Major League Baseball finally approved expanded video replay for play in the 2014 MLB season. For a game slow to embrace technology on the field, this is a huge step. It won’t change the way we watch the game or the way it is played, but it might alter the outcome of some games. Some very big games.
For fans of losing teams in years gone by, video replay is too little, too late. Fans or players who lost on disputed or bad calls can only dream of a different world where the umps got a call right.
Let’s run down some of the world calls in baseball history but with a twist – how would video replay have changed the way this game was played? What would be the aftermath of these corrected calls?
Retroactive continuity or “retconning” is a term often used in fictional works like comic books or video games. Basically, it presents an alternate version of previously established events. (Like in Back to the Future.)
By creating an alternate universe in which video replay existed all along, we can retcon the outcome of some well known blown calls. Is life better for these victims of umpire error?
6. The Armando Galarraga Perfect Game
This blown call by veteran umpire Jim Joyce robbed Armando Galarraga of his chance for immortality. That was the story in 2010, anyway. Video replay would quickly correct this error and, yes, Galarraga’s name would echo throughout eternity with the likes of Tom Browning, Dallas Braden, and Phillip Humber.
Sadly, Galarraga’s career trajectory does not change at all if this one call goes the other way. He was a marginal guy then just as he’s a minor league invite-type guy now.
What is missing in the parallel universe is legitimate empathy and respect for Jim Joyce. Watching the above video of Joyce running off the field and getting earfuls from the Tigers players, I feel…things. Watching the below video I feel moisture leaking from my facial region.
If video replay means Armando Galarraga shows up on a different section of the same wikipedia page (while his baseball future remains very much in doubt) but we’re robbed of the grace, humility, and dignity displayed by both Joyce and Galarraga – well, let’s just say I prefer the dark ages every time.
5. The Triple Play That Wasn’t
Pretty simple – even in the days before high definition, this call is corrected with a quick look at the video replay. While this event might be seared onto the brains of all Canadians of a certain vintage, the actual outcome of the call was rather insignificant.
It took place in the fourth inning of a scoreless game. While Devon White‘s terrific, unforgettable catch prevented two runs from scoring, by the time Toronto got around to chasing Deion Sanders back to second base, the scoring threat was all but over. Pitcher Juan Guzman struck out the next batter, Lonnie Smith, to end the inning.
The Blue Jays went on to win this series, just as they do in our retconned alternate universe. Despite the best efforts of their manager, the Jays missed triple play ends up as just another footnote in history. Even with the ever-expanding playoff structure, the next postseason triple play will be just the second in history. If only Kelly Gruber gave up the ball…
4. The Wild Card Infield Fly
Sure seems like the Atlanta Braves keep showing up on this list, don’t they? The poor Braves were the victims of a goofy call in the very first wild card play-in game, losing an out and a base runner thanks to the aggressive infield fly call at a crucial moment against St. Louis.
Sadly for the Braves, video replay cannot save them, either. Because while the new instant replay rules include just about every call under the sun, infield fly calls ain’t one of ‘em.
So the Braves remain today as they are in the alternate universe – left to wonder what happens if Jason Motte comes in to face Brian McCann with the bases loaded on one out rather than with a base open and two down.
3. The Matt Holliday Chin Game
Two star crossed teams in dire need of a break. The Rockies were the recipients of this good fortune, riding their amazing “Roktober” run all the way to the World Series.
Video replay would absolutely fix this travesty after a few careful looks. Matt Holliday did not touch home plate and would be called out (thanks to Michael Barrett for applying to tag even though the game was ostensibly over.)
In the alternate reality? Brad Hawpe steps in with a runner on first base and two outs. The Padres walk Hawpe for the fourth time, bringing up the pitcher’s spot. Despite a complete inability to get anybody out, Trevor Hoffman manages to retire whomever the Rockies can drag off their bench.
The game drags on and on into the night, reaching 18 and even 20 innings. There are no pitchers left in the bullpen, all the food is on the table. It is a stalemate.
Suddenly, with Troy Tulowitzki batting in the 21st inning, an act of divinity delivers a walkoff home run. The Rockies continue on their chosen path. Once again they are thrashed in the World Series by the Red Sox as it is part of a greater plan, greater even than instant replay.
2. The Livan Hernandez Game
There are blown calls and then there is a blown assignment. The Livan Hernandez Game, as it might well be known, shows what happens when an umpire blows one call after another from behind the plate. Hernandez struck out 15 Braves in this semi-famous start from the Florida Marlins first championship march.
