Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Umps, Outs and Replays.....
It seems the latest topic of the day is replay in baseball. With a sub-topic of “oh my god umpires are horrible at their jobs and probably kill kittens on their days off”. In case you missed it, the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates (this season’s little small-market team that could) played a rather long game Tuesday night. Fans in Atlanta were treated to almost 7 hours of baseball. Unlike a typical Red Sox/ Yankees matchup this one went more than 9 innings. In fact, it went 19.
In the 19th, former Ray/Oriole Julio Lugo broke from 3rd on a ground ball hit by reliever Scott Procter (the best part of this whole thing is definitely Procter falling on his face leaving the batters’ box). Pittsburgh third baseman phenom Pedro Alvarez fielded it cleanly and fired home. The ball beat a sliding Lugo by plenty and catcher Michael McKenry nonchalantly swiped at Lugo and looked up to see if he could get another out at third assuming that Lugo was out at the plate.
Unfortunately, the most important man in Turner Field had a different opinion. Home plate umpire Jerry Meals emphatically called Lugo safe and just like that the game was over. According to USA Today, Meals, after the game, said, “I saw the tag, but it looked like he oled him, and I called him safe for that….I just saw the glove sweep up. I didn’t see the glove hit his leg.”
First of all kudos, to Meals for speaking to the press after the game. So many times officials are herded off the field and are “unavailable for comment” after making a close call that decides a game. He even admitted after the game he watched the call on replay and that it “appeared he might have got him on the shin area”.
The internet/twitter/talk show hounds were unleashed. The general consensus was that Meals blew the call and cost the spunky Pirates an important game. More importantly this play was proof that it was time for baseball to exit the dark ages and institute instant replay! At the time of this writing a poll on USAtoday.com has 36% of its responders stating that the play changed their mind on replay. Another 32% said that the play didn’t change their mind because they had always wanted replay.
Apparently I disagreewith 68% of USA Today’s reading public. First of all, I’m not 100% sure Meals missed the call. What I am sure is – he made the call that he put himself in the right position and made the call he saw. My good buddy Link (you might remember him from the Penguins/Lightning series) is a proud supporter of Pittsburgh sports. I talked to him the morning after the game and brought up that point. Meals called what he saw.
He might have been wrong, he might have been right, but he made the call as he saw it. He had no agenda, he wasn’t trying to go home early or screw the Pirates. He watched the play unfold and didn’t assume anything. Despite the fact it looked like Lugo would be out by a country mile, he made sure to watch the entire play. You can’t fault a guy for that.
The proponents for replay would argue that is why it’s necessary. Go watch the replay again. Watch it with the same requirements the NFL has – there has to be indisputable evidence that the call on the field was incorrect. Watch it. Watch it again. Can you honestly say that there is indisputable evidence the tag was applied?
This is the slippery slope that baseball started itself down when the allowed replays on homeruns (a decision that I agree with). I see people saying that replays should be allowed for close plays at home since it involves a run scoring or not scoring. Ok, so they approve that.
Then they’ll be a close play at third, the advocates will say, “third base is only 90 feet away, that’s pretty close and could lead to an important run that changes the game”. So that’s approved. Then having replays on close calls on all of the bases is approved, because runners on mean scoring chances! Heck, K-zone has now approached 100% reliability so why not just replace umpires all together?
Call it the human element or call it human error, the judgment of an umpire has been part of the game as long as chalk foul lines and spitballs have been. Baseball is not an automated game, or even a modern game. That’s part of what makes it baseball. Just because the technology is available, doesn’t mean it needs to be used. Heck, the technology exists to make players stronger and more durable and I don’t see anyone on ESPN calling for Major League Baseball to allow that.
There is also the notion that umpires today are worse today than ever before. I don’t think that’s true, it’s just that games are dissected more these days. If the internet and multiple replays were available in the 50’s there would be the same complaints we see today.
Another myth that I see repeated is that umpires want the spotlight. Even before this incident I saw a post from a commenter on a baseball site that stated all umpires were frustrated failed athletes who were jealous of the players. For the most part, umpires are professionals doing a job that isn’t easy under perfect conditions. If you were to ask them, I’m sure most of them would say that their best games are the ones where they weren’t even noticed.
There are things that baseball fans are always going to complain about and umpires are one of them. They aren’t perfect, no one is. They do strive for perfection and hit it about 99% of the time. It’s just unfortunate that the 1% of the time they are wrong it’s magnified a thousand times. Over the course of a 162 game season the wrong calls get balanced out. Somewhere down the road the Pirates will get a break. Unfortunately, it will probably be buried by whatever cause the media adopts that day (my money is on concussions).