Atlanta Braves

MLB Baseball: Braves-Pirates Controversy Intensifies Instant Replay Talks

John Amis, AP
John Amis, AP
Tyler McAdamsContributor IIJuly 27, 2011

Fans and non-fans alike braved the late hours of the night to catch the 19-inning marathon game that ended around 1:25 a.m. CDT, only to be disappointed by this controversial call that brought the game to an abrupt end.

In a game that featured a girl screaming "Let's Go Pirates!" at the top of her lungs, 609 pitches, excellent bullpen work from both teams, 39 men left on base, and a fan collecting a tower of souvenir cups—it would be Jerry Meals' umpiring that took the spotlight in the longest game of the Atlanta Braves franchise history.

Meals had a questionable strike zone for most of the night, but his decision at home plate in the 19th inning warrants two questions: Did he get it right? And how much longer before MLB considers a complete instant replay system?

Did Meals make the correct call? After watching many replays and seeing plenty of frozen images gathered by the Twitter universe, it seems pretty clear that Braves baserunner, Julio Lugo, was tagged out by Pirates catcher Michael McKenry. My first reaction was "not even close" because the throw beat him by a good 20 feet. However, it is understandable that home plate umpire Jerry Meals missed the call.

Put yourself in his shoes. It's the 19th inning, and you've umpired for over six hours. You can't slow the action down, review still images of the play, or view the play from multiple angles. You only have a split second to judge what happened in front of you. Consider that it takes a still image to even conclude that Lugo was definitely out. Meals is just a human, being human.

“I saw the tag, but he looked like he oléd him and I called him safe for that.  I looked at the replays and it appeared he might have got him on the shin area.  I’m guessing he might have got him, but when I was out there when it happened I didn’t see a tag. I just saw the glove sweep up. I didn’t see the glove hit his leg.” (via this article)

Fair enough, right? Not if you're a Pirates fan, or just a fan of the game in general. Clint Hurdle had a right to be furious, and you do too. These types of plays should be reviewable. Playoffs are at stake for both of these teams. Yet this is only one of many glaring examples of why a complete instant replay system should be implemented throughout Major League Baseball. I think it is a fair assessment that we cannot say with certainty that this call would have been overturned upon review.

Home runs are currently the only reviewable play; but more and more game changing plays, particularly ones at home plate, are pushing the envelope for baseball to do something about it. We're talking about costing teams base runners, runs, and most of all, wins.

The Pirates dropped to third place in the NL Central with the loss, and while only being one game back—it's the emotional toll that will sting the most for the Pirates in the upcoming days. You hate to see any game like this end on such a controversial call, but especially so for a team that hasn't had a winning season since 1992. Pirates skipper, Clint Hurdle, nearly popped a vein in his forehead shouting at every umpire, though Meals got the worst of it, as they took their leave from the grounds of Turner Field following the call and end of the game.

"For it to end that way is as disappointing as it gets in a game... The game deserves better than that. The game deserves way better than that." - Clint Hurdle  

David Schoenfield of ESPN has labeled this as the "new worst call ever". That's a bit harsh. While it certainly was not a good call, I don't think it warrants that kind of labeling. We should take the time to remember that Meals was one tired human being. It shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath as Jim Joyce's infamous call, either. No, this actually decided the outcome of a game, and that makes it all the more significant.

We'll be hearing quite a bit about this call over the next few days, and it will be interesting to see what transpires. The scrutiny intensifies with every major blown call, and you have to think MLB officials will cave at some point, just like all the other sports before it. Worst call ever made? No, but I do think it will be controversial enough to make waves through Major League Baseball and move us one step closer to instant replay. As a fan of the game, I just want to see the right call made.


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