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The overturning of the Pete Kozma play last night was a preview of the upcoming challenge replay system

Oct 24, 2013, 7:41 AM EDT

World Series Cardinals Red Sox Baseball

Watching the umpires overturn Dana DeMuth’s awful call on the would-be double play ball dropped by Pete Kozma last night made me wonder about the upcoming expanded instant replay system. Hearing Joe Torre talk about it with Ken Rosenthal a couple of innings later made me wonder even more.

My biggest takeaways from it are that (a) it may reveal why baseball wants a managerial challenge system for upcoming expanded instant replay; and (b) it illustrates a pretty big problem with the the managerial challenge system.

In case you missed it DeMuth, the second base umpire, originally said Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma lost the ball while exchanging it from his glove to his throwing hand, getting Dustin Pedoria at second base. He obviously did not, and thanks to the umpires conferring on the play and overturning their colleague, the right call was made.

Observations:

  • The correct call was made, but the entire process took a long, long time. We had the call, one manager arguing, the conference of umps, then the other manager arguing. Ultimately, it led to a delay in play of several minutes.
  • While long overall, once the umpires conferred, it was pretty clear that all of them except DeMuth knew that the call was blown. Arguments aside, the actual decision to overturn DeMuth was pretty quick once the umps focused on it. Like, less than 30 seconds quick.
  • Getting to that conference was interesting, though. It was hard to tell the timing from television, but it appears as though that the other umpires conferring to overturn the call didn’t happen until Sox manager John Farrell came out to argue.
  • When Joe Torre was asked about the overturn later, he noted that he knew the call would be overturned once he was the umpires “converged” or “collapsed” or some word like that. Either way, it was a telltale sign to him that they knew the call was wrong and it would be changed. He said it as if it happens routinely.

Takeaways:

  • How often could other umps overrule their colleagues because they saw the play better? I suspect a lot.
  • How many blown calls are known to be blown by the other umpires but are never overturned because either the manager doesn’t come out to argue like Farrell did or because it’s not as big a situation as that one was on as big a stage as the World Series? Again, I suspect a lot.
  • If umpires are able to confer — to collapse — as quickly as they did to get the call right and if Torre is so confident in them doing that that he knew what was going to happen when they did, why does he and Major League Baseball lack confidence in a replay system driven by the umpires — say, a 5th one in the booth — and want a managerial challenge system so badly?

I suspect that last bullet point is explained by the first couple of bullet points. Baseball worries about umpire ego and knows that, absent Farrell coming out to argue, they’re not going to convene and overturn their buddy out of some dumb code of umpire solidarity. As such, they want to make them do so (via video anyway) upon a manager’s challenge.

Of course, if we look at last night’s overturned call as a defacto manager’s challenge — which I think it kinda was, only without the video — we can see how long that process might take. Sub out Matheny’s arguing, which will presumably not be allowed under the new system, and replace it with the time for a video review. A review that, in this obvious case at least, wouldn’t really be necessary, but which will likely conform to this sort of time frame.

Given MLB’s concerns about delays in the game, and given its apparent confidence in umpires getting together to get calls right, and given the speed with which the calls are correctly made once umpires actually do get together to confer, I don’t understand why MLB doesn’t simply MANDATE umpires getting together to confer in the form of a fifth umpire up in a booth. Instead, they’re forcing these conferences (i.e. video reviews) via the time-consuming manager challenge.

In this case, the call was right and that was good. And in this case the call would be right under either replay regime.  One would take about 30 seconds, however. The other took several minutes and required a rare instance of umpires not acting defensively when one of the managers came out onto the field to challenge them.

Why MLB wants to institutionalize the latter system, then, is beyond me.

  1. paperlions - Oct 24, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    Kudos to the umps for getting the call right. What is inexplicable is that it required the manager to argue and for it to be a WS game for them to do this. In the regular season, this call is never over turned….which is odd. Almost every year a single game determines at least 1 playoff participant, obviously regular season games are very important as well.

    • skeleteeth - Oct 24, 2013 at 8:09 AM

      I like how Rosenthal asked Joe Torre if he had ever seen a play like that overturned, which if you remember both Buck and McCarver stated they had never seen it prior to Torre’s interview, and Torre saying yes in fact it has happened or is not as rare as you would think. He also said zilch about instant replay other than they are still talking about it and trying to figure out if it is necessary.

      • bfunk1978 - Oct 24, 2013 at 9:59 AM

        That may just show you how little baseball Buck and McCarver watch outside of their own broadcasts.

