Play It Again?

Do you want to watch a ball game--or the Zapruder film?
October 23, 2005

It happens every fall. An umpire misses a key call in a postseason game--or does he?--and the howls began anew for instant replay in baseball.

This year's tempest followed a call by plate umpire Doug Eddings in Game 2 of the ALCS, in which he ruled that a third strike against Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski touched the ground before being caught (page 38). As Angels catcher Josh Paul, who thought he had caught the pitch cleanly, nonchalantly rolled the ball to the mound, Pierzynski ran to first. Pablo Ozuna, pinch-running for Pierzynski, scored the winning run in a 2-1 victory. (Ironically, there is no definitive evidence that Eddings missed the call. Replays were inconclusive.)

As usual, the people screaming the loudest for replay reviews were the media. Players, managers and executives don't think replay is needed, at least on a full-time basis. As Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, it is worth considering only to determine whether a home run is fair or foul or if it cleared the wall without fan interference. (Remember the Jeffrey Maier--assisted home run by Derek Jeter in the 1996 ALCS.) For the ultimate offensive play, in which an umpire must rule on a ball hundreds of feet away, it may be worth stopping the game to make sure it was called right. But as one umpire supervisor told SI, "The problem there is that there is no uniformity in how games are covered. You go to Yankee Stadium, and they have a lot of cameras. But you go to, say, Kansas City, and maybe the game's not even on TV."

As any NFL fan knows, there is nothing instant about instant replay. And more dead time is the last thing that baseball, which has been working to quicken the pace of play, needs. Umpires make snap judgments constantly on borderline pitches and close plays. Their rare mistakes are understood, if not completely forgiven, in a sport that is rife with failure (the .300 hitter makes an out in 70% of his at bats) and embraces the human element.

Viewpoints

HIT

Viewers tuned in to see a new Reggie (Bush) stake his claim as Mr. October. Last Saturday's USC--Notre Dame game drew a 7.9 rating, the highest for an Irish game on NBC since 1994.

MISS

No Yankees, no Red Sox, few viewers. The first three games of the White Sox--Angels ALCS averaged a 7.6 rating, off 18% from the first three games of 2004's Boston--New York LCS.

PHOTOFRANK POLICH/REUTERS (PIERZYNSKI)  PICTURE IMPERFECT
Replays didn't show whether or not Paul caught Pierzynski's third strike.
PHOTOMARK J. TERRILL/AP (BUSH)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)