By In Stuff

The Spirit of the Rule

A few years ago, when I was a kid reporter in the Rock Hill (S.C.) Bureau of the Charlotte Observer, the biggest story on my innumerable beats was the college recruitment of Jeff Burris. He was a superstar running back at Northwestern High School and was among the most recruited football players in America. Everybody wanted Jeff.

One day, Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz slipped into town to basically wrap up the deal. We caught word of it and tried to chase him down. I’ve told this story before; one of the great reporters I’ve known, Lolo Pendergast, gave me a crash course on the tenacity you need to be, well, one of the great reporters. She called anybody and everybody who might get us connected to Holtz. After digging, she was able to determine that he was a private plane, was able to call the airport where it landed to page him and then, after determining that was not good enough, she was able to somehow get word through air traffic control to Lou Holtz that we very much needed to talk with him. He called a few minutes later.

“Thank you so much for calling,” I told him; I was dizzy from the chase.

“What choice did I have?” Holtz replied.

In any case, he couldn’t say anything about signing Burris or even confirm that he had been in Rock Hill because of NCAA regulations — something I probably should have known but didn’t. But he did give me a quote that I still remember. He said, “I can’t say anything because as you know, here at Notre Dame, we follow not only the letter of the rules but the spirit of the rules.”

Yes, I do get the irony of Lou Holtz saying those words, but the point is I don’t believe I’d ever heard that phrase “spirit of the rule” before. I love that phrase. I love that concept. I think of the “Spirit of the Rules” as an actual thing, a ghostly being, and I imagine she looks down on us like with the same look my wife often gives our teenage daughter and says, “OH STOP IT, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEANT.”

I thought a lot about the spirit of the rules when I saw Washington’s José Lobatón get called out on replay Thursday night. Whew, I’ve written about replay a lot, but I think I had small burst of clarity about what replay does in sports, why we love it and why we’re sometimes frustrated by it. Replay is great at parsing plays to the letter. No, “great” does not quite cover it. Replay is better at getting the calls right to the letter than anything mankind has ever devised.

Alas, though, replay is not just blind but hostile to the spirit of the rules.

* * *

Let’s talk for just a moment about the Lobatón play. It was the eighth inning, what Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” called “The end of a very long day.” The Nationals trailed the Cubs by a run. Every inning of this game was mesmerizing and exhausting and controversial and tense and fun and infuriating; there really has never been another game quite like it. I hear people say that it was an all-time classic, and I hear others say that it was a terrible game, and I somehow agree completely with both of them.

Washington trailed by a run, and there were two outs, and the Nationals had runners on first and second. José Lobatón was the runner on first. He is a somewhat traveled 32-year-old backup catcher who — and this should tell you a bit about the nuttiness of this game — came into pinch-hit and then just stayed like that guy on the couch who doesn’t seem to realize that the party ended a while ago. Lobatón is a career .212 hitter, but that speaks to when he was in his prime. He hit .170 this year. But here he was in the spotlight of Game 5.

Then this was a game of survivors, and Lobatón survived … he even thrived, somehow lining a single off Cubs closer Wade Davis to set up the first and second situation. The crowd in Washington was delirious in the most literal sense — “in an acutely disturbed state of mind resulting from illness or intoxication and characterized by restlessness, illusions, and incoherence of thought and speech.” Nobody even knew what to think or feel anymore after this crazy game of a thousand pitchers, a game both teams had once led by a comfortable margin, a game with everything from catcher interference to an umpire getting hit in the face with a pitch to epic sword fighting to a battle of wits to the death to inconceivable blunders.

Just after the second pitch of Trea Turner’s at-bat, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras jumped to his feet and, with stunning speed, fired a throw to first base in an attempt to pick off Lobatón. Contreras loves to do this and why not? If I had that guy’s arm and athleticism I’’d do it even with nobody on base. Lobatón slid feet first into the bag and beat the throw. The umpire ruled him safe. And then, the madness began.

TBS broadcaster Ron Darling saw it first. “His foot came off the bag for just an instant,” Darling said. It was an impressive observation considering he’d only seen the play live. Replay, when you slowed it down enough and showed it from just the right angle, confirmed what Darling saw. Lobatón’s momentum (and awkward feet-first slide) was such that his toe popped off the bag for what was probably less than a second. The question then was: Did Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo have the tag on Lobatón at that precise second.

