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Following World Series Controversy, MLB Must Examine What’s “Reviewable”

Holbrook’s late inning interference call should not have stood.

Baseball's Home Plate by Paul Brennan is in the Public Domain

Following World Series Controversy, MLB Must Examine What’s “Reviewable”

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

The controversial interference call by umpire Sam Holbrook near the end of Game 6 of the 2019 World Series revealed a lot.

We saw a well-justified fit of rage, the likes of which you don’t often see in the postseason. We learned that we can count on Trea Turner to put people on blast when necessary.

And, unfortunately, we got to see some real ineptitude on the part of the officiating crew. For those of you who missed it, just take a peek below.

When I refer to the “ineptitude” of the officiating, I am (mostly) not referring to the initial call itself from Holbrook. Yes, it was brutal. But umpires are human, and mistakes can happen.

No, the real problem starts with an officiating system that now allows for manager’s challenges of calls- yet does not allow for the Turner play at first to be subject to review. Why? Because it’s a judgment call, apparently. Of course. Unlike a bang-bang play when a runner steps on the base at seemingly the same time the ball hits the fielder’s glove. Or when a would-be home run lands just over the yellow line painted on the outfield wall. Or not. Wait, did it catch a piece of the line? It’s hard to tell…

Newsflash. Baseball is nothing but judgment calls. Even on plays that are seemingly objective, you can’t tell me that there’s no judgment involved when an ump re-watches a play under review 20 times in a row. I just don’t buy it. The MLB should take the NFL’s lead and expand reviewable plays to include interference calls like these. Plain and simple.

A confusing contradiction

Things get even more frustrating when you look hear the explanations from the officiating crew regarding the call. The MLB Umpires Union tweeted the following in support of Holbrook’s decision:

Joe Torre, the MLB’s chief baseball officer, went the same route after the game as well. When asked about the call, he too went right for the rulebook:

“Well, he was called out because he ran, there’s a 45-foot restraining line where you’re supposed to run as a baserunner in between those lines… He ran to first base. That wasn’t the call. The call was that he interfered with Gurriel trying to catch the ball — you notice the glove came off his hand.”

Once I sorted through all the rambling, one thing jumped out at me. We were told that the Turner play is not reviewable because of it being a “judgment call”. Yet the umps and Torre are trying to sell specific rules, actual criteria for what a runner is and is not allowed to do on the base path as they defend Holbrook. So wait a minute, is it a judgment call or not? If it’s pure judgment, why wasn’t Torre’s explanation simply that Holbrook deemed interference on the part of Turner because that’s what he believed- end of story?

Time for a change

If you judge these plays on specific rules, on painted lines, and pre-determined measurements, then why in the world can the umps not take this same criteria they try to throw in our faces after the game and apply it to a replay of the call on the field during the game?

The fact that Holbrook was even looking to make that kind of call, in that spot, is ridiculous. But to be unable to correct it is a whole different problem altogether. Add in the fact that the umpire’s explanation for why the call was made actually supports the notion that these plays can and should be reviewable, and it’s enough to drive you (me, us) crazy. Umpiring these days just seems to have that effect.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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