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Umpire fails

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Blunders by MLB's on-field officials

Baseball probably has more purists than any other American professional sport. The game is deeply connected with its own history; that sort of historical connection inevitably leads to staunch resistance to the idea of change.

But the hands of the game's powers that be may just have been forced.

There have been a number of incidents in the recent past involving significant errors by umpires in major league baseball games errors that have in some cases directly impacted the outcome of the contests.

In a game last week between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels, Astros manager Bo Porter brought in relief pitcher Wesley Wright. Wright took the mound and threw some warm-up pitchers. Angels manager Mike Scioscia in turn brought in a pinch-hitter. Porter then ran out onto the field, stopped Wright and brought in a different reliever, Hector Ambriz.

Long story short, he's not allowed to do that.

According to the rules, any relief pitcher who takes the mound and makes a warm-up throw is required to face at least one batter before leaving the game. Scioscia told the umpires as much. However, they allowed Ambriz to stay in the game, leaving Scioscia to continue the game under protest. In the end, the Angels won the game. No harm, no foul. The error didn't wind up hurting the Angels.

But then you have the Oakland A's.

MLB has implemented instant replay for certain calls specifically home runs in an attempt to increase the accuracy of their officiating. In the ninth inning of a game between the A's and the Cleveland Indians, A's player Adam Rosales hit a ball that bounced off something near the top of the wall or even the wall itself. The ball was initially ruled a double, but MLB's replay policy kicked in and umpire Angel Hernandez checked the tape. The ruling on the field stood.

The problem? The ruling on the field was wrong. The replay clearly showed the ball bouncing off a railing behind the wall; there is no question it should have been ruled a home run a home run that would have tied the game and given the A's new life. Instead, the Indians closed out the inning and won the game by a 4-3 score.

MLB has since acknowledged that both calls were wrong and has punished the umpires responsible, as well as their crews, with fines and/or suspensions.

Purists have long railed against the introduction of video replay even to the limited extent that it is currently used claiming that it would eliminate the 'human element' from the game. But what about when that human element is proving to be ineffective? 

This is about far more than just the occasional erroneous ball/strike call or missed tag. This is about officials who have never been held accountable for their on-field decisions. This is about umpires who allow the rules to be manipulated right in front of their faces. This is about umpires who are unwilling to deal with the realities of replay even when those realities are staring them right in the face.

I have long numbered myself among the purists, among those who resist the siren song of instant replay in baseball. But if umpires can be confused by the rules of the game they are supposed to be regulating, maybe replay is needed. And if umpires are willing to ignore evidence they see with their own eyes via that replay, maybe we need some new umpires.

Do I want robots calling balls and strikes on a big league diamond? Not really but at least we can feel confident that the robots will get it right.

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