July 27, 2011
Last night the Braves and Pirates played 19 innings. The game ended on a ground ball by Scott Proctor to Pedro Alvarez at third base. Julio Lugo broke from third base in attempt to score, and the throw from Alvarez to catcher Michael McKenry easily beat Lugo to home plate. McKenry attempted a swipe tag of Lugo's leg as he slid toward the plate. Home plate umpire Jerry Meals called Lugo safe with the winning run for the Braves, at which point Lugo quickly made a second effort to touch the plate. The Pirates and a great portion of baseball fans still awake at that hour were incensed with Meals' call, and the Braves celebrated.
Meals offered the following explanation after the game:
If you would like to know my opinions on the matter, you can check my Twitter feed. Here, however, I'd like to pose some questions and examine some of the evidence in more detail. Rather than simply blasting Meals for incompetence, I believe it is helpful to be more precise about the different questions at hand. I do not necessarily have answers for these questions, and the answers I do have, I'll keep to myself for the moment. Rob Neyer addressed some of these questions in his post on the topic this morning. You can probably find 500 other opinions on the matter without too much effort.
1. If the throw easily beat Lugo, should the umpire automatically call him out, even if he believed McKenry's tag didn't touch him? What if the umpire was unsure about the tag; should the timing of the throw figure into his judgment in that case?
2. Is the video evidence clear enough to overturn the umpire's call? If we had video replay on safe/out calls, what should the standard of evidence be? Overturn of a boundary home run call using replay requires "clear and convincing evidence." The National Football League uses a standard of "incontrovertible video evidence" for its replay system.
3. What does Lugo's reaction (or the reaction of other players, such as the pitcher Daniel McCutchen) indicate? Should a hypothetical replay umpire be allowed or instructed to consider evidence such as Lugo's reaction, or should he be restricted to video analysis of the tag itself?
4. Do you think McKenry's tag touched Lugo?
5. How should an umpire evaluator grade Meals on this play? Was the umpire positioned properly so that he had a good view of the play? What standard of video evidence should be required for evaluation, as opposed to replay? Should these grades or evaluations be made public? Should these grades or evaluations affect an umpire's continued employment, and if so, how?
6. Leaving aside the question of whether this particular call was correct, is there a better system of training that would improve or help to standardize umpire calls in cases like this? Would the use of replay help to accomplish that?
Finally, I want to offer a series of still frames from the MLB video of this call. Perhaps if you find animated GIFs or single still shots of plays like this to be deceiving or the videos too hard to follow, you will find these still shots as helpful as I did.
From the center-field angle:
And from the high third-base view: