Jim Leyland went on a rant against umpire Bill Welke following the Tigers’ 7-4 loss to the Red Sox Memorial Day at Fenway Park. Leyland railed against the umpire for blowing a call on what was called a foul tip, and he was right. Replays clearly show that Welke blew the call on what should have been the third out of the inning, and Boston went on to score three runs in the rest of an inning that should never have been.
This wasn’t the first time this season that a bad call by a Welke. Tim Welke, may have cost the Tigers a ball game earlier in the season. In an 11 inning game against the Texas Rangers last April, a bunted ball clearly hit the batter, Alex Gonzalez, on an attempted squeeze play, but Welke missed the call and the eventual winning run was allowed to score. You might also remember a call that didn't involve the Tigers, where Welke declared an out when the first baseman was three feet from the bag.
As reported by Jason Beck of MLB.com, Leyland said after the game:
"That's fair enough. [Welke] did check, but nobody else saw it."
Following the fiasco in Boston, Leyland wasn't so gracious, as he also ranted at reporters, insisting that they "hold people accountable". Exactly how Leyland expects an umpire is to be held accountable, other than blasting them in the media, is not clear. When an umpire incorrectly applies a rule to a given situation, the game can be played under protest and reviewed by the league office, as with the famous "pine tar incident" between the Yankees and Royals, involving George Brett. But when the man in blue simply blows a judgment call, that’s just too bad. Part of the game. They call that "the human element."
There is one thing that Major League Baseball can and should do to remedy situations such as this. It’s called instant replay. Bud Selig has appointed a blue ribbon panel that includes some of the game’s most respected people to review the rules and make recommendations for changes that might improve the game. One of the people on that panel is Jim Leyland, and he has remained adamant that there is no place for instant replay in the game of baseball. Leyland continued after the blown call between the Tigers and Rangers
"I think you can open up a can of worms with too much replay," Leyland said. "I mean, where do you stop it? ... To be honest with you, normally somebody sees that [live]. One of the umpires sees that normally, in fairness to them. For whatever reason, they just didn't see it."
In 2010, after a blown call by umpire Jim Joyce robbed Armando Galarraga of a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning, Leyland was quick to voice his opposition to expanding instant replay.
"This is the human element of the game, it’s going to remain that way forever — I think it should. I’m sure somebody’s going to say ‘If they had a replay on that play the kid would have had a perfect game.’ Somebody will say something like that but not me. That’s the human element and it’s a good element because the umpires to a great job, there’s no question about that."
Those that argue to maintain the "human element" as part of the game are essentially arguing for the right to be wrong, rather than using technology to get the call right. The technology is there, and has been there for a few decades now, to get the calls right. Yet the powers that be in MLB choose not to use it. While millions of fans watching on television know the correct call, the human element rules the day on the field, and blown calls are allowed to stand, while deserving teams are left to argue and complain, and the only perfect game pitched by a Tiger is wiped out by a bad call.
Instant replay would not only help to correct the bad calls, it would actually speed up the game if done correctly. True instant replay would involve a single umpire, who is part of the umpiring crew, reviewing the plays on a monitor in the press box or at a remote central location, and instantly verifying or changing a call when asked to do so, either by an umpire on the field or by a manager’s appeal, depending what method of appeal is implemented.
No more managers coming out on the field to argue, often getting ejected as Leyland was on Monday. No more umpires having a five minute confab on the field, followed by four men disappearing down a tunnel for 10 minutes, only to emerge and tell us what we could plainly see for ourselves on the TV. No more managers chewing out the umpires and the media, demanding accountability.
There may be cause for optimism that the use of replay will be expanded. ESPN's Jayson Stark said on "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on Tuesday that MLB may be planning to expand replay as soon as the 2013 season. Stark mentioned fair/ foul calls, and catch/ no catch calls, in addition to home run calls, to be reviewed at a central location, such as the system used by the National Hockey league. But apparently, such a system would be implemented over the objections of Jim Leyland.
You want accountablility, Mr. Leyland? Look in the mirror. You’re in a better position than anyone, apart from the commissioner, to remedy this situation. Go to your blue ribbon panel and tell them that it’s time to bring Major League baseball out of the dark ages.
Until then quit your crying. There’s no crying in baseball, especially when you refuse to do what is necessary to make things right. Until then, there is no accountability. Bad calls will be just part of the game. Deal with it.