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Thursday, July 28, 2011

What To Do About Jerry Meals

I feel compelled to write a few thoughts about the controversial call made by 14 year umpire Jerry Meals in the 19th inning of the Braves and Pirates 19 inning game that concluded early in the morning on July 27th. Baseball has had an ongoing debate about the use of instant replay and the reliability of umpires. This play is the latest incident to bring the issue back into the public eye.

Meals ended the game by calling Atlanta runner Julio Lugo safe, when he was clearly tagged out by Pittsburgh catcher Mike McKenry, several feet before reaching home plate. It was not one of those calls where the umpire had a bad angle, or the play was too close for the human eye to catch. This was a simple call; completely black and white, and the umpire missed it. Even Lugo looked momentarily shocked by the call, until realizing he had been called safe, and then rushed off to celebrate with his teammates.

Now that the Pirates are relevant after the All Star break after years of being doormats, this blown call could end up hurting them a lot. After the game they are now one game behind the National League Central leading St. Louis Cardinals. This one game swing against the favor of the Pirates has the very real possibility of impacting their post season chances. It will be a complete shame if at the end of the season this game has any impact whatsoever on the Pirates and their chances of making the playoffs.

Baseball needs to do the right thing and replay the end of the game. Meals’ call was so bad that it goes beyond contradicting the judgement of an umpire. This isn't like the infamous Jim Joyce blown perfect game from last year, where he missed a call on a bang-bang play at first. Meals' safe call was an outright catastrophe that defied logic. There should have been no other verdict than calling Lugo out. It was the equivalent of somebody looking up at a blue sky and announcing that it was yellow.

Despite this latest controversy, I am still unsure if instant replay is necessary in baseball, but am starting to lean towards being for it. A big part of me says, why not? The game utilizes just about every other advantage, from conditioning (legal and other methods) to equipment made out of advanced materials. If technology exists that can make the game better, safer, and more modern, it makes sense to give it a shot. Instant replay would not change the essential rules of the game. If baseball and its fans are willing to accept the designated hitter rule and interleague play, then why should instant replay be any different?

The downside of instant replay is lengthening games that are already too long in the context of professional sports. Ideally, two hours would be a perfect length of time for an audience that has an increasingly shrinking attention span. At approximately three hours per game, baseball is already well over that ideal. Perhaps if instant replay were implemented, it could be done in a similar fashion to how it is used in the NFL, with only certain plays being eligible for review, and only a certain number of challenges per game for each team.

If baseball is wary about instituting instant replay, how about letting teams have a certain number of plays per game where they can appeal to a second umpire? This would keep the flow of the game going and not significantly lengthen games, but allow a second set of eyes to weigh in on close plays. It might not be a perfect solution, but would give some recourse on incorrect calls if baseball is unwilling to use instant replay.

Although I am not calling for his firing, Jerry Meals must be disciplined in some way for what happened. Nothing suggests that his call was malicious or ill intended, but at best it was lazy. If this were the NBA, such a call would be under even heavier scrutiny, given the sensitivity of controversial officiating calls now that the Tim Donaghy scandal has unfolded. Umpires who have reached the Major Leagues are supposed to be the best of the best, yet Meals' safe call was the worst of the worst. To protect the integrity of baseball officiating, the best thing to do would be to constructively discipline Meals and make sure that he either move forward as a productive umpire, or decide that he is ill suited to continue in that career track.

The final thought I have about this situation is perhaps the most important. Various news outlets have reported that Meals and his family have been receiving threats and harassment over the past 24 hours. ESPN even reported that they found at least two internet message boards that had published his personal contact information. 

Jim Joyce received similar treatment last year when he was in the news. This type of behavior must stop. No amount of harassment will change what happened, and most importantly, it’s not right. Everybody makes mistakes at work, but nobody deserves to pay for those errors in their personal life. Hopefully the blockheads who apparently have nothing better to do than pester a family, will receive their own just punishment in due time.

Ultimately, life will go on and baseball will continue. Meals’ inexplicable miscue will eventually pass into the annals of bad umpiring calls. Before this happens, I hope baseball takes notice and turns this into a lesson learned. Doing that will turn this from an unfortunate incident into something that could improve baseball for years to come.

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1 comment:

  1. Even though this is ancient history, a plate umpire who has worked 19 innings is tired and weary. I don't care what physical shape you're in.
    Players, at least, get to stand or sit-down, while their particular team is at bat. Andrew: You crouch and make decisions for 19 innings, and we'll see how wonderful and precise you are--you're just another couch-potato; pseudo baseball intellectual.