A baserunner slides into the bag, beats the throw, touches the base before a tag is applied and then either his momentum or a virtually undetectable nudge from the fielder causes him to lose contact with the bag for a millisecond. The fielder, trained to keep his late tag on the safe runner until time is called, does so. He then motions to his dugout, telling his manager to challenge the safe call. He does so, super slo-mo replay catches that millisecond and the call is reversed. Out.
We’ve see this play a handful of times recently. Most notably in the ALDS between the Royals and Astros when Terrance Gore stole third in a key moment and, while popping up from his slide as base runners are trained to do, gave a little hop and lost contact with the bag. In that case third baseman Luis Valbuena didn’t ask for the review, but the Astros dugout had time to look it over anyway because of a stoppage in play when Valbuena was inadvertently spiked:
As I wrote at the time — and as commentator A.J. Pierzynski immediately observed at the one minute mark of that video — this is not what replay was intended to do. This is a bang-bang play, the likes of which have always happened and which have never been visible to umpires before the advent of high speed cameras and replay rules. It was not the kind of play that anyone complained about umpires getting wrong and was not the kind of play intended to be fixed by replay. Quite the opposite: it’s a dispute created by replay. An imperfection in human eyesight of which no one was aware and of which no one could reasonably be aware prior to 2014.
My beef with this, however, is not just that it’s a new thing. It’s that this sort of replay review negates what is, in reality, good baseball. In the ALDS example a fast runner on a fast team came in to change the game. And he did! He got a great jump and ran fast and slid perfectly and beat the throw and the tag but he was called out because of the sliding equivalent of throat-clearing and a little chippy business. In this case it wouldn’t have even been reviewed if Valbuena hadn’t gotten hurt due to his bad form and attempt to bend the rules with a partial base block. He and his team were rewarded for that, which makes it doubly galling. Either way, it wasn’t an isolated play. As Pierzynski noted in the video, players are aware of this glitch in the Matrix and are trained now to hold their tags longer on the off chance that they can steal an out.
Yesterday at the General Manager meetings Joe Torre talked about this sort of play and said that the league is looking at whether it’s the kind of thing that should be reviewed:
“I’ve talked to a number of managers about that, and in a lot of ways they feel it’s unfair. And yet when you’re dealing with replay and dealing with technology, it is what it is. If there’s a separation and his glove, the ball is on the runner, you can’t ignore that.
“We are going to talk about that, because there’s been a lot of inquiries about – is there any way we can sort of tweak the rule to keep that from happening? A lot of times you’re really negating good baserunning, where a guy slides in there and he’s popping up . . . Before replay we accepted the imperfections of our game, and now since replay we’re impatient with a play that may be missed.”
I’d argue that this wasn’t a case of an imperfection being accepted. It was an imperfection being wholly unknown and not troublesome to the game at all. Now that it has been detected our protocols and desire for perfection urge us to “fix” the “problem.” And in doing so we, like Torre said, are negating good baseball plays in the service of perfection.
Personally, I prefer good baseball plays over absolute perfection. Here’s hoping, eventually, Major League Baseball does too.