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The Reviewed, Debated Home Run


For more than eight minutes tonight, we waited. The local TV feed showed a split screen of Manny Acta and Jerry Manuel. John Lannan was on the mound, pacing back and forth, chatting with Wil Nieves, later chatting with Adam Dunn, and in all the time it took three umps to determine whether or not Gary Sheffield had hit a three-run homer, Lannan could have whipped up a quick dinner for all of them.

But more to the point: The Nats' latest 5-2 loss against the Mets at Citi Field will be remembered for the controversial instant replay call.

You can read about the details in my game story, but here are some things to point out.

* The architecture in left field at Citi Field is fairly unique. First, there's a wall, and DIRECTLY on top of that wall is a railing. The railing is not recessed. Therefore, when a fan sitting in the front row of the left field stands reaches over the railing, his hand is above the playing field. In this game, a fan wearing a black T-shirt touched a deep fly ball hit by Gary Sheffield. That maybe, could-it-be, should-it-be three run homer slipped through the fan's hands and landed on the playing field, where Adam Dunn scooped it up. By then, third base umpire Adrian Johnson had already signaled the home run call. Like that, the Mets had a 4-1 lead.

* So then, after a little on-field argument from Manny Acta, the umps turned to the next question, central to their replay review: If the ball hadn't been touched, would it have touched the wall/railing plane above or below the orange line? Well, the picture above (thanks to Dan Steinberg) is the best screen shot I could find. See for yourself.

* Umps, per MLB's rules, only reverse an original call if they see irrefutable evidence. So, the burden of proof was high, if indeed Sheffield was to be returned to second base with a fan interference double. Nobody was doubting that the fan touched the ball, but the question was: What would have happened had he not?

"I don't know," Dunn said. "It's hard to tell, because I wasn't exactly under it, because I thought it was gonna hit the wall and kick off."

"Well, from the dugout I didn't think the ball went out," Acta said. "We have all those rules and the replays and we have to abide for them, but I just think the trajectory of that ball -- if you have to reach over that railing, which is right on top of that wall -- I don't think that ball would have gone out of the ballpark. But I've been wrong plenty of times before."

By Chico Harlan  |  May 26, 2009; 12:15 AM ET
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This situation is the shame of instant replay.

It isn't that the umpire made the wrong call. In my biased opinion, he did make the wrong call. But instant replay gives umpires the opportunity to make a mistake twice, under the guise of trying to get it right once.

With no instant replay, mistakes are made. With instant replay, mistakes are affirmed. And in fact, the instant replay rule detracts from the game. It isn't as if instant replay eliminates bias - it eliminates a random event.

Posted by: wigi | May 26, 2009 12:33 AM | Report abuse

I was not clear that is the standard. The fan reached into the field of play. That sounds like interference to me. If the standard is what would have happened, it is hard to say. I might have hit the orange line, or it might not have. My best guess is it would have hit below the orange line. Still, I thought that is not the standard. I thought if a fan interferes with a fair batted ball it is automatically a ground rule double (or even a single in some cases)....

Posted by: fischy | May 26, 2009 1:41 AM | Report abuse

This really belonged here.

Like I always say, it just gives them another chance to get it wrong. In this case though, since the call on the field was home run they had no choice. Of course, they should almost never have a choice since the camera is almost never in the ideal position to be "conclusive." We're living in a time where the yellers and screamers have overruled the rational. Unless you have a perfect 90 degree angle to the trajectory of the ball at the point of the fence, no replay could possibly be conclusive. The only sport that gets it right is tennis where they don't rely on the naked eye but have a computer that can identify the ball's trajectory and determine where it actually landed.

Posted by: truke | May 26, 2009 6:20 AM | Report abuse

The Nats failure to have any big innings is becoming way to frequent in the last week. With the exception of Dunn on Sunday the failure to even get a run in from second with no outs or from third with one out is getting hair-pullingly bad. The Mets really wanted to give us some runs, their bullpen gave us every opportunity, we just can't keep striking out, hitting double play grounders or popping up with men in scoring position. The offense is not as good as the stats says it is--it is just good enough to lose.

