June 05, 2010
Baseball Needs To Hop On The Replay Bandwagon
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Jim Joyce, meet Ed Hochuli.
Here are two of the finest arbiters in their respective sports. Joyce, with his trademark "Stri--EEEK!" call behind the plate, worked home plate for Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, the night the Red Sox began their historic comeback against the Yankees. Hochuli, a San Diego lawyer, gym rat and as polite a referee as it gets, officiated Super Bowl XXXVIII, the second of the two Patriot championships. Both men are well respected, both men have a long track record of great work in their fields of expertise.
Yet both men will forever be linked to a bad call they made which will define their careers. Hochuli cost San Diego a win at Denver last fall with an inadvertent whistle on a play where a fumble occurred, a play which could not be reviewed upstairs. Joyce was involved in a play on Wednesday night which did not cost a team a win, but rather a pitcher a perfect game, calling Cleveland's Jason Donald safe at first on an infield grounder where replays clearly showed he was out and Joyce himself admitted he cost the pitcher, Detroit's Armando Gallaraga, a perfect game.
In the case of Hochuli, a mechanism was in place to review the call, but the play was such that since the whistle stopped play despite a fumble having taken place, the play was dead and not subject to review. No such mechanism exists in baseball, other than the ability to see if home runs are fair or foul, or if a ball went over a fence or not. Joyce is clearly and visibly distraught over his missed call, and the umpire went out of his way to apologize to Gallaraga and Tiger manager Jim Leyland. It's too bad that there is no mechanism to bail out Joyce and give Gallaraga his due place in history.
First of all, Bud Selig should have overturned the call, even though popular sentiment says he did the right thing by not doing so. Second, it is time to bring baseball up to speed and bring replay into more prominence. The human element has romance and you cannot completely envelop every sport with one hundred percent replay backup in case of wrong calls. But if it can be done, it is far more important to get the call right than to submit to the romance of human error and wistfully refer to it as "a part of the game".
Selig, the "commissioner" of baseball whose best quality is his unyielding submission and obedience to the players union, does have some power that Michael Weiner cannot interfere with. Selig has the power to make decisions that are "in the best interests of baseball". Red Sox fans saw this back in 1976 when Bowie Kuhn voided the sale of Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers from Oakland to Boston as "not in the best interests of the game". Too bad this mechanism wasn't in place in 1920 when this particular lefty pitcher was sold to the Yankees and went on to hit 714 career home runs.
In this case, Selig could certainly rule Donald out, void the subsequent at bat of Trevor Crowe, and give Gallaraga his perfect game. The outcome of the game would not be changed other than Donald losing a hit and Crowe losing an at bat, and Gallaraga would get his due place in history. Anyone concerned over what cans of worms this ruling would open should be reminded that while Selig has the power to rule in the best interests of baseball, he also has the power to not rule in the best interests of baseball. Selig can announce that no subsequent challenges, frivolous or legitimate, will be heard unless initiated by the commissioner himself. That way you won't get some quack who wants the 1985 World Series changed or something like that.
And it is time to bring replay more into baseball, just like it is in football, basketball and hockey. NHL replay officials rule on pucks crossing the goal line and if there were any crease violations. 24-second violations, 3-point field goals, buzzer beaters and flagrant fouls are checked in NBA games very efficiently. And you all know about something called the Tuck Rule.
In the aforementioned 2004 ALCS, two calls in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium were both overturned in favor of the Red Sox. A fourth inning home run by Mark Bellhorn which was originally ruled in play by Joyce, who was the left field umpire in that game, was changed to a home run after the umpires held a discussion. They got the call right, but Joe Torre would have had no reason to come out and argue had the umpires been allowed to look at the play on replay. Then in the eighth, Alex Rodriguez was called out for interference after slapping the ball out of Doug Mientkiewicz's glove, but it was a changed call because first base ump Randy Marsh missed the play (and called A-Rod safe even though he never touched first base). But the call was changed after another umpire conference, which brought out Torre in a rage and caused several incensed Yankee fans to litter the field with debris. Again, if replay were in use, there is no such problem with manager or fans.
Umpire conferences are nice, but replays are cleaner and almost non-confrontational. Rule on close plays at bases. Rule on catch or no catch. Rule on missed bases if possible. Rule on interference and obstruction. Let the call stand if replay is inconclusive and respect the call on the field as the assumed correct call. Don't rule on what happens after a dead ball or if the umpire calls "time".
And let's go further. Let's call the balls and strikes mechanically instead of by the umpire. Baseball leaders can agree on the mechanism (ESPN's K-Zone is terrific, but MLB uses something by Questec to assess how well umpires call balls and strikes). That game on May 12, where the Red Sox were bludgeoned in the ninth by two hideous calls by Dale Scott on called strikes (Terry Francona was ejected for arguing), is one of many examples of some very bad interpretations of the strike zone by most umpires in baseball.
The home plate umpire can still rule on foul tips, check swings, catcher interference, caught third strikes, did the ball strike the batter in or out of the batter's box, and safe/out at the plate. But leave the balls and strikes to computers or other machines which are proven to work correctly. Test this system in the preseason before using in real games.
In football, the replays are handled better in college than they are in the NFL. Instead of offering two challenges per game (and a third if a coach wins the first two), college football takes it out of the hands of the coaches and puts it on some official up in the booth. He simply buzzes the referee on the field and talks to him by telephone, and the referee relates the decision to the players and the crowd. Use this method for baseball, having a fifth umpire up in the press box to review, and buzz the crew chief for any replays. Once a pitch is thrown to the next batter, a replay challenge is no longer possible.
Baseball needs replay reform, and as soon as possible. The Patriots needed it to win Super Bowl XXXVI and could have used it to advance in the 1976 playoffs (though overturning a penalty call is not usually a reviewable play even to this day). The St. Louis Cardinals would likely have won the 1985 World Series with replay. How would the Red Sox have benefitted if a replay official ruled interference on Ed Armbrister?
Good thing Gallaraga was as gracious as he was, and it was nice that Joyce was as conciliatory as he was. But it is time for baseball to do something. There is nothing more important that getting the call right, no matter the circumstance. The romance of baseball is unique and unmistakable, and no other sport has this endearing quality. But enough is enough.
The record books won't say Gallaraga was perfect on Wednesday. At least the masses will.
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