by John J. Miller on June 27, 2010 · 22 comments

in Blog Posts

  • Sumo

Have the baseball gods forsaken the Detroit Tigers? It seems like the umpires have. The game on Saturday against the Braves ended with a bases-loaded, third-strike call against Tigers hitter Johnny Damon–even though the pitch was well outside the strike zone, as the home-plate umpire now basically admits. If the ump had called the pitch a ball rather than a strike, Damon would have walked and the tying run would have scored. Instead, the game ended with a Tigers loss. (Hat tip: the indispensable Bless You Boys.)

This comes on the heels of Armando Galarraga’s 28-out perfect game on June 2–the one that doesn’t go into the official record books as a perfect game because the first-base umpire called a runner safe even though he was clearly out. Galarraga went back to the mound and got another out, his fourth of the inning and 28th of the game. I’m kind of glad it turned out the way it did because Galarraga went on to show everybody how grown-ups are supposed to behave in difficult circumstances. But it was still a blown call against one of my Tigers, as the ump famously confessed.

The Tigers now lead the league in umpire apologies.

Last season wasn’t so hot either. The tie-breaking, add-on 163rd game against the Twins went into extra innings. With the bases loaded, Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge was hit by a pitch. The ball brushed his jersey, as a photo makes clear. If the umpire had awarded him first base, the Tigers would have taken the lead. Instead, they went on to lose. Their season was over.

When it comes to the Tigers, I’ll admit that I’m wildly partisan. Yet I’m also starting to favor the idea of video review in baseball–some version of it beyond what’s already done to have a second look at controversial homers. For me to come around completely, it will probably take only one or two more flagrant examples of the Tigers getting screwed out of wins.

With the Tigers’ luck, we’ll get video review just in time to reverse a close call that goes in their favor. And I’ll be outraged all over again.

  • Larvell Blanks

    Whaddya mean? That looks like a run-of-the-mill Glavine strike to me.

  • Quayle

    I agree – it’s a travesty. Your only hope for satisfaction and happiness is to become a Yankee fan.

  • B. Johnson

    John, I would be willing to bet you that you have never umpired a baseball game in your life.

    Rule 4.19 prohibits protests on judgment calls.
    And while last night’s (and Joyce’s) call looks easy to fix, here’s a couple of scenarios that results from opening this can of replay worms:

    1. Albert Pujols at bat vs Cincinnati with a runner on 1st and 2 out. Pujols hits a ball down the right field line and the umpire calls “foul ball.” Both Pujols and the runner stop running and Jay Bruce slows to a trot to get the ball and throw it into the stands. Replays show the ball was actually fair. OK, replay guys, where do you place the runners? And who is to say that Bruce, who has a cannon for an arm, wouldn’t throw out Pujols at second or the runner trying to score?

    2. Full count on the batter and the runner at second base is moving with the pitch. Ball hit deep to short and the batter is thrown out at first. Only the replay was shows he was actually safe. Thinking he got the 3rd out, the first baseman heads to the dugout and doesn’t attempt to get the runner at the plate. Do you allow the run to score? In this scenario, no matter what call you make, one team is going to get screwed.

    Baseball is life and life is not fair. Stop whining like a liberal. When my liberal Detroit friends called on the Commish to “make it right” for Galarraga I pointed out to them that liberalism made that impossible since an arbitrary (i.e., outside the book ruling by Selig would probably be viewed as a violation of CBA between baseball and the umpires union.

    If you absolutely HAD to expand video review, my first instinct as an umpire would be to allow it on any play that I or any other umpire hasn’t interfered with, that is, where a call has stopped players from taking action.

    Let’s say a ball is hit up the middle and strikes an advancing runner but the umpire doesn’t see it. After the conclusion of the play and all runners have ceased trying to advance, THAT should be reviewable. If the replay shows without a doubt the runner was hit, declare the runner out and advance the runners one base from where they were at the time of the pitch (if forced). Which is exactly what would have happened had the umpire seen the play the first time.

