A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

After Further Review (Updated)…

Filed under: Fan Experience,Games — Tags: , — Wigi @ 8:33 pm May 27, 2009

… instant replay is toxic to Major League Baseball.

In baseball, every officiated call is subjective. It is the opinion of the umpire whose job it is to make that ruling. His (or her) opinion is the one that stands. That is fine. In fact, it is more than fine – it is part of the perfection of the sport. It isn’t about a calculation, or empirical evidence. It is a drama that plays out over time. It is an ebb and flow of events. It is human.

And it is precisely that reason that there is no room in baseball for instant replay. Because while an umpire may make a mistake, the umpire is never wrong. That is the basic premise that is at the core of the sport. The umpire is the last, final arbiter of what happens on the field. The umpire is, by definition, always right.

Allowing instant replay allows for the possibility that if an umpire makes a mistake, someone can review a video to determine whether that umpire is  wrong. Now that we’ve allowed for the possibility of an umpire to be wrong, every call is now open to interpretation. If you can use technology to determine whether a hit is a home run, why can’t you use the same technology to determine if a player beats a tag, or if a pitch is a ball or a strike? The technology exists to get these calls “right” all the time. Why don’t we use them? If it is appropriate in one case, shouldn’t it be appropriate in all cases?

The bottom line is, the mistakes that umpires make are random events. They’re professionals. The circumstances that arise that put the umpire in the position to make a judgment call – one about which he or she is absolutely right, by definition – occur randomly and in equal numbers for both teams. Instant replay doesn’t make the umpire’s calls more accurate or the outcome of the contest more fair. It doesn’t remove a bias. And at the same time, it slows down the game, polarizes the fans, and reduces the stature and authority of the umpires.

In the last three games, I’ve seen two instant replay scenarios. Having watched the video, I feel that the umpires ultimately made the wrong call both times. I am incensed, because they got it wrong both times, even with the help of technology. I feel cheated. And had the decisions gone the way I would have liked, Mets fans would feel the way that I do. But in both cases, I could live with an umpire making a judgment call without the aid of video, and having that call be a mistake.

Umpires making judgments is a part of the elegance of the game. The fact that they occasionally make mistakes is unfortunate, but it is also part of what makes baseball the wonderful game that it is. The technology and philosophic basis that underlies instant replay in baseball tramples on that elegance.

I am totally at peace with the idea that umpires make mistakes.

I find it completely intolerable that umpires can be wrong. Instant replay allows for umpires to be wrong. If they can be wrong, they’re not umpires.


Note on the home run from last night’s game: I went back and watched the SNY feed of the home run, and there is a very good angle that they had in that feed that shows clearly that the ball DID NOT change direction as it passed in front of the Subway sign. The SNY feed “rocks” the ball back and forth as it passes the sign, and the ball is taking a straight trajectory.

Also… while this is going on, Mets broadcaster Ron Darling comments that he doesn’t think it hit the sign, because he says that the fans in right field would have been reaching out to catch the ball if it was that close to them… and also, none of the fans are pointing to the sign to ‘help’ the umpires with the call. He thinks those fans know it didn’t hit the sign… and of course, Debbi Taylor went out there and interviewed some of the fans, and they said that they didn’t see or hear the ball hit the sign.

The Quiet Revolution

Before the Nationals game last Thursday against the Pirates, Manny Acta held a team meeting.

Since that time, the Nationals bullpen has an ERA of 2.30 (4 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings). Of those four earned runs, two were charged to Kip Wells, who gave them up in the twelfth inning of last Friday’s game against Baltimore. He was pitching his second inning in relief, and after a fluke base hit by pitcher Danys Baez of the Orioles, Wells gave up two doubles.  The bullpen has  struck out nine while walking eight – and if you throw out Daniel Cabrera’s performance last night, they’ve walked only five. Joel Hanrahan has two saves. Jason Bergmann, Kip Wells (despite giving up those two runs Fiday night), Ron Villone and Joe Beimel have pitched very well. Even Jesus Colome had a scoreless inning last night.

The team as a whole has had two errors, and given up no unearned runs.

That is quite a turnaround, and we would be feeling a lot better about it if the Nats were hitting the way they have been all along this season. What we’ve seen instead is a struggling offense. My theory is that the Nationals sorely miss the bats of Elijah Dukes and Jesus Flores. In the meantime, we’re left with a team that looks a bit like last year’s team -  a team that opponents can pitch around a bit, leaving our lineup without protection. The Nats are a very different team at the plate with Flores and Dukes in the lineup.

Add to it all the strong performances by callups Craig Stammen and Ross Detwiler – both of whom have pitched well as starters, and suddenly the Daniel Cabrera situation seems a bit less urgent. Cabrera didn’t make a strong case for himself last night… but at the same time, that probably means he could probably be DFA’d without risk of losing him, and perhaps some time in Syracuse would be good for him. And maybe that would be as good for him as time in Washington has been for Stammen and Detwiler.

The Nats rotation has enough depth to survive an injury or two. We’re playing better defense, and our bullpen has started to show their stuff. Later this week we should have two big bats back in the lineup.

I am not crazy enough to declare the disaster over… but there are certainly lots of reasons to be hopeful.

It may have all started in the Nats clubhouse last Thursday.


On a different topic, Chico Harlan posted in Nationals Journal about the Reviewed, Debated Home Run. Here is what I commented:

This situation is the shame of instant replay.

It isn’t that the umpire made the wrong call. In my biased opinion, he did make the wrong call. But instant replay gives umpires the opportunity to make a mistake twice, under the guise of trying to get it right once.

With no instant replay, mistakes are made. With instant replay, mistakes are affirmed. And in fact, the instant replay rule detracts from the game. It isn’t as if instant replay eliminates bias – it eliminates a random event.

I don’t think it was a home run. But nobody is served by instant replay in this situation. The kind of remedy that instant replay gives you here is the same kind that technology might one day automate the calling of balls and strikes. It offers the illusion of objectivity… and it is just that, an illusion. Baseball is the most human of sports. Adding technology to the mix does not make the game better. It separates us from the game.  That the umpire made a mistake last night isn’t nearly as bad as the idea that technology only served to affirm that mistake.

I’ll take my chances with the umpires.