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Playoffs providing examples of possible pratfalls of instant replay

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer

Austin Jackson was called out on this play Wednesday night. Would instant replay have overturned it?
Austin Jackson was called out on this play Wednesday night. Would instant replay have overturned it? (USATSI)

I have long been a major supporter of expanded use of instant replay in Major League Baseball. The technology is at our disposal, so there's no reason to not correct ridiculous mistakes by human beings doing their best to call the game fairly.

Two plays during the League Championship Series round of the playoffs this year have me worried, though, I'll admit. Not about the system as a whole -- only about a very small handful of possible circumstances.

Here's the first:

Though we've had legions of Cardinals fans sending us "proof" that Yadier Molina tagged Mark Ellis -- in the form of a two-dimensional still photo, where there's no actual way to tell if his glove is touching Ellis' forearm -- let's just assume for the sake of argument that Molina didn't touch Ellis with his glove.

Do we really, actually want this type of play to be overturned via replay and have the Dodgers awarded the run? (Quiet down, Dodgers fans and Cardinals haters -- we're trying to make a point here).

I say no. Carlos Beltran's excellent throw clearly beat Ellis, Molina held his ground, took a shot and held onto the ball. It's not like his back was turned. His glove, to many traditional baseball fans, was close enough and Ellis was rightly ruled out.

Here's what someone who played in the game had to say about it (via latimes.com):

"In the history of baseball, no one has ever been called safe on that play because they didn't tag them."

--snip--

"That would be a shame for a great defensive play like that, the great throw by Carlos, and great play by Yadier at the plate to be overturned because of a technicality that he didn't graze him with the glove."

"I hope that's something that doesn't change, because that's an important part of the game. When you're back there personally as a catcher, you're trying to secure the catch and you're not really thinking about tagging. You're trying to hold on to the ball.

"There's no umpire alive that I think would call Mark safe because he didn't get tagged right there."

That's someone from the Cardinals, right? Wrong. It's Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis.

Again, I'm a huge supporter of replay, but if it overturned something like this, I feel like we're losing something from the game of baseball that we shouldn't.

For example, what about if Molina was completely facing Ellis and bowed down to accept the impact of the hit. Let's say his glove was in his stomach area while his shouldes absorbed the blow as he was knocked backward. Are we actually going to be subjected to challenges where the umpire is looking at the monitor to try and surmise if the glove actually touched any part of the baserunners body?

I just don't want that. Sorry.

Next up, the so-called "neighborhood rule." That is, a second baseman or shortstop need not be actually touching the base when he catches the feed on the turn of a double play ball. Here's what I wrote about it in grades for Game 4 of the ALCS Wednesday night (and note the picture at the top of this post for a reference):

Rough night for the so-called neighborhood rule -- which is that a shortstop or second baseman on a double play need not absolutely, 100 percent be touching the base when he catches the feed on the turn. Look at this picture of Stephen Drew. That's him catching a feed. Look how far away he is from the base. Now, this isn't an F [NOTE: I graded the call a D] because I support the neighborhood rule in general, so long as it's close. Due to the league allowing baserunners to so blatantly take out the defender, the defender has to have a way to protect himself. So he hits the bag maybe a split second before catching the ball and jumping away while throwing to first. That's been around for generations and I really don't want that to go away. It's just that the defender should actually be close to the bag. Drew wasn't in the neighborhood here and Jackson should have been ruled safe. The good news is this didn't affect the outcome at all, as the Tigers would go on to win.

So, essentially, I normally support the neighborhood call, but I felt like Drew was too far away Wednesday night. But how do we determine what is too far away or close enough? That's up to the discretion of the umpires, in my opinion. I wish Wednesday night's umpiring crew would have said Drew was too far away from the base just as in most cases I'll be wishing that replay doesn't overturn ordinary neighborhood plays, where maybe the shortstop's foot was one inch off the bag after he touched it en route to catching the ball.

And shortly thereafter, I wondered about these two plays on Twitter:

The responses I got were pretty consistent. Most people agreed with me that we don't really want plays like Molina's possible non-tag or neighborhood calls -- within reason, of course, which Drew's play probably wasn't -- overturned due to having instant replay.

Surely there will be those who disagree and think everything should -- and always should have been -- called within the letter of the law. In nearly every case, I agree. I hate the "human element" argument as much as anyone because I think blatantly missed calls should be corrected. I usually try to approach any argument from a point of logic and reason.

In these two specific cases, though, I guess I'm too soft because I want these types of plays to remain in the game. Perhaps irrationally, at some point I feel like we're sacrificing some necessary nuance to the game. Here's hoping replay stays out of plays like these.

 
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