Umpires can blame TV, Internet for increased second-guessing
Fox is using 20 TV cameras for each playoff game -- twice as many as usual
Ball-and-strike calls are also second-guessed by FoxTrax or TBS' PitchTrax
But commissioner Bud Selig seems reluctant to expand instant replay options
PHILADELPHIA -- The seeming increase in bad umpiring this postseason may just be a television- and Internet-created phenomenon.
Conditions have certainly never been better for second-guessing the umpires.
Baseball has endured about a dozen badly blown calls this October, many in key spots. Starting in day two of the postseason, left-field umpire Phil Cuzzi called foul a would-be, extra-inning double from the Twins' Joe Mauer. Most recently, in Thursday night's World Series Game 2, when the Phillies' Chase Utley appeared to be safe at first base but the umpire, Brian Gorman, called him out, completing a rally- and inning-ending double play, with Ryan Howard left on deck in the eighth inning of a 3-1 game.
It's hard to quantify umpiring errors for comparisons with other postseasons, but there's no question that this intense focus on the men in blue is a creation of television. At the ballpark itself, MLB policy prohibits any obvious umpiring mistake from being shown on the video scoreboard.
Mistakes are simply disseminated quicker and farther. The live TV audience is larger -- and not shrinking because of the umpiring blunders, either, as Fox's World Series Game 2 ratings were 44 percent better than the same game last year. There's a larger press corps at each playoff game, and the Internet transmits their words instantly. Video clips are easily accessible online.
Fox is using 20 TV cameras for each playoff game it broadcasts, the same as it used last year, but that's still twice as many as most networks use in the regular season.
"There's always close calls," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "I think now there's just more camera angles. I don't think it's any different than any other year."
Remarkably, baseball, which has an instant replay system in place for questionable home-run calls only, probably won't expand it anytime soon. MLB commissioner Bud Selig, speaking before Game 2, told reporters that his office will review instant replay options in the offseason, but he didn't sound eager to overhaul the plan in place.
"Times change, but I'm still in favor of keeping the human element as a part of it, and I'm also very concerned about pace," Selig said. "I think there are other ways we can make corrections. During the offseason we'll review everything.
"I've made my position clear. And, by the way, I think it's the position of most people in baseball. You have to be very careful when you tamper with a sport."
The ability to so closely scrutinize plays -- from several camera angles and at several different viewing speeds -- has created a unique situation in which the spectators know as much as, or more than, the participants. Though the umpires are standing mere feet away, their eyes can't realistically compete with a half-dozen television cameras trained in on the same play.
"When you have high-def cameras that can go in slow motion and pause, you can find a flaw in anybody," Yankees reliever Phil Coke said. "No one's perfect."
Though the most contentious calls of this postseason have been questions of fair or foul, safe or out, caught or trapped, the second-guessing can be even more intense with rulings on balls and strikes.
In addition to camera views, the home-plate umpire's body of work is subject to the second, more critical standard of FoxTrax (or PitchTrax on TBS), which uses a series of cameras to project the trajectory, movement, speed and location of each pitch as it crosses home plate.
It's intended as a viewing aid for fans watching on television but can set umpires up to fail. Fox, however, disagrees with that latter sentiment.
"I don't think that technology should influence the view of the home-plate umpire," Fox Sports president Ed Goren said. "I've heard from players over the years that they just want consistency. The technology is a guide and as long as the umpire is consistent, I don't think we are putting the umpires in a difficult position. It's simply our cameras, and the cameras basically don't lie."
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