PITTSBURGH – Charlie Hayes once told me he had only one qualm with the son who has followed in his footsteps. And Hayes had a smile on his face when he said it.
“We need to get Ke’Bryan off mute,” Charlie Hayes said.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, in his fourth season as the Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman, is a quiet sort. He does not seek attention. Though he deals with the media with a friendly demeanor, you get the feeling he would rather be doing anything else but conducting an interview.
That’s quite the opposite of Charlie Hayes, who played third base in the major leagues for 14 seasons from 1988-2001, including most of 1996 with the Pirates. I have encountered few players more gregarious than the elder Hayes during my 36 years covering baseball.
So, it was shocking to see Ke’Bryan Hayes post a tweet – or an X? – imploring Major League Baseball to begin using the automated ball-strike system following the Pirates’ 5-1 loss to the Braves on Sunday in Atlanta.
It was nearly as disappointing that Hayes declined to discuss his post on X.com, formerly known as Twitter, either prior to or after Monday’s 6-2 loss to the Washington Nationals at PNC Park.
Hearing Hayes expand on his idea would have been interesting and it was a bit baffling that he did not want to talk about the subject further.
Regardless, it was clear that Hayes was extremely upset about some of the calls made Sunday by home plate umpire Bill Miller, particularly a called strike from Braves reliever A.J. Minter on a 3-1 count in the eighth inning. Hayes struck out on the next.
It showed a side of Hayes – in a good way – that the public hasn’t seen since he broke into the major leagues during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
“I think it was a very unique situation. It’s a very rare situation and he was frustrated,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said Monday. “Sometimes, I think today, we vent in different ways. Not speaking for him in any way, but the point of the matter is every at-bat is important, every at-bat is crucial. The fact that he has the passion for every single pitch I think is really important.”
It is very important. Not that anyone has had reason to question Hayes’ competitiveness, but his post certainly showed how much he cares.
Hayes might have even hurt himself in a way for being so refreshingly candid. Some umpires have long memories and Hayes might not get the benefit of the doubt from some of them on close calls.
Shelton downplayed the idea of umpires trying to get revenge.
“Umpires, I think they do a good job and I think they’re also evaluated in a way that they have to make sure that they maintain,” Shelton said. “I have no concern with umpires having it carry over in any way.”
I would like to think the umpires would be above something like that. I don’t know too many of today’s umps, but I knew much of the National League umpiring staff back in the 1980s and 1990s before Major League Baseball tightened access to the umpires’ locker room.
At least back then, the umpires took their jobs seriously and prided themselves on always trying to make the correct call. I would like to think things haven’t changed, though many umps’ increasingly confrontational nature makes me wonder.
As technology continues to improve, it has become clear that umpires miss their share of ball/strike calls. That doesn’t mean they are incompetent. just that it is hard to track pitches that can be coming at their faces as fast as 100 mph with a large amount of movement.
The robot umps don’t have that problem. While the ABS still needs adjusting, it is being used as high as the Triple-A level in the minor leagues, and it seems inevitable that it will be eventually implemented in the major leagues.
Some people in the game believe the system could be in place in the bigs as soon as 2025, though it is more likely to occur later in the decade.
I’m an old-school guy at heart and I’d hate to see some of the human element taken out of baseball with the ABS. However, too much is at stake in MLB games not to get the calls right.
So, Commissioner Rob Manfred would be wise to listen to Hayes’ advice. Or, more precisely, read it.
The guy only disables the mute button when he really means it.