The last 12 months of baseball have given proponents of expanding the use of instant replay within Major League Baseball plenty of ammunition.
The evidence to support instant replay is undeniably growing. Many believe now that the question is not “if” but rather “when” Major League Baseball expands the use of instant replay in all facets of the game.
In the one game playoff at the end of the 2009 season that was to decide the champion of the American League Central Division, the Detroit Tigers lost a run when the home plate umpire Randy Marsh failed to award Brandon Inge first base after the ball brushed against his shirt.
In the American League Division Series between Minnesota and New York, last year’s Most Valuable Player Joe Mauer lost a double when Umpire Phil Cuzzi called a ball foul that was clearly fair.
In the American League Division Series between Boston and Los Angeles, Umpire C.B. Bucknor appeared to miss two calls at first base in Anaheim.
In Game Four of the American League Championship Series, umpire Tim McClelland somehow failed to see the Los Angeles Angels tag not one, but two New York Yankee runners off third base.
Earlier this year, Detroit Tiger Armando Gallaraga clearly lost a perfect game due to the blown call by first base umpire Jim Joyce.
These calls as well as several other calls this year are encouraging the chorus to sing loudly and clearly that instant replay is necessary.
The buzzards may now be circling on the issue as ESPN’s Outside the Lines just recently conducted a two week survey of umpiring calls during June 29 and July 11 of this year, and found that 20 percent of the calls made were incorrect.
Baseball however, does not need more instant replay.
What baseball needs now is more Steve Palermo.
Most remember Palermo as the former umpire who came to the aid of two waitresses and foiled an armed robbery outside a Dallas restaurant in 1991. For his act of bravery, Palermo was shot in the spinal cord.
Palermo, considered one of baseball’s finest umpires prior to his injury, still works in baseball as a supervisor of umpires.
When Palermo was asked to give his reaction to the two blown calls in the American League Playoffs last year he pulled no punches. He also gave insight into how baseball could get more calls right so that fans would not feel the need to expand the use of instant replay.
“We could have reversed [those calls]. You know what? We got six guys on the field. One of those other five guys has got to see it.”
What Palermo is calling for is greater cooperation among umpires to help each other, and possibly confer with another on a potential controversial call.
Palermo’s idea seems so simple that it would seem that no one would question his suggestion.
However, while what Palermo is calling for may not seem all that revolutionary, there is a code among some umpires within the fraternity that you don’t question another umpire’s call.
As a member of the umpiring fraternity, I can attest that there are some umpires who believe that not only is it wrong for coaches and players to question their decision, it is wrong for another member of their team to ask them to review their call.
Palermo is not, however, an umpire who believes that it is wrong for an umpire to speak with another umpire about a call even when the other umpire is the crew chief.
“I don’t care. I tell young (umpires), 'Look, this is your first year in the big leagues. You respect the veterans, but you don’t defer to the veterans. If you see something, you go in, because the crew chief will respect you for coming in there and helping out. It’s part of your job to get in there, and tell him to get the play right.'”
There are some umpires in the baseball who fell the same way as Palermo, and who aren’t afraid to call a conference in order to get a call right.
On June 4 this year, the umpiring crew working the game between the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds reversed an initial call made by a member of the team in blue.
Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond slid hard going into third base late into the game on a play in which the Cincinnati Reds had tossed the ball around the diamond a couple of times.
On the play it was undisputed that Desmond beat the throw to the base. However, it was also fairly obvious that Desmond’s foot had momentarily come off the bag at the end of his slide.
Third base umpire Paul Schrieber ruled Desmond safe. Cincinnati Reds Manager Dusty Baker came out to argue the call.
After the umpires conferred for a minute or two, the decision was announced by crew chief Joe West that Desmond was tagged out on the play.
The play was analyzed by several commentators through various media outlets, and all were in agreement that the umpires on the field got the play right.
Now, more conferences among the umpires on the field will not result in eliminating human error in every call made by the team in blue, but will significantly reduce the limited number of errors made by the umpiring crew.
On the pitched ball that struck the shirt of Inge, Home plate umpire Marsh might have made a different call had he had the input of his first base umpire.
The ball hit by Mauer against the Yankees had the umpires conferred would likely have resulted in the Twins having runners at second and third as Mauer’s hit bounced into the stands, and should have been a ground rule double.
Additionally, the tag play by the Angels that was missed by McClelland could have been reversed which likely would have resulted in the rally by the Yankees being thwarted.
Of course, convening umpire conferences will not result in a happy result occurring after every controversial call being made on the field.
Conferences however, may reduce the number of controversial calls to an acceptable number such that fans and players are willing to continue to accept the human element within the game.