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Revisiting Jeff Nelson's blown call at first base

Jason Miller

Friday night in Seattle, another umpire missed a call. Granted, it was a strange play and first-base umpire Jeff Nelson seemed contrite after realizing his error. Still, we're left to wonder ...

Anyway, here's the play:

The play occurred after Raul Ibañez and Justin Smoak led off the inning with singles, putting runners on first and second. Jesus Sucre then hit a grounder at Moreland, who threw to second base trying for a double play.

Moreland and Grimm both went to cover first base. Moreland got there first, but the throw from Andrus was to the inside of the bag more toward Grimm, who was a good three feet off the bag. Grimm's glove nearly overlapped with Moreland's when he caught that ball, making it hard to see in real time.

Nelson wasn't the only one to miss it, both clubs' television broadcasts also thought the double play was made until they saw what clearly happened on replay.

Here's the same link, with video included; you can and should see the play for yourself. Nelson's explanation was that he was looking at Moreland's foot on the base and waiting to hear the sound of the ball hitting the glove. Heard that sound before Sucre reached first base, and so he made the call. Perfectly natural and reasonable. See, it's a dirty little secret but the first-base umpire simply can't focus on the first baseman's foot on the base and the baseball hitting the glove. Usually, it's fine; sometimes everybody except the umpire knows what happened. In this case, there was just a really strange situation and Nelson couldn't or didn't see what happened, and neither did anyone else.

Here's the thing, though ... If you watch that clip again, you'll see that Nelson makes an emphatic call ... and then turns his back and strides off into foul territory. Hey, here's an idea! There were two fielders in the area! How's about you stick around and make sure the right fielder's got the ball in his glove?

Essentially, once Nelson made the call, that was it. He was DONE making that call. And there are good reasons for umpires making the call and then moving along. But this one could have been immediately corrected, and maybe this is something for the next round of training: If you can stick around and confirm a call, why not?

Obviously, increased use of video review's going to take care of most of these problems. But that doesn't mean you stop trying to get the calls right in the first place. The biggest problem with more video review is going to be the added delays, which means you still want as few reviews as possible. And the more correct calls initially, the fewer reviews.