Category Archives: Baseball

Risk Management

dirty

Just saying hello

 

 

 

I have now had 24 hours to calm down and digest the “Travesty in Tampa” and I can honestly say  the more I have reviewed the replays, the more of a crime I believe it becomes.  I do not blame the umpires for reviewing the play and making the call that they did.  I do not blame Major League Baseball for implementing a rule which was made with all the right intentions.  I blame the over protective, over reactionary wussified world that we live in.  A world where we start teaching our children at a young age that scoreboards are evil, everybody is your best friend and no one ever loses.  We caution them of all the prevalent dangers in sports and life and ultimately create doubts and fears, often times unnecessarily.  Yes there are risks involved in everything that we do, but our goal should be to manage those risk, not eliminate them.  Without a certain element of risk that we inherently crave as human beings, there is no chance sports would be a multi billion dollar industry.

Rule 6.01 was implemented this off season to protect middle infielders from excessive aggressions by base runners trying to target middle infielders.  The safety of the players was rightfully on the mind of both MLB and the MLBPA but I do not think either one could have ever imagined the overall detrimental impact it would have on games just days into the 2016 season.

First and foremost I am 100% in when it comes to doing everything within reason to make the game safer for the players.  The problem is we have officially crossed a line which is now compromising the game of baseball as a whole.  Talking with FP Santangelo, a former teammate with the Oakland A’s and current broadcaster for the Washington Nationals, he estimated that there are nearly 10,000 slides a year at 2nd base, yet largely because of one unfortunate highly publicized slide in last years playoffs, MLB now has a major problem on their hands.

The solution is simple.  As recently as last year MLB had invoked a rule that required players to demonstrate complete control of the baseball in order to be awarded an out.  Within weeks there were several plays in which players clearly had caught the ball and then juggled the transfer.  In just about everyone of those cases, what used to be an out for the past 150 years was no longer.  MLB realized the problem immediately and swiftly amended the rule.  This situation is no different.

The spirit of rule 6.01 is to protect the middle infielders and even the baserunner.  Therefore, so long as there is not intent by the baserunner to aggressively target a second baseman or shortstop, a no call, just as in years past, would be made.  Then, in the rare case in which the runner irresponsibly charges into second base putting his and other players health at risk, the runner and the batter will both be called out.

This is a very subjective call so I would rather put my faith in the umpires on the field who are able to watch the play unfold in real time rather than dudes sitting in Chelsea Market crushing overpriced vegetable sushi 3000 miles away.  Ideally, this play would NOT be a reviewable.

Baseball is a team sport made up of individual performances.  When I was taught to break up a double play I was taught to use my entire body, no matter what it took.  Of course there was an element of risk involved for both myself and the middle infielders.  It is important that we understand these dudes get paid millions of dollars have a firm understanding of the potential dangers every time they take the field.  As much as this may be a disappointment to many, i don’t think it is possible to play baseball in a bubble.

Looking back, my most proud moments on a baseball field had nothing to do with individual glory found within a box score but rather individual efforts that ultimately benefited the greater good of the team.  Responsibly and selflessly and breaking up a double play represents everything that is right with the game, NOT wrong.

 

 

A View From Behind The Computer Screen #RoboUmp

When the San Rafael Pacifics approached me about returning this summer to celebrate the second annual Pat Tillman Foundation nights, I immediately began brainstorming different ways in which we could appropriately honor Pat’s memory.

By all accounts Pat was a very forward thinker.  He was somebody who would constantly challenge societies norms and status quo’s frequently levied upon us.  Just because things have always been done a certain way was absolutely no reason to not find a better or more efficient way to accomplish the same feat.

We as a society are constantly evolving with the ever changing technological world that we live in.  For well over a decade we have had the ability to accurately call balls and strikes with an automated system using 3 different cameras which track the ball 40-50 times from the time the ball leaves the pitchers hand until it crosses home plate.  This technology has now been implemented into almost every single television broadcast as well as when you watch a game on the Internet.

Something to me seems disturbingly wrong with the fact that anybody in the world can see whether or not a pitch was a ball or a strike by the true definition of the strike zone immediately after it crosses home plate EXCEPT the person actually having to make the call.

For me, this is unacceptable and a major injustice within the game of baseball.  The moment I realized this technology was available, I have begged and pleaded for the automated system to be installed.

When I brought up the idea for us to automate the strike zone for the two Pat Tillman foundation games the Pacifics were all for it.  Then,  when Sportsvision agreed to set up their technology my dream became a reality.  For the first time in the history of professional baseball balls and strikes would be determined by a computer, not a human.

Of course it was a bit awkward for everybody involved.  Both catchers tried to consistently frame pitches.  The home plate umpires couldn’t help themselves by making strike calls, and players needed to get used to what exactly is the true definition of the strike zone.   Pitchers benefited by the total height of the zone while hitters definitely benefited by the width.

Overall, the two #RoboUmp games could not have gone more flawlessly.  To keep the spirit of the games at the forefront I donated $100 to the Tillman Foundation for every strikeout and walk totaling $4600 over the course of the two days while the Pacifics donated $1 for every ticket sold.

Umpires at the major league level are the best in the world at what they do.  They continuously have a ball/strike success rate of well over 90 percent.  Ironically, the umpires use the exact same technology to grade themselves that was implemented into the two games last week.

The major difference between any MLB game and the two Pacific Association games was that the ball/strike success rate of the Independent League games was 100%.  There are many baseball traditionalist who think above 90% is good enough and they enjoy the “human element” of the game.  For me, the human element I fell in love with as a 9 year old kid has been and always will be the players… Not the umpires.