        OTOH, I’ve seen umpires get together and get the call right before.

    • gostlcards5 - Oct 24, 2013 at 1:27 PM

      I totally agree, paper. Also, it is not just odd, but freaking stupid, that calls like this don’t get overturned in the season more. If one of the other umps sees something blatant like that, they should call time and confer anyway. Although, I can imagine how that conversation might start…

      – “Hey, Dana, what in the hell were you looking at there, because I saw that play from 100 feet away, and you were maybe 10?”

  2. 8man - Oct 24, 2013 at 8:15 AM

    It’s been a long time in coming. And usually you need an incident on a grand stage to push the final distance. Hopefully, what we saw last night is a lesson to all professional sports leagues that to maintain the integrity of their games, the chief objective is to get the call right and to implement a system in which that happens.

    There is no room for egos here. Just get the damn calls right!

  3. vallewho - Oct 24, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    I blame Bud and the unions.

    • moogro - Oct 24, 2013 at 12:47 PM

      That’s exactly right. MLB doesn’t want a challenge system. It is being forced upon them by the umpire union. Sadly, the umpire union is doing it out of fear, thinking pitch f/x and HD replay are going to undermine their power. It is just the opposite: pitch f/x and the fifth umpire in the booth would work in concert with on-field umpires, giving them more job security, not less, in this technological age. The challenge system they proposed is all about asserting power and visibility of umpires into the game for job security reasons. It is an attempt to forestall the pitch f/x and fifth umpire system which is bound to be inevitable.

  4. jdv22 - Oct 24, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    I think it is often overlooked how this sort of thing never happened before because of the reluctance of an umpire to undermine (show up?) his colleague. Yes, yet another antiquated reason, but it was certainly part of it none the less. I am really happy this was sorted out and made right.

    Now where is Armando Galarraga when you need him?

    • larrytsg - Oct 24, 2013 at 8:49 AM

      Well, Jim Joyce was there!

      OK, all kidding aside, umpires (for their entire careers) are programmed to do the following:

      1- Call it like you see it
      2- If it’s close, make a descision, and “sell the call”
      3- Don’t change your mind, and unless you think you REALLY botched the call, don’t ask the other umpires for help.
      4- NEVER, and I mean NEVER overrule another umpire on a call.

      #3 probably comes in once or twice in an umpire’s career, spanning decades and thousands of games.

      As an umpire (Little League, but the same technique applies here), you are caught between trying to watch 2 things at the same time, the ball going into Kozma’s glove, and the footwork at the bag/Pedroia’s arrival, and the human eye cannot see both things simultaneously unless you’re quite a distance away, like at home plate or on TV. So what you’re doing is watching the ball, and as soon as your brain says it’s on the way into the glove (from say inches away from the glove), you switch to the bag, and listen for the ball’s arrival.
      These guys at the MLB level turn the double play so gracefully, and so regularly, that it was DeMuth’s assumption that the ball landed in the glove and was probably lost/dropped on the transfer, and there was no way for him to see that while being 15-20 feet from the play while watching the bag. And if he calls his buddies over and says “Guys, I didn’t see it, did you?” he would never have made it to MLB.

      The other 5 umpires had a much better view, as most of them could see both the ball and the bag at the same time based on their distance from the play, and they saw the ball squib out of his glove. But under the umpire rules they cannot go over there and say “DeMuth, you blew it” unless DeMuth asks them what they saw.

      • happytwinsfan - Oct 24, 2013 at 9:27 AM

        “And if he calls his buddies over and says “Guys, I didn’t see it, did you?” he would never have made it to MLB.”

        then that’s the problem. it should be the other way around, unless you’re honest enough to ask for help when, being human and only having two eyes, you didn’t see everything you never make it to MLB level. maybe this is mostly the fault of the people who run the umpire selection / promotion system.

      • jm91rs - Oct 24, 2013 at 11:03 AM

        I’ve seen umps call a guy safe and then out when they realize the ball was dropped. I don’t know why he didn’t look at the ground and see the ball and say “safe”

      • gostlcards5 - Oct 24, 2013 at 1:29 PM

        @jm91rs – It’s because it wasn’t a question of whether he dropped the ball. He thought that Kozma had caught the ball and dropped it when he was trying to transition it to make the throw.

  5. sdelmonte - Oct 24, 2013 at 8:38 AM

    I think the concern is that there will be a lot more resistance to replays during the regular season. And that a dozen replay moments in a game will be a lot more of a drag than one challenge reply.

