|Patriotism on Display - Every fan attending the All-Star Game was |
greeted by a packet containing either a red, white or blue T-shirt. (AP)
Kansas City, Mo.
Visitors to the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame, beyond left field at Kauffman Stadium, can watch a short film about the history of the franchise. Nowhere in the film is the name Don Denkinger mentioned.
Denkinger was the first-base umpire for Game 6 of the 1985 World Series between the Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals. He missed a crucial call at first base that sparked a ninth-inning comeback for the Royals, who won the championship the next night. It was probably the most significant missed call in baseball history.
“I went down to the Cardinal clubhouse, and I was on the platforms and everything for the Denkinger call,” said the broadcaster Tim McCarver, then working his first World Series, for ABC. “And a horde came out of the woodwork to disassemble what I was standing on. So I figured I’ve got to get out of here, because they are actually moving the stuff underneath me.”
Perhaps the Royals were due for such a cosmic break; they had reached the postseason five times without winning before 1985 and have not returned. In any case, they benefited from the so-called human element, the imperfection in umpiring that baseball seems so eager to preserve.
All these years since the Denkinger call, baseball still resists the wide implementation of instant replay. Home run calls have been reviewable since 2009, but blatant mistakes by umpires have become so pervasive that even “The Simpsons” recently poked fun at them.
Commissioner Bud Selig should be lauded, to a point, for proceeding carefully with technology and wanting to preserve the traditional rhythms and pacing of the game. But Selig also seemed out of touch Tuesday when he insisted that nobody really wanted expanded replay, anyway.
“We’ve added some more, we’re going to continue to do that,” Selig said. “But I can tell you very candidly, the appetite for more instant replay in the sport is very low. Everyone. There are some people who think we’ve maybe gone too far already.”
It is hard to accept that, though, when viewers at home clearly see Todd Helton being awarded a putout while standing three feet off first base, or Dewayne Wise getting credit for a catch he never made.
The recent missed call with the most historical impact, of course, was the one that cost Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game in 2010. The first-base umpire who blew that call, Jim Joyce, worked the same spot at the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
For the moment, safe-or-out calls on the bases are not a priority. More realistic, Selig said, was making fair-or-foul calls reviewable for balls down the line. This was the kind of play that preserved a no-hitter in June for the Mets’ Johan Santana. Balls trapped by a fielder could also soon be reviewed.
“We’re in the process of reviewing the most efficient ways to gather the camera angles we need for calls down the line,” said Rob Manfred, the executive vice president for labor relations and human resources. “Obviously with trap plays, the issues associated with that are different, placing runners and things like that. The technology issue really relates to down the line.”
The issue of placing runners after an overturned call is no small matter. If an umpire called a ball foul, or ruled that a trap was actually a catch, the runners would not advance. But if those calls were overturned, there would need to be some mechanism for where the runners should go.
“All those rules would have to be laid out, to try and see every kind of play that can happen, so there’s no discussion: this is what happens, this guy goes back, this guy scores,” said Paul Konerko, the Chicago White Sox first baseman. “You’ll have to know all those answers.
“What if there’s a guy at second with two outs and a guy hits the ball to left-center field, and the guy dives and they call it a catch — and then they review it and it’s a trap? Does that guy just go from second to third? Everybody in the ballpark knows he’s going to score on that ball, because with two outs he’s running.
“It doesn’t bother me, just as a general statement, to say, ‘More replay.’ We’re here all day. It doesn’t matter to me if the game takes another 10 minutes, cumulative or whatever it is, to get calls right.
That doesn’t bother me as a concept. But it’s going to be hard to figure all that out.”
True enough, but there would seem to be an easy solution: why not have an extra umpire — in the press box or centralized at, say, the MLB Network studios — with access to camera angles that could instantly determine if the call on the field is wrong?
Joe Torre, who oversees umpires for Selig, said that concept was under consideration. But Torre does not seem to have much enthusiasm for it, and he sounds willing to accept more Denkinger and Joyce moments as part of baseball’s charm, no matter what the cameras say.
“The game isn’t perfect,” Torre said. “For all of us that want everything to be right all the time, it’s not going to the case no matter how much replay we do. I don’t know why we want everything to be perfect, because it’s just not a perfect game, it really isn’t. Life isn’t perfect. I think this is a game of life.”