Sports without reviews are a joy, but better to get more calls right

Alomar-Smoltz

Toronto Blue Jays Roberto Alomar (12) is called out at the plate by umpire Mike Reilly as Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz (29) makes the tag in the fourth inning of game two of the World Series in Atlanta on Sunday, Oct. 19, 1992. (John Swart / AP)

TORONTO – Last week, during our first re-airing of Game 6 from the 1992 American League Championship Series on Blue Jays Classics, I sent out the tweet below:

Both in that game, and during an earlier replay of Game 4 from that series, I was struck by the way players moved on after a close call went against them, nary a complaint. None of this pointing to the dugout, demanding a look, manager on the top step with his hands up, getting the home-plate umpire to hold up the game, bench coach on the dugout phone, awaiting word from the replay room.

Really refreshing, I thought to myself. When the current pace of game issues drive you mad — and man, how happy would you be to watch one of those grotesque 3:38 Fenway Park plodders right now? — the constant pauses for replay-checks certainly play a role.

Still, there’s value in doing everything possible to get things right, and all the human-element-is-a-part-of-the-game stuff is utter crap when a big game, a championship even, hinges on a bad call.

Imagine for a second if Ed Sprague hadn’t clutched up and absolutely demolished that cookie-city, first-pitch fastball from Jeff Reardon in the ninth inning of Game 2 in the 1992 World Series, giving the Toronto Blue Jays a comeback 5-4 win against the Atlanta Braves.

Had Reardon held on and put the National League champs up 2-0, the Blue Jays probably lose that series. Maybe they still pull off the walk-off win in Game 3, which airs Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET, but maybe they don’t. Winning four of five against that Braves staff would have been a tall, tall order.

In an alternate universe, all of that would have made home-plate umpire Mike Reilly’s blown call on Roberto Alomar in the fourth inning of Game 2 a moment of infamy in Blue Jays history. Atlanta was up 1-0 when John Smoltz uncorked a wild pitch and Alomar charged home, sliding in headfirst under the tag from the righty, who took the relay from catcher Damon Berryhill.

His hand clearly appeared to have touched the plate before Smoltz got his glove down, but Reilly saw it differently and signalled out. Alomar had to be restrained during the ensuing argument and as the Blue Jays chased the game, the play loomed large.

Well, loomed large until Sprague’s homer made the call a forgotten footnote, which is a just outcome.

Things don’t always work out so fairly, however, as tortured fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs can attest. Months later, in the 1993 Conference Final, Kerry Fraser missed Wayne Gretzky’s high-stick on Doug Gilmour, and the Great One scored the overtime winner moments later to stave off elimination in Game 6. The Los Angeles Kings proceeded to win Game 7 and the series, and years later it’s a painful moment that lingers.

Replay, of course, has by and large helped to correct many glaring mistakes, and though the delays can be maddening, it’s better to get things right as often as possible.

The twisting of replay to catch irrelevant technicalities such as a foot popping off the bag ever so slightly in baseball, or the skate-blade tip three millimetres offside in hockey, are gross distortions, and let’s not go down the Houston Astros rabbit-hole. But the first two, at least, are easily tolerable trade-offs for avoiding high-profile gaffes, along with the controversy and illegitimate outcomes that can arise as a result.

Other random thoughts during an idle time:

• Love how the Blue Jays mocked the Tomahawk Chop during their wins in the ’92 World Series. It’s insane that not only do Braves fans still do this on the regular, but that the stadium plays the damn song that encourages them. I’ve found that so jarring when I’ve been in Atlanta in recent years, and if the Braves don’t drop this whenever play resumes, commissioner Rob Manfred should have it high on his to-do list.

• An interesting tidbit I heard from the recent MLB-MLBPA talks is that the idea of testing every player for COVID-19 once teams reconvene was discussed. That would make sense as a way to determine who may have had it and be immune and who might be carrying it and potentially infect others. Whatever the case is, in the ongoing absence of a vaccine or an effective antiviral, stringent measures will be necessary to avoid a clubhouse outbreak that could not only derail the season, but also create a dangerous hotspot.

• Provided masks can first be produced in enough quantities to give our heroic health-care workers that protection they so deserve, do they become standard fare at sporting events, at least once the world restarts? There’s some interesting research that suggests wearing masks helps counter the spread of coronavirus , and it’s going to take some work to hold large gatherings safely again. If the public is still wary, teams handing them out at the gate doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it might have even a month ago.

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