Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: Making the Right Call on Wrong Calls

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know him as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book Brett Favre’s Top Ten Best Retirements. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! You can also follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

This is one of my favorite times of year. Watching the leaves change color. Seeing the kids off to school again (the ones still in the house, anyway, and the ones still talking to me). The fun of not knowing if my Kia will start once the temperature drops below 55 degrees.

Best of all, I love October baseball. But my enjoyment of the first round of the playoffs was ruined this year. And no, it wasn’t because those darn Yankees won again! And no, it wasn’t because my wife knocked over the TV when she stumbled home in the dark at four in the morning. In fact, something about the way it hit the ground made all the colors on the tube turn different shades of dark purple, which was kind of interesting.

phillcuzzi.jpgThis year, I couldn’t enjoy the postseason because so many people were complaining about the umpiring! Everywhere I turned, it was “how could you possibly blow that call” this and “these umps should be fired” that. Maybe I’m just a forgiving sort, but I’ve always believed that those who have never called a guy out at first who was safe by a foot should cast the first stone.

I’m not saying mistakes weren’t made. But I’ve heard some people say that we need to expand instant replay, and that’s just insanity. They added instant replay to the games this year on home run calls, and it totally ruined the mystique of the game. There used to be intrigue on every long ball hit down the lines, as you wondered whether the umps would call it correctly or not. And it wasn’t just on close calls, either. No, you had to hold your breath on homers hit seven rows deep on the second deck! I guess that mystery is gone from the game forever now!

Some people say that umpiring mistakes could be overturned quickly and definitively with instant replay. As if the point of umpiring is to get things right! The umpire’s job is to act as the authority figure on the field, and serve as the thick black line between baseball and chaos.

Umpires have to call the plays as they see them, or think they saw them, or as they think should have happened while they were daydreaming. And then, when the manager comes storming out of the dugout, they must stand there and insist they are right, no matter how unsound their reasoning might be. And if the manager presses the issue, they must eject that manager, so that he can go back to the dugout and punch a Gatorade cooler with all his might and wind up on SportsCenter.

This is the majestic ballet that makes the sport we love possible.

I think we’ve all forgotten something in this modern world of speed and convenience. Umpiring mistakes are a time-honored baseball tradition. Don Denkinger in 1985. Richie Garcia in 1996. Rick Reed in 1999. Can you imagine what would have happened if we robbed ourselves of these treasured memories, just because we were in such a rush to get things “right”?

And even if we do institute replay, who’s to say it will even work? I hate to make sweeping generalizations, but technology has never done anything good ever. Take my newspaper, for instance. A while back, they started compiling all the stories and images and ads “electronically” on something called a “server”, instead of typesetting all this stuff by hand. It was supposed to be quicker and make everything easier, they said.

Well, what do you guess happened? One day, without warning, the server shut down and we couldn’t put the paper out for a week! And all because I tried to forward the editor-in-chief this important-looking email from some Nigerian prince.

Instant replay could work well every time. Then again, it might not. But when it comes to umpires, I know that they blow calls. We could take a system that is definitely imperfect and replace it with one that just might be imperfect. Can we really take that chance?