On Galarraga, Joyce and instant replay

“Come sit on my lap and let me tell you why your great-grandfather is the reason Baseball finally adopted full instant replay.”

–Jim Joyce, 2038.

Hey, you have to search for the silver lining, right?

Craig Calcaterra at NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk has it right:

It is absolutely imperative that baseball implement some form of replay now. This season, before the playoffs. The best way, in my view, is to simply station a fifth umpire in the official scorer’s box. Give him the same feed the broadcast guys have. Give him a buzzer and, when an obviously bad call like this one happens, have him call down to the crew chief and overturn the call.

I’d take it a step further. While the logistics of the in-park review system are designed and implemented, put somebody at headquarters on a monitor for each game. Give those people–I don’t care if they’re summer interns–a hard line to whatever phone in the ballpark connects to someone able to stop play immediately.

Why am I being so dramatic? Because Major League Baseball has on its hands this evening the mother of all public relations disasters. I’m not going to pull a Roy Williams here, but I will say this: Baseball’s response needs to be swift and forceful. Perhaps even needlessly wasteful. Anything to assure fans that every effort will be made to never miss an easy call again. There’s simply no excuse for this situation. None. Whatever time or nostalgia would be lost by implementing replay (if any) is now dwarfed by the gaping hole tonight’s call left in baseball history.

There is only one response Baseball can make to this disastrous event, and that response does not include the phrase “We’re looking into it.” A long-term solution can’t be worked out overnight, except…you know what? It can. And it starts with, “There will be a review process implemented across Major League Baseball as soon as humanly possible.” No conditions. No qualifiers. No equivocation. If there isn’t a full-fledged system tested and ready by the playoffs, Baseball will have lost more credibility with this fan than it has over any of the events of the last two decades.

Jim Joyce is getting killed tonight, and, yeah, he screwed up. But we’re only having this discussion because, for several years now, the powers that be have resisted adapting the game to changing technology. This was, unfortunately, bound to happen. There was going to be a Jim Joyce. Baseball has left its umpires out to dry, and whether it was the twenty-seventh out of a perfect game, a fair/foul call in a one-game playoff, or a questionable tag-up in the World Series, Commissioner Selig’s office doomed the game’s history to this fate by its obstinacy.

Armando Galarraga won’t get tonight back. Even if Baseball retroactively awards him his deserved perfect game (which it shouldn’t, but that’s another column), he won’t get the leap into Miguel Cabrera‘s arms. And he won’t get the mob on the field. He won’t get his brilliant moment of immortality. Instead, no matter what else he does in his baseball career, he’ll be remembered for losing a perfect game on a bad call that didn’t need to stand. And Jim Joyce will forever be That Guy, which is bad enough for one night. Try that tag on for eternity and let me know how it feels.

Major League Baseball failed Galarraga, Joyce, the Detroit Tigers, all the game’s fans, and the game itself by resisting change for far too long. It is Bud Selig’s immediate and primary duty to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again. While no system will be in place to protect another perfecto bid this season, blown calls are a certainty. And several of them will have the potential to materially affect pennant races. Nothing happening in baseball tomorrow is more important than figuring out how to reverse those calls in time to protect the fairness of the game.

Baseball has been on a costly, messy witch hunt for the better part of a decade under the “level playing field” flag. The entire time, it foolishly and stubbornly refused to ensure that the most precious commodity in the game–the out–is distributed fairly. Changes must be swift in coming and thorough in effect. We’ve heard for too long about the importance of protecting the integrity of the game to wait another day for replay’s implementation throughout baseball. Fair or foul? Catch or trap? Safe or out? The players, umpires, and fans deserve the right answers to these questions, and they deserve them before another pitch is thrown. The changes aren’t due tomorrow. They were due several years ago.

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Comments

  1. Jim said...

    What really matters is not whether they get the call right in some absolute metaphysical sense.  What matters is that they not blow calls that we all can see.  That’s why I like Joshua’s fifth-ump-with-a-feed solution.  By the way, this is also the proper answer for the NFL.

