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The umps blow a would-be replay moment in the Cubs-Braves game

Apr 6, 2010, 9:15 AM EDT

Piniella argues.jpgI’ve noticed a lot of great camera work in the first two days of the baseball season. That ESPN matrix-vision thing they used to show the double-steal on Sunday night was pretty spiffy. That Mark Buehrle gem was covered from a zillion angles. Also captured really well?  Nate McLouth having the ball pop out of his glove as he made a diving non-catch on Marlon Byrd’s shot to center in the sixth inning of yesterday’s Braves-Cubs game. There was an umpire huddle, but despite the fact that 53,000 fans in the ballpark could see the non-catch on the jumbotron and millions of viewers at home could see the same thing, the original call — out — held up.

I don’t want Lou Piniella to be able to throw a beanbag out onto the field to challenge that, nor do the umpires or any right-thinking fans.  But how easy would it be to have umpire #5 — with his generously-sized tushy resting comfortably on an Aeron chair in front of a couple of TVs up in the press box — simply buzz the crew chief on his walkie-talkie, say “hey, I know it was easy for you to miss because it happened on the upstage side of McLouth’s body, but the ball squirted out,” and have the correct call made? It would have taken 11 seconds.

The umpires would get credit for making the right call. More importantly, the right call is made. Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?

  1. RobRob - Apr 6, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    What would be the ruling? Two bases? You obviously can’t go back and reconstruct the play, so you have to come up with an arbitrary result, like an automatic double.

    Sounds reasonable to me, and it’s way more appealing to have an umpire in the booth making these calls than to leave it in the hands of the coaches or umps on the field.

  2. Ross - Apr 6, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    And that wasn’t just a one out mistake. That call and subsequent double play (Aramis was standing on 2nd while Byrd thought he was safe at 1st) is the difference between 2 men on with no outs and no men on and 2 outs. Not saying that was the difference in the game, but we don’t know that the Cubs couldn’t have made 1-3 runs there. Or none. We do know the odds of them tying the game at that point made a giant faceplant.
    Torsion Director.

  3. Megary - Apr 6, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    Amen, brother. (baseball is like religion, no?)
    .
    If done right (a big if, for sure), replay in baseball could be as unobtrusive and reserved as a John Garland fastball.
    .
    I firmly believe that opponents to replay just assume it has to be meshed into the game with new flag throwing rules and administered to fans as if it was a pirate flogging from Captain Lash, much like that other “sport” does it. But it doesn’t have to be so complicated, or time consuming, or obtrusive.

  4. Ross - Apr 6, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    It would have to be case-by-case. In this case, McLouth threw it in fairly quickly and Aramis made no attempt to go to 3rd…he was still standing on 2nd when they threw to 1st (and Byrd was standing on 1st and taking his armor off when the throw came in). Men on 1st and 2nd, no outs. In some cases, yes, you can reconstruct the play and sometimes you’ll just have to invoke ground-rule double rules.

  5. Old Gator - Apr 6, 2010 at 10:14 AM

    I’m on the fly again so I’ll try to remember an old joke about umpires the punchline of which was, “It ain’t nothing until I call it.”
    .
    Since Craig has abandoned the most honorable profession on Earth to blog baseball (although I understand there are in fact more honorable professions on Tatooine and Porno), I guess it falls to me to play Devil’s Advocate here. I’m not entirely comfortable with my client but then I doubt if any of my lawyers were ever especially comfortable with me. Anyway, I think instant replay ought to be scrapped altogether and baseball returned to the pristine condition in which it subsisted before last season. Before Ron Blomberg, actually, but I’d be happy for small favors.
    .
    The umpire is a direct and necessary participant in a game, and therefore a blown call is a play, plain and simple. It is as intrinsic a play in baseball as an errant pickoff throw, a dropped popup, a foul tip that bounces off the plate into the catcher’s cup and leaves him lingering between the fear of death and the fear of not dying. The necessary corollaries to the blown call, the managerial tantrum, ejection and fine, are also….plays, as in, “Bad play Leo.” If games can be decided by a two out home run, they can, and should, be decided by a blown call. There are nine guys on the field on each side in baseball (ten in designatedhitterball, but that’s so boring and already corrupted that I really don’t give a meerkat’s patootie whether they muck it up even further with instant replay or not). The problem with this perfect symmetry of nine and nine is its predictability. The added tension, the added capriciousness of having four more men on the field, any one of whom can elect at a given critical moment-any moment – to join your opponent’s team and then withdraw in an augenblick to the safety of his faux neutrality and official privilege. This adds immeasurably to the frisson of the game. As a matter of fact, I think it enhances the game to have the deciding play occur in the first, third or seventh inning rather than in the ninth and in such a way that its true significance cannot be assessed until the game is over (and sometimes beyond, when the infinitesimal chance that a protest will be upheld forces the game to linger, impossibly, beyond the twenty seventh out in a state of pure speculative suspension) – the game takes on a complexity, a richness, an ambiguity visible only in retrospect and is all the richer for it.
    .
    In short, the blown call transforms the game from some boring and invariable Newtonian process to a Heisenbergian quantum universe wherein anything can and does happen, sometimes simultaneously. God doesn’t play dice with the universe? Well, it’s been proven that he does. Umpires should inflect our cutting edge knowledge of the universe and play dice with the game.

