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Given what we saw, we recognize that an improper call was made
May 9, 2013 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Last night in Cleveland, the visiting Oakland A's were down by one run with two outs in the ninth inning. A's shortstop Adam Rosales hit a ball that struck somewhere on the center field fence and was either a double or a home run. A home run would tie the game. To make sure they got the call right the umpires went to the instant replay.

They called it a double, incorrectly. By all accounts, including Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations Joe Torre, the ball was a home run (if it hits above the yellow line it is a home run). Arguing an instant replay ruling is a basically instant ejection so A's manager Bob Melvin was quickly tossed. The A's went on to lose the game.

Instant replay in baseball is controversial and relatively new.
posted by dirtdirt (63 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
If Joe Torre is going to argue with the umps it's kind of not fair that Bob Melvin can't.

Look, this is a system in which humans make judgments. Mistakes will sometimes be made. Grin and bear it.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:44 AM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I dunno. I mean this is well tread ground, but part of the charm of baseball is that the rules and officiating are kind of silly, and I think instant replay just kind of points at that without doing much good.
posted by selfnoise at 11:45 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess this proves that the "human element" of umpires making bad calls that many people were whining about losing from the introduction of instant replay is still there.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:47 AM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem here is not instant replay (tho btw, this is 2013 and you can get cameras with more than 3 pixels now). The problem is having to go to the instant replay to decide if this is a double or home run.

How many bases did he run around before stopped by a guy with a ball? THAT'S what makes something a double or a home run. Not a BS line drawn on the wall.
posted by DU at 11:53 AM on May 9, 2013


I like that this gives baseball fans yet another way to experience one of the joys of the game, endless griping about the umpiring.
posted by bearwife at 11:54 AM on May 9, 2013


I've always understood arguing a call to be nothing about getting the call changed, but rallying your team, and possibly intimidating the ump for the next time.

Arguing calls, making wrong calls -- all part of the game.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:54 AM on May 9, 2013


Instant replay, a name from the days of yore when they had to send film for processing and the replay took like 14-21 days. Nowadays everyone taped that shit on their iPhone yet they still make it seem like some new and untested technology. This is a branding issue pure and simple.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:56 AM on May 9, 2013


Baseball is such a non-stop, fast-moving sport. They never, ever just stand around spitting on the ground and adjusting their jocks.

I'd hate to ruin the intense rhythm with something like instant replays so umps can get the damned calls right.
posted by chasing at 11:59 AM on May 9, 2013 [12 favorites]


Yeah, when the NFL was operating with the replacement refs, all the fans sure did realize how charming it was for clearly wrong calls to be made. The fans were so moved by the simple nature of the game that they demanded that the league not reinstate the professional refs, and instead just have whoever showed up in striped shirt that day serve instead. The game is just more beautiful that way.
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:59 AM on May 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


Really there should be a wall, and if the thing goes over it's a home run. Or what DU said.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:04 PM on May 9, 2013


Still better than not having instant replay at all, though, isn't it? Remember Joyce and Gallaraga, where the pitcher threw a perfect game but the umpire messed up the last play of the game? (Song by Dan Bern.). I mean maybe they messed up the call here, but at least they tried harder than they used to be able to.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:05 PM on May 9, 2013


It wasn't simply a line drawn on the wall. The ball bounced off the railing just behind the actual wall (which has the yellow line on top) and back onto the field. In realtime it looked like it just bounced off the wall, but the replay clearly showed it was over.
posted by TwoWordReview at 12:09 PM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm one of the whiners who is doesn't much like instant replay. I don't think egregiously bad calls are charming, or beautiful, but I DO think that it is a game of interpretation and I'd rather that interpretation be made in real time on the field.

Really there should be a wall, and if the thing goes over it's a home run.

