Blown call a terrible moment for baseball, but instant replay NOT the path to perfection | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Blown call a terrible moment for baseball, but instant replay NOT the path to perfection

As even the most casual of baseball fans know by now, Armando Galarraga retired 26 consecutive batters to open a game against the Indians on Wednesday, but failed to complete a perfect game as first-base umpire Jim Joyce incorrectly ruled that Cleveland’s Jason Donald beat out an infield single with two outs in the ninth. In the wake of such a stunning event in baseball, which made headlines well beyond the Sports section, there is bound to be overreaction, and there has certainly been no shortage of that in the 24 hours following the umpiring debacle.

Some, including Pardon the Interruption co-host Tony Kornheiser, have stated publicly that Commissioner Bud Selig should reverse the call on the field (which he has the power to do) and retroactively award Galarraga a perfect game. A poll taken by The Washington Post finds that upwards of 80% of Americans agree. Others say that baseball must immediately incorporate instant replay into its contests, as the NFL, NHL, NBA, NCAA and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) already have.  Still others believe that, in the absence of retroactively awarding a perfect game, the official scorer should change the ruling of a base hit to an error, thereby rewarding Galarraga with a no-hitter.

However, this writer is a proponent of a fourth course of action.  And that is, quite simply, to do none of these.  A knee-jerk reaction would only serve to worsen the situation and further accentuate the effect of the missed call on the game we love.  This would be a mistake—no matter how amazing a perfecto from Armando Galarraga would have been, no single call and no single contest is bigger than the game itself.  And because of that, I believe that taking any of these actions would create more problems than it would solve.

The idea that Bud Selig could swoop down, deus ex machina-style, and reverse the call, making everything right with the world, is quite simply ridiculous.  Here’s why:

  • This action would solve very little.  Certainly, it would give Galarraga the “official” perfect game, but he has still been robbed of his moment of perfection on the field and the celebration with his teammates.  Also irreparable is the call itself, because even if Selig were to change the call, Joyce’s mistake would still go down in infamy.
  • Overruling the call would set a dangerous precedent and would open the door for every blown call to be reviewed and overturned, which does nothing but reduce the credibility and authority of on-field umpires.  After each game, we might wonder whether there was a call on the field that might need to be examined by the Commissioner after the fact.
  • There have been far worse calls in the history of baseball–ones that arguably cost teams championships.  If we overturn this call, we might as well overturn Don Denkinger’s key blown call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series that allowed the Royals to rally and win.  And while we’re at it, we also need to resume Game 2 of the ALDS in the 11th inning with Joe Mauer at second base and nobody out because of Phil Cuzzi’s blatantly incorrect call of a foul ball.  He blew it and the Twins lost.  Should Selig reverse that one as well?
  • What if the blown call had come on the 26th out?  Or in the eighth inning?  It sounds easy to overturn as the last out, but the same situation occurring one play earlier is really impossible to overturn.  This situation is so extremely rare that I am unlikely to ever see it again in my lifetime.  Should Selig make it a policy to overturn blown calls, but only with two outs in the ninth inning of a perfect game?
  • Changing the official scoring is no better—the ball was handled cleanly by both Galarraga and first baseman Miguel Cabrera.  Two wrongs do not make a right in this case–Donald either reached base via a base hit or he was out.  Retroactively adding another blatant mistake to the mix can only make things worse for all parties involved.

As for replay, it is true that football, basketball, hockey and tennis all use replay, and they all use it well.  However, just like baseball does now, the replay is limited to certain calls only.  In hockey, the replay system can only be used to review goals.  In fact, replay was just used in the Stanley Cup Finals earlier this week, allowing the referees to get the call right on a goal in sudden-death overtime.  In basketball, replay can only be used to determine whether a shot was taken before the shot clock or game clock reached zero, or to determine whether a made basket was a worth two or three points.  The scope is similarly narrow in tennis and in football.

So why not apply this to baseball?  Under a replay system, Joyce’s call would have been immediately reviewed, the call would have been changed and Galarraga would have his perfect game.  Easy, right?

Wrong.  Implementing a replay system would create more problems than it would solve.

The idea of reviewing every play in a booth upstairs, similar to what is done in college football, simply will not work.  Like a Selig intervention, this would severely undermine the credibility of the umpires.  Games would also be slowed to a crawl and arguments would skyrocket both in frequency and length because managers will want to put pressure on the crew to review the call, or simply stall to give the booth time to take another look.  This idea is simply a non-starter.

Even under a manager’s challenge system, umpires will have to guess about the outcome of a play after it is reviewed.  For example: runners are on first and second with nobody out, and the runners are moving.  The hitter golfs a ball into shallow center field that the center fielder traps, and both runners score.  The umpires decide to review the play and change the call to a catch.  One manager says there should be runners on first and second with one out because the call on the field was originally a trap, so the runners can’t be punished.  However, the manager of the defensive club argues that it should be a triple play, because he thinks his outfielder could have thrown out both runners attempting to return to their bases.  The umpires have to decide what would have happened if they got the call right, and who is to know?  A call like this solves one dispute, but opens another.

Finally, the fact remains that MLB umpires as a whole do an excellent job.  On the afternoon after the botched call, baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian said, “Major League umpires get that call correct 100,000 times out of 100,001.”  While a replay system would fix that one call out of 100,001, it would cast doubt on the other 100,000, which creates a much larger problem than the occasional blown call.  This is not what baseball needs.

Wednesday was certainly a sad day for the game of baseball.  But before we rush to expand the use of replay in baseball, let’s think about all of its possible consequences, rather than embracing the idea because it would have fixed a wrong that can never be righted.  The time for more replay will certainly come, but baseball is simply not ready yet.  So the next time we see a missed call, we can sympathize with the victim and we can be upset with the umpire.  But after everyone calms down, we’ll also remember that it’s baseball.  And although baseball isn’t perfect, it sure comes awfully close.

1 Comment

  1. Begay says:

    i agree with practically everything the towel has said here. however, i think we can all agree that this has been easily the most poorly umpired season in recent memory. some have called it the worst in history. i literally just saw a neck-high fastball called for a strike on michael bourn because the plate ump called time the pitch before when bourn asked for it as the pitcher rocked. as far as two wrongs not making a right, this too is pretty exemplary.