Are Missed Calls Bad for Baseball?

As a rule, Mondays suck, but as Mondays go, this is always a good one, as the Red Sox play a frightfully early home baseball game. On 2013’s Patriots’ Day, the Red Sox hosted the Rays, and it was 2-1 Boston in the top of the sixth when Evan Longoria batted with two down and runners on the corners. In a full count against Ryan Dempster, Longoria returned a grounder up the middle, but Stephen Drew made a diving stop and threw to Mike Napoli for the out. The inning was over, the Rays didn’t score, and the Rays would end up losing by a run a few innings later.

Things were that simple, and things were also a hell of a lot more complicated. Longoria was upset with the call at first base, because the play was close, and had Longoria been ruled safe, the game would’ve been tied. This was one of the higher-leverage moments of the game. Below, you can see it all for yourself:

LongoriaRedSox.gif.opt

longoriaredsox

One of the facts of the matter is that this was a bang-bang play, and an umpire can’t watch the baseball and the base at the same time with his complete attention. One of the other facts of the matter is that, when you pause the motion, it’s evident that Longoria beat the throw. Not by much, but there’s nothing about margins in the rule book. Longoria was more safe than not safe, and the game should’ve been tied. It’s impossible to say how things would’ve gone had Longoria been called safe, and maybe the Rays still lose anyway, but things would’ve gone differently, and this play was taken out of the players’ hands.

This isn’t the best example for what I want to talk about, but this is a recent example so we’re going to make do. I’m not blaming the umpire for this. Umpiring is hard work most of the time, and no one would’ve gotten this 100% correct, given a bunch of repetitions. We’re not very good! But this call was wrong. Probably a bunch of calls were wrong on Monday, I don’t know, but this was a major one. This cost the Rays a run. The Rays lost by a run. There’s reason for Rays fans to be upset.

Think about all the arguments in favor of expanded instant replay. Think about all the arguments in favor of an automated, PITCHf/x-based strike zone. The core idea is that baseball is a game played between two teams of 25 players each. The winner should be the team that scores the most runs, thereby having out-performed the opponent. There shouldn’t be any room for missed calls, in theory, because then it isn’t about the players performing. A missed call rewards the wrong side, and we should always want the right side to prevail. What is baseball if the umpires are incorrect? Why should we accept imperfection? The game should be left up to the players, and their performances should be their performances, with nothing left up to subjective interpretation. Baseball should be a game of absolutes, not a game of gray areas.

I have believed all that. I might still believe all that, truth be told, and the counter argument is: human element! Tradition! It’s anti-science is what it is, but then, there’s a scientific argument in favor of the current model. Or a philosophical argument, but there’s an awful lot of overlap between the two. Everything is science, turns out.

Baseball is not just a competition wherein the best teams are rewarded and the other teams are not. The World Series trophy is not given to the best team in the league. We know that and we accept that. Baseball is as much about the process as the result, and most of the process is the experience. The drama, the highs and lows, the various conversations we can have with other people that all weave together to make baseball the extraordinary diversion that it is and always has been. We can feel feelings about baseball that objectively we shouldn’t feel about something that doesn’t matter, but that’s the purpose, just as that is the purpose of most entertainment.

I was talking with Carson about this on a podcast several months back. About the nature of missed calls, and whether or not they’re better for the game. We know that a missed call is wrong. It is one call, instead of the other call, the other call being the correct one according to the rules. When there’s a missed call of significance, people respond, and they oftentimes respond emotionally. People remember being slighted, and everybody gets to feel like umpires have it out for them, since people remember the missed calls against them more than the missed calls in their favor. It’s an experience, to complain, to feel like you’ve been wronged. To know that you’ve been wronged. It becomes a part of the story, and baseball’s nothing but a collection of stories. That’s why so much ends up getting reduced to narratives.

The upside of getting everything right is that you get everything right. The best team still doesn’t always beat the worst team, but it’s all at least left up to the players. The upside of having room for missed calls is that you increase the emotion, and you increase the discussion. People have more to talk about, they have more to be emotional about, and there’s a certain community aspect to the shared experience of frustration and disappointment. For fans, there’s more bonding and more emotion, and for players, while events matter more to them, as a group they don’t seem particularly motivated to change the existing system. Fans are the people arguing most often for reform, against the wishes of the baseball establishment.

As an obvious example, in one universe, we have Armando Galarraga throwing a perfect game. It’s an incredible achievement for a fairly ordinary pitcher. In another universe, we have Armando Galarraga throwing a perfect game*, actually retiring all 28 batters instead of all 27, with the story of Jim Joyce’s blown call immediately branding itself into the nation’s consciousness. Instead of an extraordinary moment, we were given another extraordinary moment, and now Galarraga’s perfect game is unforgettable. It’s not like Phil Humber’s perfect game, where it just happened and didn’t matter after a week. The story of Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce is an all-time tale of imperfection and redemption, insanity and character. It’s insane that that happened, but one could argue convincingly that baseball’s better for it having happened. As counter-intuitive as it is, baseball might benefit from getting things wrong.

Missed calls make people care. They stir the emotions, and where there are emotions, there’s a stronger connection. It’s possible that missed calls actually bring people closer to the game, rather than pushing them away. They certainly keep people talking about the game, for longer than they might otherwise.

Of course, there’s a tipping point. Right now, instead of 100% correct calls, we get X% correct calls, where I honestly have no idea what X might be. X is a very high number, but it sinks quite a bit if you limit things to just the borderline decisions. Baseball with 0% correct calls wouldn’t make any sort of sense. It would be unplayable. So would baseball with 50% correct calls. If you believe that baseball’s better with some mistakes, you can allow for only so many before there are entirely too many. Missed calls have to feel reasonably infrequent, otherwise they’ll start to be expected and baseball will feel like a mockery of itself. That’s when you do push people away. People need to believe that the competition will usually be decided by the players on the field, that the umpires will only seldom turn themselves into a factor.

But I’ve come to believe more and more than some missed calls are healthy. Not that they’re ever okay in the little picture — I can’t fathom losing an important game because an umpire incorrectly ruled a hit ball down the line. That would gnaw at me for weeks, or months or years, were the stakes sufficiently high. Ask me sometime about the Seahawks Super Bowl. But in the bigger picture, that dull agony is a part of the emotional experience. And everybody else has something to talk about, something to argue about, something to think about instead of life’s more pressing concerns. Is baseball is to entertain and distract, then missed calls are both entertaining and distracting.

I don’t know how I would feel about a perfectly accurate version of baseball. I do know how I feel about the current version of baseball.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Steve
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Steve
3 years 5 months ago

Missed calls are “healthy?” What? If the goal of the game is to have a just outcome, missed calls are never healthy, but instead detrimental.

You seem to deny that you, in fact, actually want a “perfectly accurate version” of baseball, and all I can say to that is why not make baseball resemble a weird circus freak-show, then? If just outcomes don’t matter, why even post on fan graphs about woba, walk rates, and line drive rates? Longoria’s out here will affect his overall value and his stats, and it affects them all unjustly (not to mention that it affects the Rays season unjustly).

I’m disappointed to here this viewpoint coming from fangraphs. Come on, guys.

Larry Yocum
Guest
Larry Yocum
3 years 5 months ago

I think it’s the propaganda we’ve all be fed from baseball and the broadcasters about “the human element.” Questec seemed to be a step back because the camera angles were so bad at some stadiums that baseball has refused to look into getting it right, but I think it’s clear that some form of replay would be good for the game.

I also don’t buy the argument about it slowing the game up. Having the manager come out of the dugout and go crazy when an ump blows a call also slows the game up. It would be much easier if there was a replay booth and some way to challenge close plays. Just like in football, teams could get 1 challenge per game and if they win that one, they would get another and have a “replay official” to look at such plays.

Matt Holiday still hasn’t touched the plate…

jld
Guest
jld
3 years 5 months ago

Let’s not make replay another aspect of the game that has to be managed. What if the umps blow three calls against your team in one game? Shouldn’t everyone strive to get all the calls right? Not just the ones that the manager chooses to ‘throw the flag’ on?

Put another ump in the pressbox, allow them to review all plays in real time, signal when the on-the-field umps get it wrong.

Larry Yocum
Guest
Larry Yocum
3 years 5 months ago

Sure, whatever works.

