Around The Bases Vol XII: It’s Time For Expanded Instant Replay Already

sctjjofiHow many more games have to be effected by bad calls before baseball does the right thing? How many more players and teams have to be jobbed by the over-inflated ego of an umpire who refuses to walk into a booth to ask for an instant replay? How many more times is the wrong team going to outright win a game due to the refusal to use already existing technology that every other sport in the country is currently using, and using pretty damn well?

Last night we got the all too frequent chance to witness another opportunity where the use of instant replay in a major league baseball game could have made the difference between a team winning or losing. In this case, it was between the Oakland A’s and the Minnesota Twins.

In what was an already crazy slug-fest of a game, with the A’s up 14-13 in the 9th inning, the Twins’ Michael Cuddyer was on second base with two outs. A’s reliever Michael Wuertz threw a wild pitch that shot past catcher Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki raced back, got the ball and tossed it to Wuertz, who was now covering the plate.

Cuddyer came barreling in, touching the plate and sliding under the tag that hit his leg a moment later. Umpire Mike Muchlinski called Cuddyer out. Game over.

Cuddyer jumped up and started arguing. Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire raced out of the dugout to argue. All to no avail. Play stands. Game over.

One look by the umpire at an instant replay screen would have shown that he made the wrong call. Wouldn’t have made a difference what angle he looked at. It was that obvious. Muchlinski would have immediately seen that Cuddyer was safe and the game would have continued.

So, here’s my question. Why wouldn’t umpires want to get the call right, every time? Why wouldn’t they want to use every possible means available to ensure that they are making the right call?

Clearly, you can’t have instant replay on every play. There are certainly things that don’t, and never will, warrant it. But why can’t we have it on close plays on 2nd and 3rd base, and most definitely for close plays at home plate.

You certainly can’t have it for balls and strikes. They already have it for fair or foul home run calls. But that just isn’t enough. It has to be expanded and yesterday isn’t soon enough for this to happen. The technology is there and baseball should be ashamed of itself for not fully embracing it.

Every other sport uses it effectively, and they’re all better for it. In football, the team is allowed two coach’s challenges per half. If they get one wrong, they lose a timeout. If they get it correct, they keep it. Many times on very questionable calls, you will see a head coach throw the red flag (the signal to the referee that they want to challenge a call) and the referee will go talk to the coach. He will ask the coach if he’s sure he wants to review the call, or explain that the call isn’t reviewable and give him his red flag back. It’s called sportsmanship. The ref isn’t upset that he’s being challenged. His feelings aren’t hurt. He doesn’t take it out on the team over the next couple of plays. He doesn’t take it personally.

Tennis has also recently embraced the use of instant replay. And they take the term “instant” quite seriously. They look at a digitally enhanced view of the shot, where it landed, and whether it was in or out in about one second and make a decision. As in football, the player is given a specific amount of incorrect challenges per set (3). Also as in football, the chair umpire doesn’t take it personally when a player uses a challenge.

In fact, during the most recent Wimbledon Tournament, Chair Umpire Lars Graff asked finalist Andy Roddick if he wanted to use what would have been his last challenge on a particular call. Roddick declined, wanting to hold on to it. Sportsmanship, Even from the referees. What a concept. I hope MLB was watching.

There have been many occasions during the past several years where instant replay would have been beneficial. This past June, I was at a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies. Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard had tied the game in the bottom of the 9th with one of his trademark rocket homeruns, so into extra innings we went.

In the bottom of the 11th inning, with the game tied 2-2, Phillies pinch-hitter Gregg Dobbs came up to bat. Dobbs hit a long, towering shot, directly over the right field foul-pole. The umpires got together for a moment and first base umpire Jim Joyce ruled it a foul ball.

Phillies manager Charlie Manual trotted out to the field to argue, but it didn’t last long. The next day I saw on the news that Manual had merely requested that the crew chief review the call and he was told, no. So he went back into the dugout.

The Phillies ended up losing that game in the 13th, 5-2. It wasn’t an easy call, but several looks at instant replay may have shown that the ball went directly over the foul pole, which would have been a home run. The game really should have ended at that point. Had common sense rather than egos prevailed that night, the game would have ended at that point, and by the way, I’m a diehard Red Sox fan, in case this is the first time you’re reading ATB.

I don’t blame the Joyce for making the original call. Just like I don’t blame Muchlinski for making the call last night in the A’s – Twins’ game. Making a split second call in real-time cannot be easy. All the more reason to call them both out for not wanting to do everything possible to make sure that they made the right call. I do blame them for putting their egos above the game and for refusing to be “shown up” by technology. That is old-think that needs to go away, and fast. The game will ultimately be better for it. By the way, these are not the only two, just the two that immediately come to mind. There are many other examples.

Major League Baseball has moved forward in so many other ways: Free agency, great minor league system, night games, a World Series Championship in Boston, new, updated, beautiful stadiums, etc… Now it’s time to move into the 21st century, put the egos aside and grasp instant replay. Let’s get the calls right. Shouldn’t that be the overlying goal, anyway?

Next, we can work on the ridiculous notion of the All-Star game having some effect on the World Series. But let’s tackle one problem at a time…