The Controversy Of Past And Future MLB Instant ReplayPosted on August 22, 2013
By Phil Jackman
Tell you when instant replay use started in baseball (unofficially). It was about a generation ago in ballparks throughout the major leagues. It led to some memorable stuff, although, at the time, events seemed quite serious.
Replays involved hit or error calls expected to be made by official scorers at all games and, as you might expect, such calls led to some doozy arguments. As the late Neal Eskridge, a former baseball writer for the once-upon-a-time Baltimore News American, used to say: "Official scorers get paid $50 per game. A dollar for making the calls and doing the necessary paper work afterwards, and $49 for the guff they have to take from the players."
One night, the Orioles were playing the Oakland A's at Memorial Stadium, and Baltimore outfielder Frank Robinson hit what I saw as a routine grounder to shortstop. It took two bounces and shot through the legs of Oakland shortstop Bert Campaneris into left field. No problem. E-6 was the call, meaning an error on the part of the shortstop.
Later, in the clubhouse, Robinson wanted a hit. He was not going to go quietly. We argued for a while, and then I said I wouldn't change the call. Robinson's argument intensified. I put my five-minute rule for all discussions into effect and offered my hand to the man, adding, "Gee, Frank, I hope this doesn't keep you out of the Hall of Fame." He smiled.
But things don't always go so smoothly for official scorers. Al Oliver, a pretty good hitter and intense player for the Pittsburgh Pirates, once called the press box after being "robbed" of a hit and told the scorer if he ever saw him in the clubhouse again, he would kill him.
Closest I came to bodily harm occurred during a game wherein Oakland catcher Frank Fernandez hit a lightning bolt off the glove of Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson, right into the glove of shortstop Mark Belanger. Fernandez was about three steps out of the batter's box when Belanger threw the ball over first base, and the batter ended up on second base.
He was steaming at second base after checking the scoreboard for the call, making semaphore signals up toward the press box after every pitch to the next batter. A single sent Fernandez around to score, and before heading into the dugout, he went to the backstop, took off his batting helmet and heaved it at the press box.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of it. Oakland manager Dick Williams called the press box and asked me to reconsider the call. He said the hit might be the difference between his catcher hitting .199 and .201 for the year. I was standing up in the middle of the press box and laughed. I know Fernandez saw me. Ugh.
The next week, the Orioles were on the road in Oakland and, during the afternoon before a night game, I went down to a boxing gym in the center of the city where George Foreman worked out. The gym was all but empty save for Big George, a guy he was sparring with, Mike Quarry (Jerry Quarry's brother); manager Dick Sadler; and Fernandez, who was on the other side of the ring observing.
Fernandez was trying to place me, but wasn't sure. He started around the ring as my legs began to buckle. The panicky look on my face probably gave me away. The supposed aggrieved party began shouting, on and on. After a while, Foreman called a halt in the ring and came over.
"Listen, I'm the only one doing fighting here," he said, "so you two shut up and behave."
Years later, attending a Foreman fight, I thanked him profusely for "saving my life." George said he happened to be watching the game in question that night and recalled the play.
"You should have given him a hit," he said.
I don't think I was ever in the same city with Fernandez after that.
Everybody who served as an official scorer undoubtedly has similar tales to tell. But, truth be told, I miss it.
Speaking of instant replay, there's a good chance certain aspects of it will be in force by the 2014 season. One figures to be plays in which a defensive player traps the ball. Say a line drive is judged to be a catch with runners on base. No problem.
OK, now let's say a replay is called for, and it shows that the ball was trapped. Where does that leave the runners? Do the umpires speculate what the runners would have done had they been informed that the ball was a safe hit, and isn't the batter penalized if an ump just awards him first base and moves runners up a base? Say the runners were moving on the pitch and the trap was made in the outfield?
How about a foul-line call that is first called foul, but ends up being fair via replay? Meanwhile, a ball girl down in right field, thinking it's a foul, picks up the ball and tosses it to a little kid in the stands. Does it become a continuation play, and is a player then charged with the responsibility of getting the ball back from the crying youngster so play can continue? That would never happen, you say? Watch.
Endless possibilities and subsequent questions exist, and, if you don't think so, think about how the rulebooks of all sports look these days as opposed to how they looked years ago. Time was when baseball, football and basketball would be covered with a few sheets of paper. Today, the NCAA rulebook covering college football resembles the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Even more dumbfounding will be the manner in which baseball will allow challenges to exist whenever there's a controversial call involved. Can teams squawk and call for a replay any time they want, or will the number be cut down, as it is in pro football? As baseball executive Joe Torre put it, the already slow game might ultimately end up being timed with a calendar.
Posted Aug. 22, 2013