  2. Josh Fisher said...

    Jim—

    Thanks for the comment, but I can’t take credit for the idea; it’s a popular one, generally, and Craig over at HBT seems to be leading the charge.

  3. James M said...

    I think implementing instant replay in the regular season would be a huge mistake.  One of the wonderful things about baseball is its 162 game schedule renders these kinds of mistakes statistically insignificant.  The important thing to remember is that the game really only has one statistic, W-L record.  All other stats are created as an afterthought, in order to better understand and enjoy the game.  Even in this case the mistake does not affect the outcome of the game.  And remember, Joyce missed a call the inning before that gave the Tigers 2 extra runs.  If the game is 1-0 in the 9th maybe Mike Redman gets pinch hit for, who knows.

    What happens if replay is implemented and we can now keep track of how often each ump misses a call?  i doubt the unpires union would go for that.

    The playoffs are a different matter.  Small sample sizes reign supreme and the slightest mistake can change the outcome of the whole postseason.  Use replay there.

  4. Josh Fisher said...

    Sara—

    I understand looking to other sports’ models to see what works and what doesn’t, but baseball needs to take advantage of its one opportunity to design a system from the ground up. And no system is acceptable in which one obvious error is unchallengeable because, at some point prior, there were OTHER obvious errors that required correction.

  5. Larry J said...

    It’s ridiculous UMPIRES even exist in MLB – sure, there’s tradition, so if we’re so into ‘tradition’ why not give up our cars and bring back the stage coach and give up the post office and use the Pony Express.  Baseball – more than any other sport, would lend itself TOTALLY to electronic umpiring, cameras, sensors – even the strike zone. 

    Everyone is complaining about the length of games. As George Will points out there is correlation between the length of the games “problem” and the expanded and inconsistent strike zone.

    A couple of camera angles isolated on bases (OK, maybe 3) and using a 3-dimensional K-Zone – all financed (with $$ left over) from Umpire salaries.  So, why are we so upset with steroids ruining the true performance of the players on the field? Don’t umpires missing calls also effect the performance on the field – like no Perfect Game or even the Cardinals losing the World Series a number of years ago – because of one call.

    If there’s anything more unwatchable than Umpires missing calls in Major League Baseball it’s the NBA refs.

    Umpires are outdated – everyone knows it! Isn’t there an official scorer already in Baseball – let that person (or persons) be the Replay official. And then, Play Ball.

  6. tbliggins said...

    You realize you are talking about Selig and MLB, right?  I have complete faith that they will screw this up and suspend Joyce, while they let boobs like West and Hohn skate.  Armando loses his perfect game, Joyce loses his reputation, and Selig is still commissioner.  Worst case scenario all around.

  7. Tom said...

    Can’t wait until they implement replay in MLB for every call.  Then the games will be 5 hours long.  Excitment.

    Replay does not work in football.  It is limited in hockey just like in baseball.  They don’t review every call in hockey only goals, which is about what they do in baseball, only review homeruns. 

    Baseball has enough downtime as it is, reviewing every call, even if balls and strike calls weren’t included would be a disaster.

  8. Edward said...

    I love this argument about how the games will be stretched out with instant replay.

    Did anyone notice the time for the game last night?

    1:44.  One hour and forty-four minutes. 

    Both pitchers threw complete games and neither hit 100 pitches. 

    Instant replay wasn’t going to turn that into a 4-hour game.

  9. Larry J said...

    Instant Replay would speed up the games: 1. electronic strike zone would stop the expanded strike zone which is the biggest contributor to extended play 2. the official scorer could rule in literally seconds in those few instances were there is a question. Unlike other sports where cameras have to follow moving players and it is hard to see what did happen (did he step on the sideline or did his knee touch down)- baseball needs only a few cameras on each base, the outfield fence and finally the three dimensional strike zone. No need to follow the players at all. In fact, I understand that was part of the complaint with Joyce – he was watching the ball be caught and THEN turned to see the runners. HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN FOCUSED ONLY on the BASE.

    Football – yes, it slows the game down. Baseball – no it would not; it would speed up the game.

