Eagle Sides with Digital Review in MLB

Getting it right with technology gets umpires off the hook of having to be infallible.

Getting it right with technology gets umpires off the hook of having to be infallible.

It may be the end of “three blind mice” mythology, but so be it. The use of multiple perspective digital replay is streaming accuracy into the game of major league baseball at the same time it loosens the burden of infallibility from the shoulders of the umpires who normally are the final word on every safe/out, fair/foul, yes/no close field play in the game.

The human eye, viewing any incredibly fast close play on the field, cannot possibly “get ’em all right” from one perspective, but, until the new technology made it possible, that has been the burden of the arbiters that are so important to the honest government of our beautiful game from the very start.

Iconic umpire Bill Klem said it best when he described his job calling balls and strikes. “They ain’t nothing until I call them,” Klem said, and he said it exactly right. He said that a pitched ball was neither a ball or a strike until he, the umpire, said it was one or the other. Klem did not say that a pitch was neither a ball or a strike until he saw exactly where it passed, in or out of contact with the strike zone. It’s probably just a matter of time before improving technology and increasing baseball cultural acceptance makes it possible for a batter, more uniformly objective calling of balls and strikes is finally possible. Until then, we will simply have to keep on settling for the reality that human eye calls by umpires on plays involving balls that routinely travel in speeds exceeding 100 mph always are going to be governed by those with mostly good intentions, variable perceptions, and, sometimes enormous egos.

Can we do better than that for the sake of accuracy? You bet. We simply have to embrace the courage to change the things we can change. With the help of the new technology, how we officiate our game of baseball, and all of its instances of inches and nanosecond difference on so many plays, we can vastly improve our ability to “get it right” on plays that sometimes carry with them the power to alter the course of baseball history.

My favorite example of this historical problem goes back to the 1948 American League pennant race in which the Indians, Red Sox, and the Yankees were all chasing each other to the wire for the pennant. The Indians and Red Sox ended up in a dead heat for first place and were then assigned to play a one-game playoff for the AL pennant in Boston for the pennant.. The Indians won the playoff and then went forth to take the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series for their last MLB experience finishing the season as the last MLB of that year to walk off the field on the last day as a winner.

Red Sox Nation was crushed, of course. Many of them could not help thinking back to an earlier game in the summer at Fenway in which a dubious umpire call effectively handed the game to Cleveland. Had the Red Sox been able to win that June 8th game with Cleveland, there would have been no playoff. The Red Sox would have won the 1948 pennant – and who knows where that altered history might have taken the lore process of the game over the years to come?

On June 8, 1948, Cleveland @ Boston pitted two rookie sensations, Gene Bearden of the Indians and Mel Parnell of the Red Sox squaring off against each other. Scoreless through three innings, playing manager-shortstop Lou Boudreau came to bat in the top of the fourth with Allie Clark on base. On page 17 of “The Season of ’49”, David Halberstam does a great job of describing next what then unfolded:

“With one man on, Lou Boudreau hit a sharp line drive toward the right-field line. In the eyes of almost everyone there the ball hooked foul and into the stands long before it reached the foul pole. A fan who was sitting in foul territory caught the ball and held it up. But in Fenway the stands along the baseline jut out, and Charlie Berry, the umpire covering the play, ran out and somehow called it fair, a two-run home run.”

Boston pitcher Parnell lead his case  that the ball was foul with umpire Berry. – “I made my call and it’s a home rune and that’s that,” Berry yelled back in response. Parnell then took his plea to home plate umpire Ed Hurley. “It’s not my call,” said Berry, as he walked away. “Get out of here and pitch,” Berry yelled at Parnell and the game finally resumed amid a torrent of boos, but no further argument.

There was no further score in the game. Cleveland won, 2-0. Maybe they would have won anyway, but that logical possibility quickly fell victim to the far more rambling thoughts of Red Sox fans as to “what might have been”.

Was the Boudreau ball really an obvious foul – or was that perception simply the biased Boston point of view? Who knows? We just know that today’s technology could have saved everyone, including the umpires, from the kind of notoriety that sort of play produces – and it underscores how one significantly dubious or wrong field decision has the power to alter the history of the game.

The Pecan Park Eagle is strongly behind the use of technology in baseball officiating. We don’t mind the extra time it takes to get calls right. We do mind the extra time a player calls for time to either scratch or clear a wedgy.

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6 Responses to “Eagle Sides with Digital Review in MLB”

  1. Tom Hunter Says:

    As one TV commentator pointed out, the extra time it takes to get calls right, would have been taken up by the time a player or manager took to argue with an umpire and get thrown out. My only problem with “Digital Review” is time it takes the people in New York to review a call that seems blatantly obvious from the network replays.