The first replay, the one that showed the Lobatón toe coming off the bag, was inconclusive about the tag. But there was a second replay, this one from behind first base that showed — not with 100 percent certainty but beyond reasonable doubt — that Rizzo did seem to keep the tag on Lobatón.

So if you took the evidence from the first replay and synced it with the evidence from the second replay, you had fairly compelling proof that Rizzo had indeed tagged Lobatón out when his foot slipped.

And the replay umpires were so compelled — they called Lobatón out, ending the threat and sending an already frazzled Washington Nationals fan base into shock. The Nationals went down 1-2-3 in the ninth inning and the Cubs now go on to play the Dodgers. The Washington Nationals still have not won a single playoff series.

So you already know: I despise the Lobatón call. It is everything I have railed against here since replay was first instituted. Ultra-technical, frame-by-frame calls like that, in my view, turn baseball from a living, breathing, physical, joyous sport into a boring, pointless legal battle with filings and motions and addendum and enough paperwork to make you go blind. It’s a game meant to be PLAYED not LITIGATED and at no point in the first 100-plus years of baseball did anybody care about the physical realities of sliding that sometime makes the foot or hand lose contact with the base for the blink of an eye.

But, this is probably going to surprise you: After being ticked off about the call for a few seconds, I sort of gave up. See, for a long while, what I’ve wanted to do blend what replay so does well (get the call right) with what replay does not do at all (respect the spirit of these rules).

I have proposed that replay umpires only watch the play at full speed so to reduce the Zapbruder-like breakdown of video to its tiniest parts. That probably would have given us a different call in this situation; I don’t think umpires could have called out Lobatón out if they only saw the play at regular speed. I have proposed being limited in how we use replay, so that the, for example, the only reviewable part of the Lobatón play would be whether or not he got back in time and NOT whether or not his foot squeaked off the bag. I have even proposed putting a common sense replay umpire at every game, and he or she would have wide latitude for how to use replay based on a deep understanding of baseball’s rules and why they exist.

I don’t necessarily think any of these would work … I have just been throwing stuff at the wall.

But after the Lobatón play, I realized something. It isn’t that replay is a neutral arbiter that simply doesn’t account for the spirit of the rules. Replay is actively DESTROYING the spirit of the rules. Replay, by its very nature, is hhere to say: The only thing that matters is the words of the rule. Any history of the rules, any nuance inside the rules, any wink-wink-nudge-nudge understandings within the rule are wiped out by replay.

There was a time you might remember when baseball had this unwritten “the ball got there first” spirit of the rule. It would happen on stolen base attempts mostly. The thought was if the ball got there first, the batter was out. Sure, if it was OBVIOUS that the tag was missed, the ump would call the runner save. But otherwise, he was out.

It’s funny to think back to it now. Sometimes, on replay, an announcer would say, “Hey, you know what? I don’t think he got the tag down.” But nobody really cared, nobody demanded anything be done about it, because THE BALL GOT THERE FIRST, which means the defensive team did the most important thing right, at least in the view of the time.

Well, replay doesn’t just obliterate THE BALL GOT THERE FIRST, it makes a mockery of such simple-minded thinking. Ball got there first? So what? The rule clearly states you have to tag the runner. The spirit of the rule is made to look ridiculous.* Maybe you think it is ridiculous but that just amplifies the point — a thought that guided the game for many years is instantly gone, unmourned.

_*”And a man in my position can’t afford to be made to look ridiculous!” Surely I’m not the only one who has thought Jack Woltz from The Godfather was basically Harvey Weinstein — this garbage clearly has been going on in Hollywood since the beginning. _

That’s what replay does. My thinking about replay was off. It is not, as I thought, another tool to make sure calls are called right. It is, instead, a trade-off. We get rid of all the egregious calls. In their place, we call technically correct calls that might leave us shaking our heads. We get pinpoint accuracy. In exchange, Jose Lobaton is out.

I’m sure they could write the rule in such a way that replay would not overturn that call. And I’m equally sure that that new version of the rule would lead to something just as frustrating. I think Lobaton is out. It makes me kind of sad. But these are the choices we make.

