CINCINNATI — As former umpire Nestor Chylak once said, “Umpires are expected to be perfect on Opening Day and get better.” That, of course, is impossible. Nobody, not even umpires, can improve upon perfection.
That’s why Major League Baseball implemented Replay/Review. They wanted to get every play right, or as close to right as they could possibly get. Hey, even they knew machines don’t reach perfection, either.
What we have now several times a game is a group of umpires standing in the grass near a dugout with headsets on talking to New York. It is a great time to rummage the refrigerator or take a bathroom break. Watching umpires wearing headphones and nodding their heads is one step above watching ‘Catching Up With the Kardashians.’ It isn’t entertainment.
AND IT ISN’T WORKING. AS the play Thursday involving the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals showed, they don’t use it when it is available. So close up that New York replay/review suite and turn it into a dance studio.
It unfolded this way: Tie game, 3-3. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth. Matt Carpenter on first. Yadier Molina hits one off the wall. Carpenter scores from first. Game Over. Reds lose. Cardinals win.
But, hold on. TV replays revealed that Molina’s ball bounced over the front wall, the home run wall, hit a second wall that is recessed beyond the home run wall and bounced back on the field. It should have been a ground rule double — Carpenter returns to third base, Molina is on second, game continues.
THAT, THOUGH, IS NOT WHAT happened. All four umpires missed the ball hitting the back wall. And when Reds manager Bryan Price wanted to ask for a replay/review, he was told he was too late, told that review request needs to be ‘immediate,’ whatever that means, after a game ends.
“The problem with that, as anybody would know, is that we had four umpires on the field level and we’re in sunken dugouts,” said Price. “So we had to immediately recognize that a ball went out of play and came back in. We’re supposed to see that from a sunken dugout and four umpires on the field aren’t? That, to me, suggests we can’t make an immeiate call from the dugout for a challenge.
“All we saw was a guy hit a game-winning double,” Price added. “There was no play at the plate, no reason to contest that play at the plate. And there was no way for us to hear the phone in the dugout (for a call from the clubhouse telling him to challenge the double) because of the fans and the fireworks.”
Price has been adamant all year about the way replay/review is used and not used, but he uses it at the drop of a a close call because everybody uses it. But there are repugnant misuses.
“Where it sometimes runs afoul is that you have to learn from it,” said Price. “If this is Game Seven of the World Series and we have one team popping champagne corks and the other team is sitting in the dugout waiting to challenge a call that didn’t come 10 seconds after the play, well, we want the game to end with its proper result, one supported through replay.”
PRICE, OF COURSE, NEVER got that opportunity because plate umpire Bill Miller didn’t afford that opportunity. He said he waited at home plate after the run scored, looked in the dugout, didn’t see Price ready to challenge, so he and his crew left.
That makes one believe that Miller thought something was amiss on the play if he stood at home plate waiting for Price to challenge. If he thought that, why not do an umpire’s challenge to make sure everything was right. If this is the way it works — or doesn’t work — just junk all that equipment in New York and go back to giving baseball the eye test instead of the machine-age test.
“For future situations, what happened in our game is a talking point, but it certainly doesn’t help us now,” said Price. “And it may muddle the wild card situation.”
There is no way to determine if the Cardinals wouldn’t have won this game anyway, or if the Reds might have won it, but it was a gift for the Cardinals. A loss would have been devastating to their playoff aspirations. And it is for certain that the other wild card contenders, San Francico and the New York Mets, were angry when they saw Molina’s ball hit that back wall.
“Major league baseball is going to have to take a hard look at these end-of-game situations,” said Price. “How do you make an ‘immediate’ challenge? Often you don’t make an ‘immediate’ challenge on the most routine of plays.”
Baseball insists it is trying to speed up the game, but constant reviews, some of which take two to three minutes, drags the game into periods of boredom.
“If you have the right angle, almost any play is reviewable,” said Price. “It creates an environment where the game is going in a direction which we didn’t want it to go. That is, every single play we are going to want to stop it, review it, look at it, look at every angle, and then go, ‘Oh, no, we’re not going to challenge it.’”
Price, though, does want the opportunity to make sure a game ends fair and square.
“In a game-ending play, what we want is for the play to just be called right,” he said. “Umpires don’t have accountability when they didn’t see it, but either did we see it. When we did see it, they said it was too late.
“We weren’t in the clubhouse sitting around in shorts looking to see what’s in the kitchen to eat,” Price added. “We were on the field 30 seconds after the play, coming out of the dugout trying to find the umpires, who were gone 30 seconds after the play.”
The game was well-played and the Reds scrapped hard, even though they were the team with nothing at stake against a team with everything at stake.
“A game that was played that well, a game in which we scrapped back (they tied it with a run in the top of the ninht), with playoff ramifications, to end like that is a crime,” said Price. “Heading into the future and the postseason, MLB is going to have to step up and find a way to make sure something like that never happens again.”
Price attacked the way replay is used and not used — in this case, not used when it was extremely necessary.
“What’s the point of replay if you can’t use it in every single circumstance?” he said. “For me it is a bad way to end a game and there has to be changes. And if the umpires saw something and were waiting for us to challenge and we didnt, they should have called it. If you see a ball go out of play and bounce back in, that’s not our place to have to review it. It’s their place to say that ball went out of play and came back in.”
Wait a minute, Bryan. Now you’re asking the umpires to do the job the way they’ve done forever. No replay. Give the game the eye test? Yes, that’s the way it should be, but it isn’t. Indeed, umpires are getting lazy. They know they can make any call and there is review/replay to keep them out of controversy and to get the play right.
As umpire Larry Goetz once said, “It isn’t enough for an umpire merely to know what he’s doing. He has too look as though he knows what he’ doing.” Bill Miller and his crew not only didn’t know what they were doing on this call, they didn’t even come close to looking as though they knew what they were doing.