Noun vs. Verb: The Case Against Video Replay in The Little League World Series

Last week I learned video replay is used in the Little League World Series, and I can’t stop thinking about it. 

The treadmill in our building gym is one that has a TV screen attached to it, but the channel options are weak: a second-rate news channel, infomercials, telenovelas, and the golf channel that somehow never has actual golf on when I’m running. My eyes drifted to the reflection of the big screen TV in the gym window. A Little League game—a regional tournament game to be exact— was on ESPN. The winner was on its way to Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series. 

Watching the reflection in the window made everything backwards: right-handed batters looked lefty, left-handed pitchers looked like righties, and when a hitter put a ball in play, his reflection dashed in the direction of third base. 

After the centerfielder caught a bases empty line drive early in a 0-0 game, the home plate umpire walked to the backstop and put on a headset, just like they do in big league games. With no sound, it took a second to figure out they were actually reviewing a call. ESPN looped the replay in slow motion: they were looking to see whether or not the catcher’s glove made contact with the hitter’s bat, which would be catcher’s interference, granting the hitter first base. 

It took at least a half mile for the Replay Team, as I’ve since learned it to be called, to look at the ESPN-provided camera angles (in addition to the actual LLWS, ESPN broadcasts 88 regional tournament games). Players stood around waiting for the home plate umpire, who stood around waiting for the Replay Team to examine each frame to determine if the last fleck of the leather on the webbing of the catcher’s mitt made contact with the bat. I couldn’t tell if the bat nicked the mitt in real time, and I couldn’t be sure in slow motion either. The replay team determined there was catcher’s interference, but it didn’t matter; the play would have no impact on who won. By then I’d already decided I would be digging into this Little League video replay lunacy. 

So here’s the most complete explanation of video replay, straight from the Little League website. Topline (parentheticals mine): the LLWS has used “instant” video replay since 2008(!). Incredibly, it was the first baseball organization of any kind to use replay. That’s right; Little League edged out MLB by about a month, and college baseball started using it in the College World Series starting in 2012. 

The first version of replay in LLWS was limited to fair and foul calls on home runs. Adults being adults, that couldn’t be left alone. Before long, video replay expanded. It’s now available in the regional tournaments as well as the LLWS, and replay can now be used for, well, all of this: 

Managers must specify the exact call that they would like to challenge. The only plays that may be challenged are: ball over the outfield fence, dead ball areas, batted balls ruled fair but foul or rule foul but fair, foul tip versus foul ball, hit batters, runner or runner-batter interference on batted balls, all plays at bases to get a runner or runner-batter out, appeal for missed bases (not if the runner left too soon), any out call made safe (umpire determines where to place the runners), pitched ball ruled “not caught” by the catcher, catcher interference, head-first slide into a base. The final play of all games are automatically reviewed.

Managers have up to two unsuccessful challenges in the first six innings, and one in extra innings. As always, a manager may request time and ask the umpire crew to review a play without officially challenging the play. Umpires may call for video replay on any play that qualifies for it, and may also ask for a review after a manager conference.

LittleLeague.org, 2016

Reminder, this is a video replay rule that was enacted for games being played by kids ages 10-12. 

So that’s how I came to stare at a gym window watching a backwards version of a Little League game. Backwards indeed.


My main curiosity went back all the way to the conceit of the bad idea, at least 14 removed from the catcher’s interference call in question. Where did the idea come from, and why the hell would anyone think it was anything other than wrong. I was laughing at the absurdity of it all pretty quickly. 

Go far enough back, and at some point before August, 2008 the following certainly occurred in some form: someone working at Little League headquarters suggested “video replay” as an agenda item. For this story, let’s call them Blake. Worse, Blake’s agenda item remained. It wasn’t ignored or dismissed. It wasn’t mistaken as a subtle joke to loosen up a Friday meeting.

The notion gained some momentum, and since it made it all the way to the field of play, that means the topic was discussed 5, 10, 20, maybe even 50 times in different Little League meetings at the national and regional level. At some point, execs from ESPN—the broadcast partner for all these games—got involved (would ESPN stand to gain some ad revenue with replay? That’s for another day). Not once was anyone able to douse enough common sense on the matter to keep the idea of video replay from spreading. 

I wonder about Blake— the real person—whoever he (or she) is. I think about what could have happened that led him to take up the cause of video replay in Little League. What was the blown call in his life that ultimately led to this mission?

