Thursday, June 03, 2010

Will this be the impetus for baseball to move?

So the blown call by Jim Joyce in Detroit last night, costing Armando Gallaraga the official perfect game which everyone knows that he actually threw, brings up this again.
And baseball people continue to support the current system, a system in which n-6 (where n is the number of people in the world) people know that a runner being called out is safe or that a runner being called safe is out, and the 6 who don't know are allowed to determine the outcome anyway. Even more frustrating is the belief that some kind of replay usage would require long periods of time or limited manager challenges. Why on earth doesn't MLB just place another umpire somewhere where he can see all the replays, and let him correct the obviously wrong calls?
Obviously, in the regular season, we're talking about n-4 instead of n-6, but the point is the same. The NHL reviews every goal in every game from the league office in Toronto, and if there's a question, they determine what the truth is. The NBA reviews foot position on every three-point play, they review all plays that are close on the clock. There's absolutely no good reason for baseball not to have someone in front of a bank of replay screens correcting the obviously wrong calls on the field. But instead, we're sitting here this morning, following the historic third perfect game of the last month, and baseball is faced with a historic event that a) everyone understands occurred and b) it can't recognize because one of its umpires made a call that transformed that event into just another game.

Now, I can understand the people who don't want any replay at all. This is the way we've always done it, people are fallible, the human element is part of the game, etc., etc. I even agree with parts of their sentiment. I just think that their answer is the wrong one. The human element will always be part of the game, because it's played by humans, but the more the game is determined by the actual performance of the players of the field as opposed to the perceptions of the umpires, the better off the game is.

The position that I do not understand is the one espoused by Jayson Stark, who wants to "give each manager one challenge a night to use however he wants to use it -- except for ball/strike calls." Why get the manager involved at all? If the call is wrong, and it's correctable by replay, why wait until the manager gets a look at it and then challenges before letting a guy with video screens tell the ump that he got it wrong? Why add that extra step? Doesn't that just increase those delays that you're concerned about? In fact, if the players and umpires both know that correctable bad calls will be immediately corrected by a replay official, then the repeated long arguments over blown calls go away.

And what if that had been Joyce's second blown call of the game, and Leyland had challenged the first one in the sixth inning? We'd be in exactly the same situation today, except that baseball would be even more of a laughing stock. We'd be looking at an obviously blown call that cost a player an official perfect game despite the fact that you'd implemented rules to specifically overrule bad blown calls, only you weren't able to use it because the manager had already used his challenge!

In fact, this is a relatively simple problem. Somewhere in the league offices in New York, there are already all of the video feeds from all of the games. Set up 16 multiple monitor viewing stations, put an umpire or two in front of each, and give them the equipment to communicate with the head umpire on the field and the authority to correct the obviously blown calls. All of them. If it isn't obvious, play continues. If it is, you take the base-runner off the field or put him back on. If the NHL can do that - and it can - then why not baseball?

Does that make everything perfect? Obviously not. Some calls are not obvious, and then you live with the call that the guy on the field makes. This doesn't address balls and strikes at all (though there is technology to take care of that, too) and that's far and away the biggest source of umpire influence on games. There's no system that will be perfect because they're all run by human beings who are inherently fallible. But it's ridiculous that a multi-billion dollar organization allows itself to be put in the position of living with and defending obviously wrong decisions - from employees who are, at best, an ancillary part of the product - when they are so easily correctable.

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