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Not Even Instant Replay Could Prevent These Bad Calls


Major League Baseball has admitted that umpires have made some big mistakes in the last few days. On Wednesday, umpires ruled even after looking at television replays that Adam Rosales of the Oakland A's hit a double. The ball clearly left the park with the game on the line. And last night in Houston, umps botched a fairly simple rule about pitchers. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now to second-guess the men in black. And, Mike, everyone makes mistakes, right, even umpires. Why are they getting picked on?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, I could say it's because these two recent mistakes came on the heels of other ones like the pitcher for the Rays, David Price, has actually gotten into a Twitter war with an umpire. I don't think we ever said that about Whitey Ford, you know? John Hirschbeck kicked Bryce Harper out of a game. It seem like Hirschbeck was being a little tetchy. But I actually don't think that's the reason. I think the reason is because controversies, the kind of controversies that catch fire and have everyone talking about them are ones that require no context or no prior knowledge, you know?

He sent a picture of what to who, that sort of thing. And if you look at this home run call specifically, it just left the park. It just did. We all saw it on TV. How could those umpires not have seen it on TV? And then you add to this the pitching mistake that happened yesterday, well, maybe that seems like a trend, and people are wondering how could the umpires be so very fallible?

CORNISH: Well, that's the thing. I mean, if you take the case of the instant replay, what can be done about that? Instant replay on home runs was meant to be a solution, right...

PESCA: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...to umpiring mistakes. So how can baseball go any further than allowing umpires to look at the replays?

PESCA: There are steps. First of all, the screens they use, actually, the physical size of the screen is quite small. What the NHL does is have a central place in their offices to review, you know, well, they don't let the game umpires run off the field and look at a replay. But I think the biggest thing they could do with - in both of these cases is after the fact to act more like human beings rather than someone who's like getting bad advice from a lawyer or a PR person. The umpires in that home run case, you know, wouldn't answer questions while being taped.

They would only answer questions to a beat reporter, and they were very defensive, and the same sort of thing happened yesterday so there was a little more accountability. And we saw that a couple of years ago. The umpire Jim Joyce blew a call that would have been a perfect game, and he was really honest about it, and fans responded to the honesty. And that was lacking in both of these cases.

CORNISH: So what about last night's screw-up in Houston? I mean, what was the issue there?

PESCA: This is a really simple rule that goes to the Little League. You can always switch hitters if they bring a replacement pitcher into the game, but you can't in response switch pitchers. Every time a pitcher enters a game, he has to face at least one batter. And this is what Mike Scioscia, the manager of the Angels, who was victimized, was yelling on the field. We could hear that. Usually, when you watch the TV replay, you have to read lips, but we literally heard Scioscia yelling he has to pitch to one batter, and we heard it because no one shows up to Houston Astros' game, so it's kind of quiet there.


PESCA: And I watched all four. I watched the broadcast, the TV and radio of both the Angels and the Astros. So I watched four replays, and every commentator instantly said, well, here's a mistake. We have no idea what's going on. And it's still, again, unfathomable about how they could have gotten that wrong. And then afterward, they just said, yeah, we're not going to be talking about this.

CORNISH: So going forward, do you think there will be any systematic change?

PESCA: I don't think so. I heard Joe Torre, who's the Major League Baseball's executive VP of baseball operations, which is he's the guy who kind of oversees the umps, they admitted the mistake, and he's a fine person in dealing with the media, maybe even better than the umpires. But he did say something telling in an interview. He said, well, you know, instant replay was supposed to solve all these problems. This shows that doesn't do that. And I kind of cringed and said to myself, no, instant replay is a fine solution. Just not blowing the instant replay, that's what we need to do.

CORNISH: That's NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca. Mike, thank you.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.