Instant Challenges and Protests

Instant replays equal instant challenges.

The moment you ask for an instant replay, you open yourself up to everyone’s interpretation of what they have seen. You don’t necessarily ask for different points of view, yet you are bound to be bombarded by them.

This was never more true than tonight’s game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Oakland Athletics.

With the bases loaded, the Blue Jays made a hit to the Oakland first baseman, Nate Freiman. From there, as the baseball cogs moved forward offensively and defensively, a mistake unfolded that would once again raise doubts into the usefulness of instant replay. The first base umpire witnessed the Oakland fielder miss tagging Munenori Kawasaki running to second base and throwing to home plate to get the force out on Edwin Encarnacion. Or did he?

On instant replay, it was obvious that Freiman did tag Kawasaki, which would mean that the force out at home plate would not be in play. Oakland failed to even attempt to tag Encarnacion when he touched home plate, which would mean that the run should have counted.

As Blue Jays manager John Gibbons approached the umpires to ask for the play to be reviewed, many Blue Jays and Athletics fans had their say on social media about the play itself and the complications that it posed. Is Edwin safe at home? Would the Athletics catcher turn to tag Encarnacion out if he would not have seen the first base umpire call Kawasaki safe? The comments continued to build as the play was sent to New York to be reviewed by the expert panel. It was ruled that Kawasaki was out, which meant that the Blue Jays run at home would count.

As the ruling came down from on high, the comments on social media changed from what the call should be to how instant replay actually highlighted the flaw in the system. Had the call stood originally, the bases would have remained loaded for the Blue Jays without a run scored and two batters out. If the call was made correct in the first place, there could have been a double play and the Athletics get out of the inning unscathed. Neither result stood. Instead, the Blue Jays ended up with a run on a technicality.

Justice was served in the sense that the correct runner was eventually called out and the Blue Jays were not penalized by running the bases for the first base umpire’s mistake. However, as Oakland manager Bob Melvin immediately ran out, calm and collected, to tell the umpires that the Athletics would then be playing the rest of the game under protest, anyone could feel for his team’s plight.

As it turned out, the one run became superfluous as Oakland beat Toronto 4-1, but it could have turned out very differently. The run could have been the difference between the two teams. What if this was the last game of the season? What if this run meant Oakland lost the American League West title? What if this happened to other teams who needed the win to get into the post season?

To be clear, instant replay was not at fault for mistakes being made; it put Major League Baseball officials into an uncomfortable position. Without instant replay, nobody would have seen Kawasaki clearly being tagged out, which is the proper call. Nobody would have been aware that a catcher should have tagged the runner coming home if he was aware of the real situation. Would have Encarnacion slid into home to avoid a tag that never happened had the proper call been made before?

Blue Jays fans felt the call was the right call. Oakland fans felt cheated by an umpire who blew the original call. Either way, thousands of people continue to debate this unusual circumstance even as this article is being published. The fact that this play has captivated so many people, and continues to appear on sports channels repeatedly since it happened, proves how much of an impact instant replay has on baseball. Whatever your opinion on the matter, it makes you want to have an opinion.

That fact in itself is a big discussion point. It also shows how important umpires’ jobs are to get the calls right in the first place. It can be tough, as it is hard to always be right about everything. We are quick to criticize umpires and other sports referees. We all become John McEnroes, screaming at the ‘zebras’, ‘blues’, and many other nicknames that cannot be used in a public forum, to get the calls right. That is a lot of pressure and maybe we should be more careful how we spew our venom.

The Oakland game took place in a California sun that was half on and half off the field between two professional teams moving quickly as only professional athletes can. If we can forgive the players for making mistakes, why are we so harsh on the officials to be perfect? Are they not men too? Are they not flawed human beings who are prone to mistakes just like us? Maybe we should move on and hope that instant replay can continue to help the baseball system make justice for all concerned. Let’s face it: if authority figures were perfect, we wouldn’t criticize our bosses so much. Maybe we should stop holding the authority to such a higher standard and try to help the situation, instead of displacing our personal frustration onto people we’ve never met. It’s a game. Get over it.

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