Even if you aren’t an ardent follower of the Oakland Athletics, if you’re a fan of baseball, chances are you know by now about the infamous blown call in their game against the Cleveland Indians Wedensday night.
For those that have no idea and clicked on this article by random chance, here’s what happened: Adam Rosales hit a game-tying home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The ball hit a railing above the left field wall, which originally caused the umpires to rule the play as a double. Bob Melvin requested a replay review, and although video inconclusively showed the ball clearing the wall and bouncing back into play off the barrier, the umpiring crew upheld their ruling, and the A’s went on to lose the game by a score of 4-3.
After waiting two days to detach myself from the emotion of the event, I feel I’ve gained enough perspective to voice my opinion with as little animosity towards Angel Hernandez as can reasonably be expected. So here we go.
By now, this has been expounded upon by writers far more talented and knowledgable than myself, but I’d like to put this particular blown call into context by comparing it to other sports’ relationships with instant replay and how it can affect the officiating in any given contest.
For starters, the very introduction of instant replay into any sport is an admittance by the sport’s governing body that it is impossible for an officiating crew to get every call correct using only the naked eye. Some of these institutions take longer than others to accept technological assistance (if you think baseball is behind the times, just look back to the 2010 World Cup and how many terrible calls could’ve been avoided with goal-line technology), but as a whole each entity acknowledges that the goal of an official is to enforce the rules of the game as accurately as possible, and if instant replay can aid that process, we should use it in whatever way it can be of service.
Now, it’s also important to remember that replay isn’t meant to be the primary tool for officials to do their jobs; for example, most people with a thoughtful opinion on the use of instant replay in Major League Baseball agree that replay should never be used to examine balls and strikes, just as no fan of the NFL would want to see a replay official looking back upon every play to see if there was a neutral zone infraction or holding penalty. Human error will always be a part of these games to a certain degree, and if instant replay ever becomes a hindrance to the flow of a game, then we’ll have gone too far.
After roughly 40 hours of reflection on what happened in the top of the ninth inning at Progressive Field in Cleveland on Wednesday, the only thing we know for sure is that if umpires cannot be relied upon to get a call correct with the information that’s made available to them, then action needs to be taken by the Commissioner’s Office to make sure that something like this never happens again.
Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of transparency on the part of the league to let us know what needs to be corrected in the review process. While Hernandez hinted after the game that he might not have had access to the same replays that fans were seeing, but Joe Torre seemed to rule out that defense Thursday with his statement on the matter.
With that in mind, the following thoughts are based purely on what isn’t being done in the review booth currently.
As Mike Chiari at Bleacher Report pointed out, the NHL has a pretty good system in place to make sure that officials aren’t overburdened by the additional responsibility of overviewing replays. In hockey, the current procedure calls for every score to be reviewed by a video goal judge, who determines whether or not the puck crosses the goal line on every goal scored in a game. The critical phrasing of rule 38.1 comes in the second clause, which reads, “[The video goal judge] will review replays of disputed goals when he observes an incident that was undetected by on-ice officials.”
The whole idea of this rule is that there is an independent observer that can make these difficult judgement calls, and this is what Major League Baseball is currently lacking, and Angel Hernandez made that very clear when he botched a clear home run call Wedensday.
In addition to the video goal judge, Chiari also mentions the NHL “war room”, where all games are reviewed in real time in the event that a league official needs to override an error by a referee. As Jayson Stark of ESPN noted in this article on the subject of MLB instant replay from January, these kind of procedures are already being discussed for future implementations of instant replay.
Of course, that’s not very comforting to the Oakland A’s and their fans in the short-term, both of whom are well aware of how important every game of the regular season is after winning the division in the final day of contention in 2012. The fact is that there’s simply no template for overturning a call after an umpire has already taken a look at a replay and made a ruling. None of this would stop Bob Melvin from arguing the point when the call was made, and he’d get ejected by Hernandez fairly quickly thereafter.
What I’m getting at in pointing this out is that there are other examples in professional sports of leagues that have figured out ways to incorporate replay to the benefit of everyone. Of course, all of these sports have to be judged on their own merits, and while many people argue against replay in sports like professional football because it disrupts the flow of the game, the rules of baseball aren’t nearly as subjective as the rules of the NFL, and if we’re only using replay in the Majors to decide if a ball left the boundaries of the stadium, then umpires should be able to get those calls right consistently if there’s video evidence of when the ball is officially beyond a certain location.
In short, in the age of cell phone cameras and instant-reaction services like Twitter, YouTube, and now shortened video services like Vine and Snapchat, it’s really inexcusable that an umpire gets a call wrong that everyone else in the stadium sees otherwise. It’s hard to say what Hernandez was thinking, as he was generally evasive to the only reporter made available to him after the incident. But if what Torre says about him having access to local broadcast footage is true, then Bud Selig has to take a serious look at imposing some sort of discipline on Hernandez, if for no other reason than to save face amongst accusations that something more sinister was going on, which isn’t without credence after the first two games of the series when Hernandez exhibited a questionable strike zone and botched an out in the next game when Eric Sogard tagged out a baserunner.
I’ll finish this post with by stating the obvious: Major League Baseball owes it to the A’s — as well as every other team in the league — to make this right. It’s a matter of integrity, and while baseball hasn’t done the best job displaying that over the past 30 years, there’s no better time than the present for them to do the right thing.