Posted by: driley | May 26, 2009 6:44 AM | Report abuse

Hey Chico and friends, to be fair, I should note that the above MASN screengrab came a moment after the fan touched the ball and altered its trajecotry, making it look more conclusive than it actually was. When he touched the ball, the ball wasn't totally visible, which is why I forwarded a few frames. Still, the general impression was the same.

Posted by: shina1 | May 26, 2009 6:45 AM | Report abuse

The failure to release Cabrera is becoming glaring. 99.9% of baseball pitchers above tenth grade can pitch better than he can. What glasses do our management wear when they view Cabrera as worthy to wear a major league uniform? Seriously, are they saving him for Halloween and the playoffs?

Posted by: driley | May 26, 2009 6:57 AM | Report abuse

I know I'm about to get flamed for writing this but I don't like instant replay. We generally accept that players make errors and we even keep track of them. However, apparently we expect the umpires to be perfect. This always strikes me as being strange. My attitude is let the umpires make the calls and get rid of the review. Yes, it cost us last night but I'd much rather leave the game to humans and not technology. The poor design of the stadium is more at fault than the fan or the umpire, IMO.

Posted by: grforbes | May 26, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Driley: You hit the nail on the head my friend our inability to get runners home from second and third with less than two out is driving everyone crazy. I said this yesterday when i saw the lineup card Kearns has no business batting fifth, bat him eigth with his recent struggles(over the past month)that's where he should hit until he proves otherwise,but this goes back to Manny he should have been gone after last season no other big league club would have retained him and the longer we keep him the worst this team will perform.

Posted by: dargregmag | May 26, 2009 8:26 AM | Report abuse

I was willing to give instant replay on boundary calls a chance. Apparently, no amount of video evidence is going to be conclusive enough to overcome the high bar of an umpire's ego.

And did they really not give Lannan any warm-up pitches before his next batter? That is appalling.

The affect on pitchers coupled with the failure to get the call right (they messed up a call last year, didn't they?) equals a dumb idea. And, as a bonus, this is one you haters can hang on Hatee #1!

Posted by: Section506 | May 26, 2009 8:33 AM | Report abuse

An interesting academic argument, but given the way Lannan was pitching last night, ruling the hit as a ground rule double would have only delayed the inevitable scoring of the three runs by a couple of batters anyway.

Posted by: ramgut | May 26, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

I think replay has to go as well. It's an unnecessary disruption to the game, and I'm sorry, but that's just baseball - umpires have been and will continue to make bad calls it's just part of the game. Blame for last night is entirely on the offense, which is getting worse by the game. They stranded 12 runners, and throughout the season have been less than stellar at driving in RISP. Argue all you want, but the Nats everyday lineup scares no one.

Posted by: bendersx6 | May 26, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

In essence the Nats are 13-30-2 this year. That was a sham of a call but do the umps really give two sh*ts about the Nationals? No they just didn't want to deal with the wrath of 41K crazy Met fans. Go figure?

Gotta love Manny and his post game replay spin;
-Manny over the past two weeks your team is not hitting with men in scoring position.
-Kearns is not in a slump, he has reached what can best be called his norm.
-No more excuses with DCAB, the Wizards are usually looking for a 6-7 power forward tell Rizzo to call Grunfeld to see if they would be takers.
-Sundays win might have made your AMTRAC ride to NYC easier on the mind, but what happened between 1:30PM on Sunday quickly evaporated at 7PM Monday night.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | May 26, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

First, what are the odds of a call going against New York, Chicago, LA, or Philly at home? Slim to none comes to mind. This is Bud Selig’s MLB where the major markets get the calls.

Second, the umps knew that Manny would not argue after the call. His reputation is none confrontational no matter what. Bobby Cox would have been tossed 10 seconds after the umps missed this HR call.

Posted by: Batboy05 | May 26, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

I'm disappointed that Manny didn't argue the call after it was ruled a HR. I'm also disappointed by his postgame comments, rant a rave a little Manny, show some emotion.

