Baseball’s opportunity to make up for 28 years of blown calls

The year was 1985… The St. Louis Cardinals were up 3 games to 2 on the Kansas City Royals with a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 6 of the World Series… Rookie closer Todd Worrell was on the mound and Jorge Orta was at the plate… Orta hit a high chopper to the right side of the infield that first baseman Jack Clark fielded then tossed to Worrell covering first… Don Denkinger, the 1st base umpire ruled Orta safe… The Royals went on to score 2 runs in the inning to beat the Cardinals in game 6, then rode that momentum to a game 7 blowout of the Red Birds the next night…

I just watched the replay multiple times on You Tube… With Orta charging down the line, Clark moving in and far to his right to get to the ball, and Worrell pulling off a Texas two step over at first base to get his foot on the bag, there was a lot going on to say the least… Watching it in real speed I could not definitively tell you whether or not Orta was safe or out… Then, take into account Denkinger’s awkward positioning and it is very easy to see how and why the call was missed… Yet, with just one replay from a different angle than Denkinger had, there was no doubt that the toss from Clark had beaten Orta to first base and Worrell did keep his foot on the bag… The blown call changed baseball history…

The amazing thing is that the replay was actually available and easily accessible 28 years ago…  Just seconds after Denkinger blew the call, the video footage and legendary play by play man Al Michaels alerted the entire country of the mistake… Of course Major League Baseball knew that the wrong call cost the St. Louis Cardinals the World Series… Of course MLB also knew that the technology was and has been available to prevent another such disaster… Since 1985, every other major professional sport in the United States, as well as several collegiate sports, have all managed to adopt some form of replay… Yet, for years Major League Baseball buried their head in the sand while technological capabilities continued to improve the overall integrity of every other sport but their own… It was not until 2008 (the same year Little League baseball introduced a replay system) that MLB hopped on board, sort of… They installed a review system that included questionable home run calls ONLY,  but still nothing that would have righted Denkinger’s wrong that fateful night in Kansas City…

Opponents to having a replay system have long argued that it would increase the length of a game that is already too long… They have also defended the “human” element and have not wanted to alter a game which is historically very rich in tradition… The matter of fact is that life is about changing and adapting to an ever evolving world… Over time, we as a society have been constantly challenged… Through the years, we have answered many of those challenges both socially and economically…  In my opinion though, what our generation will long be remembered for are the technological advancements that continue to push the envelope on a daily basis and shape the world that we live in…  We are generation “NOW”… This is the “that was so 10 minutes ago” day and age… We all have a choice, including MLB,  to either embrace it or get left behind… That’s just who we have become as a whole… Therefore, instant feedback, response and correction are all part of what people living in the 21st century have come to demand and expect… Major League Baseball has finally made the decision to conform next season… Replay will officially be expanded and as of now everything with the exception of balls and strikes could potentially be up for review…

So long as actual people continue to play the game the “human” element will always be there… For those of you sickos who actually like the “human” element of umpiring, need not worry, just watch the NFL and realize you will still have plenty of opportunities to chastise the men in blue with or without a replay system in place… When it comes to the concerns of the potential lengthening of the game, this should not be an issue… In a trial run in the Arizona fall league this month the average review time was 1 minute and 40 seconds… Compare that to an epic Earl Weaver or Lou Pinella tirade that often times lasted over 3 minutes and I can make an argument that replay will actually shorten games… Going to miss those classic melt downs by hot head managers? I don’t blame you but don’t fret… Just ask A’s manager Bob Melvin how easy Angel Hernandez can blow a call on the field and then screw it up again in the video room…

So now that Major League Baseball has so kindly joined the rest of the sporting world in modern times, the question becomes what is the best way to implement the review system? Being late to the party could actually benefit baseball, they should be able to learn from all of the other sports replay successes and failures… Although the official rules are not set, it appears that managers will probably have two challenges… If they win a challenge, they will not lose a challenge opportunity… In my opinion, regardless of how MLB wants to set it up, the only thing they should be concerned with is making sure they get EVERY call right… I don’t care if the challenge comes from either one of the managers, a member of the umpiring crew, a player or some dude sitting in a box 3,000 miles away… ALL questionable calls should be looked at whether the score is 0-0 or 10-0 in the 1st inning or the 9th…

The NFL has had replay since 1986 and still continues to puke all over themselves on a weekly basis… Major League Baseball has a very unique opportunity to nail it the first time around, but in order for them to do so they must realize the more we use our “human” ability to embrace technology the better off we will be as a society and the better off baseball will be as a sport… Personally, I am obviously thrilled that MLB has finally decided to expand replay and it is no doubt a step in the right direction toward ROBO UMPS that I look forward to seeing in the near future… Unfortunately though, for Don Denkinger and the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals, the review system was put into place 28 years too late…

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2 Responses to Baseball’s opportunity to make up for 28 years of blown calls

  1. Steve Scott says:

    Eric,

    Up until about two years ago, I was old-school on replay because I saw the failures in the NFL. And I hate when baseball incorporates lame NFL rules. But now I’m a “get the call right” advocate. Here’s my idea:

    Ditch the “red hanky” challenge system, as to get it right, mangers need unlimited numbers of challenges. Instead, incease the umpire crews by two umpires. Four will be on the field, two in a high-tech box with high-def and access to both teams’ TV feeds. They can make corrections on the spot just like Al Michaels did in 1985. The umps rotate between bases each day just like they do now, but with two additional games in the box before going back down to the field. Challenges could also be made by each team’s TV crews because they have the evidence.

    I think this would work far better than getting a feed from 3000 miles away on a 4″ screen viewed under a hood.

    • Matt says:

      Same here, Steve. I started off very old school on the whole replay thing (let the human element reign!) until around 2010. In the playoffs that year, the Giants benefited from a huge blown call at second base (Buster Posey stealing second, still out by five feet, called safe, eventually scores) that, along with Brooks Conrad’s glove, cost the Braves a better chance at victory. Also, I think that’s the same season where Phil Cuzzi called Joe Mauer’s “double” at Yankee Stadium foul even though it was clearly fair by a few feet.

      I totally agree about the extra umpires in the booth, even if it’s just one extra guy. My only worry is that having an extra 15 guys on umpiring crews around the league would dilute an already barely-qualified group of people even more. Think Angel Hernandez is bad? Basically every fill-in vacation umpire from the minors is worse, albeit minus the attitude.
      I’m sure MLB would balk at having another 15 umps on the payroll, even if it meant fixing all these replay issues. I’m just worried that adding another half-blind luke-warm body to the rotation in an umpiring crew is gonna cause more problems than it solves.

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