Phil Wood: It's time for baseball to use technology to make sure umps get it right

By |
Sports,MLB,Nationals,Phil Wood

Major league owners held their quarterly meeting in New York last week and were briefed on the topic of expanded instant replay in the game, which may begin as early as next season.

Ex-manager Joe Torre, now MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, said owners were "updated" on the process, explaining, "We're talking about a lot of things. Does this make sense? Does this have a possibility to add to what we want to do? We don't want to do a knee-jerk thing because people are demanding it. We want to do what we feel, from our experience, makes sense."

Balls and strikes, he said, are "off-limits." More on that later.

Technology is here to stay in professional sports, and baseball has lagged behind the times in implementing some simple changes that would enhance the game. Using replay to decide home run calls makes perfect sense, though as we saw earlier this month in Cleveland, the men in blue can get that wrong too, even when video evidence is only too obvious.

It still bothers me that baseball refuses to take the more efficient route to replay decisions. Presently, umpires leave the field and go to a room under the stands to review footage of the play in dispute. Is that necessary? Are there snacks waiting for them in there? It makes far more sense for a fifth member of the umpiring crew to sit in the TV production truck -- where he has instant access to every recorded angle -- and relay the proper call to the crew chief on the field via some kind of earpiece. No muss, no fuss and no long delay in re-starting the game. It would provide additional employment for deserving minor league umpires, with the emphasis on deserving.

This brings us back to balls and strikes, and the case of minor league ump -- and big league fill-in -- John Tumpane.

Tumpane was behind the plate May 12 when the Nationals played the Cubs.

Tumpane is a Triple-A guy who's called up when a regular ump has a day off. He started getting major league assignments in 2010 when he was only 27 and apparently believes that close enough is good enough.

When a pitch is so far off the plate that the catcher makes no attempt to frame it in the strike zone, it's clearly a ball.

In the bottom of the third last Sunday with two outs, Ian Desmond took a full-count pitch that Chicago receiver Dioner Navarro had to reach into the lefthanded batter's box to catch. Desmond took one step toward first before Tumpane punched him out. Strike three. Desmond made a face but didn't say anything. Later, Kurt Suzuki struck out in the ninth on a called third strike, again a pitch the Cubs' catcher had to reach outside for. Suzuki squawked and was ejected.

There has to be a greater effort made to call the rule-book strike zone. No individual interpretations of that should be permitted.

This includes you, John.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Phil Wood

Staff reporter - sports
The Washington Examiner