In this case, it seems to me, it did, but bounced back in. And what about foul balls? And fans? For better or for worse baseball is not all that analogous to (say) football in terms of rules and objective reality. Outfields are different shapes and sizes, foul territory is different, and balls and strikes, the very foundational currency of the game, are dependent upon a human interpretation of a moving ball's relation to the relative stance, stature, and movement of the batter. There's just, built in to the sport, a line where you have to say, "well, that's how the umpire saw it". I want them to get every call right, I really do, and we should strive towards that accuracy, but it is patently impossible. Even with replay.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:11 PM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


They've had instant replay for home runs for a few years at least, but they still can't review plays on the bases so a Gallaraga-like call could still be missed today.
posted by TwoWordReview at 12:12 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


*kicks dirt over console's shoes*
posted by Smedleyman at 12:12 PM on May 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think if they're gonna have the replay, they better get it right. That was pretty clear, and that ump needs to get his eyes checked. The call stands, but it's a bad call, and umps who make bad calls will rightfully be reviewed.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:15 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was watching the Cleveland feed of this game and even their announcers were calling this a home run after seeing the replay. I walked out of the room for a few minutes, came back and saw the Oakland guy on second base still. I was flummoxed to say the least.
posted by NoMich at 12:17 PM on May 9, 2013


Don't worry, as we've seen when the umpires screw up previously, nothing at all will happen to them.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:21 PM on May 9, 2013


Just saw that clip, on an old, crummy 10-inch screen and it was obvious. I wonder in all seriousness how they could have missed that.
posted by ambient2 at 12:24 PM on May 9, 2013


(if it hits above the yellow line it is a home run)

That's the dumbest rule ever, and it really ought to be abolished.

Ball parks vary to an insane degree. The placement of that yellow line is basically arbitrary, isn't it?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:27 PM on May 9, 2013


From FanGraphs: Angel Hernandez has been a shitty umpire since the 1990s
posted by kjh at 12:29 PM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


The yellow line marks the top of the wall. It's just a high-contrast "home run starts here" marker, like the foul poles.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:29 PM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I want them to get every call right, I really do, and we should strive towards that accuracy, but it is patently impossible. Even with replay.

Personally I think the current replay system has helped a lot on some important calls. Most of the time a home run is a big deal and could possibly alter the outcome of the game, and that's the only time they use instant replay. And home runs calls involve the most distance between the umpires and the thing they are trying to watch to make the call on. The umpires also seem to be more inclined to let the play continue on close ones so that if it really wasn't a home run they don't run into the issue of having called it a home run and having to reverse it once the umpire crew discusses it amongst themselves. The only clearly bad calls that I see consistently made these days are safe/out calls on tag plays (which would be a lot harder to use the instant replay system for).
posted by burnmp3s at 12:33 PM on May 9, 2013


The yellow line marks the top of the wall. It's just a high-contrast "home run starts here" marker, like the foul poles.

But surely a ball-proof fence directly above the wall is a de facto extension of the wall, so the line should be on top of that, right?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:40 PM on May 9, 2013


How many bases did he run around before stopped by a guy with a ball? THAT'S what makes something a double or a home run. Not a BS line drawn on the wall.

I admire your willingness to be completely authoritatively wrong about things.
posted by srboisvert at 12:42 PM on May 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


THAT'S what makes something a double or a home run. Not a BS line drawn on the wall.

But surely a ball-proof fence directly above the wall is a de facto extension of the wall, so the line should be on top of that, right?

So now this thread is a place for people who don't know the rules of baseball to argue about how to deduce them from first principles or knee-jerk intuitions? Ballparks have ground rules. The yellow line is part of the ground rules. Why is this suddenly a matter for controversy?
posted by RogerB at 12:49 PM on May 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


But surely a ball-proof fence directly above the wall is a de facto extension of the wall

I don't think this fence is ball-proof. It's a people railing.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:52 PM on May 9, 2013


So now this thread is a place for people who don't know the rules of baseball to argue about how to deduce them from first principles or knee-jerk intuitions? Ballparks have ground rules. The yellow line is part of the ground rules. Why is this suddenly a matter for controversy?

Because sometimes rules are bullshit?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:53 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think this fence is ball-proof. It's a people railing.

Through which a ball can not penetrate.

(The fact that the wall is referred to in the rules of baseball as a "fence" should really be a clue here.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:55 PM on May 9, 2013


Judging from dirtdirt's picture, the fence (a) has gaps between bars wide enough to admit a baseball; and (b) set back from the leading edge of the wall. So, pretty clearly not a solid part of the outfield barrier.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:55 PM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


So, pretty clearly not a solid part of the outfield barrier.

