Here’s the situation: 4-4, bottom of the eighth in Detroit between the Tigers and Red Sox. Avisail Garcia lofts a fly ball to right, which Boston outfielder Daniel Nava takes a weird route on and makes a low basket catch. As he goes transfer the ball, it drops out of his glove onto the warning track. Umpire Mike DiMuro ruled it isn’t a catch, Red Sox manager John Farrell comes out to argue with no avail and is ejected. The Tigers go on to score three runs and win 7-5.
Umpiring, specifically whether or not baseball should expand replay, has been one of the big talking points this season. A play like this, where Nava clearly caught the ball, doesn’t fall in the usual categories where people complain about the umps, namely boundary calls or bang-bang plays at first base. Still, with replay, it would be easy to correct in a short amount of time assuming baseball implements a system where there is somebody in the booth to look at the play and notify the umpires on the field within seconds of the proper call — or shorter than it took for Farrell to hop of the dugout and argue.
Consider, though, the phrasing crew chief Ted Barrett used to defend the call to the Boston Globe:
“To have a catch, you have to have complete control and voluntary release. [DiMuro] had him with control, but did not have the voluntary release. When he flipped the ball out of his glove, he never got it into his hand. That’s not voluntary release.”
In a case like this, would an umpire or replay official be able to determine “voluntary release” even with the help of watching the play again? The quirks of baseball make it difficult to just plop down an arbitrary replay system and expect it to be a catch-all. There are so many different types of calls made by umpires it’ll be fascinating, once MLB approves an expanded system for replay, which will review-able and which will stick with the initial judgement on the field. As bad as mistakes like this look, baseball is doing the right thing by taking its time to explore all options for expanding replay.
More importantly, what’s one play in late June matter? As it stands today, all five teams in the American League East are two games or more over .500. The first-place Red Sox are now only five games better than both the Blue Jays and Rays who are in fourth and fifth by a matter of percentage points. Even with 162 games, a play like this could still be felt down the road in September.