I understand that he used to be that kind of a Manager in the minors, getting ejected a lot and he realized it doesn't really help. Fair enough but, I think he has gone to much the other way, sometimes it's necessary to let the umps and your players know "this is unacceptable and I will not put up with the Mickey Mouse Sh*t."

It's a shame because, I think he has the ability to become a good manager, unfortnately, he will learn the ropes here and then be successful somewhere else down the road.

Posted by: Section505203 | May 26, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

where the ball "would have gone if the fan hadn't touched it" ? is this a new rule?

Isn't the fact that you have to guess at an extrapolation enough to say that it was fan inteference?

Posted by: cabraman | May 26, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

What is the official fan interference rule? The fact that the fan touched the ball should have made it an automatic ground rule double, regardless of whether it would have left the park, right?

Posted by: hokiepokster92 | May 26, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

PLayers make errors - umpires make errors. The difference is no one trying to undo the error that a player makes. That wouldn't make sense. But when an umpire doesn't get the call right, he can affect the outcome of the game. And yes, of course, player errors affect the outcome of the game.

The way that the replay should work is to take the bias off of the field. Maybe the umpires in CitiField are biased against taking away the homer so that they don't have to get crap from the fans all day. And maybe they are biased against Manny Acta - they know that he's not going to come out and kick dirt at them.

Here's how an impartial Instant replay should be handled - it should be handled by a 3 man crew in MLB's vidoe headquarters. They can review the video from a handful of angles there, no pressure and just phone the results back to the crew chief.

No bias. Well, at least less bias.

Posted by: comish4lif | May 26, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Regarding fan interference rules - if the ball is over the fence for a home run - no fan interference. It doesn't matter if the home run was going to be 5 rows deep or scrape the back of the fence - over the fence, is over the fence.

So, the important part of the argument was - was it a homer, if so, no interference.

Me, personally, if I was an ump, I would have sided with the interference part and basically said, "if it's close and a fan touches it, it's interference. Automatic double."

Posted by: comish4lif | May 26, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

The problem was the initial call.

If the ump signaled safe the play would have developed and would have stood, because the replay was obviously not conclusive.

Exact opposite happened on Saturday with Met's game winning 2 run hr in Boston. There, the ump, though in doubt, deliberately ruled safe, leading to double and runners on 2nd and third. But the replay was so obvious, the call was quickly, repeat quickly, and correctly reversed.

Since only hrs get reviewed MLB should instruct umps, that when in doubt, signal safe, meaning in play. Then if the review is obvious hr it will be quickly reversed.

Rather than subverting umps, this is the entire point of replay, giving them back-up if there's any doubt about game changing events.

And since home runs are game changers, the bias should be to in play for the cases, like Sheff's, where even a lengthy review can't resolve it.

Home runs are bold strokes and bold strokes should be clear cut...either live or on replay. If it's not obvious either way then it shouldn't be a home run.

Posted by: Swug | May 26, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Instant Replay is the Mound Height issue of the post-steroid generation.

Instant replay has no place in baseball. Umpire error is part of the entropy that makes the game exciting. And part of the reason that it takes all summer for the differences between the best teams to become measurable ... in half-game increments.

Or at least that's how it was when I was growing up and that's how it should stay forever.

Posted by: ihatewalks | May 26, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Umpires made errors when you were growing up. But there was no internet when you were growing up - so, why are you using it now?

Posted by: comish4lif | May 26, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

That screenshot is totally misleading. That shot is after the fan touched the ball, with the ball on its way back down onto the field. It's not clear whether the fan's hand was behind or above the line, but it is clear that had the fan not been there, the ball was easily going to clear the wall, so the whining about the call needs to stop.

Posted by: evenadog | May 26, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Instant replay in MLB is a waste of time because there are 162 games in a season. Give or take a few wins from a team due to bad calls will have very little effect on their postseason fate.

You MIGHT argue differently for post-season games, however.

Second, it is my opinion that umpires affect the outcome of games far more from calls that are subjective, particularly inconsistent strike zones. In these cases hitters dont know what to swing at or pitchers dont know where to throw. This affects games far more than blown HR calls, which are, at best, occasional.

Posted by: jboogie1 | May 26, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

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