Why Even Instant Replay Won't Save MLB Umpires from Themselves

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Why Even Instant Replay Won't Save MLB Umpires from Themselves
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Dewayne Wise drops a ball that umpire Mike DiMuro ruled a catch.

Just when you think you've seen the worst call a Major League Baseball umpire has ever made, one of the men in blue makes another terrible call that reignites the debate over instant replay and floods Twitter with the "#robotumpsnow" hashtag.

The play that has everyone screaming once again for expanded instant replay was the brutal call that umpire Mike DiMuro made on a Dewayne Wise catch (or non-catch) during Tuesday's game between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians. 

Just in case you haven't seen the play by now, Wise chased after a foul pop-up by Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan, lunging into the stands by the left-field line to try to catch the ball. After falling into the stands, Wise was helped up by fans and held his glove shut, as if he was holding on to the ball he just caught.

Except there was no ball in Wise's glove. And DiMuro didn't even ask Wise to open his glove to see if he had made the catch.

Watch video of the play here.

Let's go over this again, just because it seems so inexplicable. DiMuro, an umpire who is presumably supposed to call them as he sees them, assumed that Wise made the catch and didn't even ask for verification.

That sets quite a precedent in officiating baseball games. Let's just take the player's word for it.

"Oh, you didn't swing at that pitch, Mr. Votto? Well, it must have been a ball then." 

"I noticed where you're holding your glove after catching that pitch, Mr. Mauer. That appears to be in the strike zone. Let's call that a strike!" 

"Wow, that was a great leaping effort at the center field wall, Mr. Trout. Since you have your glove closed, I assume you must have made the catch. I do say the batter is out!"

For DiMuro not to even ask Wise to open his glove is beyond comprehension. Maybe he just got caught up in the moment and chose to believe that Wise made the catch because all the fans in that section were cheering as if he made the catch. Perhaps DiMuro should also have considered that fans were cheering the effort of a player hurling himself into the stands in an attempt to make a catch.

Or maybe DiMuro should have just turned to his left and noticed a fan holding the baseball that Wise supposedly caught.

A fan at Yankee Stadium holds the baseball that Dewayne Wise supposedly caught on Tuesday. (MLB.com)

Of course, just because a fan was holding a baseball doesn't mean he was holding the ball involved in a particular play. Maybe he brought the ball with him. Maybe he bought it in the souvenir shop. Maybe he had a baseball tossed to him earlier in the game.

That doesn't even matter. Because DiMuro should have asked Wise to show him the ball in his glove.

"In hindsight, I should have asked him to show me the ball, since he fell into the stands and out of my line of vision," DiMuro said to reporters after the game, including USA Today's Jorge L. Ortiz.

There's your Captain Obvious statement of the week, folks. You ask to verify what you didn't actually see.

For those demanding wider use of instant replay in baseball, yes, replay would have shown that DiMuro made the wrong call and overturned the ruling on the field. That alone is a reason to institute an expanded form of replay.

But let's look at the more troubling fundamental issue here. An umpire just made an assumption, rather than ask a simple question that would have ensured he made the correct call.

Further demonstrating an inherent flaw in the rules was that one of DiMuro's fellow umpires didn't overrule the call. Maybe none of the other three umpires on the crew saw the play either. It happened very fast, and each of the three officials may not have been in a proper position to see whether the ball was caught. After all, DiMuro was right there as the third-base umpire.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Umpire Mike DiMuro doesn't need to see a play occur before making a call on it, apparently.

However, even if one of the other umpires had seen that Wise didn't make the catch, he wouldn't say anything unless DiMuro asked for help in making the call. That is an intrinsic problem with the current system of officiating baseball games.

Instant replay isn't going to change bad umpiring. It may help make sure the correct call gets made and provide a view that an umpire missed with his own two eyes. But what if the umpire just made a monumentally bad call, such as when Tim Welke called Jerry Hairston out at first base despite Todd Helton being at least a foot away from the bag when he made the catch?

Yes, instant replay would change that call too. But it puts a bandage over a wound that needs surgery. Replay covers for a bad call, but it doesn't prevent the bad call from being made in the first place.

This is where Jim Leyland had it right a month ago. Major League Baseball needs to hold its umpires accountable for the work that they do. If the umpires are doing a poor job, they need to be reassigned, demoted or fired. It happens in virtually every other line of work, so why not in this case?

Robot umpires now? How about we just make sure there are better human ones on the field first? Instant replay should be in place to help umpires make the right call, not to make the right call for them.

 

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