Commentary

Reviewing what is painfully obvious

Major League Baseball has no excuse for continuing to miss the call on instant replay

Originally Published: May 6, 2011
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

This is a tale of two no-hit bids with two very different places in history, all because baseball still can't bring itself to acknowledge the invention of a scary, futuristic innovation known as "modern technology."

One of those games was tossed last June by Armando Galarraga. You know what happened that night. Do you ever.

[+] Enlargeumpires
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesUmpires would no longer need to stop play and congregate if an extra umpire was in a booth watching replays of any controversial call.

The other was authored Tuesday by Francisco Liriano. Unlike Galarraga, he made it through the 27th out, hugged his catcher, etched his name in the history books forever.

So what do those two games have in common? Each featured a missed call at first base that may have changed the way we'll look at those games for the rest of our lives. That's what.

We don't need to recount Jim Joyce's call in the Galarraga game. If you haven't seen that one rerun approximately 1.7 trillion times, you either live in a house with no TVs or you've been on a lonnnnngggg camping trip.

All these months later, there are still people screaming about Joyce's mistake. But it's amazing how little brouhaha has erupted over a call nearly as egregious in Liriano's game, by first-base ump Paul Emmel.

It came on the back end of what was ruled a double play, on a throw that pulled Justin Morneau off the bag at first. Morneau clearly fanned on a tag of the runner, Gordon Beckham, and even admitted it afterward.

But Emmel had a tough angle, thought he saw a tag and called Beckham out. And Liriano was three outs away from a no-hitter he might never have completed if that missed call hadn't extricated him from that inning.

We should probably call in a team from the Minnesota Psychological Association to explain why millions of otherwise sane Americans were so outraged by Joyce's missed call but had zero interest in Emmel's. Apparently, we care way more about happy endings than we do about injustice. Or something like that.

But we can kick those issues around some other time. The point today is: There was no reason -- none -- those umpires didn't get those calls right. There was no reason -- none -- those mistakes weren't reversed, and corrected, on the spot.

You can Google 100,000 recaps of each of those two games. All 100,000 say exactly the same thing: "Replays showed [yada yada yada]."

So we're sure it makes sense to somebody in baseball -- most notably a very powerful somebody in Milwaukee, Wis. -- that the only people in our solar system who couldn't look at those replays were the umpires who made those calls. But it makes no sense to us.

Just a few days ago, we were watching a hockey playoff game (a stunning development in its own right) in which the officials on the ice somehow couldn't see a game-winning overtime goal by the Boston Bruins hit the back of the net.

Had that been a baseball game, they might still be playing, in the 918th inning. But fortunately for those officials, they work in a sport that has noticed the arrival of the 21st century.

Within moments, the replay machines whirred, the wrong call turned into the correct call and the right team won. The whole process took 30 seconds. What a concept.

So why is this not happening in baseball? Because we prefer "the human element?" Seriously?

Here at Worldwide Rumblings Headquarters, we're big fans of humans, too. But one thing we've noticed about humans is: They'd rather be right than wrong. Always.

And friends, we can make that happen in baseball, too. Easily.

The solution was outlined for us just last September by two of the most thoughtful managers alive, the Angels' Mike Scioscia and the Tigers' Jim Leyland. Their proposal for the quickest, most efficient way to use instant replay in baseball goes like this:

If you could have an umpire in the booth who would review those plays, I'd be in favor of that.

-- Tigers manager Jim Leyland

Add a fifth umpire to every crew, station him in a booth with a giant flat-screen TV -- or six of them -- and let him be the judge of which calls to review.

"If you could have an umpire in the booth who would review those plays, I'd be in favor of that," Leyland said back then. "I know this will sound crazy, but we're probably better off if the manager doesn't come out and even argue safe-or-out because they never change it anyway. So if somebody in the booth sees that … sees a guy was out but he was called safe and wants to change that, then he's out."

It would be so simple. The umpire in the booth would have a beeper that connects him with the crew chief on the field. If he sees a call that's clearly wrong -- whether it's out/safe, fair/foul, trap/catch or homer/not-a-homer -- he pushes his button, tells the crew chief, "We need to fix that one," and everybody moves on.

And if he isn't sure -- absotively, posolutely, 100-percent sure -- the call on the field stands. Period.

If we handled replay that way, ask yourself this: Which would slow the pace of a game more -- managers out there ranting, raving and heaving bases into the outfield or that umpire in the booth pushing his button?

"I think it would really streamline the process," Scioscia said in September. "If you had somebody in the booth who had instant access to the replay, the umps [on the field] wouldn't even have to look at it. So we could do it in -- what? -- 20 seconds?"

Heck, it might not even take that long. But say it took 45 seconds. Or a minute. That's still less time than it often takes umpires to huddle and confer on the field now. Right?

And if the spirit of those conferences is to get the call correct, then why, as Rays manager Joe Maddon asked again just this week, is it better to rely on the perspective of an ump who might have been 100 feet away from the guy who made the call? Wouldn't a fifth ump, sitting in front of an HD TV monitor, have a way better view?

