CINCINNATI – Major League Baseball has decided to convene players, umpires and officials in December to discuss expanding replay. Good call.
The first four days of the postseason eroded a huge portion of what had been significant sentiment to maintain the status quo. Highly questionable calls marred all but two of the first 10 division series games. Only Roy Halladay’s(notes) no-hitter and the Yankees' clincher over the Twins were spared. Even Saturday’s Game 3 between the Rangers and Rays had two calls at second base that likely would have been reversed.
Controversial calls spark discussion, inflame passions and provide riveting entertainment. Those are reasons to refrain from expanding replay from its current use on determining home runs. But the reality is that replay does exist, on every pitch and every play.
“Give them slo-mo glasses,” Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker said half-kiddingly. “Then they’ll see the plays just like everybody else does.”
When a call is blown, the only people in the country who don’t know it are the men assigned to make the call.
“You could literally go to the restroom in the stadium, and while you're in the restroom, you could watch a replay,” former big league umpire Dave Phillips told MLB.com. “Here, the umpire, who is the supreme authority to make a decision, does not have the same luxury."
Precisely how replay would be employed is a discussion for another day. It’ll be a long offseason. Determining the kinds of plays that merit replay, preventing stalling tactics by managers and not slowing down a game that already plods along compared to the NFL and NBA are legitimate concerns.
But so are repeated mistakes by umpires. They distract from the drama provided by the runs, hits and (fielding) errors, trigger unseemly arguments and ejections, and undermine the notion that the players determine the outcome.
What we’ve endured so far:
DAY ONE, Oct. 6
Rangers vs. Rays, Game 1: In the very first inning of the playoffs, plate umpire Tim Welke said a pitch hit Carlos Pena’s bat with the bases loaded in the first inning, ruling it a foul ball instead of a hit by pitch. Pena struck out, the Rays didn’t score and eventually lost 5-1.
Replay outcome: This is perhaps the most difficult call for a plate umpire. As with the similar plays involving Chase Utley(notes) in the NLDS Game 2 and Derek Jeter(notes) in a key regular-season game, often the batter’s reaction prompts the umpire to rule one way or another. Pena didn’t wince and didn’t start jogging to first; therefore, Welke ruled it a foul ball. Replay undoubtedly can help, but the evidence must be enough to overturn the original call. In this case, slow-motion replay indicated Pena was hit by the pitch.
Yankees vs. Twins, Game 1: The Yankees’ Greg Golson(notes) made a catch in right field on Delmon Young’s(notes) sinking line drive that was ruled a trap by right field umpire Chris Guccione with two out in the ninth inning. The call enabled Jim Thome(notes) to bat with a chance to tie the score, but Mariano Rivera(notes) retired him.
Replay outcome: Golson would have been credited with the catch and the game would have been over. The replay was clear. This is the type of call that would undoubtedly be reviewed under almost any new system.
DAY TWO, Oct. 7
Rangers vs. Rays, Game 2: Michael Young(notes) hit a three-run home run after he should have been called out on a two-strike check swing. Plate umpire Jim Wolf appealed to first-base umpire Jerry Meals, who ruled Young did not swing. Rays manager Joe Maddon was ejected.
Replay outcome: Young clearly offered at the pitch and should have been out. But the problem is that the rule is not clearly defined, deferring to the umpire’s subjective judgment. That said, slow-motion replay of a check swing makes a lot of sense. It’s a play the naked eye has difficulty following at game speed, but slowed down, the call is usually obvious.
Yankees vs. Twins, Game 2: Plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt’s strike zone was extremely inconsistent, with 31 missed balls-and-strikes calls, according to the statistical website BrooksBaseball.net. The most costly was an apparent strike-three pitch by Carl Pavano(notes) to Lance Berkman(notes) in the seventh. Wendelstedt called it a ball, and Berkman doubled to give the Yankees a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was ejected.
Replay outcome: Adopting a replay system for balls and strikes has never been seriously considered. The only way to eliminate human error on every pitch is to eliminate humans and go to a mechanized system. Won’t happen.
Braves vs. Giants, Game 1: The Giants’ Buster Posey(notes) should have been out trying to steal second base in the fourth inning. He was called safe by Paul Emmel and eventually scored the only run of the game. “I guess it’s a good thing we don’t have instant replay right now,” Posey said.
Replay outcome: Most expanded replay proposals don’t include out-and-safe calls. And even fewer include tag plays. However, this play illustrates how replay could benefit a base umpire whose positioning causes him to be unable to see a tag. Posey slid between Emmel and second baseman Brooks Conrad(notes), and Emmel was unable to see the tag. A replay shot from center field was a better vantage point. Why not put it to use so the correct call is made?
DAY THREE, Oct. 8
Reds vs. Phillies, Game 2: Chase Utley of the Phils was ruled to have been hit by a 101-mph fastball on an 0-2 count from Aroldis Chapman(notes) and was awarded first base by umpire Bruce Dreckman in the seventh inning with the Reds leading by a run. The Reds’ defense promptly unraveled and they lost. Afterward, Utley said he didn’t think he was hit. So he wasn’t.
Replay outcome: The call would not have been reversed. Replays were inconclusive on whether the pitch hit Utley.
Braves vs. Giants, Game 2: Aubrey Huff’s(notes) stretch at first base on a throw from Giants shortstop Juan Uribe(notes) may have pulled him off the bag in the first inning. Runner Alex Gonzalez(notes) was called out and Braves manager Bobby Cox was ejected for arguing with first-base umpire Emmel.
Replay outcome: The call would not have been reversed. It was impossible to tell whether Huff’s foot left the bag before or after the ball hit his mitt.
DAY FOUR, Oct. 9
Rays vs. Rangers, Game 3: The Rays' Matt Joyce rounded second base too far in the sixth inning and was thrown out by right fielder Nelson Cruz as he tried to scramble back to the bag. In the bottom of the inning, the Rangers' Elvis Andrus was called safe on a stolen base. Shortstop Jason Bartlett applied the tag and still had his glove on Andrus' leg when he came out of his slide and was straddling but not touching the base.
Replay outcome: Both calls likely would have been reversed. Joyce's hand touched the base before the tag was applied and Andrus clearly broke contact with the bag while Bartlett's glove was touching his leg. Neither play had an impact on the outcome.
Commissioner Bud Selig has been extremely reluctant to expand replay. He does, however, recognize and eventually respond to public outrage. After Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga(notes) lost a perfect game in June when first-base umpire Jim Joyce missed a call on what would have been the final out, Selig said he would “examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features.”
Then he decided not to tinker with the status quo for the postseason. And that was a mistake. If a new system had been unveiled before the division series, it would not have corrected all the blown calls. But it would have demonstrated that baseball is being proactive about the problem. The outcry would have been muted.
Now Selig has a crisis. Utilizing the available technology to end it is inevitable. Here’s hoping we all get to that December meeting without more blown calls, more ejections and more distraction from the players.
Sadly, we won’t.