In of the most exciting games of the Major League Baseball, the Atlanta Braves defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates on a walk-off infield hit in the 19th inning. However, this excellent baseball game is being overshadowed by the way in which it ended. In case you missed the call in question, you see a video of it here. To be fair, there are those who feel that Meals made the correct call. It isn’t the greatest of all video angles, but most consider the call incorrect. As expected, the Pirates officially filed a protest with league offices at 2:30 AM immediately following the conclusion of the game. In addition, Pirates president Frank Coonelly issued a statement regarding umpire Jerry Meals’ supposed mistake.
Despite the outrage, the Pirates’ protest will most likely be ruled impermissible. Why? MLB’s Official Rule 4.19 prohibits protests based on judgment decisions by the umpire. Clearly, this protest falls within the scope of 4.19, as Meals used his judgment to decide that Julio Lugo was never tagged out. If the Pirates were protesting that Meals misapplied a rule of the game (i.e. awarded a base incorrectly, ejected a player for pine tar too far up on the bat, etc.) then the league would hear the protest. It’s really an open and shut case. Here is the exact language of the rule:
Each league shall adopt rules governing procedure for protesting a game, when a manager claims that an umpire’s decision is in violation of these rules. No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the umpire. In all protested games, the decision of the League President shall be final. Even if it is held that the protested decision violated the rules, no replay of the game will be ordered unless in the opinion of the League President the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning the game.
This whole situation has given even more life to the crowd of baseball fans clamoring for instant replay. That’s certainly one solution to try solve problems that arise such as this. By doing so, you would, in theory, have instant correction of mistakes made in judgment calls. Instituting an instant replay system does have some drawbacks. First, it’s argued that replay will slow down the game (even further) and disrupt the rhythm of the players, especially pitchers. Watching the use of instant replay in the Little League World Series, might make some discount that argument, but it is still a valid concern. Second, instant replay still involves an on the spot judgment call made by an umpire. Video, of course, allows for closer inspection, but judgment will never be eliminated from the equation.
My alternate proposal for a solution would be to alter Rule 4.19. Instead of completely disallowing protests based on an umpire’s judgment, allow a very specific type of protest based on judgment. Give teams who lose on a close judgment call such as seen in the Pirates game a chance to protest the call. This way the MLB sidesteps the instant replay issue, but, is still able to try and get the call right that decides a game. The timing of the play in question is extremely important. It’s much easier for a replay of a game to take place, if the overturned call was one that ended the game. In fact, that was one of the reasons why the George Brett pine tar fiasco was allowed to be replayed. While the amount of protests may increase, very few games end in such a manner as the Pirates-Braves marathon did. So, many of the judgment protests would still be disallowed.
As long as umpires are being employed by MLB, there will be outrage over blown calls. The question is what is the best way for the league to deal with spurned ball clubs protests.