Monday, September 5, 2011

The Re Play’s The Thing

A remarkable event occurred during the 6th inning of the Phillies Marlins game Saturday (which Howard Wasserman also blogged about yesterday). With Ryan Howard on first, Hunter Pence hit a long drive to the fence in right field. As Brian Peterson attempted to make the catch, two South Florida University students who happened to be Phillies fans (who else would be at a Marlins game?) reached over the fence and appeared to touch the glove of the outfielder. As the ball fell to the ground, Pence ended up on second and Howard on third. Out came Manager Jack McKeon to argue fan interference which, if called on the field, could negate the double and return Howard to first. Umpire Joe West and his crew listened then retreated to view the replay. When they returned, West ruled Pence out. Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel then came out to argue and was promptly tossed.

The problem was that the baseball’s rule clearly limits the use of replay. The rule states: "Instant replay will apply only to home run calls -- whether they are fair or foul, whether they have left the playing field, or whether they have been subject to fan interference. The decision to use instant replay will be made by the umpire crew chief, who also will make the determination as to whether or not a call should be reversed."

To make matters worse, after the game, Umpire West later gave a false statement as to what had given him “jurisdiction” to consult the replay, claiming Manuel had contested whether it should be ruled a Home Run. The replay shows no such thing; Manuel never approached West until after the reversal was made. The only reason West consulted the replay was to see if it was a double or an out.

For his part, octogenarian McKeon was candid in his assessment of the events, saying, “I don’t know. I’m not the judge. But I would think, isn’t what we want from the umpires: To get it right? Did they get it right? Yes. Did they make a mistake in how they went about getting it right? Yes.”

It’s a classic law school ethics question: is the truth more important than the process? Can a lawyer, or judge or jury go around the rules to see justice is done?

In the end, the game will matter not a bit. The Phillies should easily go on to win their division with the best record in baseball, securing home field advantage along the way.

And as to those Phillies fans? The blogosphere has already rendered its verdict. They will have a tough time buying a cheesesteak when they get home.