Last night, Kevin Plawecki was leading off the bottom of the 3rd inning and worked the count full before walking on a borderline pitch up in the zone.  Immediately every single viewer watching on TV at home or on the Internet could tell that instead of ball 4 the pitch should have been called strike 3.  The next two guys were promptly retired which should have been the end of the inning.  Instead, Curtis Granderson stepped up and hit a two run home run giving the Mets the lead.  That was followed by a Daniel Murphy homer, a Yoenis Cespedes single and then a Lucas Duda homer.  What should have been an easy 1-2-3 inning turned into a 5 run 3 homer barrage.  All because of one missed call.

Ultimately, I have absolutely no desire to get rid of the home plate umpire or any other umpire on the field.  Just like instant replay, the only thing I would like to do is give them the necessary tools to get the call right every time.   Once the umpires union realizes that an automated strike zone will make their job easier and potentially create another on site umpiring job opportunity I don’t see any reason why MLB and the MLBPA would not agree to immediately begin using the automated system to determine balls and strikes.

If I were to have writen an article such as this 150 plus years ago I would have been limited to an ink pen and a piece of paper.  Then, in order to get people to read it I would have had to stand on a city block handing out duplicated hand written copies.

Fortunately, as in many other arenas in life, technology has prevailed.  Around the middle of the 19th century the type writer was invented and eventually became available for widespread use.  The copy machine was created by Chester Carlson in 1938 and then by the 1980’s word processors and personal computers took reign.

Today, I am currently writing this on my 3 inch mobile device 37,000 feet somewhere above middle America.  Upon completion in about 3 minutes from now I will press the publish button which will then post it to my website.  From there I will send out a link to the article on my Twitter account which directly connects to Face Book where it will be published as well.  Between the two, the article will reach nearly 50,000 people with the click of one button.

As much as I appreciate good calligraphy and social interaction with people on the street, forgive me for utilizing the 21st century world of technology.  MLB should give it a try with the strike zone, it makes life a lot easier! EB

 

The only source of knowledge is experience- Albert Einstein

When Miami Marlins President Michael Hill introduced general manager Dan Jennings as the teams new on field manager he described Jennings as a “leader of men.”  Jennings has more than 30 years of experience in professional baseball as a scout and front office executive and I do not doubt that Jennings is a “leader of men,” within his field.  30 years of mastering his craft and developing relationships has undoubtedly earned him that title.

By all accounts Dan Jennings seems like a stand up guy and I truly believe there are a large number of Marlins players and coaches that respect him as a baseball executive and as a man.  Yet, the reality of the current situation is that Dan Jennings is entering a completely new field.  A field in which he has zero experience.  He has never managed, coached or played a single day of professional baseball so to think that Dan Jennings is going to receive and command the same amount of respect as a manager is absolutely asinine.

The bottom line is that although Jennings has been working in the same industry for over 3 decades, his previous roles do not qualify him to be a major league manager.  The same way being a GM of a restaurant does not qualify you to cook the food or being a GM for an airline does not qualify you to fly the plane.  Just because you are an architect that does not mean you have the ability to build the home.  For me personally, I am a television baseball analyst, unfortunately that does not qualify me to run the network.

I do realize that we have seen managers recently hired with no managing or coaching experience, yet each one of them has had extensive experience playing the game professionally as well as experience within the front office, where communication between on field personal and executives has become increasingly vital.

There is a extensive process that Dan Jennings took to become a successful major league general manager the same way there is an elaborate blue print on what it takes to become a successful manager in the major leagues.  Ideally, that process should include actual managing, coaching and playing experience.  Baseball lifers, guys like Ron Wotus, Mike Aldete, DeMarlo Hale, Jay Bell, Brett Butler, Phil Nevin, Dave Roberts, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Wally Backman,  just to name a few, have dedicated their entire lives to becoming “leaders of men” within their field with hopes of one day EARNING the opportunity to manage a major league baseball team.  Other guys such as Bob Geren, Don Wakamatsu, Tony Defancesco, Carlos Tosca, Dale Sveum, John Russell, Trey Hillman and Larry Bowa continue to grind away in hopes of EARNING that shot again.  This group and the entire group of aspiring managers across minor and major league baseball undoubtedly just took one big kick in the nuts.  I am interested to see how and if they fight back.

I believe I am very forward thinking when it comes to the world of modern day baseball analytics and the direction our game needs to go to remain relevant within the overall landscape of the sports world.  Forgive me if I am old school when it comes to wanting to keep suits and ties out of the dugout… EB

 

 

Expanded Replay: The Truth Hurts

 

Just over the half way point of the first year of expanded replay, Major League Baseball has seen an astonishing 671 reviews, 157 (23.4%) of the calls have been “confirmed,” 318 (47.4%) have been “overturned” and 189 (28.2%) have have resulted in a call “stands,” meaning the reviewing umpire crew stationed in New York City did not feel there was enough evidence to change the call on the field.  Regardless of all of its flaws, the fact that there have been 318 blown calls changed and gotten correctly, undoubtedly makes the first year of expanded replay an overall success.  Without question, the outcome of several games have been directly or indirectly effected by the ridiculous 318 FREAKING calls that have been changed!

 

Now to my constructive criticism of the review process.