Was it a play from Blake’s youth that he couldn’t ever get over? Perhaps he was at the plate with a chance to send his Little League team to Williamsport. Perhaps, with the bases loaded, down by three runs with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Blake yanked a pitch down the line. High….deep…it is foul! The umpire called it a foul ball even when it was clearly fair from Blake’s vantage point. What could’ve been for Blake! 

Or maybe Blake’s child was scarred by a missed call. Maybe lil Blakey dropped a ball at second base in what would’ve led to a game-saving double-play. If only there was video replay, dad Blake thought. Then they would’ve seen Junior drop it on the exchange! It was the exchaaaaaange!

A second theory: an umpire absolutely could’ve been the one who first planted the seed of video replay. Exhausted from inexhaustible parents. A set of headphones might be just the buffer umps needed from the rage that is a parent who thinks their child has been screwed over in what must be the least significant way imaginable. 

Maybe the ump thought, Replay’s just easier. Why be the target? I don’t need this shit. 


My silly, “based on a true story” imaginings are an attempt to laugh off the genuine frustration. A Little League rule should not stick in my side like this video replay has for the past week. Really, I shouldn’t care. I’m on family leave taking care of Charlie, our 3-month old baby girl. I’ve got much better things to do with my time, like push a stroller down every street, avenue, boulevard, and cul-du-sac within a four-mile radius. And yet…

The issue isn’t the intention— ‘getting it right,’ as is often the chorus—but rather what ‘it’ deserves our attention and energy. The problem with video replay can be found in the grammar of it all. Beyond pronouns and antecedents, my argument comes down to nouns and verbs. 

A play versus playing.

In sports, when parents age out of the verb part of speech—playing—many can become hyper focused on the noun— (a) play. In some respects, it’s understandable; the noun is all we have left! But the joy, the magic of Little League is in the verb, more specifically (and to the delight of grammar teachers everywhere) the present participle. The continuous tense of the verb: play-ing. Especially in a game in which the action pauses after every pitch, we have to keep it moving forward whenever possible in the youth version of the game. 

Experiencing the rhythm of a well-played baseball game is a difficult thing to learn as a kid, but once you do, it’s a wonderful choreography to take part in and share with teammates and opponents alike. It’s similar to learning how to play in a school band. Yes, mistakes happen all of the time, but it’s a lot harder to know the feeling of being in the pocket—the real joy of finding that rhythm— if you’re stopping every 12 bars for the conductor to review whether or not the rhythm section is rushing or the trumpets are out of tune. The same can be said for a game that’s adding breaks for video review. 

These replays aren’t rare either. The best intel I could find comes from Diane Pucin’s story in the LA Times back in 2011: replay was used 18 times during the 10-day 2011 LLWS. It’s hard to believe it’s any less than 18 times a decade later. 

The Little League World Series is the purest version of baseball you could ever hope to watch. Lamade Stadium might be the most beautiful baseball field on earth. They have that flat-roofed grandstand reminiscent of the minor league parks from the 1940s, and real dugouts, and the hill in centerfield where the kids watching the game slide down on cardboard. There’s a joy in watching a 12 year-old hit a homer or make a diving catch that’s impossible to muster for a professional making $20,000,000 a year. So it offends me when adults can’t stop themselves from futzing with something as damn near perfect as the Little League World Series in the spirit of ‘getting it right’. 

Should umpires, parents, coaches and Little League work to get calls correct? Yes. Of course it matters who wins, and some plays are no doubt tipping points in games, but I’d rather live with the call on the field. What’s stalled —the verb, the continuous tense—is ultimately more important to the overall joy of playing baseball. 

At such a young age, baseball— the game of failure—should feel endless in opportunity. Next pitch, next at bat, next inning, next game, next year. Stopping a game to analyze one play feels backwards to what Little League is at its best. 

This isn’t a “parents are the worst” column. The path to a parent taking a Little League game way too seriously is completely understandable. They put so much time, energy, miles, and money into allowing the opportunity for their kids to experience success and the positive power of baseball. And then, against all odds—holy shit!—their kids are a game or two away from playing in the Little League World Series. A truly rare life experience. One bad call, and one obvious solution, and I can see how our Blake, and all the Blakes out there would think, Why not? Cameras are already at the game, for chrissake. 

Who knows? Charlie has been around for less than a season; maybe I’m a Blake in waiting and I don’t know it yet. We’ll have to wait to find out. Until then, let’s ditch the video replay in Little League and spend time on the -ing of it all. That’s where the magic is found. 

– Phil Lang, 08/25/21

Week of August 25, 2014

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Jerry Jones Has a Great Life.

This profile on Jerry Jones is incredibly long, and you probably don’t have time to read it all. Which is why we’re here, with the best tidbits from a really good read:

  1. Jerry Jones is 6 feet, ½ inch tall. I always thought he was like 6’4.
  2. Jerry Jones played college football.
  3. George Strait fans really love George Strait. $1000 for parking spots?!
  4. Jerry claims he spent all the money he had at the time ($150M) buying the Cowboys. Forbes now values the team at $3.2B. Billion! Seems like a wise investment.
  5. Sports radio guys are idiots. I did not learn that from this story. But I did learn that one of the dumbest is in Dallas, who stated in this story that being GM of the Cowboys is maybe one of the most important jobs in the world. The world. Ugh.
  6. Jerry Jones uses a flip phone. For the record, I love flip phones.
  7. Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson were teammates in college?!
  8. Romo talking about how Jones is all about substance and not style, and that is why he passed on Johnny Manziel, right after reading how angry Jones was that they did not take Manziel, is really funny.
  9. Romo drinks Miller Lite. Of course.
  10. While the reporter was there, Adrian Peterson called Jerry Jones and told him he’d like to play for the Cowboys. Jones expressed that the interest is mutual. I can’t wait to see what the Vikings’ response is to this.
  11. Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson were ROOMMATES in college??
  12. With outside financial backing, Jerry Jones almost bought the San Diego Chargers when he was just 23 years old. His father talked him out of it. That is wild.
  13. Years ago, Jones gave up alcohol to lose weight. But his own mother convinced his wife to get Jones drinking again, because he was too much of an asshole sober.
  14. God I wish I was rich: “He and Jones were drinking heavily in Austin one night and stumbled into a dance club at 2:30 a.m. when the bartender told them that last call had long passed. “Either you start servin’ drinks,” Jones said, “or I buy the bar and you’re the first son of a bitch I get rid of.” Ten minutes later, Jones tells Hansen, “Go to the bathroom.” Inside, Hansen discovered a bartender sitting behind a hastily assembled but fully stocked bar; Jones, Hansen and another 10 pals enjoyed mixed drinks until 5 a.m. Hansen was shipwrecked with a hangover until late the following afternoon. “Jones was on ‘Good Morning America’ at 7 a.m.,” Hansen says in awe.)”

As I said, Jerry Jones has a great life. -TOB

Source: Jerry Football”, by Don Van Natta, Jr., ESPN The Magazine (08/28/14)

Note: Jerry Jones is one of the primary reasons I love sports. When it all comes down to it, we want characters. Give me more weirdos, drunks, oddballs; give me a second helping of Mark Cuban, Dennis Rodman, and Lawrence Taylor. While of course I want the Twins* to win the World Series, it’s not happening more than 5 times in my life (stop laughing – a guy can dream – they’re 40% of the way there already). At some point we all recalibrate our definition of ‘hero,’ and Kirby Puckett, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, etc. are replaced with mom, dad, brother, and teacher. It’s a liberating moment, actually. What we really want from sports is characters – characters we like, characters we hate, and characters we like to hate/hate to like. Keep on keepin’ on, Jerry. More strippers. More plastic surgury, you dirty ol’ man.  – PAL

* I want the Giants to win, too. There – I said it. I like – no, I’m a fan – of the San Francisco Giants. If the Twins aren’t in it, then I’m rooting for the Giants. They’re my sidepiece.


Inner. Inner City. Inner City Pressure.

How will the recent Little League World Series, where an all-black team from inner-city Chicago and a diverse team from inner-city Philadelphia dominated the headlines, change the way MLB approaches baseball in major U.S. cities? One idea in this article is that MLB teams should start baseball academies in their city to promote the game and develop talent who might not otherwise have a chance to play. The article suggests one issue is that teams would not want to develop a talented player, only to have him be drafted by another team. Of course, an obvious solution, one I first heard suggested right here by our own Phil Lang, is that MLB teams should follow the MLS rule – teams who develop a player in their academy should be able to select him before anyone else has the chance. Do it, MLB. My son is 2 months old. I can’t wait to send him to the San Francisco Jr. Giants Academy that does not yet exist. -TOB

