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Column: Baseball survives without instant replay
Wise sold the third base umpire just by diving into the stands to catch a foul ball. For good measure, he held his glove in the air in triumph and gave Derek Jeter a glove tap as he trotted for the dugout, the third out of the inning secured.
If the umpires watched the replay, they would see Wise never caught the ball. Never really came close, though the fans whose laps he ended up in surely appreciated the effort.
“What was I supposed to do? Run back to left field?” Wise said. “I saw him looking at my glove so I just got up, put my head down and ran off the field.”
The ethics of his obfuscation can be debated. The fact that umpire Mike DiMuro not only blew the call but never asked to see the ball in his glove is indisputable.
Wise and the Yankees got away with one against the Cleveland Indians, and the inevitable cry for expanded instant replay in baseball quickly followed. The only difference this time was the wrong call was made not because of human error, but because DiMuro failed to follow fundamental umpiring procedures.
Instant replay advocates will tell you that doesn’t matter. To them, the only thing that does matter is justice is served, whether by the umpire on the field or one up in a television booth.
They’re wrong, which means Bud Selig is right. Say what you want about the baseball commissioner’s reign in office _ his handling of the steroid era in particular _ he’s on the right side when it comes to use of expanded instant replay in a sport that has thrived for over a century without it.
Selig has bent some on his opposition to instant replay, instituting it for disputed home run calls a few years back. With approval from umpires and players, odds are next season it will be used for what Selig calls “bullets” hit down the line and trapped balls in the outfield.
That’s it for now. Hopefully, that’s it for a long time to come.
“I’ve had very, very little pressure from people who want to do more,” Selig said in May.
Indeed, it’s a slippery slope from there. Foul balls, sure, but how about bang-bang plays on the bases where umpires can study five different replays for 15 minutes and still not figure out the call?
Imagine instant replay for balks. Can a manager throw a red flag on the field on a pickoff move when figuring out what is a balk really is remains subjective to even umpires?
And, of course, balls and strikes. No one knows what the strike zone really is, but we do know it’s a moving target between umpires and leagues that has resisted definition even after more than 60 years of televised games.
It’s part of the beauty of the game, just as the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium and the Green Monster at Fenway flout the idea of perfect symmetry across baseball. Things aren’t always fair, but it’s baseball and they tend to even out over time.
Use instant replay or pitch tracking technology on balls and strikes and Matt Cain probably doesn’t get his perfect game for San Francisco a few weeks ago, when some of the strike calls in the later innings seemed charitable at best. Nothing new there, since Don Larsen got a questionable call in his favor on the final strike of his perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
On the flip side, Armando Galarraga would have had a perfect game for Detroit two years ago if umpire Jim Joyce made the right call on what should have been the 27th out of the game. Replays showed Galarraga got the out at first base just ahead of the runner, but he was called safe and the perfect game and no-hitter were history.
Football has spoiled us with instant replay, making us believe all calls eventually are made correctly even when that isn’t always so. Television cameras in the high definition age can do wondrous things, but there are still some calls so borderline and some angles so awkward that nothing is 100 percent certain.
Sure, instant replay may right some wrongs. But it takes away some of the magic of the game; some of the things that are as traditional about baseball as hot dogs and cold beer.
I’d rather watch a player or manager get in a losing argument with an umpire about a disputed call than watch all four umpires huddle around a TV screen to see if they got it right. I also have no problem accepting what might be a bad call against a team I’m rooting for because baseball history tells us that down the road my team will get a call it may not deserve.
The Yankees got an out they shouldn’t. The umpires showed again they’re not always perfect.
Somehow, baseball survived, just as it always has.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org
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