The Common Man found this in the course of researching another piece, and thought it was particularly relevant today. Last night, home plate umpire Jeff Nelson inexplicably called Roy Halladay’s foul bunt a fair ball, setting up the Phillies with runners on second and third with one out. Earlier this week, umpires refused to confer and review a Robinson Cano homerun, even though Nelson Cruz was mauled by fans as he went up for the catch. And, of course, the umpiring in each of the division series had some equally appalling moments. This has, rightfully, renewed the call for instant replay in baseball.
We tend to think of this as a new movement, one that is predicated on the new technology available to crosscheck umpire decisions and to finally “get it right.” What tends to get forgotten in this whole debate is that the proliferation of cameras and replay technology is not the first technological advance that has made review possible. And, indeed, the concept of reviewing umpire decisions is probably as old as photography itself. Indeed, as Lar of wezenball.com reminded everyone last week, bad calls are nothing new in baseball. Neither, it would seem, is the call to eliminate those bad calls.
In 1952, the Yankees were playing the Dodgers in the World Series (yet again). In game 5, two calls at first base infuriated the Bombers, and left them on the verge of elimination. In the 8th inning, Gil Hodges hit a grounder to Phil Rizzuto, who threw to 1B Johnny Mize. Umpire Art Passarella ruled that Scooter’s throw pulled Mize off the bag, however, and called Hodges safe. Carl Erskine, strangely, was allowed to bat for himself next, however, and grounded out to end the threat. In the bottom of the 10th, however, Johnny Sain also batted for himself and sent a grounder up the middle. Jackie Robinson went far to his right and threw to first, where Passarella ruled him out.
The Yankees fumed. Mize told reporters, “When you see umpiring like that it makes you want to quit. My foot was on the bag when I took that throw. And Hodges was two feet off the base when Sain crost first base. Why, you could have driven a wheelbarrow between Hodges and the bag on that play. Passarella missed both plays and won’t admit it.” Billy Martin, not surprisingly was also up in arms, “It’s the worst umpiring I’ve ever seen in my life.” Sain was surprised at the call, too, “I was amazed when I finally learned I was out. I thought I had beaten the throw by three feet.” Manager Casey Stengel held back his criticism, asking reporters, “You saw it, what did you think about it?”
Fortunately, or unfortunately for Passarella, photography had advanced to the point where photographers were able to capture the incident, so that reporters could revisit it and answer Casey with an informed opinion. The photos to the right are two angles on the Sain play. Hodges’ foot does appear to be on the base, but Sain also appears to be well past the bag as Hodges has caught the ball.
Impressed by the photos, United Press writer Carl Lundquist reported that
“Next Year for the World Series and perhaps for key games during the regular season, baseball may adopt an idea from horse racing and install a ‘photo finish’ camera at first base to double check the umpires. The idea definitely is under discussion, not because of…Art Passarella…but because top flight arbiters for some time have felt that they are placed on the spot and needlessly when close plays develop. Before the regular season ended, one veteran umpire stated that he had brought up the proposal and that it had received a very favorable response…. He explained that the use of a camera would not be feasible or practical for most plays, but that it would be ideal if set up exactly parallel to first base where many close plays develop and where the umpire there often is out of position to make a call…. It was pointed out by the umpire and by other baseball men that there would not need to be a delay of more than a minute or two before a picture that would either prove or disprove a decision at first base could be made.”Gosh, that sounds familiar.