David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
At some point, presumably in this decade, a no-hitter like the one Johan Santana threw June 1 no longer will carry the stigma of a mistaken umpire's call. Then again, of course, it won't be a no-hitter in the first place.
The reason? Major League Baseball has targeted batted balls along the foul lines as the next wave of plays to be reviewable by instant replay as soon as the technology makes it feasible.
That means a line drive like the one Carlos Beltran drilled over the third-base bag that was called foul by umpire Adrian Johnson that night should be subject to review in the not-too-distant future.
Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for labor relations and human resources, has been on a fact-finding mission to determine the logistics of putting such a system in place. The issue is how to do it thoroughly as well as quickly.
"We're trying to find the most efficient way to gather information on balls down the lines," Manfred said this past week in Kansas City. "It does involve the deployment of a significant number of additional cameras and then making a decision on the information from those cameras."
This discussion is not unlike the early stages of instant replay for home runs, which commissioner Bud Selig abruptly implemented for the final two months of the 2008 season. It has not exactly been a seamless process. With review monitors installed adjacent to dugouts, it takes time for the umpiring crew to leave the field, huddle around the video screen and come up with a verdict.
That's what worries Selig when it comes to the expansion of instant replay -- additional delays. The length of games is a constant concern, mostly for the sake of MLB's broadcast partners, and stretching them out is something to be avoided at all costs. Even if that means sticking with the status quo despite an epidemic of blown calls this season.
"Baseball is a game of pace," Selig said this past week. "You can't compare it to other things. So we've got to be very sensitive and careful how we proceed. I can tell you the appetite for more instant replay in the sport is very low. There are some people who think maybe we've gone too far already."
Even the sport's purists would agree that reviewing home runs was an important first step toward improving how the game is officiated. And if the next round of upgrades is done smartly -- perhaps with the addition of a video-review umpire who could make determinations from an off-field booth -- it would not mean significant time added to games.
But there are other considerations, as Joe Torre -- now an MLB executive vice president who works closely with Selig -- outlined while discussing the topic.
"It's one of those things because of technology we feel that we can fix quickly," Torre said. "I thought ground balls over the bag, first and third, would be a no-brainer. But it's more complicated than that."
Torre suggested a scenario in which it always would be best for the umpire to make a "fair" call on a close play because that is an easier one to overturn. But if a foul ball is overturned, it creates a thorny issue: Where do you put the runners? That could trigger a whole new round of arguments between managers and umpires, further delaying the game.
"For all of us that want everything to be right all the time," Torre said, "that's not going to be the case."
This season, however, too much has been wrong, with umpires coming under fire seemingly more than ever -- whether it's been the Yankees' Dewayne Wise getting credit for a foul-pop catch on a ball that a fan picked up off the cement floor and held aloft, or Santana making history for the Mets with the help of an umpire's mistake. While everyone waits for more instant replay, an apology will have to do.
"The word that players use most frequently is accountability," said Michael Weiner, executive director of the Players Association. "There have been instances when an umpire stands up and says, 'I blew it,' and when that happens, that generates tremendous respect among players because they understand umpires aren't going to get it right all the time.
"They just want the guys to be accountable."