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Thoughts on baseball's video review, the transfer rule and umpiring

Orioles manager Buck Showalter tried to bite his tongue when asked about the overturned call that led to his first ejection of the season during the Orioles' 8-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon.

Showalter has defended the new replay system, saying that there needs to be patience to let baseball work out the bugs. But at the same time, the Orioles have a shot at doing some big things in 2014, and anyone would hate for a replay-related snafu to decide the outcome of a pivotal game in September – or October.

The play in question Sunday – Jonathan Schoop’s dropped transfer while trying to turn a double play at second base in the seventh inning – looks like a no-brainer to the naked eye. We all spent the season’s first month discussing the lunacy of the new transfer rule. It went against the way the game has been played for years, and give baseball credit for changing it quickly once it became a problem.

Like most plays that are reviewed, the more you watch it, the more you can talk yourself into seeing the play either way. The TV broadcasts from both teams couldn’t discern it either way and in the press box there wasn’t a consensus either.

It’s all up to what the game rules as true possession. Does Schoop have the ball completely in control in his glove when taking a toss from Ryan Flaherty? It could be argued he doesn’t.

But middle infielders in the process of turning double plays rarely close their gloves. They keep them open as they reach for the ball with the throwing hand. When turning a double play, it's one motion to corral the ball, transfer it and throw.

Could the ball have been rolling around in the wickets of Schoop’s glove? Sure. But that’s been the way the game’s been played for years, and before this year, that play would have resulted in an out call 90 percent of the time, because it wouldn’t have been so scrutinized.

The introduction of the now-aborted transfer rule before this season because put a larger spotlight on the definition of possession. But why mess with the way the game’s been played for years?

The frustration had obviously been building with Showalter throughout Sunday’s game. He was perplexed by home plate umpire Gabe Morales’ inconsistent strike zone, and there were several times that players from both teams looked back at Morales to ask where a pitch was.

Before Sunday’s game, Showalter railed about a loophole in the challenge system that allows a manager to request whether a catcher blocked the plate on a play at home – and get the benefit of also receiving a review on an out or safe call – without having to use a challenge.

That happened in Saturday’s game on a close play at the plate in which the umpires ruled that Caleb Joseph tagged Jhonny Peralta before he reached the plate.

And then there’s the seasonlong frustration of calls standing because there’s not deemed to be evidence conclusive enough to overturn them. There’s a big difference between a call that is confirmed and one that stands.

More than anything Sunday, Showalter was frustrated by the cloak-and-dagger structure of the replay system. The calls are being reviewed by umpires in New York. The on-field staff is just relaying the replay decision, so after the call was overturned, Showalter jumped out of the dugout and motioned that he wanted the headset to get clarification from the replay umpires in New York.

Once he argued the review outcome, he already was ejected. Like all ejections, the incident will be reviewed by the league office, which could levy a suspension or fine, but that doesn’t seem likely.

After the game, Showalter compared the current umpiring situation to major league’s expansion. Because umpires are needed to review calls in New York, other umpires who aren’t as good or might not be ready, join the pool of umps – much like how players who might not have had a chance to play in the majors were able to when teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays joined. That dilutes the quality of the overall product.

Showalter is no doubt meticulous. He often talks about attending replay meetings in Florida during spring training and being one of the most active managers in asking questions about the new system.

Showalter got his money’s worth Sunday. And he said earlier this week that he thought there might be some adjustments to replay before the postseason.

And that’s really when you want to definitively make sure you get it right.

eencina@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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