    I think the real story here is simply that an ump made an obviously bad call, and it was fixed. Though I have a feeling that the Sox would have scored all those runs anyway.

    • stex52 - Oct 24, 2013 at 9:59 AM

      You can make the argument that 1st/3rd with two outs and Wainwright doesn’t have to come in to Napoli, he can walk him. But I am inclined to agree with you. Wainwright was a great deal less than sharp for the first three innings, and I think he was going to crash one way or another.

  6. jimmyt - Oct 24, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    They got it right and that is all good and well. Now when will you address Jon Lester’s Vaseline loaded glove and the cheating that has become synonymous with Boston Sports?

  7. geofferystevens - Oct 24, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    Glad they corrected the call. I think the whole transfer rule should be changed though. Since the catch and throw are one continuos motion the fielder should have to maintain control of the ball thoughout the process same for any fielder. To often on double plays and outfielders going to a base they rush through the process and often don’t secure the catch prior to transferring the ball. Its to subjective. A dropped ball should be just that.

  8. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Oct 24, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    MLB always has to do everything so damn back ass-wards. They really need to get control over the umpire’s union and change the culture of umpiring in baseball. No other sport allows it’s officials ego to get in the way of performing their duties properly. It’s absolutely ridiculous. The very first two bullet points from this article should give MLB and the Umpires Union reason to hang their heads in shame.

  9. prov1x - Oct 24, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Where were umpire conferences in 1985 and the blown call by Denkinger?

  10. The Dangerous Mabry - Oct 24, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    Conspiracy theory time: This was staged by the umpires as an exhibition to prove that replay is unnecessary, because the umpires get the calls right without it. They discussed and overturned the call on a big stage so the whole nation would see how dedicated they are to getting the call right, and how ego isn’t an issue with these hard-working cooperative men that are far more interested in getting the calls correct than they are in looking like they themselves are perfect.

    (I’m not saying I think this is the case, but it’s fairly compelling as far as conspiracy theories go)

    • jcmeyer10 - Oct 24, 2013 at 9:50 AM

      Can I have the tinfoil on your head, I need to wrap my burrito. :D

  11. watermelon1 - Oct 24, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    This whole “huddle” thing is BS.

    MAYBE one of those umps saw the play correctly. Maybe two. But stop preaching “it was clear every other ump knew the original call was wrong.”

    The only real solution to this is replay. Have an ump in the booth that reviews the replay immediately and has communication to the home plate umpire.

    Saves time and is more accurate.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 24, 2013 at 11:06 AM

      MAYBE one of those umps saw the play correctly. Maybe two. But stop preaching “it was clear every other ump knew the original call was wrong.”

      They all knew it was wrong, here’s crew chief John Hirschbeck’s quotation:

      The other five umpires were just as sure that DeMuth had it wrong. Upon conferring, crew chief John Hirschbeck wanted to know one thing: Did everyone else see the same thing he did? “I hear all five of us say, ‘We’re 100 percent,'” Hirschbeck said. “And then I said, ‘All right, we need to change this.’ It’s as simple as that.”

      http://deadspin.com/what-dana-demuths-blown-call-means-for-instant-replay-1451316278

    • Panda Claus - Oct 24, 2013 at 12:54 PM

      I’m pretty sure in that picture of the huddle you can see paper, scissors, rock going on.

  12. drewzducks - Oct 24, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    Torre must have selective memory or be in the early stages of dementia because he was in the middle of two of the most memorable overturns in MLB history. The Bellhorn homerun and the A Rod wrist slap. He must have already erased them from his memory.

  13. metintodd - Oct 24, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    The thing is if Farrell doesn’t argue the call, the umps never huddle and reverse the call. That is simply wrong. It is crazy that all the umps knew DeMuth botched the call yet they would have kept the mouths shut and let the game proceed until Farrell came out to protest. That is screwed up.

  14. chip56 - Oct 24, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    Craig – a World Series game is going to take 3 to 4 hours anyway – whining that the process of the arguing and then the review and then the follow up arguing took too long is like arguing that Joe Tacopina is what makes Alex Rodriguez unlikable.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Oct 24, 2013 at 11:01 AM

      Fact: there are over 2000 non-World Series games a year. This might possibly be relevant to them.

      • chip56 - Oct 24, 2013 at 11:07 AM

        Fact: Those games also run from 2.5 – 3 hours in length. A five or even ten minute argument isn’t a big deal. And arguments like what happened last night aren’t frequent occurrences anyway.

