In this World Series, all eyes will be on the four men in blue who run it. A run of glaringly bad calls by umpires during the 2009 play-offs could see Major League Baseball finally joining cricket, tennis and many other sports and allowing instant replays of contested decisions.
Hitherto baseball has maintained that while human error was unavoidable, formal challenges and scrutiny by TV replay would make a slow-paced game even slower. And anyway, over a 162-game regular season it did not matter, as mistakes even themselves out.
Not so, however, in short post-season clashes where a single play can change a game, even a championship. In Game Two of the Yankees/Twins division series, Minnesota's catcher hit a double – except that the umpire called foul a ball that dropped at least a foot inside the line, as TV viewers saw even without the benefit of a replay. The Twins were robbed of a hit that could have led to a momentum-changing victory. Phil Cuzzi, the umpire, apologised afterwards, but too late to save the Twins. The Yankees' subsequent victory over the Angels was marred by at least three bad calls, all ruthlessly exposed on TV.
The problem is not so much calls of balls and strikes, which depend on the homeplate umpire's interpretation of the strike zone. If he is consistent, no one minds. But tight calls of safe or out are another matter. If cricket can replay close run-out decisions, why cannot baseball do the same? The technology is there.