MLB: Replay and Umpiring Need an Overhaul in 2021

The first month of the 2021 Major League Baseball season is in the books. But the biggest stories surrounding MLB have been about the umpiring and video replay. The two correlate with one another.

Umpires are human and will make wrong calls every now and then. That is why replay is available to correct those mistakes and get the calls right. Unfortunately MLB can’t seem to get replay correct after the call is incorrect. There have already been a number of instances this season of bad reviews and bad calls on the field. It has become a consistent theme early in the season and something has to change.

April 11 – Atlanta Braves vs Philadelphia Phillies

On April 11, the Atlanta Braves were hosting the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday Night Baseball. Tied at six in the top of the ninth inning, the Phillies had the go ahead run on third base with one out. Didi Gregorius hit a shallow fly ball to Marcell Ozuna in left field. Alec Bohm tagged and the throw was slightly off to the left of home plate. Bohm was called safe. The play went to review and after another look, Bohm appeared to miss the plate completely.

His left foot hit the ground just before home plate and hopped over the corner. Also Travis d’Arnaud, the Braves catcher, left a path to the plate for the runner until he had the ball and lunged over to make the tag. After review, the call stood as safe and that ended up being the winning run for the Phillies.

See for yourself here.

April 13 – Tampa Bay Rays vs Texas Rangers

Just a few days after the Braves-Phillies debacle there was another review at home plate in Tampa Bay as the Rays hosted the Texas Rangers. Rangers rookie outfielder Adolis Garcia was up to bat in the top of the 7th when he hit a line drive to right center. It looked like the ball was going out but it caromed off of the railing right above the fence, which is still in play. After hitting the railing, the ball flew over into center field. Garcia never stopped running and attempted to get his first career home run the hard way. He was called safe on a bang bang play at home plate and the play went to review.

The play was reviewed not only for the play at the plate but also to see if it was originally a conventional home run. MLB got the first part correct in that the ball never left the yard. But after review, the umpires overturned the call despite no definitive camera angle to warrant an overturn. In one angle, you can’t see the tag. The other angle you can’t see the hand hit home. With it being such a close play to begin with it should have stood as called on the field. Thankfully it didn’t impact the game as the Rangers went on to win 5-1.

See for yourself here.

April 26 – Tampa Bay Rays vs Oakland Athletics

The Tampa Bay Rays hosted the Oakland Athletics on April 26. With the A’s leading 2-1 in the top of the 7th, Tony Kemp was up to bat with two outs and a runner on first.

Kemp hit a pop up behind shortstop. Because of the defensive shift on the left handed hitter, Rays third baseman Joey Wendle had the responsibility of tracking the ball. Wendle may have lost the ball in the air, or just misread it, but the ball fell. Elvis Andrus was the runner on first for Oakland. He started running immediately on contact because there were two outs. The ball was in the air for quite a bit and took a huge bounce off the turf when it fell. Andrus attempted to score from first in another bang bang play at home plate. Andrus was called out and the play went to review.

This review seemed more clear than that of Adolis Garcia a few weeks prior in Tampa Bay. One camera view didn’t work because the umpire was in the way. The other camera view isn’t at a good enough angle to see when the tag touches the jersey but it still appears the tag is after the hand touches the plate. In the end, the call stood. Again, thankfully, the outcome was not impacted as the A’s held on to win 2-1.

See for yourself here.

April 28 – Milwaukee Brewers vs Miami Marlins

Just a few days after the second debacle in Tampa Bay there was more controversy in Milwaukee when the Brewers hosted the Miami Marlins. This call may take the cake as the worst of the worst. In the top of the second inning, Marlins second baseman Isan Diaz was hitting against Brewers pitcher Zack Godley.

Runners were on first and third with one out. Diaz hit a slow roller up the first base line and Godley fielded the ball, on the grass, and tossed the ball to first base for the out. On the surface the play, and the call, seemed pretty routine. Not exactly. First base umpire Marty Foster called interference, or obstruction, on Godley in relation to Diaz’s path to first base.

So much is wrong with this. Godley never left the grass during the whole play. Diaz was running on the grass which is not in the base path. Even if there was obstruction, common sense says Diaz was not going to beat the ball to first because Godley tossed the ball before Diaz caught up to him. But here’s the kicker. If Godley fields the ball 30 feet from home plate instead of 75 feet, and Diaz takes the same route to first, Godley probably hits Diaz with the throw and the runner would have been called out for being out of the base path. Some have argued the rule is technically right, and if so, MLB needs to change the rule completely and put some common sense in the rule. And of course, this play isn’t reviewable.

Godley threw two wild pitches immediately after the call leading to another run for the Marlins. The Marlins won the game 6-2.

See for yourself here.

May 1 – Philadelphia Phillies vs New York Mets

The Philadelphia Phillies found themselves in the controversy again when they hosted the New York Mets on May 1. This play may be equally as bad as Godley’s interference.

In the bottom of the seventh, game tied at four, Matt Joyce of the Phillies was up to bat with one out and Andrew McCutchen running at first base. Joyce hit a one hopper near where the second baseman normally would play. But because of the shift, Francisco Lindor fielded the ball and attempted to tag McCutchen on his way to second base before throwing to first base. He never got close enough to tag McCutchen but McCutchen was ruled out for being out of the base path.

The base runner is allowed three feet to their left and right from the line they initially establish running to the next base. McCutchen may have moved an inch and was still easily within reach of second base when he slid. MLB needs to take a hard look at this one.

Another non reviewable play that resulted in an inning ending double play. The Mets went on to win 5-4.

See for yourself here.

May 2 – Texas Rangers vs Boston Red Sox

The Texas Rangers found themselves on the wrong side of a call again when they hosted the Boston Red Sox. Red Sox utility man Kike Hernandez was up to bat in the top of the fifth when he popped up behind the plate in foul ground. Rangers catcher Jonah Heim appeared to catch the ball in the dirt near the netting. As he was turning around to face the field, he reached into his glove and the ball fell to the ground. The home plate umpire ruled Hernandez to be safe and the at bat could continue. 

Here’s another play that’s not reviewable. But after replays were shown on television, it was clear Heim caught the ball, brought his glove to his hand, and dropped it on the transfer. The umpire crew got together and the call of safe remained the same. Hernandez struck out looking on the next pitch but it should have never come to that. 

See for yourself here.

Changes Need To Be Made

Three different plays all at the plate with zero consistency on the reviews. If Garcia’s review at home is overturned then so could Andrus’. But only one of them was and it wasn’t the right one. It seems only the plays at home are tough to call on review. MLB needs more cameras at different angles to be able to see the tag and touching of the plate. Cameras can probably zoom in 300 feet from the foul poles. Put a camera on the home plate umpire in case he is in the way like in the case of Andrus. Put cameras somewhere where we aren’t guessing.

Then you have three judgment calls regarding rules and none of them could be reviewed. But based on the three reviews at home it probably wouldn’t have helped. 

Replay and reviews are a good idea in theory but it’s frustrating when leagues have the technology to get calls right and they still find a way to mess it up time and time again. And it’s equally frustrating when plays aren’t reviewable despite common sense telling everyone the call was wrong. 

MLB has a real problem with this and they need to fix it now. Not tomorrow, not next month, and not at the winter meetings. For a sport that needs all the viewership they can get, this is not a good look only one month into the season. The ball is in your court, MLB.

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You can follow Tyler Samsel on Twitter @tylersamsel.

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