to MLB in connection with the Biogenesis lab.

F: Braun and Francisco Cervelli, one of A-Rod's own Yankee teammates.

A: When I saw that I asked myself what his purpose could have been? To take the heat off himself?

F: Which was hardly likely to happen.

A: Or to show that he wasn't the only MVP-caliber guy who was in trouble? But so what? How was that gonna make him any less a target of MLB?

F: A-Rod's lawyer, David Cornwell...

A: The guy who was Braun's mouthpiece in “beating” the failed drug test in 2012...

F: Cornwell issued a statement saying the latest story was “another attempt to harm Alex, this time by trying to drive a wedge between him and other players...”

A: I'd say that train left the station a long time ago.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek always wears his helmet.