Your thoughts on replay now, Bud?
Based on the early calls in the postseason, baseball can't afford to keep resisting it
Open question to the commissioner of baseball: What does your sense tell you now? Has the feeling changed?
It was just this summer, after all, that Bud Selig told sporting America his "sense" in talking to people around Major League Baseball was that most of them "are really against instant replay." It was just last month that Selig told my colleague Jayson Stark much the same: "I don't get the feeling that there's a lot of support for it."
It was an odd thing to say in light of Stark's own survey of major league managers, a survey that suggested overwhelming -- in fact, nearly unanimous -- support among those responding for the use of some sort of additional replay to review umpires' calls. It was doubly odd for the fact that Selig says he is the one who is constantly bringing up the subject and is open to revisiting it.
Either way, though: How about now?
How about today, one day after two of the three divisional series games on Thursday featured calls that not only were blown, but were clearly correctable with a quick replay view? How about today, two days after the Twins were given a second life with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning because of a missed call that, even as the umpires conferred about what each other saw, every TV viewer in America was able to detect with one or two quick replay swipes?
Ask those baseball people again, Mr. Commissioner. Ask them to watch video of Greg Golson's catch or Michael Young's check-swing strike. See what your sense tells you now.
I don't know that any of the ultimate outcomes of the first two days of baseball playoffs would be altered with the use of an expanded replay in the sport, but that's only because such is unknowable in general. My own "sense," for what it's worth, is that the Giants and Braves would still be playing Game 1 of their series if Buster Posey had been called out trying to steal second base in the fourth inning. And he was out. By about half a foot.
Posey, instead ruled safe by umpire Paul Emmel, subsequently scored the game's only run on a two-out single. Asked about the play after the game, the Giants' brilliant rookie replied with a smile, "I guess it's a good thing we don't have instant replay right now."
Emmel said simply, "I saw him safe. That's what I called." And without detracting from the man's ability as an umpire, let me just say: I know that's what you saw. This is precisely why expanded replay is so critical to the game's advancement -- and why it can be such a positive force in the sport.
Those who've spent time this season speaking with major league umpires also have a "sense" about expanded replay. Their sense is that the umps want to get calls right. They'll support a system that isn't overly invasive, isn't set up to make them look foolish, and ultimately yields enough additional information to allow them to arrive at the correct decision. In other words, the umps aren't standing in the way of progress.
That progress would logically take the form of an umpire stationed in a booth with every replay angle available to him and a quick-communication device to reach the crew chief. There might be a limit on managers' challenges; there might not. There might be a situational limit on what can be reviewed; there ought not. The specifics of any replay system are subject to ongoing fine-tuning; but in order to fine-tune expanded replay in baseball, you'd first have to have expanded replay in baseball.
Lacking such an alternative, the umps of 2010 are stuck with whatever their eyes tell them, which, as the technology around the sport has grown and improved, we are increasingly coming to understand isn't always enough. Case in point: Yankees-Twins, Game 1.
If you saw that game, you already know that Golson came steaming in to make a nice rolling catch of Delmon Young's two-out sinking line drive, and thus preserved the Yankees' 6-4 win over the Twins at Target Field. One problem: Umpire Chris Guccione, working his first playoff game, missed the call, ruling that Golson had trapped the ball.
As Joe Girardi protested, the umpiring crew -- every one of which, by the way, had been in the proper place and hustling to his spot -- conferred to see what each other had observed. In less than the time it took for them to huddle, anybody watching from home could see the high-definition replay that confirmed Golson's catch. In a parallel universe, that's the end of the story. (For the record: Girardi said Thursday that he favors expanded replay so long as it doesn't slow the game.)
Instead, Young was awarded a single and home run hitter Jim Thome was allowed to come to the plate as the potential tying run. Thome popped up against Mariano Rivera to end the game, but you understand the implication. It's similar to what happened for the Rangers' Young, who blasted a three-run homer to break open Texas' game against Tampa Bay on Thursday one pitch after trying -- and failing -- to check his swing on what should have been strike three. The ump said no swing. The replay said, Might wanna revisit that. But there was no vehicle through which to do so.
Question for the commissioner to ask those baseball people he surveys: How is the industry doing itself any favors by allowing its umpires to appear on national TV as the only ones who don't know what's going on? Jim Joyce might have an answer worth sharing.
I've been freely acknowledging for a while now my past life as someone who opposed the expansion of replay. My old thought was that the umpires' interaction with the players, coaches and managers was a thread in the fabric of the game, that human failure was part of baseball.
That's still true, of course. Pitchers miss with location; hitters inexplicably swing through pipe fastballs; fielders botch routine grounders.
It's all very human. Human is cool. But I won't miss watching the umpires get key calls wrong -- and neither will they. That's what my sense of things tells me, anyway.
Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His most recent book, "Six Good Innings," was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2009 by Booklist. His next book, "The Voodoo Wave," will be released in 2011 by W.W. Norton. Reach him at email@example.com.
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