Expansion of replay stirs new round of debate

Expansion of replay stirs new round of debate

Expansion of replay stirs new round of debate
At the intersection of Major League Baseball and technology, every spotlighted missed call leads to another: for expanded use of instant replay.

So it is in the wake of the call by home-plate umpire Jerry Meals that broke up the Tuesday night-Wednesday morning game between the Pirates and the Braves.

Meals' ruling that Pittsburgh catcher Michael McKenry missed tagging Julio Lugo with the ball that had beaten him by 10 feet, giving Atlanta a 4-3 win in the 19th inning at Turner Field, signaled another round in the debate over whether MLB should invoke instant replay for more than just boundary home run calls.

Forget the occasional evidence. The diehards remain staunch opponents of adding Big Brother to the umpiring crew.

Count among them none other than McKenry, the rookie catcher who said "no" to instant replay on Wednesday.

"They're going to get some right. They're going to get some wrong," McKenry said. "That's just part of it. Nobody is perfect at the end of the day."

Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke cited another tradition -- that of catchers slapping down the tag like they mean it.

"For one, tag the guy better," Roenicke said. "On the replays, it's really hard to see if the guy did hit him. He's out easy, but ... just stick him with the glove so you don't have the controversy."

This time, however, even some confirmed traditionalists were hedging.

"I'm an old-school guy, in some ways, because I'm old," said Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker. "But ... I try to make adjustments and adapt to what's happening. If they could come up with something that would show a proper angle and do it in a very short period of time, I'd be for it."

"I've always liked the human element," said veteran Cleveland outfielder Austin Kearns. "But at this point, it's kind of like you wish you had some challenge flags or something."

"This point" was a game-ending call that essentially knocked the Pirates out of a share of the National League Central lead. That made it a high-visibility call that lit an instant spark fanned into a fire by gusts in cyberspace.

"Meals Pirates Replay" became an instant favorite Google combination. In the solar system of missed calls, Jim Joyce and Don Denkinger were both eclipsed. Numerous national media outlets dusted off polls on instant-replay expansion, with yeas holding a consensus 75-25 percent lead.

Major League Baseball, while taking the extraordinary step of issuing a statement addressing this one specific play, staunchly defended its conservative policy on replay expansion. But MLB had to feel a little like Louis the 16th on Bastille Day.

• In MLB.com's poll, 76 percent of respondents favored expanding replay beyond boundary home run calls -- although, significantly, only 31 percent had their minds changed by Meals' mishap.
• In a similar poll by USA Today, instant-replay proponents led 75-25 percent.
• Wall Street Journal's online poll garnered ever greater support for more replay, 83-17 percent.

The Twitter-sphere instantly exploded with dismay and pleas for instant replay, from national insomniacs and wide-awake international fans (it was, after all, 7:50 a.m. in Italy, where displaced Pirates fans had a fit over their morning panini).

Pirates club president Frank Coonelly expressed his displeasure in a formal complaint filed with the Commissioner's Office. In an MLB statement in response to that, Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations, acknowledge Meals' error and reiterated the game's dynamic position on replay.

"Unfortunately, it appears that the call was missed, as Jerry Meals acknowledged after the game," said Torre, who called on his widespread experience both as a catcher and as a manger for perspective. "Many swipe tags are not applied to the runner with solid contact, but the tag was applied and the game should have remained tied.

"Having been the beneficiary of calls like this and having been on the other end in my experience as a player and as a manager, I have felt that this has always been a part of our game. As a member of the Commissioner's Special Committee for On-Field Matters, I have heard many discussions on umpiring and technology over the past two years, including both the pros and the cons of expanding replay. However, most in the game recognize that the human element always will be part of baseball and instant replay can never replace all judgment calls by umpires.

"Obviously, a play like this is going to spark a lot of conversation, and we will continue to consider all viewpoints in our ongoing discussions regarding officiating in baseball."

That discussion will continue on Aug. 8, when the 14-member Committee holds its next regularly scheduled conference call.

Ironically, technology enabled the firestorm. It was nearly 2 a.m. ET when Scott Proctor slapped Daniel McCutchen's pitch to third baseman Pedro Alvarez to trigger the decisive sequence; in the days before 24/7 media and social networking, the play would've gone unnoticed in the dead of night.

Could technology also help prevent such future controversy? Perhaps. Will it? Not necessarily, because MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, as well as all other parties that would have to agree to expanded use of replay, remain partial to the tradition and humanity of the game.

However, that stance may be weakened by each blown significant call that becomes a viral issue. Along with the increasingly conciliatory tone of the members of that Special Committee for On-Field Matters, that suggests that wider use of instant replay could be on the way.

The issue becomes: How wide? That tends to be a topical affair. After Joyce's call denied Armando Galarraga of a perfect game against the Indians last June 2, advocates argued for instant replay on plays at first base; similarly, now the call is for replay to be used on potentially game-ending plays.

"There's always controversial calls that are really, really close," said Jeff Karstens, the Pirates' Tuesday starter who hung around for the end, "but I've never seen anything that bad. I don't really have a comment for it. You can't really put it into words. For some reason, somebody didn't want us to play anymore. So the game was ended."

Cubs manager Mike Quade has spoken in the past about adopting the "challenge flag system" invoked by football.

"[But] would you still have the flag in your pocket in the 19th at two in the morning?" Quade wondered. "It happens. That's a tough way to end the game. Umpires don't want to miss them either. If there was something supplemental that could get that right, I think even umpires would say that's a good thing."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the 19-inning classic "deserved way better than that" for the ending.

Instant replay, obviously, would have enabled that game to continue toward that better ending.

Still, traditionalists view replay as The Blob. If it is allowed to expand, where will it stop?

Hurdle recognized both the ubiquity and the pointlessness of the debate, and wanted none of it.

"I don't care to share my thoughts about replay," the Pirates' manager said prior to Wednesday night's resumption of the series in Atlanta. "I only want to talk about replay to someone who can help maybe get to the bottom of it or have some meaningful discussions. We're just going to kick around the topic. Not going there."

Perhaps the least convincing argument for replay expansion was given earlier Tuesday by Houston manager Brad Mills, who remained unconvinced about Albert Pujols' decisive first-inning two-run homer after the 3-1 loss in St. Louis.

This was, mind you, after a lengthy video review to confirm that Pujols' liner had cleared the center-field fence.

"The whole system, I think, has to be reviewed if everyone looks at it and says it's not a home run," Mills said. "The reason being, somebody in New York is supposed to have seen it. That's my understanding, and they should have seen the same thing everybody saw. I totally don't understand it. The whole thing's got to be reviewed, especially if they go back and look at it and screw it up. Something's amiss here. The whole thing's got to be reviewed."

The moral: Not even instant replay can please everybody.

In the immediate aftermath of Meals' call, fans are left just hoping the Pirates do not lose out in the NL Central by one game, to curtail the shelf life of this incident in comparison to others.

Since Joyce's call, Galarraga has won only five games and is no longer in the Majors.

Since Denkinger's call against the Cardinals opened the door for them to rally and win the 1985 World Series, the Royals have not won another.

Tom Singer is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow @Tom_Singer on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.