“I’ve never questioned the integrity of an umpire,” Leo Durocher penned his thought into his 1975 memoirs. “Their eyesight, yes.”
Durocher debuted in the MLB in 1925 for the New York Yankees as a shortstop and would remain involved in the game until he retired from his post managing the Houston Astros in 1973. The Hall of Famer, with nearly 50 years of MLB experience, had as much right as anyone to question the calls of umpires. He would never live to see the solution to the problem, as he died in 1991.
The 2014 season will reap the benefits of the new expanded instant replay system that owners unanimously approved in January. The World Umpires Association also consented to the change.
Imagine asking surgeons whether or not they want to be held liable for malpractice. That must be how Bud Selig felt as he approached the umpires. The rule change sharply reduces the pressure on umpires to make the right call the first time, every time.
On June 2, 2010, Jim Joyce called Jason Donald safe at first base.
Armando Galarraga had pitched 8.2 perfect innings, and appeared to clinch the final out as he induced a ground ball in the ninth inning. The Miguel Cabrera tossed the ball to Galarraga as he covered first base, in time to beat Donald to the bag.
That’s when Joyce made his call, spoiling Galarraga’s bid and his chance at making history.
Joyce was a well-respected 22-year veteran, but he made a mistake. After the game, he saw a replay of the video, and admitted his blunder.
“Nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s human. I understand,” said Galarraga of Joyce.
Everybody is, in fact, human. But, the technology that we have developed allows us to avoid some of our flaws. If Joyce were permitted to see the replay during the game, the original call would’ve been reversed, and Galarraga would have his name in the history books, as he deserves.
Like any major decision, the expansion of instant replay has its opposition. Baseball purists cite the traditional human elements of the game, and how that heritage must be preserved. The concept of spell check offers the counterpoint. Humans make mistakes, but spell check allows writers to fix those errors in order to produce a better product. Why should baseball be any different?
The abilities of instant replay will destroy one aspect of baseball that is cherished by many. Starting in 2014, managers who disagree with umpires will no longer have to raise their voice. Instead, they will politely ask for the play to be reviewed.
Expanded instant replay brings fans the commodity of correct calls. The truth will be told, and at the end of the season, that is what will matter. Replay allows the guy who made the play to receive his credit, and his team to reap the benefits. That is the real change. The better team surely will now be awarded the victory.
Some calls will still be up for debate. Most notably, technology will not be permitted in determining whether a pitch is a ball or strike. The rule change also finds limitations in a cap placed on the number of plays a manager can challenge. Each team is guaranteed a single challenge, and can earn a second if the first is successful.
“We’re really going for the dramatic miss, not all misses,” said former manager and current MLB executive Tony La Russa. “This is a challenge for a game-changing play that goes against you, and now you can correct it.”
Unfortunately, every call that is corrected will leave one team upset. Though the call will be more fair and accurate, players who have a play taken from them will surely be unhappy.
Though he is now deceased, long-time NL umpire Harry Wendelstadt said, “If they did get a machine to replace us, you know what would happen to it? Why, the players would bust it to pieces every time it ruled against them. They’d clobber it with a bat.”
The machine is here. This season, we will determine its fate.
– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor