Before last night’s World Series game, before the bottom of the 7th ended with a controversial call and the top of the 8th ended with a flat-out wrong call, Bud Selig spoke to reporters about the state of baseball. Generally, he feels the game is strong, and fifteen years after a crippling labor strike, it is. He also addressed the increased use of technology in the game, and it is here that the Commissioner took a stance.
MLB commissioner Bud Selig said he has been soliciting outside opinion from managers and general managers over the past few weeks and said no one offered a good explanation why the umpiring was so bad in the first rounds of the postseason.
He also declined to call for further use of replay. “The more baseball people I talk to, there is a lot of trepidation about it and I think their trepidation is fair,” Selig told reporters before Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday. “I’ve spent a lot of time [on this] over the past month and will spend a lot of time in the ensuing months as well. I don’t want to overreact. You can make light of that but when you start to think you’re going to have more intrusions — and even if their good intrusions — it’s something that you have to be very careful about. Affecting the game on the field is not something I really want to do.”
Selig has not been quick to embrace new technology over baseball tradition, in part due to worries about the pace of games. “Life is changing and I understand that,” he said. “I do like the human element and I think the human element for the last 130 years has worked pretty well. There have been controversies but there are controversies in every sport.”
Let’s take the 7th inning last night. With two on and one out, Johnny Damon hit a sinking line drive toward Ryan Howard. The Phillies’ first baseman either scooped the ball on a short hop or caught it above the ground on a fly. The first base umpire, standing behind the play, hesitated and that signaled that Damon was out on a line drive. Howard, though, had already thrown to second, seemingly as if to start a double play. Replays seemed to show that the ball kicked up some dirt into Howard’s glove, but even under a fine microscope, it was an inconclusive review.
Here, the call wasn’t the first base umpire’s to make. Blocked by Ryan Howard, he couldn’t see the ball hit the ground or Howard’s glove. At least the umps conferred about the play and upheld the call. On the calls Joe explored a few weeks ago, those ranging from obvious to atrocious, there are no answers. The umpires were in position to make the right calls and simply did not.
I’ve long called for increased instant replay, and last night’s game showed a need for it. I hear Selig’s concerns, but in Game 1 the umpires conferred about the Robinson Cano double play. A video review of Howard’s scoop would have taken the same amount of time. The human element, as Selig called it, has been a part of the game because video replay technological was not available for much of baseball history. Now that it is, Major League Baseball should embrace it to an extent reasonable. When everyone sees the correct call 10 or 15 times on broadcasts and highlights reels, the game is doing itself no favors if it eschews the opportunity to get it right the first time.