 

Number 1.  Union membered umpires need to be removed from the review process.  There have been several plays where there seemed to be more than enough evidence to overturn a call yet the call stood.  Rumors were that early in the season umpires were getting upset with one another for overturning calls which several umpires felt was making them look bad.  There is clearly a conflict of interest one way or another.  The fact that there have been 189 call “stands” is disturbing.

 

Solution 1.  Hire an independent rules panel to be the deciding factor on all reviews.  This isn’t rocket science and if it was we put a man on the moon 45 years ago, July 20th, 1969.

 

Number 2.  Managers should not be the ones who decide whether or not a call should be challenged.  Managers have enough on their plate to worry about whether or not an umpire is doing his job correctly.  The manager coming out to buy time so the team’s own video review coordinator can take a look and decide if the call should be challenged takes way too long and quite frankly makes a mockery of the game and the review process.  Not to mention the BS cordial conversation between umpire and manager is making Earl Weaver roll over in his grave.

 

Solution 2.  Have the same independent rules panel watching each game buzz in when they want to take a quick look.  Or, if somebody within the umpiring crew, even the guy who made the call, thinks there could have been a mistake, have the rules panel take a look.  You can generally tell within 30 seconds if the umpire blew the call or not.

 

Number 3.  Lose the headsets.  Considering it is the year 2014 the entire process is an absolute joke.  With the push of one button on my phone I can send whatever information I want all the way to the other side of the world within seconds.  Why is it that the entire umpiring crew needs to go behind home plate and throw on these enormous cans that should have been out of circulation 50 years ago.  The process is overly drawn out and very time consuming.

 

Solution 3.  We have these really cool new inventions called cell phones.  Make a call, send a text or if MLB wants to remain social media savvy the umpires and replay command center can communicate via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, or Instagram.  They could even send a Vine video of the play for more comprehensive clarification.  If MLB decides they want to go old school on 80’s night at the ballpark, umpires can be equipped with one of the 1980’s greatest inventions, the pager.  All better options than the oversized Alaskan ear muffs.

 

Number 4.  All plays need to be reviewable.  The list of what is NOT reviewable is way too long.  If you have a system in place to get every call correct, why would you possibly use it for some and not for others?  For me, there is no such thing as a judgement call in the game.  I consider everything, including the strike zone, very black and white.

 

Solution 4.  Foul tips, check swings, runners out of the baseline and the “neighborhood play” all need to be fair game for review.  Several times already through the course of this season the dynamic of games have changed based on WRONG calls that were deemed non reviewable.  Everything with the exception of balls and strikes need to be up for review, for now.  The system is far from perfect now but it is a whole lot better than it has ever been.  I look forward to watching the expanded replay system evolve until someday within the near future we welcome the arrival of the “MEN IN STEEL!”  #RoboUmps.

 

Toward greater success and enjoyment of this great game…. EB

 

The Harsh Reality Surrounding The Death Of Tony Gwynn

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Tony Gwynn,  I can’t help but think that we lost one of the greatest players and most brilliant minds that ever played the game way too soon.  The reality of the situation is that Tony Gwynn died from oral cancer most likely caused by years of chewing tobacco.  On the surface,  it makes one believe that Gwynn’s death very easily could have been prevented.  Habitually, I chewed tobacco for nearly 15 years.   I can tell you with great conviction, there would have been nothing easy about it.

I took my first chaw of Red Man tobacco when I was 12 years old.  I took my first dip of Copenhagen when I was 16.  By the time I was 22 and playing professional baseball, I began chewing nearly a can a day.  When I woke up in the morning,  I would have a cup of coffee, then put in a dip.  After breakfast, I would put in a dip.  After my workout, I would put in a dip.  After Lunch, I would put in a dip.  When I got to the ballpark, I would put in a dip.  During batting practice, I would put in a dip.  When the game started, I would put in a dip. After each at bat, I would put in a dip.  On the way home from the ballpark, I would put in a dip.  What started as something I would do to pass time turned into a full blown addiction.  To this day, chewing tobacco is the only thing I have ever encountered in my life that I had absolutely no control over.  In a sense, I was helpless.

Throughout the course of my entire baseball career, MLB did a very nice job of warning players about the dangers of smokeless tobacco. During spring training every year, it was mandatory for all players to watch a video that detailed the harsh reality of all off the health risks associated with chewing tobacco.  I didn’t quit.

My dentist and life long family friend, Len Vinci, still sends me articles and personally lectured me on several occasions about chewing tobacco.  I didn’t quit.

Joe Garagiola, whom I have as much respect for as anybody in baseball, has led a public charge against chewing tobacco for years.  He pulled me aside several times when I was with the Diamondbacks encouraging me to give up the potentially deadly habit.  I didn’t quit.

With tears in her eyes, my own mother pleaded for me to stop.  I didn’t quit.

At no point was I dumb enough to think that I was invincible or immune to the potential dangers.  I didn’t quit because I couldn’t. Copenhagen had become such a big part of my life.  Like air, food or water,  I felt like I needed chewing tobacco to survive.  I never denied my addiction, it just took me a while until I finally did something about it.

March 2, 2011 my Dad unexpectedly passed away.  Over the course of the following weeks,  my chewing tobacco use hit an all time high. After the service on St. Patricks day, March 17th, 2011,  I sat back in a lounge chair in my back yard, looked up to the stars, then fired in the fattest pinch of Copenhagen I could possibly fit into my mouth.  That was the last dip that I ever took.

