Umpires deserve due for poise under pressure
What matters most is crew made right call on disputed play in Game 1
BOSTON -- In the end, the umpires got the call right. Game 1 of the 2013 World Series was decided by the players, not the men in blue. Nothing else matters, right? How they got from here to there is irrelevant. That's the bottom line in all of this.
When all was said and done, the umps should be proud of how they handled the whole thing -- how with millions of people watching, with television replays having already showed the world that the original call was wrong, the umpires huddled with one another after Red Sox manager John Farrell asked for a review of the call.
They helped out one another and got it right. They showed enormous grace under pressure. Can you imagine standing out there in the middle of the diamond attempting to sort it all out as quickly as possible, knowing that people watching at home knew what they ought to do? The umps could probably tell by the crowd reaction that plenty of people inside Fenway Park also knew the original call was wrong.
And the umpires did their jobs smartly. When the Red Sox and Cardinals left Fenway Park on Wednesday night after Game 1, neither side had a complaint. Boston had won, 8-1, and that was that.
What could have been a huge story, an embarrassing story, became a moment for this umpiring crew to show why it was assembled to work baseball's crown jewel event. These are the best of the best.
Umpiring has never been as difficult as it is now. High-definition television has allowed every fan at home, every announcer, every player and manager, to get a crisp, clear and fast picture of almost every single call. At times, the umps are the only people who don't know exactly what has happened.
So they step onto the field knowing that every decision is going to be evaluated instantly. When they make mistakes, it's worse than ever, because the players and managers let them know about it quickly and loudly. And that ratchets up the tension.
Game 1 was a reminder that the umpires overwhelmingly ultimately get the call right. Throughout the season, we tend to remember the plays they got wrong, as they're replayed again and again and as we watch the clipped, angry postgame soundbites from the managers. Those bad calls become such a focus that we forget that the quality of the umpiring is extraordinarily high, and that only a tiny percentage of plays are missed.
Game 1 was also a reminder of why likely expanded use of instant replay is going to be such a welcome addition to Major League Baseball in 2014. Had it been in use in Game 1, there would have been clear, fast proof that second-base umpire Dana DeMuth had gotten it wrong when he called Dustin Pedroia out at second base in the bottom of the first inning.
Cards shortstop Pete Kozma never had control of the throw from second baseman Matt Carpenter, and they would have needed about 10 seconds to reverse the call and send Pedroia back to second base.
Regardless of whether the reversal would have been triggered by one of the umpires or a replay official or by the Red Sox challenging the call, it would have taken far less time than changing the call in Game 1 took.
We would have been saved from Farrell trotting onto the field for an extended pleading of his case. And after the umpires conferred and after they reversed the call, there would have been no reason for Cardinals manager Mike Matheny to be out there arguing.
Instead, we almost certainly would have had a replay official correcting the call almost instantly. And there won't be those delays as umpires leave the field to go watch a replay and figure out what the call should have been.
Game 1 ended up being a nice day for the men in the blue. They corrected a bad call, and they did it exactly the way it's supposed to be done. When the umpires gathered around DeMuth, it was their way of letting him know they'd indeed seen the play another way.
With the whole world watching, they talked it over and got it right. These umpires are proud men, competitive men. They're every bit as accomplished in their field as the players and managers are in theirs.
Every single one of them will tell you that getting a call wrong is an incomprehensibly sick feeling. Thanks to the incredible advances in technology, their mistakes are more magnified than ever.
Thanks, too, to the new technology, they should soon have a safety net. They'll still occasionally miss a call, but when they do, there will be a system for getting it right. That's what instant replay almost certainly will give baseball in 2014.
In Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday, we saw the umpires at their best in a tough situation. Next season, those tense, uncomfortable huddles on the diamond should come with an important helping hand. Getting the call right, which has been the only goal, is going to be easier.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.