By Steve Kallas
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Well, we now have the 2011 Exhibit A for more replay in baseball. Last year, everybody remembers the Jim Joyce botching of a call at first which cost the then-Detroit Tiger Armando Galarraga a perfect game. The calls for more replay, including President Obama’s baseball should “take a look” at more instant replay, eventually went ignored by Bud Selig and the powers-that-be in major league baseball. But at least that was a personal milestone, not a game in the middle of a division race that could be the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. Despite the stupidity of not considering and implementing more replay (maybe a one-challenge-per-game rule), you knew it was only a matter of time before a more important terrible call would happen in major league baseball.
LAST NIGHT/THIS MORNING
So what happened in yesterday’s (this morning’s) game between the Pirates and Atlanta? Well, you’ve probably seen the play by now. Bottom of the 19th (yes, the 19th), tied at 3, two on, one out, Julio Lugo of the Braves on third base, infield in. Scott Proctor of the Braves hits a ground ball to third, fielded cleanly by a drawn-in Pirate third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez makes a clean throw to the plate, the ball beats Lugo by at least five feet and catcher Michael McKenry tags Lugo on the leg about two to three feet from home.
No problem, right? Wrong.
Inexplicably, home-plate umpire Jerry Meals calls Lugo safe. Game over. 4-3 Atlanta, 19 innings. The Pirates, shockingly battling for a playoff spot (tied for first after the loss; would have been one game in front of the Cardinals if play continued and they won – of course, you don’t know what would have happened if the correct call had been made), are handed a devastating loss on a bad call.
Meals explanation? “I saw the tag, but he looked like he oled him and I called him safe for that. I looked at the replays and it appeared he might have got him on the shin area.”
Once upon a time, if the ball beat the runner to a base, even on a tag play, the runner was pretty much called out all of the time. Certainly, over time, you want the umps to take a closer look, especially for those rare instances (although more and more today, where sliding and avoiding tags have become more of an art form used by more players) where a fielder misses a tag despite having the ball well in advance of a sliding runner.
But this bad call is the result of that mind set, that is, it looked like he missed the tag (as opposed to the old days, when it virtually always was interpreted as it looked like he made the tag).
WHAT’S AN UMPIRE TO DO?
Well, here’s another instance of an umpire who should have, at a minimum, called a meeting of the other umpires to see if they saw anything. But it didn’t seem like that happened. Yes, Meals was right there but, if nothing else, it should have dawned on him that he might have missed a play not even close to home plate. It’s a feel thing and, clearly, Jerry Meals didn’t understand the feel part of the job.
WHAT’S BUD SELIG TO DO?
Well, baseball long ago opened the door to replay when it allowed reviews of whether a ball is a home run, including whether it is fair or foul. So it’s not a big leap to allow replay of, oh, I don’t know, PLAYS THAT DECIDE GAMES, like this one.
Indeed, as has been previously suggested in this space, at least give managers one challenge a game. It could have been used in the Galarraga perfecto that wasn’t; it could have been used in the Pirates-Braves fiasco. And, if the manager had already used his one challenge, well, then, that would have been his fault (I only suggest one challenge, right or wrong, to start, because we all know how slow baseball is to come to the party with modern technology).
So, once again, like last year, you will (briefly) hear the cries for obvious, necessary change in the 21st century.
Just don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.
Is instant replay the answer? Leave a comment below.