Why then? I don’t exactly know.  I didn’t plan for it to be.  I didn’t tell anybody I was going to stop or that I even wanted to stop.  I just did. At the time, I had a 2 year old, a 1 year old and my wife was pregnant with our 3rd child.  I do know that I realized I was no longer living life just for myself.  Sometimes it takes a tragic event in somebody’s life for that person to make a major life altering decision. Unfortunately, I had to deal with the tragic event.  Fortunately, I finally made the life altering decision.

It has been 3 years since I last took a dip of Copenhagen.  There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about it.  Every time I finish a meal, take a long drive, step on a golf course or a baseball field, it is on my mind.   I am not a quitter, I never have been and I never will be.  I simply have stopped.  I am not going to chew tobacco today.  Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute is the only way I have been able to get through the most difficult battle of my entire life.

I am not writing this as a PSA to get try to get people to stop chewing tobacco because I know it’s not possible.  There is nothing I or anyone else can say or do that will get you to stop.  I am simply telling you my experience with one of the most addictive and deadly vices in the world.  Take it however you want.  Ultimately it is your decision, ultimately it is your life.

 

 

San Rafael Pacifics Press Release

 

FORMER A’S FAN FAVORITE, ERIC BYRNES, SIGNS HISTORIC CONTRACT WITH PACIFICS
Byrnes to Play LF on August 5th and 6th as Fundraiser for Pat Tillman Foundation
April 30, 2014 – San Rafael, CA
Former Oakland A’s outfielder and 11 year major league veteran, Eric Byrnes, agreed to a historic 2-day contract to play for the San Rafael Pacifics on August 5th and 6th.
“This is a thrill for me to go back to the roots of baseball,” said Byrnes.  “The Pacifics and all of Indy ball are what it’s all about – a close connection with the fans and with the community.  The guys I’m playing with are not in it for the money or fame; they do this because they love the game.  I’m proud to be a small part of it.”
The 38-year old Byrnes, well-known in the Bay Area for his time with the Athletics, also played for the Rockies, Orioles, Diamondbacks and Mariners. His major career accomplishments include a 22 game hitting streak, hitting for the cycle against the Giants,  winning the “Fielding Bible” as MLB’s best left fielder and becoming the 11th player in the history of baseball to hit 20 home runs and steal 50 bases in the same season .  Since retiring in 2010, Byrnes has turned to broadcasting where he is an analyst for MLB Network, Pac 12 Network and an occasional host on KNBR 680.
The Peninsula native was drafted by the A’s in the 8th round of the 1998 draft after a very successful collegiate career at UCLA (.331 career BA), where he is enshrined in the UCLA Hall of Fame.
In retirement, Byrnes has immersed himself in surfing, golfing, slow pitch softball and competing in triathlons and ultra marathons.  He has completed 5 Ironman triathlon’s which consist of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run.
Byrnes’ stint with the Pacifics is first and foremost a fundraising effort for the Pat Tillman Foundation.  Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals starting safety, put his all-star career on hold to join the Army after the 9/11 attacks.  He was killed in action in 2004.  After his death the Pat Tillman Foundation was created to support veterans and spouses through educational scholarships and a social network.
The Pacifics are donating a portion of the ticket sales for both of Byrnes’ appearances to the Pat Tillman Foundation, and Byrnes has agreed to donate his Pacifics salary, as well as personally donate $1,000 for every walk, stolen base and single he hits; $2,000 for a double; $3,000 for a triple and $10,000 for a homerun.  He will also donate $500 for every ball he catches.
“Let’s make it $100,000 for a grand slam, just in case:)” said Byrnes in an email to Pacifics Media relations Manager, Vincent Espinosa.

 

Let Americans throw!

With the recent announcement that San Diego Padres right hander Josh Johnson is going to have Tommy John (elbow ligament replacement) surgery,  I couldn’t help but think that there has not only been a crazy influx of TJ surgeries the past few years but for the most part those surgeries always seems to involve an overwhelming large percentage American players.  I called upon MLB Network’s head researcher Elliot Kalb to confirm my beliefs and the results were even more staggering than I had originally thought…

Since 1977 there have been 372 documented TJ surgeries in MLB… 345 (93%) have been performed on American players while 27 (7%) have involved international players… Since 2010 there has been 124 TJ surgeries and an astonishing 83 in the last 2 years!

How do the numbers stack up proportion wise based on the MLB player constituency?  Not even close.  It fluctuates daily but over the past few years when the vast majority of TJ surgeries have occurred, MLB has been comprised of roughly 60% American players and 40% International…

So why are Americans at a much greater risk?  I can only speculate but in large part American players have followed structured throwing programs and strict pitch counts since little league.  This brings into question that maybe Americans are coddled way too much and throw way too little.  Through my experience playing parts of 11 seasons of major league baseball and 5 winters in the Dominican Republic,  it is my belief that International players just throw more.  Many always have and still do play year round in their country which allows them to strengthen their arm while building a much higher throwing endurance base.  In turn this typically results in a much greater propensity to stay healthy. Just ask the TJ numbers…

Let Americans throw! EB

PS… I am not a scientist or a doctor but I did sleep in my van rolling through Coachella last night

Amend Rule 7.13 Immediately

 

Dear Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association…

First and foremost I want to commend both MLB and the MLBPA for recognizing that major steps needed to be taken to protect the well being of both the catcher and baserunner in regards to home plate collisions.  With the daunting injuries we have seen over the past few years and the ever growing information about the seriousness and long term effects of brain injuries, something had to be done to protect both the welfare of the players and the league. Unfortunately though, I am writing this letter because of grave concerns I have over new rule 7.13.  I no doubt believe the rule was put into place with appropriate intent yet in reality the rule has potentially created an even more dangerous situation than we had before.  Let me explain… Rule 7.13 reads “Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score.”  My biggest issue is with the fact that the catcher CAN still block the plate with the baseball.  Shockingly this is not any different from rules of the past. The catcher was never supposed to be allowed to block the plate without the baseball and so long as the catcher is still allowed to block the plate with the ball, violent collisions will continue to be a major part of the game.

In my opinion though, the most disturbing part of rule 7.13 is presented in the comments section.  “The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner’s lowering of the shoulder, or the runner’s pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13.” 

Obviously everybody is concerned about the well being of the catcher and rightfully so.  Yet with the rule as it reads above, the baserunner would be put in an incredibly vulnerable position.  Believe it or not, lowering a shoulder or pushing off is the only line of defense that a runner has when colliding with  a catcher that is stationary and loaded with the full arsenal of shin guards, chest protector and a mask.  Therefore, if the catcher is in possession of the ball and blocking home plate, the baserunner has two options and both of them are ridiculously dangerous. 1) Slide into the catchers shin guards risking blowing out an ankle or knee. 2) Run into the catcher without lowering a shoulder or pushing off thus risking even greater carnage.  Quite frankly, this is a recipe for disaster and could potentially cause career threatening or even life altering injuries.

Throughout my career that spanned parts of 11 big league season, whenever the catcher would have the ball before I arrived at home plate I would make it a point initiate contact and do everything in my power to dislodge the baseball.  The results were generally not good.  The collisions were ugly and I sent multiple catchers to the disabled list and even ended a catchers career while playing in the minor leagues.  After my playing days, I transitioned into the media as an analyst and quickly realized how unnecessary and reckless collisions had become.  Ultimately, there was a disturbing video that surfaced last season of a AA game in which Erie Seawolves 2nd baseman Brandan Douglas ran into Harrisburg Senators catcher Brian Jeroloman.  The collision was so vicious that even though I was somebody that did nearly the same exact thing for years, I actually had to turn away.  Jeroloman spent several days in the hospital and long term effects of that collision still remain to be seen.  For me, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Immediately following that collision I started a one man campaign to eliminate collisions at home plate.  I actually wrote an article on this website titled The Most Violent and Reckless Play in all of Sports detailing my experience with collisions and how and why Major League Baseball must take some sort of action before it’s too late and somebody is critically injured or even killed.  Through my work within the media I also took every opportunity to denounce home plate collisions and raise awareness about the potential detrimental effects of not addressing the rule.

When word came out that a rule was actually going to be put into place to eliminate collisions I was ecstatic to say the least.  Then when rule 7.13 was unveiled a few days ago I almost could not believe what I was reading.  Not only were collisions not eliminated but essentially the runner was stripped of any sort of right to protect himself if a collision did occur.  As the rule reads, so long as the catcher has the baseball the runner is screwed.  Indecision is the worst possible thing an athlete can have in the full speed moment of competition, sadly rule 7.13 seemingly creates potential indecision on all ends.

For the sake of the safety of current and future players I recommend immediately putting into effect a rule that would make the catcher give the runner a lane to slide into home plate.  The rule would then also make it mandatory for the baserunner to slide.  It is a very simple change that will have no effect whatsoever on the overall integrity of the game yet would help prevent any sort of catastrophic injury still very possible under the current rule structure.  I played four years of college baseball and I have worked extensively as a broadcaster within the college game as well.  In that time there have been countless plays at home plate which are every bit as exciting as any play at the plate that has taken place in Major League Baseball.  The barbaric nature of a rule that still allows ferocious collisions in this day and age of extensive head injuries in all sports is unacceptable. Please contact me if there is any way I can help facilitate the process.

Toward greater safety, success and enjoyment of this great game… Eric Byrnes

crash

The Sad Joke That Has Become The Baseball Hall of Fame

First and foremost, I want to say how much baseball has been an incredible part of who I am… As a matter of fact, ever since I can remember, my life has been consumed with the game… As I kid, I would spend my days pitching a tennis ball against the garage and then picking up a bat and whacking the rebound… When “The Natural” came out, I went to see it with my Mom in the old Belmont Theatre on the El Camino… I loved it so much I would not leave… I made her stay so we could watch the next showing an hour after the first one ended… After I saw “Major League” the first thing I did was go and buy a Cleveland Indians #99 jersey… I watched “61” so many times I actually became a quasi Yankee fan… I would fall asleep to Ken Burns’ PBS documentary “Baseball” almost every night, when I played professionally… I collected baseball cards as a kid and spent every dollar I earned pumping gas at Chevron and slicing meat at Melina’s Deli on improving my collection… Nolan Ryan, Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly, Ken Griffey Jr, Jose Canseco, Cal Ripken Jr, Daryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden “Rookie” Cards, had to have them… Mark McGwire and Will Clark 1984 olympic cards, no doubt I needed the whole set… At one point there was not a Will Clark card that existed that I did not own… I even splurged for the famous “F-Face” Billy Ripken card, I was the envy  of every 12 year old kid in my neighborhood…

To be able to then play parts of 11 major league seasons with 5 different teams was beyond a dream come true… Even now, working for KNBR 680, the San Francisco Giants flagship station, and the Major League Baseball Network, there is not a single day I don’t realize how fortunate I am to have my professional life entrenched in something that I have had so much passion for throughout the years…

I have prefaced you with all of this because what I have to say next may be viewed as somewhat anti Major League Baseball, and that is not the case… We all, including myself, have plenty of imperfections and MLB is not any different… Replay should have been implemented 30 years ago, it took a catcher nearly getting killed before they finally changed the rule about collisions at home plate, and a one game wildcard game to decide a 162 game regular season still seems asinine to me…  Yet I am not sure anything upsets me more than when a game that prides itself on history and tradition above all else, fails to recognize some of the greatest players because they have decided to morally judge certain individuals based on circumstances and actions many would argue Major League Baseball helped facilitate… Over 500 writers have a difficult enough time deciding who to vote for without asking them to play “moral police.”

