Judgment Calls

As anyone can plainly see - and millions of World Series fans did see in real time - an umpire can make a mistake. The photo below shows the Braves' Marquis Grissom's foot on second base before the Yankees' Derek Jeter has laid a glove on him. Yet Grissom was called out and finally the Braves lost a 3-2 game, not to mention the series.

This was not the only disputed umpire call to benefit the magnificent Yankees this season. Who can forget the Yankee "homer" against the Orioles when a fan deflected the ball into the stands away from a fielder's waiting glove?

It's not a "say-it-ain't-so-Joe" fix in favor of one team. Fans see umpire errors on every side, and often the camera confirms their eyesight over the umpire's.

But the umpire is always right.

Professional football has at least experimented with making instant replay the court of last resort. Hockey now actually trusts the camera to decide if the puck crossed the goal line. And there's the "Cyclops" machine calling the lines in tennis.

Yet baseball remains America's pastime. Though John Updike's new book goes ga-ga over golf, it's the diamond rather than the links that more often brings out the sportsman in American poets and pundits. They liken baseball - its energy, its skill, its creativity, its law and order - to life itself, or at least life in the USA.

Yeah, pundits! But how do you cope with something as serious as baseball, let alone merely living a life, when the outcome can be affected by one lousy call?

It's not as if the ump were a Zeus, using mythological powers by whim as well as wisdom. Of course, like an ump, Zeus didn't want Hermes or some other scientific type second-guessing him. And we're not holding our breath for the day when the baseball stats include hits, runs, umpire's errors, etc.

Still, on the whole, we'd rather have umps than electronic sensors behind the plate calling 'em as they see 'em and taking their chances of being spat on. It's a human element in an age of sports gone techno.

Thus both players and public are left with a hint that life on earth can be unfair, that we all, like the best athletes, have to develop resources beyond bone and muscle to meet adversities besides those we bring on ourselves.

The answer is not a fatalism that says everything's in the lap of the gods, er, umpires. It's a habitual struggle to know and do the right thing that puts the game, the mistakes, and the score in perspective.

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