On replay reviews, genies out of bottles, and our nitpicky natures.
Early last week, Yonder Alonso was called out trying to steal second in the top of the second inning. He was initially called safe, but forensic replaying showed he came off the bag just a little bit for just a little bit. The Blue Jays challenged, and Alonso was called out. And then some folks got a little bit grumpy.
The rules say umps should get it right, but not too right.
I’ve been kicking this can for months, looking for a place to dispose of it properly. I could have kept kicking it, too, but for Casey McGehee and Doug Eddings. It was the seventh inning of Friday night’s Angels-Giants tilt, and the Angels had a runner on first base with nobody out. San Francisco led 1-0. Kole Calhoun led off the top of the seventh with a clean single to left field, bringing up David Freese. On an 0-1 count, Freese hit a double-play ball to McGehee at third base. It was a terrifically easy play, leading McGehee just enough to his left to shorten the first leg of the around-the-horn twin killing.
McGehee, however, flubbed it. The ball bounced up past his glove, deflected of his left side and rolled toward shortstop. Brandon Crawford, a great defensive shortstop who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, grabbed the ball and threw to second base brilliantly. It was a great, reflexive, instinctual play, though ideally, he’d have thrown to first base, because there simply wasn’t a play on the lead runner, Calhoun. Calhoun beat the throw, though somewhat narrowly.
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Even a less-than-perfect replay plan is a big success for baseball.
On Thursday, Major League Baseball ended a five-year wait for the expansion of instant replay review. You’ve already read about the details, but the proposal cooked up by Bud Selig’s replay committee comes down to this: managers will be allowed one challenge of a reviewable play from the first inning through the sixth, and two more from the seventh inning on (challenges that prove successful won’t subtract from those totals). We don’t know exactly which plays are part of the plan, but we do know that reviewable plays will cover 89 percent of past incorrect calls, excluding balls and strikes. When a challenge is issued, an on-field umpire will contact a fifth umpire at MLBAM headquarters in New York, who’ll have access to every available video feed and who’ll quickly confirm or overturn the original ruling.
It’s not a perfect plan, and the internet was quick to focus on the flaws. But there’s a lot here to be happy about, and amidst all the fault-finding, I’m not sure the real significance of the proposed system has sunk in. So I’m going to give you the glass-half-full perspective, as opposed to the glass-half-shattered, shards-embedded-in-eyeballs perspective that seemed to take over Twitter when the news was announced.
Robots aren't a realistic solution for all of umpires' ills.
The building I grew up in had manually operated elevators. They were quaint prewar contraptions that required an attendant to slide a metal screen across the entrance and a pull a hand crank to start the ascent and stop at the desired destination. (They looked a little like this.) When you got to your floor, you felt like you’d earned it. Or you would have, if not for the person paid to take you up and down.
Those elevators had been there as long as the building, so they had tradition and inertia on their side. And most of the time, they did the job as well as a more modern elevator. But they had a tendency to get stuck between floors, they broke down fairly frequently, and they were expensive to service. Eventually, it became clear that to complete another repair would only postpone the inevitable at additional cost, and the manually operated elevators were replaced by the boring kind with buttons. I don’t remember any outcry about preserving the historic human element of the elevators, probably because by that point the would-be preservationists were sick of climbing stairs.