MLB: It's Time to Make Instant Replay a Reality
A couple of horrendous umpire calls in Major League Baseball’s playoffs last week cried out for use of instant replay to get them right.
The Yankee manager, Joe Girardi, and two former MLB pitchers of renown, Ron Darling and John Smoltz, witnesses to the first of these two umpiring mistakes, joined the chorus of fans who want MLB to employ a more extensive use of replay than is currently provided.
But MLB officials offered the same tired excuses. And they came from Joe Torre, the highly respected manager who preceded Girardi as field boss of the Yankees. Torre is now MLB’s executive vice president for baseball operations, an assistant to Commissioner Bud Selig.
Torre reiterated the old saw that is MLB’s standard apology: “Umpires, players, managers are all human.”
Then the former manager, who used to be as frustrated as Girardi when umpires missed calls, said, “It’s been a part of the game for a long, long time.”
That is no excuse and does not make it acceptable in this day and age when there are fast, corrective measures through instant replay.
The first of these bad calls came in the top of the eighth inning of the second American League Championship Series game at Yankee Stadium, last Sunday, with the Detroit Tigers leading the Yanks, 1-0, and two out with the bases empty.
Omar Infante singled and Austin Jackson followed with a single to right field.
Infante rounded second a few strides and was caught trying to get back to second when Nick Swisher, the Yanks’ right fielder, threw to Robbie Cano at second, who tagged Infante out as he slid back in a vain effort to return safely to second base.
That should have been the third out, leaving the Yankees still within easy reach of the Tigers and two times at bat remaining.
But Jeff Nelson, the second base umpire, called Infante safe, to the disbelief of every person in Yankee Stadium other than the six umpires. Millions of TV viewers around the world also saw that Infante was out.
Girardi argued to no avail as he and everyone saw the televised replay time and again in slow motion, proving Nelson got it dead wrong. Later in the inning, when Girardi went out to change pitchers, he had more words with Nelson, who lost patience and tossed the Yankee manager out of the game.
Nobody claims these hitless Yankees would have come back to win. But the Tigers scored 2 more runs before getting an umpire to call the third out in that eighth inning. That put the game away, 3-0.
This Detroit lead became a more difficult challenge for the Yankees to overcome than the proper 1-0 that it should have been.
Botch No. 2
The second seriously botched call by an umpire came last Monday in San Francisco during the second game of the National League Championship Series.
Gregor Blanco of the Giants led off the bottom of the eighth by drawing a walk. Brandon Crawford followed with a hard line drive to right center field as Blanco took off and rounded second base.
But the St. Louis Cardinals’ center fielder, Jon Jay, made a surprising (to Blanco, anyway) diving catch of the line drive and threw back in to the Cards’ first baseman, Allen Craig, who tagged Blanco on the back of his right shoulder well before Blanco got back to first base.
However, Bill Miller, the first base umpire, called Blanco safe.
The Cards were up in arms, arguing not only that Craig made the tag for the out, but also that Blanco went out of the base line when trying to avoid the tag during his return to first. He should have been called out on both counts.
While the Cards and the umpire were arguing, millions of TV viewers again saw instant replay that proved beyond any question that Craig tagged Blanco out.
The Giants, leading 5-1 at the time, scored two more runs that inning and won, 7-1.
It is probable that neither one of these bad calls impacted the result. But one never knows about such things.
What is known is that MLB’s “human” umpires continue, year after year, to make grave mistakes at crucial times such as playoff games. Too much is at stake to continue to allow this to go on when MLB has, at its beck and call, the necessary people and equipment to prevent these umpiring errors.
Umpire ‘Mea Culpa’
MLB fans well remember when, in the 2009 AL Division Series at Yankee Stadium, umpire Phil Cuzzi declared a fly ball to left by Minnesota’s Joe Mauer to be a foul ball while everyone other than Cuzzi saw the ball land in fair territory. This bad call did impact the result of that playoff game that the Yanks won in extra innings.
There have been numerous such poor umpiring decisions in MLB postseason games, decisions that could have been reversed quickly. Regular season games are similarly marked by bad calls that can be corrected easily and quickly.
Both Darling and Smoltz, TBS commentators for the telecast of last Sunday’s game at Yankee Stadium, agreed with manager Joe Girardi that it is about time for replay on such calls. Ernie Johnson, the play-by-play man on that telecast, along with Darling and Smoltz, kept insisting that Infante was out and that Jeff Nelson was wrong.
The following day Tim McCarver and Joe Buck were doing the NLCS telecast at AT&T Park in San Francisco for FOX Sports. Both of them said that Blanco was out when tagged by Craig. Repeated replays showed that Bill Miller made the wrong call.
The longtime radio broadcaster for Giants baseball games, Jon Miller (no relation to Bill Miller), said over the air, “He (Craig) tagged him on the right shoulder without any question at all.”
Following the Yanks’ 3-0 defeat last Sunday when Cano tagged Infante, umpire Jeff Nelson admitted he made the wrong call after he saw the replay. This is too often the case. Umpire mea culpa is a regular admission but always too late and after the harm is done.
Girardi said after that game, “In this day and age when we have instant replay available to us, it’s got to change. We play 235 days to get to this point and two calls go against us.”
He referred to another bad call in the second inning of the first ALCS game when Cano was called out at first in the second inning by umpire Rob Drake. This probably impacted the result of the game won by Detroit, 6-4, in 12 innings.
Speaking of MLB’s plans about instant replay, Joe Torre said, “We’re sensitive to it. We’re looking into it. We have to make sure we don’t have a knee-jerk reaction.”
Then he added that MLB “did not want to make the games drag and go longer than they do now.”
By now it is not a matter of knee-jerk reactions since the instant replay for such bad calls has been discussed for at least 20 years or possibly more.
MLB games “drag” on and on now for many reasons, one of which is lengthy arguments between managers and umpires after botched calls. Girardi and Nelson had at it two times in that game for a total of more than five minutes.
If there was an umpire stationed in the press box monitoring all plays and umpire calls on a TV and thus seeing replay within seconds of a questionable call, he could signal to the field umpires if the call was wrong and reverse it within 15 seconds. It seems this would speed up games that “drag” because of lengthy umpire-manager arguments.
Even MLB’s only use of replay at present, which is done to make sure a home run is fair and goes over the wall or fence, could be shortened to seconds. The extra umpire in the press box could review the long ball within seconds instead of a covey of umpires taking minutes to go under the stands to check the replay, which is current procedure.
The MLB commissioner, the club owners and the umpires and players unions must get together to work instant replay into game reality and thus improve the product.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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