OK, we know what Bud Selig and the anti-replay crowd is thinking about now: Next thing you know, we'll be replaying 50 calls a night and playing 'til 3 a.m.

Baloney.

We refer you to last summer's research by "Outside the Lines" -- which showed, after a study of 184 games, that an average of only 1.3 calls per game were close enough to merit a review. So we're talking about adding two minutes to the average game. Not two hours. Two minutes.

But if the baseball poo-bahs are still skeptical, then let them try it out themselves. Test this system in spring training. Or the Arizona Fall League. See what works and what doesn't. How mind-boggling is it that no one has ever even tried that? It's insanity.

If this sport continues to hem and haw and ponder, you know what's going to happen, right? We all know.

"This is going to come back to bite us," said one replay proponent within this sport who asked us not to use his name. "I'm talking about the postseason, when somebody gets knocked out or somebody goes on who shouldn't -- all because we didn't use something we should be using right now to get all these calls right."

So what the heck is everyone waiting for? It's bad enough that we've already seen no-hitter history altered forever. With every replay-free day that goes by, this sport is risking the alteration of a much, much more momentous slice of history than that.

Ready to Rumble

If the Twins keep on sliding, Francisco "No-Hit" Liriano could wind up as a big trading chip in July. But while those no-hitters can often add to the allure of a guy like this, other teams recognize exactly what he's likely to be, even with a change of scenery -- namely, a heartbreaker.

"He still has really good stuff," said an executive of one team who has seen Liriano a lot. "But he'll never be a real strike-thrower because he has a very inconsistent delivery. He doesn't land in the same spot. And his release point is all over the map. But I'm sure there will be some people out there who think, 'We can fix this guy.' There'll be countless teams looking for pitching in July. And all it takes is one pitching coach who says, 'I can fix him.' But personally, I don't know."

• There hasn't been a week that's gone by all season when someone hasn't asked us -- via tweet, email or chat -- what the chances are of the Nationals bringing Bryce Harper to the big leagues before the end of the year. So here's the answer, according to one Nationals source: "That's not happening."

In the Nationals' perfect world, Harper would play his way to Double-A by August, head for the Arizona Fall League in October, then blow through Double-A and Triple-A and reach Washington by late next season. But you never know.

• Stephen Strasburg is another story, though. Strasburg remains on a similar track to Jordan Zimmermann's Tommy John surgery recovery of a year ago. Strasburg got started a few weeks later than Zimmermann did last year. But if nothing goes amiss, he could make five or six minor league appearances and be back, tentatively, pitching in the big leagues by September. The Nationals won't force those September starts if he's not ready, but Strasburg is all for that path. "Hell," said one Nationals exec, "if it were up to him, he'd start tonight."

Cole Hamels
Hamels

• Want to guess which left-handed pitcher has the lowest ERA in baseball since last July 1? It's not Jon Lester, David Price or CC Sabathia. It's Cole Hamels, at 2.38 (in 24 starts).

Hamels is five months from the end of a three-year, $20.5 million contract but still two seasons away from free agency. So it will be interesting to see how the Phillies assess his worth, considering he's five years younger than Cliff Lee (who makes $24 million a year), he's nearly seven years younger than Roy Halladay (who gets $20M/year), and he's currently pitching as well as he's ever pitched. But Hamels' agent, John Boggs, reports the Phillies still haven't approached them to talk contract.

"They haven't engaged us, and that's fine," Boggs told Rumblings. "The most important thing Cole can do is focus on winning games for the Phillies and getting back to the World Series. And we want to keep that focus. At whatever time they think is right, they'll probably make an inquiry. But there's no hurry. When they're ready, they're ready."

Just for future reference, the biggest deal yet for a starting pitcher who was still in his arbitration years is Justin Verlander's five-year, $80 million deal in 2010. That deal bought out three free-agent years at $20 million a year.

• One scout on Hamels: "If you lined up those Phillies starters, told me I need to win the seventh game of the World Series and ask me who I'd take, you'd have to start with [Roy] Halladay. But I'd take Hamels second."

• A fascinating rumor that's been rippling through the Mets' clubhouse lately has the team finally getting ready to move in the fences at Citi Field. But we're hearing that's an idea that hasn't gotten past the let's-talk-about-this-later phase in the Mets' front office. For now, at least.

• There are a lot of teams in baseball that wouldn't have called up Eric Hosmer on Cinco de Mayo, wouldn't have called him up for that matter until they were sure he was "Super Two-proof." But the Royals have been quietly telling people all spring that they would start bringing their phenoms to the big leagues when they were ready, not when they were most cost-effective. So it's good to see they weren't kidding.

"If a guy is good enough," said one NL executive, "you just go ahead and buy him out of his arbitration years, anyway. So why worry about it?"