What I am trying to say is that I think the Hall of Fame has become a sad joke… MLB.com writer Ken Gurnick chose not to vote for anybody who played in the “steroid era,” yet voted for Jack Morris whose career was no doubt played during a time when certain players were abusing performance enhancing drugs… Miami Herald scribe and ESPN Radio host Dan Lebetard sold his vote to Deadspin because he said he had no desire to “be part of the present climate without reform”… I don’t blame either one of these guys for being disenchanted with the process… Voters need some sort of clarification to an incredibly murky situation…

The only person with 7 MVP awards and the only person with 7 Cy Young’s in the history of the game didn’t stand a chance of admittance when they were on the ballot for the first time last year… This year wasn’t any different… We might as well throw Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons in the same category as Pete Rose… Three of the greatest players of all time that all of a sudden people want to forget ever even played the game… There is part of me that sympathizes with the writers, part of me that sympathizes with the players, but there is not a single bit of me that feels sorry for the Hall of Fame that makes the voting decision incredibly difficult for everybody involved…

The Hall of Fame is listed on Wikipedia as a “American History Museum and Hall of Fame”… How can the Hall possibly be considered an “American History Museum” when it attempts to turn its back to baseball’s historical past? There are plenty of things in our history that we as Americans are not proud of, but the great thing about this country is that we recognize our mistakes of the past and move on to correct those mistakes for the betterment of the future…

The Hall of Fame’s motto is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations”…. By not recognizing the “steroid era” in general and honoring that times greatest players the ‘Hall’ is failing to do any of the three… Baseball facilitated a culture for many years and now is trying to do its best to pretend like that entire era never existed… 3 managers of that time just unanimously got elected to the Hall of Fame… How many games did those managers win with the help of juiced up players? Obviously the Hall of Fame Veterans Commitee did not hold those managers accountable for their players actions when deciding their HOF fate, and they should not have… Yet if we are willing to forgive the “steroid era” managers why would we not forgive the “steroid era” players? Especially when we have no idea who did what and when they did it…

The Hall of Fame Veterans Committee was amended in 2001 to include current Hall of Fame members and other “honorees” including executives, baseball historians and media members… The intention of putting the vote into the hands of living players in the HOF seemed to be a good one but there is one major problem… The more guys that are elected into the Hall the more a current Hall of Famers brand is potentially diminished…  In 2007 after 3 consecutive years of electing nobody, Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt admitted such… “The same thing happens every year. The current members want to protect the prestige as much as possible and are unwilling to open the doors”…

So the question now becomes how do we fix the problem? First and foremost I want an entire section built in the HOF explaining the “steroid era” and what sort of effect it had on the history of baseball…  Lets also make sure current members of the HOF have nothing to do with any sort of selection process… The conflict of interest is too great… The next thing that needs to be done is the Baseball Writers Association of America needs to limit the number of voters to those who actually follow the game, actively write about it and care about the historical meaning of what the Hall of Fame is supposed to represent… The original concept to grant the writers the power to decide the games greatest players of all time was to hopefully get unbiased opinions and votes… That has never been the case… The issue is that members of the BBWAA are actual human beings and just like the rest of us they have never been unbiased… They continue to prove that year in and year out when a seemingly no question slam dunk first ballot Hall of Fame’r gets denied votes… Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willy Mays, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux and every other elected HOF’r have all been victims of blatant wrongful omissions on the ballot by members of the BBWAA… You would think that when it took Joe DiMaggio four tries to get inducted, thats right, four freaking tries, the HOF would have said enough is enough and they would have figured out a different election process… About the only semi logical reason to keep the standard HOF vote solely in the writers hands is because thats where it has always been… We all know baseball prides itself on tradition but whether we like it or not this world is about learning from our mistakes of the past and eventually changing for the overall well being of the future… The time has come for the Hall of Fame to make that change…

I propose an annual rotating panel of voters comprised of members of the BBWAA, noted baseball historians and former MLB players, managers and executives NOT in the Hall of Fame… Who better to judge the best players of an entire generation than the actual people that signed, managed and played against them… As well as those who documented their every move… The Hall would also need to make sure as many different eras as possible are represented… I would also propose a small portion of the vote comes from the actual numbers themselves…  In the sabermetrics world that we now live in I would trust a computer telling me who a Hall of Famer is just as much as a baseball historian or a certain player who may hold certain prejudices for whatever reasons… Trust me, I have no intention of eliminating the human element of the process, I just want to let the hard numbers have their say…. The final group that baseball has no right keeping out of the selection process are the consumers who keep the entire business of baseball in operation, the fans… The Hall must then make sure all of these groups have the appropriate education and understanding of what classifies a HOF’r …

