Forget this Year of the Pitcher stuff. The 2010 MLB season is most certainly the Year of the Umpire, and not in any way that baseball’s officials will want to remember.
The latest incident came last night in Miami. And I’ll say right up front that if the Phillies win a playoff spot by 1 game, they’ll know exactly whom to thank. You can bet umpire Bob Davidson will deserve a nice big gift basket if that comes to pass.
From Jim Joyce’s infamous blown call that cost the Tigers a perfect game, to Joe West’s clueless commentary and idiotic actions, to Dale Scott’s historically awful strike zone, the season has been marred by a series of horrible decisions and questionable judgment. On Thursday, we witnessed one of the worst yet.
With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, the Marlins had Gaby Sanchez at the plate and Hanley Ramirez standing on second base. You can see the video replay here.
Sanchez slapped the ball down the third base line where it clearly stayed fair. There is no question about it– the ball bounced on and inside the line twice as it went directly over the bag. Moreover, third base umpire Bob Davidson was standing no more than ten feet away. The ball landed right in front of him. Those these images from FoxSports’ telecast are blurry, they detail the situation well:
The ball hugged the inside of the line the entire time, hitting chalk and infield dirt in front of third, then bouncing directly over the bag and landing in fair territory (again) in shallow left:
Unless this little baseball figured out some way to defy the laws of physics, it is impossible that it was foul. Note the direction of Bob Davidson’s head– he’s not even looking at the ball. In fact, he began to signal a foul ball before the ball even crossed the third base bag.
Of course, this immediately calls forth the old standby counter-argument: Umpires are human. They make mistakes. It’s part of the game.
I can accept all of that. A moment’s inattention can happen to anyone at any time, and I would have absolutely no problem with calls like these if the umpire in question took the proper steps after the play. But Davidson did not.
“He was telling me it wasn’t even close; it was a foul ball,” said Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez. “I was telling him to ask for help. He didn’t ask for help.”
This was a game-winning play. Game-winning. It is utterly inexcusable for Davidson to refuse a manager’s request for a brief conference among the umpiring crew with the game on the line. That kind of arrogance is unconscionable; what harm can it do to ask a fellow official for his view of the play? Davidson is, in general, a good ump with a pretty clean track record. He could have easily stepped over to home plate umpire Tim Tschida, a respected veteran in his own right, and asked for a second opinion. Perhaps nothing would have changed as a result, but at least it would have indicated a willingness on the part of the crew to make the proper call.
Instead, Davidson stubbornly stuck to his guns and cost Florida the game. And astonishingly, he maintained his stance even after seeing the replay.
“I was right on top of it, and it was wide of the bag,” he said after the game. “What the ball did when it went past me is irrelevant. … I understand that’s the winning run, but in my opinion it was foul.”
It’s jaw-dropping to watch some of these guys operate. There is clear video evidence of what happened in this game. It is not a matter of opinion. The ball did what it did. It’s insulting to know that even when faced with proof of a mistake, umpires often refuse to take responsibility for it.
Yes, there have always been umpiring mistakes in baseball, and as Gaby Sanchez said in response to the play, “Umpires are going to miss calls. Hitters are going to miss pitches. Pitchers are going to miss location. It’s all a part of the game. Things happen.”
“Things” do indeed happen, but Sanchez’s laudable attitude aside, fans and players shouldn’t have to stand idly by while officials screw up, do nothing to remedy the situation, then merely deny it ever occurred. One of the reasons I respect Jim Joyce more now than I did before his errant call in Armando Galarraga’s perfect game attempt is that he admitted his error and apologized. That’s all the baseball world is looking for– a little accountability.
But here we are, right back in another situation that puts the umpire’s God complex on full display. This wasn’t a blown ball/strike call. This play led directly to a loss for Florida. It led directly to a win for a team embroiled in a tight playoff race. When officials have that significant and harmful an impact on game play, measures must be taken.
This is yet another in the long line of examples showing why MLB needs to expand its use of replay. Potential game-winning plays should be subject to the same review process as home runs; there is no justification for not taking another look when the error in question occurred in such a specific way.
Until that change is made, baseball will continue to endure these unnecessary embarrassments, and fair play will continue to suffer for them.