Instant replay now, please

A week ago today (I think I can finally talk about it now), the Twins blew a ten-run lead to fall behind the A’s 14-13. They appeared to tie the game in the top of the ninth, when Cuddyer came around from second on a wild pitch and slid in comfortably ahead of the catcher’s throw to the pitcher covering the plate. The umpire called Cuddyer out, however, ending the game.

But Cuddyer was safe. There’s absolutely no question about it. You could see it live on TV. You could see it, in fact, from any possible angle except the one at which the umpire had chosen to place himself. He was inexcusably out of position, and thus blew the call in an absolutely critical spot. It was terrible, and the umpire, Mike Muchlinski — apparently a minor league umpire substituting for a regular crew member — should never see action in the majors again. Still, though, it was an isolated incident, it was a non-regular umpire, and it was publicized enough that we can expect the rest of the umpires around the league to take a lesson from it. Hard to get too worked up about it, in the big picture.

Until yesterday. With the Cubs up 3-1 in the eighth, the Reds are threatening a comeback, with runners on the corners and only one out. On a fly ball to medium center, Edwin Encarnacion tries for the plate. Fukudome makes a great throw, he’s called out, and the inning is over.

Except he wasn’t out, not by a long shot. This was an even worse call than Muchlinski’s; it’s not clear if Cubs catcher Koyie Hill ever tagged Encarnacion, but if he did, that didn’t happen until at least two thirds of Encarnacion’s body had safely crossed the plate. And there was no trickery or other confusing element of the play; it was a close enough play as plays at the plate generally go, but not that close. There’s no excuse for getting that one wrong. So instead of it being 3-2 with a runner on second and two outs in the 8th, it’s 3-1 going into the bottom of the inning, in which the Cubs score two and effectively put the game away. So it didn’t change the outcome of the game as clearly as Muchlinski’s screwup did, but it was an even more obvious screwup, and it certainly may have changed the outcome.

Even worse? This time, it wasn’t some triple-A schlub. This umpire was Laz Diaz, a real-life Major League umpire who’s been at it for over ten years. Replays showed he got into the exact same position Muschlinski had gotten himself into, completely screening himself off from actually viewing the play that it was his job to interpret. So much for learning from the other guy’s mistakes.

So it seems to me that at least one, and very likely both, of these two things are true:
(1) Laz Diaz and Mike Muchlinski are incurably incompetent; or
(2) we need instant replays across the board, now.

If it’s (1) and not (2), what we need is a league-wide audit of the umpires, and for the ones who can’t handle basic things like getting into the proper position on a play at the plate to be made gone (or at least heavily retrained). But why not just implement (2) regardless?

Really, what’s the serious argument against instant replay, and how can those considerations possibly mean more than the importance of getting the calls right and avoiding altering the outcomes of games by virtue of terrible calls? This seems unbelievably simple to me. Yeah, you make the game a little longer, you take some (possibly very little, depending on how you implement it) of the humanity out of the game, and so on. But you get the calls right, and you protect the integrity of the games against incompetence like Muchlinski’s and Diaz’s.

There’s a lot of room to argue about how to go about it and how pervasive to make it, how the replay should be triggered, etc., but I don’t see the argument that replay should be kept out of the league altogether, or limited to home run calls as it is now. We have the capability to get calls like these right (and have for decades now), so we should get them right. What am I missing?

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4 Responses to “Instant replay now, please”

  1. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    I don't particularly like the idea of instant replay, but I've fought a losing battle and I'm done. I don't think it's necessary. I don't think it will affect anything all that much. I don't think it will get every call right (the home run replay has already gotten one wrong). But in the end, I'll get used to it as a part of the game, and ultimately, I probably won't care all that much. Maybe I'm a traditionalist, but I've taken on sabermetrics, the Wild Card, and the DH as well.

    But I do have some logistical worries. One, how many times can you use it in one game? If it's unlimited, I think a lot of calls will be challenged (really slowing down the game), but if you limit it to two or three, you still run the risk of missing a call. Two, do we include balls and strikes because that's just going to get messy? Three, if you limit the IR, don't you think it will just expand later when an instance brings the fault to a head (called third strike in the World Series)?

    Again, I understand the argument for getting every call right. I really do, and that's why I accept that IR will happen. But again, I don't think things will radically change all that much.

    Oh, and can you send me your email address to marklouissmith@hotmail.com?

    P.S. I find it amusing that the verification word I had to put in was "resign" (as in resign myself to the fact that IR will happen).

  2. Bill Says:

    How do you suppose it won't affect anything all that much? There's at least a 50% chance that it completely changed the outcome of the Twins game, and probably a 20% chance that it changed the outcome of the Cubs game. You can limit it like football does to the cases where there's clear evidence to overturn the call (I think there are *very* few cases where it wouldn't be clear one way or the other, though).

    I don't think the managers/teams should have any say in it one way or the other. I can think of a number of ways that it could be done, and none of them involve teams "challenging" plays. I think that's a problem in football and would be a disaster in baseball. I wouldn't have it include balls and strikes, but I would like to see them crack down on all the umpires who are kind of just doing their own thing and try to make the strike zone more uniform.

  3. Ron Rollins Says:

    Bill, you said it yourself. And I've been saying it for years. The umpires don't know how to position themselves, and arrogance keeps them from admitting it and changing.

    We don't need instant replay. We need competent umpires who aren't prima donna's and make an effort. Being in the right position and calling by the rule book (as they are supposed to be doing) will solve all the problems.

    I'll agree to instant replay when they allow it life.

  4. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    It might change the outcome of the game, but is that one game going to make the difference in the season? And is that one play the difference in the game? Couldn't the Twins or the Athletics have made better plays or done something in the other 53 outs to affect the outcome?

    Again, I agree that I want every play correct. It sucks, especially when it hurts your team, when the ump messes up. But I agree more with Ron that umpires don't move to the right places enough. I think there's an instinctual spot they go to instead of actually thinking where they should go and moving quickly to get there.

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