In 1945, when the Hall came up with its official rules for election it asked voters to consider candidates based on “overall playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, their contributions to the team on which they played and to baseball in general”… This was the final product of qualification standards that were amended several times between 1936 and 1945… In order to eliminate gray areas and individual biases and judgements, I propose the HOF eliminates the “integrity, sportsmanship and character” portion… For me personally, I really don’t care what kind of guy you were or are… I just want to know if you were the best… The Hall of Fame selection process will never be perfect, there will always be controversy and debate but it is the Hall of Fames responsibility to make sure we simplify the selection process and eliminate subjective opinions as much as possible… There are already liars, cheaters and drug users in the Hall of Fame, whats wrong with a few more? EB

Ode to “The Stick”

January 10th, 1982…. 25 miles south of Candlestick Park in San Francisco,  I was sitting on my Dad’s lap in the family room growing increasingly irritated… About 30 family members and friends had been glued to the television for the past 3 hours watching the San Francisco 49ers play in the NFC championship game against the Dallas Cowboys… San Francisco had the ball on their own 11 yard line trailing 27-21 with just a few minutes remaining… All I wanted was peace and quiet but not surprisingly my family would not shut up… I needed to get away… I needed space… This was not only the biggest moment in 49ers franchise history, this was the biggest moment of my life… I was 5.

I bolted to the only other room with a TV, my parents’ bedroom… I then watched Joe Montana orchestrate a drive that put the 49ers on Dallas’ 6 yard line with 58 seconds to go… I was so nervous I went for cover underneath the sheets on Mom and Dad’s bed… I could not bare to watch… Then it happened, with my face firmly planted into the bed, I heard Vin Scully’s legendary voice… “For the upstart 49ers, they are six yards away from Pontiac”… Chills engulfed my body… “Montana… Looking, looking…”… I couldn’t take it anymore I needed to watch… I threw the covers off my head to see Montana rolling to the right and blanketed three Cowboy defenders including 49er nemesis Ed “Too Tall” Jones… Scully continued… “Throwing to the end zone”… To this 5 year old it looked more like heaving the football in a desperate attempt to toss the ball away… I put my hands back over my face, barely peeking through my middle and index fingers… Then, as if Dwight Clark turned into Clark Kent, Superman flew out of nowhere… Scully uttered the words that will resonate with me for the rest of my life… “Clark caught it!”.

I fired up out of the bed and ripped my shirt off, a move that would have made any European soccer player proud… I then began swinging it over my head as I screamed at the top of my lungs… I sprinted toward the family room to celebrate… Pandemonium had officially taken over Candlestick Park and the Byrnes household wasn’t any different… I began to take a lap around the house throwing out high fives to whoever I ran into… I then saw Dad across the room pounding his chest… “E, E, E… Chest Bump, chest bump, chest bump!”…   I sprinted towards him and tossed a ‘flying bump’ that nearly knocked over the 4th degree Kempo Karate black belt…  Immediately I regained composure and motored back to the bedroom to kick the extra point with a decorative pillow that was shaped like a football… A ritual I had begun for each Ray Wershing kick… Just like the 49ers kicker, I would not look at the goal posts (my parents headboard) as I lined up to strike the pillow that sat up nicely and did not require a holder… My kick was good, so was Wershing’s… The 49ers were headed to Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Michigan.

In many ways that was my introduction to life… I can vaguely remember certain things B.C (Before Catch) but essentially every significant happening P.C (Post Catch) is a vivid memory in my life… The 49ers went on to beat the Bengals a couple weeks later, a dynasty was born and so was a life long 49ers fan… The next season, at 6 years old,  I made my Candlestick Park debut… At that point in my life I had been to Great America, Knotts Berry Farm and the grand daddy of them all, Disneyland… Combine all three amusement parks and those experiences still didn’t come close to the moment I walked through the swinging metal doors in lower section 22…  The image of the fresh cut grass and painted red 49er end zones trumped meeting goofy or any stupid tea cup ride… As a matter of fact, if Mickey Mouse were there, I would have told him to kiss my ass.

Throughout the 80’s we had 2 season tickets to 49er games… More often than not it was my Dad and I that headed to Candlestick on Sundays… We would take the Ford diesel F-250 truck and stop by Roberts Market on the way to load up on fresh cut meats, cokes and red wine… When we got to “The Stick” the operation was simple,  pull down the tail gate, fire up the charcoal BBQ, load up the meat, pop our bottles and start chucking the football.

When we went inside it wasn’t exactly how you would envision a father and son watching a game together… We would both put on our head phones and listen to Joe Starky and Wayne Walker call the action on the radio… There was always plenty of time to reflect on the game during commercial breaks, half time and the ride home…  After a 49er win, we would stop at Estrada’s Restaurant in Daly City for their famous steaming tostada, a celebratory margarita for the old man and a Shirley Temple for the kid… Throughout the years, Candlestick Park essentially became the centerpiece for significant events that in many ways defined a large part of my childhood.

I was there October 10th, 1987… NLCS game 4 against the dreaded St. Louis Cardinals who the Giants and their fans absolutely despised… Mike Krukow went CG and Jeffery Leanord went bridge to put the Giants ahead in the 5th…  The “Hackman” then circled the bases with one flap down adding more fuel to the already intense rivalry.

I was there October 30th, 1988… Steve Young had the one of the most incredible runs by a quarterback in NFL history… Once everybody was on their feet during the run, Dad grabbed me and hoisted me on his shoulders just in time to see Young stumble into the end zone and score the game winning touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.

I was there October 9th, 1989… Will Clark ended an epic battle with Mitch Williams by smoking a line drive single up the middle, clinching the Giants first trip to the World Series since 1962… I understand why this would not make sense to most people but I  would not have traded my view from the nose bleeds in section 62 for front row seats behind home plate.

