Errors part of game, but it shouldn't be with replay
CLEVELAND -- I was standing in the "Joyce Lounge," the unofficial name given the auxiliary grounds-crew storage room tucked in the area behind home plate at Progressive Field.
The room is so named because it's where umpire Jim Joyce will retreat to have a quick cigarette before a ballgame when he's in town. But the Joyce Lounge has another more official purpose, for it is also the room where the console used for instant-replay reviews is housed in a locked box, among the rakes, hoes and shovels.
I was inspecting that locked box Thursday morning, noting the photos attached to it. The photos were of "troublesome" areas in the ballpark -- places where the contours and specifics of the layout can make for difficult reads in real time, and the photos serve as a warning, of sorts, so that the crews know what they're getting into.
Sure enough, one of those troublesome spots is above the left-field wall, where a green railing sits atop a green wall, just above the yellow line.
Well, by now you know what had happened Wednesday: An umpiring crew led by Angel Hernandez reviewed an Adam Rosales ninth-inning, two-out "double" that had actually struck that metal railing and bounced back on the field. In real time, perhaps, you could understand the confusion caused by the play and this so-called troublesome area. Mistakes do happen, and that's why Major League Baseball has a video review system in place for disputed home run boundary calls.
The shock, of course, is that Hernandez and Co. did review the play and still ruled it a double. And in the wake of this decision -- one that loomed large in the A's 4-3 defeat -- Hernandez has roundly and rightly been criticized from all corners.
But MLB's review system has also been criticized, to the point that some people -- including my colleague Terence Moore -- argue that any talk of expanding replay usage to trapped balls, fair-or-foul calls, forceouts and tags ought to be scuttled.
Bob Melvin, a longtime replay advocate whose A's team was burned by Hernandez, said the incident might have changed his perception about replay review.
"You talk about expanding replay," Melvin said. "Well, if you have replay and you can't get a call like that right, then why would you expand it?"
I understand the instant uproar over Hernandez's error, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. For this was human error intruding upon the modern system put in place to protect the game from human error. And if anything, it only underscores the importance of getting calls right by any means necessary.
As I stepped out of the Joyce Lounge on Thursday, Randy Marsh, MLB's director of umpires, walked in. He wore the stern face of a man who had to get up at the crack of dawn in his Kentucky home and make the drive to Cleveland to confirm what the rest of us knew: One of his men had made a horrible gaffe. He immediately began investigating the console and the video feeds of the play.
Neither Marsh nor Hernandez spoke to reporters Thursday, but an official release from executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre confirmed the obvious:
"Home and away broadcast feeds are available for all uses of instant replay, and they were available to the crew last night," Torre said via a statement. "Given what we saw, we recognize that an improper call was made."
It was made despite the availability of multiple feeds and camera angles and the ability to freeze and rewind, all in high-definition.
Until Wednesday night, the home run boundary-call system has been nothing but efficient and effective. These calls are fairly black and white (and, again, the TVs used to review them are not). I, for one, first saw the Rosales replay while sitting 20 feet away from a small screen in a dank bar, and I knew, instantly, that it was a home run. I have yet to see a single angle in which it is not obvious that it is a home run. For the life of me, I can't imagine there is a single functioning television on this planet in which that hit does not look like a clear home run.
"I don't know what kind of replay you had," Hernandez told the San Francisco Chronicle, "but you can't reverse a call unless there's 100 percent evidence."
These were the divertive words of a man who simply couldn't own up to an error. All the evidence was there, as was a system sound enough to allow for a correct decision.
Hernandez's incorrect decision hurt the A's, who know quite well, from their 2012 experience, the importance of every game (and count me among those who would have liked to have seen this game replayed from the point of Rosales' homer, a la the Pine Tar Game on June 24, 1983). And it underscored, once again, that umpires are human beings, warts, cigarettes and all.
How does the Hernandez incident implore us to remain as reliant as we already are on human error? Human error -- not the system or the technology in place -- is what caused this mess in the first place.