A few years ago, four umpires gathered in the middle of the diamond to sort out a home-run-or-not call that none of them clearly saw. As arguments raged around them and a crazed crowd looked at TV monitors and howled, one of the umps simply said to his crewmates: “It’s a shame that there are 50,000 people here tonight and we’re the only people who don’t know what happened.”
Or words pretty much to that effect.
Now it’s become an all-too-familiar trap — umpires miss a call in October, fans ramp up the call for more replay.
Make it three postseasons in a row.
There were a pair of questionable calls on the opening day of the playoffs, one in the first inning of the first game and another on what should’ve been a catch for the final out of the evening.
Another disputed decision Thursday led to the ejection of Rays manager Joe Maddon and chants of “Replay! Replay!” from the Tropicana Field crowd. A few hours later, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire got tossed from the Yankees-Twins game for arguing a ball-strike call.
Even later, a questionable call on a steal attempt led to the only run in San Francisco’s 1-0 win over Atlanta in their NL playoff opener. Rookie Buster Posey was called safe for his first career stolen base, even though it appeared Braves second baseman Brooks Conrad tagged him out, and later scored.
“I guess it’s a good thing we don’t have instant replay right now,” Posey said.
A few minutes after the game, Emmel said he had not watched a replay of the steal and said no one disputed it on the field.
“I saw him safe. That’s what I called,” Emmel said.
The problems began Wednesday night when Yankees right fielder Greg Golson swooped in and clearly made a terrific catch on a sinking line drive by Delmon Young. But right field umpire Chris Guccione, working his first postseason game, ruled Golson had trapped the ball.
Golson, manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees argued. The six-man crew huddled, then let the call stand. It became moot — sort of — when Jim Thome popped out on the next pitch to seal the Yankees’ 6-4 win over the Twins.
“We don’t comment on judgment calls,” umpiring supervisor Larry Young said after the game at Target Field.
Said Golson: “I’m just glad it didn’t end up costing us. It was a really big play.”
Added Girardi: “It’s not like they were out of position or anything. They hustled out there. It just happens.”
Maybe too much, some say. Just ask the Rays, who were infuriated by calls in the first two games of their series against Texas.
The Rangers appeared to catch a mini-break in Game 1 when plate umpire Tim Welke ruled Cliff Lee’s first-inning pitch to Tampa Bay slugger Carlos Pena hit the knob of the bat for a foul tip. The Rays argued unsuccessfully that the ball hit Pena, and replays indicated the pitch sailed untouched into the catcher’s glove.
Pena and Rocco Baldelli struck out, leaving the bases loaded, and the Rays lost 5-1.
“I believe it speaks to the point of the fact that you’re to see more discussions and eventually the implementation of more instant replay in our game,” Maddon said before Game 2, pointing to the two close calls Wednesday. “I just think, again, those two plays in particular, are going to speed up, expedite the discussion. I think you’re going to see something in the near future, possibly even in the next season. I’m sure it’s going to be well thought out.”
Maddon was incensed Thursday when first base umpire Jerry Meals ruled Michael Young held up on a check-swing with two strikes in the fifth. Rays pitchers James Shields, Matt Garza and David Price screamed in protest from the dugout, and Young hit a three-run homer on the next pitch to give Texas a 5-0 lead.
Replays showed Young probably went too far. Maddon went to the mound to talk to reliever Chad Qualls, yelled across the field at Meals and was soon ejected by plate umpire Jim Wolf when he arrived at the huddle.
Gardenhire was tossed in the seventh of Game 2 at Target Field. Carl Pavano threw a pitch that looked like strike three to Yankees slugger Lance Berkman, but plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called it a ball. Berkman hit a double on the next pitch for a 3-2 lead.
Gardenhire then went to the mound and when Wendelstedt came out. Gardenhire gave Wendelstedt an earful on the way back to the dugout and was ejected.
The postseason last year was littered with missed calls. Girardi and the Yankees benefited when a fly ball by Minnesota star Joe Mauer landed a foot or two in fair territory, only to be called foul.
Major League Baseball began trying replay on a limited basis in late 2008, using it only to review potential home runs. By that point, the NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA and Grand Slam tennis all employed some form of video review.
“The human element’s always going to be there,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said Thursday. “Replay? I don’t know. We’ve talked about a lot of different things. I like the game as it is. If they can help the guys out, make it easier and get calls right and figure a way to do it in a short time, then good for them. Last night, that one worked out for us. It didn’t work for us last year. It goes that way all during the course of the year. You just have to live with it.”
Last month, Commissioner Bud Selig was emphatic: no extra replay in this postseason.
Selig said he’d talked it over with his blue-ribbon panel of managers, management and ownership.
“I don’t get the feeling that there’s a lot of support for it, at least their conversations with me,” he said at the time.