Let's Be Sure Correct Calls Are Made

ALSO: WHY OTIS NIXON'S COCAINE SUSPENSION HURT BRAVES IN '91 SERIES

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

Jim Rice is the only man in baseball history to enjoy three consecutive seasons with 35 home runs and 200 hits . . .

When Ted Turner bought the Braves on Jan. 15, 1976, the price tag was $10 million . . .

Adam Wainwright leads active pitchers with 49 extra-base hits . . .

When Hoyt Wilhelm threw his first professional pitch, Sandy Koufax was in kindergarten. When he threw his last, Koufax was in the Hall of Fame.

Leading Off

A Simple Way to Get Calls Right and Speed Up the Game

By Paul Semendinger

I have never been against instant replay in sports. The ultimate goal should be to get the calls correct. It was a shame that Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game on a clearly missed call. It was terrible that the Cardinals probably lost a World Series in 1985 for the same reason. I might even say that the Yankees won a playoff game in 1996, with the aid of a missed call on a long fly to right field (that wasn't quite long enough) off the bat of Derek Jeter.

Baseball's goal should always be to get the calls correct. Always, without exception.

Well, with one exception.

I am not a fan of the super-ultra-milli-second-by-milli-second reviews that show a player being tagged out because his foot popped off the bag for that fraction of a second. When calls get that precise, that's not in the best spirit of the game.

In essence, those calls are correct — his foot was off the bag — but baseball also was never a game that was expected to be that precise. Get the calls correct, but let's also keep a sense of reasonableness about this. (I think a solution to this is to review plays in real-time or even time, but if a play can't be changed with reasonableness without going to the microscopic level, it should be left to stand.)

But while I want baseball to primarily get the class correct, one thing I have always been against is giving teams a certain amount of challenges. The purpose of giving teams challenges is to create a gimmick. It is not, clearly, and absolutely, to get all the calls correct. This is an absolute fact because once a team uses up its challenges, even if a call is made incorrectly, they cannot question it and it will not be overturned. The challenge rule, by design, allows for missed calls to stand.

What the challenge rule does is create talking points, discussions, and statistics (and in this case, meaningless statistics). The challenge rule allows commentators, writers, and fans to debate whether or not certain calls should be challenged. It creates new narratives for the game ("Do you waste a challenge early in the game?") while not, at all, promoting the idea that all calls should be correct.

A manager might not use his challenge at a certain point in a game in order to save it for when he might need it later. All of this promotes discussion, no doubt, but it is not designed as part of the rule's supposed original purpose — to get the calls correct.

As for the challenge statistics, I don't need to know that a manager gets 87% of his challenges overturned or that he has used up his challenges 11% of the time. Who cares? What does that have to do with the play on their field? All of that, I argue, just makes the whole premise a gimmick.

The worst part of the instant replay rule as it stands now is that, when used, it slows down the game in the worst possible way. No one wants to watch a group of umpires standing around with headsets on as nothing happens on the field. Talk about boring!

There are plenty of times when the viewers at home see the replays time and time again, and know the correct call already, while they await the decision-makers in New York on the other end of those headsets to issue their final decree.

Of course, before we get that enthralling theater, we see the replay a few times as the manager tells his batter to not step into the box or the pitcher to now throw the ball as the team's video technician makes an initial assessment as to whether or not the challenge should be made in the first place. For the most part, at that moment, in spite of the delay in the game, we already know the outcome of the decision.

To all of this, I have a simple but very effective solution that is patently fair, reasonable, not focused on gimmicks or discussion points, and gets the calls correct almost always, again without the milli-second, frame-by-frame nuances of extremely close plays.

I know how to speed up the game, eliminate challenges, and get the calls correct. I have been advocating for this since the original replay rule was put into place. The answer is so simple and easy. It improves the game. And take almost no time to implement. All it would require is one more umpire...

The answer to the replay dilemma is to have a fifth umpire at every game. This umpire should be on hand, in the stadium, and watching the game in real-time on a series of television monitors. This umpire would have a real-time connection, via headsets, with the home plate umpire. The fifth umpire, the in-booth arbiter, would review every single close play (but not in milliseconds) to determine if the call on the field was correct.

The vast majority of the time, that would take place almost instantaneously. This umpire would know, just as the technician in the dugout knows, and just as the fans know at home, if a call was made correctly. If it was, the umpire would alert the home-plate umpire to keep the game moving ("Play ball, the call was correct") or to hold the game up for a moment or two longer to allow for more reviews of the play. That would happen in real-time.

Most often there would be no delay. Most often all would forget that there is a replay taking place. It would just happen. But, there would be peace of mind, from all, the managers, players, fans, commentators, and umpires alike, knowing that the calls, all of the calls, not just the ones challenged, were correct.

