Bob Melvin's protestations fell on the deaf ears of Angel Hernandez. (AP)
The blown call in Wednesday night's A's-Indians game may not have been the single Worst Instant Replay Mistake Ever, but it has to be in the running. Even if you're not a fan of either team, it is infuriating on at least seven different levels and a complete embarrassment to Major League Baseball. Consider the following seven reasons:
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1. This isn't about the need for expanding instant replay, this is an egregious error within the system already in place
MLB introduced the technology to handle boundary calls back in late 2008, allowing umpires to review instant replay to determine whether a batted ball is a home run or not. While much discussion has taken place since then about expanding the range of calls that can be reviewed — fair or foul calls down the lines, caught or trap calls, safe or out on the basepaths — none of that has been added to the menu, to the frustration of many.
But this wasn't about some futuristic if-only-it-could-be-reviewed scenario where men with opposable thumbs wonder how they can be used to grasp the obvious, this was exactly the type of call the current system was designed to address. The A's Adam Rosales hit a drive to left-centerfield that at first glance appeared to carom off the top of the wall, and initially looked to be a double. The video, however, made it clear that the ball hit the railing above the yellow home run line before deflecting back into the field of play. A's manager Bob Melvin asked the umpires to review the call, as was his right. The umpires did, but concluded that they didn't have enough evidence to overturn the call. Said crew chief Angel Hernandez, who worked second base during the game, "It was not evident on the TV we had that it was a home run. … I don't know what kind of replay you had, but you can’t reverse a call unless there’s 100 percent evidence."
Amid the mess, ESPN's Jayson Stark offered a potential defense of Hernandez via Twitter: "One possible defense of Angel Hernandez: Umps have complained to MLB they don't always see same replay angles we see. Only feasible alibi." Today, MLB Advanced Media executive vice president Dinn Mann responded via Twitter by saying, "The umpires do have hd monitors and access to extensive replay angles," and added,"They do see the same video, in hd, during the review process. Ability to overrule centrally is missing."
2. Even the Indians knew the call was wrong
Indians closer Chris Perez, who served up Rosales' (non)homer, told MLB.com reporters after the game:
"Honestly, I saw it hit the yellow line and come down. So I thought it was in play still… Obviously, coming back in here, I saw different. Off the bat, I thought it was a homer. He hit it pretty good. It sounded like a homer. But then it came down, and I thought we had some life.
"They went and reviewed it. The longer it went, the more I thought, 'All right. They're going to say it's a homer.' Luckily, the call came in our favor. I don't think I've ever been on the other side of a replay like that, but I've definitely been on the other side of bad calls and missed strikes and stuff like that. It's part of the game. We'll definitely take it."
3. The call influenced the outcome of a game.
The A's were trailing 4-3 at the time, with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. Had Rosales' hit been ruled a home run, the game would have been tied. While Oakland subsequently loaded the bases when Perez hit Eric Sogard and walked John Jaso, Perez induced Seth Smith to hit a game-ending groundout.
Obviously, there's no way to know whether the A's would have prevailed after tying the game, or whether the Indians would have come back to win anyway, but both teams deserved an even shot at determining that themselves, rather than one benefiting from a clear mistake. Furthermore, it's one thing to blow such a call in the early innings, as each team has many chances to work around such a mistake. This one happened when the A's had one out to go, thus increasing the importance of the situation.
Through the Win Probability Added metric, which uses the base-out-score margin situation to calculate each team's chances of winning at any point in the game, one can actually quantify the difference the blown call made. To do so, I went straight to the source: Baseball-Reference.com founder Sean Forman, whose site includes WPA data in each box score. When Rosales came to the plate the A's had just a 3 percent chance of winning the game, the Indians a 97 percent chance. After the double, that chance increased to 11 percent, but had he homered, Forman calculated that the A's would have had a 40 percent chance of winning; the Indians still had the bottom of the ninth to come back. In other words, the A's chance of winning would have nearly quadrupled had the call been right.
Had the same scenario — nobody on, two outs, Indians ahead by one run — taken place in the third inning, the A's would have had a 34 percent chance of winning when Rosales came to the plate, and a 36 percent chance after the double; had the double instead been a home run, Oakland's odds would have increased to 46 percent, a much smaller swing.
