“Yer blind, ump. Yer blind, ump. You must be out of your mind, ump,” goes part of the refrain from the opening number to the Broadway musical Damn Yankees. Don’t we know it.
On Monday afternoon, in the first inning of the final game of the Yanks-Blue Jays set, Derek Jeter tried to steal third with no outs in the bottom of the first. While we can argue — and have — the baseball smarts behind the decision to steal, Jeter was seemingly safe at third. The throw from Toronto catcher Rod Barajas arrived at the base before Derek did, but the Yanks’ short stop snuck his hand around the incoming tag from Scott Rolen. Replays clearly showed he was safe.
Marty Foster did not agree. He called Jeter out, and the normally placid captain erupted at the explanation. As Jeter said after the game, “I was told I was out because the ball beat me, and he didn’t have to tag me. I was unaware they had changed the rules.”
According to Jeter, Foster, the third base umpire, actually said to him, “He didn’t have to [tag you]. The ball beat you.” Joe Girardi got himself ejected arguing the call and tempered his critique. “I didn’t care for the explanation,” Girardi said. “Just leave it at that. There has to be more to it.”
Of course there has to be more to it than that. It’s the rulebook. A player not forced out has to be tagged out. He isn’t out if the ball gets there first; he’s out if he’s tagged with the glove holding the ball or just the ball before safely reaching the base. That is not what happened today.
After the game, the press wanted to speak with Mr. Foster, but he pulled a cowardly move and didn’t show up. Instead, he asked John Hirschbeck, the crew chief and representative umpire to the press, to talk to the reporters. Hirschbeck was lukewarm in his support of Foster. He called Jeter “the classiest person I’ve been around” and noted that Derek doesn’t argue unless he feels wronged. “It would make his actions seem appropriate if that’s what he was told,” Hirschbeck said of Jeter’s reaction to Foster.
In the end, Hirschbeck said he’d chat with Foster about the call later and weakly called the whole thing a learning experience. “Marty asked me to handle things today,” he said. “We hopefully learn from our experiences. It’s the only way we get better at what we do.”
Hirschbeck and Foster will have their talk, and then Major League Baseball will probably discipline Foster behind closed doors. We’ll never know what happens, and the Yanks won’t get a chance to play out a game they could have won had the right call been made. In an age of instant replay, in an age of DVR, that’s just not an acceptable solution.
Umpires have long been under attack from technology. While traditionalists like to promote the “human error” aspect of a baseball game, the truth is that we root for our team to win fair and square. We don’t want to see the histrionics of the umpires, and we don’t want their perception of a play — the nostalgic idea that the ball arrived first so the player is out — to cloud what really happens when we know that what really happened isn’t what the umpire called.
Baseball has options. They could institute a form of limited replay review. Contrary to what the naysayers naysay, review doesn’t slow down the game any longer than Joe Girardi’s on-field protestations do, and reviews of plays such as the one at third today don’t impact the sacred integrity of the game — which, by the way, is sacred only because the technology didn’t exist when the first ump took the field.
While I see the merits in Beyond the Boxscore’s call to use pitch f/x to call the games, I don’t want to see the human element completely removed from the field of play. There is something to be said for having people and not computerized cameras call the game. Still, what happened on Monday and the subsequent explanations are not acceptable. Foster should have to face the press, and no team should have to put up with the explanation he gave Derek Jeter at third base today.