Source: “A Catalyst for Change”, by Anthony Castrovince, Sports on Earth (08/21/14)

Note: Steve Bandura articulates it perfectly. I’ve been circling around this point, but I couldn’t flesh it out. Let’s get past the soundbite (the number of African Americans playing in the MLB is dwindling) and talk about the cause so we can explore possible solutions. “The African-American kids in the suburbs play,” Bandura said. “So what, if they go inside a certain boundary, all of a sudden they’re not interested in the game? None of those stereotypes make any sense. A six-year-old kid is not saying, ‘Well, I’m not going to play baseball because there are more scholarships in football for college.’ It doesn’t make any sense, and I’m tired of people running out those stereotypes.” – PAL


Everybody Seems to Be Coming Around…

Since I was a kid, I have rooted against the darlings of the sports media. So, I never liked Peyton Manning. When he was in college, I did not want him to win the Heisman, and I was really excited when Charles Woodson beat him for it. I have reveled in Peyton’s playoff failures over the years. I have no idea why, looking back. He seems like a decent guy. Part of it is because I’ve been reading/seeing the same stories marveling at how much film he watches for two decades now, and it gets old. On the other hand, I also really enjoy players continuing to excel far beyond an age when they should. I also like improbable comeback stories. Peyton’s comeback from the neck surgeries, at this age, is pretty remarkable. So I decided to read this profile, and I’m glad he did. He’s a strange dude, but I am actually beginning to like him.

Source: Inside Manning”, Dan Pompei, Sports on Earth (08/25/14)

Note: Peyton Manning can work as hard as he wants – it will never make up for the $40 he cost me on the halftime score of the Super Bowl last year. Jerk. What the hell is this OCD nutcase going to do after he retires? If there’s any poetic justice left in the world, for the love of god, please let Manning’s son love soccer. Also, he owns 21 Papa John’s in Colorado. Papa John’s pizza stinks.


“Mama, If That’s Movin’ Up, Then I’m Movin’ Out”

While reading this story, I couldn’t help but think of Todd Marinovich (if you haven’t seen this 30 for 30, do yourself a favor and watch it soon). It lacks the angle of the parent maniacally engineering a star athlete, but it is a fascinating look, not often seen, into the mind of a once promising athlete who didn’t quite make it, and how he has adjusted to the fact that he will not be a star. Many people think how great it would be to be a professional athlete – but what happens when an athlete falls a little short of riches and fame, and his sport becomes a job? -TOB

Source:The Making and Unmaking of Preston Zimmerman, American Soccer Player”, Brian Blickenstaff, originally published in XI Quarterly (Fall 2012)


 

Track & Field Has a Great Idea

When do you care about Track & Field? Every 4 years, just like the rest of us. How exciting is it to watch? I love it. This article brings to light a new approach to Track & Field that makes a lot of sense, and it’s based off of the following take: “Track is a sport crippled by two evils: the stopwatch and the Olympics. The stopwatch tries to find validation in the thousandth of a second, and the Olympics wants to have one big hoopla every four years. Both are complete crap.” Quick read. Fresh opinion. Good idea.

Source: “Jenny Simpson Is Better Than Any Gold Medal Or World Record”, Jon Gugala, Fittish (8/29/14)


VIDEO OF THE WEEK:


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“Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is… maybe he didn’t.”

-Eli Cash

Week of August 11, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 11.04.18 PM

Click on the pic to get the joke.


The Tiger Effect: Overrated?

“Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.” – Earl Woods. I didn’t buy that even when I was 14, but I did buy into the notion that Tiger Woods was one of the very few transformative athletes. While his impact can’t be summarized by the almighty $, Matt Brennan’s examination of Tiger’s financial, social, and cultural impact on the game is revelatory. This could be one of the best original pieces I’ve read on Deadspin. -PAL

Source: “What Happens To Golf After Tiger?”, by Matt Brennan, Deadspin (8/14/14)

TOB: I have always liked Tiger Woods. But whenever I think of how Tiger’s career has fallen apart over the last five years, I think of this. At the 2009 Big Game, a game that underdog Cal would win over Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck, Stanford honored Tiger Woods. As Tiger tried to give his speech, the Cal fans that had taken over Stanford Stadium began to boo him mercilessly. And the look on Tiger’s face is priceless. He is a true Stanford Man – smarmy and entitled – and he had no idea how to react to a negative reception, even some good-natured ribbing like this. Cal fans rightfully take credit for jinxing his career.

