LOS ANGELES -- Was it a bad call? Probably. Did it cost the Los Angeles Dodgers a game on Monday night? Maybe. It certainly cost them an unearned run in what became a one-run loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Should first-base umpire Todd Tichenor have asked for help from his crew mates? Depends on whom your asking.
In what became a decisive, two-run sixth inning for the Brewers, right fielder Norichika Aoki led off with a roller back to the mound. Aaron Harang, whom to that point had been pretty good through five, picked it up and fired an off-line throw toward first. James Loney, who is 6-feet-3 and has long arms to go with it, stretched as far as he could without taking his foot off the bag, caught the ball and, in the same instant, pulled his foot off the bag.
Tichenor instantly ruled that Loney hadn't maintained contact with the bag while catching the ball and that Aoki thus was safe. Televised replays appeared to show that Loney had, in fact, maintained contact with the bag long enough to get the out. Loney argued his case passionately until manager Don Mattingly arrived and argued the same case, just as passionately. Their case was that Tichenor should have asked for help because one of the other three umpires might have had a better angle.
"You get tired of being diplomatic," Mattingly said after the game. "I just asked him to get help. We had a pretty good view of it. It was a play where (Loney) going across the line makes it look bad, but I just asked him to get help, and he wouldn't do that. He told me he was 100-percent sure."
Loney's account jibed with Mattingly's.
"It's not about him getting the call wrong," Loney said. "It's about him not asking for help. He said it was his call."
Brian Gorman, the umpire crew chief, said afterward that it wasn't necessarily incumbent upon Tichenor to ask for help, that any member of the rest of the crew who had a better angle and felt Tichenor got the call wrong could have approached Tichenor and communicated that, but that in this case, that didn't happen.
"This was a play where we didn't have anything different (from Tichenor)," Gorman said. "If we had something different, we would have stepped in. (Loney) was coming off the back end of the base, so it was very difficult to see from our angle."
Loney contended, however, that the plate umpire -- in this case, Gorman -- might have had a better angle than Tichenor, a theory that doesn't really wash given that Tichenor was right on top of the play and that Gorman was watching from 90 feet away, with Aoki running in a direct path between Gorman and the first-base bag.
And then, Loney went on to call for some radical changes in baseball, a sport that for a century and a half now has been fairly resistant to radical changes.
"Whatever it takes, just get it right," Loney said. "Even the guy behind the plate. A guy leaning behind the catcher doesn't have the best view of all the balls and strikes. Watch the centerfield camera, that is the best way to call balls and strikes. It's going to take more and more bad calls for all of that to happen."
Loney went on to say he believes that "within 50 years, I would say," baseball will have electronic umpiring in place.
For now, the umpires are still human -- right the vast majority of the time but occasionally wrong. Bad calls are part of the game, they sometimes cost teams wins and they have been known on rare occasions to cost pitchers no-hitters or even, arguably, cost teams championships. By and large, though, they tend to even out over the course of a long season, and there will be games the Dodgers will win with the aid of a blown call by an umpire.
Perhaps someday Loney's prediction will come true, and every single call will be made correctly by some piece of electronic equipment that players and managers can't get into arguments with or be ejected by.
Personally, I'm not sure that is something I want to live to see.