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Puffing In the Playoffs 2010

Cigar Aficionado's guide to enjoying cigars in baseball's postseason.
Alejandro Benes
Posted: October 5, 2010

It seems no one much believes in going to the videotape. After winning a game with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth to clinch the National League Central division and make the playoffs for the first time in a decade and a half, the Cincinnati Reds celebrated in their locker room with the usual bubbly and with cigars handed out by the team owner. The celebration, including the puffing, was broadcast on local TV.  

Everyone watching saw players smoking cigars.

After receiving five phone calls complaining about the smoking Reds, the Cincinnati Health Department's spokesman said, basically, the video doesn't count. "The health inspector has to actually see someone smoking."

There's a perverse correlation between the stance of the Cincinnati Health Department and the blind eye Major League Baseball (MLB) is turning on what the video is showing. The health inspector will follow up, but it's unclear if MLB will consider reforming the system and holding accountable—really accountable—bad umpiring.

On the last day of the regular season, the San Diego Padres played the San Francisco Giants in a game that would decide the winner of the National League West. Andres Torres led off for the Giants in the bottom of the first and hit a ball that clearly—clearly—landed on the left-field line. Fair ball. Except the umpire called it foul. After about a couple minutes of protest and discussion, the call stood. The call cost the Giants a run.

If there's a unifying thread to the 2010 season, it is blown calls. If you need any persuasion to endorse greater use of video review, just think about the blunder made on June 2 by first-base umpire James Joyce as he called safe the 27th Cleveland Indians batter faced by Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga. Galarraga had faced the minimum 26 batters to that point, pitching a perfect game. On TV, live and at full speed, the blown call was clear. A replay in slow motion made it even clearer. And the call stood. The umpire later apologized and shed some tears, having denied a pitcher the ultimate accomplishment. The next day, Galarraga took the lineup card out to Joyce, who was that day's home plate umpire. Galarraga was forgiving, even voicing support for Joyce. Joyce was on the verge of tears, again.

Nice sportsmanship, but who cares? The gentlemanly behavior of the two did not correct the call. A study by ESPN of 184 games played between June 29 and July 11 showed that umpires missed 20 percent of what were identified as "close calls." Why can't baseball commit to getting it right?

"Part of the game," traditionalists argue. Why should it be? "It's the human element," offered a friend who would actually make a very good commissioner of baseball. Yes, but the "human element" that should count—the only human element that should count—is that of the players on the field. The umpires should be invisible and not only when they're good, but always. That's my argument and I'm sticking to it.

To that end, I'm also proposing that not only "boundary calls" on home runs—fair or foul, homer or ground-rule double—be reviewed relying on video from numerous camera angles, but that line calls and calling balls and strikes be left to video review or a machine. Tracking technology—think tennis and hockey—now used in baseball to train pitchers and give feedback to umpires, and sometimes to show on national TV (ESPN's "K-Zone") how bad a call the umpire has made, works well and can be fine-tuned to gauge different strike zones for taller and shorter players. The technology's "judgment" could be heard by the home-plate umpire who would relate the call to the players and the crowd by signaling upon hearing the "beep" for strike and the "buzz" for ball.  The strike zones would become consistent within the game and from game to game.

The use of technology might have let us know quickly during the game of September 15 between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays whether a pitch hit Derek Jeter or the bottom of the knob of Jeter's bat. The latter, it turns out, as shown by numerous replays and confirmed by Jeter himself, but only after the game and after the ump's call of "hit by pitch" awarded Jeter first base. The shortstop really should have gotten an Emmy.


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