Video review of close plays sounds great in theory but, if and when it becomes standard practice, it very likely will force even the best umpires to refrain from using their own experience and initiative to make a bold borderline call. If this change takes place, umps actually may grow to welcome expanded replay as a simple way to avoid controversy. “By-the-book” may become the watchword, and – most importantly for us as Cubs fans – replay review and a companion reduction in umpire initiative may wind up eliminating one of the Cubs’ best hopes for ending a century of postseason failure.
The 2008 debacle shows us that, in addition to fielding the league’s best team, the Cubs also need significant breaks in order to navigate multi-level playoffs and overcome the franchise’s built-in handicaps. But while a walkoff home run, spectacular outfield play, or 13-0 victory in a playoff series opener might be more than enough to send other teams on a roll, history shows that the Cubs will need something more.
That’s right, in order to overcome decades of mismanagement and Cubbie occurrences, our team ultimately may require the help of an umpire’s honest-but-controversial judgment call – the kind of decision that gives one team a shot of instant momentum and, at the same time, cuts the heart out of its opponent – a call that might indeed level the playing field for a Cubs team that, no matter how talented, likely will enter any playoff series assuming that the worst will happen.
Sure, the lack of video review means we won’t be able to appeal bad calls that go against us but, given the rotten karma that surrounds the Cubs from the moment the team begins any postseason competition, what have we got to lose by continuing the current system of umpire discretion? Just look at how well the traditional setup has worked for others: Going all the way back to the dawn of the Wild Card Era, remember when Baltimore appeared headed for a vital opening game victory at Yankee Stadium before Rich Garcia’s call on a Derek Jeter “home run” helped the Yanks overcome nearly 20 years of team futility and begin a 15-year run of success that continues to this day?
There may be no crying in baseball, but there’s certainly no shame in accepting a little unintentional help. Very likely, even the mighty Yankees needed that extra boost from a bad call to get over the legacy of the club’s lost generation. Who knows? Without Garcia and Jeffrey Meier, the Yanks might have blown that division series while provoking George to fire Torre and order his “baseball people” to start using Pettitte, Posada, Mariano, and even Jeter himself, as trade bait.
The White Sox are another well-known beneficiary of umpire initiative, as seen in Doug Eddings’ reaction to the famous Pierzynski Bluff, which saved the Sox in 2005 just when the team appeared primed for a typical Chicago collapse – potentially down 0-2 at the Cell and headed for the abyss in Anaheim. One stolen base and a Joe Crede walk-off hit later, and the Sox knew they were sitting at the right hand of the baseball gods, ready to run the table 8-0 and bring Chicago a much-deserved championship.
So, when it was time to put that 2005 Series win on the board, were the Sox and their fans ready to t’row it back because Eddings possibly made a bad call? Were the Yankees ready to demand replay review to make sure that every step of their '96 playoff run was legitimate? Certainly, our reaction would have been no different in 2003 if Mike Everitt, instead of making the safe, by-the-book call that he did, had stepped up to call fan interference on the Castillo popup simply because Alou was set to make the catch.
Had interference been called, remembering that play seven years later might lead us to think of how Everitt’s wise and courageous decision had kept some ignorant, but thankfully anonymous, fan from destroying Mark Prior’s momentum as our ace closed out the Marlins for the NL pennant. Someday soon, the Cubs and their fans are due for a momentum-shifting call to go their way in the playoffs. Here’s hoping that when that bold call is made, it doesn’t get kicked upstairs for review.