Does MLB need to take a closer look, again, at instant replay?
I’m afraid after last night we may have to revisit an age-old argument. Or at least an argument as old as the ages of TV technology. And to think, we almost made it through a whole World Series game without some controversy surrounding an umpire’s decision.
In case you missed it, nearing the end of Game 1 last night, Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre appeared to have fouled a pitch off his foot, but home plate umpire Jerry Layne called it fair, and as the ball bounced to third, Beltre, hobbling around near home plate, was called out for the second out in the ninth inning.
I’m not saying that it would have made any difference in the outcome of the game. St. Louis closer Jason Motte has allowed only one hit in nine innings the entire postseason, and has emerged as a near-perfect closer throughout these playoffs, one of many reasons the Cardinals are in this position with a 1-0 World Series lead. Right now, you expect him to get everyone out, and he basically has since the postseason started. But you never know. If you’re a Rangers fan, one of your best hitters, who hit three homeruns in one playoff game a couple of weeks ago, got jipped out of an at-bat in a one-run game in the ninth inning. Would he have gotten that one pitch to hit and done something with it? We’ll never know.
As a fan of the game, one of my biggest fears, especially when it involves a team I root for, is that the game will be decided by something outside of what the players control on the field. Again, this didn’t decide last night’s game. Cardinals pitching plus one more timely hit than the other team decided last night’s game. But when so much is on the line at this time of year, you want every call to be gotten right. And I always fear another Don Denkinger moment, or something of the like. To me, there would be nothing worse than knowing that your team didn’t win directly because of an umpire’s decision.
Now, to be fair, I am always amazed at how good these umpires are, and really any official in a top league of any sport. When you look at it from their vantage point, and you see how quickly plays unfold in real time, the success rate with which they make calls is unreal. They don’t get the benefit of immediate instant replay like those of us watching at home do, and trust me, the game is much quicker in-person on-field than it looks on TV.
Jerry Layne had a call last night that for a home plate umpire, or any of his partners on the bases, would be very difficult to make. A ball that evidently glanced off a hitter’s shoe so subtly, and maybe didn’t really even change direction. And taking into account how fast it had to have happened… Motte throws nearly 100 mph… Layne could very well have been screened and never saw Beltre’s left foot from his stance behind home plate… how do you make that call without the proverbial flip of a coin?
Except for Beltre’s reaction. I know calls aren’t supposed to be made based on a player’s reaction, but I think that in this case, Beltre’s reaction told the whole story, and was the biggest piece of evidence that it should have been called foul. His immediate reaction was one of discomfort, limping away from home plate. Sure others have faked such a thing before (see Derek Jeter), but in the heat of the moment, you cannot possibly fake something that quickly, that instantaneously, and with your team down a run, give up on the rest of the play and not run because you’re trying to bait an umpire into calling it foul rather than trying to beat the play at first base. That just can’t happen, not in human nature, and most definitely not in the nature of a competitive professional athlete in a World Series game.
In order to react as quickly as Beltre did without actually hitting it off your foot, you’d have to have it in your mind ahead of time that if I hit a ball near my foot, I’m going to consciously go with that reaction to try to get the call. And a professional hitter in a World Series game, down by one run in the ninth inning, facing a pitcher throwing pellets at upwards of triple digits on the radar gun, is not going to have that thought in his head or anything remotely close to that before the pitch is thrown, or during that pitch being thrown. No way, not going to happen. Beltre’s reaction was real, and he was in pain, and it should have been a foul ball. It should have been enough for the umpires to at least go check it out on the replay system, but the rules only allow replay to be used when determining home run calls.
The umpires should be able to recognize his human reaction to the pain of the ball hitting his foot, and use it as a piece of evidence to get the call right. The heck with checking the ball for shoe polish… what if he doesn’t polish his shoes? What if it just simply didn’t pick up any scuff mark from the shoe, or what if any mark was wiped away as the ball rolled through the grass to third into one player’s glove, was gripped with a bare hand and fired across the infield into another fielder’s glove, and was then thrown around the horn before being tossed back to the pitcher. The ball could have a mark on it from the bat too, so checking for a mark from the shoe is not the way to go.
