By DERON SNYDER
Upon further review – and we knew this beforehand – we’ll never totally eliminate “the human element” that baseball loves and used as a defense in resisting instant replay all these years.
Cutting-edge technology at every conceivable angle still can’t overcome the old-fashioned synapses found in baseball umpires and MLB’s New York-based replay officials.
No matter how many bad calls are made right, the resentment is palpable when incorrect rulings are allowed to stand. Such was the case with Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, who ripped the system Saturday after a 5-1 loss against Oakland.
Bautista couldn’t believe that umpires upheld a call in which Melky Cabrera was called out on a close play at home, although one replay during the two-and-a-half minute delay showed Oakland catcher Derek Norris missing Cabrera’s back with a swipe tag.
“I don’t really know which replay they were looking at, but clearly they must have had a different video feed than the one we had,” Bautista told reporters. “… This whole replay thing has become a joke in my eyes. I think they should just ban it, they should just get rid of it. I don’t really understand the purpose of it, but getting the right call on the field is not the purpose. That’s pretty obvious and evident.”
Bautista’s emotions got the better of him, partially because the Blue Jays have initiated so many replay challenges at crucial, game-turning junctures and been on the wrong end so often.
According to baseballsavant.com, Toronto and Tampa Bay tied for the most challenges through Sunday at 29 apiece. In MLB this season, the first in which the system has been used, 48 percent of calls have been overturned. The Blue Jays’ success rate is 31 percent; only the St. Louis Cardinals (15 percent) are worse. Miami (81 percent) leads all of baseball.
Delays can be maddening when umpires linger while TV viewers see clear-cut looks that should make for quick and easy decisions. All of us have experienced Bautista’s incredulity when officials take all that time and then refuse to reverse obvious bad calls.
Nonetheless, growing pains and all, baseball is better off for entering the 21st century and taking advantage of replay technology. A measure of protection from egregious gaffes, such as Dan Denkinger’s infamous blown call in the 1985 World Series, is worth the accompanying interruptions.
Yes, we all make mistakes, including players, umpires, fans and media. Most of us can only apologize and move on. But officials have the opportunity to stop, go back and fix their blunders.
Human nature, like the human element, is still part of the game, though, and officials prefer to keep their colleagues from looking bad whenever possible. That inclination can lead them to expand the definition of “inconclusive evidence.”
In baseball, ties go to the runner … and the umpire.
Bautista suggested something sinister might be at work.
“I don’t know what the right word is, lack of integrity, lack of accountability, or some really good camaraderie that they’re looking after each other or not doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “Because getting the right call on the field, which is why instant replay was instituted, is not the purpose of what’s happening. The best evidence is what happened (Saturday night).”
He’s wrong. Besides, we can’t use Toronto as the norm.
Thursday, in another replay challenge against Oakland, the Blue Jays argued that their own base runner was OUT, not safe as ruled on the field. That review took 11 minutes to sort out, involved two erroneous calls (only one of which was corrected) and resulted in the Athletics playing under protest.
MLB executive Joe Torre is visiting managers during the two-week run-up to the All-Star Game, seeking their input on improving the system. Possibilities include additional cameras and advanced slow-motion capabilities.
But nothing can prevent managers from using their challenges in situations that seem unwarranted, like late-inning plays in lopsided games
Sometimes it’s supporting a player who insists he was safe. Or trying to help a slumping player called out on a bang-bang play at first. Or believing that a failure to use the challenge is a failure to utilize every weapon.
We have become a sports nation accustomed to reacting and then waiting, watching to see if replays confirm our initial reaction. It happens on touchdowns in football, buzzer-beaters in basketball and goals in hockey.
The initial thrill or agony can be reversed – or resumed. But not until a review.
The delays are tough in baseball, which has length/pace of game concerns outside of replay. But the sport’s long-lasting love affair with the human element hasn’t disappeared.
It has just relocated to a high-tech TV room in Manhattan.