  6. willmose - Apr 6, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    Umpires make mistakes. Get over it. Why not have the fans watching decide instead? Let all the fans text whether or not they agree with the umpire’s call on EVERY pitch and play. The fifth umpire should watch the game with a fifth of Jack Black and overrule the fans went any call is unfavorable to the Yankees, Red Sox or Mets. With the fifth man the Yankee-Red Sox games would last at least five hours, and perhaps five days when the review every pitch thing comes in because someone didn’t like a called third strike.
    Craig, you need an editor. As you strike each key it will be electronically transmitted to the editor. The editor would judge each key stroke to make sure it is correct and to his/her liking. Whole sentences would be sent to the legal department to check for liability. This, of course, would apply to your tweets as well. As a loyal reader, I demand that your writing is perfect.
    Don’t bother with the ground rule double thing. Hire psychics instead.

  7. fordprefect - Apr 6, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    Well said, Mr. Old Gator.

  8. Jay - Apr 6, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    Did you ever think the call was made wrong on purpose?
    How about firing the umpire?
    Anyone can do this job. The base umpiring in baseball is awful.

  9. El - Apr 6, 2010 at 11:00 AM

    Regarding the necessity of retaing the ‘Human Element’ – Why stop with the umps?
    Enjoy the frission of a raw hotdog and then finding your parked car towed from the preferred lot because a few other employees demonstrated their human fallibility.
    The umps are there to get it right.
    If they can’t or won’t, get them gone.

  10. ralphdibny - Apr 6, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    I must agree with Old Gator on this one. I do not want to see baseball emulate football in any way, and certainly not in this way. Instant replay doesn’t make the arguments go away, people. All it does is change the arguments into something much less interesting. Did McLouth have possession of the ball before he landed? Can the ground cause a fumble? Where should the runners be placed? Perhaps the answers in this instance are clear, but the example of football shows us that camera technology will allow us to make finer and finer distinctions until we completely abandon human perception altogether.

  11. Lawrence A. Herman - Apr 6, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    You’re not serious, are you? You want Heisenbergian baseball, play Strat-O-Matic.
    You can’t take away instant replay. It’s right there on TV, and it always will be there. The only question is whether you’re going to let the people making the decisions have the actual information or not.

  12. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Apr 6, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    and baseball returned to the pristine condition in which it subsisted before last season

    Hopefully this comment is tongue in cheek, because if not it is so far below someone of your intelligence. Anyhow…

    If games can be decided by a two out home run, they can, and should, be decided by a blown call.

    How do I put this delicately, but you are out of your damn mind. There’s no excuse letting an umpire’s decision, which is easily corrected, be the deciding factor in a game. Your job as an official, of any sport, is to get the calls right. If you have modern technology that allows you to do so, it should be used to ensure accuracy, fairness, and allowing the better team to win the game.
    You can’t honestly believe that allowing the games to hinge on people’s mistakes is good for the game.

  13. Luis - Apr 6, 2010 at 1:44 PM

    Obviously a game can and frequently does hinge on a person’s mistake – which is fine, as long as that person is a baseball player (ok, managers/base coaches too). The flaw in ye olde reptilian’s logic is plainly stated in his post, when he calls the ump “a direct and necessary participant” in the game. Participant, fine – in the most literal sense this is perfectly true – but it seems a mistake to simply equate the umps with the players/managers. The umps are there as arbiters of the action, not active participants. As others have already stated, their only job is to get the calls right…not to be individuals and imbue the game with this vague notion of some “human element.” If the technology exists to help them perform their jobs better, then resisting it is simply willful ignorance.
    .
    This is the kind of mindset that would find the wild variances in different umpires’ strike zones “quirky” and “charming”…instead of infuriating.

  14. Professor Longnose - Apr 6, 2010 at 2:44 PM

    Heisenbergian? Yes, I see. But is it the position or the velocity that we will sacrifice measuring?
    I think your cat is dead, Old Man.
    And your argument is omega-incomplete.