    Batter hit by pitch. Easy to correct. Batter to 1st, runners moved if forced.

    Interference or obstruction calls after the conclusion of the play. Think Ed Armbrister’s bunt in 1975 and Reggie Jackson’s hip in 1978. Or bunt where the batter doesn’t run in the running lane and the catcher’s throw hits him.

    Appeal plays where no umpire can say with certainty that he saw that a runner missed a base or left too soon on a sacrifice fly.

    Judgment calls have to be left alone. No out in baseball should carry more weight than any other. Many have made the argument that the 27th out ends the game so reversing that call is no big deal. But after the halfway mark, if the weather is iffy, every out could be the final out.

    And while Mr. Galarraga doesn’t get his name in the record book, it is still a team game and nothing Joyce did altered the outcome of the game. Even those things that ARE protestable, i.e. a misreading or misapplication of the rules, the protesting team is not assured of a do-over. “Even if it is held that the protested decision violated the rules, no replay of the game will be ordered unless in the opinion of the League President the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning the game.”

  • It’s a real shame when everyone except the umpire knows he was wrong, but he doesn’t know it until he sees a replay. Umpire apologies are ringing a little hollow these days. I’m not a Tigers fan, but I am a baseball fan, and it’s time to take some control of the game away from umpires who are incapable of seeing what is happening right in front of them.

  • Some dude

    FoxTrax should call balls and strikes. Seriously.

  • Millington Dave

    Seems like the big calls are going against our Tigs this year. But that’s baseball, and there is no crying……you know.

    The Tigers will get ’em today.

  • Ronnie Schreiber

    B. Johnson June 27, 2010 at 8:12 am

    John, I would be willing to bet you that you have never umpired a baseball game in your life.

    The standard response from guilds defending their members from provable charges of incompetence.

    How dare the paying customers question the high lords behind the plate! I’m sure that if you polled MLB umpires, most would be unhappy that Jim Joyce admitted his mistake.

    Cops and their badge bunnies do the same thing.

    The fact is that baseball, more than any other sport, is dependent on good officiating, because officials make the call on every pitch, let alone every play.

    You make it sound like none of us knows the difference between a ball and a strike, that none of us has ever batted or pitched.

    Fact is, baseball has some of the worst officiating in sports, though outside of balls and strikes MLB umps are probably more consistent than NBA and NHL refs – the NFL has the best officiating and it’s telling that it was the first sport to institute video review.

    I don’t think any MLB umpires have used any of the official strike zones since I was a kid, even though MLB has made the official strikezone smaller over the years.

    The current rule is “The Strike Zone is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the bottom of the knees. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.”

    What used to be a strike, at the letters, is now officially a ball. It doesn’t really matter, because it looks from the stands that MLB umps won’t call a pitch a strike if it’s more than 6″ above the waist. They also have generally given the batter one side of the plate, calling pitches on the inside corner balls, and calling pitches 6″ off of the outside of the plate as strikes.

  • BobOnStatenIsland

    There should also be an investigation into officials gambling. Follow the money. That the one NBA ref. caught gambling was the ONLY NBA ref. gambling is a rediculous assumption. And like Wayne Gretzky, it’s the wives, brothers, in-laws, etc., who are placing these bets. I firmly believe that officials in the NFL, NBA and MLB can and do effect the outcome of games to bennefit their wallets.

  • ToddB

    Yeah, but if he’d called the strike earlier in the inning that he said was a ball, this would all be a moot point. He should maybe apologize for being inconsistent the entire game, but that was just unfortunate timing for Detroit that he got yet another one wrong right there.

    And anyway, the baseball gods owe the Braves a call or two their way when playing against Leyland! We’re still in the down column on that score.

