Replay — Because the umpires are GREAT

21 Jun

There was just a play in the Rangers-Padres game that illustrated better than any I’ve seen so far the need for expanded replay in Major League Baseball. After a steal, Ian Kinsler was on second. He wanted to run to third. The Padres knew he wanted to run to third. The announcers knew he wanted to run to third. Heck, you probably knew he wanted to run to third, and you weren’t even watching the game, because, unless you are me or my Kansas buddy Josh, you don’t care about either team in this game, and you were doing any number of other things on a Wednesday night.

He ran to third.

The Padres had been holding Kinsler close, but kid’s got instincts, speed and gut, and went for it anyway. John Baker jumped up. He threw a laser to third. Chase Headley caught it and snapped the tag down. Everything about what the Padres did was picture-perfect. Only Kinsler, using all those attributes I mentioned a little bit ago, got his hand in just under the tag. It was super close, to the point that it took me until the third replay before I was sure he was safe. But he was safe.

And the third-base umpire? Wally Bell? Well, he called Kinsler… safe, as it turns out.

I have no idea how Bell found it in himself to be so confident in his safe call, but it was bleedin’ brilliant. Maybe he didn’t actually know and just decided to be emphatic about whatever his internal coin-flip decided, but I think it’s more likely that he could tell from at his first, live-action, not-zoomed-in glance what I couldn’t 100% determine until my third or fourth viewing of the play.

That, my friends, is a superpower. I mean, it’s not a good superpower, but it’s a superpower nonetheless.

See, umpires, by and large, are fantastic at their jobs. Not all of them, sure. Joe West and Angel Hernandez and Bob Davidson, for various reasons, are not what they should be. But in general, the Jim Joyces and Jerry Mealses of the world are incredibly good at what they are doing. Yet the reason most of us know Jim Joyce’s name is because he cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game, and the reason most of know Jerry Meals’ name is because his call ended an epic Pirates-Braves game last year.

Based on what I know, the umpires are the primary factor in holding up expanded instant replay in the game. Maybe they feel it’s one more step on the road to robots. Maybe they don’t want their authority questioned. Maybe Joe West just really wants to promote his music some more. But seriously — these umpires are so freaking good that it’s just a powerful shame that we have to dwell on their mistakes.

If we have to know the umpires, we should know them because of plays like that Wally Bell play. It was truly a miracle of eyesight, positioning, whatever the hell pixie dust he used to call that right when I and everyone else in the world incorrectly thought Kinsler was out. If we can expand replay, help negate their mistakes — because, despite that superpower, they aren’t quite perfect — we can stop wondering if the Yankees still would have beaten the Orioles without Jeffrey Maier, if the ’85 Cardinals might have beaten the Royals without Don Denkinger. We can watch baseball and enjoy baseball players, and we can only notice umpires when they do awesome Wally Bell things. Or when they, like, fall down or something.

Robot umpires are an idea. I wouldn’t exactly be hard-core against it, but it’s probably asking way too much any time soon. But simple expanded replay? There is literally no one who should oppose that.

The games would not be longer. Let’s stop that noise right now. What takes longer, watching a quick highlight or waiting while a sexagenerian yells and kicks dirt until some guy in blue throws him out?

Remember, these umpires are bloody spectacular. The best ones are better at what they do than just about anyone else in the world is at whatever it is they do. But no one is perfect. Why shouldn’t we highlight the great calls, the “Wally Bell saw that Ian Kinsler was safe” plays, rather than Jim Joyce, voted the best ump in the game multiple times, always and forever being remembered as the perfect game ruiner? It literally could barely make any less sense.

That’s all. Rant over. Go back to your not-watching-the-Rangers-ness.

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