For Heavens’ Sake: Replay!

We will never know what would’ve followed: Adrian Beltre could have popped up on the next pitch, or homered igniting a 15-run rally, or torn his ACL running out a grounder, or anything in between.

But replays, taking less than sixty seconds of real time to watch, showed conclusively that Beltre fouled a ball off his foot with one out in the ninth against Jason Motte of the Cardinals in Game One of the 2011 World Series, and, unfortunately, home plate umpire Jerry Layne missed it, and called Beltre out on a grounder to third.

There has got to be a way to make those replays useful in the process by which the toughest calls, requiring the keenest judgment and the most chances to get them right, do not become unfortunate shadows on critical games – especially ones as well played as this Series opener.

I’m not calling for mandatory replay, just what I asked for after the heartbreaking screwup by Jim Joyce that cost Armando Galarraga his perfect game in 2010: some kind of option that lets the umps utilize the staggering advances in technology that appear on the scene every year. I know that the Airport Screening Cam added tonight by Fox looked hysterically funny and even grotesquely retro – but why not utilize it? You can go with an umpire’s option to check a replay himself, or a seventh ump in the booth with a replay array, even something that requires the replay review be completed in 90 seconds, or anything you like, but let’s get the right call made, as often as possible.

And I’m sorry, I don’t buy the “human element” argument in the least. Can anybody argue that tennis has been adversely affected since the electronic systems started determining baseline calls, rather than the imperfect ruling of an official too far away to see it clearly? I honor the umpires and think them among the most noble figures in the game, and agree that nobody’s perfect nor should be expected to be. But these aren’t arguments against improved and increased replay use – they’re arguments for it. Let’s give them every tool, and stop making them feel ashamed or incompetent if they choose to use them.

If it’s at all possible, I don’t want to know what an umpire thought happened. I want to know what happened.

The Beltre play may have been decisive, or it may have been trivial. But with a batter incapable of faking a wince fast enough on a ball off his foot, plus Beltre’s not running to first, plus the likelihood that only contact with an uneven, hard surface such as the front of his shoe could have made a ball angling so oddly off the bat then move on such a straight line to the third baseman, all the factors were present for exactly the kind of call the best of umpires should love to have a second look at, and all the technology is now available to get that second look accomplished in literally seconds.

It’s time.


  1. Nathan Ritter (@nathanritter)

    As a Cardinals fan, I really want to disagree with you because of this one minute instance.

    But as a baseball fan, I completely agree with you. I think the NFL’s implementation has turned some people off to replays, but each of the 4 major sports has implemented a replay in some way (even baseball for home runs). The replay should be completely in the umpires’ control, and should be requested by an umpiring crew decision, or by an additional replay umpire, like in NCAA football. It’s time, MLB. Officials should be comfortable asking for a second look at a play that they didn’t have the best angle on, or that the crew disagrees about. Stop with the stubborn blue-can’t-be-wrong attitude and let the umpires decide when they’re wrong. Heck, even expand the strict enforcement of questioning the umpire’s ruling to discourage appeals for a replay.

    Getting it right the second time is better than getting it wrong the first time.

  2. Allan W.

    ‘Can anybody argue that tennis has been adversely affected since the electronic systems started determining baseline calls, rather than the imperfect ruling of an official too far away to see it clearly?’
    Exactly Keith. And what about Football? And NASCAR ? Replay systems made them work better for everybody ~

    • DJ

      So were undersized equipment, a legal spitball, the option of retiring a runner by hitting him with a thrown ball, and even institutionalized racism. When technology and human progress developed, so did the game.

      If the hardest part of implementing instant replay is writing the rules under which it would be used, it’s long overdue to come in.

  3. Jason D.

    I think any long-time Cardinal fan would agree. How soon we forget The Evil one, AKA Don Denkinger. But still, I consider the call you referenced merely a small karmic payback for the travesty suffered in 1985.

    • Cliff Tyllick

      Sorry that you don’t understand how to interpret the image, but it was absolutely conclusive. So conclusive, in fact, that an observer in the booth made the correct call in less time than it took the home-plate umpire to finish his brief discussion with Ron Washington.

      The white flash that appeared on Beltre’s toe in the replay was heat generated by the friction of contact of the ball with his shoe. No contact, no friction, no flash—that simple.