I just thought the challenge process would appease the argument about the replays taking too long. Not every play would be challenged. If a team had 3 bad calls go against them, they would theoretically win all three and maintain that ability to continue to question a call.

It just seems ridiculous that we have all this technology now and the ability to get it right and a million cameras and the ability to watch 360 degree motion replays of a bat breaking 3 times and hitting the ball, but still continue to allow bad calls like the one today to taint a game.

I don’t think I’d be on board with pitch/FX calling balls and strikes yet, but surely the bang-bang plays that are wrong could and should be reviewable.

Nate
Guest
Nate
3 years 5 months ago

The fear I have with replay is the lack of finality of a call, which would make the umpires play God – telling everyone what would have happened had the call been x. Today, when a call is made, it’s final and the players have to respond accordingly.

For example: runner on first, one out. The batter hits a blooper to short right field that is trapped, but the umpire calls him out. The runner, seeing the umpire signal “out”, retreats to first. With replay, the umpires would review the play and then have to make a judgement call as to whether the runner on first would have made it to second before the right fielder throws to second for the force out.

There are many cases like this (such as a fair or foul ball in play) where replay would make the umpires decide what would have happened instead of letting the play actually happen.

KDL
Guest
KDL
3 years 5 months ago

This. Football has replay and controversial calls have not disappeared. WRONG calls have not disappeared. Replay getting from X% correct calls to X.7% calls just doesn’t seem worth it to me. From the time involved to the opportunities for manipulation (not close calls being argued so a reliever can warm up more) to the significant point about umpires having to decide what would’ve happened…it’s not worth the faux-certainty of replay.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

The idea that we should fix NO calls because we can’t fix ALL calls is absurd.

And that’s what you’re arguing.

Infield Fly
Guest
Infield Fly
3 years 5 months ago

It does when x = 93.7

Infield Fly
Guest
Infield Fly
3 years 5 months ago

by 93.7 i mean 99.3

MrMan
Guest
MrMan
3 years 5 months ago

Um….don’t they already do that on ground rule doubles and such?

fjrobinson44
Member
fjrobinson44
3 years 5 months ago

Matt Holliday also still hasn’t caught that “infield fly”

wOODY MILLER
Guest
3 years 5 months ago

An “infield fly” does not have to be caught!

taprat
Guest
taprat
3 years 5 months ago

It really seems like you’re missing the point. Or perhaps… you didn’t actually read the article. Jeff didn’t say missed calls are always healthy and he specifically discussed the weird circus freak-show extreme. He asked a question, while acknowledging that his opinions on the matter are not set in stone at this point, and made a thoughtful point. I’m not sure where I come down on this, myself, but if you think there is only One Correct Answer, then I think you’re not really thinking about it.

Jim
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Jim
3 years 5 months ago

Yeah; this article totally begs the question. You can’t have an article titled “are missed calls bad for baseball” and then include the statement: “There shouldn’t be any room for missed calls, in theory, because then it isn’t about the players performing. A missed call rewards the wrong side, and we should always want the right side to prevail.”

Not everybody agrees with that point of view. Some of us like baseball, rather than a sport like tennis, because there’s wiggle room. There’s a human element, in the form of the empire, that keeps the game from being just essentially a computer simulation of what should happen, and makes it into an actual game worth watching. Even if it goes against my team, I like when umpires blow calls, because it makes watching a baseball game more interesting — so long as they don’t blow too many calls, of course.

You can’t assume your premise. Then you’re not making an argument; you’re stating a tautology.

davisnc
Member
Member
davisnc
3 years 5 months ago

Perhaps you should finish the article.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 5 months ago

“Even if it goes against my team, I like when umpires blow calls”

I will say this is false. Totally and utterly false.

MrMan
Guest
MrMan
3 years 5 months ago

” Even if it goes against my team, I like when umpires blow calls, because it makes watching a baseball game more interesting”

If this is your logic then we don’t really need umpires….let’s just flip a coin to determine whether he was safe or not. After all, it’d be more interesting.

Personally I don’t think you really believe that you “like” when a call goes against your team. Would love to see you watch something like this (http://www.usatoday.com/videos/sports/mlb/2012/10/14/1633511/) live and tell me how happy you are about the blown call because it makes the game “more interesting”.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

I definitely don’t like it when the umpire blows a call that possibly cost my team the game. I felt very depressed that the Rays lost another game on another bad call within a few days. True, they may not have one anyway, but they may have been 6-6 instead of 4-8. That’s a big difference.
I even have mixed feelings when my team wins a game on a bad call. I don’t feel quite as happy as if they won fairly.
Until recently, umpires were the state of the art for calling games. Now they are not. QED

Larry Yocum
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Larry Yocum
3 years 5 months ago

They have obviously been bad for the Rays lately.

jamesEkrueger
Member
jamesEkrueger
3 years 5 months ago

Don’t even get me started…

Average_Casey
Guest
Average_Casey
3 years 5 months ago

As a former player (only Community College) and fan, I would rather see the calls get made correctly. There is a saying that you cannot blame the refs/umpires in sports because you didn’t win the game because you should have done more. Well, that’s a lie we tell ourselves to deal with the losses that we should not have had. No one gets made at a correct call, just poor ones and they don’t even out all of the time. If you don’t believe me, talk to Seahawks fans about their Superbowl loss.

RMR
Guest
RMR
3 years 5 months ago

These types of bang-bang plays aren’t as common as they are made out to be. Getting the calls right using a video review process that didn’t require the umpires to leave the field to review video would be quick (30-60 seconds) and relatively rare. In fact, it would probably SAVE time as it would preclude the need for all the histrionics by the players and managers that the umps somewhat reluctantly indulge.

Brad
Guest
Brad
3 years 5 months ago

This is precisely the point. I wholeheartedly agree with RMR.

It would be a huge improvement for all fans. And pausing 60 seconds 4-5 times a week is a small price to pay for that.

No need for manager challenges, nor umpires herding off the field.

And, as RMR says, if the calls will all be correct there’s no need for player histrionics.

Plus, MLB could back it up with stiff penalties for any player delaying a game with an argument — e.g., automatic 5 game suspension without pay. THAT would actually speed up games!

I’d be happier still if MLB would also suspend umpires for their frequent Cartmanesque “respect my authority” nonsense.

d_i
Member
Member
d_i
3 years 5 months ago

If they do expand replay, I think it must be accompanied by enforcement of a clock on the pitchers. Games take too long the way it is in my opinion.

Mike
Guest
Mike
3 years 5 months ago

I’ve always explained to baseball newbies that the runner/batter is out if the umpire say’s he’s out. Rule theory says if the runner beats the ball to the bag then the runner is out. Reality says he’s safe or out when the umpire says so. That’s the real rule.

David K
Guest
David K
3 years 5 months ago

If blown calls are so good for the game, maybe the umps should sprinkle in some more missed calls from time to time on purpose!

D4P
Guest
D4P
3 years 5 months ago

That’s what I was thinking. Every game should have one or more intentional bad calls that are randomly assigned to plays throughout the game. To make sure that they are actually “bad” calls, they would have to be assigned to plays that have a clear and indisputable outcome.

Maybe an N-sided die could be rolled after every single indisputable play, with one of the N sides indicating that the play should be reversed. The only question left to answer now is what value N should take on. Should it be 3? 6? 36?

Dan
Guest
Dan
3 years 5 months ago

I believe it’s been done. Phil Cuzzi did it in the playoffs in 2009. It’s the only call I’ve ever seen where the best explanation by far is that he made the wrong call on purpose. I don’t know why he did it.

Let’s do what we can to get the calls correct. If a perfectly called game where the players are solely responsible for the outcome is not as fun for Jeff Sullivan, perhaps he can explore other sports, like basketball and soccer.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
3 years 5 months ago

Tony LaRussa would say that the umps do this very things, but only for LaRussa’s opponent.

Don Denkinger
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Don Denkinger
3 years 5 months ago

Couldn’t agree more. Great article.

Ivan Grushenko
Guest
Ivan Grushenko
3 years 5 months ago

Awesome

Danny
Guest
Danny
3 years 5 months ago

The only answer to this article is to ask Longoria, Madden, Hellickson, whoever is the crappy owner of the Rays, and the paying Rays fan base if they agree with your assessment. Ask them if they are romantically ok with the missed call. When they finish a game out of the Wild Card, ask them if they are ok with the emotional remembrance of this and prior missed calls.

