Ex-umpire McKean favors expanded replay
Thirty-year veteran says changes move pressure over to managers
In Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, umpires Jim McKean and Don Denkinger were working the corners at Kansas City. McKean was umping third base, Denkinger was over at first. One of the most infamous calls in Major League Baseball history happened in the ninth inning, when Denkinger incorrectly ruled that Jorge Orta beat St. Louis reliever Todd Worrell to the bag.
The Cardinals were up, 1-0, in the game and 3-2 in the series, poised to celebrate. Orta and the Royals capitalized on that blown call to record a walk-off win, and then clinched the next night. It is now part of Missouri lore, but McKean, a former 30-year MLB umpire and supervising official, said Friday that proposed plans for 2014 expansion of instant replay puts "a lot more onus on managers" and means there will be no more "animosity" toward the men in blue.
"It's going to take a lot of pressure off the umpires, which they'll be OK with," McKean said in an interview with MLB.com analyst and former MLB umpire Al Kaplon. "They'll ratify it for sure. They'll negotiate something for themselves, which is fine, and they deserve it. But they'll get it on the table and they'll go with it.
"There is nothing worse -- I've done it, we've all done it -- [when you] miss a play and cost a team a game and take it home with you. And contrary to what fans think, you do take it home, and it's ruined some careers. I know Jimmy Joyce, Larry Barnett, Don Denkinger, they would be a lot happier people now if we had replay."
McKean, who also worked the 1979 and '95 World Series and three All-Star Games, cited what he calls "kinks," but called the plans "a good head start" and "a great way to go." Owners will vote on the issue in November at their next meetings in Orlando, Fla. Then the changes must also be negotiated with both the MLB Players Association and the World Umpires Association, although the use of review for fair-foul and trap plays was incorporated into the most recent Basic Agreement.
Under the proposed "phase-in" expansion, a review will be initiated when a manager informs the umpire that he wants to challenge a play. He will be allowed one challenge in the first six innings and two more from the seventh through the end of the game.
"The reviewable ones are no problem. We can get away with that," McKean told Sirius XM earlier in the day. "But it's the 11 percent that are non-reviewable that concerns me, because if they're non-reviewable and they still make a team win or lose, then replay really hasn't done its job. If we're going to have replay, I want replay throughout the whole game.
"To declare if there's a problem in the very end, the ninth inning, and they're out of challenges and an umpire blows a call and they can't review it, and they still lose the game as a result of it and we've got replay sitting there where we could have looked at this call -- no matter how many challenges they had, in or out or what they had, they still can't review it at this time.
"An example would be a hit batter, where that's not going to be reviewable and you have bases loaded and somebody gets hit in the leg, the toe, the shirt. That the umpires don't see. That's very difficult to see -- when it hits somebody's toe or leg down low. The plate umpire for sure can't see it. Then you're asking guys 90 and 120 feet away to look at it. They can't declare it. But if it would have gone to replay, we would have been able to fix it up and do the right thing. Now, we can't do anything. Maybe the winning run would have scored in the 10th inning to win a huge game."
McKean told MLB.com that another key issue is going from a dead ball to a live ball with runners on base.
"When you have the ball live and in play and you kill it, and then you put it back in play again, trying to place these runners is a real difficult task to do," McKean said. "A quick example would be bases loaded, a ball hit to the center fielder, and you don't know if he catches it or not. And you call it a catch, and all of a sudden, everybody stops. Now you replay that, and the ball bounced. Now everybody's going to run. Where are you going to put them after you've stopped them all?
"Say a manager puts a pinch-runner in to win the game at second base. Where do you put him? And you're right back into umpire judgment again, and that's not what you want with replay."
After a long career in which he routinely went toe-to-toe with managers, McKean said he thinks it now makes the skipper's job a little harder. Joe Torre and Tony La Russa will work with managers beginning at the Winter Meetings in December and into Spring Training.
"It's going to put a lot more onus on the managers," McKean said. "They're going to have to learn how to do this. Do you keep your challenges? I tell you one of the things I would have liked to have done, and I know it's not that easy: I would sort of, no more challenges, make it like college football, but not as extreme, where they just review the plays that they think they think need to be reviewed without the managers coming out and challenging.
"In the dugout -- and just like in the NFL -- they're going to have somebody watching TV down there, too, or up in the clubhouse, and they're going to be yelling down to the manager. And the manager's going to come out, and then he's going to go back in, and it's, 'Oh, no, you should have challenged .' All this kind of stuff, it's a big thing."
"Neighborhood plays" will be affected as well, McKean said.
"If it's a good, accurate throw to second base, we're not totally concerned about touching the bag," he explained. "I can't say you don't have to touch the bag; you should. But as long as you give a good, accurate throw. Now, when the throw is inaccurate, that is when you have to touch that base. And there's no concern from either team on the field if we call the plays like that.
"Before, we didn't worry about it too much, because what happens for one side is good for the other. ... There is a lot of stuff that goes on that is not in the rule book that we did in Major League Baseball. [For example,] the old thing that if the ball beat you there, you're out. You didn't even have to put a good tag on. Well now, with this replay, they're going to have to put the glove and the tag right on his hand or on his foot, or on his head before he gets to the bag, and players don't like that. Players would rather play the other way.
"So we don't get a lot of heat on the field. All that stuff around second base and those neighborhood plays all came from the media; that was all media-driven. It had nothing to do with the people on the field or the general managers."
McKean said he does not want to see the "human element" come out of the game.
"I saw Tony La Russa's quote today and he said, 'Oh, we'll still have arguments.' But it's not like the real arguments we've had in the past," McKean said. "And believe it or not, that's exciting to the fans. I mean, I've had arguments with the managers, and as the manager walks off the field, he gets a standing ovation. That's a big part. I don't want that taken away.
"And I don't want expression from players taken away. You know, a big headfirst slide at second, and they miss the tag, and he comes up into the umpire and we go at it, and then all of a sudden say, 'Well, we'll go to replay, don't worry about it, there's a challenge.' And that'll stop. I know it sounds funny.
"With all this negative, I think it's a very positive way to go," he added. "Umpires should not be on pins and needles every time they try and make a call. That's where they have been the last four or five years. They're trying to work with a camera on their shoulder. ... That's ending."