PAL: Did you guys know that Tommy went to Cal?


Think Different

Chip Kelly is a great football coach because he doesn’t think like a typical football coach. He doesn’t do things just because that is the way they’ve always been done. He questions why things are done a certain way and whether there is a better way to do them. This method has allowed him to be extremely successful everywhere he has coached. In short, I’m glad he’s not coaching Oregon anymore (did you know I went to Cal?), and this story is why. -TOB

Source: “The Influencer”, by Chris B. Brown, Grantland (08/14/14)

PAL: I’m not the biggest NFL fan in the world, but this is a good read on innovation, especially for anyone who’s coached or thinking about coaching. My favorite part: “The practice field is not where we talk. It is where we do the skills. We want to keep the words there to a minimum. The words you do use must have meaning. [Players] do not want to hear you give a 10-minute clinic in the middle of the field.”


The Next Great American Hope

I am not exactly a soccer nut, but I do enjoy it, and I feel as though I know more about it than most American sports fans. So while my soccer knowledge is not great, it was impossible not to notice 21-year old Deandre Yedlin every time he entered the game for the U.S. at this summer’s World Cup. It was really freakin obvious – he was fast as hell, and caused havoc all over the field. The world took notice, too – and Yedlin became one of the most sought after young players to emerge from the World Cup. Since the article was published, the Seattle Sounders agreed to transfer Yedlin to the English Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspurs (former team of current Sounder Clint Dempsey) for about $4M, to begin in 2015. If you want to know what it’s like to go from being a fairly unknown athlete to being chased by some of the top teams in the world in a very short amount of time, read this. -TOB

Source: “America’s Most Wanted”, by Jordan Ritter Conn, Grantland (08/12/14)

PAL: This is the first time I’ve heard about the MLS Homegrown Rule, and I think we should immediately implement it in all major sports (TOB: Agreed). Also, I buy into the belief that it has/will take generations before US Soccer can legitimately compete for a World Cup. The infrastructure has been there in youth leagues for about 25 years now, and I think we’re starting to see it bear fruit on the world stage.


The guy behind ‘The Guy’.

Listen, I’m over the PED in sports stories, too, but this article is about the disposable men in illegal schemes. Does the name Yuri Sucart mean anything to you? I didn’t think so. He’s Alex Rodriguez’s cousin. He’s the guy A-Rod threw under the bus the first time he tested positive for PEDs, and Sucart was up to his elbows in the Biogenesis scandal that will more than likely end A-Rod’s career (don’t forget – A-Rod was on track midway through his career to become one of the best 5 players to ever play the game by any standard). I found this mini-profile interesting, sad, a bit pathetic, and quietly dark when you look at the facts. – PAL

Source: “Yuri Sucart Faces a Decade in Prison After Years of Doing A-Rod’s Dirty Work”, by Tim Elfrink, Miami New Times (8/11/14)

TOB: If you need more confirmation that Barry Bonds is great and A-Rod sucks, you have it here. Bonds’ Guy, Greg Anderson, served time in jail instead of testifying against Bonds, and I guarantee that Bonds didn’t cut the guy off. Even the mob knows (in the movies) that you take care of your loyal soldiers. A-Rod sucks.


Too good to be true. 

Grantland’s “30 for 30” shorts are admittedly hit or miss (Steve Nash’s ‘The Finish Line’ series had its moments, but any doc in which the feature is also an Executive Producer is a bit suspect). Danny Almonte captivated the Little League World Series, striking out 32 out of a possible 36 batters in the first two games. That stat turned out to be literally unbelievable. At just under 18 minutes, don’t feel the need to watch the entire thing if it doesn’t grab you, but watching the highlights of him dealing is pretty funny, especially for those of us who vaguely remember Almonte. Spoiler alert: he’s filled out. Also, parents in youth sports can be the worst. No embed available. -PAL

Source: 30 for 3o Shorts: ‘Kid Danny’, directed by Andrew Cohen, Grantland (8/13/14)


Video of the Week: 

Mike Schmidt should be number 1, for crying out loud. I’ll give TSN – a Canadian network – a pass here, but that squeal at the end is the capper.


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Herman Blume: So you’ve changed your mind and you want the job.
Max Fischer: No, I’ve got an idea and I need some money.

– Rushmore