      • cur68 - Oct 24, 2013 at 12:31 PM

        Fact: The two of you prompted me to go look at youtube videos of Jim’s pranks on Dwight. I laughed. Thanks.

      • grumpyoleman - Oct 24, 2013 at 4:21 PM

        Fact: Arguments are fun to watch. Waiting around while a bunch of people stand around waiting for someone upstairs to make the call will most likely entail flipping the channel or starting a load of laundry/

  15. jm91rs - Oct 24, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    1) When the Neighborhood play disappears I hope a slide like the one Pedoria made gets called as an automatic out.
    2) I missed that part of the game, but the ump actually called him out originally? Even in slow motion the ball isn’t in his glove, in real time it had to be obvious he never had it.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 24, 2013 at 11:07 AM

      DeMuth didn’t see the ball enter (or technically not enter) Kozma’s glove. Here’s his quotation:

      “My vision was on the foot. And when I was coming up, all I could see was a hand coming out and the ball on the ground. All right? So I was assuming…It’s an awful feeling, especially when I’m sure that I had the right call.”

      http://deadspin.com/what-dana-demuths-blown-call-means-for-instant-replay-1451316278

      • pastabelly - Oct 24, 2013 at 11:29 AM

        It is kind of scary that DeMuth said he was sure had the right call and and also admitted that he never saw the play. It’s even scarier that the replays show that this “looking at the bag” stuff they are saying now appears to be BS and that DeMuth appears to be looking at the entire play. He wasn’t on top of the bag and had a good vantage point to see both. People say that the other umpires actions “took him off the hook”. You could say that the other umpires called out DeMuth for making a blatantly outrageous call. It will be tough for this guy to live this one down, reversed or not. It showed an example of horrible umprining on the biggest stage. There is a distinction between bad and outrageous. DeMuth found the latter quite easily.

      • gerryb323 - Oct 24, 2013 at 11:33 AM

        I actually thought the video replays did show that he was looking more at the bag than the glove

      • moogro - Oct 24, 2013 at 12:51 PM

        Conformation bias.

      • larrytsg - Oct 24, 2013 at 1:02 PM

        This is exactly what I said above. Umpiring is NOT easy or simple, and no, I have absolutely no aspirations to umpire a game above the Little League level, but it’s just not possible with the human eye to see both the ball entering the glove AND the footwork at the base at the SAME TIME while standing between 15 and 20 feet away.

        So you have to make a choice, and try to see as much of the play as humanly possible, so you watch the ball until the point where it is coming into the glove, and then switch to the base to see what’s happening there, all the while hoping that if something weird DOES happen, that you’ll see it.

        This was obvious from TV, and probably from the other umpire positions about 100-150 feet away from the play, but up close and personal, it’s not possible to see both things at the same time.

        Try opening a cabinet in your kitchen, place something colorful around eye level, and something else on the floor. Walk 10 or 15 feet away from it, and see if you can concentrate on both things AT THE SAME TIME. I don’t think it can be done.

        I read somewhere (I think it was a book called “Why we make Mistakes” http://www.amazon.com/Why-We-Make-Mistakes-Without/dp/0767928067/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382633799&sr=8-1&keywords=why+we+make+mistakes ) that the human eye is only able to see a few degrees in the center of our vision with accuracy, and we fill in the rest from what we saw previously or what we assume is there.

        So I can see how he assumed that the ball was caught cleanly and the ball popped out on the transfer, because he switched his view from the ball to the bag at that instant, and when he went back he saw what he assumed to be a transfer bobble.

        I guess the problem here is not so much that he blew the call, but that Farrell arguing was the only way to get the umpires to huddle and compare notes. There is a lot of pride in making your own calls, and not having the other umpires second guess you on close plays, but on something like this it should be an automatic huddle. Same thing with the Jim Joyce call on the perfect game (if it was truly seen correctly by the other umpires). In addition, if DeMuth KNOWS that he might have blown the call, he should ask for a huddle and review……

      • gostlcards5 - Oct 24, 2013 at 1:36 PM

        I disagree with you a little bit, Larry. I started umpiring at the little league level this year also. I understand how DeMuth made the mistake, but if you’re far enough away, you can train your eyes to see everything in the field of view, rather than tunnel-visioning on one aspect of the play. I’ve found that this is evident from my own good, borderline, and bad calls, especially on plays at home/3rd when I’ve been behind the plate. It is a learned ability, for sure.

