The Future is … near?

There was a controversial play at Wrigley Field, Tuesday night. Leaving out most of the details, it was a key situation and Addison Russell hit a crazy ground ball that started foul, headed fair, skipped over first base (maybe) before veering back into foul ground. The umpire called it fair, and the Cardinals wound up losing. The video’s not embeddable, but you can see it here.

The Cardinals were incensed. Today, Cardinals fans remain incensed. Not because anyone knows for sure whether or not that ball actually did skip over the base, fair. But because they think the call should be reviewable. Which it’s not, by rule. Here’s the manager (via Derek Goold):

It’s a shame that we have this technology and if there’s a play that could change the course of the game, why not use the technology to the best we can? If it’s inconclusive, it’s inconclusive. But if it’s a blatant miss – which I have two players over there screaming and yelling that it’s a blatant miss – it’s a shame that there’s not something allowed in the system just in case of human error.

There is, I think, one excellent reason why these calls aren’t reviewable: the technology in use would not be useful.

I’d like you to think about this for a moment. How many times have you been watching a game and there was a questionable fair/foul situation on a grounder that might (or might not) have crossed over first or third base? Now, how many of those times was the umpire’s call proved incorrect by the various replays you saw on television?

For me the answers to those questions are "dozens, maybe hundreds" and "approximately zero."

For the very simple reason that there are not, with the possible exceptions of Toronto and St. Petersburg, cameras positioned directly above the bases, which is what you would need to make a definitive call on those plays. In fact, the base umpires probably have far better views of the relevant moment than any camera, let alone any player or manager.

At the moment Tuesday night, the umpire was on the line, the first baseman was six feet away, and the pitcher … why on earth did he think he knew better, better enough to get ejected for arguing, than the umpire? The pitcher couldn’t see squat!

Given the existing system, making these calls reviewable would add a tiny bit of accuracy, or maybe none at all. So why bother? Just to mollify the managers? Well, maybe. But I’d rather save those few minutes every so often.

Now, I’ve been referencing "the existing system" for a reason, which is that the technology not only exists, but is in place to get these calls exactly right every time. Or maybe not, but could easily be.

The Statcast technology knows exactly where the ball is, right? And the bases don’t move. So it should be reasonably simple to figure out if the ball went over the base or not. But the Statcast cameras aren’t a part of the video-review system. And so Mike Matheny winds up with a few more gray hairs, and Derrick Goold a bit more column-fodder.

I would guess it’s just a matter of time. But for now, the umpires are the best we’ve got. And they’re pretty good!