The TV sports recaps, talk radio stations and internet were all deluged late last night with an avalanche of much-deserved criticism for Umpire Jim Joyce last night, who blew a call that would have been the final out of a perfect game for Armando Galaragga. Never before have we had such a clear example of a mistake by an umpire deciding such a historic event. Most garden-variety blown calls are in the middle of unimportant games, and it’s hard to make the case that they decide things in a game as complex and nuanced as Baseball, one with so many variables. But this time there was no debate. The Ump blew the call, and it decided the outcome, period.
But I’d like to add one moment of pause to the tidal wave of criticism being directed at Jim Joyce and Baseball’s reluctance to implement Instant Replay. Yes, the call was blown and Joyce admitted it himself. But watching the play in slow motion, the ball danced around the fielder’s mitt for a few moments before he was able to corral it. I’m not sure if Baseball’s rules address this or to how much detail, but precisely when the catch would be considered made is crucial here. By the time the ball stopped bouncing around his glove and he finally ‘snow-coned’ it, Jason Donald already had his foot on the bag. I don’t think this factored at all into Joyce’s decision, since he hasn’t stated so publicly.
Generally speaking, on plays like this the umps will listen for when the ball hit’s the mitt. Maybe the way the ball danced around Galarraga’s ‘s mitt deadened the usual ‘pop’ sound of a ball hitting a mitt, and that’s why Joyce blew the call in the first place. But watching the play in slow motion, I have to wonder if a booth review would have been conclusive enough to overturn the call on the field. It’s something we see all the time in Football, where the review booth has to decide when a player is determined to have ‘possession’ in relation to where he is on the field. In this case, when the ball is considered ‘caught’ in relation to where the baserunner is. If it’s when the ball hits the mitt, then he was out by half a step. If it’s when the ball stops moving, you could argue that the tie goes to the runner.
I’m not opposed to replay, the time managers spend arguing with umpires is more than what it would take to get the call right. You wouldn’t even need to hire an extra umpire for each game, the official scorer could perform the job as part of his duties. When a matter of rules is encountered (as I’ve discussed above) the Official Scorer and Crew Chief could be hooked up by wireless cell connection to discuss specific rules, all you need is the Crew Chief hooked up with an earpiece. It’s something most average citizens have these days, Baseball not using it for game-deciding plays is unconscionable.
But on this particular play, I’m not sure replay would have overturned it. It depends on when a Catch is considered made, when the ball hits the 1B mitt or when it stops moving within his glove. I don’t know the answer, so if anyone has a clarification for me on this I’d appreciate it. Seeing the actual rule as it is worded would be most helpful, since these things are often subject to some interpretation.
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