So what is it, liquid? Gas? It did deflect a ball, you know.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:57 PM on May 9, 2013


I like ground rules. Reminds me of playing whiffle ball. Over the cars is a double. Hitting the building two stories up is a home run. Roofing the ball is an automatic win and an ass kicking. Fuck running.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:58 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Through which a ball can not penetrate.

Yeah, no. I disagree. A ball could fit through there. AND it is behind the wall. I do agree with your larger point, as I understand it, that simply painting a line at some elevation of a wall and calling everything above it a home run and everything below it an in-play ball would be goofy, but this is not that.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:58 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Porous, but unreliably so. A line drive hit at the right angle could go through, while a drive hit an inch or two higher would not.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:58 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


TwoWordReview, you are right.
posted by onlyconnect at 1:01 PM on May 9, 2013


Sooner or later all our games turn into Calvinball.
posted by chavenet at 1:03 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And I hardly agree that the railing is "behind" the wall. It's completely in line with the wall; it's behind the crash mats, but that's it.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:04 PM on May 9, 2013


Because sometimes rules are bullshit?

The sense in which ballpark-specific ground rules are "bullshit" escapes me. Do you have an actual argument to make here? Because all I'm seeing so far is the repeated assertion that guardrails and ground rules are in some obscure way an affront to your personal sense of justice. The presence of that railing, like many other potentially-ball-deflecting physical features beyond the field-of-play demarcation for the purpose of calling a home run, is a completely ordinary part of the sport and arouses no controversy at all among those who play or work in the sport. Why the seemingly clueless dissent here?

simply painting a line at some elevation of a wall and calling everything above it a home run and everything below it an in-play ball would be goofy

You realize that a line like this is part of the ground rules at a large number of historical and current MLB ballparks, right? Take a look at Chase Field, for instance.
posted by RogerB at 1:06 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


But surely a ball-proof fence directly above the wall is a de facto extension of the wall, so the line should be on top of that, right?

For one thing, the current home run lines at most ballparks are purposely just low enough that an outfielder can make an exciting jumping catch to steal a home run. Move it to the top of the railing for the first row of fans, and you miss out on that. On top of that, you'll have a lot more Bartman-type situations where a fan controversially reaches down below the top of the railing and interferes with the ball that should still be in play.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:08 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Take a look at Chase Field, for instance.

I think we are on the same page - I have no issue with the yellow line anywhere that I know of it in MLB. I am talking about a hypothetical arbitrary yellow line midway up the left field wall in Boston, say, which would bug me. The line you point out is logically laid out. It follows the natural contours of the park, and clarifies the field of play where the scoreboard/jumbotron obscures it.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:12 PM on May 9, 2013


You realize that a line like this is part of the ground rules at a large number of historical and current MLB ballparks, right? Take a look at Chase Field, for instance.

Chase Stadium has a line painted on the wall because it's a really terribly designed stadium. And it makes the game shittier; what's less exciting than a technical home run?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:18 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The fact that the wall is referred to in the rules of baseball as a "fence" should really be a clue here

All that tells me is that the rules were written before 50,000 seat stadiums fully enclosed with grandstands became the standard for MLB.

The portion of the structures surrounding a field that is the outfield wall/fence is marked with yellow lines where required; that railing is set back a couple of feet from the front of the padding on the wall; nothing to see here.
posted by N-stoff at 1:19 PM on May 9, 2013


First off, it's worth considering that the root of this issue -- how to define what's in play and what's not -- comes from the fact that baseball is a pretty unusual sport, with respect to what happens when the ball leaves the play area.

Most other sports, that's just a dead ball, and probably a change of possession. In baseball, it can be any of a variety of things: depending on where it goes and what happens afterward, it can range from having absolutely no effect (for example, if it leaves the play area in foul territory with a two-strike count on the batter), to being a strike, to being a double, to being a home run.

So baseball needs ways to distinguish these outcomes. And since every stadium is different, and every stadium has a different collection of things a ball might strike while out of play or heading there, the stadium needs to have a set of ground rules defining what happens.

In MLB stadiums, the typical convention for a home run is to paint a yellow line somewhere on the outfield fence, usually running along the top of the fence (though not always -- there may be things attached to the fence which make a dividing line necessary, so that those other things are not considered part of the fence); anything which passes over the line, regardless of where it actually ends up afterward, is a home run. This may seem arbitrary, but any definition is going to seem arbitrary to someone, and the point is that in order to be played, baseball needs to have some sort of definition. For distinguishing whether the ball left the play area in fair or foul territory, there's typically a yellow-painted metal pole, with a mesh screen on the "fair" side; a ball which strikes the pole or the screen above the home-run line is fair and is a home run even if it bounces off into foul territory or back into the field.

