The defining story of the first week of the major league postseason was that the umpires had the worst series of anyone outside of the Cardinals organization. It began in the Twins-Tigers one-game AL Central playoff, when Randy Marsh missed a hit by pitch that would have scored a go-ahead run for Detroit. It picked up with three missed calls on the bases in the Phillies-Rockies Division Series opener, followed by two badly blown calls by CB Bucknor at first base in Red Sox--Angels Game 1. Then there was the inexplicable game-changing miscall by Phil Cuzzi along the leftfield line during the 11th inning of Yankees-Twins Game 2. Finally, on Sunday, the Phillies' game-winning, ninth-inning rally was aided by plate ump Jerry Meals, who let Chase Utley run to first on a grounder that hit Utley's leg and should have been ruled a foul ball.
This run of mistakes, however, may be the best thing that could happen to major league baseball: Clearly the human eye is no longer the best tool for the job. With high-definition cameras that have frame-by-frame capability, there's no longer any need to wonder whether the ball hit the glove before the base runner's foot hit the bag—we know.
That's important. The human element so often cited when an umpire makes a critical error is a poor excuse for an obvious mistake. If a first baseman, such as Kevin Youkilis, tags Howie Kendrick well before he reaches the bag, that's an out. If a fly ball, such as the one Joe Mauer hit against the Yankees last Friday, lands a foot inside the foul line, the ball's in play. The players, not the umps, should be determining the outcomes.
MLB can go a long way toward eliminating inconsistency by utilizing technology that's in place in other sports—while creating umpire jobs. Baseball, which already reviews disputed home run calls, should move to a system akin to that in college football, where every call is monitored by an off-field official. If there's a questionable one, he can ask for a timeout and review the play. His word is final. This system would cover everything but balls and strikes; while they form the basis for most complaints about umpires, reviewing of every pitch is impractical.
October 18, 2009
The most common objection to expanded replay is that it would cause delays, but as proven in pro and college football, fans are most interested in getting the call right. Just ask Twins fans if they had five minutes to spare last Friday night.