Burdensom, Unnecessary, Ineffective: The New MLB Ballpark Security Protocol

By Nathan Petrashek

Rob Manfred, MLB’s recently elected commissioner, says he hasn’t heard any fan complaints about the new security policies baseball higher-ups have forced upon us this season.

Let’s change that.

In case you haven’t been to a baseball game yet this year, all fans must now endure an enhanced security screening before entering any MLB ballpark.  We have to empty our pockets (sort of, but we’ll get to that) and pass through metal detectors, in addition to the usual bag searches that have been around for a while.  Contrary to what MLB says, this is every bit the hassle it sounds like.  If you like waiting in line because a drunk in front of you forgot his keys were still in his pocket, you’ll love what MLB has brewed up for you.  Here’s a video the Brewers released that’s meant to be funny but inadvertently shows what an absolute pain in the ass this entire process is:

Without exception, every Brewers gameday staffer I have talked to has fallen all over themselves making clear the new security protocol isn’t a team mandate, but one from MLB.  The implication of these statements is pretty obvious; the team knows this is a colossal hassle on the ground, and, if it were left up to them, they wouldn’t have any of it.  But it’s out of their hands!

A savvy fan will no doubt be asking themselves how in the world these burdensome, unnecessary, and ineffective security measures came to be, if not from the teams.  The answer?  A “recent study of best security practices and MLB’s continuing work with the Department of Homeland Security to elevate and standardize initiatives across the game.”

Wow, that all sounds very official and important.  Homeland Security! Standardize initiatives!  Best practices!  Certainly there’s a good reason to make fans wait for, in some cases, hours to get inside the stadium, right?

Actually, not really.  The New York Times quoted a federal official as saying the new strategy is “not based on any direct threat, or on any sort of intelligence that might indicate stadiums will be attacked.”  In other words, there’s absolutely no reason to believe terrorists or anyone else is targeting MLB stadiums, now or in the future.  Moreover, there’s absolutely no historical precedent for an attack, whether foreign or domestic, on a ballpark.

This comports largely with common sense.  The object of terrorism is to induce fear to be used as a mechanism to achieve a set of (often political) goals.  So a typical terrorist will choose high-visibility events like the Boston Marathon or the Olympics to attack.  While I can understand and appreciate enhanced security at, say, the World Series, the need for enhanced safety protocols at a getaway afternoon game at Miller Park is puzzling and reeks of a sport that thinks too much of itself (or at least wants to pretend it’s the NFL).

And let’s talk about these “rigorous” safety protocols.  The particular metal detectors MLB utilizes leak like a sieve.  I mean, the Brewers are telling people they can leave wallets, shoes, and belts on.  If a giant metal belt buckle is not going to set it off, what’s the point?  One security expert calls the new protocol “laughable:”

The ballpark metal detectors are much more lax than the ones at an airport checkpoint. They aren’t very sensitive — people with phones and keys in their pockets are sailing through — and there are no X-ray machines. Bags get the same cursory search they’ve gotten for years. And fans wanting to avoid the detectors can opt for a “light pat-down search” instead.

A halfway competent ticketholder would have no trouble sneaking a gun into the stadium.

What’s more, the bottleneck created by the metal detectors actually makes it easier to carry out a high-casualty attack.  The fans waiting in line outside are sitting ducks for anyone with truly malicious intent.  The most that can be said about the detectors is they’ll stop the occasional fan from innocently carrying a gun or knife in the stadium – a fine goal, but hardly practical from a cost-benefit standpoint.

The only loser resulting from the new security policy is the fans, who just want to watch a baseball game.  Making it more difficult to attend a game should be the last thing on baseball’s mind.  MLB’s new security protocols are an answer in search of a problem, creating a massive hassle for fans without any real benefit.

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What’s the deal with the red card?

If you’ve attended any or several Brewers game this year, you may have noticed an individual frequently popping up near the vistor’s dugout at Miller Park, holding up cards of various colors.  I don’t recall having seen anyone doing that before.  I started looking into it, and sure enough, it’s a new position: the “Field Timing Coordinator.”

replayThe new replay system can potentially wreak havoc with broadcasts, which typically break between half-innings.  What if a batter is called out on a close play at first?  Should the broadcast cut to commercial or remain on the field in case there’s a challenge?  And what happens if the television crew cuts to a commercial only to later find out that the third out has been reversed on review?

