At 1:50 a.m. this morning, in the 19th inning between the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates, a call was made at the plate that makes Don Denkinger's call in the 1985 World Series or the Jim Joyce call during Armando Galaragga's quest for perfection actually look good.
In case you missed it, and judging by the hour at which it happened you probably did, here's what happened. After close to seven hours of playing baseball, the Braves have a man on third base in the bottom of the 19th inning. With one out, a ground ball is hit to third base and the third baseman, Pedro Alvarez, throws home to get Julio Lugo trying to score.
The throw beats the runner, a sweep tag is made towards the legs of Lugo and he is called safe. The home plate umpire, Jerry Meals, would later say that "I saw the tag, but he looked like he oled him and I called him safe for that."
The only way to decide if he made the tag or not would be to go to replay. Even with doing that, it appears some people see the tag, while others don't (I'm betting whether or not you see the tag depends on which team you root for).
The human element is part of baseball and the Pirates had many chances to win the game but one game can mean the difference between playing in October or not. With the loss, the Pirates dropped from first in the National League Central to third.
Bud Selig and company have long resisted the call for expanded replay in baseball. The only replay we have at our disposal right now is to determine if a home run was fair or foul, or if it actually left the park or not. That's it.
There is no replay to determine safe or out, or fair or foul on any other hit ball. Those are the calls that determine the outcome of games.
How different would the Minnesota Twins' postseason have been if Joe Mauer's hit was called fair in the 2009 ALDS against the New York Yankees? Would the Kansas City Royals be without a World Series championship if Denkinger calls out instead of safe? Galaragga would have a perfect game if Joyce's safe call was overturned.
I'm not saying every call has to be reviewable in baseball. Leave balls and strikes to the umpire. However, every other call in baseball could (not saying it should) be reviewed rather easily if MLB takes note of how college football handles replays. There are no challenges like in the NFL; instead, there is an official high up in a booth somewhere that reviews every play immediately after it happens. With technology today, a review of a play can occur in less than 30 seconds.
If you're watching a baseball game at home, while a manager is arguing a bad call at a base, you've seen the replay five or six times and know what the correct call is in less time than it takes the manager to get ejected.
With how slow baseball is and how much time there is between pitches, safe/out calls and fair/foul can simply be reviewed by an umpire in a booth between pitches and can signal the home plate umpire or crew chief with a buzzer or something.
The replay system wouldn't be perfect, especially on hit balls because you don't know what would have happened if the play continued (errant throw, etc.) so that would have to be worked out between people much smarter than myself.
There is simply no legitimate reason for baseball not to have replay. It won't slow the game down that much (one or two calls a game maybe would need to be reviewed). The players give their hearts and souls into each and every game and they deserve to win or lose based on their play, not the umpire blinking, being out of position or having someplace to go at two in the morning.
Until baseball institutes expanded replay in some form or fashion, we will have weekly discussions about it because the umpires are human and humans make errors. Based on the umpires in the league now, some of them routinely make errors and the game, the players and the fans deserve better than what we've gotten lately.
Update: The Pirates have filed a formal complaint with MLB. However, just like in the Galaragga perfect game protest, I fully expect MLB to do nothing because "the human element is part of the the game and always has been." This has usually been its response when asked about instant replay or handling complaints about blown calls.
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