By The Common Man
The Common Man is not generally one for conspiracy theories. Indeed, his general answer to members of the tinfoil-hat brigade is that they need to get off the internet and back on some medication. That said, did anyone else notice that, during TBS’s coverage of the Rays-Rangers game last night, there were relatively few replays of close plays? And did you notice that the announcers did not spend a great deal of time talking about potential missed calls? In particular, The Common Man remembers two close plays that directly resulted in runs scoring.
After play-by-play announcer Don Orsillo (I think it was Orsillo) commented briefly that “I guess you could make an argument that maybe he wasn’t [tagged] in that look,” color analyst Ron Darling covered for Young, saying “But the reaction from Young was to immediately turn around and go to third, so my feeling is you can’t fake that. He must have felt like he got at least a swatch of Bartlett’s clothing.” After that, TBS never showed the replay again, nor did they comment on it, allowing Darling to have the last word, despite the fact that this play would have given Tampa a 2-1 lead. Again, controversy surrounding a scoring play was completely forgotten within one minute of the play ending.
Of course, Darling’s assertion that Young’s reaction can’t be faked is ludicrous. Whether it’s Derek Jeter pretending to be hit by a pitch or Chuck Knoblauch making a phantom tag at 2B, quick thinking ballplayers have always been able to fool umpires by reacting exactly as though they had made the play the umpire expected them to.
In the sixth inning, the Rangers had runners on 1B and 2B with one out, when Ian Kinsler grounded a pitch to 1B Carlos Pena. Pena threw to Bartlett to start a double play, and Bartlett’s relay to David Price, who had moved to cover first, was strong. But Price had trouble finding the bag, and Kinsler was called safe. A single subsequent replay suggests that Price may have beaten Kinsler to the bag. In the video, and the screengrab to the right, it’s clear that Price has the ball before Kinsler gets to the base, and seems to turn his ankle as if his foot bumps up against the bag. After turning to look at the umpire to protest the safe call, Price becomes aware that Vladamir Guerrero is still running, so he turns and throws to the plate. The play at the plate is also pretty close, but it looks to The Common Man that Guerrero got in under Kelly Shoppach’s tag.
In looking at the replay, Buck Martinez says, “Kinsler might have been out.” Then, again, the broadcast continues without additional replays or discussion about a key scoring play.
The Common Man is left to wonder why TBS would ignore such an obvious storyline in its broadcast of Game 5. And The Common Man is also left to wonder what other camera angles were available to catch the action. These were two prominent scoring plays that would have loomed over the final result until the 9th inning, when Kinsler hit his two run homer. Indeed, going into the 9th inning, the score would have been 2-2, though it’s hard to imagine Joe Maddon managing any differently at that point. To have such a brief mention of the possibility that the calls were wrong, and no additional replay is incredibly strange.
To The Common Man, it suggests that perhaps TBS was asked not to make a big deal out of potentially missed calls. This would seem to jive with an earlier play in the San Francisco-Atlanta series, where Buster Posey was clearly out at 2B, but announcers refused to acknowledge it, in spite of the video evidence to the contrary (and Posey saying after the game "it's a good thing we don't have instant replay). If this is the case, it seems likely that the commissioner’s office has made conscious decision not just to ignore the loud cries for expanded instant replay, but to tacitly suppress them by denying these voices additional evidence with which to make their case.
There’s a lot of “ifs” in that paragraph above, and The Common Man isn’t very comfortable with it. TCM thinks Commissioner Selig and his cohorts would definitely like people to stop talking about an expanded video review format, and surely the only way to stop that is for people to stop seeing the need for that. But it’s a bit of a jump to suggest that they are conspiring with networks to reduce the number of close replays (though they’ve done it at Major League stadiums around the country, so as not to embarrass the umpires), simply because networks have an inherent interest in stoking controversy unless they have a compelling reason not to.
So where does this leave us? Vigilant. Pay attention to plays in the upcoming ALCS and NLCS, and to how Fox and TBS address close plays, particularly those that contradict the umpires. If poor umpiring continues to be an issue in the playoffs, as it has all year, we’ll have our answers soon enough.