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It's long past due for the MLB expand the number of plays that can be reviewed with replay. Too much is on the line to leave it up to "the human element."
Editor's note: Originally I wrote this in July but it never ran. Following yet another bad call -- fortunately from our point of view, one that extended the Tigers' inning, though the next time Detroit might be on the other end of it -- I thought it would be perfect timing to let it see the light of day. I've adapted it slightly from the earlier version thanks to the controversial blown call on Sunday. -- Kurt
During a chat session with the Baseball Writers Association of America in July, MLB commissioner Bud Selig said there is "not a great appetite" in baseball for getting the calls correct.
Actually, his exact words were "nobody is anxious to expand replay."
Those who have studied Selig closely will note this is not really news.
In 2011: "I haven't changed my mind. It's not a question of being stubborn, it's a question of being rational about it."
In 2010: "People say to me, 'Bud, does anybody call you about this -- owners, general managers, managers?' And that answer, frankly, is no. I really don't get calls on this."
Maybe there will be a few calls now.
Sunday the Tigers benefited from a blown call at second base which allowed the team an extra out. Detroit batters made the best of it, rapping a couple of hits and adding two runs to the score. Umpire Jeff Nelson, who hustled to get into position but ultimately didn't have a great view on Robinson Cano's tag of Omar Infante, watched the replay after the game and admitted to the pool reporter that his call was incorrect.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, during his press conference, he said that there is too much at stake and there's no reason umpires should be left out to dry when the technology to get calls correct exists.
"These guys are under tremendous amounts of pressure," Girardi said. "It is a tough call for him because the tag is underneath and it's hard for him to see. And it takes more time to argue and get upset than you get the call right. Too much is at stake. We play 235 days to get to this point, and two calls go against us."
Leyland told the media he was in favor of instant replay in some form, though he seemed to take both sides of the issue in his comments. Really, that's nothing new for a manager who asks the media to hold umpires accountable while simultaneously doing nothing as a member of the advisory committee. "I like the human element, to be honest with you," he said. "The umpires do a great job, and at the same time sometimes they go for you and sometimes they go against you, that's just the way it is. But that is the human element of the game."
Fans and some in the media typically deride the umps from the safety of slow-motion instant replay, and too often insults are hurled that umpires hate the game or are just plain incompetent. That couldn't be farther from the truth.
A huge commitment and a lot of ability are required before becoming an umpire at the highest level. Just as with players, managers and team officials, there is often a long apprenticeship up the amateur and professional ranks.
The process could take a decade, with mentors along the way helping to improve mechanics and decision-making while talent evaluators weed out the weakest at every level in order to only allow the best of the best to officiate a major league game.
Until they reach the MLB, professional umpires spend months away from their families, travel in their own old, beat-up cars while hoping to avoid paying any mechanics, and take home a relatively small paycheck for their efforts. All the while, they are getting yelled at by players, managers, fans and commentators.
They do it because they love the game.
But all that love can't help them on a bang-bang play with everything riding on it, and it's little shield when a play is parsed by a frame-by-frame look proving whether or not the umpire blew it.
Umpires don't set out to be wrong. But in a sport with as many snap decisions as baseball, it's going to happen from time to time.
But it doesn't have to. The technology is readily available -- and already used on home runs -- to get the calls correct.
Today, umpires can easily check after a game to see see whether they got a call right or wrong. When it's wrong, they have to live with the fact that they blew it -- and everybody knows it.
Sunday night, Joe Torre, executive vice president of baseball operations for the MLB, told the media about the possibility of expanded instant replay: "We're looking into it. We're not saying it can happen, but right now we haven't really come to any conclusion on what's the best way to go about it and not make the game drag and go longer than they are going already."
The MLB owes it not just to the heavily-invested teams or fans. Umpires should be given the opportunity to get the calls correct before it can negatively affect the outcome of the game.
With so much on the line, the human element ought to be left to the players and coaches, where it belongs.