Farewell to the Say Hey Kid, Calling Out the Umpires, and Otani's Doggo Giveaway

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Welcome to the new edition of the baseball round-up! We're still somewhat in the warm-up stage of this column, but I'm glad you're here and enjoying it. You can find the link to the previous entry under Related at the end of the piece.

Now, let's get started! 

Could challenges to umpire plate calls be coming to the Majors?

Twice during the 2024 season, which is nearing the halfway point--and the All-Star Game on July 16--Arizona Diamondbacks skipper Torey Luvello was thrown out by the home plate umpire for vehemently argument balls and strikes. Could the days when that is a relic of the past be on its way?

Most fan are aware that a few years back, Major League Baseball enacted a limited number of opportunities during games for each team to request a review of plays through instant replay--to mixed results. I happen to be one of the people who feel like it enhances the game experience, giving imperfect human umpires a chance to make things right with the help of technology. But the ability to challenge umpires on their calls of balls and strike at the plate have so far remained out of reach.

Now, that might be changing, with the aid of some different tech. While there's no timetable for this getting rolled out on the Big League level, the powers that be of the MLB have been trying out the idea at the Triple-A level this season:

Major League Baseball sent a memo to farm directors Tuesday indicating that beginning on June 25, all Triple-A games will use the automated ball-strike (ABS) challenge system as opposed to full ABS, which was previously used for half the week.

The move is another indication that the league is inching toward implementing the challenge system at the major league level, though commissioner Rob Manfred has said that move is still at least another season away from happening.

The memo, obtained by ESPN, says the league's research indicates that both in-uniform personnel (players and coaches) and fans prefer a challenge system over full ABS.

In the challenge system, challenges to calls on balls and strikes are made by the hitter or catcher in real time with the umpire receiving an answer to the challenge via an earpiece. In full ABS, every call is made for the umpire.

For the first half of this season at Triple-A, full ABS was used for Tuesday-Thursday games while the challenge system was used for weekend contests. Now, all games will have the challenge system.

And what were the results? Two big answers stand out.

First, the players and fans confirmed that they enjoyed their teams having this option. Something that would probably be tweaked, if the idea progresses, is finding a sweet spot on how many challenges could be issued. (They might mimick the limit that international leagues have put in place--two per game.):

The league memo indicates that 89% of fans believe the optimal number of challenges per game is six or fewer; however, almost 40% of Triple-A games featured more than six. In all cases, teams retain the challenge if they are successful.

Secondly, and this probably pleases the umpires, the experiment found that the majority of the calls were made correctly the first time and were allowed to stand as called.

This got me wondering: If MLB enacted this in 2024, which teams might be most and least affected by such a rule change?

According to the statistics site,, the top five teams to suffer strike outs so far this season (as of June 19th) are:

  • Seattle Mariners - 866
  • Oakland Athletics - 827
  • Boston Red Sox - 777
  • Pittsburgh Pirates - 777
  • Colorado Rockies - 775

The bottom five are currently:

  • Kansas City Royals*
  • San Diego Padres*
  • Texas Rangers - 628
  • New York Mets - 633
  • Washington Nationals - 633

*The site has the top stats-getting teams hidden behind a paywall, along with their number of strike outs and other stats, but we know they had fewer than 628.

In case you were wondering, my Diamondbacks are bubbling under in that second pack (behind the Nationals at number six), with 651 punch-outs.

Saying Farewell to the Say Hey Kid

My colleague Jerry Wilson wrote a beautiful and poignant obituary for the legend that was Willie Mays, AKA the Say Hey Kid, who passed away on Tuesday at age 93:

Willie Mays, whose baseball career started in the Negro American League and ended with him acclaimed as one of the greatest players, if not the single greatest baseball player in the game’s history, passed away from heart failure on June 18, 2024. Mays was 93.

Mays signed with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948 when he was 17. He played with Birmingham until 1950, when he signed with the then-New York Giants upon graduating high school. Mays first played with the Giants in 1951, winning National League Rookie of the Year and helping the Giants win the pennant. Mays was in the on-deck circle when Bobby Thompson hit “the shot heard around the world” off Ralph Branca. He again led the Giants to the pennant in 1954, this time winning the World Series. Mays appeared in two more World Series, one with the now-San Francisco Giants in 1962 and the other with the New York Mets in 1973, his final season in Major League Baseball.

Since I'm a much younger fan than some and never had the chance to see him play, I know Mays as an ambassador of the best game in America over the years. He will be missed. 

MLB is honoring Mays at a special, regular season game being played at a Negro Leagues stadium in Alabama on June 19th -- the same one where he began his playing career in the Negro American League in Birmingham:

Mays’s death came as Major League Baseball was paying tribute to the Negro leagues with a series of games at the ballpark where Mays began his career, the venerable Rickwood Field in Birmingham. Mays had been invited to attend but said in a statement on Monday that he wouldn’t be able to make the trip. “I’d like to be there, but I don’t move as well as I used to,” he wrote. His death was announced to the crowd during a game.

It's likely that many readers watched the following clip on news broadcasts or during podcasts over the past 24 hours, showing Mays' phenomenal defensive throw to home plate during Game 1 of the Giants' 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians.

I feel like it can't hurt to be wowed again by his phenomenal catch. Watch it one more time:


Now, something just for fun ...

Shohei Otani's Dog Celebrated (Sort of)

It's pretty standard for a team's star players to get a bobblehead, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time that someone's dog got a bobblehead:

On Aug. 28, the Dodgers will be giving away a second Ohtani bobblehead when the team welcomes the Baltimore Orioles into Dodger Stadium — but this one isn’t just Ohtani.

This Ohtani bobblehead features Ohtani holding his dog, Decoy. The nameplate reads “Shohei & Decoy.”

There's good reason for fans (and sports memorabilia collectors) to clamor for the opporunity to get the bobblehead:

Ohtani’s first bobblehead night drew an incredible 53,527 fans, which was the largest regular season attendance since Sept. 2019.

The doggo really has been in the limelight:

During last season's MVP award ceremony, Shohei went viral because of images of him with his beloved dog. The pup's name remained a secret for weeks, with some even speculating that the name was somehow tied to where Ohtani was planning on signing in free agency.

When media asked him the dog's name at his iDodgers ntroduction presser in December 2023, the phenom had an answer ready:

Ohtani responded by saying the dog is named "Dekopin," but because it may be tough to pronounce the name in English, the pup also goes by "Decoy," here in the United States.


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