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49 Responses to The Spirit of the Rule

  1. Oscar Gordon says:

    I haven’t watched a baseball game since replay was instituted, but I have to ask – what has happened to the double play in the replay era? Has the phantom force out been eliminated? If so too bad – there was artistry in that play.

    • MikeN says:

      I had the same reaction. I keep seeing the second baseman or shortstop jump up to catch and throwing before landing. Why isn’t this reviewed?

      While we have this replay, can we review Derek Jeter grabbing players during the 2001 World Series, and end all talk about his ‘classy’ play?

      • Kuz says:

        Derek Jeter. National treasure. Iconic Yankee. Mortal lock first ballet Hall-of Famer. I say all this without a hint of irony.

        • Jalabar says:

          There was nothing ‘National treasure’ about Jeter, unless somehow in a different language ‘over-rated’ is pronounced ‘national treasure’. Jeter was a great shortstop. One of the best of his era. That is all. If he had been better than passable defensively he’d be more. But no, he was only a New York treasure.

        • Jalabar says:

          And this is the shame –

          Derek Jeter – Mortal lock first ballot HoF

          Alan Trammell – As good as Jeter ever was. Not in the Hall.

          Jeter is a HoFer in my eyes. But if Trammell is not, then Jeter sure as hell isn’t first ballot.

    • Curtis says:

      The phantom force out has been eliminated, but not so much by replay. Now that the rules about taking out infielders have changed dramatically, the middle infielder doesn’t have the same need to protect himself. That, in combination with replay, means that the “neighborhood” is just the base.

  2. Yeager says:

    I’d prefer the call was correct than worry about some nebulous “spirit” or “unwritten rule” (and I think you could substitute “the good old days” for either of those). Replay implementation needs work – the challenge system is silly, etc. But getting the call right is a net positive.

    • Jalabar says:

      I tend to agree. My problem is with the arbitrary way it has been determined what is reviewable, and if you are going to parse hairs to that extent then to me pitches should be reviewable too. I thought that strike 3 was outside, and if replay showed it was outside, it is aball. Why do we fix some mistakes and not others, if the goal is truly to get it right?

      • invitro says:

        Strike/ball calls aren’t reviewable for I think two reasons. First, umpires would never agree to let their main role in the game disappear. Second, MLB has done things to vastly improve the accuracy of strike/ball calls, so they’re not in dire need of fixing. (FWIW, I think strikes/ball calls will become automated in a few years.)

  3. Clare Brunetta says:

    So here is my problem with replay . . . it has taken all of the fun and excitement out of the game. I am 64 years old and have been a baseball fan my whole life. Now I can hardly stand to watch it. Why? Because there is nothing to get excited about. When you see a great play, an electric play or even just a close play you don’t jump out of your seat and shout. You don’t get the surge of energy that comes when you know the play has suddenly changed the momentum or direction or even the result of the game. You don’t appreciate the artistry of the steal, the slick double play, the bang bang play at the plate, the rocket throw from the outfield that cuts down the runner. Instead, you feel nothing. Why? Because you don’t know if you just saw something great and exciting or not. The replay will decide all. So what’s to get excited about? You sit back and wait for the clinical result that, in the end, regardless of the result, diminishes the athleticism, artistry and skill of what the players just did. What a drag and a downer this is.

    • moviegoer74 says:

      The idea that replay somehow diminishes the athleticism of the players is incomprehensible to me.

      The idea that it diminishes appreciation for what one is seeing is not one I agree with, but I can kind of understand it.

      But one sentence just seems objectively wrong…”you don’t know if you just saw something great and exciting or not.” Of course you do. A close play at the plate is great and exciting regardless of whether the runner is safe or out. You don’t know the outcome, but you know you saw something great and exciting.

    • Mike Schilling says:

      That is exactly why I can’t watch football, where that’s been true for decades. Really depressing that it’s now infecting baseball.

    • EnzoHernandez11 says:

      Clare: I think you really nailed it. One of the greatest experiences of being a sports fan is that sudden rush of joy you feel when something incredible happens on the field, especially when it changes the game in favor of your team. Now, if the play is at all close, that moment of joy is gone, or at least significantly diminished. By the time the umpire/referee confirms the play, the feeling is more one of relief (or dismay, if the call goes in the other direction).

