The Baseball Notebook

June 3, 2010 6:32 PM

Armando & Instant Replay

The unfortunate drama of Armando Galaragga's could-have-been perfect game has been settled. Bud Selig declined to overturn the call of umpire Jim Joyce, in spite of Joyce's admission that was mistake was beyond a doubt. Overall, I think all the particulars handled themselves well in this situation. Joyce was humble enough to admit he'd missed the call. Galaragga was incredibly gracious in letting it go. Tiger manager Jim Leyland called on the fans to applaud the umpiring crew at today's getaway game (they didn't, but they were civil according to media reports). And Selig deserves a small bit of credit for not rushing to overturn the call.

I understand the desire to see the call overturned and justice given. But how far do you go in repealing bad calls? If this gets overturned, do St. Louis fans get a review of Don Denkinger's blown call that started the winning rally in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, a game where St. Louis was in position to clinch (I realize I dated myself by not only citing a call from 25 years ago, but by the fact I'm old enough to remember plays in a World Series involving Kansas City--believe it or not, they were a dynasty in those years). How about a blown call on a double play in Game 1 of the 1999 ALCS that clearly cost the Red Sox what would have been a key road win against the Yankees? The Yanks won the series in five games...but Boston had Pedro Martinez waiting in reserve for Game 7, at a time well before the Yanks became his "daddy" and he was the most dominant pitcher in the game. What if the Sox would have had a chance to play a Game 6 and force that showdown? Who knows. (Yes, I realize I gave away my pro-Red Sox bias there). How about the 1996 ALCS when the Orioles were clearly robbed of a win that would've put them up 2-0 on the Yankees when a fan reached into the field of play and grabbed Derek Jeter's fly ball out and turned it into a game-winning home run (Yes, I realize I gave myself away as one who lives in Baltimore and is trying to suck up to his wife). But I hope the point is clear--while last night's game was a tempting target because of its open-and-shut nature, Selig would have been opening a huge can of worms if he overturned the call.

One thing I don't think needs to be worried about is Galaragga's place in history. Let's be honest--because of this, when you think of perfect games in 2010, are you going to think of Dallas Braden, Roy Halladay or this one? Yeah, I think this one will get more play among fan memories and in flashback shows on the MLB Network. Jim Joyce, set your consicence at ease.

What's not opening a can of worms is to visit the idea of instant replay in baseball. I'm a supporter in general, but there are a few drawbacks. Unlike the NFL, there's a huge inequity in how many television resources are at each baseball game. Networks like YES (Yankees), NESN (Red Sox), MASN (Orioles & Nationals), SNY (Mets), the Comcast station that carries the Phils, WTBS (Braves) and WGN (Cubs) just to name a few are well ahead of places like Fox Sports Midwest or Fox Sports Pittsburgh when it comes to having cameras on site. Games the heavyweight networks are going to televise are going to get more replay angles than will a game involving, say the A's-Rangers, that also has big bearing on the overall picture. Furthemore, cameras are controlled by the home team, inviting an obvious problem if a homer cameraman decides to withold a crucial angle. Such a scenario did happen with the Philadelphia Flyers, and resulted in a cameraman's suspension, lest one think I'm being overly conspiratorial here. And even if I'm not, baseball can't afford the appearance of impropriety, given both the perception and reality that it's already overly tilted toward the big markets.

That's the downside and it is a real one. But I guess I have to believe that somehow it can be worked out and safeguards put into place, so I'm not prepared to give up on replay because of it. As to other concerns, I am not bothered by replay slowing the game up. I watch Red Sox games and Jonathan Papelbon must think there's a point to milking the clock, as he takes his sweet time between pitches. Enforcing rules on time between pitches and hitters stepping in and out, and then re-investing that time to 3-4 replays per game is a worthwhile tradeoff. I also believe that everything should be reviewable. Even balls and strikes. Why not? Sure, it's a judgement call, but what ump's judgement isn't going to be better by having replay at his disposal. Adopt the NFL system and give each manager a couple challenges per game. Who's to say his best call to challenge isn't a check swing or a pitch just on or off the corner?

Which brings me to my final point. I insist that the challenge flag used in the NFL be a part of any instant replay system. Why? It's become one of the most exciting moments in a football game. The call is blown. The crowd is angry, hungry for a challenge. And then the red flag dramatically appears on the field, creating a huge reaction from the fans. It's fun. And that's something too often lost in these replay debates. Proponents make themselves out like modern-day Dorothy Days, reformers on a quest to fix an unjust world. It's just a game. It's just a bad call. We can fix it, so let's do it. But let's make sure it stays fun.

Tomorrow we'll take a closer look at the Rockies, and our All-Star stop will focus on National League second basemen.

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