Why Wider Instant Replay in Baseball Needs to Happen Already

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Why Wider Instant Replay in Baseball Needs to Happen Already
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Umpires probably shouldn't have to make this trip multiple times per game.

Instant replay in baseball was close to being expanded for the 2012 season, but the decision to implement some changes was ultimately shelved in March. 

Deciding that rule changes shouldn't be made until MLB, the umpires and players determined which kinds of calls should be subject to review seemed like the right sentiment—especially when there probably wasn't enough time devoted to fully studying all of the possible issues at hand. 

Where do you draw the line? Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly thinks instant replay should be expanded to cover game-ending plays. But what if a similarly disputable call occurs earlier in the game, yet ends up determining the final score? 

Should the umpiring crew on hand review disputed calls? Or should an official look at replays from the press box? What about the MLB office reviewing calls from league headquarters, as is done in the NHL? 

As most everyone would say, baseball is a slow enough game as it is, so no one wants to see every single questionable play reviewed.

I'm a huge football fan, but becoming increasingly less so because games are now becoming so tedious as play after play is reviewed. The flow of the game is almost nonexistent now. Just about every exciting play is quickly tempered by the reality that a replay could overturn it. Even if it isn't overturned, the delay is a buzzkill. 

But baseball shouldn't be afraid to add to what's in place now. Several plays have taken place in the first month of the season that show expanded instant replay needs to happen sooner rather than later, lest a truly bad call end up influencing the outcome of division and wild card races. 

Here are three particularly troublesome calls from the first month of the season. 

 

Triple play, Padres-Dodgers: Apr. 15, 2012

In the ninth inning of a 4-4 ballgame, the San Diego Padres' Jesus Guzman attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt. The pitch from Dodgers closer Javy Guerra came up and in, forcing Guzman off the plate. But the ball still hit off his bat and landed just behind home plate. 

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
With expanded instant replay, umpires and managers could get along better.

Dodgers catcher A.J Ellis fielded the ball and threw to third base, beginning a 5-6-3 triple play.

But did the ball really land fair or foul? Try to judge for yourself. 

The primary problem with this play was that home plate umpire Dale Scott raised his arms, appearing to signal a foul ball. That's how the Padres baserunners saw it, which is why they stopped running and were each picked off for the triple play. 

This one is a bit tricky, because if the issue was Scott's gesture, then that's not something that would be reviewed. But whether or not the ball landed fair or foul is something that could have been. What if the ball had actually hit Guzman? That's something else that could be looked at under an expanded system. 

 

Suicide squeeze, Rangers-Tigers: Apr. 22, 2012

With the score tied 2-2 in the 11th inning, Texas Rangers infielder Alberto Gonzalez laid down a suicide squeeze bunt that brought home Nelson Cruz for the go-ahead run. 

Leon Halip/Getty Images
What if Tim Welke's blown call affects the Tigers' playoff seeding?

Except there was one problem. The ball ricocheted off Gonzalez's right leg before hitting the ground. The play should have been called a foul ball. Despite protests from Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland and several of his players, the call stood and the Rangers went on to win.

Replays clearly showed the ball hitting Gonzalez's leg. See for yourself.

There was no signal in dispute this time. Home plate umpire Tim Welke simply didn't see the ball hit Gonzalez and ruled the ball fair.

However, upon seeing a replay after the ballgame, Welke told reporters that the ball did indeed hit Gonzalez. He didn't go so far as to say the play should have been called foul since he, nor any of his fellow umpires, saw the ball hit Gonzalez. 

But whether he admits it or not, Welke essentially said he made the wrong call. 

Rather than consult replay after the game was already decided, this should have been addressed during the ballgame—especially when available replays clearly showed that the wrong call was made. Perhaps the Tigers would've eventually lost the game anyway, but they should not have lost because of a blown call that replay would change. 

 

Called check swing, White Sox-Mariners: Apr. 21

Did Philip Humber truly pitch a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners? He didn't allow a hit, and he didn't give up a walk, so yes, that's a perfect game. 

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Was Brendan Ryan jobbed on a third strike call in Philip Humber's perfect game?

But what about the last out of the ballgame, when Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan was ruled to have struck out, instead of checking his swing?

As CBSSports.com's C. Trent Rosecrans pointed out, Ryan would have reached base since the ball got past A.J. Pierzynski. Instead, he chose to argue the call with home plate umpire Brian Runge while the ball was thrown to first base for the final out.

But the real issue is what Ryan was arguing about: Did he check his swing on a slider that was far outside of the strike zone and should have been called ball four? 

Down 4-0, the Mariners probably weren't going to win anyway. Of course, with one runner on base and one out remaining, who knows what could've happened? But it sure looked like Runge got caught up in the gravity of the moment, calling the final out of a perfect game. 

For everyone who touts the human element of umpiring, rather than a day when baseball is officiated by robots, this is something perhaps worth considering. 

Reviewing check swings truly depend on the proper camera angle, and the ones available from Safeco Field weren't necessarily as conclusive as required. If this was a call that fell under review by instant replay, however, baseball could take steps to make sure the proper angles were covered in each major league ballpark.

 

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