This isn’t on the ump. I watched it live, in replay several times and until they paused the frame above I wasn’t more than 50% sure of anything. Replay needs to come in. If I can sit there with a DVR or MLB.tv and get the call 100% right in less than 2 minutes so could they. Is it really that hard to have a fifth ump in a replay booth and be able to buzz down to the ump chief and say ‘”ummm, hey guys he was safe. Tough call, but lets get this right, run scored and still 2 outs.” Ball game is tied like it should be and we let the guys we pay good money to watch do their thing and decide the game. There will be circumstances that get cloudy, but lets get the ones we can correct.

jamesEkrueger
Member
jamesEkrueger
3 years 5 months ago

Yeah us Rays fans are getting raped pretty hard right now.

I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that MLB is still looking into replay. They clearly don’t want it in the game because it does not take this long to hire a few umpires and put them in the booth, or just come up with all the possibilities and vote. A whole season of supposedly discussing opportunities with replay and we’re in the same spot? You’ve gotta be kitten me. Bud has been a good commissioner but he has been lacking on making moves with any sort of urgency. Took forever for a legitimate drug testing system (that is now even being called into question yet again) and is the only sport that is still lacking on adding replay to its games. And the thing is if this happens to any other team it’s a huge deal, but I’m sure MLB is fine with it happening to the Rays. Makes it easier to move the team, even though there is a legit fanbase here, but that will be saved for another comment/article

Ricardo
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Ricardo
3 years 5 months ago

Raped? Calm down, buddy.

steex
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steex
3 years 5 months ago

“Yeah us Rays fans are getting raped pretty hard right now.”

I’m impressed by your ability to compartmentalize if you can discuss baseball during an event like that.

ranger4life
Guest
ranger4life
3 years 5 months ago

calm down buddy, the rangers had so many bad calls in ’10 it was stupid, some during the rays series, still made world series, %$it happens

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

I’m mostly in agreement with you, and gave you a +.
Games don’t take too long, but unnecessary delays are boring. Something obviously should be done about all those trips to the mound, slow pitchers, batters walking around after every pitch, etc.
A minute to get a close call correct and no time at all for electronic monitoring of the strike zone are well worth the improvement.
I’m mostly in agreement with you, and gave you a +.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

Sorry, this comment came out in the wrong place.

Terrible Ted
Member
Terrible Ted
3 years 5 months ago

This is disappointing and maybe that is Jeff’s point. Are missed articles good for Fangraphs because they get people talking about Fangraphs? I think not.

Fergie348
Guest
Fergie348
3 years 5 months ago

One thing to note in all this – the MLB umpires overall do a very good job at calling plays correctly and they’re getting better. That said, there are a few plays every day that are ‘too close to call’ with the speed that MLB is played at.

I’d like to see some actual analysis done that indicates how many plays in MLB per 9 innings played are actually too close to call with the naked eye and use that as guide to determine how to structure replay requests. It seems like it would be a good idea to allow managers to challenge calls x times per game and if there were clear video evidence to overturn the call it would be overturned and if not the call stands, much like it’s done in the NFL.

It wouldn’t take much extra time and it would inject an added strategic element to managing a game. We could restrict the types of plays that are reviewable (home runs, fair/foul, safe/out at a base, etc.) but there should be some form of recourse to the teams to allow a clearly wrong call to be overturned, especially in critical situations like the one shown above. It needs to be acknowledged that mistakes will always be made and it’s impossible to prevent them without dramatically changing the nature of the game, which no one wants.

Dave S
Guest
Dave S
3 years 5 months ago

I like this comment, and I appreciate Jeff’s sentiment re: blown calls… even though I think review/judgement elimination must (and will eventually) be incorporated into the game.

I think the review needs to be immediate, constant, all-encompasing, seamless, and invisible to the viewer.

The game should not appear to “change” at all. Just the calls would be corrected from time to time. I would hate to disrupt the “flow” and “pastoral timelessness” of the game. That needs to be preserved. A day at the park should be just that.

I strongly dislike the limited reviewable plays a la football. I would NOT like to see that sort of review structure infringe on the game of baseball.

and fwiw, as much as I agree with Jeff’s sentiment, I surely wish we had used replay in some form at last night’s Cards-Phils game… where Yadier Molina hit a 2-run “double” that was clearly shown on replay to be a foul ball down the first base line. That hurt… especially when the Phils end up losing by 1 run.

And I didn’t hear anyone “talking about it”. At a certain point, when people know blown calls are unfixable, they just feel resignation… and that doesn’t fuel chat about the game. It just gives a bad feeling about the game.

Richard
Guest
Richard
3 years 5 months ago

Wow, you guys really are incapable of considering the idea Jeff is proposing, aren’t you? Won’t even think about it.

LK
Guest
LK
3 years 5 months ago

I think most Fangraphs readers have thought about this already; it’s not a new argument.

NS
Guest
NS
3 years 5 months ago

There is nothing new in this article. No new data, no new insight on existing data, no new ideas.

The authors aren’t required to publish only new things, but rejection of an article like this does not indicate an unwillingness to consider something new.

KDL
Guest
KDL
3 years 5 months ago

Well, then, is it fair to ask for arguments that don’t seem so knee-jerk? I mean if the ideas have been given so much thought already…

Adam M
Guest
Adam M
3 years 5 months ago

I think many of these reponses are not knee-jerk. Many are very well thought out. They can disagree with Jeff, can’t they?

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 5 months ago

Totally agreed Adam. I don’t like the knee-jerk reaction of “you disagree with the author, you just don’t get it!” I think a lot of people have understood and processed the article and honestly differ with the sentiment it expresses. There are a lot of well-reasoned responses (and even those that aren’t don’t negate the ones that are).

Steve Staude
Member
Member
3 years 5 months ago

Hey, making a lot of bad calls has worked out pretty well for Kim Kardashian…

Some people love to watch a train wreck… I really don’t get the appeal, though.

When it comes to sports, I think winning on a bad call is a hollow victory, and losing on one is extremely frustrating. Both take away from my enjoyment of the sport.

LK
Guest
LK
3 years 5 months ago

I don’t particularly care how much emotion baseball elicits from other people or how generally popular it is. Football is more popular than baseball, and baseball is more popular than hockey, but I don’t think I enjoy baseball more or less than die-hard football and hockey fans enjoy their sports. If getting every call correct causes some people to lose interest in the game, that’s fine with me – I don’t think they were all that interested in the first place.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 5 months ago

“If getting every call correct causes some people to lose interest in the game, that’s fine with me – I don’t think they were all that interested in the first place.”

Amen brother! (Sister? Why do you want to be called Loretta, Stan?)

dt
Guest
dt
3 years 5 months ago

“If getting every call correct causes some people to lose interest in the game, that’s fine with me – I don’t think they were all that interested in the first place.”

That is a pretty arrogant attitude. Everyone will be at that point sometime during their life. Maybe they start there and become a bigger fan, maybe the team goes through a decade of bad baseball, whatever. To tell them to fuck off because they don’t think the small improvement is worth the hassle reflects more on you than it does on them.

mojito
Guest
mojito
3 years 5 months ago

On the whole I agree with Jeff here. The human element surely is an inportant factor, and often an uniting one for the fan base. The real question is though how much of the human factor you need, and how much erroneous calls you can allow. This is not unique to baseball at all but to every sport where you have a human being as referee. Some sports have picked up the idea not only to make the game less prone to errors, but to protect their referees in the same process.

Take hockey for example. The professional leagues at least allow instant review on the question if it was a goal or not (unlike soccer, where FIFA and UEFA are stubbornly resisting the same for ridiculous reason). Calls on fouls still are in the refs hands.

The comparison on a baseball side would be to review plays on bases, but not on strikes or balls. Whether a baserunner was safe or not is easy to check, and it takes very little time considering the low number of really close plays where it would matter.

It would be a perfect compromise between the human element and the technical possibilities there are now. It protects the umpires. It rewards the plays. It would be as it should be.

