Friday, October 08, 2010

Here We Go Again

For the third consecutive year, I'm writing about umpiring controversies in Major League Baseball's postseason. The playoffs are only two days old, and already there have been four calls that are being talked about, and instant replay is—once again—a hot topic.

Unfortunately, two of the four calls being discussed cannot be addressed by the expanded use of instant replay. Those calls, of course, involved the non-strike call on Lance Berkman in game two of the Yankees-Twins series and the check swing call on Michael Young in game two of the Rangers-Rays series. Now, I suppose a check swing ruling could be reviewed, but I'm going to assume this falls into the category of ball-strike calls and—rightfully so—will not be considered reviewable.

So, let's focus on the two plays that potentially could have been reversed by the use of instant replay. Those plays are the Greg Golson catch/no-catch in game one of the Yankees-Twins series, and the stolen base attempt by Buster Posey in game one of the Braves-Giants series. The former had no impact on the game's outcome, while the latter controversial call led to the only run scored in a 1-0 Giants victory, although Tim Lincecum's masterful two-hit, one-walk, 14-strikeout performance probably played a part as well.

Both plays involved situations in which the calls could have been overturned seamlessly. In the case of the no-catch ruling on the Golson play, changing the on-field ruling would have resulted in the final out of the game, so there's no problem there. In the case of the steal attempt by Posey, since he was the only runner on base at the time, ruling him out rather than safe would have had no impact on any other action.

What I'm working up to here is that not all situations are going to be as easy. There are going to be instances when overturning the ruling on the field would be much more complicated, possibly to the point of not allowing the play to be reviewable.

The best way to illustrate this is with an example. Suppose there are runners at second and third, with one out, and a sinking line drive is hit in the direction of the second baseman. The umpire rules a catch as the second baseman gloves the ball, then fires to second in an attempt to double off the runner, but the throw is wild and deflects off the shortstop's glove into left-center field. Both runners score on the play, leaving the bases empty, two outs and two runs in.

The play is reviewed and the on-field call is overturned, as replays show the second baseman actually trapped the ball. What happens next? He never would have thrown to second had the initial ruling been that he had not caught the ball in the air, so you can't allow both runners to score. But, you also can't assume that he would have thrown the runner out at first, especially considering he threw wild to second. So, there's really nothing that can be done, in this case, to correct the umpire's mistake.

This is just one example, and plays like the one I've described here might not be all that common. But, this points to the fact that some calls are not going to be reversible. Given that it's important to be able to define such situations, this also underscores that such definitions aren't always that easy. This is a catch/no-catch call just as the previous Golson example is, but one that is much more complicated.

So, while I'm in favor of the expanded use of instant replay—not just for the postseason, but during the regular season as well—it's just not as easy as many would have you believe. Far be it from me to be a Bud Selig defender, but I feel this is why Major League Baseball has been slow to continue progress in this area.

I also believe, however, that they'll figure it out. I'll continue to be working on my solution. Who knows? Maybe I'll come up with a proposal that is worthy of being sent to the commissioner's office.