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Double Play: An argument for expanded instant replay in baseball

As the Minnesota Twins try to catch the Detroit Tigers, something unfortunate is becoming more likely by the day. If the Twins finish one or two games out of first place, Minnesota baseball fans will have a real beef with Major League Baseball’s umpires.  Earlier this season, a blown call on the final play of a game negated the Twins’ tying run, and a litany of bad calls in another game might not have directly affected the outcome, but then again, they gave the other team three runs in a game the Twins lost by two.

The first game was July 20, when the Twins played at the Oakland A’s. The team took national ridicule as it let the A’s make up 10 runs, eventually losing 14-13, but the final out came at home plate with Michael Cuddyer safely sliding into home to tie the game, until the home plate umpire, Mike Muchlinski, blew the call. It wasn’t even close. I know many have said the Twins didn’t deserve to win because they let the other team come back, but that’s irrelevant. Even if it was a 2-1 final, the tying run was wrongly called out on the final play of the game, and although that would have only tied the game, we’ll never know what the eventual outcome should have been.

The second game was Aug. 7, at the Detroit Tigers, a 10-8 loss that saw 3rd baseman Brendan Harris tagging Curtis Granderson in a rundown (something Granderson himself admitted). The ump called him safe, but made no vocal signal, allowing for Granderson to score as the Twins thought he was out. Later, a Detroit hit down the first base line bounced into the corner, was picked up by a fan, who then dropped the ball back onto the field, as Twins 2nd baseman Nick Punto waited for the fan interference call. When Punto realized the umpires missed that call, he quickly picked up the ball and fired it on a dime to Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who appeared to tag the second Tiger runner before his foot hit home, only to have the second run ruled safe. Granted, the fan interference call would have left the bases loaded, and there is no way to determine what would have happened later in the game, but in the end, there were three Tiger runs that were awarded, not earned.

Umpires’ mistakes are fixable
I know smarter baseball minds will look at this only as sour grapes. I’m not saying we try to overturn those two outcomes. What’s done is done, and if those two games cost us a title, so be it. There are plenty of other losses the Twins have had this year where the effort on the field was the culprit, but the mistakes umpires make are fixable with simple instant replay.

As the major sports leagues have acknowledged the fallibility of human perception and, in turn, welcomed a level of instant replay, baseball, buoyed by umpire arrogance, has only allowed it on homerun calls. The logic is, since the homeruns are so far away, there might be a slight possibility the ball was foul or it bounced on top of the wall, rather than over it. They insist calls closer to the infield couldn’t possibly be wrong regardless of the video evidence. Umpires will insist they always make the right call, but if I may clarify:  When you make a bad call in a game, you’re not making the “right” call, but rather the “official” call. There is a difference.

Instant replay is not about proving the incompetence of the umpires, but rather making sure the right call is made. To expand out instant replay in baseball, they should first create the Cuddyer Rule, where, if it’s the 9th inning or in extra innings, and where a game tying or winning run could be contested, the umpires automatically watch the replay and make sure they made the right call.

Two official reviews
As for the rest of the game, give each manager two official reviews, where regardless if the play is overturned or not, they still have only two reviews. The review has to be called for prior to the next pitch, and the review can be for numerous aspects of a specific play. That way, not only could a team question if a fan actually touched the ball, but if the umpires determine the fan didn’t, they can still review other aspects of the play that lead to scoring.

I will concede this will make an already excruciatingly slow game even longer (how about stopping the hitters and pitchers from taking a time out every single pitch?), but let me counter point the traditionalists and clock-watchers. If the Twins lose the American League Central by two or fewer games, ask their fans whether extending games out 10 or 15 minutes, and in turn, ensuring the right team plays at least three more games in October, would be such a hassle.

Matthew McNeil is the host of a radio show on KSTP AM 1500.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/28/2009 - 10:56 am.

    Possibly the most egregious mistakes (and they take place in EVERY game) are the ball and strike calls by the umpires. They are not only flawed, but incredibly inconsistent. That drives pitchers nuts, and is unfair to both teams.

    A strike is when the ball actually GOES OVER THE PLATE BETWEEN THE KNEES AND LETTERS. Such a simple thing — and now there is technology that could assure that, not unlike that used in professional tennis. It would not make the umpire irrelevant, but it would add consistency and fairness to a game. No sport, professional or otherwise, should be decided by subjective calls by officials — it should be decided by the quality of play on the field.

  2. Submitted by Rick Prescott on 09/28/2009 - 11:06 am.

    Umpiring teams need a fifth man, to be stationed in the booth, or adjacent to the field in a special booth, for each game.

    Just as when a catcher asks an ump for an appeal on a check swing, a manager could ask for an appeal to the booth. That appeal could be denied by the crew chief. (No arbitrary limits on what or how many times a review could be requested.)

    Given the speed with which replays are available, the ump in the booth will usually already know the answer by the time an appeal is made. He can then signal safe or out right from his spot.

    Delays kept to a minimum. Calls gotten right. Fair implementation. These are the hallmarks of adding instant replay to a game.

    (I’d be even happier if they just played the replays on the scoreboard and let the crowd watch the review along with the umps. In most cases, that would settle it, and not necessarily in favor of the home team.)

  3. Submitted by Kimbers Cadieux on 09/28/2009 - 11:58 am.

    I’m not a clock-watcher but I guess I’d have to be classified as a warped purist and vote no for instant replay in baseball.

    I like seeing human error in the game be it by the players or the umpires. It makes things interesting. I get a kick out of
    watching the dust fly when managers come barreling out of the dugout to contest a call.

    In a weird way, human error helps level the playing field between the powerhouse teams whose owners will spend any amount (because they can) and those that don’t.

    If the Twins finish one or two games out because of human error, well, so be it. Better that than choking at the end of the season.

    Besides, there’s always next year! : )

  4. Submitted by Tad Bornhoft on 09/28/2009 - 12:17 pm.

    I think there would be too many inconclusive video reviews in baseball to make it worthwhile. Whether or not or when a tag is made, for example, is almost always impossible to tell on a replay. Same with close plays at first — umpires say they go by sound as much as sight. Yes, there are obvious blown calls. But, as Herb Carneal always said, things seem to even out over the course of the year.

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