Baseball’s replay system in need of review
Alcides Escobar ties his shoes in the corner of the Royals’ clubhouse. He is ready to leave this place, to get home, even if he’ll carry the frustration at least until he falls asleep.
The guy was out. Escobar feels this in his heart and is certain of it in his mind. He thought that when he turned and threw to first base for a double play in the eighth inning. He was sure of it when he saw the replay — the ball in Eric Hosmer’s glove before Jose Ramirez’s foot touches the bag, paused for effect on the 8,820-square-foot, high-definition video board at Kauffman Stadium.
First-base umpire Bob Davidson ruled the runner safe, and it was a close call, but Royals manager Ned Yost walked onto the field dead certain he’d win the challenge. Escobar pumped his fist at the scene on the video board, and more than 30,000 fans cheered, sure that the Royals were nearly out of that eighth inning and, wait, huh?
The call stands?
“I don’t know what’s going on with that play, man,” Escobar said.
A few feet away, Royals catcher Sal Perez hears the conversation.
“Seriously, I don’t know what they look at with the video,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of video they see, but that’s not the first time. It happens a lot of times.”
Escobar shakes his head.
“It’s hard to see that,” he said. “When you show it on the scoreboard, wow, everybody sees he’s out.”
The blown call is not the reason the Royals lost 2-1 to the Indians on Tuesday night. Neither is what sure looked like a missed call on what should have been strike three to Brandon Moss in the fourth, the at-bat extended until Moss hit a line drive into the right-field bullpen.
Games are rarely that simple, and the Royals had their chances. Most obviously, Omar Infante bobbled what should have been a double play and the end of the inning on the very next batter after the controversy, and the Royals have now scored exactly one run in five of their last seven games. They did enough here to lose the game on their own.
No single call — not even one that looks so wrong in a picture making its way around the Internet — can be completely blamed for a loss.
But, at least on this night, there is enough to pick apart. Like the mechanics of baseball’s replay system.
“Sometimes you really can’t tell, but that was definitely one I felt it, and I thought he was out 100 percent,” Hosmer said.
“I was shocked when they called him safe,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I don’t know what they’re looking at. I asked Hunter (Wendelstedt, the crew chief) the next inning, I said, ‘What did they tell you?’ He said, ‘They don’t say anything.’ ”
The they in this conversation are two crews of umpires in New York, at what baseball calls its replay command center. The process is actually pretty good, all things considered. When a play is challenged, the umpires watch replays in New York to make the final decision. The umpires have a safety net.
Major League Baseball keeps and distributes records of all replay decisions, and through last Thursday there had been 349 calls challenged. Just less than half — 165 — were overturned. Of the others, 78 were confirmed and 103 “stood,” meaning that replays didn’t show enough to overturn or confirm.
The call here in the eighth “stood,” the umpires in New York not seeing an angle they felt conclusively showed the ball hitting the back of Hosmer’s glove before Ramirez touched first.
Those umpires aren’t saying that officially, made unavailable to explain calls. MLB does not even make their names known. They are anonymous, and impossible to reach.
Again, baseball’s replay system has greatly improved the accuracy of calls, and that is the most important thing. But at least in the old system, a pool reporter was allowed to talk to umpires after controversial or unusual calls. One of the current system’s biggest flaws is a lack of accountability. Accuracy is up, but no system is perfect, and the tradeoff for transparency was exposed here.
“I don’t know,” Yost said.
“There must be a different angle or something they’ve got that we’re not having,” Hosmer said.
“I don’t know what in New York they see, seriously,” Perez said.
That’s a problem. Baseball stuck a toe into the 21st century by adapting replay, but by refusing to explain calls or provide virtually any information about a decision the sport is made to look out of touch and inaccessible in a time where those adjectives are poison in sports and entertainment.
Again, the Royals lost a game they had more than enough chances to win. The umpires in New York are paid professionals, and no replay system is perfect.
As it happens, Tuesday night was particularly brutal for umpires. Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon threw and kicked his hat in a tirade, and that was after he’d already been ejected, and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday’s 45-game on-base streak ended in an ejection.
Frustrations are inevitable. Same with missed calls, even as good as baseball umpires are in general. But it would go a long way toward quieting curiosities about what they saw and disappointment with the outcome if MLB allowed its umpires to better explain what they see.