It seems like the biggest games often bring about these moments, and one has to ask the question, should MLB add replays, at least for the postseason, to situations other than simply boundary home run calls? The answer to that question is yes.
When you get to this point in the season, there is a lot more that determines the outcome of a game than simply homeruns. So much of the postseason is about the little things, and who knows… had Beltre had another chance in his at-bat last night, maybe that call would have been just as big as a homerun call, had he gone on to reach base and eventually score, of course.
My point is that there are so many other little things during the course of a game that can determine the outcome, not just homeruns. So why limit instant replay usage to only homeruns?
I’ve always been a proponent of getting the call right at all costs. Again, who wants their team’s fate decided on a missed call?
Now at the same time, it does bother me when replay takes so long that it completely interferes with the flow of the game. Have you taken notice this football season now that all scoring plays in the NFL are under review, how often the referee is buzzed before the extra point? And then they go and have a look, and take a bunch of time just to confirm their call was right anyway? That drives me nuts. Same with in college football, how any review is buzzed from the booth upstairs. It definitely can interrupt the flow of a game, and in baseball where it’s so important for a pitcher to stay loose, and he wouldn’t want a long time between pitches, that could be a problem. The system would need to be used the right way, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t expand replay usage.
I think the best way to implement a new system would be to let the umpires decide when to use it, as they do now in disputed home run calls. It’s up to the crew chief whether or not to review, and I think that makes the most sense.
You don’t want to get into a situation where the managers are contesting calls just for the sake of it. If an umpire is sure of what he saw, then fine. But if he feels he needs help to get it right, then by all means, go get it right.
The umpires know more often than not. If there’s an argument, they might stand their ground and say they know what they saw just to stand firm and end the argument. But if there’s any uncertainty, it sure would be nice for the umpire to have the replay at his disposal to get the call right. They’re human and make mistakes just like the rest of us. And if a manager is so vehement in arguing any one call, that’d probably also be a good enough reason for an umpire to decide to at least go check it out.
And I like the NFL’s plan in writing anyway to limit it to a 90-second review. I just wish they’d stick to that plan and not take 190 seconds to make the call. If it’s not conclusive and you can’t tell from watching a couple of quick angles, then it’s not conclusive, but don’t take all day squinting trying to find something that isn’t there. Just make the call and be done with it.
Even 90 seconds in baseball might be too long. But if there can be a monitor just down the tunnel to where it doesn’t take long for the crew chief to get there, take a quick look or two, make a decision and then get back out onto the field, then good. If there’s a chance of it helping an umpire make the right call, then it’s worth it.
Who knows, maybe Beltre would have launched one out last night and the Rangers would have gone on to win. Of course for those of us around here, we all remember 1996. Had Richie Phillips had access to replay, my guess is they would have called a ground rule double for Jeter on that night at Yankee Stadium. But Tony Tarasco would have actually made the catch, and Jeter should have been out. And maybe the Orioles would have won Game 1 and the entire ALCS could have been different. It may have changed history.
Replay may have given the Cardinals the Game 6 victory in 1985 and a World Championship. Instead, the Royals won Game 6, and crushed a demoralized Cardinals team in Game 7 for their only World Series title. Don Denkinger has since gone on to say that baseball needs replay.
If used during the regular season, Detroit’s Armando Galarraga would have his name in the record books for the perfect game that he DID pitch. That would have been an easy one to reverse by using instant replay, and it wouldn’t have taken long to figure it out at all. That is if it was being used for more than just home run calls.
And if there was a way of using it in the Atlantic League, my guess is Etch would take fewer bases off the field and would receive fewer fines.
Those are a few examples. Anyone have any others that come to mind?