Ivan Grushenko
Guest
Ivan Grushenko
3 years 5 months ago

No. Humans are stupid and should be replaced wherever possible. I like ATMs more than bank tellers, and I don’t want to go through an operator each time I have to make a phone call, and I don’t want my taxes done by some guy counting on his fingers. Why the hell do people like humans anyway?

jorgath_dc
Guest
jorgath_dc
3 years 5 months ago

Are you writing a new Liberty Mutual Insurance commercial?

Kate Upton: Fantasy MVP
Guest
Kate Upton: Fantasy MVP
3 years 5 months ago

As much as wrong calls are annoying, this is a fairly good point. Most of the memorable sporting plays ingrained in my memory are from botched calls: the Outfield Fly, the Bush Push, Vince Young’s knee being down, the Bartman incident, Galarraga’s almost perfect game.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
3 years 5 months ago

The Bartman incident was not a wrong call and your team hasn’t sucked for a hundred years b/c of a goat. Get over it.

busch
Member
busch
3 years 5 months ago

Fail.

Radivel
Guest
Radivel
3 years 5 months ago

I despise missed or incorrect calls, they frustrate me and make me angry, and I’m not even in the game or even the stadium.

Baseball would be so much better off if you had that security and accuracy in the game. Screw tradition, just because something is different doesn’t make it worse.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

I agree with this.

Usually when there’s a really bad missed call, I’m less invested in the game, not more. My opinion is “if this is going to be decided by the incompetence of the officials, why the hell am I watching it?”

When the Patriots got called for “Faceguarding” in an AFC championship against the Colts (2006?), a penalty that hasn’t existed for 20 years, a little bit of my love for football died.

Clearly wrong calls do elicit emotion, but this is a case where all PR isn’t good PR. People don’t watch sports to be frustrated.

Scott
Guest
Scott
3 years 5 months ago

I don’t know how long you spent thinking about this, but it wasn’t long enough.

Jimmy
Guest
Jimmy
3 years 5 months ago

The call at first base was wrong . . . but only a couple of pitches before that, the home plate ump called a ball on what replays show should have been strike three. So he should have been out anyway. You gonna suggest replays on strike/ball calls too?

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

Why don’t we just use the computers that do a better job than the umpires?

allan
Guest
allan
3 years 5 months ago

Jimmy is right. In fact, the TWO previous pitches to Longoria should have been strike three. It was maddening. Longoria “grounded out” on a 1-4 count. I want robot umps and I want them NOW – but three wrongs turned out to make a right in this case.

payroll
Guest
payroll
3 years 5 months ago

I guess I don’t share OPs masochistic love of being screwed by umpires. I much prefer the positive emotions.

El Vigilante
Guest
El Vigilante
3 years 5 months ago

I see no reason to believe the hypothesis that missed calls increase the emotion. For this specific play does the Rays fan’s anger exceed what would have been elation? Does the Sox fan experience greater relief than disappointment?

I also have a problem with the notion that missed calls increase discussion, rather than replacing a different discussion. And I hardly consider giving people more to talk about to be a positive result, especially when the discussion is barely moves past bitching and moaning. I can think of countless new rules that would be utterly pointless but would give fans more to talk about and collectively get emotional over. Would this lead to more baseball discussions or just replace current ones? Would it make the game any better? Are discussions over missed calls better than the discussions they might be replacing? The is more than enough dull agony inherent in baseball without considering botched calls.

Brad
Guest
Brad
3 years 5 months ago

I would really rather talk about the play on the field: The hitting, or lack thereof, the running and fielding, the manager’s decisions, our constant lamenting of a general manager’s roster building and owners’ numbskullduggery. There’s enough frustration for the fan, so we don’t need the extra aggravation from the umps.

KDL
Guest
KDL
3 years 5 months ago

So, talk about that. No one is forcing you to focusing on the action around 1 pitch. Problem solved.
Heck, why not do it now…what missed opportunities, bad managerial choices, recent roster moves put the Rays in a position where beating out an infield single was their last best hope at victory.
Seriously, just pretend (and this isn’t a huge stretch…maybe 9 inches) that Longoria was actually out on the lucky BBIP single…and you can have the exact conversation you want. You’ve chosen to focus on the umpire.

Joshua
Guest
Joshua
3 years 5 months ago

I think Jeff is getting confused as a sportswriter. Missed calls are great for sportswriters – it’s a great (and easy) story opportunity but as fans, it sucks. I don’t want to watch or even really think about umpires. I watch to see players play baseball at the absolute highest level. I don’t enjoy yelling at umpires or them getting it wrong, at all.

KDL
Guest
KDL
3 years 5 months ago

If you actually go to the trouble of yelling at umps…just admit it…you really do enjoy it.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
3 years 5 months ago

Meh. There’s enough to get excited and emotional about in baseball without missed calls. I won’t feel any loss with accuracy. Moreover, it likely won’t be 100% accurate as the reviewer may still get the call wrong/the angle might not capture it, etc. We spend a lot of time evaluating whether they made the right decision on replay in football – I see little difference here.

NatsFan73
Member
NatsFan73
3 years 5 months ago

The notion that bad calls are good for the game because they keep things interesting is nonsense. I’m sorry, but it is. The product can stand up for itself just fine, thank you very much, without being happy about the “human element” adding drama. It’s one thing to argue that an imperfect replay system would add only a false veneer of accuracy, or that the trade-off in increased game time might not be worth it. I would disagree personally, but at least those are logical arguments. But it’s the shortest of steps to get from “I like it being wrong sometimes” to “Well this game is boring, maybe the ump can botch something to make it more interesting”. And once you’re there, the only difference from the WCW would be how much steroid use you’re willing to tolerate.

Jose Bautista
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Jose Bautista
3 years 5 months ago

We should not tolerate mediocrity

Jaack
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Jaack
3 years 5 months ago

Good article.

While I still think that expanded replay is a good thing for baseball, I do think that missed calls and similar miscues are more ‘legendary’ than great performances. The majority of dedicated baseball fans have a working knowledge of Merkle’s Boner, but I’m willing to bet that a much smaller minority can tell you that the Pirates beat the Tigers the next in the WS year off the top of their heads. I’d even say that its more a part of baseball lore than Joe Carter’s walk off in the ’93 WS, despite being a play from a regular season game in 1908. For younger fans, like myself, the ’85 World Series has had a similar effect: it was only until recently that the great ’84 Tigers have become ingrained into my memory, but their counterparts a year later have been so ingrained since I was very young.

I hate the human element argument on principle but in practice, I find it sickeningly convincing.

Jaack
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Jaack
3 years 5 months ago

I still support replay though. I just think calling arguments like this nonsense is completely obnoxious and is the reason you see resistance.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

Just because we remember something longer doesn’t make it good, e.g. terrorist attacks, assasinations, wars.

Bob
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Bob
3 years 5 months ago

“Baseball should be a game of absolutes, not a game of gray areas”

Each team plays 162 games, and the teams who perform the best make the playoffs. Then the two “wild card” teams (theoretically 4th and 5th best in each league) play 1 game to determine who advances. In no way does 1 game determine absolutely which of those two teams is better.

Professional sports is full of gray areas. That’s why we talk about momentum, grit, and the importance of a veteran presence in the clubhouse. Its why there is an argument about MVP and Cy Young. Would it be nice if umpires were perfect? Yeah. Does it reduce my enjoyment because they aren’t? Not unless that works against my team. Which I suppose is another gray area, given that some people are happy when it works against my team.

no
Guest
no
3 years 5 months ago

Impressive. You managed to say literally nothing in that post. Are you a sportswriter?

mike wants wins
Guest
mike wants wins
3 years 5 months ago

Wow. Could not disagree more. We also remember people that got assasinated and romaticize their lives more than random people, that does not make it better. And yes, that is the argument you are making. Because we talk about it more, it is somehow better than actually getting the call correct. Wow.

Travis
Guest
Travis
3 years 5 months ago

I don’t really feel like Jeff was arguing for one option or the other, though it seems a lot of people in the comments feel he is against replay for blown calls. I don’t like the idea of perpetuating umpire mistakes, but I see Jeff’s point. If you take away error, you end up with a number of baseball stories that is some amount less than what we currently have. Some events would still be noteworthy whether the play was ruled one way or the other, but others, like this one, wouldn’t exist at all.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 5 months ago

I think you’re right regarding the author’s intent; however I really don’t mind sacrificing the beloved, hallowed “narrative” to make sure a call is correct. Blown calls may be great for Skip Bayless and Woody Paige, but for the rest of us? Not so much.

taprat
Guest
taprat
3 years 5 months ago

This is good article. In order to fairly think about the issue, one has to acknowledge that this whole enterprise is for the purpose of entertainment, and that entertainment is not such a simple objective to capture. I think that I’m pro-technology for determining calls, but I’m also willing to admit the possibility that I’m wrong, and that the entertainment value of the game as whole could suffer if bad calls were effectively eliminated.