Gone from the game would be challenges. Gone would be meaningless talking points. Gone would be statistics that mean nothing. And gone would be the images of a bunch of decision-makers standing around with big headsets on while the game drags to a halt.

[Editor’s Note: Bravo!]

Paul Semendinger, Ed.D. is an elementary school principal in Ridgewood, New Jersey. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Start Spreading the News, a blog about the Yankees and award-winning author. Dr. Semendinger's unique history of the Yankees, The Least Among Them, will be published in October 2021.

Cleaning Up

Otis Nixon’s Drug Suspension Tilted Balance of Power in 1991 World Series

By Dan Schlossberg

Good pitching stops good hitting but does not stop speed.

That’s why Otis Nixon was such a valuable player for the worst-to-first Atlanta Braves of 1991.

Acquired for a song at the end of spring training, Nixon had both the best and worst years of his 17-season career in ‘91.

He enjoyed career peaks with a .297 batting average, 72 stolen bases, and a record six stolen bases in one game.

But he also violated baseball’s drug policy, resulting in a September 16 suspension that knocked him out of the World Series – the first for the Braves since they played in Milwaukee.

That suspension allowed the Minnesota Twins, also a team that went from last place to first place overnight, to win a World Series that went beyond the normal seven-game maximum (Game 7 went 10 innings).

There were five one-run games, three Mark Lemke triples, multiple clutch homers, and a postseason pitching match for the ages in the 10-inning, 1-0 finale featuring future Hall of Famers Jack Morris (complete game) and John Smoltz (who left in a scoreless tie).

Lonnie Smith, reviled as the villain by Braves fans, did commit a historic faux pas in the eighth inning of the last game. On first after a lead-off single, he headed for second as Morris unleashed his next pitch. Terry Pendleton, who would be the league’s MVP that year, pounded the ball to left-center but Smith, running with his head down, saw neither the ball nor the third-base coach.

Chuck Knoblauch distracted the runner by pretending to feed the ball, which he did not have, to shortstop Greg Gagne. The ruse worked as Smith, who could have scored easily, stopped at second.

By the time he realized the ball was still in play, he only had enough time to scamper to third. With runners on second and third and nobody out, Minnesota needed a ground ball. Ron Gant obliged, with Smith holding at third. David Justice drew an intentional walk, setting up a potential inning-ending double-play. Predictably, Sid Bream, the slowest runner in the league, hit a grounder that produced a first-to-catcher-to-first DP, ending the inning.

Things could have been different had Nixon not been suspended a month earlier. He had stolen a club-record 72 bases in the first five months and made a habit (pun intended) of driving rival pitchers to distraction. The Braves also missed the speed of Deion Sanders, the Opening Day left-fielder and lead-off man, who was spending the team’s unexpected postseason playing football with the Atlanta Falcons.

Nixon never got a chance to veto the Twins, allowing Smith to fill the position he had earned as a regular after starting the season as a fourth outfielder and pinch-runner. As a result, the Braves got more power but more problems (Smith hit the only postseason grand-slam in Braves franchise history in Game 5).

Nixon’s suspension cost him $103,168.60 of his $850,000 salary but cost the Braves much more.

It would be four more years before Atlanta would win its first and only world championship.

A switch-hitter who played for nine different teams while battling drug issues throughout his career, Nixon was a .270 career hitter with only 11 home runs but 620 stolen bases – an average of 59 for every 162 games. Nobody playing today comes close to those figures.

He landed in Atlanta on April Fool’s Day 1991. Because the Braves and Expos shared West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium, Atlanta was quick to scoop up Nixon after Montreal decided he wasn’t going to crack (!) their roster. Coupled with minor-leaguer Boi Rodriguez, Nixon went to the Braves for Jimmy Kremers and Keith Morrison. During his four years in Atlanta, the fleet center-fielder stole 186 bases and made a spectacular leaping grab of an Andy Van Slyke drive that is still called The Catch by Atlanta partisans.

HERE’S THE PITCH Weekend Editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is a national baseball writer for forbes.com, senior writer for Latino Sports, columnist for Ball Nine, contributor to USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and author of 38 baseball books. His e.mail address is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Atlanta radio station WSB aired 53 Braves games in 1965, a year before the team transferred from Milwaukee . . .

Bartolo Colon was older when he hit his first home run (42 years, 349 days) than Hank Aaron was (42 years, 166 days) when he hit his last home run . . .

New Yankees starter Corey Kluber and Mets ace Jacob deGrom both played college ball at Stetson University in Florida but not at the same time . . .

When the Oakland Athletics deployed Herb Washington strictly as a pinch-runner in 1974, he stole 29 bases and scored 29 runs but was caught stealing 16 times. Of his runs scored, 13 either tied the game or gave the A’s a lead.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.


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