Though the two aren’t related, the timing couldn’t be better: a day after umpire Jerry Meals totally butchered a call at that plate that gave an illegitimate win to the Braves, the NCAA is instituting instant replay at the College World Series.
By now most baseball fans have seen the blown call that ended a 19-inning marathon between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta’s Julio Lugo was attempting to score from third on a contact play. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez’s throw easily beat Lugo to the play, where catcher Michael McKenry blocked the plate and appeared to tag Lugo out.
But Meals ruled that the tag was not applied; in the meantime, Lugo got up and touched the plate, ending the game. Even the Braves broadcasters at SportsSouth couldn’t admit the call was legit and called on Bud Selig to review it.
Today, Meals admitted he was wrong:
“After seeing a few of them, on one particular replay I was able to see that Lugo’s pant leg moved ever so slightly when the swipe tag was attempted by McKenry,” Meals told local reporters. “And that’s telling me I was incorrect in my decision, and he should have been ruled out and not safe.”
MLB Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations Joe Torre issued the following statement today:
“Unfortunately, it appears that the call was missed, as Jerry Meals acknowledged after the game. Many swipe tags are not applied to the runner with solid contact, but the tag was applied and the game should have remained tied. I have spoken with Jerry, who is a hard-working, respected umpire, and no one feels worse than him. We know that this is not a product of a lack of effort.
“Having been the beneficiary of calls like this and having been on the other end in my experience as a player and as a manager, I have felt that this has always been a part of our game. As a member of the Commissioner’s Special Committee for On-Field Matters, I have heard many discussions on umpiring and technology over the past two years, including both the pros and the cons of expanding replay. However, most in the game recognize that the human element always will be part of baseball and instant replay can never replace all judgment calls by umpires. Obviously, a play like this is going to spark a lot of conversation, and we will continue to consider all viewpoints in our ongoing discussions regarding officiating in baseball.
“We expect the best from our umpires, and an umpire would tell you he expects the best of himself. We have to continue to strive for accuracy, consistency and professionalism day in and day out.”
That still didn’t stop the Pirates from filing a formal compaint with the commissioner’s office. From Frank Coonelly:
“While we cannot begin to understand how Umpire Jerry Meals did not see the tag made by Michael McKenry three feet in front of home plate, we do not question the integrity of Mr. Meals. Instead, we know that Mr. Meals’ intention was to get the call right. Jerry Meals has been umpiring Major League games for 14 years and has always done so with integrity and professionalism. He got this one wrong.
“For Pirates fans, we may have lost a game in the standings as a result of a missed call but this game, and the gutsy performances by so many of our players, will make us stronger, more unified and more determined as we continue the battle for the National League Central Division.”
Meanwhile, the NCAA will be instituting instant replay at the College World Series for the first time. It won’t be at a level that could avoid a play like the one missed by Meals, but it’s a start. From the NCAA:
Umpires at the 2012 College World Series will be able to use instant replay to review specified calls under an experimental rule developed by the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee.
The Division I Baseball Committee reviewed and supported the experimental rule at its annual meeting Monday-Wednesday in Indianapolis.
The rule still must be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel (as must all playing rules proposals) before being implemented. The panel meets via conference call on Aug. 11.
The Baseball Rules Committee had originally proposed using instant replay on an experimental basis at the regionals and super regionals in addition to the College World Series, but the Division I Baseball Committee narrowed its use to the CWS since it’s possible that not all regional and super regional sites would offer the same logistical consistency that TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha affords.
The list of reviewable plays will be limited to:
• Deciding if an apparent home run is fair or foul.
• Deciding whether a batted ball left the playing field for a home run or a ground-rule double.
• Spectator-interference plays (only on plays involving home run balls).
“This has been one of the issues that we want to be cautious with and move somewhat slowly,” said Jeff Hurd, the chair of the Baseball Rules Committee and senior associate commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference. “The technology is there. We are not doing due diligence to the sport if we don’t use it. At the same time, there is a fine line as to how far you go with it. That’s the reason for its limited use.”
Division I Baseball Committee chair Tim Weiser, deputy commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, said it makes sense to take advantage of a facility that is “logistically friendly” to review plays.
“We have 17 camera locations available to us,” Weiser said. “If we are really driven by getting the call right, and we have a working model that Major League Baseball uses, it was an easy decision to take advantage of the technology.”
The instant-replay process will operate under the fundamental assumption that the ruling on the field is correct. The only way a call can be changed is if there is indisputable video evidence to remove all doubt that a ruling was incorrect. Otherwise, the original call will stand.
Any instant-replay review would have to occur before the next pitch or play. If it occurs after a game-ending play, it must be called for before all umpires leave the field of play.
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