I was sitting at a sports bar the other day watching game two of the Twins vs. Yankees ALDS. Being in Minnesota, the crowd was naturally pro-Twins, anti-Yankees. Most of the patrons were hanging on every pitch; cheering, booing, cussing, it was as if we were our own little section at Yankee Stadium. And, while Joe Nathan managed to suck the life out of the room by revitalizing Alex Rodriquez’s postseason career, we were able to reenergize for extra innings.
Then came the Cuzzi carfuffle.
When Mauer’s patented looping line drive down the left field line was called foul, we thought nothing of it. The play seemed completely commonplace. Until the replay. When we saw the ball land so obviously inside the foul line, and Phil Cuzzi throwing up the foul ball signal, we knew it was over. We screamed. We protested. We cursed. But we knew nothing would come of it. The dagger was turned. The beer was stale. The game was over.
Had the Twins not squandered a nobody out, bases loaded opportunity because of offensive ineptitude, I would likely still be in a catatonic state rocking back and forth on the floor somewhere cursing Phil Cuzzi. The Twins managing to re-blow the game on their own, however, made that game a little easier to swallow. Not a lot, but enough to avoid catatonics.
But, the Twins ineptitude should not let Cuzzi off the hook. That was the single worse call I have ever seen. It wasn’t a judgment call. It wasn’t questionable rule. It wasn’t even a close play. It was just wrong. Even Chip Caray’s hasn’t made a call that bad.
But the worst part about that call? It arguably wasn’t the worst call of the playoffs. (To me it was, but I’m sure Angels fans could make an argument to the contrary.) The umpiring this postseason has been historically bad, and we haven’t even made it to the World Series yet. It could get worse. We’re on the verge of the first Major League Baseball game where one umpire has to eject another for arguing their own terrible calls.
So what is going on here?
Are the umpires getting worse? Are they just bad at their jobs? Are they all getting drunk before the game they forgot how to make calls?
I don’t know the answer, but I also know umpiring isn’t easy. My first job was as an umpire for nine and ten year old baseball. Granted, that is obviously different than umpiring Major League Baseball (other than the post strikeout crying) but the concept is the same. And the concept is difficult: A split second decision that rests squarely on your shoulders. A split second could decide the game. Yes, it’s hard, but that is why you get paid, and go through extensive training, to make the right call. And, yes, people make mistakes. Nobody is disputing that. What we are disputing, however, is the egregious manner in which these mistakes are made. Obvious plays should not be blown.
So, again, what’s going on here?
It almost seems like these calls are a passive aggressive attempt request to expand instant replay. I don’t believe the umpires we compromise the integrity of the game to do this, so I can only assume the Baseball Gods are in favor of instant replay. Maybe they’re right.
I always have been an anti-instant reply advocate. I didn’t want it for home runs, and, until the Cuzzi carfuffle, I didn’t want it for anything else. I consider myself a baseball purist (at least a modern purist. A 22 year old purist is far different than a 72 year old purist) but I am willing to reconsider replay; with limitations, of course.
If getting calls right in a fair ball/foul ball situation means adding instant replay, then adding replay is exactly what Major League Baseball should do.
Judgment calls should remain judgment calls. Balls and strikes, and calls on the bases should be left up to the umpire without the assistance of replay. Balls down the lines that are obviously and easily overturned with technological assistance, however, should be overturned.
The game can remain pure even while employing the technology to get calls right. And if replay is what it will take to make the right call, it is time for baseball to make that change. Then, maybe we can avoid another Cuzzi carfuffle.