Game Changers: Tipping point for replay?
Could latest missed call lead to expanding use of technology?
The thirst for instant replay in Major League Baseball did not begin Wednesday night with a missed call on what would have been the last out of a perfect game.
It was in 1985 that umpire Don Denkinger became a household name in sports lore because he saw one thing at a crucial juncture of the World Series while millions of others saw something completely different, thanks to instant replay.
It was in 1996 that Jeffrey Maier became the most famous 12-year-old in baseball because he reached over the outfield fence at Yankee Stadium to grab Derek Jeter's fly ball in the American League Championship Series, a play called a home run by umpire Rich Garcia -- while millions of others saw something completely different, thanks to instant replay.
It was in 2008 that Major League Baseball first instituted a system to review and reverse umpires' calls on home runs based on replays, a groundbreaking change that brought America's pastime somewhat up to speed with other major sports using video technology.
Not quite two years after replay made its debut, and now especially after one perfect storm of an umpire's call gone awry, the outcry for more video review in baseball has become louder than ever before.
Certainly, it will be a very long time before discussion settles down over what first-base umpire Jim Joyce saw in what would have been the final out of a perfect game for Detroit's Armando Galarraga. Like Denkinger and Garcia before him, Joyce saw one thing while millions of others saw something completely different -- thanks to instant replay.
Commissioner Bud Selig issued a statement Thursday in the wake of Joyce's admittedly costly human error, and how it relates to the future of baseball's policy of using instant replay to assist umpires with calls of all kinds -- not just home runs.
"As Jim Joyce said in his postgame comments, there is no dispute that last night's game should have ended differently," Selig said in his statement. "While the human element has always been an integral part of baseball, it is vital that mistakes on the field be addressed. Given last night's call and other recent events, I will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features. Before I announce any decisions, I will consult with all appropriate parties, including our two unions and the Special Committee for On-Field Matters, which consists of field managers, general managers, club owners and presidents."
Selig's statement was his strongest yet in regard to expanding replay beyond home runs. Selig's Special Committee for On-Field Matters, a 14-member committee formed in December, was created to address just this sort of issue and advise the Commissioner on how best to approach it.
Some called for Selig to employ his powers to act in the best interest of the league by overturning Joyce's call and awarding Galarraga a perfect game. While the statement did not say whether he would do that, Selig opened the door to expansion of replay wider than ever before.
Although the craving for instant replay in baseball might not have begun with Joyce's call at the end of a would-be perfect game in 2010, it appeared to reach a critical phase in its evolution.
Call it the big "bang-bang," if you will.
Joyce's call on Galarraga's play covering first base was that Cleveland's Jason Donald was safe. What others -- and later, Joyce himself -- saw on replay was that Donald should have been the final out for Galarraga's perfect game, which would have been an unprecedented third in one Major League season and what any pitcher would consider a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.
"I had a great angle, and I missed the call," said Joyce, one of the most respected umpires in the game in his 22nd year in the Majors. "I really thought he beat the ball. At that time, I thought he beat the ball. After I heard from the Tigers, who had obviously seen a replay, I asked the guy in the (umpires') room to cue up the play as soon as we got in here, and I missed it from here to that wall."
Joyce provided a perfectly human response to a human error, an error many feel could have been reversed relatively easily if instant replay were available for more than just home runs.
After all, the replay that Joyce watched immediately after the game was just as much available to the umpiring crew at Comerica Park immediately after the play occurred - if they had been allowed to view it. Instead, the game was delayed while the Tigers argued the call with Joyce, who had no defense other than he called it like he saw it, and the game ended as a one-hitter.
And Joyce became an unwitting household name. But his call is only part of the bigger picture of what has become one of baseball's biggest issues.
After a series of missed calls in the 2009 postseason, many around the game and in the media took their pleas for expanded instant replay to a new volume.
"I'm big on technology," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said last year following those disputed calls. "I'm open to any way we can help the umpires. We want what the umpires want -- to get the calls right."
Not everyone believes the answer would be for the human element to be replaced with many angles on a play and many viewings of it via video replay.
Not even the manager whose pitcher lost a perfect game on human error.
