The Bristol Pirates ended their first playoff season since 2002 against the Johnson City Cardinals 7-5 in Game 3 of the Appalachian League’s West Division Championship Series. The drama of the game and Bristol’s winningest team in recent memory aren’t the only reasons we’ll be talking about this game for years — a blown call made during the game needs a closer look.
Of course, we congratulate the Bristol Pirates for a stellar season. The Pirates overcame a 1-6 start to accomplish the team’s first winning season since 2008 — and the first playoff action for 17 years.
The Pirates won the first game of the series 5-4. The Cardinals followed with a 7-4 victory. Bristol notched 11 hits in Game 3, with three from first baseman Matt Morrow — but the Cardinals’ Malcolm Nunez and Chandler Redmond responded with a couple of two-run homers and four RBIs to settle the contest 7-5.
We agree with Morrow that “it was two evenly matched teams. It boils down to the balls that fell and [the Cardinals] got a little more of those than we did today.”
But something did rankle us about this game.
You can call it armchair commentating. We call it the crystal-clear perspective of sports photography.
A close play in the game resulted in a blown call when Bristol’s Daniel Rivero dove into first base just ahead of Johnson City pitcher Jose Moreno touching down on the base. Rivero was called out, but a photo from the Herald Courier’s David Crigger clearly shows him safe.
That’s problematic, especially in such a closely fought game. We’re not saying this call would have changed the course of the Pirates’ playoff run. That’s impossible to say.
Then again, it’s impossible to say a lot with certainty about Minor League calls without video replay. It’s time to give our umpires the same accuracy as their counterparts in the Majors.
The necessity for video replay isn’t just about one close play in one game. There are plenty of reasons for playback.
At any level, baseball is baseball. Close calls happen all the time. In a 2014 Major League study of instant replay, 598 plays were reviewed — and 278 (46.5%) were overturned. We can assume that roughly the same rate of bad calls is happening in the Minor Leagues.
The Major League was the last major American sport to add instant replay in 2008, and they’ve been slowly tinkering with the system since. While the Minor Leagues may not be able to afford the millions necessary for television systems and replay command centers, photographs are obviously well-equipped to clear up some errors.
Nothing’s worse than the sting of a missed call, whether during the game or years later. It’s not an overstatement to say that everyone can get behind more training and accuracy for umpires. We should include some form of playback training in every Minor League for the benefit of training umpires at all levels of league play, even if it’s only in the playoffs.
The beauty of the replay is that a bad call doesn’t have to stand, and in a tight game that can make all the difference. We couldn’t be prouder of our Bucs. They played this season with focus and precision.
Our umpires need the tools to do the same.