TORONTO - Everybody, it seems, feels sorry for Jerry Meals. Meals became the latest poster child for expanded use of video replay in baseball this week with his colossal blunder in the 19th inning of a game between the Braves and Pirates, both of whom are fighting for a playoff spot.
Without dredging up all the sordid details, Meals was umpiring at home plate and called a Braves runner safe at home when the runner had clearly been tagged out by the Pittsburgh catcher. Game over, after six hours and 39 minutes.
But this isnít so much about Meals. Leading up to his error, both the Pirates and Braves had made dozens of errors trying to end it. Between them, the two clubs went 4-for-34 with runners in scoring position. The Pirates struck out 20 times. Thirty-nine runners were left on base. The point is, Jerry Meals isnít the only guy in uniform who screwed up big time.
You can make a case that the Pirates were victimized but, in the process, so was Jerry Meals who is just sick about his mistake. Players and managers on both sides were quick to cite his reputation as a fine umpire who, in that one moment, failed to live up to the impossible standards set for him.
The problem for baseball rests with its stubborn refusal to add another layer of video replay that would cover off umpiring mistakes made at any of the four bases. Itís not a complicated process, nor does it have to be a serious delay of games.
Umpiring crews now consist of four men. All MLB needs to do is add one more to that number. The fifth umpire sits in a booth somewhere in the stadium, electronically equipped with the ability to see every possible replay angle.
Whether the process involves managerial challenges or is initiated by the fifth umpire, is simply a matter of protocol. Controversial calls would quickly be reviewed. As it is in football or hockey, if there is no compelling evidence of an error, then the call stands as made on the field. If the video evidence warrants, then the play is reversed.
In a minute, maybe two, the situation could be dealt with and a correction could be made if necessary.
Some sort of system is inevitable and the sooner the better. Many fans and a lot of baseball executives fear that the gameís charm will be lost with each electronic advancement but, do you not think that the gameís tall thinkers 100 years ago would have embraced such technology if it was available?
Every Jim Joyce moment or Jerry Meals moment just brings it closer to reality.
IRABU A PIONEER
Hideki Irabu never lived up to the hype but he remains one of the pioneers, a trailblazer whose billing as the Japanese version of Nolan Ryan led dozens of Japanese players to the major leagues.
Irabu died this week in Los Angeles of an apparent suicide.
Irabu was signed by the Yankees in 1997, armed with a 98-mph fastball and a reputation as a strikeout pitcher. His star fizzled after three years in the Bronx. He bounced to the Montreal Expos and then to the Texas Rangers. After that he went back to Japan where he played for two more teams. His last foray into organized baseball was at the independent league level in California.
Irabuís wife had recently left him, taking their two young daughters with her and Irabu was said to be despondent.
Word out of Boston is that the Red Sox are anxious to add a pitcher because they are concerned that Clay Buchholzís back problems are structural and not muscular and may keep him out the rest of the season ... Speculation in Chicago has Tony La Russa going back to the White Sox, where he began his managerial career, in 2012 if the Cardinalsí push for a championship fails this year. More speculation has Ozzie Guillen leaving the White Sox to go to Miami to manage the Marlins ... On June 10, Brewersí utility infielder Craig Counsell went 3-for-4 to raise his batting average to a season-high .236. Since then, Counsell is hitless in 41 at-bats spanning seven weeks and 27 games. With Counsell struggling and All-Star Rickie Weeks on the shelf for perhaps the next six weeks, the Brewers are in the market for a second baseman.