In Pittsburgh the other night, the Milwaukee Brewers’ ace pitcher CC Sabathia threw what he and his team thought was a no-hitter. Alas, a slow roller near the mound in the fifth inning by the Pirates’ Andy LaRoche was scored a hit by the official scorer, rather than an error, as the Brewers later argued.
Later argued? Indeed: The Brewers took their case to Major League Baseball, whose Scoring Review Committee upheld the official scorer under the Official Rules of Major League Baseball, and Rule 10.01(a), to be precise:
The League President, after considering the evidence submitted and any other evidence he wishes to consider, may request that the official scorer change a judgment call or, if the League President concludes that the judgment of the official scorer had been clearly erroneous, may order a change in a judgment call.
Clearly erroneous? That legal-sounding phrase got me thinking about standards of review and about the variety of standards that baseball has invested itself with when resolving disputes. When does making the right call trump other interests in finality, and who should make those calls?
By long-standing tradition, a lot of on-field disputes are resolved by the players themselves. Baseball is among the most norm-intensive sports in this respect. Don’t show up the other team’s pitcher, lest you have a fastball aimed at (or near) your head; crowd the plate, get brushed back; etc.
The umpires, of course, are the arbiters of last resort when it comes to balls and strikes (in fact, arguing balls and strikes is often assumed to be the quickest way for a manager to get ejected), whether a batter or runner is out or safe, and whether a run was scored. Unlike official scoring decisions, which are reviewable “judgment calls,” at least in theory these are unreviewable questions of right and wrong.
Juxtaposing those two standards exposes an obvious paradox. Major League Baseball recently dipped its toes into territory already explored in greater depth by the National Football League, the National Hockey League, and professional tennis, among others. Umpires’ judgment as to fair balls and foul balls, formerly part of the umpires’ exclusive domain, now fall into a different category. Baseball now has a limited form of “instant” replay, video review of disputed plays, which is applicable only to disputed home run calls. According to a Major League Baseball press release, the umpire crew chief (usually the senior member of the umpire crew at the game) will decide whether to review a tape of a questionable call, and the crew chief — not the umpire who made the call — will decide whether to reverse a decision.
Here is the most interesting sentence from MLB’s release:
The decision to reverse a call will be at the sole discretion of the crew chief. The standard used by the crew chief when reviewing a play will be whether there is clear and convincing evidence that the umpire’s decision on the field was incorrect and should be reversed.
Once instant replay review is invoked, whether or not the call has been reversed, neither club will be permitted to further argue the decision. A player, manager or coach who continues to argue will be treated in the same manner as one who argues balls and strikes.
So, instant replay will support reversing a call if the video shows “clear and convincing evidence” of error. Presumably, MLB is trying to avoid the quagmire created by the National Football League’s replay policy, which I believe currently requires “incontrovertible visual evidence” of error.
Set aside the semantic and epistemological questions implicit in both standards (but which are, I suspect, pretty interesting in themselves!), note that the umpire’s decision on review remains, itself, essentially unreviewable. Arguing the call, in fact, is grounds for ejection! That’s finality for you.