      But clearly there was contact, and so the ball was foul.

      And I’m a neutral observer—I’d love to see the Rangers win, but I’d also like to see Lance Berkman get a World Series ring. Whatever happens, I’d like to see the fates of the players depend on their performance on the field. There, and not in the umpiring, is the human element we should seek to preserve in this game.

  4. Scott (@ScottyRoRo)

    As much as I agree that there should be expanded use of replay, I don’t think the result would have changed. Even in football, there has to be conclusive proof to overturn a call. I’m not sure there’s enough there to say it is 100% went off his foot.

  5. CBCastleberry (@Section917)

    As KO stated, who knows if that play would have been momentous or meaningless. Fact is, in the biggest games, isn’t getting it right imperative? Maybe the managers could have challenges a la the NFL. I’ve been watching the pitiful Rangers my whole life. I don’t want them to lost on a screwup. Payback for Denkinger? If you’re still upset about that, as I can understand as a fan, then the last thing you want is for that to possibly ever happen again.

    But, sadly, there’s a reason baseball is no longer the top sport for fans. The game’s beauty pulls us back in, but the ugly parts (this, overpopulation, the Juiced Era, not enough playoff teams, etc.) turn us off.

  6. C-

    The only issue I have with replay is where does it stop? We start with the boundary rulings on home runs (did it clear the fence?; was it fair/foul?). Where do we go next? Fair/foul balls? Catch/No catch? Close plays just at the plate? At the bases? Dead balls off of a foot or leg? Do we replay check swings? Called third strikes? Ball and strikes? It’s a slippery slope. There are plenty of plays in the history of baseball that you could make an argument should have been replayed to get the call right. I just want to know where it ends. Because eventually they’ll be arguing for replay on every pitch (I know that’s a bit of an exaggeration). But eventually you’ll have enough replay that the games will take five hours to play and we all know that be great for fan retention.

  7. Mike (@thwhshsa)

    KO is right about this. What good is technology if we don’t use it? Hell, let’s go back to three fingered gloves, traveling by train, take down the lights and only play day games!

  8. Truly S. (@hotincleveland)

    Why shouldn’t baseball use every tool it possesses to make the game as fair as possible? I’m with you. Even figure skating now uses instant replay and “technical specialists” to review questionable elements and determine whether or not they were correctly done. They’re analyzing edge takeoffs and landing rotations on jumps as never used to be done before. Are “tradition” and “the human element” so important in baseball that it cares more about these things than about basic fairness?

  9. Sam

    It was hard to tell even after watching many replays whether the ball hit Beltre’s foot– and I don’t care about FOX’s stupid new “infrared” gadget. If they want to boost ratings they might get better announcers, not use all this pointless technology, or put cameras under home plate, attached to squirrels’ heads, etc. I want the Cardinals to win but it’s worth noting that Wilson was squeezed last night. Carpenter’s strike zone was bigger. That had more impact on the game than one questionable call in the 9th.

  10. pbaudhuin

    Great points. I don’t buy the “human element” either. But I do believe that replay is a “Pandora’s Box” and there’s trouble inside. Just look at what it’s done to football. Because we can see everything little thing now, rulings, especially on receptions, have gotten so complex that no one can make any sense of it. Furthermore, it’s changed the way refs call the game. They make calls so that it can be reviewed (fumbles). When it started it was supposed to take no more than a minute (maybe 2?). It’s gotten out of hand. Replay is a dangerous road with unexpected consequences, and we must be very cautious to adopt it. But if there ever was an argument for it in MLB, last night was it.

  11. Nonbaseballnerd

    Honestly it looks like the ball hits the ground and his toe at the same time. Only the side of the ball hits his big toe. I’m not that big of a rules geek. What should be the call if a ball simultaniously hits the ground in the batter’s box and the side of the ball hits Beltre’s foot. Even with slow motion infared it is not definative. I don’t think this would be a quick review as Keith seems to think it is.

  12. Patricia Ellyn Powell

    Amen. I totally agree. As someone who recently learned how the game goes, I keep asking myself…Is this right? I keep saying…Wait a minute! I keep checking the rules. Sometimes I think it is just my old head. Sometimes I think it is the umpire’s old head. I say replay!