  • BobOnStatenIsland

    I would like to add to B.Johnson’s list of uses for replay: The stolen base. This is a sigle action play where either you are safe or not. All too often lately I find the call is wrong be it because of point of viewing from the ump or just a bad call.
    And the argument that reviewing these calls would slow a game down must be the argument from the Umpire’s union. When, while watching the game at home on the large HD screen, I can see the replay instantly form, depending on the venue (Yankee Stadium seems to have the most cameras) up to five or more angles in super slow motion. Isn’t it logical that the same can be done on the massively large HD screens in almost all the ball parks today instantly as well? Why this practice isn’t done in the ballpark itself already is obvious because the crowds would be demading the heads of the umpires.
    Let’s face it, if the umps are going to appollogize after seeing the replay anyway, why not give them the opportunity to reverse the call immediately or come clean and admit they didn’t get a good enough look and need to see the replay.
    Of course, as I stated earlier, that all may depend on the odds in Vegas.

  • Capt G

    I think John knows that such efforts to make baseball more perfect are nothing more than the liberal belief in the perfectibility of man, on grass.

    The Galarraga situation was a personal record, not a team record. Losing the one-game playoff to the Twins was the Tigers fault for swooning late, getting themselves into that situation.

    The Tigers will end up with the record they deserve. Unlike the Yankees, who always have to have a scapegoat for failure. Which is why Yankee fans are rarely happy and never satisfied. Their Faustian bargain will not be forgotten in the hereafter.


    Looks like Leyland needed to vent a bit today after another bad call was made at 1st base – JV clearly beat the throw from the catcher. Jim’s heated argument was uncharacteristically out of proportion to the importance of the particular blown call, which leads me to believe he felt the need to dress down this particular crew a little, and let off some of the steam that has been building.

  • Arizona Wayne

    I agree with B Johnson. Life is not fair and Baseball sometime isn’t either. Let’s keep Baseball Old School and yell at Blue when he blows it.

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  • Mooner

    I was watching the game yesterday in an Athens, Georgia bar – where obviously the patrons were vociferously pro-Braves with nary a Detroit fan in sight. There was barely a cheer among the patrons as that strike was called; instead there were shared looks of disbelief. We all waited for Fox to display their strike zone graphic on the replay (as they had done at key points earlier in the game) to see if our eyes had deceived us, but it didn’t happen. I love the Braves, but there is no question – Detroit was robbed.

  • DSM

    [from two posts by two separate authors] “Baseball is life and life is not fair. Stop whining like a liberal.” and “I think John knows that such efforts to make baseball more perfect are nothing more than the liberal belief in the perfectibility of man, on grass.”

    This is all kinds of absurd. Helping the poor does not require rejecting the Dominical wisdom that we will always have the poor with us. The same man who warned us about the latter commanded the former.

    Considering whether there are ways to avoid some of the most egregious mistakes in baseball isn’t whining like a liberal, or rejecting human limitations, or whatever.

    There’s got to be a word for people who overinterpret things (like instant-frakking-replay!) in terms of some overarching philosophical scheme. Those who do wind up supporting extremely odd arguments, which at least in classical Christianity are borderline-heretical. (I can’t speak to other traditions.)

    No, not every error can be fixed. No, not every error can be avoided. No, not every error can be even be mitigated without introducing other costs, and sometimes, maybe even often, the costs aren’t worth it.

    But far more importantly: no, attempting to fix a problem needn’t be a sign that we’re on our way to immanentizing the eschaton. Good grief!

  • Spencer


    While I certainly can appreciate what in poker is akin to a “cooler” happening to your team and the insistence that something be done to prevent this atrocity, I think you have to remember that over time, statistically, umpires do get most calls right (that’s one of the reasons that when they do get it wrong, particularly at a really bad time we perk up and notice).

    I don’t know the exact percentage of calls that umpires get “right” but, as I mentioned before, I believe that it is very high percentage. In order to rationally decide if replay is right we’d have to weigh more than a few anecdotal examples. What we’d have to do is weigh the improvement that replay would give us in the percentage of calls that would be properly overturned versus the myriad negatives of extra time, extra cost, the pleasure we (and talk radio, newspapers, websites, etc.) attain from arguing over borderline bad calls, the potential effects of the video replay on umpire behavior (might they under perform if they feel they have a safety net?).

