Tigers Baseball Outsider

a thinking fan's perspective

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Men In Black Must Get The Call Right

A couple of weeks ago, the American League Central looked like a race between two horses. The Twins were three ahead of the Tigers, and the White Sox were four behind.

But lo and behold – it's now a three horse race.

And now we sit in the final days of June – the final weeks before the All Star Game – with the Twins up by a game and a half, and the White Sox and Tigers now tied for second.

Every game of the one hundred and sixty two to be played in a season is equally important. The Tigers and Twins proved that point and punctuated it with a big old game 163 to determine the AL Central winner. A change in any win or loss in the prior one hindered and sixty two played by either team would have nullified the need for that 163rd game.

No longer do Tiger fans – nor Twins fans I presume – feel comfortable in stating "It's a long season and it's early yet…", because every win and loss is added up into the same totals column on the stats sheet.

But the outcome of a game is not entirely within the control of the players on the field. The men in black are showing us more and more this season that the final out of a game is equally decided by their judgments – right or wrong – accurate or blindly self righteous.

The blindly self righteous umpiring needs to be changed. These men in black – the blind bums as baseball fans have known them now for over a century – they need to get it right!

Just last night – a shining example again played itself out for Tiger fans.

The Tigers were playing the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field and were down four to one in the top of the ninth. Miguel Cabrera ripped a scorching solo dinger to make it four to two. Brenan Boesch struck out. And so did Guillen – the Tigers down to their last out. Brandon Inge fouled off some six or more strikes to finally earn a walk.

It was Inge's best at bat of the season.

Then the wheels fell off the otherwise impeccable Atlanta bullpen. The next three batters were walked – and the score now stood at four to three. And Johnny Damon came to the plate. With the count full, the wily veteran held off on a pitch well outside the plate. The tying run should have walked into home with Ramón Santiago due to come to the plate next for a chance to take the lead with a base hit.

The third strike called on Johnny Damon by umpire Gary Cederstrom.
But that outside pitch was called a strike. Damon argued with the umpire as they walked off the field together – asking in the end that the umpire to please look at the replay when he got in the club house.

And for the second time this 2010 season, the umpire agreed he had missed a call – stating to a pool reporter after the game – "it didn't look good".

And then everyone went home.

The Braves Announcers said "well, a win is a win I guess".

So true. It's been that way as long as umpires have been known as blind bums.

The Tigers cheated out of one of those one hundred and sixty two very important chances to win the game.

The Twins having beaten the Mets that day with outstanding pitching – and the White Sox winning as well, the Tigers fell from a half game back to a game and a half back of the Twins and into a tie with the once distant White Sox.

And again the idea of using the available technologies of the day to ensure umpire accuracy is discussed. And this is a discussion I personally don't like to hear.

I am a person who makes their living by designing and constructing technical solutions. And my feeling has always been that technology is best applied to enhance the work of human beings – not make up for a person's inadequacies.

To do so means it no longer matters if people make mistakes – the technology will correct them. The person no longer to be held accountable – the technology will right the wrong.

Oh, sure there are places for such thinking – like in the air traffic control tower where mistakes cost people their lives – or in operating rooms where a slip can also cost the life of a patient.

But for crying out loud this is baseball.

Why have umpires at all if technology like instant replay and pitch tracking can result in a one hundred percent accuracy rate? Why pay a guy to dress in black and stand behind the plate if his calls don't matter.

Imagine the inevitable outcome of such a direction. A routine pop fly to center field – caught easily by the fielder – and the sound of an automated female voice ringing out over the loudspeaker "The batter is out". Next – a single up the gap – the runner turns first and slides into second as the throw from the left fielder reaches the second baseman and the tag is applied ….. seconds pass … the automated female voice over the loudspeaker states unemotionally … "the runner is safe".

No umpire behind second swinging his arms apart to make the call visible at the second it happens … merely a soft female voice … like the one who asks you one the phone … "press one for billing inquiries" …. Making the calls on the field.

Do you want that?

Or all eyes moving to the big scoreboard video screen to see if the pitch was inside or outside the strike zone – defined by a square – the ball a mere dot?

That's not baseball.

A lot of talk has been made of late about the 'human element'.

What I have just described to you is the result - should the human element of the umpire be removed from baseball.

Mindless automated unemotional responses to questions that have fans players and coaches waiting breathlessly for the response.

Do we want that?

Personally, I don't want that.

I want that umpire behind the plate making the call on balls on strikes with the option to ask the umpire at first or third if the batter went too far. I want that man in black standing behind second base making a call with either a fist pump or a swing of the arms to call safe or out.

What I want is umpire accountability.

What I want is umpire reversibility.

But maybe there is a place where the two positions can meet in the middle.

A compromise. A real solution.

You see, in my opinion, the problem is that the Umpire has it embedded into his head that once he has made a call – he can reverse it. He can't change his mind. He can't say – "oops, I really screwed that up … the runner was out!" or "I spoke to fast … the pitch was a ball".

If we think so highly of an umpire – like Jim Joyce – who's bad call cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game on June 2nd – by calling the runner safe when he was indeed clearly out – as they admit their mistake with contrite sincerity – then why can't that umpire change his mind so he can right the wrong when it counts – during the game?

That's the old fashioned line of thinking that needs to change – an umpire can admit he was wrong – that he spoke to quickly – that he had doubt – and then let the umpire see the instant replay - have a look – and make the right call.

Not a female automated voice – or graphic displays on a scoreboard screen. Show the replay on the scoreboard so it's clear to everyone – which they do not do now – and the umpire then forced to change his mind if he is wrong.

It takes a big man to admit he is wrong.

It takes a bigger man to admit he is wrong in front of 43,000 screaming fans – but if he makes it right – then all is forgiven.

And an umpire in the Major Leagues – in The Bigs – in The Show – should that big a man.

And remember – it works both ways – in half of these instances the umpire will be proven right. And when those times come – the umpire should be able to say to those 43,000 screaming fans

"See, I told you so – now shut the hell up and let me call this game!"

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