It was long known as the worst ump’d game of all time. The called strikes were egregious, appearing miles off the plate as Gregg rung up Bravo after Bravo.
There is no video replay for balls and strikes so Gregg’s shame must live on forever (though Gregg died in 2006.) But as Jeff Sullivan showed at Fangraphs last year, the retcon began at the dawn of the pitch fx age. We, as baseball fans, now know how badly the off-center camera skews perception of the strike zone. We now know how much bigger the strike zone is for left-handed batters, no matter who’s pitching. We also know that Livan Hernandez gets a bigger strike zone than most pitchers.
We also know that Greg Maddux struck out 10 Marlins that same day and the Livan Hernandez still coaxed 15 swinging strikes out of the Braves hitters.
So maybe this game doesn’t belong on this list at all? No. It surely does. There is no video of this game online for a very specific reason.
According to baseball reference, a Gregg called a whopping 37 strikes for Livan Hernandez. The Braves fell behind in the series before losing Game Six while the Marlins went on to win their first World Series title.
In our retconned universe, one with greater umpire accountability, the Braves win this game behind the sparkling Greg Maddux. They take the series in seven games and meet a high-powered Cleveland Indians club in the World Series.
In reality, Livan Hernandez won the World Series MVP in 1997, despite allowing 25 base runners and eight runs in just 13 2/3 innings. In our alternate reality, Cleveland runs roughshod over Atlanta , avenging their 1995 series defeat. Cleveland’s first championship in eons rejuvenates the city. Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome both spend their entire careers in Cleveland until Manny Ramirez promptly retires at 33 to host a talk show on Telemundo. It becomes the most popular late night chat show on television.
Lebron James grows up loving his local club rather than the Yankees, though his love of basketball is replaced by a profound love of football. James goes on to become the greatest tight end in NFL history. Wearing a helmet rather than headband speeds up his legendary balding process, bankrupting Nike. The Northeast Ohio becomes the new silicon valley, as billionaires buy up waterfront property along Lake Erie.
1. The Jeffrey Maier Game
A plucky rookie by the name of Derek Sanderson Jeter, batting ninth for the famous Yankees of New York, establishes his lore with a clutch home run in the eighth inning of the ALCS. That is the reality as we know it. Jeter had four hits on this day, en route to his first World Series championship and the first world title for the Yankees since 1978.
Fan interference falls under the purview of the new replay rules, so this would most certainly not be a home run. Perhaps the umpires award Jeter second base after watching video showing Jeffery Maier touch the ball and essentially pull it over the fence. Perhaps they call him out.
Either way, retconning this play opens a dark chapter into human history.
Derek Jeter does not claim his rightful place in Yankee lore. His famous desecration away from the field crumbles as he is plagued by self-doubt, missing the confidence this clutch home run provided. Scandal after scandal ruins his on-field productivity and renders him just another utility player by 2001.
Jeter eventually leaves New York, bouncing around the National League before retiring as a slap-hitting left fielder in the Reds organization. The Yankees, the current industry leader and billion dollar juggernaut, fall from grace after a full generation without a championship. George Steinbrenner eventually moves the team to Montclair, New Jersey after receiving a sweetheart stadium deal.
But without Derek Jeter, the Yankees wither and die in the North Jersey swamp. The ripple effect is swift and crushing. The Red Sox grow fat and lazy without their rivals, trying to buy titles and until they fall into receivership. The Tampa Bay Rays, the only team desperate enough to innovate, become the most successful franchise in baseball history. They win an unprecedented eleven World Series titles in a row. Bud Selig is removed from office, a group of old guard National League clubs such as St. Louis and Chicago splinter away to form its own independent baseball league after the designated hitter rule is implemented league-wide to save the flagging sport.
Baseball, as we know it, dies in 2011. The Montclair Yankees are disbanded after gamblers accuse them of throwing the 2010 World Series. Florida secedes from the union to the delight of all in 2012. On April 1, 2017, a zombie plague nearly eradicates the entire North American population. The outbreak traces back to the ruins of the Kingdome in Seattle. Edgar Martinez is established as patient zero. Life on Earth is never the same.
All baseball fans can look forward to a better season in 2014. Accuracy is what really matters. These colorful chapters from baseball’s past are fun to look back on but more and more appear like relics of a bygone era. Here’s to a new era of transparency and zombie hordes!