I was there October 28th, 1989… 11 days after the Loma Prieta earthquake, the A’s won game 4 of the Bay Bridge World Series and swept the Giants… The view from section 62 that day wasn’t nearly as romantic:)

I was there as a regular in the left field bleachers during the summer of 1993… The Giants won 103 games yet still lost the division by one freaking game… The Wildcard and divisional realignment were implemented the next year… That could have been the best Giants team ever assembled… Its a shame we never got to find out.

I was there for the BB twirl in 1997…  Fresh off an appearance in the College World Series and a summer spent in the Cape Cod baseball league, I couldn’t have asked for a better homecoming than a Giants/Dodgers series at “The Stick” with the NL West title on the line… To make sure we were able to get bleacher tickets my boys and I arrived to Candlestick at 10 am for a 7 pm game… There are very few rivalries in sports that could match the electricity of a Giants/Dodgers matchup when both teams are relevent come late September… There was also something about Candlestick that seemed to make both the players and fans even more ‘on edge’… I will never forget Barry Bonds hitting a ball so hard I can still remember hearing the echo through the metal seats below me… I imagine most people in the park  followed the ball hit well over the right field fence but for whatever reason I never took my eyes off of Bonds… He stood at home plate to admire his work for a moment and then pulled off something I had never seen done on a baseball field, a pirouette! Shocked and going nuts celebrating with my fellow ‘bleacher bums’ I actually slipped and and fell back into the row of people behind me… Thankfully the fans caught me, then proceeded to body pass me half way up the section as if we were at some sort of rock concert… #OnlyAtTheStick

I was there January 5th, 2003… The 49ers fell behind 38-14 to the New York Football Giants… 49er quarterback Jeff Garcia then led a miraculous comeback with the 49ers eventually winning 39-38… I was playing for the Oakland A’s at the time and told 49er/A’s team photographer Michael Zagaris I would do anything to get onto the field for the game… “Z” man came up big… He got me a press pass and registered me as his assistant which basically granted me access well beyond a normal credentialed media member… I acted as “Z” man’s shadow and carried his camera bag around the entire game… Occasionally pretending as if I was snapping a couple shots myself… Ill never forget being inside the locker room and tunnel with the players right before the game… The entire 49er squad banging the walls and chanting as they walked toward the field… “We ready, we ready, we ready for Y’ALL”… I just about dropped “Z” man’s camera bag and charged the field with the team… After the game, as the stadium was going berzerk,  I found myself standing on the sideline next to my boyhood idol Ronnie Lott who was getting ready to do the post game on TV… He looked at me with a huge smile on his face, slowly gazed around the entire stadium then uttered  one word… “Unbelievable!”… Nothing more needed to be said, for the first time in my life I was speechless.

I was there October 6th, 2013… My final time at Candlestick park… It was the Sunday night game against the Texans but for me it might as well have been a Wednesday daytime matinee against the Houston Astros in 1985, the year the Giants lost a franchise record 100 games… I wasn’t there for the game, I was there for ‘The Stick” and I was there to give my 3 young children the same experience my Dad gave me 30 years earlier… I explained to my kids that the 49ers were going to get a new home next year and we are going to say goodbye to the old stadium that they are going to tear down… I purposely bought tickets in section 62, the exact same seats I sat in, 2nd row from the top on the aisle, when Will Clark busted the Cubs ass and sent the Giants to the 89’ Series… I wasn’t exactly sure how my kids, just 2,3 and 4, were going to react but they stuffed their faces with cotton candy and loved every minute of it… My girls kept dancing in the aisle and my boy would stand up on top of his chair, put both hands in the air and scream “NOBODY” (a little trick Daddy taught him) … After the game my 4 year old kept looking back at the stadium as we walked back to the car… Then when we drove out of the parking lot she began to cry… “Whats wrong Peanut?”… “Daddy, I don’t want them to blow up the Candlestick!”… “Me neither Peanut, me neither.” She wasn’t the only one with tears in her eyes…

December 23, 2013… The final game at Candlestick Park… I was not there… I was at my home in Lake Tahoe watching the game in the living room with 30 of my family members who had come up for the Christmas holiday… As you could imagine the crowd was loud and I was growing increasingly irritated because my family would not shut up! I needed to get away, I needed my space… The game that seemed to be locked up took a turn for the worst…  Atlanta scored late in the fourth quarter to make it a 3 point game… The Falcons then recovered an onside kick and were on the doorstep of punching it into the end zone and putting the 49ers playoff hopes in serious jeopardy… More importantly, the sendoff to the stadium that has given so many fans so many great memories was about to be closed out with one big kick in the nuts… Then it happened… A deflected Matt Ryan pass ended up in the hands of 49ers linebacker Navarro Bowman… I sprung up off of the couch the same way I sprung up out of my parents bed when I was 5 years old… I ripped off my jacket as Bowman crossed the 50, by the time he got into the end zone my shirt was off and I was waving it above my head screaming at the top of my lungs… I then began a lap around the house throwing out high fives to my wife, kids, Mom, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins… Unfortunately, Dad wasn’t  there this time for the chest bump, he passed away 2 years ago… Before I had time to get all nostalgic, I spotted my 2 year old boy across the room…  Just like his Daddy and just like his ‘Great Pa,’ his shirt was off as he was pounding his chest and screaming… “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy… Chest bump, chest bump, chest bump!”  Farewell Candlestick, I appreciate the generations of memories… EB

 

View from Section 62… Farewell "Stick"

View from Section 62… Farewell “Stick”