Replay Blues

By Larry Dierker

Baseball stadium replay concept.

Last night the Astros played the Red Sox at Fenway Park. With one out at the top of the seventh, the score was tied 5-5 and the infield was in. Jose Altuve tried to score on a ground ball to short. The throw was a bit high and wide and catcher Sandy Leon had to twist back toward the plate to make the tag. Altuve was called out and Astros manager A.J. Hinch asked for a replay.

The Thing with Replays

While the replay officials were viewing the play, ESPN was showing every angle they had. None of their replays were conclusive but it appeared to me that he should have been called safe. I’m sure every Red Sox fan watching thought the umpire was correct and Altuve was out. My guess is that many fans watching the national telecast that didn’t care who won the game. And I’d be willing to bet that almost all of them thought Altuve was safe.

I did care who won, but I understood the call.  The reason given was that a piece of the lacing of the catcher’s mitt touched Altuve.  I could not see that, so I guess the replay officials have camera angles ESPN doesn’t have.  I must admit that I didn’t see a replay that was absolutely definitive.  In that case, I’d have to go with the umpire who, by the way, was in perfect position to make the call.

Earlier in the season, there was another play that Astros fans have been complaining about on talk shows today.  I didn’t see that one.   But I didn’t have to.  I’ve watched enough of this replay nonsense to know that some calls get overturned and some do not.  I also know, that some calls, like the one last night, are not conclusive even with all the nanosecond technology available.

Clearly, a much higher percentage of the calls on close plays are ultimately called correctly using replay technology.  But it’s just as clear to me that a few close calls will be debatable no matter how many times they are replayed, even when they are viewed frame by frame.

My Thoughts on the Replay System

That’s why I continue to believe that the replay system is a waste of time. I would be willing to bet that there have been at least two instances where the Astros have benefited by calls of this nature. And, it is my opinion that the teams that end up in the playoffs would the same teams with or without replays.

As a matter of fact, home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott was having a lot of trouble calling balls and strikes on the first base corner at the knees.  The final score could have been 6-5 as it ended up, or 7-4, 6-3 or any other similar score if the technology they use to superimpose the strike zone on the screen had been calling those pitches.

I’m not sure if there is a way to determine how many replayed calls change the outcomes of games, but I think getting the balls and strikes right would change more outcomes than reviewing calls on the bases.

The calls on the bases take time – more time than I spent arguing with umpires. MLB is serious about improving the pace of the game. They’ve even shortened commercial breaks to prove it.  I think they should take the responsibility of calling balls and strikes away from the home plate umpire and use technology to get a consistent strike zone.  And at the same time, they should make him responsible for the pace of play.  He should be able to tell a batter to get in the box and be ready to hit and tell a pitcher to get on the mound and pitch.  And if they don’t, he should be able to call a ball or a strike in the count.

That Would Put a lot of pressure on the Umpire… And the Players

As far as balls and strikes, he should have a buzzer in each back pocket tell him whether a pitch touched the zone or not. That wouldn’t add one second to the game time.

Once the playoffs begin, the base calls should be replayed as they are now. There are enough games for the good and bad calls to even out during the season but not in the postseason.

I can think of two occasions where the outcomes of postseason games were changed by calls that were replayed more than a few times.  One was a missed call at first base by Don Denkinger in the 1985 World Series. The other was a call at first base in the 1986 NLCS by Fred Brocklander.

The one game that would make me regret my own stance on this issue is the game that umpire Jim Joyce missed a call at first base with two outs in the ninth inning.   That call cost Tigers right-hander Armando Galarraga a perfect game.

Still, my whole premise is that there is no way to achieve perfection. When you institute the replays to get closer to the mark, you sacrifice pace of play – another stated goal.

You also Sacrifice Rhubarbs

Believe me, I hated arguing with umpires. But I knew I had to. The fans expected it and my players expected it. And even though I hated it, I loved watching other managers rant and rave.  It was great theater and baseball was the only sport that had it.

When outcomes aren’t achieved, premises should be re-examined.