  13. bigyaz

    So no stop-motion, high-def and 14 different angles aren’t enough. We need infrared technology, too? How about sensors in every glove, ball, bat, fence, foul pole, base, shoe and uniform?

    When Jeter faked his way on base on a pitch that didn’t hit his hand the critics said the umpire should not be swayed by the batter’s reaction. “Go by what you see!” they said. Now, when there was no way for the umpire to see if the ball nicked his foot (which is at most what happened) they say Beltre couldn’t have faked it that well, and therefore the call should be changed.

    I have no problem with replay on egregious calls like the Jim Joyce play. But using infrared camera on a play that was this close? Now we’re getting ridiculous. There was little “conclusive” about that replay, and no way you should be overturning a call based on that.

    • Cliff Tyllick

      Bigyaz, the infrared camera was definitive. If the ball hits the batter, it’s foul. Even if it only brushes his shoe as it hits the ground, it’s foul. If it bounces, then hits the batter, it’s foul. If it doesn’t even strike his body but ticks a fold in his uniform as it goes by, it’s foul. Period.
      In the infrared photography, the flash of white on the toe of Beltre’s shoe as the ball whizzed past was the heat generated by the friction of the ball against the surface of shoe. So it did at least touch him. Just as a ball that hits one micron over the fence is a home run, a hit ball that touches—not clobbers, not impairs, not maims for life, but even touches—the batter in the batter’s box is foul.
      In this case the definitive answer was available in less time than it took for Ron Washington to walk out to meet the ump, let alone carry out what might have been the shortest questioning by a manager of a questionable call in the history of the World Series.
      And that’s the thing I don’t get. People are fine with watching a Leo Durocher (read your history, kiddos) throw a 20-minute fit and give the whole umpiring crew grief about whether a ball was caught or trapped or whether a throw beat the runner to the base, but taking a few seconds to get evidence that might turn out to be definitive?
      They consider that to be out of the question.

  14. william

    The elephant in the room is “situational umpiring”.

    The umpires WANT to be able to call an outside pitch a strike because it’s two strikes and two outs in the ninth and you “should” swing at it; even though it’s simpy NOT a strike.
    The tennis comparison is exactly it. it’s in or it’s out. It’s a strike or it’s not. The throw beat the runner or it didn’t. The tag was made or the base was stepped on or it wasn’t.
    There is no reason a “human element” improves the game.
    The RULES say what determines an out or not. Electronic calling only enforces those actual rules.

    And people really are worried about slowing down the game?
    Electronic enforcement of the actual, rulebook defined, strike zone (meaning all those letter high strikes) would speed up the game tremendously.

  15. Michael Green

    William, the tennis comparison doesn’t quite work. Safe or out? OK. Ball or strike? Sorry, no. The tennis court’s lines always are in the same place. The strike zone is not. Also, the strike zone is three-dimensional, or even multi-dimensional, in a way that a tennis court is not. Replays often can show us what really happened in a number of sports, including baseball. But not the strike zone.

    Furthermore, players actually understand the issue. There are pitchers’ umpires and hitters’ umpires, and sometimes the difference is as simple as whether the WHOLE ball has to be in the strike zone or just part of it–an umpire who knows his business knows the difference. They also don’t generally question variety between umpires as long as the individual umpire is consistent. Eric Gregg in the 1997 LCS was consistent for that game but it was not his normal strike zone. Lee Weyer was widely considered one of the best ball/strike umpires of his time, and was well known for a wide, pro-pitcher zone, but he never varied. Consistency really is the key.

  16. Not Sleeping

    How on earth is there any controversy that the ball hit his foot?

    – Beltre immediately hops and lifts the foot that was hit.
    – In the overhead camera shot, you can see the ball initially being pulled sharply foul, only to be redirected off his toe into fair territory.
    – In the thermal video, you see the tip of his foot light up where it was hit.
    – And as much as I hate to bring Joe Buck into this, it’s telling that his initial reaction was to call it foul.

    I am 100% certain that the ball went off his foot. And I’m not just throwing that 100 number out there lightly. I mean 100%. Zero doubt. Zero, nada, zilch. If there was a magical, all-knowing space umpire who had absolute knowledge of all things, and he offered me a bet: My eternal soul in fiery damnation if I’m wrong about this, or 5 bucks if I’m right…I’d take my free 5 bucks and buy myself a taco.

