Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Pirates get the right call, but at what cost?
By David Schoenfield
Here’s what I’m thinking after the end of the Giants-Pirates game that ended with Starling Marte called out at home plate and then called safe, giving the Pirates the not-so-dramatic walk-off reversal: Isn’t this exactly how we don’t want games to end? With a committee meeting?
God knows we have enough of those in the NFL and Congress.
After all, if baseball is entertainment, where does a meeting fit in? Does anybody, in the late stages of life, ever say, "I wish I had attended more meetings. Well, the ones that had the pink frosted doughnuts with sprinkles at least."
We all want the umpires to get better and we want the calls to be correct as often as possible. But more instant replay wasn’t just a demand for a higher rate of precision, but also an appeal to be more like the NFL. The NFL has instant replay and the NFL is more popular than piano-playing cats, so baseball needed it as well. We can see all the wrong calls right there on our flat screens!
But baseball is not the NFL. A baseball season lasts 162 games compared to the NFL’s 16. One wrong call in an NFL game may be exponentially more vital to the game’s outcome -- and possibly the season’s -- than one call in a baseball game. As they like to say, the calls even out over an entire season. Just don’t tell that to the 1985 Cardinals.
In the past, I’ve written that baseball needed more instant replay, primarily because it hurts the sport’s integrity when fans are watching games and seeing blown calls. But the more I think about it, is that really the case? Has anyone stopped watching on TV or stopped going to games because their favorite team got hosed in a game back on May 6? Do bad calls make you a less interested baseball fan?
So there was Starling Marte, hammering a Tim Hudson fastball high off the scoreboard in right field in Pittsburgh, blazing around the bases like he’s racing Usain Bolt, sliding into the third and then scampering home when the relay throw gets away.
Camera pans to disappointed fans.
Here comes Clint Hurdle.
There’s Marte sitting in front of the dugout railing.
Pirates win. A little anticlimactic, to say the least.
OK, in the end the committee got the call right. Buster Posey should have applied the tag when he appeared to get the ball in ample time, but he took a step backward as he reached down to tag Marte and Marte managed to slide his hand underneath Posey's glove.
There is certainly an argument that this is exactly why baseball needs replay. Marte was safe and the Pirates deserved to win. But remember that this play was one of 245 on the night; many of them had an impact on the outcome. This just happened to be the final one.
Of course, this play was arguably complicated by the new rules on home-plate collisions. By the letter of the rule, Posey had the ball before Marte had reached home and thus had the right to block the plate. He may have stepped back on the play believing he had to give Marte a running lane.
The other argument is that we want the players deciding the games, not the umpires -- that this makes the outcome as fair as possible.
I get that. Of course, when leaving the games entirely up to the players we get corked bats and pitchers scuffing the ball and using illegal foreign substances. We get steroids and greenies and spray-on sunscreen.
Is all that stuff fair?
I thought I'd like instant replay more than I have. It's not going away, so it doesn't really do any good to complain about it. But I'm already yearning for that time when we could groan and moan about the umpires costing our team another win.
Oh, and good win for the Pirates. They needed it.
Also, don’t even ask me about robot umps for balls and strikes.