What is interesting to me is that baseball is the sport where it would be easiest to eliminate bad calls using technology. Heck, just having someone whisper into the ump’s ear whether the ball actually crossed the plate would be a huge step forward in that regard. It may be the very fact that introducing technology would make such a big difference that creates such resistance to doing it. It’s hard to come up with any more minor incremental steps.

John
Member
John
3 years 5 months ago

A good article. Your remarks on how the World Series trophy doesn’t go to the best team were poignant. Baseball very clearly doesn’t reward performance on a 1:1 basis, for many reasons.

In some sense, I think there’s a SABR argument in favor of missed calls. It’s not just the tired old “human element / tradition v. quantitative truth” narrative.

We all know that lots of on-field success doesn’t correspond with performance. Random variation is a part of all things, and much of what the SABR community does is discount the value of on-field results to account for that randomness. In a sense it’s arbitrary to distinguish missed calls from other randomness. Longoria is going to reach base on x% of balls he puts in play, and blown calls are only a drop in the sea of random events that contribute to his BABIP. The Voros theory dissociates player control from a lot of the factors that determine that stuff.

Yet we don’t think that we should find some way to eliminate randomness in general. Whether a ball rolls an inch outside of the shortstop’s range or an inch inside of it seems pretty random–or at least impossible to predict–and we’re ok with that. We consider that in our predictive models. We could even create a stat seeking to identify how much a given player gains or loses due only to blown calls.

The only distinction between umpire-created randomness and the sort of general cosmic randomness we all know exists appears to be that we feel one of them is preventable. Well, that, and umpire-created randomness is highly visible. I intuitively find that to be a good enough reason to do away with umpires, but the more I think about it the less compelling it seems.

LK
Guest
LK
3 years 5 months ago

I disagree with this take. Imagine for a second that you were trying to explain baseball to someone who had never seen it before – describing the ideal of the game. One of the things you’d explain is how a ball needs to be fielded for the player to be out. You might, in fact, tell them about how if a ball is an inch out of the SS’s range, it will go for a hit, but if the SS fields it he can throw the player out. One thing I don’t think you would do, however, is tell them about how sometimes a player will be safe but called out because the umpire fucked up. One type of randomness is inherent to the game – it’s impossible to imagine baseball, or indeed any sport, without it, because there are going to be players where the margin is razor-thin. It’s part of what makes sports compelling to watch. The umpire-induced randomness isn’t inherent to the game, it’s simply something that has always been present in the game historically.

dt
Guest
dt
3 years 5 months ago

“One thing I don’t think you would do, however, is tell them about how sometimes a player will be safe but called out because the umpire fucked up.”

The person should know that there are people officiating the game and mistakes happen. No need to explain that.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

Do you actually not see the difference between randomness and fixable mistakes?

jpg
Guest
jpg
3 years 5 months ago

“The upside of getting everything right is that you get everything right”

Umm how about no not really? I’m not taking a stab at Jeff here, per se, but that statement just drives me nuts. Watch an NFL game. Even with replay, an enourmous number of calls are still blown which provided plenty of Monday morning fodder. The orginal replay system was so bad that they even scrapped it all together and basically decided at the time that they were better off without it. And that’s a sport, with 22 guys on the field and action happening all over the place. To be fair, the NFL scrapped the original system partially, maybe even mostly, because of the delays in action but if there was ever a sport that absolutely needed replay it’s the NFL. In the NBA, if the replay is even remotely inconclusive they settle it with a jump ball. To be clear, I would love expanded replay as it would help umps get MORE of the calls right. But please, let’s not kid ourselves into believing that suddenly they’ll get EVERY call right.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

Football is several orders of magnitude more complex than baseball. The most simple replays in football are often more complex than the most complicated would ever be in baseball.

Also, the idea that they won’t get all the calls right is a canard. Its irrelevant. THey’ll get more right, and thats an improvement.

Also, we could have 100% accurate balls and strikes tomorrow. Getting that right is a trivial problem with today’s technology.

But
Guest
But
3 years 5 months ago

Perhaps invoking anger sells more beers?

Aha.

jamesEkrueger
Member
jamesEkrueger
3 years 5 months ago

I see your point, but look at it from this angle- I spent my hard earned money to go see the Rays play during opening week, and one of those games was when the umpires (controversially) decided Longoria had passed Zobrist on the basepaths, killing the rally we started and all but handing the game to the Orioles. Then, while on vacation to see my grandparents in Texas, I stop to see the Rangers play the Rays, as I had to struggle to find ticket, a way to the stadium, the stadium itself (though it is beautiful), braved the opposing fans jeering at my Longoria jersey, took all the heat for “bad fans, bad stadium, bad team” and so forth, because I was in the area and love to see my Rays play. I sit in the outfield and am watching the game, and all of a sudden a miraculous rally starts, and it looks like my team has a chance. And then it gets ended prematurely on one of the worst strike three calls to end a game I’ve ever seen. How is that good for the game? I am a die hard fan, but am I going to keep spending my money to watch these umpires come out, get the call wrong, then have absolutely nothing done about it. If I make a mistake at my job, I get fired. If an umpire misses a call a three year old could have made he still gets 6 figures. I’m sorry but there is no way missed calls is good for the sport. I want the right calls all the time, why is that an issue?

Dave in GB
Guest
Dave in GB
3 years 5 months ago

I think Jim Palmer said it best in one of his rants; “if a player underperforms, he gets sent to the minors. If an umpire makes bad calls, he moves to the next city. The same rule should apply.”

munchtime
Guest
munchtime
3 years 5 months ago

No one gets fired for making one mistake at their job, it doesn’t matter what job you have. And quite frankly, bad calls are going to happen. It doesn’t matter if MLB went to 100% review of every action on the field. There will still be ball/strike calls that are inconclusive. There will be bang-bang plays where you can’t quite tell if the ball arrived before the runner.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

“No one gets fired for making one mistake at their job”

This just isn’t true at all. Plenty of people get fired for making one mistake (if its big enough, or in front of someone high enough in the org chart).

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

It happened to me.

Tim
Guest
Tim
3 years 5 months ago

If you’re as annoying in person as you are here, Baltar, I’m not surprised.

cass
Guest
cass
3 years 5 months ago

This article was interesting, nuanced, and thought-provoking. The comments section not so much.

I do believe that Armando Galarraga pitched the most famous perfect game of all time. All thanks to a botched call and the ensuing aftermath. That doesn’t mean we should or shouldn’t institute instant replay, but it’s something to think about before making the decision.

Corey
Guest
Corey
3 years 5 months ago

your still image is pretty convincing, but I could watch that play 100 times and I’d get it right 50.

Calvin
Guest
Calvin
3 years 5 months ago

Let’s do a thought experiment. Baseball is played and all calls are guaranteed to be made correctly, and then at the end of the game, roll some dice. Designate a result flipping number or numbers (say, 1-1 for 2 dice), and if the dice match one of the numbers, the losing team actually gets credited with the win in the standings. Or play game 7 of the world series, “win” it, and then roll 1-1 and lose instead. This is quite possibly the dumbest idea ever “proposed” on this site.

But it’s somehow not considered a ridiculously terrible idea if you roll the dice during the game (every time an ump blows a call) and then reveal whether or not they matched a result-flipping number at the end of the game. LOL.

bigboneded
Member
bigboneded
3 years 5 months ago

Robinson with a lead at first and Robinson leads off third…Here’s the pitch from Robinson…Robinson hits a shot on the ground, up the middle…DIVING STOP BY ROBINSON, jumps to his feet and guns to first…BIG STRETCH BY ROBINSON AND THEY JUST GET ROBINSON AT FIRST!

jg941
Guest
jg941
3 years 5 months ago

I think you missed the most ludicrous missed call of the weekend, that of Travis Snider’s “double” for the Pirates against the Reds on Sunday. Snider’s ball cleared the high right-field/Clemente Wall fence by about 2-3 feet, hit some knucklehead standing fan in the hands about chest-high – clear, obvious home run – and ricocheted off of him back onto the field. Umps ruled it a double…..but that’s not the ludicrous part.

