ALCS Coverage: The Umps

The final score of last night’s game necessarily means that, in retrospect, the umpiring wasn’t a big deal. Tim McClelland could have called every play at third base in favor of the Angels and New York was still going to win that game. However, the amount of plays that were just totally missed is still a serious problem, and understandably, the performance of the umps has pushed the issue of replay back into the limelight.

There’s no way the status quo is the best we can do, right? I would imagine most of us can agree on that. There’s some combination of technological improvements with the current human subjective rulings that would give us a higher level of accuracy without sacrificing some ideal of purity – the arguments are more over how much technology we should be using. I can’t see too many people who watched the performance of the men in blue last night and said “I’m okay with this happening in a playoff series.”

The game should be decided by the players. It usually is, but as we saw last night, there’s potential for one team to outplay the other and still lose due to one umpire having a really bad night of judgment. That’s something that should be fixed.

If the umps are okay with two extra bodies being added down the lines for the playoffs, we can infer that they’re willing to trade some of the authority they have during the regular season in an attempt to improve accuracy of calls in the playoffs. They are not so defensive of their positions that they won’t make sacrifices in order to get more calls right.

They’re also willing to defer to each other. The home plate umpire asks the base umps for help on check swings. They gather to talk about home runs down the lines, with the guy who thinks he had the best view usually convincing everyone else to go along with him.

So, why wouldn’t they be okay with a seventh umpire that’s just watching the game on TV like the rest of us? It took us about five seconds to figure out that Swisher was out at second base on the pickoff play, and maybe twice that to figure out that he didn’t leave early from third base. It was plainly obvious that Cano was standing off the bag when Napoli tagged him. These are not decisions that required a five minute conference call under a hood.

Give an earpiece to the crew chief, and let the replay ump just tell him “hey, Tim, you missed that one. Cano was out, no question.” It is fundamentally no different than the home plate ump pointing down to third base on a checked swing. They’re getting help from each other in order to increase accuracy.

This is the kind of thing that could be implemented in a day. Bring in an extra ump and give him a room with a couple of TVs and a two-way communicator, and we won’t have scenes like last night again. We don’t need a complicated system with flags and challenges. Just have an ump watch TV and talk to his peers.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Totally 100% in agreement here. This is the most logical solution that I’ve seen. The umps aren’t even risking looking like they are being ‘shown up’, as viewers likely wouldn’t even be aware that the up stairs ump corrected him.

Doug Lampert
Doug Lampert

Oh, I think the fans will still know there’s been a review when the Ump reverses himself without conferencing or the Crew Chief overrules someone on something he couldn’t possibly have seen himself.

But I don’t think that’s a problem. It will slow the game down less than the arguments already do, and produce a more accurate result. It’s not going to shock any fans of the game that Umps are human and occassionally miss a call. As the anouncers pointed out on the start from third, it’s nearly impossible to see both the runner’s foot and the catch at the same time, much less concentrate on the detailed timing of each.

Realistically this actually reduces the crew from 6 to 5 Umps for the playoffs (the extra men on the line are doing a job that can typically be done BETTER via TV).

I’d do it in the regular season too. Just use the man usually standing on second as the review guy and go with three men on the field like the minors or college. The booth guy can do both homerun appeals and review of other plays.