By Will Burchfield

Is it really a rule if it’s arbitrarily enforced? Or is it simply a guideline?

As we found out on Saturday, there’s not a uniform method that umpires follow when implementing the 30-second limit on a manager’s decision whether to challenge a play. Most umps bend the rule to the benefit of the skipper. Others, like Manny Gonzalez, seem to swear by it.

Gonzalez didn’t allow Brad Ausmus to challenge a close play at first base in Saturday’s game after the 30-second deadline had apparently expired. Ausmus furiously stormed the field and was subsequently ejected.

“Generally speaking, umpires give you in the range of 35 to 40 seconds. At 30 seconds they walk over to the dugout and give you an opportunity to make a decision. That wasn’t the case, first time all year it hasn’t been the case,” Ausmus said. “I’ve seen scenarios where a manager’s gotten 40, 45 seconds, so to cut it off arbitrarily that quickly I thought was uncalled for.”

A rule shouldn’t be arbitrary. (In fact, that’s a complete contradiction.) A rule should be hard and fast — but in regard to the rule in question, which MLB instituted prior to the 2017 season, it’s been something more like soft and slow.

Said White Sox manager Rick Renteria, “The umpires have been kind of looking at us, trying to rush us. They have a particular timeline that they’re following, but it’s fluid. Everybody’s still working on the mechanisms.”

The fluidity is the problem. Is the deadline 30 seconds or 30-ish seconds? Depends who’s enforcing it.

“Every crew is a little different in terms of how they feel their time is and how they run their clock. They mention it to us most times, but I think everybody’s trying to do the best they can. I’m sure there’s going to be moments like yesterday where there’s going to be a little difference of opinion. That happens, that’s just the game of baseball,” Renteria said.

If umpires aren’t going to enforce the rule consistently, it makes you wonder why it’s even in the books. In trying to add more clarity to the review process, it seems the league has only muddled things further.

“The 30-second clock, I don’t think it was designed to force managers to make a decision at the end of exactly 30 seconds,” said Ausmus. “I think it’s designed to speed up the instant replay process so it doesn’t take too long — just like the two minutes on the umpire side in New York isn’t a hard cap. It’s designed to speed up the process of reviewing plays. Like I said, generally if you give an answer in 35 to 40 seconds, there’s no questions asked and you move on. That one (on Saturday) was exceptionally quick for me.”

It’s possible, at least in theory, that younger umpires draw a harder line to command respect around the league. But Gonzalez made his MLB debut seven years ago and has been a full-time umpire in the bigs since 2013.

“Everybody’s trying to coordinate so it runs smoothly with us being able to get it to the umpires,” Renteria said. “I get it, everybody wants to get the game to move on, I don’t know how it ultimately evolved to what it did. I’ll leave that to (the league).”

Ironically, Ausmus voiced some skepticism of the 30-second rule in spring training — skepticism that proved to be well-founded on Saturday.

“I am still a little wary how the 30 seconds is going to be managed,” he said, via the Detroit News. “Are they going to have a clock? We’ve got to know how much time (our video guy) has. The guy in the replay booth, Matt Martin, needs to know how much time he has. I’m a little concerned as to how that will play out.

“When does the clock start? Really, Matt needs a clock. He can’t see the pitch clock (on the field) and he doesn’t want me yelling back, ‘five seconds, four seconds, three seconds.’”

Renteria talked about the same challenge.

“I think it’s kind of a balancing act because you have your guy still reviewing video to see if you can come in and chime in on a particular idea of whether you want to review it or not. So it’s a tight rope,” he said, “it’s a balancing act.”

If it’s a tight rope, so is it a loose process.

“When the 30-second clock goes to zero, how many times have you seen them say, ‘We need an answer,'” Ausmus asked. “You probably haven’t paid attention to it, so pay attention to it now.”

Ausmus had yet to receive an explanation regarding Saturday’s incident as of Sunday morning.

“I haven’t talked to anyone about it since,” he said.

But maybe he should. And maybe the league should decide whether 30 seconds is a rule or a guideline.


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