Sunday, November 1, 2009

Quality Post-Season Umpiring Needed

Calls for instant replay in baseball continue. Numerous instances of bad calls in the playoffs are highlighted with greater fervor and scrutinized with greater technology. I'm not going to address instant replay here, but rather focus on the quality of umpiring.

I'm not as concerned with bang-bang calls that could go either way. If it looked like he was safe, but the super slo-mo hi-def replay showed he was out by 1/4 inch, it's just not much to gripe about. What gets me is when two players are stuck at the same base, they both come off the base by five feet, the player with the ball tags both of them out while standing still, yet the umps screw up by not calling both of them out. Six umps are watching the same play, and not one of them can see the obvious? Why not have a conference then?

A great piece of ump teamwork was on the Rollins/Howard/Matsui double play. Rollins caught a bloop pop with his glove on the ground, then stepped on second and threw to Howard. The throw was wide, and Howard came off the bag with the batter/runner beating the throw. Matsui started walking off the field, and Howard tagged him. What to do? This play was logistically complicated. The replay showed that Rollins caught the bloop, but his stepping on second (just in case the ump blew the catch call) added confusion to the play. And even in the replay, Howard really did have his foot on the bag when he caught the throw. His heel came off first, but his toes were still on the bag when the ball hit his glove, even though he was in the process of coming off the bag. The TV announcers missed this. But he eventually tagged Matsui.

Here's how complicated this all was: Did Rollins catch the popup? How did this affect his stepping on second? How did this affect the play at first? Was his throw to get Matsui doubled up or the batter out? Did Howard need to tag Matsui? Did Howard get pulled off the bag? Did Matsui walk off the field because Rollins caught the ball in the air and doubled him off first or because he didn't but stepped on second base? Both Rollins and Howard made double efforts just in case the umps missed either call. Rollins touched second in case the umps missed his catch. Howard tagged Matsui in case the umps saw the catch because the umps might call him off the bag. But, all the umps were in on a conference and made the right call. Double play. Why didn't this happen for the two runners caught off third?

Getting the call right by using all umpires, if necessary, is where baseball needs to make its first improvement. It should be done at the slightest question of a call. If an ump blows a call and all the other umps see it, there should be no hesitation in reversing it. That's the way it works in my kid's soccer league, and there's no problem. When 50,000 fans, five umps, 50 players, a TV crew and two managers see things one way and a lone ump sees things another way, there should be no shame in admitting there might be a problem and help from others is welcome.

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