My dad was complaining to me the other day about web gems and the like. He thinks many of the fielding plays that show up in top fielding plays of the day countdowns on ESPN are simply average ones, plays a major leaguer should be able to make. It's just one of those aspects of sports coverage that kind of annoys him. (You could say he feels this way about it: JACKED! UP!) Anybody who watches a decent amount of sports has his1 own particular bugaboos.
Delwyn Young's incredible catch from Monday night is not one of those average fielding plays elevated to Web gem status. Even with Ivy League grade inflation, some kids still have a transcript full of A+'s. On the play, a Randy Winn fly pop bounced off the heel of right fielder Garrett Jones' glove and hit his shin. Jones then kicked it into the air; second baseman Delwyn Young, who was moving in the other direction, stopped, dove, and caught the ball.
The umpire, though, ruled the ball hit the ground. No catch.
Here comes the obvious. Even Young said it right after the game: "It's a great argument for instant replay."
So far this season, I feel that a significant amount of plays -- at first base and home plate, mainly -- are called incorrectly. That's not surprising. Being an umpire is hard. But sometimes these bad calls could change a game's outcome, like earlier this year in the Athletics' comeback win over the Twins.
I dunno. I'm okay with using replay if it can help raise the accuracy of calls. I think a good system reviews any play if some official (maybe a replay official) decides it should be looked at, and probably also allows coaches to request a replay a certain number of times a game.
Sure, there are idiosyncrasies. In baseball's current replay-only-for-homers system, sometimes umpires decide not to review a play, seemingly incorrectly, like in a Phillies' loss earlier this year. Allowing a manager to challenge once or twice a game would attempt to alleviate that problem. And, yeah, it can take a while (especially in the NFL). I think it's better to get the right, especially in an important scenario (say, the playoffs).
(To me, though, it seems weird to do it for balls and strikes, even though that's the area where the ump could probably be replaced today. It would feel weird for the umpire to be removed from behind home plate. I feel silly about this.)
But let's continue on the incremental path for replay baseball has chosen. Home-run replay came in last year; next year point a few extra cameras at the bases and replay catches and plays at first and home. This might severely limit manager tirades; for me that's a vaguely good thing.
Here's a prediction: Within 100 years, most baseball umpiring will be done primarily by computers.2 Umps may remain on the field in a symbolic way. Executive umpires may program the computers (the nerds will truly have won baseball!). Humans may score the game. But I think people will want things to be accurate, eventually. The change will eventually be made when the technology is there to do it quickly and automatically.
So, yes, this is a slippery slope. Whatever. By the time this happens, we'll be dead. Let the people of the future decide their baseball rules, and let us strive to be accurate instead of traditional. Let Delwyn Young lead the way. Let's embrace the technology we're comfortable with now and expand it a little more. In that way, we'll make baseball a little better.
Or maybe we'll cause Armageddon. Either way, at least we tried.
1 Or her. Sarah really hates the Citizens Bank Park Green$ense green fact of the day. She actually yelled at the TV once when it came on, like I do several times a game. We had a moment there. Incidentally, she's anti-replay. When I showed her the Jones/Young play and how the ball didn't hit the ground, she shrugged and said, "I feel like it was close enough."
2 Don't steal this science fiction story idea from me, please.