Thursday, October 24, 2013

Not So Hard, Was It?

Baseball is joining the headlong rush toward video replay.

But the Beantown Blooper in Game 1 of the World Series is proof that many, if not most, of the bad calls in baseball don't require replay to resolve.  All they require is a quick meeting of the umpires.

When Dana DeMuth missed the call at second base (Cards shortstop Pete Kozma dropped a feed while trying to turn a double play), pretty much everyone in the stadium and watching on TV knew it. In DeMuth's defense, the call is trickier than it looks: he's trying to make sure Kozma's foot hits the bag before the baserunner gets there and simultaneously trying to see him catch and hold the throw.

It's the kind of play where mistakes often get made by umpires because the natural rhythm of the game is disrupted.  Second baseman Matt Carpenter's feed was awkward, leading to the flub.

But the bottom line here is much ado was made of nothing.  DeMuth got it wrong, the Red Sox squawked, the umps huddled and got it right.  End of story.

Especially in postseason play, where foul-line umpires boost the umpiring crew to six, there are always plenty of extra eyes on every play. The problem has never been seeing what happened. It's historically been a cultural problem: baseball umps simply wouldn't countenance any implication that they were less than perfect.

Dig into the history of the game and you'll see why.  Umpires had to establish themselves as being firmly in control of the game and its players and managers. The first thing any young umpire learns is that his body language and demeanor matter a lot, because players and managers will challenge him early and often.  What other sport allows the level of on-field complaining and arguing that baseball permits?

The "code of silence" forbade any ump to pipe up and overrule a member of the brotherhood. Don't you think first-base ump Jim Joyce wishes one of his crewmates had spoken up when he missed the call that cost Armando Gallaraga a perfect game in 2010? Surely someone saw the mistake but no one did anything about it.

It's encouraging that umps are now putting their heads together. It's a shame that it took this long, and a bigger shame that it may be too late to rescue fans from the endless delays brought on by video replay. A call reversal like we saw in Game 1 should have become commonplace long ago, rather than becoming a headline-generating incident.