• Here's one great scouting mind's report on Hosmer: "We're talking about an All-Star type of player. He should be a 3- or 4-hole hitter with power, and he's got a chance to win a Gold Glove at first base. People compare him to Joey Votto, but I think he's better than Votto defensively and at least as good as Votto offensively. Their power is comparable, and I think Hosmer is going to hit for a higher average. This guy has a chance to win a batting title. And he's got great makeup. He can really be something special."

• Sounds as if hot pitching prospects Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy are next in line on the K.C. prospect call-up express, with the slower-starting Mike Moustakas lagging slightly behind them. But after 25 consecutive October-free baseball seasons, the good news for the desperate folks in Kansas City is: The future is here. Finally.

Felix Hernandez
Hernandez

• We were asked on the radio in Kansas City this week, by sports-talk luminary Soren Petro, if we could see the Royals getting in on Felix Hernandez this summer if the Mariners make him available. Our best guess is still: Highly unlikely. At some point in 2012-2013-2014, the Royals figure to set their sights on reeling in a difference-making starter. But we'd bet on later, not sooner.

• Here's a review, from one international scouting director, of the Rangers' new $15.5 million Cuban signee, Leonys Martin:

"Great body. Looks like an NFL wide receiver. Plus arm. Very good outfielder. My question is whether he's going to hit. He had problems hitting balls [inside] against average teams and average pitching. And when he saw good pitching, with increased velocity on the inner half, he had real trouble. So off what I've seen, he's just a fourth or fifth outfielder. And that's a lot of money if that's all he is."

• Despite that talk last week about the Giants zeroing in on Jose Reyes, all indications are that the denials from both teams -- that they haven't talked about this all season -- are legit. But that doesn't mean the Giants don't know they have a serious need to upgrade at short. And it certainly doesn't mean they won't make a run this summer at Reyes, whose energy and athleticism, especially in a year when he has big contract motivation, continue to dazzle his Mets teammates.

"I just wish I had as many fast-twitch fibers in my body," laughed Mets reliever Jason Isringhausen, "as he has in his."

Five astounding facts

1) There's big news in the annual "Last Guy To Get A Hit" competition. We have our oldest winner ever -- the great Matt Stairs, at age 43. And Stairs turned his big hit into a daily double of history, busting his 0-for-2011 streak (at 0-for-13) Wednesday with his 100th career pinch hit. Once upon a time, it could take months to get a winner in this derby. But we haven't had any position player even make it from Opening Day until June without a hit since the legendary Josh Paul did it in 2004. See ya at LGTGAH Central next year.

Mat Latos
Latos

2) After seven seasons and 1,183 trips to the plate by 74 different pitchers, Mat Latos finally became the first Padres pitcher to hit a home run in every pitcher's favorite canyon, Petco Park, on Tuesday. But believe it or not, that's not a record for most years without a trot from a home-team pitcher in new-ballpark history. The Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR home run historian David Vincent, reports that that mark (factoring out DH issues) is held by the original Comiskey Park in Chicago. It opened July 1, 1910. First homer by a White Sox pitcher: May 18, 1923, by Trotting Ted Blankenship.

3) Tuesday was a great night for brotherly lumber -- in the Upton family, anyway. B.J. hit a walk-off for the Rays. Then Justin hit an eighth-inning game winner for the Diamondbacks. It was the first time two brothers launched game-winning bombs, in the seventh inning or later, on the same day, says the Elias Sports Bureau, since Sandy and Roberto Alomar did it on Sept. 28, 1996.

4) Thirty games into the season, Matt Holliday (.409) and Lance Berkman (.402) both had averages over .400 in St. Louis. Retrosheet's Tom Ruane reports they're the second set of teammates to do that since 1932. The other: Jeff Blauser (.406) and Michael Tucker (.400) of the 1997 Braves. If Holliday and Berkman want something to shoot for, the live-ball record is 101 games, by Chuck Klein and Lefty O'Doul of the 1930 Phillies.

5) Brent Lillibridge played human target Wednesday, and it earned him more than a couple of black-and-blue marks. He pinch-hit in the seventh inning, got hit by a pitch, then got back to the plate in the ninth and got drilled again. Loyal reader Eli Rosenswaike combed through baseball-reference.com's fabulous Play Index and reported Lillibridge just became the fourth player since 1919 to come into a game as a sub, make two plate appearances and get plunked in both. Ouch!

Tweet of the Day

The brilliant comic mind of @GaryShandling had this fascinating question the other day for dot-com sporting genius Bill Simmons (@sportsguy33):

Okay, buddy, just explain to me why the grass won't grow all the way to the outfield walls?

• Meanwhile, Nyjer Morgan's fictitious alter-ego, @Tony_Plush, finally returned to the Brewers from his rehab option in Nashville, only to have his triumphant return to the big leagues delayed yet again -- by a rainout:

With the rains following Plush from Nashville to Atlanta, preventing his comeback, he found it hard not to feel like a modern-day Sisyphus.

Headliner of the Week

Finally, this just in from the tongue-in-cheek witticists at sportspickle.com:

U.S. FORCES TAKE CONTROL
OF OSAMA BIN LADEN'S
FANTASY BASEBALL TEAM

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

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Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com