Am I the only person in America who thinks umpire Jerry Meals didn't botch the call in the early morning hours of a 19-inning game in Atlanta?
At first glance it would appear so.
Even Major League Baseball, and now Meals himself say the call was wrong.
Again, I'm not so sure.
Yes, the ball arrived at home plate light years ahead of Atlanta's Julio Lugo, but exactly what Meals said in his defense, that it looked like Pittsburgh catcher Mike McKenry "oled" the tag, is exactly what I thought when I saw it live on television.
And it's the same thing I thought the next 200 times they replayed it into Wednesday. I never saw a definitive look that showed McKenry make the tag.
This isn't like Jim Joyce last season when he cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game against the Indians and replays clearly showed the runner was out at first base.
What's the NFL line we hear all season long when it comes to replay?
For argument's sake, let's say this was the same principal as the NFL. There was no indisputable evidence showing McKenry making the tag on Lugo, and therefore if it was the same principal as in the NFL the call would've remained what it was on the field - that Lugo was safe and the Braves won.
It seemed a forgone conclusion Meals would call the runner out.
Typically in that situation whether the runner gets past the tag or not, when the ball is that far ahead of the runner the call is almost always conceded to the defense. Meals wasn't giving it to him, and I applaud him for that. From his vantage point, McKenry missed the tag, and that's how he called it.
As Wednesday crept forward, however, and as the Meals family received threat after threat from off-balanced fans, Major League Baseball and Meals seemed to go into damage control. It's far easier to say they got the call wrong then to fight it, especially since no one particularly came to Meals' defense at any point. Not the broadcasters of the game, not the commentators of any sports show Wednesday morning, not any writer as of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evening as I write this.
Everyone fell into line that he blew the call.
Even Meals' official line, "I was incorrect in my decision," seems far more like a forced statement than what the ump actually believes. But in times when some crazies truly have redefined the meaning of fanatic, Meals is better served to take his medicine and not to fight the mob mentality over one call. It's not worth fighting when you're dealing with lunatics on the other side of the argument.
The Pirates organization handled the situation with class. Those fanatics whose intention it is to harass and scare and umpire and his family need to follow the organization's example.
I understand if you're a Pirates fan you're dying to see Pittsburgh win again. The team has had a losing record in 18 consecutive seasons - the longest such streak in any of the four major professional North American sports leagues. The Pirates success is nothing short of the storyline of the year in Major League Baseball. That it's nearly August and the team is within a game of first place is remarkable and is proving every preseason prognosticator wrong.
But if the playoffs roll around and the Pirates miss it by one game - and if that's the case I'll eat the newspaper you're holding or the computer you're reading this on - blaming Meals would be about as unfair as unfair gets. Ultimately a team is in control of its own destiny. If it comes down to one win, there are countless spots to look where something small could have went different to change a team's post-season aspirations. And while the Pirates continued success would be a feel-good October story, I'm still a little hesitant to buy into the team making the playoffs.
2011 has been a season that the Pirates have been extremely fortunate in terms of injuries and their competition sans perhaps last night's call. It is true that the Pirates have had major contributions both offensively and defensively that have put the club in a position to win far more often than years past. I said in a past column that with the improved effort and a bit of luck, it could very well be a season of destiny for the Bucs.
But in the meantime, those who are losing their minds over one game in a 162-game season need to cool it.
Meals is one of the league's best. He treats the game with respect and integrity. Even if he missed the call, he and his family don't deserve the insanity or harassment.
Take a deep breath people. It's baseball. It's not life and death.
E-mail B.J. Lisko at firstname.lastname@example.org