Bad call sparks another replay debate in MLB
The Pirates’ controversial, 19-inning loss to the Atlanta Braves in the small hours of Wednesday morning upset a lot of folks, setting vocal cords and keyboards ablaze. It also re-ignited chatter about expanded instant replay.
Former umpire Don Denkinger, familiar with controversy himself, supports it.
“I think baseball is lagging behind the times, and it’s time to change,” he said. “Why wouldn’t they use it?”
Whyâ¢ Because Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and most of the owners don’t want it, even in light of such recent flubs as umpire Jim Joyce costing Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game last season. The Pirates’ loss isn’t likely to change any decision-making minds.
Selig, who frequently cites the “pace of the game,” said during the All-Star break that he favors “modest” expansion of instant replay. This would not include safe-or-out plays of the type that ended the Braves’ 4-3 win when umpire Jerry Meals called Julio Lugo safe at home contrary to replay angles that indicated otherwise.
Currently, replay is only used to determine home runs but is likely to include fair and foul calls during the postseason. In a statement from Selig’s office, MLB official Joe Torre acknowledged that “the call was missed.” He added he is aware of the “pros and cons” of expanding replay.
“However, most in the game recognize that the human element will always be part of baseball and instant replay can never replace all judgment calls by umpires,” Torre said.
The Pirates’ six-hour, 39-minute game was the longest in the 125-year history of a team that unexpectedly finds itself in a pennant race in late July. Meals’ call sparked an on-field Pirates protest followed by a formal complaint to the commissioner’s office.
Immediately after the game and throughout yesterday, the airwaves and Internet crackled with outrage and rancor aimed at Meals. Reportedly, he and his family are receiving threats.
“I know the feeling,” Denkinger said from his home in Waterloo, Iowa. “I’ve had the feeling.”
A big league ump for 30 years, Denkinger is (wrongly or rightly) best known for his blown call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. With St. Louis leading Kansas City, three games to two, and up by a run in the ninth inning, Denkinger erroneously called a Royals hitter safe at first base, sparking a comeback win. The Royals then beat the Cardinals in Game 7.
Even in the days of no Internet and limited cable, Denkinger, who until then had a sterling reputation, was mocked and scorned nationwide. Yet, he said, “I wouldn’t have recommended replay then.”
He has since altered his view, but only if replays are handled quickly by a “fifth umpire” in the booth with access to several replay angles.
“This is the 21st century,” he said. “Things change. Why not get it rightâ¢ Our game isn’t played the way it used to be. You have replays for football, for tennis.”
ESPN analyst and former big league manager Bobby Valentine concurred.
“There is no reasonable argument not to get it right,” he said “Zero. Not one reasonable argument. If you want to be unreasonable or fantasize about the way things were back in the good old days, well, that’s fine. But that’s not a logical or reasonable explanation for bringing your kid to the game and having to tell him the wrong outcome is allowed to happen.”
According to several polls, most fans support expanded instant replay. But not everyone outside the commissioner’s office is sold on it for plays similar to what happened in the Pirates game.
“I do not favor instant replay along those lines,” Fox analyst Tim McCarver said. “People are saying the technology is there but the games would be interminable.”
“Strides have been made from umpires to get the call right,” said McCarver, a former All-Star catcher. “I think they’re remarkably consistent and right on most calls. I feel like I’m in the minority, but I’m in agreement with the commissioner. The pace of the game is very important. And the human drama of getting it wrong, I don’t think they get it wrong that often.”
Even Pirates catcher Mike McKenry is against it.
“That’s part of the game,” he said. “You see it year after year; you go back to that perfect game last year. Plays are tough. It’s a tough game and it’s a tough job, and they’re always going to get reamed — if they make the right call, if they make the wrong call. That’s their job. They’re going to get some right, they’re going to get some wrong, and that’s just part of it because nobody’s perfect at the end of the day.”
Then there are those in the middle, like former infielder Harold Reynolds, an MLB Network analyst. Reynolds said he watched several replays until finally viewing one from the best angle, which he did not believe to be conclusive.
“It was probably the 10th one I saw,” he said. “Let’s see it from first base, from third base. By the time I found the right video it was about a half an hour. And then you go, ‘Well, maybe.’ Technology is always going to be better than the naked eye. The question with replay is how you’re gonna implement it and make it fair.
“I understand the argument for replay, but I can see both sides. You can have a fifth umpire in the booth with an earpiece and it’s done. Then there comes a play like this and it’s gonna be a 20-minute delay.”
Taking a hit …
MLB umpire Jerry Meals took plenty of jabs on Twitter after his controversial call Tuesday night.