Commentary

Instant replay for the World Series? Yes

Originally Published: October 27, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

It was 26 years ago that George Brett, his enraged face the color of a nice Chianti, bolted out of the visitors dugout at Yankee Stadium and began screaming at a rookie umpire who had just nullified a home run because Brett's bat had too much pine tar on it.

The umpire's name was Tim McClelland.

Two years ago, in the bottom of the 13th inning of the 163rd game of the season, Colorado Rockies baserunner Matt Holliday tried -- and failed -- to slip his left hand past the left foot of San Diego Padres catcher Michael Barrett. But Holliday was called safe at the plate and the Rockies claimed the last, precious playoff spot and eventually advanced to the World Series.

[+] EnlargeTim McClelland
Harry How/Getty ImagesThe last thing we want to see is a botched call like this in the World Series.

The umpire's name was Tim McClelland.

Seven days ago, in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, Los Angeles Angels catcher Mike Napoli tagged out New York Yankees runners Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada as the three of them converged at third base. But wait, only Posada was ruled out. Incredibly, Cano was ruled safe. The same ump in the same game also messed up a tag-up play on a sacrifice fly.

The umpire's name was Tim McClelland.

And by the way, McClelland is regarded as the Albert Pujols of umpires. If he's not the best in the business, then McClelland is one of the best.

McClelland screwed up. Just like C.B. Bucknor screwed up a couple of calls in Game 1 of the AL Division Series earlier this postseason. Just like Jerry Meals screwed up in Game 3 of the NLDS. Just like Phil Cuzzi screwed up in Game 2 of the ALDS. Just like Dale Scott screwed up in Game 5 of the ALCS. Just like someone else is going to screw up during the World Series. (Good prediction -- the umps blew two calls in Game 2, the trapped ball by Ryan Howard and the double-play throw that Chase Utley beat out.)

It happens. It happens in baseball. It happens in football. It happens in basketball. It happens from time to time whenever someone with a heartbeat and an umpire/official/referee uniform has to make a split-second decision.

Major League Baseball umpires are under siege. So are the Southeastern Conference's football official crews. So were the NBA's replacement referees before the regular refs signed their new labor deal with the league.

None of this is a new phenomenon. Remember Don Denkinger in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series? Botched calls in the past. Botched calls in the present. That's because bigger games mean bigger microscopes. And nobody has been examined more under the bright lights than MLB umps.

What, because you wear an umpires' uniform you're immune from imperfection? Even the great Pujols fails nearly seven times in every 10 at-bats.

If I'm MLB commissioner Bud Selig, I'd exercise my "in the best interests of baseball" power and immediately institute a more comprehensive instant-replay system for the World Series. Stick the respected McClelland in a replay booth, give each manager two challenges per game, make sure the TVs and dugout phones work, and we're off and running.

Look, it's not like you'd have to outfit all 30 stadiums -- just two: Yankee Stadium and Citizens Bank Park. So money can't be an issue. And you could spend all day Tuesday and all day Wednesday (Game 1 is a night game) practicing the procedures. How hard can it be? Bang-bang play at home plate … manager throws a flag … replay booth reviews the play … the call is upheld or overturned. The NFL does it all the time.

It's like Bill Bavasi, the Cincinnati Reds' VP of scouting, player development and international operations, told me two postseasons ago: "We're going to demand these [umpires] stay in the dark ages? And then get pissed at them when we have the technology that we refuse to give them?

"I'm proud of our umpires. But, hey, if you can help these guys, help them."

Umpires have slumps too. McClelland took the collar in Game 4 of the ALCS. He isn't suddenly a crummy ump, just as Pujols isn't suddenly washed up when he takes an oh-fer.

But there's no way around human error. SEC football officials can tell you all about it.

The same SEC officiating crew that gagged on a celebration penalty in the Oct. 3 Georgia-LSU game (the single most subjective and stupid rule in college football) also called a phantom personal foul in the Oct. 17 Arkansas-Florida game. The crew has been suspended by the conference.

And it's probably not a good idea to ask Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen about the SEC replay official working Saturday's Florida-MSU game. Mullen contends the replay guy blew the review of a Gators interception return. The replay official said it was a touchdown; Mullen said the Florida player was stripped of the ball before it crossed the goal line.

Meanwhile, MLB suddenly decided it wanted more experienced World Series umpiring crews working the games this year. No more World Series first-timers on the six-man crew. (Bucknor was a candidate for his first-ever World Series until the recent MLB edict.)

Wow, experienced crews. What a great idea -- except for the part where experience guarantees nothing. McClelland, part of the umpiring elite, has 26 years' worth of big league time, but he still misses calls. So have the supposed Dream Team of umpires doing this upcoming World Series (Dana DeMuth, Gerry Davis, Joe West, Mike Everitt, Jeff Nelson and Brian Gorman). They all do.

One of these days, the stubborn Selig will understand that instant replay wouldn't compromise the game -- it would improve it. You think McClelland, who had to make the walk of shame to the postgame Game 4 news conference, wouldn't like a mulligan on his botched ALCS calls? Replay could have spared him -- and MLB -- the embarrassment.

The best of the best had the worst of umpiring weeks. It's happened before, it'll happen again. Selig can tweak the World Series crew all he wants, but it isn't a solution -- it's a reaction.

McClelland deserved better than to get posterized by MLB. He deserved a safety net. He deserved a replay system that can erase human error.

But here's the thing: there's still time. First pitch of the World Series isn't until 7:57 Wednesday night.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter