FOR BETTER OR WORSE, UMPIRES MAKE THE BEST CASE FOR REPLAY AS THE THREE STOOGES MEET ABBOTT AND COSTELLO

                                                                                         Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

It’s hard to believe that the umpiring has been so bad this postseason.  In the past, people have said (probably correctly) that lots of bad calls were made decades ago but that there just weren’t 10 camera angles and/or replay and/or slow motion to single them out.  This postseason, however, it’s an epidemic – from Joe Mauer’s double that wasn’t to the two excellent plays that Kevin Youkilis made at first (both Angel runners incorrectly called safe at first) to Nick Swisher not leaving too early to the old two-men-on-third-base trick (except neither one was on third).

WHAT’S BASEBALL TO DO?

Well, baseball opened the door in the last few years when it allowed replay only to judge whether a home run was a home run.  After Mauer doubled against the Yankees just ten feet or so from where the umpire incorrectly ruled it a foul ball, the cries started for replay on whether a ball down the line was fair or foul.  With the epidemic of terrible calls on the bases, it’s not a stretch to at least consider whether egregious (remember, however, that this was how the NFL replay rule started – at least in theory) safe/out calls could be reviewed.

Until now, the cries have been muffled, as mistakes are part of the game even for umpires, blah, blah, blah.  But with so many blatant errors so quickly on such a big stage, baseball can’t stick its head in the sand anymore.  SOMETHING has to be done.

YANKEES-ANGELS GAME 4, PART I

You’ve probably seen the play by now.  Top of the fourth, Nick Swisher gets picked off second by Scott Kazmir.  Erick Aybar tags Swisher maybe 8-12 inches from second.  He’s obviously out but ump Dale Scott, right on the play with a perfect view, inexplicably calls him safe.  Maybe shortstop Erick Aybar, who lost the battle on that “in the neighborhood” double-play call earlier in the series, was told not to argue anything.  But he was clearly out and nobody really needed a video replay to know it.

Now with bases loaded, one out, in the same inning (Swisher on third), Johnny Damon lifts a fly to not-too-deep center.  Torii Hunter comes in, makes a horrible throw home (no chance for a play at the plate) and, while Swisher scores easily, Hunter points to third base, obviously saying that Swisher left early (he didn’t).  Umpire Tim McClelland immediately calls Swisher out on the appeal but the replay not only clearly shows Swisher tagged properly, it also shows that McClelland didn’t look at the runner.

Was this the one of the greatest make-up calls ever?  Well, after the game, McClelland said: “In my heart, I thought he left too soon.”  Long-considered an excellent ump (McClelland, very early in his career, called George Brett out in the famous “Pine Tar’ game), you pretty much have to take him at his word EXCEPT he never looked at the base runner.  Now, presumably, with his peripheral vision he might have seen Swisher but, even if he did, his call was wrong.  Some people were almost hoping that he would say it was clear that Swisher was out at second and he was just doling out justice.  But no umpire would ever say that even if he did it.

Hunter gets an award for playing McClelland and getting the call.  But anyone who’s played a lot of outfield at virtually any level knows this:  when you catch a fly ball, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to see if the runner left early.  What IS possible is to look up and have a feel that the runner left early because he’s so far down the line.  But there’s no way Hunter saw Swisher leave early.

YANKEES-ANGELS GAME 4, PART II

Another play that’s been replayed a thousand times already – top five, second and third, one out, Swisher hits it back to the mound.  Posada leaves on contact (often the play with one out) and has no chance to score.  Pitcher Darren Oliver throws to catcher Mike Napoli who runs Posada back to third.  Robinson Cano has already run close to third from second but inexplicably stops about two feet from third (while motioning to Posada to go home with the catcher holding the ball).

Defying logic and baseball intelligence, Posada runs to third, touches the base AND THEN TAKES A STEP OFF THE BASE TOWARDS LEFT FIELD (you can’t make this stuff up).  Cano still stands a step away from third.  Intelligent catcher Mike Napoli holds the ball up, tags Cano while he’s off the base and tags Posada while he’s off the base.  But ump McClelland calls only Posada out.  Manager Mike Scioscia comes out to argue (nobody from the Angels argued the Swisher pick-off) but, apparently, McClelland says to him what he said to the media after the game: “I thought Cano was on the base when he was tagged.”

It was, frankly, a combination of a Three Stooges routine with bits of Abbott and Costello (“Who’s on first?  I don’t know.  Third Base”).  Why didn’t McClelland ask (or Scioscia request) help from the home-plate (or other) umpire?  Very bizarre (one of them had to see the obvious).   

And while you won’t be able to look this up at Baseball-reference.com, it may very well be that it’s the first time in baseball history that two runners were on third and NEITHER ONE OF THEM WAS TOUCHING THE BASE (again, you can’t make this stuff up).  For 70 years you’ve seen clips, newsreels, tape, everything imaginable (blooper reels) where two guys are standing on third at the same time.  But they’re standing ON third.  But this could be the first highlight in baseball history where NEITHER runner is standing on third base.  Unbelievable.

If anything, once Cano sees that Posada is going to make it back (and that’s a split-second call), he should have run back to second, forcing the catcher to at least make a throw.  But, amazingly, after the ump did not call Cano out, he walked off the base anyway (presumably going back to the dugout because he knew he was out) and was tagged by Napoli.  But, believe it or not, McClelland had called time, thus negating the (second) out tag.

Replay, here we come.

OTHER THOUGHTS ON GAME 4

  1. Brett Gardner was thrown out stealing again, this time not on a pitchout.  Since everyone expects him to go (and he’s very fast), he’s going to have to take a different approach at second:  he’s either going to have to hook slide (unlikely in today’s game) or he’s going to have to run to second about 18 inches out towards the outfield grass.  If he does the latter, he won’t get tagged on the body.  The shortstop will be tagging air and Gardner will just have his left hand reaching for the base while his body will be closer to the outfield than it is now.    
  2. When the Angels did pick Swisher off at second (incorrectly called safe), they used the “timing” pickoff play (as opposed to the “daylight” play attempted by Joe Nathan on Gardner, see Kallas Remarks, 10/12 /09).  On the timing play, the pitcher comes to a stop and then, on a pre-arranged count – usually two or three – the pitcher wheels and throws as the shortstop sprints to second.  It worked to perfection so well against Swisher (despite the bad call), someone should put that play in a pick-off video.  It is rarely used today and very difficult to execute properly.
  3. Bottom of the sixth, Angels have first and second, no out as Juan Rivera grounds into a double play.  With Torii Hunter moving to third (two out now), Jorge Posada starts to walk towards the dugout thinking the inning is over.  An intelligent A-Rod runs to cover home as Hunter thinks about going home.  The funny thing here is that, while everybody correctly criticizes Posada for not knowing how many outs there were, a careful review of the play shows that C C Sabathia, brilliant again on the mound, didn’t know either. 
  4. Last, but far from least, never compare Lou Gehrig’s 1928, 1932 eight-game WORLD SERIES consecutive game RBI streak with A-Rod’s or Ryan Howard’s eight game “post-season” streak.  As with home runs (no modern player is close to Mantle’s 18 or Ruth’s 15 World Series homers), wake me up when one of these guys does it in eight consecutive World Series games.   

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.

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