Three days ago, home plate umpire Jerry Meals blew a crucial call at home plate, incorrectly ruling Red Sox pinch-runner Daniel Nava out on an attempted sac fly in the eighth inning of a 2-1 Rays victory. Hours later, upon reviewing the video, Meals would admit that he was wrong. Perhaps the umpire should be applauded for his humility and understanding. Major League Baseball, however, should be called to arms.
Every single major American sport has instituted widespread use of instant replay review except for Major League Baseball. The NFL uses it for virtually any play, the NBA for anything close in the last two minutes, the NHL for disputed goals, and even the MLS uses video to prohibit flopping. Yet baseball, the one sport in which small balls are moving at speeds upwards of 115 MPH over an expansive, twisting field has limited replay to home run and spectator interference calls.
Sure, Major League does have plans to expand instant replay to fair/foul calls, and whether fielders have caught or trapped balls, but why stop there? These new regulations would not have prevented last night’s blown call, a mistake that possibly cost the Red Sox possession of first place. Had that happened in September, or even the playoffs, the uproar would have been unfathomable. Take the 2009 ALDS for example, when there were practically protests in the Twin Cities after a clear double by Joe Mauer was ludicrously ruled foul, leading to a Yankees victory.
It doesn’t always have to have any tangible impact on games or the standings either. Just look at Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game that was ruined in the ninth inning by a botched call at first base. That misplay, despite having no actual impact on the standings or the playoffs, prompted writers from all vocations, from Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan to NY Times’ Keith Olberman to make appeals for expanded instant replay. The missed call tarnished baseball history by unfairly removing a perfect game, one of the sport’s most celebrated feats. Without replay, baseball, which venerates its past more than any other American sport, will continue to have a very changed history.
The problem, as the Galarraga situation proves, cannot be fixed by better umpires or better training, as even the best umps are at fault. The first base umpire in the near-perfect game was Jim Joyce, a 24 year veteran who has umpired in 12 playoff series since 1994. In 2010, despite having blown a perfect game, Joyce was voted by players as the best umpire in baseball, according to an ESPN poll.
Replay could even be expanded to include the balls and strikes. While baseball purists like Joe Torre argue that the use of umpires provides a human element to the game, umpires were only originally put in place because there were no technological alternatives in 1880, not because Abner Doubleday wanted missed calls. With mordern ques-tec machines, balls and strikes can be relayed faster and with perfect precision, not only making the game more fair but also preventing any potential, embarrasing standoffs between batters and umpires after a questionable call.
Yet the odds of such improvements are unlikely at best. Even next year’s replay expansion has not actually been formally committed to by the commissioners office, having already been pushed back a year from its original release date of 2013. Moreover, Selig has a stated opposition to replays on the bases and for balls and strikes, and even if he didn’t, change would not likely come until the next collective bargaining agreement, which isn’t untill 2017.