Judging from home: Why one of MLB's toughest jobs might be even tougher in 2020

Mark Townsend
Yahoo Sports Contributor

Aside from being a manager, there isn’t a more thankless job in Major League Baseball than being an official scorer. It’s a position designed to be second-guessed and ridiculed, yet it is essential to the game’s existence. After all, someone has to make the tough decisions on whether a hit is actually an error. The game’s integrity depends on it.

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An official scorer is relied upon to call it as they see it, day in and day out. But this season, they’ll be seeing it differently. As the Associated Press reported Tuesday, they will be determining hits, errors, wild pitches and passed balls from remote locations — in most cases, their homes — from as far as three hours away from the ballpark.

It's another decision directly attached to playing baseball through a pandemic. As part of its health and safety protocols, MLB is aiming to limit the number of people at the ballpark as much as possible.

While important to the game, league officials believe the official scorers can do their job just as well from home. To enhance their abilities, MLB has even provided video equipment upgrades that it hopes will make the decision-making process easier. But there are those within baseball who believe taking the official scorers out of the ballpark will make one of MLB’s toughest jobs even tougher.

Here, we’ll weigh the pros and cons.

Unprecedented number of video feeds

According to the report, the official scorers will have a set up fans can only dream about.

MLB will provide an "unprecedented number of video feeds" that will give them the access typically reserved for replay reviews in New York.

From the Associated Press:

''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.''

To review a play, an official scorer can "choose their camera angle, zoom in and rewind."

The added camera angles and enhanced features will slow each play down and provide plenty of visual evidence. That sounds like a good thing on the surface, but the reality is that while baseball can be a slow game, the action happens quickly and the circumstances are best judged in the moment. That’s something that’s lost when slowing the video down and over-analyzing.

Can official scorers fairly judge plays from home? (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Losing perspective

Both Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts agree that being in the ballpark provides the best perspective on each individual play.

''Probably a touch unfair to the official scorer, which could end up affecting the players,'' Francona told the Associated Press. ''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.''

''The speed of the game, seeing it in real time with your own eyes in front of you I think matters,'' added Roberts.

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As previously noted, the further removed you are, the slower the game becomes. When the game slows down, you lose sight of difficulty and perspective on circumstances specific to the moment.

The official scorers also won’t have postgame access to managers and players to discuss the ins and outs of specific plays or address concerns. Those conversations can sometimes lead an official scorer to reverse a decision, which leads to statistical changes that can be important to the players.

Miami Marlins broadcaster Tommy Hutton had a different take on that aspect, noting that ballpark voices can have too much of an influence on some calls.

''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.''

Of course, if a PR person really wants to get a message to the official scorer, they will find a way to get it there. So maybe this aspect won’t change too much.

Regardless, this is another reminder of how different the 2020 season will be and just how far across the board adjustments are being made to ensure the season is safely completed.

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