On a warm sunny evening in Oakland on July 3rd, baseball fans and members of the Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics partook in one of the weirdest plays in baseball I have ever seen. It wasn’t weird in terms of the actual play, it was weird in terms of the calls, the subsequent challenge, ruling and change in result.
In the top of the 2nd with Sonny Grey on the mound for the Athletics, Edwin Encarnacion led off the inning with a hard hit single. Adam Lind followed that up with a double to have runners at 2nd and 3rd with none out. Juan Francisco then struck out – which is worth noting with runners on 2nd and 3rd with none out is basically unforgiveable. You’re only real objective is to put the bat on the ball and simply avoid the corners of the infield. I digress. Fan favourite, Munenori Kawasaki then walked and the Jays were looking golden to strike early with the bases loaded and only one out. What happened next was odd.
Anthony Gose stepped into the batter’s box with a great opportunity to open up the scoring. Unfortunately he didn’t. Well, and then he did. Gose hit one to Nate Freiman at first who instead of stepping on the base swiped at the runner Kawasaki but the umpire called no tag. Freiman then tossed it home to get Encarnacion in a force play. Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons ran out of the dugout arguing that his own player, Kawasaki was tagged out at first. Why would he do this? Well, if Kawasaki was out, it would have removed the force play at home and the runner, Double E, would have been a counted run for the Jays. It’s a pitchers league and every run counts.
The umpires gathered and reviewed the play, and rightfully so, the play was overturned because Kawasaki was in fact tagged out, and this meant the run scored. Instant replay got it right and we’re all happy. But wait, replay actually failed baseball here. The second that Athletics catcher Stephan Vogt saw that Kawasaki was safe (signal was made) he knew that he didn’t have to tag the runner and simply stepped on the plate for the force out. The initial miss call by the umpire disrupted the actual game play, flow and decision making process of baseball. Had he been called out, Athletics manager Bob Melvin argued (correctly) Vogt would have dropped down to tag Edwin. This of course opens up counter arguments that Encarnacion may have slid, and at that point we have no idea what would have happened. The actually details of that play don’t matter. What matters here is that because of a botched call being over turned by replay the subsequent actions after the botched play were played out differently. Basically it’s the plot of any time travelling movie you’ve ever seen, or simply The Butterfly Effect.
So what does Major League Baseball do here? Instant replay was introduced to help correct the flaws of the human factor in umpiring. Baseball is a high stakes sport and the intent was to make sure big games weren’t lost because of a wrong call. Well in singular instances that are a one action play it’s great. In scenarios where a safe or out call determines the actions later on the same sequence we’re going to run into problems. Baseball players make decisions after every catch and throw based on what happens and what they see. Hindsight management is great in video games or movies – not in real life.
My thoughts are that challenges will have to be not allowed for instances where one decision or call influences another. The NFL and NHL both have a set or list of plays and scenarios that are non-reviewable and Major League Baseball will have to do the same as they learn more and more about the ramifications of their expanded replay. Sometimes getting a call wrong in the moment is better than getting it right after the fact.
Photo Credit: sports.nationalpost.com