  15. Old Gator - Apr 6, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    My cat was eaten by one of the feral Burmese pythons that now infest Macondo many years ago. I tried to warn them that we had a serious problem developing but they dismissed me with comments like, “what would you know about it? You’re an English teacher!” Well, it serves me right for even bothering to warn other English teachers with cats. The bastards ought to see the pets I have now. Right, Friendo? But back to Heisenberg, after his cat died so half-tragically: the problem is that since we already know that observation itself affects outcome, it stands to reason that the call would be affected by the number of fans of a given team both in the stadium and at home watching on TV (MLB.com doesn’t count because the picture is so awful that no one can tell what the fark is going on anyway). In last night’s case, clearly there were more Braves fans watching the game and the umpires called the play the way they saw it. Who’s they? Heh heh, there’s a little nugget of indeterminacy for you to suck on.
    .
    Replying to Church of the Perpetually Outraged: if you’re really convinced that I’m out of my mind, I have to arrange for you to meet and have coffee with someone else who agrees with you, namely, my ex-wife. With so much in common, you two might really hit it off and, who knows, the upshot of it all might be that in a few months I won’t have to pay alimony any more.

  16. KkD - Apr 6, 2010 at 4:02 PM

    Sorry Calc and/or other right-thinkers but you can’t have it both ways; you can’t write replay off while it’s continually being shown day-in and day-out during games from baseball to hopscotch for the whole world to see and then expect fans not to jump on umpires who can’t possibly be expected to get it right all the time in the first place. There’s no fathomable reason it can’t be incorporated into the game with an at-most 30-second delay for any & all possible angles available to the “5th guy with the walkie-talkie” approach. We shouldn’t let the long delays in football dissuade us into at least a minimal stance to take care of such blunderous calls as was made in yesterday’s game, even when it stared them in the face. Isn’t it equally annoying when the opposing manager has to go onto the field and argue with the umps for 15 minutes over a blown call? If we don’t want replay in any way shape or form and want to preserve the “human element (you mean, umpire errorment?)” of the game then the commissioner should DISALLOW ALL REPLAYS from being shown during games, which means official scorers also get their one and only one chance to get it right as well – just don’t bitch when it’s your team that gets the shaft end of an obvious stupid miss- or no-call.

  17. Route36West - Apr 6, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    I think that was a very classless thing for McClouth to do. He should of owned up to it and let the umps know he didnt catch it. They were huddled up for a while and he had every chance to show some respect for the game and let them know what happened.
    Instead he hid and acted like a child trying to get away with spilling food on a white coach” If I dont say anything maybe it will just go away”
    MLB wants to brag about how classy and pure there league is and how there players respect the game while they look down at the other sports leagues and there players.
    They need to look at what McClouth did and realize there players are no better then anyone elses.

  18. funi - Apr 6, 2010 at 6:01 PM

    The stinking Cubs still lost by 9 runs! Do nto cry Cubbie fan, there are alot more games like this during the 2010 season! CUBS LOSE, CUBS LOSE CUBS LOSE!!!!

  19. Professor Longnose - Apr 6, 2010 at 8:08 PM

    Nein, Old Man. Your Phlorida Physics have let you down. Observation affects measurement, not outcome.
    You are mixing Schopenhauer and Heisenberg worse than at any faculty mixer I have ever been at. What is the eignenstate? Is the cat out or safe? Until we open the video, we must conclude that, inexorably, Marlon Byrd has collected both an out and a hit at the same time.
    We must recalculate everyone’s statistics.

  20. Old Gator - Apr 6, 2010 at 9:33 PM

    Well, in baseball measurement and outcome aren’t so easily distinguished. They say baseball is a game of inches (at least here; I suspect they say centimeters in countries where the metric system prevails) – but then, judging from my spam, they apparently say the same thing about love. Now I won’t be too crass and segue neatly from that topic to faculty mixers, so I’l segue sloppily. Quite a number of years ago – I’m going to guess it was about 1978 or so – I met Jacques Derrida at a faculty mixer thrown in honor of his epic visit to Cornell University. He was a little silver-haired pixie of a guy, and he went around with his head enveloped in a cloud of cigar smoke not unlike the mountaintop in The Crawling Eye. And what a cigar! Pardon the transgendering but in deference to Freud, if you wanted to search nature for a genital protuberance the same size in relation to the creature sporting it, you’d need to default to the ovipositor on an ichnuemon fly (Megarhyssa alfredichneumonensis). I had had, ahem, a few drinks (I was still young, relatively speaking) and asked him why he had to write in a style that, at the time, I considered incoherent. He smiled and – I swear this is the Buddha’s own non-indeterminate truth – replied that he wrote that way because it drove women wild.
    .
    Really.

  21. Professor Longnose - Apr 7, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    Women–the universal excuse. Perhaps they are also responsible for the bad umpiring.

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