Umpires -- Not Commissioner -- Holding Up Expansion Of Video Review

Manager Robin Ventura #23 of the Chicago White Sox argues a call with home plate umpire Adrian Johnson #80 during the opening day game against the Detroit Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Almost everyone seems to want more video review of the close calls, but there are a lot of moving parts, and so far nobody's been able to fit all of them together.

Bad umpiring taketh, and bad umpiring giveth.

A couple of years ago, bad umpiring tooketh a perfect game from Armando Galarraga.

Last week, bad umpiring gaveth the New York Mets their first-ever no-hitter.

Mets fans are presumably happy about the latter, but I will argue that blown calls are, accounting for all things, a net negative. We gain lore, and things like the first-ever Mets no-hitter. We lose justice, and things like Armando Galarraga throwing a freaking perfect game.

On a personal level, I probably would have lost my favorite team's World Championship. But if justice wins out, small sacrifices must be made.

Anyway, a lot of people have been wondering why we've now been stuck with the same video-review protocol since 2008. Jayson Stark does more than wonder, writing, "The moment I saw Adrian Johnson rule foul ball on Carlos Beltran's ground ball over the third-base bag Friday night, my first thought was: 'Uh-oh'. "


There's an invention that could have corrected that call, an invention known as replay machines. And this sport was supposed to be using them already, starting THIS season.

It's right there in the new Basic Agreement. I just read it again with my own eyeballs. The players and owners negotiated it this past fall -- an expansion of replay to include fair/foul and trap/catch calls. And let me remind you once more:

It was all supposed to kick in THIS YEAR.

But it didn't. Obviously. It didn't because baseball had to get the umpires' union to sign off on it, too. And guess what? That never happened. Imagine that.

Yeah. Imagine. We blame Bud Selig for everything -- bad umpiring, the Giants' intransigence regarding territorial rights, desertification in north-central Africa -- but it's not like he can just wave a wand and fix everything, despite what you might have heard (from him, but still).

It's simply impossible to expand the use of video review without the umpires' buy-in. And they're not thrilled with expanding review to include fair/foul and trap/catch calls for at least two reasons ...

1. The umpires on the field would lose authority.
There's really no way around this. Fundamentally, umpires become umpires because they enjoy being in charge. I would guess that being the child of an umpire might not be a great deal of fun, but then again I might be utterly mistaken; perhaps they're the greatest fathers in the world. But I digress. My point is that umpires aren't going to give up their authority without at least a small fight. They really don't care a great deal about justice, or the general health and welfare of Major League Baseball; like the rest of us, they're thinking largely of themselves.

2. Their jobs will become, in at least one respect, harder.
How, you might wonder? Stark writes well about this issue. Go back to Carlos Beltran's foul ball against Johan Santana that really should have been a double. The third-base umpire immediately called it foul, and so Beltran returned to the plate. What would have happened if the call had been overruled by someone in New York? Beltran would have been awarded a double, most likely. But what if there had been a runner on first base? Would he have been sent to third? Instructed to trot all the way home and score?

Of course, umpires already have to make these sorts of judgments in the event of fan interference. But they don't like making them, and usually they just punt and treat fan interference like an automatic double. Because if they appear to exercise any real judgment, often as not they'll get a long argument from the manager.

Which is why Stark suggests that if you're going to ask the umpires to make a number of these judgments -- and there would be many more than there are now; just think of all the trap/catch calls -- you would probably have to institute a rule that simply prohibited managers from arguing about baserunner placement. Violate the rule and you're immediately ejected and suspended for a game or two. Or something.

Because those would be tough judgments for the umpires. They might have to consider the range and arm strength of the fielder(s) and the baserunning talents of multiple runners. There would be a lot of variables in that equation, and the umpires would inevitably come up with some incorrect answers. For which you and I and the managers and the broadcasters will necessarily excoriate them.

Of course, there is another possibility. Instead of asking the umpires to make any of those judgments, MLB could simply treat every foul ball turned into a fair ball and caught ball turned into a trapped ball like an automatic double. After all, there's really no good reason for automatic doubles to be automatic doubles. In a just world, if you've got a fast runner on first base and there are two outs and a long fly ball bounces over the fence, the fast runner would score every time. But he doesn't. He's stuck on third base, which has cost teams uncounted runs over the years.

They could just say that a reversed call in the infield is an automatic single, the runners moving up one base, and a reversed call in the outfield is worth two bases, just like an automatic double.

I'm not saying that's what I would do. I like ambiguity and arguments, and I want to see the umpires making more judgments rather than fewer, assuming the judgments lead to more justice rather than less. But that does seem like a solution that all the stakeholders might get behind.

You're welcome, Commissioner Bud. Please feel free to call and thank me personally, any time.

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