Controversial Calls by the Umps May Have Changed Who Got to the World Series

I’d have to be completely crazy to ever umpire again. It’s the toughest job out on the field, no matter how fast the pitcher is throwing. But controversy will follow you around whenever your umpiring decisions influence the outcome of a game. Two teams now squaring off in the ’05 World Series were the benefactors of umpiring calls which TV replays showed to be most likely incorrect.

Both of this year’s League Championship series consisted of games where the score was pretty close for the most part, and thus exciting for the seasoned fan. Unquestionably we’ve seen some great pitching, although the Angels staff was beat up, and couldn’t really stay with the White Sox hurlers. Yes, these LCS games were pitching duels more so than slugfests. Although not as much fun to watch for the average spectator, a veteran baseball fan knows how to enjoy a game when great pitchers face each other.

Nevertheless, some folks get riled up when a controversial call by the ump has a significant influence on the outcome of a key inning, and hence the final score. First off was AL game two that Chicago won in the 9th inning after A. J. Pierzynski struck out swinging with the bases empty and two outs. Thinking that the third strike ball had touched the ground, he wisely ran down to first base. The catcher knew he caught it, and headed toward the dugout. The home plate ump, after signaling strike three, (and what appeared to be a “yer out!” move) stepped into the field of play, and eventually called the runner safe at first, still with only two outs. A pinch runner came on, and Joe Crede’s double sent home the winning run. Replays appear to show that the third strike ball was caught cleanly. Since the catcher’s mitt was facing down, and the home plate umpire’s view was obstructed, he couldn’t really see if it hit the ground. But a call had to be made.

This touched off a controversy on sports talk radio and in the papers, because the Angels appeared to get a raw deal due to a probable mistaken call. It may have changed the momentum of the series, for it prevented the continuation of the game into extra innings, and who knows, if LA had won that game instead of Chicago, would there be a different AL team in the World Series?

In game six of the National League LCS, the Astros, behind Roy Oswalt, surely looked like a clear winner the way he was throwing. Yet the Cardinals started a potential rally in the fifth inning, down just 3 runs. With runners on first and second and no outs, Abraham Nunez hit a ball back to the pitcher which was thrown wide to the shortstop Adam Everett at the bag. His foot was pulled off second, and he tried to tag the runner, Molina as he scooted by. The replay showed that he missed the tag, which would have left the bases loaded and none out. Again, the umpire watching the play was behind Molina as he passed Everett’s attempted tag. Without a clear view, the ump had to make a call.

Though somewhat far-fetched, if the Cardinals had scored more than once that inning, especially with an added base runner and one more out to work with, the tide of game six could have turned. After coming back from within a strike of defeat in the previous game, another big comeback could have given St. Louis the juice they needed to clinch the pennant. OK, it probably would not have happened, but you never know.

Still, both sides of the argument in both the AL and NL Championship Series hold some weight. Should instant replay be used in baseball similar to the NFL? Could the manager challenge a controversial call, as long as the flow of the game wasn’t interrupted? Could an objective analyst appointed by the league, and agreed to by all parties, have the authority to overturn an umpire’s call when clear visual evidence supported such a decision?

The umpire is definitely in a tough spot. This is a group of men who are more than likely quite passionate about what they do, and are highly trained. They must be able to wield authority. Yes, they are human and mistakes might be made in crucial situations. Yet their power and authority cannot be challenged without consequence. As the losing managers both indicated when discussing these two controversial calls, there were many other opportunities for their team to score runs. Sure, sometimes the calls appear to be wrong, and it doesn’t go your team’s way. That’s just the way the ball bounces … or doesn’t.

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