Boneheaded Umpires Leading Charge Toward Instant Replay

Slew of bad calls will renew pro-replay argument

By Josh Alper
|  Monday, Oct 12, 2009  |  Updated 5:03 PM CDT
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There hasn't been much on-field drama to talk about when it comes to the baseball postseason. Three quick, painless (with the exception of Matt Holliday's crotch) sweeps will make this an awfully quiet week on the diamond unless the Rockies can find a way to beat the Phillies and ace Cliff Lee on Monday night. That doesn't mean there won't be any baseball-related discussion, however.

You can be sure that there will be at least one major media voice calling for the installation of instant replay. Already this postseason, we've had three games with umpiring gaffes so glaring that there have been official apologies issued as a result. That's absolutely the right approach to take, because the mistakes made were so bad but the end result is that the credibility of umpires is crumbling in the face of video evidence that makes it clear how badly they botched their jobs. 

The errors made by C.B. Bucknor (two blown safe calls at first on Thursday night) would not have started this outcry because they happen all the time and didn't impact the game. What happened on Friday and Sunday night, however, is going to be harder for baseball to push into the past. Not only did Phil Cuzzi call a very clearly fair ball hit by Joe Mauer foul, he did it while serving as a special postseason umpire who, more or less, only exists to get that call correct. What's the point of having a human being out there if they can get something wrong when it is demonstrably correct. 

That call came in the 11th inning of a tie game that the Twins went on to lose. In other words, it's the kind of call that directly impacts who won and lost as were the pair of missed calls on Chase Utley's check swing foul ball that turned into a single. Not only did the ball hit Utley (making it foul), Utley shouldn't have been called safe. Jimmy Rollins moved to third and scored on a sacrifice fly to give the Phillies a 2-1 win.

Mistakes happen and many baseball fans would swallow a fair amount of them in exchange for not slowing down the game with replay after replay. It's problematic that all of these mistakes have happpened in a short period of time, but also a bit fluky and wouldn't by itself lead to a serious reason to think about a new system. But when Jerry Meals, the home plate umpire who called Utley's play on Sunday night, explains his mistake this way, you have to think twice.

"Chase Utley took off like it was nothing," Meals said. "He gave no indication to us that it hit him. Whatever percent of the time, you're going to get a guy that's going to stop if it hits him."

Just imagine a police officer explaining why they didn't arrest a criminal for stealing a car using similar reasoning. "Well, he gave no indication that he stole it and never turned himself in so we decided he couldn't have done it." Ridiculous, isn't it? You'd probably demand that there be a change in the way the police in your town operated if they used such excuses, wouldn't you?

And that's what we're left with after this lost weekend of baseball umpiring. The idea of expanding replay from home run calls feels wrong for baseball, feels like a further slide toward reviewing ball and strike calls and games that will never, ever end because of all the things that can be looked at over the course of nine innings.  

When Meals says what he says about the Utley play, though, he's essentially asking for replay and it's hard to come up with an argument about why you shouldn't give it to him.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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