    There are a lot of fair ways to analyze the issue, but I don’t think the, and you’ll excuse me for saying this, classic liberal’s gambit of pointing to anecdotal evidence that is likely anomaly as justification for new regulation, is the proper way to approach this.

  • B. Johnson

    Ronnie Schreiber takes offense at me defending the men in blue, “You make it sound like none of us knows the difference between a ball and a strike, that none of us has ever batted or pitched.”

    Of all the baseball folks I’ve ever met, players are the least knowledgeable about the rules of the game (besides the TV announcers). And very few players really have a grasp of their own strike zone. As one wag put it, being behind the plate is the best seat in baseball but you have to stand.

    Ronnie continues, ” I don’t think any MLB umpires have used any of the official strike zones since I was a kid…”

    Major League Baseball uses a computerized system called Zone Evaluation to track each umpire’s ball and strike calls. It replaced the controversial QuesTec system last season. That’s the data that you see on and on television in such applications as Fox Trax. It is also used in the year-end evaluations of the umpires by their MLB supervisors.

    But the main reason I think you need to walk in the Blues’ shoes before you criticize is that baseball is THE single hardest game to officiate.
    There are 25 ways for a runner to score from 3rd base on any given play and the umpire charged with making sure it’s all done by the book is also the one calling balls and strikes.

    Finally, a great deal of the action also takes place far away from the ball. Relying on cameramen to catch every contestable call is absurd.

    In today’s Tigers-Braves game there were over 363 judgment calls made by the umpires. If they blew just 2 of those calls they were 99.45% accurate.

  • Terry in Detroit

    First of all, a few of these comments are ridiculous! I might not be the most educated person but I am far from being dumb. This is what DSM wrote.—” But far more importantly: no, attempting to fix a problem needn’t be a sign that we’re on our way to immanentizing the eschaton”. WTH does that mean? I don`t know, maybe I am stupid, lol. Then on another comment by B. Johnson. He wrote that we can`t have instant replay because no one would be able to figure out where the runners go in certain situations. I think they would be smart enough to figure that out pretty easy the majority of the time. Doesn`t take a rocket scientist to figure out where a runner would end up on any given play, geez. Your 1st scenerio with Pujols. You would give the runners 1 extra base just like a ground rule double. If there is a runner on 1st he has to stay at 3rd even though he probably would have scored on the GRD. I think any team would take the hit and be satisfied (AFTER REPLAY) instead of the foul ball and not cry that the runner on 2nd would have scored. Again I am referring to your Pujols scenerio. BobOnStantenIsland hit it right on the head about looking into these people gambling . They will have someone else putting the bets in for them. It will be a hard thing to investigate but think it has to be done especially on an ump that makes a call like the 1 in the Det/Atl game.

    That ball had to be almost a foot outside. The catcher caught it with his mitt outside the batting box line. Just coincedence that the worst strike call I have ever seen in my life comes with the whole game riding on it? Didn`t see that ump call any other pitches strikes even half as much outside. He should be suspended and looked into. If he doesn`t cooperate he loses his job. NO way in the world did he actually think he saw that as a strike, can`t be possible! I think there is something very fishy about that call.

  • Terry In Detroit

    Forgot 1 other thing. Cuzzi is the same ump (DET/ATL) that made the horrible foul ball call on Mauer in the playoffs against the Yankees. That call also cost the Twins a win. Find it hard to believe he misses a call like that being right there on the foul line. Hmmm, wonder if there are more horrible calls he has made like the 2 mentioned. Sure every ump is going to miss bang bang plays in his career but when they are so clear cut wrong and not even close it makes you wonder what`s going on?

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  • DSM

    Terry in Detroit: “immanentizing the eschaton” is about trying to make an earthly Heaven. The obscurity of the phrase is kind of a National Review/WFB inside joke. There are t-shirts.

    The point here is that those of us who want to consider ways to improve baseball’s accuracy (like in hockey, or football) doesn’t mean we secretly subscribe to airy theories about how social engineering can make us all perfect and remove tragedy from life.

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