Cheap Seats

August 15, 2014

Instant replay is making bad umpiring worse

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Looking at the Cards from a fan's perspective

One of the flaws of instant replay is that it changes the way players play the game while also changing the way umpires are handling calls.

That element was exposed Thursday night when instant replay seemed to effect the way an umpire called a game-deciding play as well as the way the players and management reacted in the immediate aftermath.

The end result was that someone was bound to be unhappy.

With the Redbirds up by one run in the ninth inning, San Diego Padres base runner Alexi Amerista tried to score the tying tally. Cardinals outfielder Shane Robinson made a throw to the plate which resulted in a close play. Umpire "Balkin' Bob" Davidson hesitantly called the runner out then seemed reluctant to make a call at all when Amerista lunged for the plate a second time and St. Louis catcher AJ Pierzynski tried -- unsuccessfully -- to tag him again.

It wasn't the video that changed the outcome game and caused hard feelings as much as it was Davidson's uncertain reaction.

After more than four minutes of waiting while faceless officials in New York reviewed the play over and over again, the video proved to be inconclusive. Since there was no clear and convincing evidence the call of "out" was wrong, it stood. The Cardinals' lead was preserved. But... If Davidson would have called the runner safe, that call also would have likely stood.

Thanks for nothing, instant replay.

But saying instant replay was only a waste of time would be selling it short on this occasion because it actually changed the play on the field in a couple of significant ways. The players and umpire knew the close play would almost certainly be reviewed, and they adjusted the way they handled things accordingly.

If it was 2013, the play would have been over when Pierzynski made the initial tag and Davidson called the runner out. But, since Pierzinski knew the play was likely to be reviewed, when he saw the Padres runner lunge for the plate he was obligated to try to tag him again in the hopes rendering an unfavorable replay moot.

It was Pierzynski's lunge that enraged Padres manager Bud Black. Why? Because Black took Pierzinski's second effort as an admission of guilt that he missed the first tag and Davidson's allowing the players to continue to play as an admission of guilt that he missed the initial call. Black thought that gesture should have given the benefit of the doubt to his player. And, if it would have, the Padres surely would have won the replay decision, tied the game and placed the winning run on base with one out.

When Davidson saw the players continue, he should have turned his back and emphatically refused to make a second call. By letting the play go on, he implied to the players that it wasn't over. At least that's what he would have done if there was no replay. That's the way things have always worked at the plate and I can't blame Black for reaching his conclusion. If the ump thinks a tag was missed and that the runner missed the plate, he can't make a safe or out call until the play is concluded. He stands there with a blank look on his face and waits for another attempt is made before he makes a decision.

Davidson should have ended the play with a definitive call. But he did just the opposite -- made a call initially and then refused to make a second call -- to let the play go on for the sake of replay. Why? Because, if he would have been proved wrong on the initial call, there would have been no way to fix the mistake if the play wasn't allowed to be continued

If the runner was safe on the first tag attempt and Pierzynski didn't try to tag him a second time because the umpire said the play was already over, how would anyone know if he would have been safe or out? The way the umpire handled things changed the way Pierzynski handled things and that ended up causing the controversy that got Black ejected from the game while giving baseball a black eye.

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About Cheap Seats

Scott Wuerz has reported for the Belleville News-Democrat since 1998​. He writes about the St. Louis Cardinals from a fan's perspective in his Cheap Seats blog.

Contact him at swuerz@bnd.com.

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