This ball clearly passed over the yellow line. That means it's a home run, even if it hit a railing intended to keep spectators in the stands (people have actually died falling from their seats while trying to reach for a ball, hence the railings are needed) and bounced back in the direction of the play area.

And, really, if you want to nitpick about arbitrary ground rules, Cleveland's Progressive Field -- which is pretty ordinary -- is not the one to pick on. You really want to dig into things like Tropicana Field's dome and its "Catwalks A and B are in play, but C and D are home runs" rule, or Wrigley Field's "ball in the ivy is a double, but only if the fielder doesn't go in after it" rule.

Or you should join in the long-running conversation about Mike Schmidt's 329-foot hit in 1974, which would've been a home run in any other park, but was ruled a single because he hit it in the Astrodome, where it bounced off a PA speaker and back into play.
posted by ubernostrum at 1:24 PM on May 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


Chase Field does appear to have an arbitrary line at the batter's eye, and that is terrible. But putting the line at the top of the fence but before the spectator railing seems reasonable.
posted by stopgap at 1:25 PM on May 9, 2013


Also a rolling or bouncing ball is fair if it leaves fair territory before passing first or third. But if it rolls out before it is foul. Leading to "hilarious" antics
posted by Ad hominem at 1:33 PM on May 9, 2013


what's less exciting than a technical home run?

Every home run is a technical home run. Every fly ball is in play until the ground rules say it isn't.

You're talking as if a bomb that bounces off the facing of the upper deck back onto the field should be in play. That is not the world we live in.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 2:25 PM on May 9, 2013


I heard in the astrodome they adjust the HVAC returns when the visiting team is up to affect the flight of the ball. Is that just an urban legend?
posted by Ad hominem at 2:30 PM on May 9, 2013


Ad hominem, I'm unaware of any substantiated complaints about that in the Astrodome. A superintendent for the Metrodome in Minneapolis did admit to manipulating the air conditioning to create a "wind" blowing out when the Twins were at bat.

Neither stadium is currently used by a major-league team (the Astros moved to Minute Maid Park after 1999, and the Twins moved to target Field after 2009). Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, is currently the only full-time domed stadium in the major leagues, and the Rays are actively trying to get a new park.
posted by ubernostrum at 2:38 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Chase Field does appear to have an arbitrary line at the batter's eye, and that is terrible.

What on earth is arbitrary about that line? It's completely consistent across the entire length of the back of the outfield.

In 2004, Richie Sexson hit a blast off the scoreboard. But I guess that's insufficiently "exciting" and Sexson's shot should have been a double.
posted by kjh at 2:40 PM on May 9, 2013


Also, the Astros haven't been a "major-league team" since 2007.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:42 PM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Deadspin: MLB's Crappy Replay Tech: It's A Miracle Umps Ever Get A Call Right
Of course, you probably have a TV bigger than 19" at homeā€”it's more than likely you're reading this on a bigger screen, too. (NFL officials, by comparison, have utilized 26" monitors since 2007.) Surely Major League Baseball invested in the highest-quality broadcast-level monitors available to ensure umpires have the best picture, though, right?

Wrong. MLB uses the Sharp Aquos models not because of their quality but because Sharp paid the league an unknown sum of money to become its official TV sponsor. (The MLB Advanced Media brain center was also outfitted entirely by Sharp Aquos televisions as opposed to broadcast-standard monitors.) The Sharp Aquos 19" monitor isn't capable of full HD resolution, so when MLBAM executive VP Dinn Mann claimed umps see the "same video in HD" that fans viewing at home do, he wasn't being honest.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:46 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


A superintendent for the Metrodome in Minneapolis

Ah so it is less an urban legend than something I inadvertently invented by confusing like 4 different things.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:47 PM on May 9, 2013


Because sometimes rules are bullshit?