  17. Cory

    I would like to talk about the idea of replay and how it affects the integrity of the game. Yes, we would all like to see umpires get the call right and have the correct results in big game situations. However, has anyone thoguht about what comes with replay in baseball? I am a firm believer that mistakes in baseball make it what it is and why the game is such an interesting one. If there were to be replay in all big game situtations then it would slow down the pace of baeball even more, and games could run even longer. It is no secret that baseball games run long already, and replay would only turn fans away. Many people that do not understand the game say that it is too slow, or way too boring. Implementing a replay system would only allow these people to have a reason behind thier claims. Baseball is what it is today because umpires do make mistakes and teams have to live with the outcomes. Taking away these mistakes would take away the mystery of the game. I enjoy baseball because it is not always perfect and the naked eye cannot always predict the correct thing. If we were to add replay in the frequency people are saying, the games integrity, in my opinion, would be dampered. I am not saying that we should get rid of homerun replays, but taking a look at each individual call is just crazy to me. I belive that some things are never the same after being changed, and I belive baseball is on that shouldn’t be messed with.

  18. willv

    Being an umpire. I have watched with interest about the replay debate. There are situations where replay is perfect. Fair/Foul on a ball hit over the wall for example. There are some instances where it is not. In football each play stands on it’s own. A play being overturned may make some unhappy or continue a drive, etc. But the next play happens and it’s not affected. It’s rare there more than one piece to look at.

    In baseball, when several things can be judged on one play. Replay is not so easy. Using replay in expanded circumstances opens up potential for unevenness. If safe/out calls in all situations are reviewed, outs are given and taken away, especially third outs. That effects the game more than it does in other sports. It leaves you with many possible what if situations. Where do you stop the play after it’s reviewed, at the point of the play in question if overturned? Where are you going to put runners? Do you infer what bases a runner may have reached? Do you send runners who crossed the plate back? There’s questions that need to be answered before I’d say go.

    Watching the Little League WS the past two years. In most situations it works out. There were times plays so close there’s no way you’d overturn them on replay were overturned. The use left a bad taste in my mouth. I am pro replay for situations that do not affect the course of the remaining parts of a play.

  19. Matthew VanOpdorp

    I personally am happy that baseball is going to take advantage of the technology we have today in some capacity. I am also not unhappy that they have waited as long as they have to implement replay as a major part of the game. They are at an advantage because football and basketball have experimented with various systems and sets of rules for years now. In the beginning, replay was an improvement in these sports but it certainly had its flaws. Today, both sports seem to do a good job of not only giving coaches a chance to challenge calls within reason, but also giving the officials a chance to take a look if they are not sure. I just hope MLB takes advantage of everything we have learned.

    And any talk of replay slowing down the game is ridiculous. I would rather take a look at the replay and get it right than watch a manager come out and kick dirt in front of an umpire. In fact, I believe replay will speed the game up (in addition to sparing us from watching grown men act like kids on a playground – in a bad way).

    In the spirit of not slowing the game down, we all know that balls and strikes are off the table in terms of replay. However, it is frustrating for me to watch a game in which I along with the broadcasters question a large percentage of ball and strike calls per game. Being one who embraces technology to its fullest, I had an idea while watching the playoffs this year.

    If you are going to implement replay, you are going to have to add to your officiating crew no matter what. I would think you would want one or two guys in the booth to review and work with the umpires on the field. I would put two guys in the booth to serve this purpose as well as give the home plate umpire some help on balls and strikes.

    One replay official would watch a camera placed above home plate (we know these already exist). The other would watch a camera placed to the side to judge whether the pitch was high or low. Each could give a signal to the home plate umpire as to whether they thought the pitch was in the strike zone. The umpire could then quickly look at the signals and either confirm or reconsider what he saw before making the call. He doesn’t have to agree with the officials, but I think the extra feedback would help a lot of umpires – particularly on the opposite corner of the plate from where the umpire takes his stance. We could easily do this without slowing the game down. How quickly do we see balls, strikes, outs, etc. pop up on our TV screens after the call is made?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s