There’s no way Major League Baseball can completely remove the human element from the game. But its willingness to look at expanding instant replay is overdue and should be applauded.
The league is considering making all calls other than balls and strikes reviewable, which is a seismic shift for Commissioner Bud Selig, who has been sensitive to the pace of games. The league might have to add a replay official to stadiums or have the league review plays at a central location — to cut down on the time umpires walk off the field to review plays — but that can be worked out.
“Once technology and camera angles and replay screens can be equal at all 30 ballparks — that’s a concern — we are moving closer and doing a lot of looks and studies into what calls are missed the most often,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said.
Ryan is a member of MLB’s Special Committee for On-field Matters, which Selig created to look at many issues, but the group has discussed instant replay issues more than others.
According to the Sports Features Group, the replay system had been used 32 times this year through Thursday’s games. That’s up from 22 at the same time last season.
There have been some missed calls this year that have made headlines, but I want to point out three plays in recent Twins history that should fuel the movement for replay expansion:
• Oct. 9, 2009: Game 2 of the ALDS. Joe Mauer hit a line drive that landed inside the left-field foul line, but umpire Phil Cuzzi called it foul. Replays showed it was obviously fair, and crew chief Tim Tschida said after the game that it was a blown call.
• Aug. 6, 2010: The Twins believed Jim Thome hit a game-tying, two-run homer off Cleveland’s Chris Perez and felt even more strongly after watching replays of the ball hitting the railing above the home run line in left field. Umpires ruled it a double and weren’t swayed by replays. The Twins still tied the score but lost in the bottom of the ninth.
This one is included because it sounds similar to what Oakland went through on May 8 in Cleveland. The solution here is that Cleveland needs to do something about that railing — or give umps a monitor with a clearer picture.
• Tuesday: Justin Morneau was waved home on Oswaldo Arcia’s single and tagged out on his shoulder by White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, but umpire Jordan Baker missed it. Morneau then reached for the plate and was called safe. If the play is reviewable, Morneau is called out.
If the league can expand replay without expanding time of games, it should happen.
“We are trying to keep the game as pure as we can and make sure they get the calls right,” Ryan said. “The players association is the same way. They want to get the plays right.”
Managers normally bring their closers into tied games at home in the ninth inning because there is no longer a need for a closer if the home team scores in the bottom of the inning.
The Tigers no longer will do that with Jose Valverde. Nine of Valverde’s 12 losses have come when he’s entered tied games at home.
“I don’t like to use Valverde in a tied game at home, even though I’ve done it several times, because it doesn’t seem to be his forte,” manager Jim Leyland said Thursday. “It hasn’t seemed to work out too good. I might try to eliminate that.”
• • •
After taking two of three from the Twins, the White Sox were 17-21, the same record they had a year ago when they won 13 of their next 14 to rise to first place in the division and compete for the title before a late fade.
So the White Sox are hoping for the same turnaround. But with a terrible offense — on pace to score 580 runs entering the weekend — there are concerns they just won’t get it done.
Second baseman Gordon Beckham, however, is close to returning now that he’s nearly recovered from a broken hand. And pitcher John Danks is on the rehab trail following surgery.
• • •
Royals designated hitter Billy Butler raised his batting average 40 points, from .228 to .268, in three games against the Angels. His nickname is Country Breakfast. Does that mean he’s scrambling to raise his batting average?
... I’ll show myself out.
• • •
Cleveland is 11-4 this month and feeling like contenders. Carlos Santana is back to being the offensive force he can be, Mark Reynolds is providing power and even Ubaldo Jimenez is trying to live up to the hype after being traded there from Colorado. The Indians recently went 4-3 in seven games against the Tigers, Yankees and Phillies.
Three observations ...
• Cleveland’s Justin Masterson already has two complete-game 1-0 victories. That’s impressive because many managers would automatically push the bullpen button and bring in a closer for the ninth inning.
• Looks as if Francisco Liriano likes pitching in the National League. He’s 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA since coming off the disabled list.
• Anthony Rizzo is a great story. He battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma while in A-ball, survived that scare and now has cashed in with a seven-year, $41 million deal with the Cubs.
... and two predictions
• Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, already the comeback player of the year, will save 45 games in his final season.
• Brewers shortstop Jean Segura will slump some but will finish with at least a .300 batting average, 17 homers and a .875 OPS.
LA VELLE E. NEAL III