THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
Andrew Toles swings and hits a line drive to right field. Jason Heyward fields it on a bounce and fires home. Willson Contreras catches it and goes to tag Adrian Gonzalez. Angel Hernandez calls him out.
This statement of facts led to a challenge by the Los Angeles Dodgers after believing that Gonzalez had touched home plate before Contreras had tagged him. Hernandez and crew chief Gary Cederstrom went to the headsets to talk to Paul Nauert, the umpire in New York in charge of making the final call.
The review lasted longer than expected. Most people had time to get another hot dog. Finally, the decision game down. He's out; the call stands.
If you read any commentary on this story, listened to any talking head, or watched the replays available to the fans, you might think that they got the call wrong.
News flash: replay worked.
Some of you probably just closed this article and vowed never to read this again. Well, I'm sorry to hear that. If you're still with me, you'll be intrigued.
This play in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series is a prime example of how Instant Replay has already become the exact antithesis of what it was meant to be. Replay was instituted in baseball as a way to right the obvious wrongs, not the "bang-bang" plays that could go either way. Unfortunately, teams have begun to use replay for the "bang-bang" play.
Consider this. When replay was introduced, the thought process was that a manager would come out to argue a call that was an obvious miss and immediately ask for a challenge. Instead, in the first year of replay, teams began to out-think the system and set up replay review centers of their own in the stadiums, which would then inform the dugout personnel if a call was worthy of a challenge. Managers were waiting a good 60 seconds before deciding if a challenge was necessary.
And people think baseball is being slowed down by conferences, pitchers stepping off the rubber or throwing to bases, and batters stepping out of the box.
Why is it that nobody who has a problem with the time of baseball is complaining about the time for replay when the system was not meant to be used in this fashion?
Let's play devil's advocate for a moment. Have a percentage of plays that might normally be considered "bang-bang" that were challenged been made right by the use of replay? Yes. Not all "bang-bang" plays are considered equal. Sometimes, an umpire moves an inch too far in one direction to try to get into position and misses the split second of a foot hitting a bag before the ball hits the glove. That's not an obvious miss, but thanks to replay, that sort of call can be rectified. And we should be thankful for it.
But when the camera angles available to both the fans and the replay officials do not provide clear and convincing evidence that the call on the field was wrong, that call cannot be overturned. It is not confirmed, but it is declared to be a call that "stands." No evidence was available to clearly and properly confirm the call was right or wrong.
In the case of Gonzalez, Contreras, Hernandez, and Nauert, the on-field call of "out" had to stand because there was no clear and convincing angle (that's 100% correct, mind you) that shows that the ball in the mitt of Contreras was not on the person of Gonzalez when his hand touched home plate.
So why do fans and the media get upset by this? Simple: the court of public opinion never aligns with the court of law, possibly due to the incompetence of the average person to understand how life works.
Consider the cases that go through our criminal justice system in America. It is our belief (as stated in the documents that define us as a country) that it is better to let a guilty man go free than to put an innocent man in prison. That's why defendants are "innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Translation: if a good defense attorney can prove that there is a good chance his client didn't do it, then a jury has the moral obligation to acquit the defendant of the charges.
The same principle applies in the instance of this replay. Unless the evidence available can clearly show that the wrong call was made on the field, then the umpire making the final call in New York must allow the call to stand. There's no way around it.
"But that play was 99.99% wrong on the field!" yelled Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo. "How can you let that play stand when replay is available? What is the point of replay if not to overturn that call?"
Simple: there was 0.01% reasonable doubt. The call stands.