MLB Instant Replay: Controversy in 2011

Gil Imber@RefereeOrganistAnalyst IISeptember 28, 2011

MLB Instant Replay: Controversy in 2011

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    For a professional sports league with the most restrictive replay procedure, Major League Baseball has certainly found ways to stir up controversy with its use of the technology. 

    The MLB instant replay guidelines specify that instant replay only applies to so-called boundary calls: "whether [potential home runs] are fair or foul, whether they have left the playing field, or whether they have been subject to fan interference. The decision to use instant replay will be made by the umpire crew chief, who will also make the determination as to whether or not a call should be reversed."

    Fairly straightforward, right? Wrong.

    Throughout the 2011 season, MLB's instant replay review has had a way of attracting criticism, and this doesn't even include the heated arguments on both sides over the issue of expanding MLB's foray into instant replay review.

    Here are the five most controversial uses of instant replay review that occurred during the 2011 season.

No. 5, September 27, Blue Jays at White Sox: Cederstrom Uses Replay to Check Count

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    MLB's instant replay directive clearly states that instant replay shall only apply to home run and boundary calls.

    Why, then, did umpire and crew chief Gary Cederstrom use instant replay review during the September 27th Blue Jays-White Sox game to determine whether White Sox batter Adam Dunn's count was 2-2 or 3-2, resulting in a three-minute delay

    Even if Cederstrom's unauthorized use of instant replay to determine the count didn't end up affecting a whole lot for two teams that won't be playing in October this year, it is controversial because instant replay review simply cannot be used for a non-boundary call purpose.

    In the end, Cederstrom's decision didn't especially matter. Dunn struck out to end the inning and the White Sox won by one run.

No. 4, May 24, Braves at Pirates: Kellogg Sends Martin Prado Back to Third

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    On May 24, with baserunner Martin Prado on first base and two out in the fifth inning, Braves third baseman Chipper Jones hit a fly ball to deep center field. On its descent, the ball was clearly interfered with by an overzealous Pirates fan as Prado attempted to score from first.

    Umpire Jeff Kellogg and his crew used instant replay review to verify the interference and corresponding two-base award, resulting in Prado being sent back to third base. At the time of the interference, he was on his way to third base, and very likely would have attempted to score on the play. 

    However, as spectator interference immediately kills the play, Prado was not allowed to score, and would ultimately be stranded on third base as catcher Brian McCann would ground out to end the inning. The Braves would still win the contest, 2-0.

No. 3, August 18, Yankees at Twins: O'Nora Ejects Ron Gardenhire After Foul Call

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    On August 18, home plate umpire Brian O'Nora ejected Twins manager Ron Gardenhire for arguing a call overturned as a result of the umpires' use of instant replay review. 

    With two out and one on in the bottom of the first inning, Twins batter Justin Morneau hit a long drive into the right field bleachers. Initially ruled a home run by first-base umpire Jim Wolf, Yankees manager Joe Girardi and pitcher CC Sabathia immediately challenged the call. After reviewing the video, the umpires agreed and decided to overturn the call to a foul ball, a decision supported by the indisputable video evidence.

    An understandably upset Gardenhire sprinted out of the Twins dugout to protest the reversal, resulting in his eventual ejection. Though the Yankees ultimately won the contest, 8-4, one can only wonder how the game would have turned out differently had the home run stood, to give Minnesota an early two-run lead.

    This was the first of two 2011 ejections resulting directly from the use of instant replay review. The other was Joe West's ejection of Charlie Manuel, which is yet to come in our countdown.

No. 2, August 17, Yankees at Royals: DeMuth Upholds Billy Butler's Home Run

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    On August 17, Royals slugger Billy Butler's home run off of Yankees pitcher Bartolo Colon was upheld after umpire Dana DeMuth's use of instant replay review. In this case, the umpire's call provided only half of the controversy. Yankees manager Joe Girardi drew criticism for failing to take a stronger approach in disagreeing with DeMuth's decision.

    After the umpires made their initial, pre-replay home run call, Girardi argued vehemently that the umpires had misinterpreted MLB Rule 2.00, which defines the home run boundary, but failed to protest the game. In a followup interview with the New York Times, Girardi expressed regret at his failure to protest the game, while MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre threw umpires DeMuth and company under the bus: "They got it wrong...and the umpires have to live with that." 

    Because Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium has no ground rules of its own, it is subject to the universal ground rules and official baseball rules. Under those codes, and in contrast to rookie VP Torre's remarks, DeMuth and crew did indeed get the call right.

    Elevating its place in the controversial replay standings is the fact that Butler's upheld tater ultimately proved the difference in the ballgame: the Royals beating the Yankees by a final of 5-4.

No. 1, September 4, Phillies at Marlins: West Uses Replay to Rule Fan Interference

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    On September 4, first-base umpire Joe West used instant replay to rule spectator interference over a boundary call during a Phillies-Marlins game. The resulting call went against the Phillies, manager Charlie Manuel was ejected and Philadelphia filed a protest with MLB. 

    Upon review, it appears West got the call right. Accordingly, MLB Executive Vice President Joe Torre's office elected to deny the Phillies' protest and uphold the Marlins' victory.

    Still, because the Phillies went on to lose by just one run, and in part because the umpire at the center of the dispute was Joe West, this play finishes at the top spot in the 2011 controversial instant replay countdown.

    The Marlins won the contest in 14 innings, on batter Mike Cameron's bases loaded walk-off walk that scored utility player Emilio Bonifacio.