Tonight the MLB play-offs end, leaving us with a World Series featuring either the Yankees against the Dodgers (tell me how that one turns out), or the Houston Astros against the Dodgers, which is better. My wife’s wish for a blown ball-strike call so obvious and outrageous as well as game-deciding that baseball resolves to let computers police the strike zone did not, alas, occur.
This did, however:
In the top of the eighth inning of a crucial Dodgers-Cubs NLDS game, Dodger batter Curtis Granderson struck out. The pitch hit the dirt, and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, as the rules require when a strike isn’t caught cleanly, tagged Gunderson for the final out of the inning. Granderson argued to home plate umpire Jim Wolf that his bat had made slight contact with the ball. It didn’t. The replay showed that his bat missed the ball by at least four inches. Nonetheless Wolf, after conferring with the other umpires agreed that the ball was a foul tip. Gunderson’s at bat was still alive.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon rushed out to argue the call and was ejected. Meanwhile, the Cubs big video screen in centerfield showed the replay, as the crowd booed. The umpires deliberately did not look at the Jumbotron. After the game, Wolf watched the video and told reporters that he had indeed, as everyone already knew, blown the call.
As it happened, his embarrassing and needless botch didn’t matter. Gunderson struck out anyway. That, however, is just moral luck. The call and the umpire’s refusal to reverse it was just as inexcusable whether it resulted in ten Dodger runs or nothing. The point is that such a call could have changed the game, and the series. If it had, the screams from Chicago fans and anyone who cares about the integrity of the game would have persisted and intensified until baseball abandoned its archaic rationalization that “human error is part of the baseball,” and made use of available technology to make sure such a fiasco can’t happen.
This scenario will occur. Human beings being what they are, however, it won’t play out until a championship has been lost after a strike three right down the middle of the plate is called a ball by a fallible human umpire, and then the lucky batter hits a game-winning, walk-off grand slam on the next pitch. Then, after the horse has not only fled but trampled the barn-owner’s children, Major League Baseball will put a lock on the door.
The barn door, however, is wide open now, and the lock is available.
There is no excuse for waiting.