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Botched call accentuates replay’s fundamental flaws

Brandon Crawford hit an obvious home run, but it was incorrectly ruled a double after a four-minute review. Why MLB must change its approach to replay or risk losing fans.

St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

It’s been the law of the land at AT&T Park since it opened in 2000. It’s a simple and straightforward ground rule, and it took 10 seconds to confirm online:

A fair batted ball that hits the green metal on top of the right field wall at AT&T Park is a home run. Giants players and coaches know it. Their broadcasters and fans know it.

Apparently, however, a presumably qualified umpire in New York didn’t know it, even though it’s been the rule for 18 seasons.

His incompetence was on full display Thursday night, when Brandon Crawford’s two-run home run was inexplicably ruled a double by the anonymous authority figure some 3,000 miles away.

Here are some still images of the home run in question:

We see a fan reaching over the edge of the seats, but not past the green metal on top of the wall, to catch the ball in flight. Remember, any batted ball that hits the green metal in fair territory (including the part that’s painted yellow) is a home run.

Knowing that ground rule, we can immediately see that the fan did not reach onto the field of play. The review should have been a question of fair or foul. It was pretty obviously fair, and the review should have lasted ten seconds.

Instead, it took over four minutes, even though this was the only game going on at the time. As time ticked away, those familiar with AT&T Park’s ground rules grew increasingly restless.

Mike Krukow, the Giants’ television color announcer, said, “I seriously do not get this... I think they don’t know the local rule... People are booing and they have every right to.”

When the ruling finally came from New York that there was “definitive” fan interference and that Brandon Crawford must return to second base with an automatic double, Krukow was justifiably livid:

That’s a joke. That is a joke. And look at the look on the Giants’ faces. This is an absolute joke... How could they say it’s a ground rule double? The Giants are irate... That is such a bad call, that I can’t even believe it. Phil Nevin is talking with Mike Everett, saying, “You do know the local rule, right?”... It’s a bad call. They blew it. Every Giant player knows the rule, and apparently they don’t in New York.

When Krukow said “look at the look on the Giants’ faces,” this is what he was talking about:

The Giants dugout reacts to Brandon Crawford’s home run being incorrectly ruled an automatic double because of fan interference after a four-minute replay review.

Crawford eventually (and reluctantly) made his way back to second base. Meanwhile, the fan who caught the ball and his partner were ejected from the stadium and stripped of the baseball. Crawford did not score, and the Cardinals won the game 5-2.

Crawford answered questions from reporters, including NBC Sports Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic, after the game:

I was told that the fan reached over the fence and that it wouldn't have been a home run. I would love to see that camera angle, because every single person at the park knew that was a homer. There's no way there's conclusive evidence that it wouldn't have been a homer. For somebody to reach onto the field of play in right field, they would have had to lie down flat and have somebody hold their feet. It’s crazy that somebody 3,000 miles away could make that call. It's about making the right call, and the right call wasn't made.

Manager Bruce Bochy echoed his shortstop’s frustrations:

They were wrong. A fan can’t reach there. It was a terrible overturn there. It shocked all of us. That’s a home run taken away from Craw. Would it make a difference? You don’t know... It really wasn’t even close, so that’s why we were all stunned they overturned it.

The call was so wrong, in fact, that major league baseball felt compelled to issue a statement about it the next day:

At least the league said something? It would have been infuriating had they simply ignored this blatant injustice, or, worse, stood by the decision.

So they did issue a statement, but it was decidedly insufficient. There was no mention of how they would right the wrong (what about Crawford’s stats? What about the young man and woman who were ejected?). There was no mention of the specific umpire or umpires at fault, or what (if any) disciplinary action would be taken. There was no explanation as to how such an egregious error could be made.

There remains an unacceptable and alienating lack of accountability from the league when it comes to umpires generally, and replay specifically. Major League Baseball does make public the eight umpires on two crews who are assigned to instant replay each week, but that isn’t nearly enough. Someone needs to be held accountable. Expressing “regret” accomplishes very little.

Baseball’s current replay system, wherein all decisions are made from one office in New York, is inefficient at best. It seems obvious that the staff there could be overwhelmed by having to deal with multiple reviews at once, either slowing down the process or forcing umpires to make hasty decisions in order to avoid big backups.

It doesn’t make much sense either that someone in New York should preside over games taking place thousands of miles away, especially in the late innings of games out West, which routinely go past 1 a.m. in the East.

There’s another replay command center in San Francisco, but it functions as a backup to the New York center. Why not build other backups, and utilize the one in San Francisco for games taking place within the Pacific and Mountain time zones?

Even better, why not have a replay command center in every MLB stadium, and have a dedicated replay umpire for each game, one who can devote his or her full attention on the game at hand, and is accountable (in person) after the game?

This suggestion seems like a no-brainer, yet MLB instead chooses to operate under a veil of secrecy and withhold the names of those who make some of its most crucial on-field decisions. They claim to be gravely concerned about pace of play, but replays under the current system often take far longer than they should.

Fans are disgruntled. Players are disgruntled. It was far from a given that MLB would even issue a statement about the botched home run call on Thursday. The league’s apparent unwillingness to publicly acknowledge its flaws in detail are a black eye for the sport. These issues must be dealt with if baseball wants to usher in a new generation of fans and keep the ones it has.

We’ll leave you with some of the reactions on Twitter to Thursday’s botched review:

Something has got to change.

Ben Kaspick is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score and RotoGraphs, and the owner-operator of CoveCast, a saber-slanted San Francisco Giants podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @benkaspick or @Cove_Cast.