After blown call costs Pirates, can we please have expanded replay?

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I hope that if the Pittsburgh Pirates miss the playoffs this season, it will be by more than one game.

The Pirates, who at 53-48 trail the NL Central-leading Cardinals by one game, were handed a 4-3, 19-inning defeat early Wednesday morning when Atlanta’s Julio Lugo was called safe by umpire Jerry Meals on a not-so-close play at the plate.

(Watch the video here)

Lugo was awarded the run despite the ball arriving to Pirates catcher Michael McKenry several feet before he did. He was called safe despite McKenry standing out in front of the plate as he tagged Lugo. Lugo didn’t even touch the plate until after McKenry turned to show the ball to Meals.

There is no guarantee the Pirates would have won the contest. Lugo would have been the second out, and the Braves would have still had runners on first and second. But Meals’ call put an end to a game that had no business ending, and the whole thing looked like the actions of an umpire who was ready to go to back to the hotel and go to sleep.

To his credit, Meals spoke to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman after the game and more or less admitted that he blew the call.

“I saw the tag, but he looked like he oléd him and I called him safe for that.  I looked at the replays and it appeared he might have got him on the shin area.  I’m guessing he might have got him, but when I was out there when it happened I didn’t see a tag.

“I just saw the glove sweep up. I didn’t see the glove hit his leg.”

Now I’m not one who spends a lot of time complaining about umpires, as it’s largely a frustrating and fruitless exercise. The umpires have a difficult job. They have to judge whether fleet-footed players are safe or out on the base paths, and whether bullet-like fastballs and filthy breaking balls are in or out of the strike zone. Errors are going to be made, and I believe that over the course of a marathon season, the calls tend to even out.

But at some point there has to be some accountability. The explanations of “oh sorry, I might have blown that call,” start to ring hollow after a while, especially when the technology is there to help them get it right. Yes, the umpires make mistakes. But some of these mistakes don’t have to happen.

Bud Selig is not thrilled about the idea of expanding instant replay. But if he needed a watershed moment to give him the necessary kick in the rear, perhaps this is it.

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New Jersey legislators call MLB’s request for a cut of gambling proceeds “laughable”

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As we’ve noted in multiple posts in recent weeks, the legalization of sports gambling across the country is imminent. Indeed, it could come as early as next week, once the Supreme Court rules on the case brought by New Jersey to overturn the decades-old sports gambling ban.

As we’ve also noted, MLB and the other leagues are pressuring states to get a cut of the proceeds once gambling is legalized. Their argument — which is spurious in the extreme — is that the leagues will have a much harder time maintaining the integrity of their sports once sinful gambling comes out of the dark and into the light. As such, they argue, it’s morally incumbent upon the states to throw some of that money to the leagues so they can, I dunno, hire chaperones or den mothers or something. It’s all very vague, but the leagues are calling their sought-after cut “integrity fees,” and they’re lobbying state legislatures hard to get the new gambling laws written to include them.

Last month I wrote about how in West Virginia, Rob Manfred’s effort to get that cut wasn’t going so well. Today at NJ.com, Brent Johnson writes about how things are going in New Jersey:

[New Jersey] legislative leaders have balked at the leagues’ request for a fee, three sources with knowledge of the situation told NJ Advance Media. One source called the proposal “laughable.”

This is shocking. I mean, what are the odds that a Park Avenue lawyer couldn’t walk into New Jersey and successfully shake down guys for gambling money? Woulda thought that’d go super successfully, actually. I’ve gotta rethink everything TV and movies have taught me about trying to get gambling money out of dudes from Jersey.

Laughs aside, in the end I suspect Manfred’s gambit will pay off in more places that it doesn’t, mostly because public officials have always been sort of star struck and strangely intimidated by professional sports figures. Many states will kick back some of that gambling loot to the leagues and the leagues, in turn, will kick it back to the team owners, because that’s where all of the money goes, always.

But I do hope state legislators continue to at least make it hard and somewhat embarrassing for Manfred and his friends to get their share. In the words of noted gambling expert Bernie Bernbaum,  “I wanna watch you squirm; I wanna see you sweat a little, and when you smart me… it ruins it.”