This piece was written by our own Ben Poplin but due to some technical issues, I posted it for him. I did edit it a bit...but other than that, it was all Ben. Enjoy! -Eric
When Major League Baseball instituted replay, we knew there was going to be an adjustment period. Believe it or not, that was eight years ago although the system as we know it now didn’t go into place until 2014. If you are keeping track that is 32 Division Series, 18 Championship Series, 10 Wildcard Games, and nine World Series ago. Let’s get one thing straight. I am all for accuracy and making sure every call made during a game is the right one...
...As I typed that sentence, however, it dawned on me. That is never going to happen. The chances of getting every safe/out call correct are about as likely as parents in a PTO meeting agreeing on..well anything. Replay was introduced to assist the umpires as they deliberate amongst themselves, asking who saw what and where. It was not put into play to completely replace the umpire, contrary to what many people would love to see happen (Robots). Here is the thing though. Is replay really the issue? Look no further than this World Series, and I think we can all agree that it absolutely is not.
Over the past week replay has been used an absurd amount of times. And I am not just talking about close plays that required the umpires to go under the hood. Quite the opposite in fact. Umpires have dropped the ball time after time in more ways than one. They have missed countless calls that should have easily been made the first time around. It is as if they know they have replay to fall back on if/when they mess up.
Before you say anything, I know I am not an umpire. There is a reason they are where they are and I am where I am. I have not attended either of the two schools that teach umpiring in the U.S. The six gentleman, clad in black from head to toe, have. They are the best of the best, which is why they were chosen out of hundreds in the MLB. For that reason alone, they should be able to make these calls at first glance.
I know that the game moves fast when you are on the field and are required to see everything at once. That is why instead of four, the MLB adds two more officials down the lines during the postseason. But at the same time, that is what umpires are paid to do. They should be able to determine an out or safe call on your standard 6-4-3 double play. Pickoff attempts should be a piece of cake, given that they literally do not have to move an inch. That is.....unless Jon Lester is on the mound. In that case, the first base umpire can grab a chair and sit in the coach’s box. Tags applied on a bang-bang stolen base attempt should be visible if you are positioned properly. I could drone on (Trevor Bauer), but I think you catch my drift.
And then there is the strike zone debate. Although they are taught the same curriculum, almost every umpire has his own strike zone preference. Guys like John Hirschbeck and Joe West have developed reputations for being extremely stubborn to the point of tossing any player or coach who dare disagree with them or West’s taste in music.
Never Forget: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ9MBWyBvtI
There comes a point though, when enough is enough. If players from both teams take umbrage with what you decide is called a strike, odds are one of them is probably right and you are most likely wrong. But when it comes to a veteran presence like West, he runs the show. It should never be this way, and the umpire’s name should not even be a topic of discussion during a broadcast. That has not been the case, and this was no clearer than during Game 3. Here is a look at Hirschbeck’s splits behind the plate courtesy of Brooks Baseball. It was not a good night for Hirshbeck.
He was too generous on the corners. For pitchers, as Fox analyst John Smoltz pointed out, this is a dream. On the other side of the coin, it gives hitters and managers fits. Throughout the course of a game, adjustments have to be made. Hitters did not adjust to Hirschbeck’s zone, and instead chose to have beef with him every time they stepped up to the plate. Indians Mike Napoli seriously got the raw end of the deal.
Just for kicks, take a look at Joe West’s strike zone during Game 6. What I can I say about West that has not already been said.
It should not be this way, but that is how the game has evolved. Umpires have paid their dues and think that they deserve respect. To an extent, they certainly do. Ultimately, though, it is a power trip to the highest degree. At this point, there is nothing being done to change it and it’s on Major League Baseball to do that.
To sum up my thoughts on this World Series when it comes to officiating and using replay, too many calls were missed AND replay was relied upon too heavily. The play on the field between two historic franchises was top notch and more than made up for the three hours and some change spent in front of a television screen each night. I thoroughly enjoyed watching.
While we can all remember the stellar pitching of Kluber and Chapman, the clutch performances of Kipnis and Addison, the out of this world defense of Baez and Lindor, the great analysis by John Smoltz and, yes, Alex Rodriguez, and the incredible fans of two storied franchises, it’s sad that this World Series will also be remembered not for the players or fans, but for the decisions made on how to best enforce the rules of the game. We can do better.