clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Time Long Past To Get Umps' Calls Right -- Via Replay

The technology exists, says George, so why not use it in baseball?

"We have the technology," intoned Richard Anderson (not Richard Dean Anderson, for you youngin's) some 35 years ago.

We assume the technology has advanced a lot more than Anderson's intro to the "Bionic Man," starring Lee Majors, a popular pulp program for which ABC was noted back in the day.

Actually, the technology isn't all that fourth-generation compared to the original. It was invented in 1963, then refined, switched to color and is now ubiquitous at stadiums in all sports. Instant replay is no mystery. But this year, it is the reason for more umpires' mea culpas than at any time in history, requiring a thorough review and eventual action by traditionalist commissioner Bud Selig.

Blown calls in the 2009 postseason stoked the fires for the first entree of replay, on boundary calls such as whether home runs actually clear the fence or curl inside foul poles. But with umps second-guessing their own calls after viewing replays, the game must throw off its self-imposed shackles that human error is permissible, even moral.

Just get the call right, whatever electronic complements to the human factor are employed.

Jim Joyce became the object of national sympathy when he fessed up to blowing Detroit Tigers right-hander Armando Galarraga's perfect game by incorrectly calling the final batter safe on a play at first, after replays showed it wasn't even a near-tie.  More recently, Gary Cederstrom admitted he blew a 3-2 called strike-three from Braves reliever Peter Moylan on the Tigers' Johnny Damon to end the game with the bases loaded.

Nobody is advocating replacing umpires with a computerized balls-and-strikes call, even though broadcasters can now electronically. But the replay angles have increased so that bang-bang plays at first can be successfuly arbited by replay. At Wrigley Field, two cameras are stationed right behind first base in the dugout, staring directly at the bag. They've got a better view of the play than the umpire.

That is the play that can be accurately judged by replay. Plays at second and third would be more difficult since it's impossible to get really good angles. But the most controversial blown calls in modern times -- the Galarraga play and the Don Denkinger fiasco in the 1985 World Series -- have been at first. Put in replay.

For the first few decades replay was accomplished with only the live shot that had just been televised, with usually just one replay machine available. Complements of heavy, bulky studio cameras were limited -- no more than four in the entire ballpark. Lenses weren't as sensistive for close-ups. But now with more portable cameras in more nooks and crannys of stadiums, directors can zero in on a play better than before.

In the wake of the Galarraga-Joyce incident, I checked around the game, finding little support for the expansion of replays beyond boundary calls. Typical reaction came from the Athletics' Dallas Braden, who had no umpire interference with his perfect game on Mother's Day.

"Our game is our game and it is what it is because we do have the human-error factor," he said. "And that’s what separates our game from every other game on the planet. It’s been the history from Day One. No one wants a computer back there flashing a red dot or a green dot for balls and strikes. We don’t need that. We’re men playing a boys’ game. It’s a game at the end of the day.

"As far as Jim and Galarraga are concerned, you don’t want to be ‘given’ anything in this game. As much as you’d like to have that accolade next to your name at the end of the day, he feels like he’d officially want to earn it. In baseball minds around the league, he did. What he and Jim did the day after and the days after really improved the integrity of the game by owning up to their decisions and owning up to their feelings and expressing them, and moving on and moving forward. Galarraga had a lot of firepower to go off if he wanted to. He did the perfect thing.

"I honestly can’t tell you how I would have reacted (in the same situation).  I’m a fairly emotional guy, but I also like to shut that down between the lines, and not embarrass my teammates or myself."

White Sox lefty John Danks, a class act himself, said he would accept an ump's decision, however incorrect, if he lost a perfecto.

The only player seemingly open-minded on an expansion of replay was Angels center fielder Torii Hunter. The rest are hide-bound by tradition.

To be sure, baseball changes only at a glacial pace. But if it stayed the same as it was 100 years ago, for tradition's sake, we'd have white-only rosters, legal spitballers and the reserve clause. Nothing should be sacrosanct because it simply hasn't been done before.