Baseball can't botch call to expand instant replay
The time has come. Baseball needs to expand its use of instant replay to eliminate blown calls that are almost instantly proven to be mistakes. Proven to everyone, that is, except the four (or six, in the postseason) men empowered to make the call.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Which was the play that sent you over the edge?
Was it the pitch that scraped Brandon Inge's jersey but was merely called a ball, rather than a hit batter, in the Twins-Tigers play-in game?
Was it Joe Mauer's drive a foot inside the left-field line at Yankee Stadium being called foul, helping the Yankees put away Minnesota?
Was it the series of botched calls at first base by C.B. Bucknor in the Red Sox-Angels series?
For me, it was the meltdown Tuesday in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series by Tim McClelland, who by every reckoning is one of the best umpires in baseball.
Yet there was McClelland, looking clueless in botching what should have been a double play by the Angels as two Yankees stood near, but most definitely not on, third base. McClelland also mistakenly ruled that Nick Swisher had left third base too early on a sacrifice fly — after another umpire blew the call on what replays showed was a successful pickoff of Swisher at second base.
The time has come. Baseball needs to expand its use of instant replay to eliminate gaffes like these — blown calls that are almost instantly proven to be mistakes. Proven to everyone, that is, except the four (or six, in the postseason) men empowered to make the call.
This is not about umpire incompetence, because umpires, for the most part, do a commendable job. It's about inevitable human error — the exceptions to the "for the most part" characterization, the ones that are threatening to turn a postseason of pretty good baseball games into a referendum on bad umpiring.
The logistics of replays might be a bit tricky, but they're not insurmountable. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, months before his team was jobbed on the Mauer call, proposed that managers be outfitted with challenge flags, just like NFL coaches.
That might be unwieldy, but technology has advanced to the point where replays can feasibly be administered to resolve most mistakes, based on the same criteria that governs the NFL — irrefutable visual evidence.
Balls and strikes would remain the sole domain of umpires (although technology is advancing to the point where we'll have to one day revisit that issue), but there's no reason that a mistaken safe call at first base can't be reviewed, and reversed.
Just ask Don Denkinger, who made perhaps the most infamous miscall in World Series history in 1985, one that Cardinals fans fervently believe cost them the championship. He ruled the Royals' Jorge Orta safe at first in the ninth inning of the clinching game, when replays showed Orta to be clearly out. The Royals rallied to win that game, and the next, en route to their one and only World Series title.
In a story this week by Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record, Denkinger came out in favor of instant replay. And no wonder — if the call had been reversed, Denkinger would not have to live the rest of his life carrying the burden of that miscue.
"I'm in favor of getting all the calls correct, whatever it takes," Denkinger said. "I don't see how [commissioner Bud Selig] can get away with not [introducing instant replay]. It makes no sense not to. There's nothing better than getting every call right."
Yet Selig, even in the midst of this month's maelstrom of controversy, has expressed reluctance to expand replay beyond its current use on home run and boundary calls.
"I don't really have any desire to increase the amount of replay — period," he told FOX.com's Ken Rosenthal. "We need to do a little work, clean up some things. But do I think we need more replay? No. Baseball is not the kind of game that can have interminable delays."
But it's also not the kind of game that can have blatant injustice of the sort revealed these past two weeks. The NFL faced the same fear of delays, yet I'd maintain that its instant-replay formula has been embraced by everyone. There is an acceptance among football fans that the league is doing its level best to get every call right, and the sense of anticipation while replay officials do their work and then unveil their decision has actually become an exciting juncture of the game.
It could happen in baseball, too. In fact, it must.
Notes and quotes
• Manny Acta, fired as Nationals manager last July, is a managerial finalist in both Houston and Cleveland.
"Every team wants Tony La Russa or Joe Torre to walk through the door and manage their team," Acta told a Cleveland reporter. "The reality is these jobs don't go to guys like that. They go to guys like me."
Give him points for honesty.
• Speaking of the Indians, Mike Hargrove had expressed an eagerness for another crack at the team he took to two World Series.
But Hargrove, who abruptly quit the Mariners in July 2007, citing a loss of passion, is not among the four finalists. Those are Acta, Bobby Valentine, Torey Lovullo and Don Mattingly.
"I have talked to Grover a few times and still have a tremendous level of respect for him. But it's my decision that he's not the right fit for us, for a variety of reasons," said Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro.
• The Cardinals are breathing a huge sigh of relief. Their franchise player, Albert Pujols, went in for exploratory elbow surgery and ended up having bone spurs and chips removed. It had been feared he might need Tommy John surgery.
"We were prepared for the other surgery," manager La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It was a possibility, so you prepared yourself for it."
The elbow issues might explain why Pujols didn't hit a homer in his final 89 at-bats of 2009, including the Cardinals' sweep at the hands of the Dodgers in the Division Series.
• Jed Hoyer, who declined a chance last year to interview for the Mariners' vacancy at general manager, is going to replace Kevin Towers as San Diego's GM. Hoyer is the second disciple of Theo Epstein to get his own chance to run a team, following Arizona's Josh Byrnes.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.