Its fun to be all rebel-rebel and shit, but we're talking about baseball here, where quirky and random-seeming rules and sub-rules and sub-sub-rules are pretty much what the game is all about.
posted by aught at 2:58 PM on May 9, 2013


Still better than not having instant replay at all, though, isn't it? Remember Joyce and Gallaraga , where the pitcher threw a perfect game but the umpire messed up the last play of the game?

So what I remember is that right after that (like literally 10 minutes later or something) Keith Olbermann tweeted something like, "I love umpires, but you just saw their death warrant signed by instant replay," and I basically agreed with that, that the errors were now, maybe not more egregious, but more obvious since every fan got 10 angles on the thing 10 seconds after it happened, and the league would have to do something about it just to keep the game from becoming pro wrestling with equipment.

But then! A few months later I heard Ron Darling say that he thinks instant reply will never happen in baseball the way it does in the NFL because the wagering on football represents so much money that the league can literally not afford to get the calls wrong. The book is just huge and a bad call cannot change the outcome of the game. MLB doesn't have a comparable book and so there's no incentive on the league to get the calls right. At the time I was like, "Well, I mean, but there's, you know, accuracy for the sake of accuracy and professional pride, though....?" But at this point, after the combination of totally screwed up calls that the league doesn't care about and the horror of the replacement refs in football, I basically just agree with Darling, I think he was right.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:01 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Its fun to be all rebel-rebel and shit, but we're talking about baseball here, where quirky and random-seeming rules and sub-rules and sub-sub-rules are pretty much what the game is all about.

Yes. The rules in baseball are sacrosanct and must never be changed. Oh, wait.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:01 PM on May 9, 2013


Basically the issue is that clubs want to sell advertising space or have a Jumbotron or an extra deck of seating or whatever in the outfield, and they also want their players to hit home runs. Unfortunately, Jumbotrons are like 10-zillion feet high, the players can't be juiced up anymore, and no normal human can hit a home run over a 10-zillion foot high Jumbotron. If they didn't have the yellow line, there would be no home runs. So we have a yellow line.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:08 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, nothing's forcing them to put in a solid wall. Regular-height outfield wall -> seats/garden/restaurant/bullpen/whatever -> batter's eye -> JumboTron. As long as there's some gap for the ball to fly into, the wall can't re-start at after that. Otherwise a hit that bounces off the second deck would be a triple.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:14 PM on May 9, 2013


They need the equivalent of chalk in tennis. Some mark, that the ball would impart to the surface. Or, impart some dollars and put cameras around the lines that matter (foul/fair home run/in play, etc.). Cameras and memory are cheap. Baseball may be cheaper still....
posted by zerobyproxy at 4:50 PM on May 9, 2013


If they didn't have the yellow line, there would be no home runs.
I'm sure you recognized the flaw in this logic immediately after you posted it, didn't you? Because it's not like MLB teams, even the small market teams, have enough money to accommodate a few basic rules, like an outfield fence, or anything.

Because the alternative theory is that people like you are okay with just trashing the historical value of "the wall" and replacing it with "the line" because the baseball teams need the extra space for those 20 or so overpriced seats that moving the aforementioned jumbo-tron a couple of feet back would displace. And to be honest, that's a world that I really don't enjoy living in.
posted by Blue_Villain at 6:26 AM on May 10, 2013


Yes. The rules in baseball are sacrosanct and must never be changed.

I don't believe my comment said that.
posted by aught at 7:56 AM on May 10, 2013


Also a rolling or bouncing ball is fair if it leaves fair territory before after passing first or third.

FTFY.
posted by CancerMan at 10:15 AM on May 10, 2013


I'm sure you recognized the flaw in this logic immediately after you posted it, didn't you? Because it's not like MLB teams, even the small market teams, have enough money to accommodate a few basic rules, like an outfield fence, or anything.

I think ground rules, which have been a part of the game as long as it has existed and are widely accepted by fans, players and officials, will continue to exist and be developed and altered for a variety of reasons that include things other than game play, like the safety of spectators, the safety of the players, the built environment of the various ballparks, "our glorious tradition of a stupidly shaped wall in this particular place," and commercial interests, yes.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:03 PM on May 10, 2013


Bad week for MLB umps. Kind of embarrassing that a crew with two veterans screwed the pooch so badly. At least MLB suspended the crew chief and fined the rest of them, as the usual response is to close ranks around them instead.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:22 PM on May 10, 2013


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