      Would baseball history really be any better if replay had confirmed that Jorge Orta was out in 1985 (Cardinal fans do not have to answer this one)? Do Royals fans–and I am not one–feel any less nostalgic about their first championship just because they have watched replays of Denkinger’s blown call 10,000 times? And is there anything less entertaining than spending five minutes watching some guy with headphones on waiting for a decision from the home office?

      Umpires and referees get the call right the overwhelming majority of the time. I think we’ve given up far to much in our effort to get that number to 100%. Sports are supposed to be fun and exciting; let’s leave the perfectionism to brain surgeons and air traffic controllers.

      • invitro says:

        “Umpires and referees get the call right the overwhelming majority of the time. I think we’ve given up far to much in our effort to get that number to 100%.” — I don’t think they do, although of course that depends on your definition of “overwhelming majority”. I’d guess that without replay, they get only about half the close plays right, maybe 60%. The real goal of replay is to get maybe 80-90% of the close plays right.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          I think that’s right. I have no problem with the umps missing a really close play; it’s almost impossible to tell without replay and maybe it doesn’t really make much difference if a really close play is called objectively correct. But the umpires seem to miss a good portion of plays that aren’t really close-Jim Joyce’s botch of the pitcher’s perfect game is the obvious example. I do agree that having to wait for the replay takes some of the excitement out. I would prefer that the rule be that they only overturn the call on the field if it is “obvious” that the call is wrong; ie, not having to see five different angles and spending 5 minutes. They look at if; if it’s not clearly wrong, let it go. But I think Invitro is right about the number of plays umpires miss and they aren’t all close plays.

          • invitro says:

            Whether the umpires are doing a good job is part of this issue, but not the only part. I believe (or want to believe) that there are studies out there that tell us whether umpires are doing a good job or not. I recall reading a study about umpires and ball/strike calls that found that umpires were really, really bad at them before MLB started cracking down on their performance, and the umps have done much, much better since then. Given that it’s just my memory talking, I don’t expect to convince anyone… 🙂 but getting the umps to call balls/strikes correctly, and not have “their own” strike zones, is probably the only matter I feel very strongly about.

            Umpires probably try their best to get plays on the bases right, the ball-before-runner plays. As Marc points out, at some point, it’s not humanly possible to get all these right, without using replay. I don’t think “the umps are doing the best job they can” is a good reason to not have replay, and I know it wasn’t true in the case of ball/strike calls.

            I don’t think replays should take five minutes, but I don’t think they do take that long. As with most things, a moderate stance is probably best; allow replays, but don’t take more than (say) 3 minutes for them.

            I do know I’d rather watch 3 minutes of waiting for a replay result than the (about) 30 minutes per game of batters and pitchers standing around, stalling before the next pitch. At least the former has some purpose other than just delaying the game. I hope anyone upset with the delay caused by replay is more upset by the batter/pitcher delays, and other delays like mound visits and practice pitches, that are a vastly more important factor to game length than replay reviews are.

    • Richard says:

      What I miss is the chance to see a manager storm out of the dugout yelling and screaming and kicking dirt and getting right up in the umpire’s face about how they blew that call and they should at the very least ask one of the other umpires for help.

      And then the umpire decides that the manager crossed a line, and gives them a dramatic heave-ho from the game, leading to more yelling and kicking and throwing of caps.

      That was fun!

  4. Joe Fan says:

    The spirit of the rule has no place in a business like this. This is a business, not a game. There are surely monetary incentives that players and teams earn for reaching playoffs and advancing. The right call must be made. If we don’t like it, we can just watch the little leagues.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      I don’t see what monetary incentives have to do with a game where the players are making millions of dollars. The incentive isn’t the money. I think replay is more for the fans, who invest their emotions in the game and don’t want to see them crushed on a bad call. The players will survive right or wrong; ok, they are unhappy they lost, but they are still getting paid.

  5. Ricky B. says:

    I’d say there has been another game like the Cubs-Nats game 5, and that would be game 7 of the 1960 World Series. One of the greatest games, one of the worst games, all wrapped up into one. Mostly people only think about Mazeroski’s home run now, but that was one wild and crazy game.