Basically, it’s the FTC’s job to deal with this uncertainty by specifically instructing the broadcasters, verbally and visually, what’s going on down on the field.  When, for example, the FTC sees a possibility of a replay (the manager runs on the field, or the crew chief convenes a conference), it’s the FTC’s job to delay the inning break until its decided whether there will be a review.

According to the official rules, the cards are color-coded to so that broadcasters, umpires, and players can easily tell what’s happening:

  • A RED card signals the beginning of an inning break or pitching change
  • A BLUE card signals when the pitcher should throw his last warm-up pitch (45 seconds remain in the break)
  • A YELLOW card signals when the batter should approach the batter’s box (25 seconds remain in the break)
  • A GREEN card indicates the break has concluded and play can resume; the umpires can’t resume play until they see this card

And what about the umpire’s inherent ability to manage the game, including all inning breaks as has been done historically?  Although the rules pay lip service to umpire authority, they pretty much cast it aside, requiring that the umpires “shall coordinate with the Field Timing Coordinators to ensure that the broadcasters shall be afforded the applicable allotted time for inning breaks (2:05 or 2:30) following close plays involving third outs (whether or not replay review is initiated).”

If you’re like me, and want continuous, uninterrupted baseball, I guess the key is to lift that red card out of the stack before the game.

Why it’s better to be a Marlin

By Nathan Petrashek

Braun's successful appeal may have eliminated the 50-game suspension he faced, but it might not protect him from other long-term implications.

With the Brewers having had their own recent brush with banned drugs, this should be of some interest:  today, MLB and MLBPA announced enhanced testing and punishment for PEDs.  Players will be tested more frequently, and the 50/100/lifetime ban (which MLB really didn’t follow anyway) has been replaced by suspensions of 80/162/life for first, second, and third offenses, respectively.

That’s all fine, but here’s one big hangup in the new punishment protocols:

“A Player who is suspended for a violation involving a performance-enhancing substance will be ineligible to participate in the Postseason, and will not be eligible for an automatic share of the Player’s Pool provided to players on Clubs who participate in the Postseason.”

Others have argued it’s unfair to punish the team for the acts of an individual player by making him ineligible for the playoffs.  That argument doesn’t really work, though; isn’t the team “punished” when they lose a player for 80 regular season games, too?  The far more damning critique of this new postseason ban is it treats players differently depending on their team context.  In other words, a player on a playoff team will be penalized more harshly than a player on a non-playoff team.  And that’s bogus.

Let’s posit a hypothetical.  Player A plays for the Marlins, and he’s using synthetic testosterone and gets caught.  He denies using and appeals, accusing MLB of a witch hunt and the urine collector of tampering.  Player A loses his appeal and is suspended for 80 games.  The Marlins don’t make the playoffs, so Player A is effectively lost only for those 80 games.  Player B is a Tiger.  He also uses synthetic testosterone and gets caught, but apologizes and accepts his 80-game penalty without appeal.  The Tigers make a deep postseason run all the way to the World Series, for which Player B is ineligible.  His punishment is effectively 90 games for the same offense as Player A: 80 games plus, say, another 10 in the postseason.

I’m not sure how punishing two guys differently for the same offense based on team context is appropriate or fair.  And that’s doubly the case where the lesser-punished player drags the process through the mud or engages in other despicable conduct.  These drastically disparate sanctions for the same prohibited conduct are a blow to the consistency MLB should strive for in its application of the drug policy.

The new policy isn’t all bad for players, though.  The “zero tolerance” policy has been loosened a bit; arbitrators can now hand down lesser penalties if a player proves at the hearing the use wasn’t intended to enhance performance.  It’s not entirely clear how that would apply to a claim like Ryan Braun’s, though, in which he said he used to aid his recovery from injury.

Maybe the MLBPA had to give the postseason ban to push MLB off its “no tolerance” stance; I won’t pretend to know what the negotiations looked like.  Still, it’s a bad look for both organizations when you have a system in which players are treated differently depending on which uniform they wear.