July 17, 2019

What To Do About Jerry Meals

July 27, 2011 by · 7 Comments 

I feel compelled to write a few thoughts about the controversial call made by 14 year umpire Jerry Meals in the 19th inning of the Braves and Pirates 19 inning game that concluded early in the morning on July 27th. Baseball has had an ongoing debate about the use of instant replay and the reliability of umpires. This play is the latest incident to bring the issue back into the public eye.

Meals ended the game by calling Atlanta runner Julio Lugo safe, when he was clearly tagged out by Pittsburgh catcher Mike McKenry, several feet before reaching home plate. It was not one of those calls where the umpire had a bad angle, or the play was too close for the human eye to catch. This was a simple call; completely black and white, and the umpire missed it. Even Lugo looked momentarily shocked by the call, until realizing he had been called safe, and then rushed off to celebrate with his teammates.

Now that the Pirates are relevant after the All Star break after years of being doormats, this blown call could end up hurting them a lot. After the game they are now one game behind the National League Central leading St. Louis Cardinals. This one game swing against the favor of the Pirates has the very real possibility of impacting their post season chances. It will be a complete shame if at the end of the season this game has any impact whatsoever on the Pirates and their chances of making the playoffs.

Baseball needs to do the right thing and replay the end of the game. Meals’ call was so bad that it goes beyond contradicting the judgement of an umpire. This isn’t like the infamous Jim Joyce blown perfect game from last year, where he missed a call on a bang-bang play at first. Meals’ safe call was an outright catastrophe that defied logic. There should have been no other verdict than calling Lugo out. It was the equivalent of somebody looking up at a blue sky and announcing that it was yellow.

Despite this latest controversy, I am still unsure if instant replay is necessary in baseball, but am starting to lean towards being for it. A big part of me says, why not? The game utilizes just about every other advantage, from conditioning (legal and other methods) to equipment made out of advanced materials. If technology exists that can make the game better, safer, and more modern, it makes sense to give it a shot. Instant replay would not change the essential rules of the game. If baseball and its fans are willing to accept the designated hitter rule and interleague play, then why should instant replay be any different?

The downside of instant replay is lengthening games that are already too long in the context of professional sports. Ideally, two hours would be a perfect length of time for an audience that has an increasingly shrinking attention span. At approximately three hours per game, baseball is already well over that ideal. Perhaps if instant replay were implemented, it could be done in a similar fashion to how it is used in the NFL, with only certain plays being eligible for review, and only a certain number of challenges per game for each team.

If baseball is wary about instituting instant replay, how about letting teams have a certain number of plays per game where they can appeal to a second umpire? This would keep the flow of the game going and not significantly lengthen games, but allow a second set of eyes to weigh in on close plays. It might not be a perfect solution, but would give some recourse on incorrect calls if baseball is unwilling to use instant replay.

Although I am not calling for his firing, Jerry Meals must be disciplined in some way for what happened. Nothing suggests that his call was malicious or ill intended, but at best it was lazy. If this were the NBA, such a call would be under even heavier scrutiny, given the sensitivity of controversial officiating calls now that the Tim Donaghy scandal has unfolded. Umpires who have reached the Major Leagues are supposed to be the best of the best, yet Meals’ safe call was the worst of the worst. To protect the integrity of baseball officiating, the best thing to do would be to constructively discipline Meals and make sure that he either move forward as a productive umpire, or decide that he is ill suited to continue in that career track.

The final thought I have about this situation is perhaps the most important. Various news outlets have reported that Meals and his family have been receiving threats and harassment over the past 24 hours. ESPN even reported that they found at least two internet message boards that had published his personal contact information.

Jim Joyce received similar treatment last year when he was in the news. This type of behavior must stop. No amount of harassment will change what happened, and most importantly, it’s not right. Everybody makes mistakes at work, but nobody deserves to pay for those errors in their personal life. Hopefully the blockheads who apparently have nothing better to do than pester a family, will receive their own just punishment in due time.

Ultimately, life will go on and baseball will continue. Meals’ inexplicable miscue will eventually pass into the annals of bad umpiring calls. Before this happens, I hope baseball takes notice and turns this into a lesson learned. Doing that will turn this from an unfortunate incident into something that could improve baseball for years to come.

Andrew Martin is the founder of ‘The Baseball Historian‘ blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a daily basis. He can be reached at historianandrew@gmail.com. You can also reach him on Twitter at @RedSoxFanNum1.

 

Comments

7 Responses to “What To Do About Jerry Meals”
  1. Doug says:

    Great post, i’m not sure about instant replay either but no matter, given the situation with last nights blown call the game should be continued from the point of the bad call. So what if it sets some kind of precedent? It would be a good one.

  2. Precedent is set all the time. Let’s see this done right, and play the game over. Then, look to the future and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  3. J-Doug says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you say here.

    The only issue is with the Jim Joyce call. It wasn’t a bang-bang call. It wasn’t a close call at all. If there was any good reason not to revisit it, it’s because it didn’t change the game outcome.

  4. I contend it was a bang-bang play in that he wasn’t safe by a step or two. It was close as far as how the human eye would determine it without the aid of instant replay. Everyone had the luxury of watching the Joyce call at home in slow motion. The catch by the 1b and the runner’s foot coming down on the bag all happened in probably .25 seconds or less. In my opinion, it was certainly more excusable than last night, where the tag happened feet away from home plate.

    Thanks for reading!

  5. I don’t get why it’s so hard for people to understand that what Meals saw (right or wrong) was that the catcher missed the tag. If you watch the replay, this should be pretty obvious. He swipes at and just barely touches the runner on the leg.

    Your point about the expanded use of instant replay makes total sense, but the idea that they should replay the end of the game is completely unrealistic, and yes the reason is that it would set a precedent. The precedent would be, where does MLB draw the line in the future? There’s just no way they can open the flood gates like that.

  6. Mike Lynch says:

    I understand what you’re saying about setting precedents but those have already been set. In 1908 the Cubs and Giants had to replay the “Merkle Boner” game after NL President Harry Pulliam ruled in favor of the Cubs and their assertion that the winning run couldn’t have scored because Merkle failed to touch second and was forced out after a chaotic recovery of the baseball (or “a” baseball). And what about “The Pine Tar Game”? The end of that was forced to be replayed after the Royals won their protest. Granted those are only two examples and one is more than 100 years old, but games or ends of games have had to be replayed before due to an umpire error or, in Merkle’s case, a baserunning blunder. I agree that replaying the ends of games might be unrealistic, but a system similar to the one the NFL uses might not be half bad. Give someone in the booth a chance to review the play and either confirm or overrule it. Having said all that, I still like the human element and blown calls are part of the game. Let’s face it, few of us would even talk about the 1985 World Series if not for Don Denkinger and we’ll remember Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce for the rest of our lives because of the call he made.

  7. The difference between the Braves-Pirates game this week and the Pine Tar Game is one was a judgment call by the umpire and the other was a rules interpretation. Rule interpretations are subject to official protest, so overruling the umpires in that case did not set a precedent…although I went to Joe Brinkman’s umpire school and I know he’s still pissed about that one.

    Between the chaotic nature of what occurred following Merkle’s boner and the fact it was over 100 years ago, I’m not sure that comparison is analogous.

    I agree with you about using instant replay. If there is instant replay to review judgment calls then this further reinforces the idea that only rules interpretations should be subject to protest. I still think there’s no way you can allow protest of a judgment call. Can you imagine how many protests there would be if that was allowed to happen?

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