    My version of replay would be that team’s don’t get the opportunity to review video at all — you have five seconds to challenge a play. The visceral reaction for a replay review should be that the ump blew the call, and that feeling should be immediate. If you have to say to yourself, well, maybe his foot came off the bag a split-second early, or maybe his foot came off the bag for a millisecond, well, you don’t challenge. Correcting egregious mistakes should be the goal, not frame-by-frame analysis. I think it would allow folks to enjoy plays in the moment (for most plays) once again instead of waiting for someone to confirm we saw what we saw.

    • Scott says:

      I completely agree this would eliminate mistakes like the one Jim Joyce made in Armando Galarraga’s almost perfect game.

      The best example of this done right (in the pre-replay era) was Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. Mark Belhorn hit the home run that hit off the fan’s hand and bounced back, being ruled a double, Francona came out and explained his case. And in the same game, A-Rod slapped the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s hand, and Francona came out again. Both times the umpires corrected their mistakes, which were obvious to everyone at home

      • Pat says:

        IIRC, Jim Joyce also blew the call on the Bellhorn home run. Someone very funny made a good thing about that I can’t do justice, along the lines of “Yes I saw yes it was a home run yes I said yes.”

        • Pat says:

          Aha: it was King Kaufman in Salon, which seems to have be removed or moved, but the original quote is this:

          Bellhorn’s fourth-inning homer was originally ruled in play. The ball had hit a fan in the front row and dropped back onto the warning track, but this was missed by left-field umpire Jim Joyce. And then Red Sox manager Terry Francona asked Jim with his eyes to ask again yes and then he asked the other umpires would they yes to say yes and first the umpires put their arms around each other yes and fans’ hearts were going like mad and yes they said yes it was a home run yes.

          • invitro says:

            I don’t know if it’s obvious or not, but this is a take on the last line of Ulysses, which is…

            “I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another… then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

  6. Mark Daniel says:

    I totally agree with this take.

    Reminds me of a time I got a parking ticket in college. It was a school holiday (Fall break) so students had the day off, but I was working in a lab so I still had to go in. I parked on this street a couple blocks from the lab that had 2 hour parking. Normally, the street is jammed with cars, but on this day there was nobody on the street at all. I parked and went to the lab. I parked at around 9am, came back at noon, and I had a parking ticket.
    Yes, I violated the 2 hour parking rule. However, the spirit of the rule is you can only park for 2 hours in order to prevent people from parking for days at a time, and to create turnover so spots come open regularly.
    I was there for 3 hours. Not all day. There were no other cars on the street, so anybody could have parked on the street if they wanted. I was not breaking the spirit of the rule! I’m still pissed at this 20 years later.

    • invitro says:

      I have lots of incidents like this one from my many years at college. Sometimes I think I actively courted them… that I looked around for ways to break the rule by a tiny amount and then dare the authorities to rebuke me. Other times I think my experiences were about the same as anyone else’s. I suppose just as there are lots of people who enjoy breaking rules, there are lots of people who enjoy enforcing rules, and I’m probably a member of both teams. Maybe I should’ve been a lawyer… 🙁

  7. invitro says:

    Sometimes people seem to hate replay so much that I’m amazed it exists. Even if there was a play like this every game, baseball would still be vastly better now than it was before replay. I’ve known since I was a kid that some people want randomness and luck to be part of sports really, really badly.

    It’s obvious that the right thing to do is to work on the rule and make it legal to allow baserunners to be off the base for a fraction of a second or even a full second. Just ask Bill James — I’m sure he can come up with an ideal rule change for a tiny fee. But making a better game isn’t what Joe or other loudmouths want — they want luck and randomness. It’s frustrating. Can’t these people go watch football or basketball or some other sport that’s filled with bad calls?

    • Paul Schroeder says:

      I don’t think Joe wants randomness. I think the idea that the only part of the play that’s reviewable is whether the runner beat the tag. After that, if he comes off the bag for a split second, he’s still safe, assuming the call on the field was safe. If the call on the field is out, then the whole thing is reviewable.

    • Gene says:

      Wait … you think luck and randomness isn’t still a part of sports? Maybe you’re using definitions of those words that are different from everyone else’s. Replay removes a little bit of luck from baseball, and little or no randomness. Not sure why you’re bringing those terms into this discussion.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      I agree. People say it’s not important to get the calls right but it’s not as if the umpires are just randomly making calls; they are trying to get the call right but sometimes just don’t. I think there should be a reasonable effort to get the calls right. There is a lot of randomness in baseball anyway, but to say we want randomness in how the rules are enforced seems to be in direct contrast to why we have sports in the first place.

