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I should offer a disclaimer before I even get deep into this article. I’m a fan of instant replay in baseball and am happy that MLB decided to bring it’s decision making into the 20th century. I also think MLB should’ve waited until next season so that every team would’ve had an equal number of games to be able to use it.
However, the one item that was interesting compared to pretty much any other sport with instant replay is the following item (courtesy of the press release from MLB.com):
The decision to use instant replay will be made by the umpire crew chief.
That is, if Ed Hickox thinks Terry Francona is acting in a very annoying manner (I’ll censor what my original word was so that this blog can reach a larger audience, but, it referred to a body part. And no I don’t think Francona is that, just trying to use an example that was not Yankees-centric) he might take that into consideration when he decides whether or not to use instant replay. Even if the call is so close that it’s clear there’s need for it.
MLB likes to claim that it’s umpires are clean and do their job in a fair and unbiased manner, but I think we’ve seen many incidents of that not being the case. And I think the NBA gives us good reason to worry about umpires being allowed to influence the game by judgement instead of by rules.
What this decision is going to shed light on is the fact that umpires are not well regulated in baseball. Yes, Questec exists and is in the majority of stadiums, but when’s the last time that you heard an umpire was punished for poor performance from it? And MLB.com’s Gameday product allows you to see the path of pitches from the pitchers hand to the plate. So you can see just how well a home plate umpire is calling balls and strikes.
For example, Paul Byrd was given a strike call against the Yankees on a pitch on the white of the right handed batter’s box, but Sidney Ponson couldn’t get a strike on a pitch off the plate but closer than Byrd’s pitch in the same game. Sure MLB.com removed the strike zone so that it’s not as easy to tell if the umpires are truly messing up the borderline calls, but it’s not that hard to figure out with some rotating of the camera.
Furthermore, I think we have seen umpires setting up for plays at bases at subpar angles. So now, while home run calls will be disputable, an umpire can still be too lazy to get the right view to see that Robinson Cano did tag Jose Lopez much before he got to second…and he will be able to think he’s right.
So does everyone see my point by now? Whether it be because of gambling on the game, some possible conspiracy, or just umpires needing to get a swift kick to the butt, umpires can choose to make a bad call and not be punished for doing so.
For a sport where the writers moan on about the integrity of the game, that they don’t criticize the lack of regulation of umpires is quite amazing. Of course, the way the umpiring contract is set up does not lend itself well to making regulations (MLB and the umpires negotiate a deal much like the player’s association does with MLB). More than anything, the validity of the calls on the field can ruin the future of the game. It’s time for the owners, the players and the umpires to step up and give the fans a better product on that end.