Joe West’s maverick replay review: a wrong that was ultimately right

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By now you’ve probably heard about the big Joe West/replay/fan interference call that took place in the sixth inning of the Phillies-Marlins game yesterday. This was a wonderful set of occurrences because it marries at least three of my personal hobby horses: Joe West bashing, instant replay and Phillies fans. If steroids were involved somehow I probably would have had to have been hospitalized yesterday.

So here’s the video of the play. Probably worth watching it first so we can all agree — and I think we can all agree — that yes, that was a case of fan interference.* But the fan interference itself was not really the critical thing here. Joe West’s use of instant replay to overturn the original call of a double is what really turned this into an argle bargle/foofaraw.

The replay rules say that home runs or potential home runs are reviewable. As the play went down, no one — and here I mean the announcers and the people watching the game live and tweeting about it — thought this was a potential home run call being reviewed. Nor did Charlie Manuel. They all thought this was a defensive play (i.e. a double or a fan interference call) being reviewed, which would seem not to be a reviewable call. So, Joe West reviews it, calls Hunter Pence out and everyone freaks about Joe West cowboying his way into a call that should not have been.

Except after the game West told reporters that this was, in fact, a potential home run call being reviewed. He said that home plate umpire Chad Fairchild thought that the fan interference could have prevented the ball from being a home run, thus rendering the review appropriate. Manuel contends that no one was talking about it being a potential home run when everyone was arguing about it on the field, suggesting that the potential home run contention was a post-facto thing by the umps in order to validate their call. The Phillies have protested, of course. But given that an umpire will be on the record in his report saying that the review was of a potential home run, I’m pretty sure that the protest will fail.

But the protest is not terribly interesting to me. It’s not going to change the fact that the Phillies will win the division. And even if it succeeded, it may be a bad thing for Philly given that they’re already playing 26 games in the next 24 days. Sure, everyone would love to get Roy Halladay another win if possible, but when are they supposed to replay this one if the protest is upheld?

No, what really jazzes me about this is how clearly it illustrates the lame artificiality of the current instant replay rule.  About how the umpires are technically allowed to look at a play if X, but are not allowed to look at and review the very same damn play if Y.

From what I can determine, the validity of this call is based on whether Joe West thought he was reviewing a defensive play or a potential home run. But on what planet is a sane replay system governed by what happens to be in Joe West’s head the moment before he looks at the video monitor?  Why should a call that was ultimately correct even be considered improper based on the premise of the review? Right is right, right?  This rule is akin to one that says a police officer assigned to traffic duty can’t do anything about it if he sees a robbery happen on the corner 20 feet away.

Baseball can’t continue on with this kind of silliness. The calls should be correct, and if a video review can help the umpiring crew make the correct call — even if it’s not a home run call — that’s all that should matter.  And if it takes Cowboy Joe West being Cowboy Joe West for someone in a position of authority to finally own up to this and expand replay, I’m just fine with that, thank you very much.  Only Nixon could go to China, and only an umpire of Joe West’s particular charms can show the ridiculous inherent in the system.

 

*Interference by a Phillies fan, it’s probably worth noting. And I note it because some folks who were sending me tweets about this yesterday were saying stuff like “fan interference on the road screws the Phillies!”  No, my friends, if the Phillies were screwed here it was not by some Marlins fan. It was because of an event that was kicked off by a Phillies fan who couldn’t resist messing with a ball in play.

Miguel Cabrera has two herniated discs in his back

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Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera underwent an MRI which revealed two herniated discs in his back, MLB.com’s Jason Beck reports. With six games remaining in the season, if Cabrera plays again, it will be as a designated hitter.

The back issues shed a lot of light on Cabrera’s uncharacteristically subpar season. He’s batting .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI in 529 plate appearances this season. He carries an adjusted OPS of 92, which is eight points below the league average and 14 points below his previous career low set in 2003 with the Marlins.

Cabrera, 34, is signed through 2023 and is owed a minimum of $192 million through the end of his contract.

MLB managers weigh in on anthem protests

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No other Major League Baseball player has taken a knee during the National Anthem since Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest on Saturday night. The demonstration was sparked by President Donald Trump’s call for the boycott of the National Football League and the firing of any player who chose not to stand during the anthem. The comments drew harsh criticism from many NFL players, coaches and owners and more than a few in MLB have also lended their support. There is still one game left to play on Sunday, but it’s unclear whether any of Maxwell’s league-mates will show their solidarity by refusing to stand as well.

Given a baseball culture that tends toward conformity more often than not, it seems unlikely. But it’s something league managers are prepared for — even if they don’t all agree with the demonstrations themselves.

White Sox’ skipper Rick Renteria specifically addressed Maxwell’s protest on Sunday, speaking to the league’s policy of inclusivity:

None of the White Sox knelt prior to their series finale against the Royals. Neither did members of the Pirates or the Cardinals, though St. Louis manager Mike Matheny and Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington both weighed in on the situation.

Matheny called the president’s comments “hurtful” and, like the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, appeared content to leave the decision to protest up to each player.

The Pirates, meanwhile, took a firmer tone. “We appreciate our players’ desire and ability to express their opinions respectfully and when done properly,” GM Huntington told Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When done appropriately and properly, we certainly have respect for our players’ ability to voice their opinion.”

Just what the Pirates consider “appropriate and proper” protocol was left up in the air, and club president Frank Coonelly offered no further insights in a separate statement to the press. Setting strict parameters for players to voice their opinions kind of puts them in a gray area, one they’ll have to clear up should someone elect to protest in the days to come, either with a bent knee and a hand over their heart or in some other fashion.

Equally ambiguous were comments from Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who claimed to oppose the movement for personal, if misguided reasons, but also respected the right of his players to make an “educated” statement in protest.

The Indians’ Terry Francona took what was perhaps the most balanced approach of the entire group:

“It’s easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Well, I think this is the greatest country in the world,’ because I do,” Francona told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “But, I also haven’t walked in other people’s shoes. So, until I think, not just our country, but our world, until we realize that, hey, people are actually equal — it shouldn’t be a revelation — and the different doesn’t mean less. It’s just different. We’ve got work to do.”

These may all be moot points. Maxwell may be the only player to formally protest Trump’s comments, despite the good intentions of his teammates and fellow players around the league. Others may feel too ambivalent, threatened or uncomfortable to protest what the A’s catcher referred to as a “racial divide,” especially in a way that is routinely perceived as unpatriotic.

Even if the protests made by NFL players and Bruce Maxwell fail to gain momentum, however, the underlying issues they speak to are not going away anytime soon. Here, then, is where MLB managers can help foster a more inclusive environment throughout the league, not only by showing respect for a player’s decision to stand against racism but by actively partnering with those who do so. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.