      I also agree with what Invitro said in an earlier comment; the delays caused by players fiddling with their jocks and trying to figure out to do next is far more annoying to me than the few minutes taken up by replays.

  8. feeblemind says:

    Ah yes. The Spirit of the Rules. That takes me back to The Pine Tar Incident where George Brett’s home run was reinstated after it was decided that the actual pine tar rule violated the spirit of the rules. In the words of an incredulous Billy Martin, are we going to be issued with a Spirit of the Rules book to complement the rule book?

    Joe, the examples you cite under spirit-of-the-rules are nothing more than lazy, sloppy umpiring, and that has always been a pet peeve of mine. Every effort should be made to get the call right.

    BTW, would you be written this post complaining about the ump’s call if he had correctly called the runner OUT at first?

  9. Mr Fresh says:

    I find it interesting how many people are so incredulous that “the right call must be made.” Like that’s indisputable.

    These are the same people that watch golf at home and call the course to report that Lexi Thompson’s ball was moved a micrometer from where it should have been and she MUST be penalized.

    Ridiculous.

    The spirit of the rule is the ONLY thing that matters.. but I suppose that leaves a little too much subject to interpretation for some people.

  10. Mike Schilling says:

    After digging, she was able to determine that he was a private plane

    Now there’s a scoop!

  11. Jalabar says:

    And this does not even mention the fact that the Nats had gotten jobbed in the pivotal 5th. The Cubs should have scored two less runs In that inning and that is not disputable. If the goal is to get the calls right then they blew it in that inning and it may have cost the Nats the game. With two out in that inning, a batter reached on a 3rd strike passed ball by Matt Weiters which extended the inning against Max Scherzer, however on the backswing the batter made contact with the catcher which BY RULE should have negated the passed ball and just made it strike three, inning over. Instead they allowed the steal of first and the Cubs scored two more runs in the inning in a game they won by one.

    • Jeff says:

      I thought I heard that that play in the fifth inning was allowed to stand because the bat was not ruled to have affected the catcher. In other words, the spirit of the rule was invoked. 🙂

  12. Kuz says:

    Joe:

    Another entertaining meditation on the nature of measurement systems.

  13. VideoSavant says:

    Here’s how I would like to see the replay process addressed.

    The problem is that we have gone from a desire to get the egregiously bad calls fixed to a state where now the expection is becoming that “umpiring” can be perfection. I don’t think perfection makes sense, particularly in view of how it is leading to delays in the action and fixing things that weren’t broken previously.

    My proposal is that each manager has 10 seconds after a the ball is dead to decide whether he wants a replay. This will eliminate a lot of baseball dead time, as there’s too much wasted time checking with the clubhouse video guys to determine whether a specific play should be reviewed.

    The 10 seconds needs to uniform, so I’d put an fifth umpire up in the press box level to start a 10-second clock on every dead ball.

    Now, I agree that sounds wasteful, so combine that clock responsibility with being the game’s official scorer. Official scoring, done by hometown “homers” is a mess, and it pollutes statistics (hits v. errors). So, make official scoring as neutral as balls and strikes.

    Oh, and disconnect the phone in the official scorers booth and end the real-time lobbying that comes from dugouts, clubhouses.

    Anyway, replay should primarily be about fixing calls that are obviously wrong, and that means eliminating the clubhouse video dissections before lodging a review request. This will speed up the game but still allow the most controversial bad calls to be fixed.

  14. shagster says:

    100% agree. it opens up uneven contradictions when applying the rules, already apparent;

    – ‘did he have control of the ball when applying the tag (gripped, incidental?).
    – ‘why not an auto call when catcher hit in the face on back swing?
    – and the worst of all time — the Tom Brady fumble during Oakland game.

    Like the ‘real time’ view speed suggestion. .

  15. Dale says:

    I mostly like replay, except as it applies to plays such as the one Joe mentions, when a player’s hand/foot comes off the bag for a fraction of a second, an act that can only usually be seen in frame-by-frame context. Just my two cents.

