|Dubious Call Mars NL Wild Card Game||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on October 06, 2012
That game was MLB’s worst nightmare, one which hopefully provides the clarion call for change. It was the game that proved all the critics (myself included) right. A game that ended the season for an arguably superior team due to an error, not of an infielder, outfielder, catcher or pitcher, but due to the judgment of an umpire, a judgment most fans and experts considered to be wrong.
Now it’s hard to put all the blame on left field umpire Sam Holbrook who with runners on 1st and 2nd, while the ball was in the air invoked the infield fly rule, on a ball 80 feet into the outfield, in a situation where it wasn’t certain that any fielder could have caught the ball. It was a heat of the moment decision, made in an instant of tension, on a ball Holbrook probably misjudged. It’s a call for which he shall probably forever be condemned. He also failed to make the call immediately, which is required as part of the Infield Fly rule.
The mistake was human, and when Holbrook made the call, there is no doubt he thought that he was doing what was best for the game and for the offensive team. That’s because the Infield Fly Rule is designed to prevent the defensive team from dropping easy infield flies, so that it can double or even triple up the offensive team by intentionally dropping the ball.
Unfortunately for Mr. Holbrook, the ball wasn’t caught and even more unfortunately for Atlanta and baseball fans everywhere the fact that the Infield Fly Rule had been invoked meant that batter Andrelton Simmons was automatically out and instead of bases loaded with one out, the Braves only had runners on second and third with two outs. They would fail to score in the inning.
The complexion of the game was changed by that call and it pushed the Braves toward a loss they seemed to be on the verge of escaping. Maybe they would have won, maybe they wouldn’t have. It sparked tons of calls immediately for instant replay so that the right call could have been made. But the truth of the matter is that this is one of those cases where you probably couldn’t reverse the call, where no amount of TV replay could have helped you get it right.
It was a human judgment - something that had to be made in the heat of the moment. Something that might or might not have been called differently by another umpire or if MLB didn’t change the umpire rules for the playoffs and put an extra two umpires and more opinions on the field.
If that ball had been caught there would have been no controversy, no condemnation of umpire Sam Holbrook. And it sure looked like shortstop Pete Kozma was going to catch the ball. But because Kozma failed to catch the ball and the bases would have been loaded without Holbrook’s call, the fallout has been tremendous.
The thing MLB most wanted to avoid, a controversy over umpiring, and the public perception that an umpire and not the players had decided the game, hangs over this one game Wild Card concept.
The problem here isn’t the umpiring -- although the argument that Holbrook blew the call is legitimate -- but the fact that a team can be eliminated in a single game, where a single error of judgment by an umpire can decide the game is an issue. It’s one of the reasons that a single-game playoff has never been used to decide playoff appearances except in the case of a tie.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned from this game. Do we need instant replay? Yes, probably. Should replay be able to overturn a bad call? Yes, when the call is black and white (which in this case it really wasn’t). It’s important to get the call right and let the players decide the game. And a single game playoff is too vulnerable to the judgment of an umpire.
If we must have a Wild Card playoff, let’s at least get rid of the one-game format.