MIAMI – As an official scorer for Major League Baseball, Ron Jernick has worked at the World Series, the All-Star Game and the World Baseball Classic.
This season he'll work at home.
Baseball is back, but because of the coronavirus, official scorers will rule remotely on hits and errors and other plays.
Perhaps none will be more remote than Jernick, a fixture in the Miami Marlins press box since 1999. He lives three hours north in the Melbourne area.
MLB is limiting the number of people at the ballpark, including in the press box, and decided official scorers could make their calls without seeing the game in person.
“There are a lot of roles that have historically been in the ballpark that we had to look at, and the official scorer was a tough one,” said Chris Marinak, MLB executive vice president for strategy, technology and innovation. “When we looked at the job, and the technology available to them, we felt like they can do the entire job they have to do from home."
Some in baseball are skeptical, although they say they understand that health and safety must be the priority.
Scorers will have access to an unprecedented number of video feeds, accessing the same infrastructure used for replay reviews. When they want to replay a play, they can choose their camera angle, and zoom in and rewind.
But no opportunity to go down to the clubhouse after the game, to talk to the player or a manager for further illumination.
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona said the game slows down as an observer gets farther away from the action, which affects judgment on deciding whether a play should be a hit or an error. So he's not keen on scorers working from home.
“Probably a touch unfair to the official scorer, which could end up affecting the players,” Francona said. "It’s tough enough to be an official scorer when you’re sitting up high. When you get down low and you see actually how fast the ball’s moving or the hops it’s taking or the topspin, you get a much better version of what’s really happening.
“I know any time you slow it down and watch it again, it always looks like an error. But you have to remember, that player is not allowed to slow it down.”
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts agreed.
“The speed of the game, seeing it in real time with your own eyes in front of you I think matters,” Roberts said.
Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas, on the other hand, believes decisions by scorers will improve.
“They can take their time and watch the replay and see how hard the play was to make, and how hard it was hit,” Rojas said. “I feel like it's going to be a little bit more accurate.”
One point of agreement is that for the scorers it's a big change. Many have been at the job for decades, with Boston's Chaz Scoggins believed to be the leader in continuous service. He worked his first game at Fenway Park in 1979.
MLB asked scorers not to discuss with the media the switch to working remotely. But one thing is certain: The change will provide fresh fodder for second-guessers, and there are plenty when it comes to official scoring.
“It’s a thankless job," Detroit Tigers broadcaster Dan Dickerson said. "I mean my goodness, all you hear about are complaints.”
Longtime Marlins broadcaster and former player Tommy Hutton has been known to question a call or three. He noted the dynamics of making a hit-or-error decision will change with the scorers not in the press box, where rulings can elicit groans.
“They won't have others around them making suggestions,” Hutton said. "You always had, say with the Nationals in town, the scorer calls an error, and the Nationals' PR guy thinks his guy should have gotten a hit, so sometimes he would go down to the scorer and say, 'Hey, you'd better rethink that.'”
The process to reverse a call — which happens occasionally, even after a game has ended — will remain the same. Marinak believes because scorers will have access to so many camera angles, the number of decisions reversed may decline.
“We felt like we have a good shot at doing an excellent job of this remotely,” Marinak said. "We're all really confident it's going to go smoothly. You never know until you try it.”
So the scorers will render their rulings from the study or porch or kitchen table, the decision then debated by countless would-be official scorers also watching while safe at home.
AP Sports Writers Noah Trister in Detroit and Tom Withers in Cleveland and freelancer Doug Padilla in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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