Why baseball beats football

The ump blew the call! My team got robbed! Thank goodness there's no instant replay. Plus: The Yankees aren't the '64 Phillies. Get over it.

Topics: Football, Baseball, The New York Times, Peyton Manning,

Game 3 of the National League playoff series between San Francisco and New York, a 5-hour, 22-minute classic won by the Mets on a 13th-inning home run, provided an example of reason No. 4,873 why baseball is better than football: no instant replay.

Understand: My heroic, puppy-loving, Nobel Prize-worthy, common cold-curing Giants were robbed by a bad call, which eventually handed the game to the foul-smelling, mouth-breathing, handicap zone-parking Metropolitans in a fashion that would have made them ashamed if they weren’t men of such low character. Instant replay would have corrected the call and — baseball doesn’t really work in such a way that you can say this, but I’ll say it anyway — the Giants would have won in nine innings, 2-1. Instead, the call stood, the Mets won, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here’s what happened: The Mets were down 2-1 in the eighth inning with a man on first and nobody out. Pinch-hitter Lenny Harris hit into what looked like a double play, but he was called safe at first by umpire Brian Gorman. Television replays showed the throw beat him. The next batter, Timo Perez, popped out. That would have been the end of the inning. Edgardo Alfonso’s game-tying double never should have happened.

If there were instant replay in baseball, as there is in pro football, the Giants would have “challenged” the call. (They didn’t argue on the field, but first baseman J.T. Snow, who isn’t an argue-with-the-umps type of guy, clearly believed Harris was out.) Harris would have been called out “on further review.” The right call would have been made. Order would have been restored. Correctness would have ruled the day.

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And it would have been all wrong.

Instead of four innings and about 90 minutes worth of thrilling, nail-biting, we’ll-remember-it-for-years baseball, we would have had five minutes of players standing around while one of the umpires ducked under a canopy to watch TV. Would that have been a good trade?

The NFL would argue that it would be. We mustn’t have a game decided by an incorrect call. We mustn’t let the human element interfere with the proper outcome of a game. Excitement and unpredictability are all well and good, but not at the cost of machine-like accuracy. The hard, sharp, clear definitions of technocracy are preferable to the unpredictable, uncontrollable whims of the natural world.

Not for me, brother. Assuming the umps aren’t on the take, the bad calls even up over time. The umpires, for all their faults (“Justice is blind — and so is the ump!” goes an old joke), are a part of the game, and I’m glad to have ‘em, even if it means the guys with the black hats lose one they should have won.

Dave Anderson writes in Sunday’s New York Times that if the Yankees were to lose Sunday’s Game 5 to the Oakland A’s, their end-of-season collapse would surpass the greatest swan dive of all time, that of the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, who blew a 6 and a half-game lead over the last 12 games of the year. Salon’s own Allen Barra has expressed similar sentiments.

Ridiculous.

Collapse or no, the Yankees made the postseason. That’s all you have to do to avoid comparisons to the ’64 Phillies. This may be hard for the New York media to believe, but everything the Yankees do, good or bad, isn’t necessarily superlative.

It’s true that if the American League still had the old two-division format that went away after the 1993 season, the Yankees would have finished second in the East to Cleveland, who finished 90-72. But the Yanks’ lead over Cleveland was six games with 18 to play. (The Indians had 21 games to go at the time.) And who can say the Yankees wouldn’t have played better if they’d been in a real pennant race in the last three weeks?

Once you’re into the postseason, with its short series, anything can happen, and it sometimes does happen to great teams. The 1906 Chicago Cubs went an astonishing 116-36 — still the best regular-season record of all time by a long shot — and lost in the World Series to the White Sox. The ’54 Indians went 111-53 and lost in the Series to the Giants.

The Yankees don’t compare there either. They were a good team this year, but not a great one. With 18 games to go their winning percentage was .587. If they’d continued at that pace to the end, they’d have won 95. That’s how many games were won by the 1980 Astros, the ’82 Angels, the ’85 Dodgers, the ’90 Pirates and the ’99 Rangers. Those were all good teams, but nobody called it a collapse for the ages when they lost in the playoffs.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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