After having a review requested by the Pirates’ manager (which they seemed to be resisting doing at first), they then disappeared for a ridiculous amount of time (don’t know exactly, but at least 3 full minutes passed – bathroom break?) while everyone else saw the obvious call from all angles. No-brainer, right?……until the umps finally re-appeared….and ruled it a double.

You guys probably have access to the replay – you should put that up as well and ask fans how they feel about not only having replay in the game, but having it, getting the call right….and then having the same “human element” ignore or overrule the actual replay evidence!

Any comment, MLB?

Corey
Guest
Corey
3 years 5 months ago

I didn’t know that! And as a fantasy owner of Snider I’m now pissed!

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 5 months ago

Why do people assume that when replay is added, it will not cut to commercials and not come back until 3-5 have been shown?

This is not an arguement against or for replay, I just find it interesting nobody brings it up when discussing if it would make games longer or shorter.

Sylvan
Guest
Sylvan
3 years 5 months ago

I’m all for technological improvements to the game, but I don’t want to see a situation like in football, where you can’t celebrate a touchdown catch anymore because you have to wait for the booth review in a state of quantum uncertainty. It drains some of the tension and energy from the whole experience. Better to just accept that we live in an imperfect world.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

A good 90% of the time, the booth review on a Touchdown consists of the booth referee saying “No need to look at that”.

its only on the plays where nobody is sure that it actually gets looked at.

Michael
Guest
Michael
3 years 5 months ago

Synovia, not true effective 2012. Every scoring play is followed by commercials.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

Commercials doesn’t mean the officials go under the hood.

adohaj
Guest
adohaj
3 years 5 months ago

Managers arguing calls on the field is much more entertaining than any challenge/replay system could ever be. Blown calls and the drama that arises from them make up a sizable portion of baseball culture. Why make baseball as a whole less interesting just to ensure that maybe 1 more play each game is correct?

bleh
Guest
bleh
3 years 5 months ago

Go look at a pitch chart from any game and try to say only 1 play per game is called wrong.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

Pardon me, was this comment intended to be relevant?

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 5 months ago

And perhaps we could add five, ten more missed calls per game! Imagine how much drama we would have! How steeped in “baseball culture” we would be!

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

Those arguments aren’t entertaining. They are just another waste of time. Baseball has way too many of those.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 5 months ago

but…but…the drama! The tradition!

J Nance
Guest
J Nance
3 years 5 months ago

A tradition unlike any other…hello friends.

Luddite
Guest
Luddite
3 years 5 months ago

Great article. While we’re at it, let’s also go back to using stopwatches in Olympic swimming. Heck, let’s just do away with timing altogether and eyeball the finish with no replay – it will give us so much more to discuss afterwards!

KDL
Guest
KDL
3 years 5 months ago

I did not realize the Luddites eschewed logical arguments as well as technological advances?

Tim
Guest
Tim
3 years 5 months ago

What’s good for Fangraphs’ traffic is good for baseball.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
3 years 5 months ago

The players, in my view, make as many mistakes as the umpires. How often do you see players scream about being safe when the TV replay shows them to be out? This is game played and umpired by humans, no human judgment is 100% correct all the time. Putting non-intrusive replay review may improve things but lets not make baseball just like football where there are 100 different views for every play.

Todd
Guest
Todd
3 years 5 months ago

The problem I have with this argument is the romantic attitude toward the status quo, and the opposition to progress merely for the sake of preserving the status quo, despite a lack of evidence that this is beneficial for anyone. Historically, we’ve had to cope with umpires because we had no other option. Now that we do, we don’t need to rationalize any more- we can have progress! Things can be better!

Armando Galarraga’s perfect* game isn’t a great story because of a blown call. It’s a great story because of the adversity and character issues that came with it. But we can get those things without umpires. There’s Josh Hamilton returning from drug addiction, there’s the Colts rallying around their cancer-stricken head coach, there’s Dennis Quaid Jim Morris making his big league debut at age 35. We don’t need to artifically add drama to baseball, it will provide on its own.

Undeniably, umpiring mistakes are part of the game of baseball right now. But they don’t NEED to be, and we should be HAPPY about that.

Todd
Guest
Todd
3 years 5 months ago

I guess I should have said ‘sports’ will provide, since I brought up a football example. But I don’t think the fact that that example comes from football changes the applicability to baseball.

bleh
Guest
bleh
3 years 5 months ago

If people from the 1800s were still alive and knew they weren’t using replay because of “tradition” they’d probably laugh. It’s a tradition because it wasn’t possible before. Having the pitch location shown immediately on the screen on Fox, then having the ump call it incorrectly makes a mockery of the game. They should take advantage of the technology they have and not leave it out due to stuborness and “tradition”. Someday they will add it and people like Bud Selig will just look like a luddite and a stick in the mud for not putting it in sooner.

baycommuter
Guest
baycommuter
3 years 5 months ago

That’s a good point. I can’t imagine Leland Stanford saying to his photographer, “Don’t try to capture whether my horse has all four feet off the ground at one time as he gallops, it will ruin the traditional debate.”

Brad
Guest
Brad
3 years 5 months ago

@Jeff: I think you touched a nerve :-)

This topic makes me want to get wistful and want to wax philosophic. This kind of topic should make us ask the question why we love sport in the first place and I don’t think the answer is simple.

Here is what I do know: mistakes are part of the magic of sport. Randomness gives and takes away. So much of my memory of sport are the mistakes by players, umpires, fans, etc. Sport is mythic and greater than any individual part (after all, we are just watching people chase a ball around the field at the end of the day).

I don’t think this means that we should oppose reply or that bad calls are all things considered good for the game. But, I do think it is wrong to believe that we lose nothing important when we reduce the possibility of randomness in our sport.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

Umpire mistakes aren’t randomness. And they shouldn’t be a part of the sport.

The randomness in baseball should be whether a ball falls short of a fielder. How a ball hops, etc.

It shouldn’t be based on whether or not some shmoe who wasn’t good enough to make it to the majors got a good night’s sleep last night, or happens to harbor some grudge on a player who did get to the majors.

It was really frustrating watching someone like JD Drew batt, and watching him shake his head after being called out on what he knew was a ball, and clearly was a ball.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

Do you seriously not understand the difference between randomness and fixable mistakes?

Blastings
Guest
Blastings
3 years 5 months ago

The thing I worry about with robot umpires is that we will rely on robots (pitch f/x, video replay), and will no longer cultivate good umpires, whose skills will be mostly useless. Then when the apocalypse comes, no one will know the strike zone or how to tell if a runner’s safe in the moment, and post-apocalyptic baseball will be very poorly umpired.

vikedawg
Member
vikedawg
3 years 5 months ago

Baseball Abides

Blastings
Guest
Blastings
3 years 5 months ago

I like this post because it’s an extremely elaborate and roundabout way of saying “COME ON UMP!! YOU BLEW THAT CALL!”

BenRevereDoesSteroids
Member
BenRevereDoesSteroids
3 years 5 months ago

Was #6ORG good for Fangraphs because its memorable and it got people talking about Fangraphs?

RollTribe
Member
RollTribe
3 years 5 months ago

Missed calls are kind of like the ball hitting third base and becoming a hit instead of an out. It happens a small amount of time and usually has some affect on the outcome of a game.

That’s why we play series and have a long season, to try and balance out some of the variance.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

Do you seriously not understand the difference between variance and fixable mistakes?

MikeS
Guest
MikeS
3 years 5 months ago

I’m not sure I agree, but this is an excellent piece of writing.

Maverick Squad
Guest
Maverick Squad
3 years 5 months ago

Arguably you could say racism in baseball was good since it resulted the memorable story of Jackie Robinson. And, though I will admit this is a little absurd, a bunch of murders of prostitutes in turn of the century London were good since they created the great story of Jack the Ripper.
Also I would guess they are quite a few incorrect calls in baseball but most of these would be on very close calls that video mightn’t be able to overturn – calls which we would say ‘could go either way’. It’s the glaring mistakes which annoy people – that Helton safe call a while back being a great example.