    No red flags – no waiting around for a committee judgment call.

    In fact, Instant Replay would speed up the game.

    If you need an Umpire to BOO – hire one to stand by, in Uniform, for old time sake.

  10. Devon Young said...

    If MLB can overturn the pine tar rule & alter that specific game… they can overturn a blown call, that even the ump knows was bad.

    I’d be totally for the replay thing. I would’ve been for it after last year’s AL playoffs, but even moreso now.

  11. Tom Schneider said...

    Yes, as long as one pitcher in every game throws a perfect game the length of the game won’t be an issue. 

    Glad everyone has their thinking caps on today.

  12. Josh Fisher said...

    Frustrating postscript: Mariners/Twins game ends on a blown safe/out call. Fuel for the fire, I guess.

  13. Derek Ambrosino said...

    …Sorry I’m late, I’m a little hungover from the dozen bottles of champagne Don Denkinger cracked last night.

    What happens if replay is implemented and we can now keep track of how often each ump misses a call?  i doubt the unpires union would go for that.

    They already audit the umpires’ balls and strikes calls. (I’m not sure if they needed permission from a union to do this.) Umps are also graded in some form or another in order to determine who does playoff games, the ASG, etc. Where I suppose you’d have to deal with the union is if you linked performance to pay or employment status (what would be the point otherwise, one may ask). But, I assume something could be worked out.

  14. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Yes, as long as one pitcher in every game throws a perfect game the length of the game won’t be an issue. 

    Glad everyone has their thinking caps on today.

    I hear what you are saying, but I think there is a legitimate counterargument here, and that it is possible that replay will either shorten the game or only extend it marginally. It’s not like egregiously bad and highly important, contraversial calls occur seemlessly and don’t prompt the lengthening of the game as is. Wouldn’t the review process simply replace the long argumentative exchanges between players/managers and umpires that currently incur.

    The vast majority of plays would not be in need of review and the ones that would already result in the delay of games.

  15. Sara K said...

    Some commentators mentioned the idea of giving the managers ‘one red flag’ to dispute a call, and Joe Morgan countered that, in this case, the red flag may have already been used in the game, so it wouldn’t have necessarily prevented this travesty. But tennis has instituted a system in which the players get a challenge that is renewed if the challenge is correct and used up if it’s not.  So far, that system is working fabulously. Whatever the eventual solution, it doesn’t make any sense for the whole world to know that an official call is wrong seconds after it is made. Either make use of replay or don’t torture us with the evidence it provides.

  16. Brian said...

    baseball doesn’t need instant replay. no laser sensors. just humans and leather and wood and grass and dirt. nothing gets overturned. like it’s been mentioned before – this will be remembered as the 28 out perfect game…the only one in history. Cy Young never did it. Mathewson never did it. Spahn never did it. Koufax never did it. Gibson never did… See More it. Ryan never did it. Maddux never did it. this game won’t have any asterisk in the official record books, but when we remember it the asterisk will be there. we’ll remember the grin of polite disbelief on Galarraga’s face when Joyce called ‘safe’. we’ll remember Leyland calmly walking out to Joyce to say “congrats, you fucking blew a historic moment” and leaving it at that. we’ll remember the 28th out going down business as usual, like nothing ever happened. we’ll remember the classy way that it was handled by everybody.

    as crushing as it is, it’s baseball
    sometimes you win
    sometimes you lose
    sometimes it rains

  17. Derek Ambrosino said...

    As quaint and charming as that sounds, Brian, it’s pretty much tripe.

    Either you care about getting the calls correct or you don’t. You can write it poetically and imply that the game’s imperfections are endearing, but essentially you are just saying that you don’t care whether they get the calls correct. Well, I’ll tell you this – the players surely care. That game was not “a game” to Galarraga, it was set to be the most gratifying moment of his life and the most perfect culmination of his years of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice in pursuit of his dreams. The institution of baseball owes it to the players to do the best it can to ensure the rulings levied to their lives’ work are as just a possible – and if the solution there is replay, then quaint musings about the game and evocations of purity are meaningless excuses for counterarguments.

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