  2. gregclucas Says:

    I agree that replay has helped accuracy. However the reason it works is the multiple cameras and the use of super slo mo. For the strike zone to be accurately interpreted the same would be needed and that is not yet practical. Could a super high speed computer system be invented that could take the information from super slo mo looks and multiple cameras and then decide balls and strikes? I presume so, but at what cost? Would it truly be cost effective to install systems in all MLB parks? What about baseball everywhere else where use of the systems (minor leagues, colleges, high school, etc) would be impossible to afford?

    The current system used on telecasts is highly inaccurate even with the tweaks and changes that have been added over the years. The reason is that it is based on a simple box lined up with the front of the plate. Home plate has depth. With the number of breaking balls in use it is possible to cut the plate at some point and not just the front. It is also difficult for the individual player’s strike zone to be properly represented by the rectangle shown on the screen.

    The main thing is that any “electronic” strike zone must be instantaneous and like any modern electronic device would be subject to technical failure. Could an “automatic” strike zone be devised? Of course, but would it really be of enough value for the cost?

    We are already separating major league baseball from the game on all other levels by embracing some of the “new” stats and giving them credence (more in many cases that I personally believe are justified). Those stats are not compiled or available on levels below the major leagues. How about WAR in the minors…or colleges or high school? Its even more ridiculous!

    Suddenly the game of baseball played in the major leagues is no longer the same game played everywhere else. One of the beauties of baseball over the years is that except for the skill level the game on the sandlots has always been the same game as played by the highest level major leaguers.

    Replays, automated strike zones, new stats, extreme shifts–based on analytic information compiled on the major league level–have started the game in a different direction. And it is separated the game you and I played from what fans are seeing in the major leagues. Good? Or not? Everyone must be their own judge–and they can’t use a computer print out to decide.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Greg – Thanks for the thoughtful big picture response. Your view that technology is separating the MLB game from both our old sandlot game and the contemporary game in the minors, colleges, and high schools is so correct. And, yes, we all must decide for ourselves how we feel about that.

      My hope is that further development will increase the value of technology – and that time will lower the cost of spreading this new more objective tool far beyond MLB.

      We’ll, see.

      In the meanwhile, my thoughts go back to 10/08/1956 and the called strike three to Dale Mitchell that wrapped up Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series. Like many others, I still say “strike three” was way outside and really a ball.

      Are we willing to give up that part of the game’s lore for improved accuracy? That question also lives at the heart of the matter too, doesn’t it?

  3. stanfromtacoma Says:

    I am not a proponent of replay. I used to be a football fan of sorts but gave up watching the NFL at about the time replay was introduced. I still follow baseball and will continue to do so.

    Much like the DH replay will continue to exist whether I like it or not. I would like to limit it to the calls that are clearly wrong—- the botched call in the 85 WS and the call that messed up the perfect game for Gallaraga a few years ago. Using replay in those cases though can come at a cost too. The sportsmanship displayed by the Tiger pitcher and the umpire that missed the call was a more important life lesson than sending the play to New York for TV review.

    If it’s a bang bang play let the call on the field stand. I’d prefer no replay. One day game 7 of the WS is going to be decided on a close play at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. The crowd in the stands should hold their cheers or boos for the three or four minutes it takes for the umpires in New York to make the correct call.

  4. Shirley Virdon Says:

    Maybe I am just a stubborn old baseball purist, but the game I learned to love when I was 10 years old, doesn’t need replays to tell us that mistakes are made and because we see them on film at different angles to prove that fact, doesn’t enhance the game, in my opinion! What else in this world is “perfect”? Replays, in my mind, ruin the rhythm of the game, especially when we depend on someone in NY trying to decide by looking at pictures whether something
    Is fair or foul or safe or out! It also eliminates the excitement when arguments ensue on disputed calls—–long a part of the game’s fun!
    Just had to give my “2 cents”—-for what it is worth——and to suggest that the game can continue to be “the Grand Old Game” it has always been without all of the current tweaking! What other game offers the fun for Families of all ages on a Sunday afternoon or evening and on Holidays as does the game I learned to love at age 10?
    Thanks for allowing me to speak as a Baseball Purist!

  5. Tom Trimble Says:

    A little late to the party, but my input: I’m fine with having a higher authority to which to turn; however, I want to eliminate the technical stuff in the dugout or clubhouse. If someone sees something clearly wrong they can challenge, but this idea of “”well maybe the ump got it wrong and I’ve got technical proof” seems contrary to tradition and puts the umps at a terrible disadvantage. I much more dislike the wait while the manager gets a thumbs up/down from the technical staff than I do the New York replays.

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