      • thetruth323 - Oct 25, 2013 at 12:57 PM

        @larrytsg Not sure how many years you have been umpiring but what you describe is exactly why you get 15 feet away and get the right angle. You are trained to see foot, bag and transfer of ball all at the same time. That is what as umpires we are paid to do and get it right. DeMuth anticipated this one, he toasted it completely because major league players aren’t supposed to make such simple mistakes. In some aspects umpiring a MLB game is easier than high school or little league. These guys make the right play at the right time 90% of the time. All you have to do is get set up properly, trust what you see, process what you see and make the proper call.

  16. gerryb323 - Oct 24, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    What’s interesting to me is the audio from the conversation between crew chief and Matheny that Fox played later. Crew chief says “all 5 of us were 100% sure that he was safe” or something. Meaning the 5 other umpires.

    Shouldn’t the first base umpire be focusing on first base for the impending double play? Shouldn’t the third base ump be getting in position to call a potential play at third (there was a runner on second). Shouldn’t the home plate ump be preparing for the possibility that the runner on second (Ellsbury, fast) decides that he’s going to try to round third and head home in case of a botched double play?

    How all 6 umpires were only watching the play at second boggles my mind…

    • gerryb323 - Oct 24, 2013 at 12:45 PM

      I don’t really understand the thumbs down. I guess I’ll stop wondering out loud.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 24, 2013 at 2:15 PM

        The guy below you made a comment on why all the umps were focusing on second.

  17. thetruth323 - Oct 24, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    I have umpired baseball at various levels for the past 20 years and all I can say is it is awesome that these discussed this and got the call correct. As to how he missed it in the first place all I can say is it happens, your eyes play tricks, you glance away at just the wrong moment, but this one was brutal. As an umpire you have a primary responsibility on every play dependent on where runners are and where the ball is hit. You are also taught to follow the ball, so for example on this play the first base umpire on a ball to second will follow the ball as he prepares for his call at first base. He will clearly see the initial play at second. The third base umpire will be taking the runner from 2B to 3B on this one, so he will certainly be able to see the play at 2B while he follows the runner. Bottom line is that with more open communication amongst crew members it will be possible to get nearly every call correct. Wish this had been a regular practice so that replay didn’t become a necessity. Cheers.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 24, 2013 at 12:21 PM

      Can you comment on the inference made above? I refereed soccer for ten plus years and we were taught to use the assistant referees for help if we couldn’t see clearly. Is there a reason this doesn’t happen more in baseball? The asking for assistance?

      • larrytsg - Oct 24, 2013 at 2:04 PM

        Unfortunately baseball umpires (even at the lowest levels like Little League) are told to make the call, and if you are not the ump making the call, you shouldn’t say anything until either the other ump asks for your opinion or the manager asks you to huddle.

        It’s kind of like the check swing strike/no strike call, you don’t ask the other umpire his call until the catcher asks you to get the second opinion. Until that point it’s your call…..

        I think the culture should change on something like what we saw with DeMuth last night (or Jim Joyce a few years ago), where the other umpires can call a huddle on the field if they are pretty sure the call wasn’t right and other umps saw it, but on close or bang-bang plays, there’s no way other than video to verify the call.

        Also, umpires are assigned responsibilities based on where they are located on the field, and it’s not their place to say anything on a call that’s not in their realm of responsibility.

        Another good read is “As They See ‘Em” by Bruce Weber

      • thetruth323 - Oct 24, 2013 at 2:15 PM

        Huh? You mean doing something that makes sense? Baseball is weird, umpires are taught that if it is their call, they own it! Especially as one moves up the ranks. So tradition, ego, lots of things play into it. I work a lot of 2 man games and there is a lot going on so it is hard to get help on a lot of plays. However if I think I might have missed a call and my partner may have had a better angle and the coach asks correctly, I have no problem getting help. In a 6 man rotation like during the MLB playoffs and World Series there are plenty of eyes out there, no excuse not to get help.

    • gostlcards5 - Oct 24, 2013 at 1:59 PM

      Agree totally.

  18. sanzarq - Oct 24, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    Matheny knew that Demuth had blown the call by the time he came out to argue. You can’t tell me he didn’t see a replay or that a cardinal “eye in the zky” didn’t clue him in that the call was totally blown. He should have been shooed off the field immediately & told to quit wasting his time jockeying for position on the next blown call. $10,000 fine for Matheny! What a JERK! Cards lose in 5.

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