4. It's not reversible
There's simply no precedent for a commissioner reversing an on-field result. The replay rules don't allow for the game to be played under protest, which would allow the two teams to return to the spot of the misapplied rule and replay the remainder of the game – which is what happened 30 years ago in the infamous "Pine Tar Game" between the Royals and Yankees, when a go-ahead ninth-inning home run by Kansas City's George Brett was taken away by umpires but restored by American League president Lee MacPhail, with the rest of the action replayed from that point several weeks later.
5. The game has the potential to influence the postseason picture for both teams
One game can be the difference between a team making the playoffs or going hunting in early October, and the addition of a second wild-card team in each league puts four teams in a one-and-done situation before the Division Series even begin. Look no further than last year's AL West race to demonstrate the difference one game can make. The 93-68 A's and Rangers squared off on the last day of the regular season, and Oakland's 12-5 victory gave it the division title with 94 wins. The Rangers, who spent much of the season with the league's best record, were bumped into the wild-card game, which they lost to the Orioles, abruptly ending their season.
The 2013 A's have an 18-17 record after Wednesday night's loss, putting them 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the AL West, and 2 1/2 behind the Yankees in the race for the second wild-card spot. The Indians now have a 17-14 record, two games back in the AL Central and 1 1/2 back in the wild-card race. Had the outcome been different, a 19-16 A's team would have been the ones 1 1/2 back in the wild card, while a 16-15 Indians team would have been 2 1/2 back. Obviously, there's a long season ahead, but what if this same mistake occurred in a game on Sept. 29, the final day of the season?
At the other end of the spectrum, even if the playoff picture isn't altered by the outcome of a single game, a one-game change in either direction can change draft orders and bonus pool money. Given the historical difference in value returned by the overall number one and number two picks — the former has proven roughly twice as valuable as the latter — what if such a blown call changed who got first pick? The fate of a franchise could be changed.
6. This particular mistake involved an umpire with a reputation for making trouble
Following a 2011 ejection, Rangers manager Ron Washington said, "Angel is just bad. That's all there is to it." Indeed, Hernandez is less popular than many third world dictators. A 2011 Sports Illustrated poll of anonymous players included him among the game's five worst umpires. He was among the three worst in a 2010 ESPN poll, and his name has similarly popped up in other such polls for most of a decade.
On an annual basis, Hernandez is involved in multiple controversies, blowing calls left and right with impunity, and acting belligerently towards players and managers. In 2011, MLB took the unusual step of breaking up the umpire crew that included Hernandez and the similarly reviled Joe West due to an excessive number of ejections.
Yet the 51-year-old Hernandez, who's been in the major leagues since 1991, not only continues to work but to receive postseason assignments; he's worked a Division Series in three of the past four postseasons and seven of the past 16, and he has four League Championship and and two World Series assignments in that span, though none since 2005. As part of the umpires' union, he can't be fired, and if he's disciplined, it happens in secret.
Unlike players, umpires such as Hernandez aren't publicly accountable for their mistakes. They're shielded from the typical throng of postgame reporters that players and managers must face even after they make game-changing mistakes. In situations such as this one, umpires will only speak to one member of the media who acts as pool reporter and shares the responses with everyone else. On Wednesday night, that responsibility fell to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, who happens to be the current president of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Hernandez wouldn't even allow the interview to be recorded (a common tactic for anyone wanting to later claim they were misquoted), and wouldn't answer many of Slusser's questions:
I asked several questions about the angles available and the quality of the replay equipment but he repeated only that they did not find that there was enough evidence to reverse the call. I also asked if he believes that it would be better for a centralized office to review plays, much the way the NHL does in New York, and he declined to answer, referring me to the league office.
On Melvin’s ejection, Hernandez said, “When there is a replay, he can’t argue it, no question.”
7. All of this will happen again
Late last year, MLB experimented with two technologies for aiding fair/foul and caught/trapped calls but at the general manager's meetings in November, the league and the teams decided to spend another year researching a more all-encompassing solution that could handle outs at every base. Unlike when the boundary call rule was introduced down the stretch in 2008, there's no plan to implement a new solution in time for the 2013 postseason, and so calls all over the field may continue to be blown.
Furthermore, from the sound of Mann's comments, it sounds as though MLB is unwilling to use the existing technology to centralize the review process at MLBAM headquarters in Manhattan, allowing video reviewers there to advise or overrule umpires' decisions during currently allowed replay situations.
All of this is enough to make a baseball fan tear his or her hair out. A new system can't come about soon enough.