KDL
Guest
KDL
3 years 5 months ago

Without even getting into institutional racism and murder as comparable to a bad call in a baseball game on a human, “keeping things in perspective” sense…these analogies are flawed. Both your examples are pre-meditated. Umps don’t get calls wrong on purpose. Both of your examples were intentional. Umps don’t get calls wrong on purpose.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

Whether they get them wrong intentionally is irrelevant. The article is arguing that getting people upset and talking about the game is a good thing for the game.

Jackie Robinson is a perfect example for this sort of logic. The game is better for having the story of Jackie Robinson, so therefore racism was good for baseball. The game is better for having Pete Rose’s story, so therefore gambling is good for baseball. The game is better for having the Chicago Black Sox’s story, so therefor throwing games is good for baseball…

See how ridiculous this sort of logic is?

Buzzy
Guest
Buzzy
3 years 5 months ago

Are boring articles bad for FanGraphs?

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 5 months ago

I don’t think it was boring at all; just misguided.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

Controversial articles are good for FanGraphs. I’m certain Jeff knew this article would get hundreds of comments, many of them by me.

musicalcolin
Guest
musicalcolin
3 years 5 months ago

I’m worried about all of the certainty that computer umpires would be better. It would be great to see some statistics from NFL on instant replay or from tennis on Hawk-Eye. Obviously they think that the results are superior, but having seen blown calls in both cases I would be very interested in whether introducing computers has decreased call controversy etc. I suspect that instant replay would be a good thing. Managers are allowed a certain number of challenges per game etc.

I’m much more skeptical about using pitch f/x. If pitch f/x was used similarly to Hawk-Eye, in which it functioned as a judge of last resort that might not be so bad. But Hawk-Eye screws up, so it’s not like umpire errors will be removed. The game is played by humans it should be judged by humans. If all I wanted was accuracy, I would just create a computer simulation. Similarly, if I wanted musicians to only play in tune and on time, then I would always want them to use autotune and a metronome.

I guess that ultimately, I don’t crave the kind of errorless game that others seem to.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

Hawk-Eye screws up a whole lot less than the linejudges do.

Seriously, this is a trivial problem to solve.

“The game is played by humans it should be judged by humans. ”

This is just inane.

Human beings literally aren’t capable of judging the spatial positioning of an object moving 90+ mph accurately enough to do what an umpire is supposed to do. Computers can do it easily.

We shoot missiles down. We’re able to hit one atom with another. These are both tasks that involve judging the exact positioning of an item with much higher resolution than anything we’d need in baseball, and we were able to do them in real time with computers with less processing power than in your cell phone.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 5 months ago

“I guess that ultimately, I don’t crave the kind of errorless game that others seem to.”

And hopefully people realize that no computerized system or review system would make the game “errorless”. There are still calls missed in football with instant replay.

Likewise, hopefully people realize that one significant umpiring error every ten games represents considerable progress from one significant error every two games (just picking numbers as an example). We shouldn’t let the goal of a ‘perfect’ umpiring system (which will never happen) stand in the way of progress in reducing erroneous calls.

Icebox
Guest
Icebox
3 years 5 months ago

Coming late to the conversation, but thanks for this Jeff. Part of living a more thoughtful life–the end game Fangraphs ultimately participates in, I think–is to willfully inhabit the places of ambiguity in knowledge, not just as an interesting thought exercise, but as a nod to the real experience of knowledge, which is much more ambiguous than we might like to admit. Jeff’s point–that the theoretical perfection we tend to deify might not yield a practical “good” in every sense of the word were it to be realized–is the sign of a good mind at work.

We’re missing the best of this new school of analysis if we reduce its scope and function to “finding the Truth, the whole Truth, and etc.” If it’s not also a shift in the way we experience knowledge, and if that shift doesn’t also incorporate a line of discourse about the uses of “perfect” knowledge, then we’re destined simply to become a new orthodoxy, no better than the crusty old partisans we disdain.

In short, I dig it Jeff.

Johnnie LeMaster
Guest
Johnnie LeMaster
3 years 5 months ago

Baseball is theater. It’s nice to be reminded of that once in a while. Yes, because baseball is measured so precisely and comprehensively, it’s a nice laboratory for thinking about causality in fairly deep ways. And yes, when we root for real or fantasy teams, I can understand frustration with measurement error, but… come on now. Why get mad at Jeff Sullivan for acknowledging that baseball is theater?

Buzzy
Guest
Buzzy
3 years 5 months ago

Because we’re sports fans, not namby pamby theater-goers. Ya’ see?

David
Guest
David
3 years 5 months ago

And why does being theatre eliminate the need for precision? A show can be negatively affected if actors recite lines incorrectly, forget their places, wear the wrong costumes, miss their cues etc.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

When I go to the theater, and the lighting guy messes up, I don’t enjoy that. Its also not good for the longevity of the performance.

Micah
Guest
3 years 5 months ago

Interesting discussion. When games that matter are blown, there really should be something to make it right. Two words: infield fly.

mike
Guest
mike
3 years 5 months ago

Why is the frustration and emotion over missed calls a necessary story line in baseball? Seems like it should just be eliminated if it leads to frustration.

bgburek
Member
bgburek
3 years 5 months ago

Does anybody remember the study Sports Illustrated did a few years back on home field advantage? The article said that the reason for home field advantage in pretty much every sport was that umpires, refs, etc. tended to make calls towards the home team because they likely just don’t like getting booed. The game up here is at Fenway Park, it could be possible that the umpire couldn’t tell which way to call the play and decided to make the wrong call and say Longoria was out. The myth that fans directly influence play would perhaps begin to fade if home-road splits began to become more balanced and could perhaps in turn decrease ticket sales. Just a thought.

Jake
Guest
Jake
3 years 5 months ago

Galarraga/Joyce’s situation was only “good” because the outcome was not really that important. Maybe he would prefer a perfecto, but he got a car and book royalties from all this. If instead a blown call happened in the World Series and made a team lose, would we still say that baseball benefitted from that blown call? Did football as a whole benefit from handing the Steelers the Super Bowl? And not just in the fan’s point of view, how would the players feel losing out on playoff/WS bonuses that they earned?

Røark
Guest
Røark
3 years 5 months ago

Regarding reading the title of this article: I thought “Jeff is the type of writer to do a great service to this topic.”

Regarding finishing this article: I though “Jeff did a great service to this topic.”

Regarding seeing the number of comments on an article of this nature: I thought “this can only be miserable.”

Regarding reading the comments on said article: much of the discussion was miserable, especially considering that the point was to recognize that an experience happens and also recognize that it might not have a normative weight.

Sandy Kazmir
Guest
3 years 5 months ago

Someday the Mariners will be contending for something other than the basement and my guess is that your tune will change when it happens to them. Between the Longoria call at first and the Pedroia “walk” that led to the winning run crossing the plate this game was, again, taken out of the hands of the men playing on the field. It’s not the first time, nor the last, but it’s getting awfully frustrating when you have a 4-8 record that could just as easily be 6-6 if the correct calls were made. For both sides.

LandoRaysFan
Guest
LandoRaysFan
3 years 5 months ago

One quibble that’s sort of beside the point of the article: regardless of whether all the calls are correct or not, baseball is not and has never been about the “best” team winning. It’s about the team that scores the most runs winning. Two very different things.

David
Guest
David
3 years 5 months ago

If Brandon McCarthy had died from that line drive there’d have been a whole season’s worth of discussion about baseball and maybe more! If only baseball was so fortunate as to have a player die on the field every once in a while…

Michael
Guest
Michael
3 years 5 months ago

I completely agree with this article, and there are some good arguments against replay that I think the author has overlooked. For starters, let’s talk about balls and strikes. The subjectivity of the strike zone is one of the great aspects of baseball. The umpires are expected to call balls and strikes within a “gray” area, but within that gray area, there is a lot of variation, and part of baseball is figuring out whether its a hitter or a pitcher’s strike zone, and adjusting the game accordingly. This also makes for great catching, because some catchers have a knack for “selling” a pitch to an umpire. If you used some kind of computer system, the game would lose this dynamic, and much of the intrigue (to me) of the early innings of a game would be eliminated.

