It may have taken decades for Major League Baseball to come around to the idea of using video review to confirm or overturn questionable umpiring decisions, but it didn't take Orioles manager Buck Showalter very long to come up with a plan to make the most of the new, expanded replay system.
If you're going to successfully navigate a new program that is designed to second-guess the baseball world's best umpires, who better to put in front of the replay monitor than someone who had worked as an umpire himself?
Enter Adam Gladstone, whose wide-ranging baseball resume includes years of umpiring at the minor league level as well as experience in several other baseball capacities.
That experience includes working for the York Revolution in the franchise's first three seasons from 2007 to 2009 before being fired in August 2009 when the Revs hired Andy Etchebarren to manage the ball club. Under Gladstone, York went 58-58 in the inaugural 2007 season, 71-69 in 2008 and finished with a franchise-worst 53-87 record in 2009.
Most recently, Gladstone was working with the Loudoun (Va.) Hounds, an organization that is still attempting to build a baseball stadium with the intentions to join the Atlantic League.
Throw in the fact that he grew up in Pikesville and has been a lifelong Orioles fan and — at least at first glance — he would appear to be a perfect fit to help Showalter exploit a system that is still very much a work in progress.
It just made too much sense.
"I did a little homework on him,'' Showalter said. "He's someone who's Orioles through and through, but can take the emotion out of it. You can't think with your heart. You've got to think with your head on these things. He really wants to be good at it. Talking to a lot of people who knew him here in town, it just kept coming back to him. He brought all the qualities we were looking for. He is as invested in the Orioles as you can be and still be objective."
Gladstone, 42, might not be familiar to Orioles fans, but he is no stranger to the organization or anyone involved in pro baseball in the Mid-Atlantic region. He set out to be a major league umpire — attending the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring — and knocked around the independent leagues until moving into a series of front office positions, including a stint with Cal and Bill Ripken and the Aberdeen Ironbirds.
"It's funny,'' Gladstone said. "I've done a lot of reflecting since this whole situation came about, and what was interesting was if you took my career in professional baseball, really only 30 percent of it was umpiring, but it's funny to see that was how I got my start in professional baseball and it took me to many different areas, but ultimately was what got me to this level."
Of course, even though he is not in uniform and sits in a room full of video screens off the dugout tunnel, he's still subject to one of baseball's great truisms: It may be hard to get to the major leagues, but it's even harder to stay there.
The replay guy for each major league team is working in seriously uncharted territory. Baseball has been using replay for the past few years to correct or confirm tough "border" calls, but the new system is far more complicated, requiring quick analysis of multiple camera angles, a signal system with the dugout and the ability to interpret the rules and recognize the tendencies of the replay crew that makes the final decision in New York.
For instance, it's possible that a challenge could be lost — and a game with it — simply because of a difference in interpretation of the word "inconclusive." How close does a play have to be before the eyes in the sky aren't willing to overrule the umpires on the ground?
Showalter is a stickler for details like that, but he doesn't want to put unnecessary pressure on Gladstone when there is so much about the new system that is yet to be learned.
"I'm not going to,'' Showalter said. "He has to do what he does. You've got to go with your gut. If I'm talking to a doctor about a player, I'm going to say, 'You're the professional here. You do this. You tell me what you think about Markakis' neck or Manny Machado's knee and that's what we go with. You're the professional. But if you're wrong 20 times in a row, we'll get another doctor.' It's the same thing here. I'm obviously going to be very supportive of him, because it's a hard job."
Gladstone admits there have been some "butterflies" during the first few days of the regular season, but said he is comfortable with the upgraded equipment the Orioles have installed and confident that Showalter has prepared him well for a job that really didn't exist a month ago.
"Yeah, I can actually say, Buck did such a great job of testing me in spring training and getting me ready for the game,'' Gladstone said. "Nothing changed. It wasn't like 'Okay, we're in spring training, we're in this mode. Now, we're in the regular season and we're in this mode.' Everything was clear and consistent in the way we reacted. That didn't change. It's almost like I'm sitting here umpiring along with the four guys who are umpiring the game."
In a sense, he is. Though he is employed by the team and clearly is there to advocate for the Orioles, Gladstone views his role as assisting the umpires in reaching the correct decision.
"It's almost like walking a tightrope,'' he said. "If someone falls off the tightrope, I'm there to catch them and I'm there to help the organization in a scenario that could help turn a negative into a positive."
Upon further review, he looks like the right guy for the job.