Sunday, December 10, 2000

Bigger strike zone hot topic

Managers, umpires meet to discuss expanded zone

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DALLAS — Managers and umpires, those familiar antagonists, will gather today to discuss a guaranteed source of controversy next season — the expanded strike zone.

        “Baseball is adamant about this,” said Randy Marsh of Edgewood, Ky., one of 17 umpiring crew chiefs who will meet with at least 20 managers. “We're telling managers so they can tell their players.”

        Sandy Alderson, executive vice president for baseball operations, has demanded the strike zone be elevated approximately eight to nine inches, which follows the rule book more closely. He promises to back umpires in any dispute.

        “If we start (calling) it from the very beginning, a lot of this (fuss) will go away,” said Marsh, who added umpires will readjust their sights from the opening of exhibition season.

        This might not be as easy as it sounds. Mike Hampton, the free-agent left-hander who agreed to an eight-year, $121 million contract with the Colorado Rockies, politely but skeptically said Saturday two of the most difficult baseball tasks involve pitchers trying to change their styles and umpires trying to change their strike zones.

        “He's probably right, to a certain extent,” Marsh said. “But when they asked us to tighten up the strike zone (a couple of years ago), we did it. It'll be a little funny at first to call those pitches. But once you do it a little, it won't be all that hard.”

        Quicker games could be a possible, and welcome, side effect if the plan works.

        “Everybody seems to think that will speed up the game in itself,” Marsh said. “I think (baseball officials) think that the strike zone got so condensed, which made for longer games.”

        MONEY MADNESS: The now-familiar phrase “it's not about money” actually was uttered during the news conference that made Hampton's deal official.

        Hampton's agent, Mark Rodgers, recalled a chat he had with his client on Thursday before finalizing the agreement with the Rockies. Rodgers said he asked Hampton whether he wanted to squeeze more money from one of the other three finalists — the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs or St. Louis Cardinals. Rodgers said Hampton told him,“It's not about money. It's never about money.”

        For Colorado, it was about getting a No.1 starter.

        “We're committing to a guy who's only 28. This was a no-brainer from the talent standpoint,” Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said.

        Hampton has had mixed success at Coors Field, a noted pitchers' graveyard. His career ERA there is 6.48, yet he has a 4-1 record in Denver.

        Hampton said watching Gabe White, the former Reds left-hander who excelled this year as a reliever with Colorado, boosted his confidence to perform at Coors.

        “No doubt it's the toughest place to pitch,” Hampton said. “It takes total mental and physical concentration and effort. It's a true test. But it's something that's going to make me better in the long run.”

        MINORITY REPORT: Baseball's Equal Opportunity Committee released an update on its minority employment record, which is issued every two years. The report showed nominal gains have been posted in minority hiring, from 23 percent in Aug. 1998 to 26 percent overall.

        Minority hiring rose from 21 percent to 23 percent in front offices and went from 26 percent to 30 percent in on-field jobs, excluding players. In central offices and club front offices, 41 percent of executives and department heads are minorities and women, compared to 37 percent in 1998.


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