Dragging Baseball into the 21st Century

It was perfect. 

And yet it wasn’t. 

Armando Gallaraga, a previously ho-hum
starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, had retired 26 consecutive Cleveland
Indians and was only one out away from achieving the 21st perfect game in major
league history.  

The next hitter, Jason Donald, hit a
ground ball to the right side of the infield that was fielded by first baseman
Miguel Cabrera, who waited for Gallaraga to sprint over to first base before
throwing him the ball, which the pitcher caught with his foot on the bag,
comfortably in front of the sprinting Donald.

Last-out.jpg730_20100602211932_660_320.jpg

Gallaraga was already starting to celebrate
as he turned to the first base umpire Jim Joyce for confirmation of the out.
What he got could scarcely be believed, as Joyce called the runner safe,
despite replays showing he was
at least a foot away from the bag. 

That was followed by the highly laudable
grace shown to the umpire by the Tigers organization (after the initial
reaction of screaming in his face, obviously).

Then, as Frank Fitzpatrick of the
Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “All we hear now is that we’ve got to get more
replays. We’ve got to get it right. We’ve got to make baseball flawless.”

Fitzpatrick responds to this call for more replay by saying,
“What these people are really advocating is turning baseball into a soulless
video game…the umpire – and the notion that he’s not going to get every call
correct – is, and has long been, part of the sport’s appeal.”  

The umpire’s union has also long objected
to instant replay, both because it removes the “human element” from the game,
and because it would allegedly slow the game down. 

Enough already. 

The game of baseball is the game of
baseball. The players of baseball are the players of baseball. The fans come to
watch…guess what…a game played by players. No one but the close family and
friends of umpires would EVER go to a game because of the umpires, and I
challenge Fitzpatrick to find a single soul who would cease to watch baseball
if there were no umpires.

And the extra two minutes it would take
for a video review or two per game won’t make any difference. If cricket
(surely the world’s slowest game) can incorporate instant replay/review while
losing none of the atmosphere, then baseball assuredly can. 

Yet Commissioner Bud Selig has quite
openly taken into account the umpire’s union, whose real complaint about
instant replay isn’t the slowness of the game, but the possibility that we
wouldn’t need quite as many umpires, because, guess what, the umpire’s union
isn’t there to assess what’s best for baseball, or for fans. It’s there to
lobby for the interests of the umpires.  

Why did we ever have umpires? To act as
neutral arbiters, so that when the hustling runner thought he was safe and the first
baseman begged to differ, there’d be someone there – utterly disinterested in
the result – to give a judgment that could be respected.  

Umpires were not put there because they
occasionally did things wrong, which we found charming, and wanted to pay to
see. 

No one is calling for the removal of
umpires in favour of beeping autobots. Beeping autobots are likewise not the
inevitable end of any road that starts with the use of technological aids. But
for fans to have access to information that shows what call should be made, and
for major league baseball to steadfastly refuse to use it, to insist, rather,
that “charming” errors and umpires’ job security are more important than
getting it right? That is as insulting to the game itself as it is,
increasingly, to the fans who pay to see it. 

Frank Fitzpatrick, the Commissioner and
the umpires themselves need to wake up to that.  

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