Calling the Command Center

Being an umpire, I’m always interested while watching a Major League game, when an appeal is made regarding a call. Umpires are human and humans are prone to error—but umpires may be less prone to error than many people assume.

If you’ve been living under a rock, MLB now allows certain plays to be reviewed upon request by one of the two teams. This change occurred when the powers that be initiated expanded instant replay during the 2014 season, thinking that it would improve the game. And interestingly, over the first season of reviewing a plethora of calls, the umpires made the right call almost all of the time. For all the ins and outs of instant replay and what calls can be reviewed, the Wikipedia entry on instant replay is really good and gives a great overview.

Fans and players have always had an adversarial relationship with officials. Both of them are far from being objective about whether the right call is being made. They have inherent bias built into their reaction to close calls, especially if that call goes against their teams, or them personally.

(8/10/2010) – James Brosher/AMERICAN-STATESMAN – Home base umpire Mike Lusky signals safe as Express first baseman Brian Bogusevic (23) slides into home plate, scoring Round Rock's first run in a game against Sacramento at Dell Diamond on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. 0811express

(Photo by James Brosher/AMERICAN-STATESMAN – Home base umpire Mike Lusky signals safe as Express first baseman Brian Bogusevic slides into home plate.

It appears that over the first season, umpires got the call right almost all the time.

Here’s what Doug Glanville, a former player (and a damn smart guy), writing for, said about umpires and instant replay.

Last season [2014] there was only one reversible call every 6.5 games. So if you are playing for any team, once a week you would see a call that was blatantly incorrect. Could it have been a game-changing call? Sure. Could it have cost you a hit? Sure. But make no mistake about it, umpires get it right — and they get it right a lot.

If umpires were getting things right so often, why expand instant replay, which MLB did for the 2015 season? I thought baseball’s higher-ups wanted to speed up the games. Requiring replay reviews, which get examined by an umpire at the league’s Replay Command Center in New York City, where the final decision is made to uphold or overturn the call, only increases the length of games.

On Sunday, I umpired a 25+ adult league game. Amateur umpires don’t have to deal with instant replay. Probably at some point, technology will rear its ubiquitous head and allow an app for this. I’m hoping I’m long gone when that happens.

On a close play at the plate, I got an “out” call (I was the plate umpire). The runner didn’t like the call, claiming the opposition player had “blocked the plate” and began quoting the rule back to me. Unbeknownst to him, I had read the SMMBL rules and I was well aware of this rule. Two things were working against his appeal. 1) In my opinion, the receiving catcher had allowed him access to the plate and wasn’t blocking it; 2) The rule pertains to blocking of the plate “without the ball,” which didn’t apply. There was one additional factor working against the aggrieved player—he was a jerk! After bitching and complaining on his way to the bench, letting me know this was the “second play I had missed,” I forcefully and professionally informed him he needed to cease and desist, or he could take the rest of the afternoon off. He was fine after that.

Umpires get the calls right most of the time. We’re a heck of a lot less biased. We are able to keep our “distance” from the emotion and hullabaloo of the call that makes fans and players crazy. You can say that we’re “less biased” than you are about the call. And even when you are a total ass, we don’t hold it against you and make the right call the next time. Another mark of being professional.

I liked what Glanville had to say about players, fans, (and even mascots)—they get things wrong a lot more than umpires do. This would be true at the amateur level, too. Ask a fan about a particular rule, and none of them have a clue about the rules. They’ll yell, “a tie goes to the runner.” Where the hell is that in print? The runner has to beat the throw, the rulebook has nothing to say about ties.

And don’t get me started about 25+ beer league players who can’t play. I’ve played a lot of baseball from four-team Podunk leagues to college-level semi-pro—I’m onto your shenanigans!


2 thoughts on “Calling the Command Center

  1. I think the game changer in the pros was the jumbotron. When the camera angle can see it, the whole stadium often gets a better lineup than the referee or umpire. I almost would rather a ref look up, see it on the screen, and then reverse the call if necessary. This NFL business of reviewing film under a curtain, footage not from the same angles as the TV cameras have, is dodgy. The MLB method? Well, if you want to speed up the game, leave instant replay out of it altogether.

    Good job keeping control of the game. For grins, watch international rugby like Six Nations. One thing I like about rugby is that it’s bred into the game, the referee is final, tough it out and play on. There is so much going on, so much of it entirely invisible to the observer, that the umpire must stay on top of, or he will lose control entirely, yet the moment his authority is asserted, all the players fall in line and play on. A little backfielder, one of those small guys who run fast and hog the ball and don’t tackle (at least, that’s what we forwards think) was at an upper level refereeing program. They took him entirely out of his comfort zone and made him ref the front line and the scrum. Never being in the scrum, he had no idea what all was going on in there that a referee had to stay in control of.

    All in all, you had a good day outside in the sun. The umpire is part of the game, too, and smart players and coaches know and respect that.

  2. @LP Replays on “border issues,” whether the ball is fair/foul, fan interference, etc. can assist officials with calls and making sure they “get it right.” However, the center field camera’s view of balls and strikes isn’t as accurate as the umpire, inches away from the pitch because it’s a different angle and look. Not sure about other sports, but umpiring is all about angles.

    I am enjoying my umpiring experience. And yes, there are no games if you don’t have officials.

Comments are closed.