Major League Baseball's vexing instant replay problem
A blown call on a game-tying home run has renewed calls for the league to update its policy on instant replay
It's a double! It's a home run! It's — no, wait, it's just a blown call.
When Major League Baseball instituted limited instant replay in 2008, it was supposed to prevent umpires from botching potentially game-changing home run calls. Yet as we saw in Wednesday night's Athletics-Indians game, that system is still fallible, leading some to question whether the league should have greater authority to reverse such errors.
Trailing by one run in the ninth inning, A's infielder Adam Rosales crushed a ball that video evidence clearly shows cleared the outfield wall before clanging off a railing and back onto the field. Tie game. Except the umps ruled that hit a double — even after reviewing the video replays. The Indians held on the win the game.
"You saw it. Everybody saw it. I think everybody thought it was a home run except the umpires," Rosales said after the game.
ESPN's Buster Olney offered a novel solution to that problem: Have the league overturn the call, and make the teams replay the end of the game from that point on. As he noted, the league has stepped in before to overturn an umpire's ruling. In 1983's infamous "Pine Tar Incident," MLB officials overruled a call that had invalidated a home run, and forced the two teams, the Yankees and Royals, to resume the game from that play.
On Thursday, the league did step in, sort of, with Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre saying in a statement, "Given what we saw, we recognize that an improper call was made." However, he added that the league had no authority to change the call.
"By rule, the decision to reverse a call by use of instant replay is at the sole discretion of the crew chief," he said. "In the opinion of Angel Hernandez, who was last night's crew chief, there was not clear and convincing evidence to overturn the decision on the field. It was a judgment call, and as such, it stands as final."
While that may be so, proponents of expanded replay say the incident is a prime example for why the league needs to do something about its replay policy.
Arguably the most popular proposal is to simply add one more official to each umpiring crew whose sole job is to sit in a booth and review plays, a practice much like the one used in the NHL. Currently, umpires have to leave the field and delay games to review video evidence, and the league has been wary of expanding the use of instant replay for fear that it would lead to unbearably long games. Proponents of the extra ump idea say it would allow for better officiating while avoiding this problem.
"It is a quick process that takes maybe one minute to get to the phone, communicate with the official and a decision to be rendered," says Bleacher Report's Adam Wells. "By comparison, it took the umpires in Cleveland on Wednesday night three minutes to make a (bad) call."
While league officials had expressed some optimism over the winter about having a new policy in place for this season, they were unable to decide on exactly what that would constitute.
"Unlike when the boundary call rule was introduced down the stretch in 2008, there’s no plan to implement a new solution in time for the 2013 postseason, and so calls all over the field may continue to be blown," reports Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe. "A new system can't come about soon enough."