I must admit that it took about five looks before I was convinced that Adam Rosales’ fly ball hit the railing and not the wall, so I can somewhat sympathize with the umpires’ reluctance to overrule themselves. But the whole situation cries out for a better solution.
First, putting a yellow line on the outfield fence and saying that anything above that line is a home run is just inviting this kind of situation. Put a plexiglass barrier up instead of the railing and say the ball has to clear the plexiglass to be a home run. That would eliminate 90% of the guesswork in these situations.
Half the ballparks in MLB have ridiculous ground rules like this that force the umpires to make judgment calls. The guy who made the call was running out from second base, so when the ball hit the railing he was probably more than a hundred feet away. Once he turned his back on home plate he would have lost the trajectory of the ball, so there was little chance that he actually picked it up again and saw it hit the railing. If the home run wall is a solid vertical barrier that that ball must clear for a home run this would have never happened.
Once the initial call was made, the umpires should have been able to see their mistake and fix it. But is it realistic to ask someone to reverse their own call? I play soccer, and I can look at any play I am involved in and give you a rules interpretation that favors my team. It’s just human nature. An umpire is going to be inclined to uphold his original call rather than admit a mistake. Lately, in fact, we have seen several instances of umpires letting their egos get in the way of the integrity of the game, such as the ejection of Bryce Harper and the David Price kerfuffle. So I don’t have much confidence that these guys are going to man up and say, sorry, I blew that one.
I believe the situation calls for an impartial auditor, such as what the NHL has to look at goals. This person sits at the league offices in Toronto, and every time a goal is scored he reviews it and says yes or no. In baseball, each game has maybe five calls that are close enough to merit a second look, and 98% of the time the second look confirms the original call. The other two percent require a third look, and that look should happen regardless of whether the manager argues or the crew chief has the guts to question his mates. The replay guy could be in the press box or at the league offices, but he should be able to look at a replay of every call except balls and strikes within 10-15 seconds of the call being made (which in most cases means before the next pitch is thrown) and decide if there is reason to review further.
Even in the two percent of calls that need reviewed, I would expect few to be overturned. My philosophy has always been that if you haven’t decided a review within thirty seconds, the original call should stand. You don’t want to end up with a situation like the NFL where the ref stands under a hood for ten minutes trying to get every call perfect. That shouldn’t be necessary in baseball anyway, because the calls are not as complex. Calls should only be overturned if the original call was clearly blown, and if you need to look ten or fifteen times to make your decision, you don’t have conclusive evidence of a blown call, so let it stand.
If I was in the replay booth for Rosales’ home run, would I have overturned the original call? Like I said, it took about five looks before I was convinced. But I was looking at it through the biased eyes of an Indians fan and on a TV where the HD comes and goes. If it had been my job to get the call right and I had the proper tools, I think I would have gotten it right. But that really points to the need to eliminate as many of these judgment calls as possible by making the definition of a home run more obvious. Imagine if the three point line in basketball hovered about four feet above the court, so that whether a shot was worth three points was determined by where your chest was rather than your feet. Would that lead to more bad calls? This is about as logical as that would be.
Buster Olney says that Bud Selig should declare the game tied and it should resume at the point where the home run was disallowed. That’s a shaky precedent to begin, because in most games there is no clear way to say what would have happened if the call had gone the other way. In this case, it would not be right for Chris Perez to be forced to repitch the remainder of the top of the ninth. If Selig were to declare the game tied and resume it at the middle of the ninth and the Indians ready to bat, I could live with that.
The other thing that needs to be stated clearly is that this did not cost the A’s the game. Even if Rosales had been awarded the home run, the A’s would have had to shut out the Indians in the bottom of the ninth, score in the top of the tenth, and shut out the Indians in the bottom of the tenth. That sequence has about a one in three chance of happening, so anyone who says it would be a tragedy if the A’s miss the playoffs by one game would be presupposing events that were far from certain.