"I'm sure somebody is going to say, 'If they had a replay on that play, the kid would have had a perfect game.' Somebody will say something about that, but not me," Jim Leyland said. "That's just the human element. It's a good element. The umpires do a great job. There's no question about that. They are right a whole lot more than they are wrong."
Before Wednesday, many already had been pleading for expanding instant replay, with the volume being turned up on that conversation last October. In the American League Division Series, what replays clearly showed to be a fair ball for what would have been a double for Joe Mauer was called foul by umpire Phil Cuzzi. Later, in the AL Championship Series, veteran umpire Tim McClelland finished a confusing rundown by ruling that only one of two Yankees runners was out, even though each was tagged while not touching third base.
|"The umpires do a great job. There's no question about that. They are right a whole lot more than they are wrong."|
|-- Tigers manager Jim Leyland|
Joyce's call and a few others during the 2010 season have renewed the chorus of followers of the game wondering if the umpires could use a little help in the form of increased replay.
For some, the conversation of "if" becomes one of "how much" once the door is opened to expanding instant replay.
"I don't want to say that I'm a 'traditionalist,' because I'm in favor of it the way it is," Mets GM Omar Minaya said at last November's GM meetings. "But if you keep expanding it, it gets into areas where I'm not comfortable."
Indeed, what would be the criteria? Currently, balls that may or may not be home runs can be reviewed to determine whether they are fair or foul, in or out of play, or affected by fan interference.
After the perfect game in Detroit that wasn't, "bang-bang" plays at a base clearly would be on the list of plays to review. But then what about balls on or near the foul line? Catch or trap? Foul tips? Runners being called out of the baseline? Check swing or a full swing? Balls and strikes?
Whatever the threshold, there are many who say the bar isn't set high enough yet.
"My whole philosophy is that the umpires should be able to get the call right. And if it takes instant replay, that doesn't bother me," said Kansas City manager Ned Yost.
Said Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron after the Galarraga play: "We're going to replay it forever for the next two months anyway, so you might as well do it in the two minutes it takes to get it right."
Ask Denkinger, whose call at first base in the 1985 World Series might be seen as the birth of the notion of using instant replay in baseball, and he's clear about what side he's on.
"There are so many areas you can use instant replay," Denkinger told The New York Post following the call in Detroit. "Maybe instant replay can clean things up. If a play is missed, it can be corrected. I didn't feel that way in '85, but I feel that way now.
"We want everything to be called correctly. Unfortunately it isn't, because we're just human beings."
|"Maybe instant replay can clean things up. If a play is missed, it can be corrected. I didn't feel that way in '85, but I feel that way now."|
|-- former umpire Don Denkinger|
With the Cardinals leading, 1-0, to start the ninth inning of Game 6 and looking to close out the World Series, Denkinger called Jorge Orta safe at first base. Everyone else saw him out, and replays made that crystal clear. The Royals went on to rally to win that game, and then the Series.
In '96, Maier reached over the fence to grab a ball and give Jeter a home run, at least according to Garcia. It was a call disputed immediately by Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco that, to borrow a phrase from Cameron, has been replayed a lot longer than two months, becoming part of the game's lore.
Obviously, baseball's umpires have missed calls before, and they did so long before games were televised, seen by millions of fans, and from at times more than a dozen angles.
The debate over the use of instant replay in Major League games was renewed in May 2008 by three missed calls over the span of a four-day period. All three involved home runs, and all three were ruled incorrectly on the field. Soon thereafter, instant replay was brought into the game.
The discussion of expanding replay found new life last October, and one umpire involved in those calls that proved incorrect says expanding replay is something umpires are beginning to see as more of a blessing, rather than a curse.
"We talked about it in the crew," McClelland said on ESPN's "Mike and Mike" radio program Thursday. "I know I wasn't for it. But after watching what I went through in the playoffs last year and then what Jim [Joyce is] going through, I think more and more umpires are coming around to it."
How much change, if any, will come to baseball's instant replay system remains to be seen. But there is a call for change, never louder than after the perfect game that wasn't.
After Joyce apologized to Galarraga for the missed call that intercepted a chance at history, the pitcher summed up the very essence of the debate over expanding replay.
"Nobody's perfect," said the man who was so close to it. "Everybody's human."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.