Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My (What Should Have Been) Fair Lady

Welcome to the Route 30 Detour! US Route 30 intersects at I-95 in Philadelphia and goes from coast to coast, including passing through Pittsburgh and the home of Drexel University SMT student and blog contributor, Bryan Fyalkowski (@fyalkowski)...

When a pitcher has a no-hitter through five innings, he does not really have a no-hitter through five innings. More or less, it is just five innings. The no-hitter warning system does not begin until, say, after six or seven hitless innings. But in Johan Santana's no-hitter on June 1, 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals, the first no-hitter in the history of the New York Mets, the key play came in the top of the sixth inning.

With outfielder Carlos Beltran up to bat, he smoked a ground ball down the left field line. Umpire Adrian Johnson ruled the ball foul, when replays clearly showed the ball hit the edge of the chalk and should have been called fair. Beltran proceeded to ground out later in the at-bat.


As it were, Santana proceeded to complete the no-hitter (which I would love to talk more about if it would not completely distract me from the central idea of this current post), but many are calling for the game to be marked with an asterisk because of the obvious missed call that would have put one in the H column.

St. Louis you jelly?

This situation is exactly the same, yet completely different than what occurred almost two years before to Armando Galarraga, who was robbed of a perfect game when umpire Jim Joyce made the incorrect call at first base with two outs in the ninth inning. So it must be accurate to say that on that notorious June 2, 2010 evening, Galarraga threw a perfect game* just as Santana threw a no-hitter* last Friday. But there are no asterisks in the history books. 

Because you can't put an asterisk on an immaterial object.

Baseball is famous for its commitment to the human element of umpiring, and only recently adopted a replay system solely for the purpose of determining disputed homerun and boundary calls. Fans, players, coaches and executives have so far been indecisive about expanding instant replay to what would be the next logical step: fair and foul calls.

Yeah, that was SO foul.

Carlos Beltran played it aloof. "At the end of the day, one hit wasn't going to make a difference in the ballgame," he said, tongue in cheek. This is absolutely correct in this case, because a no-hitter is just another win. A rare and very special kind of win, yes, but a win nonetheless. In this instance, this call probably did not affect the outcome of the game, but missed calls such as this could do so in the future.

Or already in the past...

A logical solution would be to install a Hawk-Eye system, which is now used on tennis courts to ensure accuracy during challenged shots. Hawk-Eye averages an error of just 3.6mm per call and would be a highly-effective system to implement. However, there is backlash towards this type of idea for four main reasons:

1. Instant replay would make umpires' jobs less important. Some would accuse the MLB of veering in the direction of replacing them altogether if more instant replay monitoring were instituted. Every time a widespread change like this is talked about, it must go through the players union, the owners and the umpires union. Change does not just happen in this day and age just because it is necessary, but rather only if all sides set aside their egos enough to make a deal.

Bob Davidson is the worst.

2. Instant replay would have a high cost of installation and operation. As Ken Rosenthal referenced a source in his article, it would cost the MLB an initial investment of $10 million and anywhere from $20 million to $30 million per year in operational costs to maintain the system. There would have to be special cameras stationed, HD video streaming in some kind of booth or review center in each park and more officials to hire to operate the replays. All of this would cost even more.

Void A-Rod's contract and clear that money right up!

3. Instant replay may disrupt the integrity, history and/or feel of the sport. Baseball is such a historical sport, it is a pastime. There is still a large support group of people, myself included, who believe that the human element is vital to baseball. If more replay is implemented, there is a fear that it will take away even more from a game that is already losing its mojo.

Oh the mojo.

4. Instant replay would make baseball games even longer. An average game is around three hours, and people are afraid that if instant replay is used multiple times per game it would unnecessarily lengthen the game further. One of the biggest complaints about baseball is that it is already too boring for the casual fan, and additional stoppages in play would make their case even worse.


Long story short, my opinion is that MLB instant replay should stay the way it is now because I think the human element for umpires is part of the game. Although they get calls wrong sometimes, umpires do an outstanding job overall, better than we think. One solution is to have a challenge system like the NFL with a set number of plays that can be replayed per game, but having little flags fly around the field from the dugout would leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Enjoy your trip back to I-95 and I'll see you next week!

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff, Bryan. I constantly go back and forth on this topic myself. I agree that they should just keep it where it is for the time being. Replay on homers made sense because umpires had a tough time calling them given the fact that they are so far away. But you are right. Umpires do call a very solid game and it is majorly public cases like this that give umpires a bad reputation.

    What I would like to see more of is umpires using each other for help. I know one umpire doesn't want to step on the toes of another, but on a play in the game between the Rockies and Dodgers where Helton was 3 feet off the bag and Hairston was still called out, the home plate umpire could have helped. That would give the benefit of instant replay and not discredit umpires' jobs.