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Upon further review, no review needed

Some still don't know if Matt Holliday touched the plate in Colorado's 9-8 win over San Diego in the NL wild-card tiebreaker. Even replays were inconclusive. Some still don't know if Matt Holliday touched the plate in Colorado's 9-8 win over San Diego in the NL wild-card tiebreaker. Even replays were inconclusive. (MARK LEFFINGWELL/REUTERS)
By Mike Schmidt
For The Associated Press / October 25, 2007

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"Holliday tagging at third, there should be a play at the plate . . . the catch, here comes the throw . . . he dives . . . he's safe! The Rockies are headed to the postseason! But hold your horses . . . Padres manager Bud Black has thrown the review flag."

It sounds surreal: A celebration is halted as a team recoils in the dugout. Can you imagine the shock?

Ever since that play ended the National League wild-card tiebreaker and raised the debate of whether Matt Holliday ever touched the plate, the subject of instant replay in baseball has become a daily topic.

With the World Series beginning last night, the technology available and the stakes as high as they are, why wouldn't baseball accept a fail-safe opportunity to protect itself?

In that Colorado-San Diego game, there was another questionable call. What looked to be a home run for Garrett Atkins on replay was simply allowed to stand as called on the field, a double.

More recently in the American League Championship Series, Manny Ramírez lifted a two-out fly ball to right-center that carried to the wall. It also was ruled in play after a long huddle by the umpires. The lethargic Ramírez "hustled" that into a single, but that's a subject for another time.

With replay, both plays would be reviewed, and if evidence was indisputable, reversed.

Let's now add another play to the mix - fan interference, as happened when the infamous Steve Bartman got in the way of Moises Alou's catch in the 2003 NLCS at Wrigley Field. Did he reach onto the playing field, or was the ball coming down in the stands? Replay would show it.

But please, no conclusions yet!

Since the beginning, baseball has endured and enjoyed one element that is part of the game's fabric - umpires.

They are unique characters. We wonder about them. Why would anyone want to be an umpire? Yes, the pay and benefits are good, the travel is first class, the locker room facilities are five-star and the hours are perfect.

But you not only are hated every day by 30,000 people, you have to stand in one spot for four hours without a break. Sure, there are worse jobs.

In fact, many umpires and referees have become celebrities. Getting celebrity status because of a bad call that affected a championship game, that's no good.

Think of Don Denkinger's missed call at first in the 1985 World Series, which gave Kansas City a second chance to win the championship. Bruce Froemming's safe call at first in Game 3 of the 1977 NLCS killed the Phillies' World Series hopes.

One more I can't leave out. Some say the 1980 NLCS between the Phillies and the Astros was the most exciting series ever. In Game 4, there was a play that was called wrong that very well could have decided the outcome, but luckily it didn't.

With runners on first and second, Garry Maddox hit a soft line drive back at pitcher Vern Ruhle. He short-hopped the ball and in a panic, mistakenly threw to first. This was obvious to all of us in the dugout who had the perfect side angle to see the play.

The problem was that plate ump Doug Harvey reacted to Ruhle's mistake and raised his arm. From his view it looked like a catch. Our guys were on the move and the Astros argued for a triple play; we thought it should be one out, with runners at second and third.

Harvey and his crew huddled, decided that the catch would stand and ruled it a double play. They said the original call had confused the runners. Replay would have shown the short hop.

OK, enough famous wrong calls. For every one of those, there are thousands of correct ones that are verified on replay. The opportunity to correct the critical incorrect calls is available to baseball, but there are serious obstacles.

Baseball officials will cite game momentum, stiffening of pitcher's arms during delays, and the tradition and history related to the role of umpires. They don't worry about any of this when Lou Piniella stops a game for 20 minutes to argue a call.

Let me give you the real reason instant replay and baseball could be a difficult marriage.

In baseball, unlike football, the umpire's ruling many times is part of the continuance of the play.

What if in a future World Series Game 7, the winning run is on third with one out and a soft line drive to an outfielder is ruled a short hop by the ump, allowing the runner to score the championship-deciding run without tagging up?

Then they go to the review and clear evidence is shown it was a catch. What now? The call is reversed and it becomes a double play because the ump signaled "no catch." If the correct call were made, maybe the runner would have tagged up, maybe not. The umpires are now put in a real bind, trying to determine what would've happened. Imagine them calculating the player's running speed, the outfielder's arm strength, the weather and so on. The World Series championship hinges on this call! Wouldn't it be easier to trust the umpires?

Tough call? Here's how it could work.

Each manager gets two challenges per game, one to be used before the seventh inning and one after. A challenge can only be used to review fair or foul calls and fan interference - questionable home runs and short-hop plays can be challenged, too, but only if there are no base runners.

I would also consider one judgment play that could be reviewed - out or safe calls at first base - but only after the seventh inning, and with no other runners.

Nowadays, stadium TV cameras are fixed and focused, making process for review simple. The umpire crew chief goes to a monitor behind home plate and looks for indisputable evidence that the call should be corrected.

Oh, yes, the umpires will have to check their egos and understand, like football officials, they are human and sometimes get the play wrong.

Even if replay and baseball get together someday soon, umpires will still be subject to critical calls at critical times. The amazing thing is they get it right 98 percent of the time. The issue is clearly that in today's sports megamoney environment, with so much at stake, should the human element be the final judge?

Upon further review, the game stands as is!

Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt hit 548 home runs and was a 12-time All-Star before retiring in 1989.

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