This and That

Tom DubberkeCorrespondent IJune 4, 2010

I was busy the last few days preparing for a trial that was scheduled to begin on June 14, but was pushed back today until April 11, 2011.  Such are the courts in California.

In the meantime, I missed the hullabaloo about Armando Galarraga’s blown perfect game and whether or not MLB needs more replay.  I’m already on record as saying they do.

The only thing I would add to what I’ve written before is that my current proposal would be to give each team 40 or 50 challenges per season, with no more than ten per month, three per week or two per game.  If a team uses a challenge and the umps change the call after seeing “clear and convincing” evidence they got it wrong (like Jim Joyce’s call ruining the perfect game), the team would not be charged with having used one of its challenges.

This would create a balance between giving teams an opportunity to correct egregious calls but would prevent more than one or two such challenges by both teams being taken per game.  Replays are too time-consuming to have more than one or two per game.  They should be a rare occurrence designed to correct the most obvious mistakes.

And no, I don’t think umpires are any worse than they ever were.  Instead, the change is that every single game is now recorded digitally from multiple angles from start to finish, which means that every single blown call is now subject to disclosure by instant replay.  Needless to say, this is a relatively new development.

In fact, at the end of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, it has famously been reported that the last pitch (a called strike on a check swing) was outside.  Here’s the only video of it I could find, and you can’t really tell from the angle whether or not it was a strike.

One thing about the YouTube video that I thought was interesting was about the third comment down that the batter obviously failed to check his swing.  Maybe.  However, what was a check swing strike in 2010 was almost certainly not the same thing as a check swing strike in 1956.

Bill James and others have reported that prior to the Second World War, hitters really had to go around for an umpire to call a swing a swing.  In other words, almost any effort to pull the bat back meant it did not count as a swing.

Since WWII, more and more check swings have been called swings, based in part, on the fact that the first and third base umpires enjoy the opportunity to call strikes on hitters.  Certainly, hitters get charged with strikes on check swings far more often than they did in years long past.

The point is that what happens on the field is largely based on human perceptions, which can be faulty, variable and subject to evolution.

However, in a world in which every play of every game is filmed from multiple angles, why not use that technology to get the calls right at least in terms of fair-foul and safe-out calls (I still think a strike is what the home plate umpire says it is)?

Baseball is a very conservative industry, and they don’t make changes until they have to.  However, now that football routinely uses replays and has found a way to make it another element of game strategy (you lose a time out if the refs don’t overturn the call), there is no good reason baseball shouldn’t do the same.