Set aside for a moment whether or not you believe the infield-fly rule was correctly interpreted Friday in the Cardinals’ 6-3 victory over the Braves in the NL wild-card game.
That the call was made by left-field umpire Sam Holbrook rather than third-base umpire Jeff Nelson. But does baseball really need outfield umpires during the playoffs?
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I’m hard-pressed to come up with an example of when it was beneficial to have an extra set of eyes on the foul lines in a postseason game. But it doesn’t take much to remember a couple of missed calls by outfield umpires.
The first is a play we’ll see a lot today and in the coming days because Baltimore is playing the Yankees in the American League playoffs. In 1996, Rich Garcia was the right-field umpire when he mysteriously didn’t call fan interference on Derek Jeter’s flyout that turned into a home run when it was grabbed by 12-year-old fan Jeffrey Maier.
That allowed the Yankees to tie the opening game of the American League Championship Series, which New York won in five games.
Another case involving the Yankees came in 2009 when the Twins’ Joe Mauer hit a ball down the left-field line that was fair. Umpire Phil Cuzzi called it foul, and although Mauer singled later in the at-bat, he was denied a double and New York won game two of the American League Divisional Series.
"It's a tough one to practice," crew chief Tim Tschida told reporters after that game. "Your first movement is to get out of the way, because we are not accustomed to having a fielder come from the side as we do in the outfield. So getting into position is a little foreign.
"I don't offer this as an excuse for an incorrect decision, but it can contribute to the call becoming more difficult."
The last thing baseball needs in the playoffs is umpires being in an unfamiliar situation while trying to make a call.
So if it’s unnatural for umpires to work the foul lines and there is a history of botched calls, what is the benefit?
Major League Baseball is setting itself and its umpires up for criticism whenever there is an umpire working the outfield lines.
That’s why it should consider eliminating the outfield umpires starting in 2013.