Initial systems are rarely perfect. We find out over time that best intentions were impractical or that unforseen scenarios are gumming up the works.
We expect to see a lot of this in 2014, when MLB implements a broad instant replay system, trumping a system that currently is limited to home run calls.
We didn't, however, expect to see the problems arising already in 2013. But if you slogged through that ugly, marathon Twins game last night, you saw exactly that.
Minnesota already trailed 8-1 when Gardenhire was ejected for an unusual play that began as a foul ball. The A’s complained that the bases-loaded line drive off Jed Lowrie’s bat, which forced Miller to leap into the air to avoid being hit, had actually clipped the foul line as it landed behind him. The umpires conferred, and awarded Lowrie a double, sending two runners across the plate.
Gardenhire grew more irritated as he argued, and finally earned the 67th ejection of his career and fifth this season.
The best part was that as soon as the call was reversed, we knew Gardy would get ejected. There wasn't even a question.
The worst part is that this is exactly the type of call that will be reviewable next year, and it will send us into a world of the imagined.
A ball initially called fair that is overturned as foul is easy to fix. Everyone goes back to their bases and it's a strike. But a ball called foul that is overturned to be fair is a conundrum. Everything stops after the ump's arms go up. Everything beyond that is an assumption, just as the one that was made last night in awarding Lowrie a double.
Is it better, in the grand scheme, to get the basics right -- that the ball was fair (as it was, though barely, last night, which appeared to be determined by examining the chalk line) -- and reward the team that would otherwise be penalized by an incorrect call? We suppose, yes. But we also have a major problem with a system that is going to get most of a call right and leave the rest up to educated guesswork.
Lowrie probably would have had a double. Two runners probably would have scored, with the other stopping at third. But this says nothing of slow runners, fast runners, poor fielders, weird hops, oddly shaped ballparks or good/bad throws to bases. All of these things come into play after the ball lands fair or foul.
In a game of inches, we might never get comfortable with a game of "probably" that begins in earnest next year.