I also think that people should consider how instant replay has/is destroying the NFL. The NFL has discovered that instant replay provides a multitude of opportunities for new commercials. When they brought replay back, they instituted the challenge system. Two years ago Jeff Fischer exposed the practice of asking the coaches to use their challenge in meaningless situations to provide television timeouts. Thereafter, the owners voted the “automatic replay” rule into effect for any scoring drive (previously was already in effect for any play within 2 minutes of game clock remaining). As a result, we get 5 minutes of commercials every time someone scores (due to automatic challenge), followed by 5 minutes of commercials after the extra point, followed by 5 minutes of commercials after the kickoff. There are all sorts of nefarious problems with this system. Obviously, its annoying, because you are forced to endure more commercials. It also sucks the drama out of the game, because when the referees signal “Touchdown,” you know that is just one persons momentary, subjective belief, and that it is going to be replayed and reviewed ad nauseum until they “get it right.” After you have suffered through ten minutes of not playing football, you get the verdict from the braintrust (which is still correct X% of the time–see, e.g., GNB @ SEA). Finally, it destroys all timing or rhythm. The hurry-up offense/two-minute drill is case in point. Hurry-up type offenses are meant to use the power of organization, pace, and timing, to disrupt a defense, make them tired, keep certain personnel packages on the field. There really is no way to do this effectively in the NFL, because the replay system ensures that the actual playing of football is not sustained for any reasonable period of time without a commercial interruption. There is also no such thing as momentum in the NFL, because no big play occurring at a high-leverage moment is ever followed by a successive play, without first killing the momentum with a soul-sucking commercial interruption provided so that we can “get it right.”

THAT is what is meant by the human element, and your sabre-metric nerd quest for absolute precision and predictability threatens to turn baseball into the abomination that professional football has become. Be careful what you wish for.

B Fantana
Guest
B Fantana
3 years 5 months ago

Take it easy, Champ. Why don’t you sit this next one out, stop talking for a while.

Bart Scott
Guest
Bart Scott
3 years 5 months ago

@BFantanna and frankly everyone else making that technical argument…

Jeff is right. And that is with knowledge of the Seahawks Super Bowl as the worst officiated Super Bowl ever. But football is odd. Joe Posnanski wrote an article how football changed. Used to be a big play would happen and people would cheer. Now a big play happens and people kind of cheer, wait for the replay then kind of cheer again. Its weird. And less exciting.

Jeff is making a “don’t mistake the trees for the forest argument” and it has a lot of merit. If I’m at a baseball game and every run, pitch, out is replayed what am I cheering about? I’ll be hesitant on a close play. Do I boo here? Do I cheer? What do the replay Gods say? Frankly it will tell me to do the Wave and not pay attention. Which is silly. I’m not at a baseball game to do the wave.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 5 months ago

“instant replay has/is destroying the NFL”

Its funny, people keep arguing this, and the attendance and TV numbers keep going up. Funny that.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 5 months ago

Right?! The baseball overlords would love, love, LOVE to emulate that kind of ‘destruction’.

Scott
Guest
Scott
3 years 5 months ago

As a Rays fan, I am disappointed that the umpires cannot get calls right all the time. There are a lot more missed calls than people think, simply because many of the bad calls come in undramatic circumstances, and do not appreciably affect a game at that moment. People do get upset, but the mistake didn’t have a direct impact on the game right then, so the hurt stops there. For instance, if Longoria had been the first batter of the third inning with the Rays ahead 3-1, fans would have been upset that Angel Hernandez made yet another bad call (doesn’t it seem like every other game we hear about some blown call by him?), but the circumstances would not have caused as much of an uproar. I am more upset that home plate umpires seem to relish the idea of finding different ways of justifying their strike zones. It’s only when the bad call actually directly affects the game at the time of the call that the fans really feel the effect of it. Like at the end of the Rays/Rangers game last weekend when Marty Foster called Strike 3 instead of Ball 4 on a pitch that would have bounced in the opposite batters box if Pierzynski hadn’t reached forward to catch it before it hit the ground. That call was the last out of the game with a man on second, the Rays behind by 1 run, and Longoria coming to the plate having been 3 for 3 so far in the game. That call immediately ended the game and took the game completely out of the hands of the players.

Having said all that, I agree with the article 100 percent. Baseball is played by humans and officiated by humans. We celebrate the fabulous defensive plays even as we decry the flubs. Sometimes humans make mistakes. If a batter can’t check his swing on a bad pitch for Strike 3, it was obviously a bad decision on his part, but he doesn’t get a chance to go back and do it over again. He and his team and the fans live with it. If the umpires make bad decisions, there should be consequences to them, but to “fix” everything with replay takes the fun out of the game. No one wants to think that their team lost because they are lousy, but rather because someone else took their chance of winning unjustly. When there is a blown call that affects the team’s chance to score a run or win a game, doesn’t it make you feel just a little bit better when you commiserate with your fellow fans that the ump screwed your team? Teams and their fans bond in times of controversy. And you know, even after Don Denkinger made that bad call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series which opened the door for the Royals to beat the Cardinals both in that game and in the Series, the Cardinals came back and played the next year and the next and the next. That call was almost 30 years ago, but I am sure there are Cardinals’ fans everywhere that still gripe about it.

The bottom line is that baseball is great because everything about it reflects the human condition. The same player that makes the diving catch gets picked off 1st the next inning. No one is perfect, and trying to make everything perfect will do nothing but ruin the game.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
3 years 5 months ago

People talked a lot about corrupt umpires, umpires taking bribes, PEDs, brawls, etc in the sporting world (and talked about it a lot).

While it is good for short-term ratings, such as having Tim Tebow on your team. It isn’t good for long term success and establishing high standards of integrity (not a reference to Tebow).

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
3 years 5 months ago

Reminds me of one of my favorite moments … when someone added “is legally blind” to CB Bucknor’s wikipedia page.

Classic.

googoo
Guest
googoo
3 years 5 months ago

The main problem is that there are no ties anymore. Ties goes to the runner has been gone for almost ten years. In its place, we have.. the umpire enjoys the moment and even though unsure decides what the call is going to be.

There is a rule in place for when an umpire can’t say for sure that he was out, and can’t be certain he wasn’t safe. Its called tie goes to the runner.

And just like basketball.. start enforcing penalties on truly bad calls with hits on an umpires paycheck and you will suddenly see that it ain’t quite as hard as we thought after all.

Michael
Guest
Michael
3 years 5 months ago

Don’t even get me started on basketball… Fantana will make me take a lap. Baseball is the class of professional sports when it comes to officiating. They don’t get every call right, but they don’t blow calls for lack of integrity–like the NBA–or get every call correct in the most hyper-technical sense (also for lack of integrity)–like the NFL.

Woodie
Guest
3 years 5 months ago

Actually the rulebook states that the runner must beat the throw in order to be safe. That is clearly NOT the case in the video. And all you “monday morning umpires” should read a rulebook once in awhile before pretending to know what the rules actually are!

Michael
Guest
Michael
3 years 5 months ago

Unless they are a batter, like Longoria was yesterday.

jim schneider
Guest
jim schneider
3 years 5 months ago

What a great, well-thought-out, and thought-provoking article! And the same goes for many of the comments expressed here, as well! I’ve been a baseball fanatic (die-hard Cubs fan) for almost my entire 62+ years on the planet- this thread is quintessential baseball, and this is just one of the many reasons that I love the game, and all that surrounds it, so much! Kudos to you all! (I see and understand both sides of this argument, and BOTH viewpoints are SO compelling, that I truly cannot decide where I stand on this issue.)

Bob
Guest
Bob
3 years 5 months ago

As a fan of the team that was done in by Denkinger’s blunder in ’85, I can say in all honesty I agree with Jeff’s premise wholeheartedly. Small picture, mistakes bad (of course). But big picture? Good for the sport if they occur at a minimal level — which of course they do and always will.

The noxious, even venomous level of some of the responses truly disappoints. Weird stuff, really. Nothing like an angry misguided utopianist, I guess.

Anyhow, thanks for the eloquent article, Jeff. Truly top-notch.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 5 months ago

Yep. People who disagree are just meanies! They’re so venomous, spiteful, hateful. How dare they (we?). I wish we were as enlightened and altruistic as those who “get it”.

Maybe someday the sun will shine down upon our darkened minds and hardened hearts…

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