Cardinals vs. Braves: Does It Take 5.4 Seconds to Consider Instant Replay?

Jack McDonaldContributor IIOctober 5, 2012

Sam Holbrook won't be in the background again for quite some time.
Sam Holbrook won't be in the background again for quite some time.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

5.4 seconds. 

That's how long it took Sam Holbrook to decide that Andrelton Simmons' fly ball to left field was, in fact, a pop-up to shortstop. It's about how long it should have taken for the other umpires to overturn what was clearly a bad call. And to Bud Selig's certain consternation, it's far less than the amount of time we'll now hear renewed discussions of instant replay and the efficacy of one-game playoff series.

For make no mistake, that call could well have changed the outcome of Atlanta's season. Yes, they were down three runs with only five outs left, even if the call was overturned. Yes, they were facing a fresh reliever and likely would've faced Motte next no matter what the umpires decided. But they also would've had the tying run on first, at home, with all the momentum on their side. They would've had a six-time All-Star at the plate with their best clutch hitter on deck. 

Instead, six months of work went up in smoke. In 5.4 seconds.

I have watched baseball constantly for over 30 years, and I have never seen that call made that far into left field, or—and more importantly—that late in the ball's flight. Sam Holbrook has been a major league umpire for 14 seasons. With that amount of experience, if you don't know if it's an infield fly by the time the ball is on its way down, then it isn't an infield fly. If the left fielder can jog from the start to catch it—watch the replay, Holliday had, well, 5.4 seconds to get there—then it isn't an infield fly. 

Sam Holbrook blew this call, and then the rest of the umpiring staff compounded it by not overturning it. The Braves protested the call; with replay, it could have easily been overturned in the time it took to clean the field. Even without a replay system in place for this kind of situation, the umpires had time to go look at the replay, see the whole of the scenario and do the right thing.


They did not, and now the umpires, Selig and the new wild-card playoff system will all be heavily criticized, and rightly so. 

Again, it may have had no bearing on the final outcome of the game. Statistically, it probably wouldn't have. But a one-game playoff must be decided on the field; there can be no margin for an umpire's error deciding it.

If the MLB hierarchy decides that one game can decide a team's season, then their system must ensure that the players alone determine the outcome. Instead, an entire fanbase is inflamed, Sam Holbrook is going to be heavily criticized and we'll spend the first week of the playoffs talking about a single play rather than the thrilling action both down the stretch and yet to come. 

It's this kind of situation that begs the question—if MLB is concerned that replay will lengthen the games, does that mean they're less concerned about fans' accuracy with bottles?

Mr. Selig, please take 5.4 seconds and think about that.