  16. Richard says:

    Here’s an idea.

    During Spring Training, find a team or three who’s willing to work with you. Set up all sorts of cameras during baserunning and sliding drills, and see how often the runner’s foot (or hand) “bounces” off the base for a split-second. If it happens rarely, leave things as they are. If it happens very often, then you take a serious look at reworking the rule.

  17. Curtis says:

    I don’t think it is sustainable to have a system where within seconds or minutes everyone watching the replay on the scoreboard or watching at home can tell that a call was incorrect that could have changed the outcome of a series. I don’t know how much longer they will be able to continue with umpires calling balls and strikes with the little strike zone boxes on the tv screens.

    I have been a Royals fan basically since birth, and was 13 when they won the Series in 1985. It remains one of the most joyful moments of my life. But Cardinals fans rightly feel robbed. And Royals fans were also robbed of the opportunity to win the game and then the series straight up.

    Tennis has done a great job with replay calling the lines. Soccer has done very well with goal line technology. I think it will not be much longer before many of these calls are made via similar technology.

  18. Marco says:

    I agree Joe. I have seen runners called out where they slide and pop up to a standing position. Called safe but upon review their spike lost contact w/ the bag for a millisecond while the tag was being applied. OUT!
    I think if the replay takes more than about a minute, that the call on the field should stand. If the call is that close, that difficult to determine, just go with what the umpire called on the field. Correct egregious errors and let the Lobaton type ones go.

  19. John Autin says:

    It’s a false premise that there ever WAS a “spirit of the rule” on being tagged when off the bag. I’m sure at some point in the long history of MLB, an umpire perceived (or thought he did) a runner being tagged when off the base for just a split second, and called him out, because that’s the rule. Are you going to say that umpire was wrong, that he should have ignored what he saw, because of some subjective idea of a “spirit of the rule”?

    It’s also a false distinction to think that these plays are significantly different from a lot of other things we now see through super-slo-mo. A second baseman comes off the bag early on a DP pivot … A first baseman comes off the bag early, trying to “steal” a close play by faking the timing of his catch … A base-stealer looks for all the world to be safe, until we see that he didn’t touch the bag when we thought he did. Does the “spirit of the rule” speak to any of those things, as to which should or should not be reviewable?

    I would be happy if challenges had to be made within 15 seconds of the call, i.e., before the decision could be highly informed by the team’s own video review. That seems a simpler and more effective solution to the replay complaints than trying to parse out what is the spirit of every rule. But whatever is allowed to be challenged, should be reviewable with every available tool.

  20. Linkmeister says:

    How about the Culberson/Contreras play at home plate in Game One of the Dodgers – Cubs series? By rule that out call had to be overturned, but Contreras made a brilliant play blocking the plate. I think that rule should be revised or abolished. Sure, Posey broke a leg, but I grew up on catcher – runner collisions (Yeager and Scioscia were brilliant at blocking and holding the plate); those should come back.

    • Brent says:

      The thing they just started enforcing the rule that always has been a rule, that a player without the ball cannot impede the runner. And it has worked, we went from several collisions at home plate/year to next to none. If the NFL could figure out a rule to make players tackle correctly half as well as MLB has eliminated collisions at the plate, they would be pleased as punch.

  21. Peter D says:

    How about this?:

    “Safe” means the runner is immune from being tagged; thus the fielder(s) must relinquish contact (tag) with the runner. A “held” tag becomes invalid once the runner is safe.

    Thus, to tag out a runner, a fielder must initiate the tag while the runner is not touching the base.

  22. Mark Daniel says:

    Joe, I think you have to write a different version of this post and switch out the end part from the Lobaton play to the Jets fumble.

  23. MikeN says:

    Upon review of replay, Alex was not properly tagged by BP and the run should have been allowed.

  24. MCD says:

    Yes, I think replay often conflicts with the “spirit of the rule”, but going further, I think it also usually conflicts with the “spirit of replay”. I don’t think replay was implemented with aspirations of “getting every call right”, because I don’t think that will ever happen. I think the intent of replay was to eliminate the rare cases where the umpire obviously botches a call. If you break a play down frame-by-frame and you still aren’t 100% certain, then it wasn’t an obvious error.

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