Posted : 2013-06-17 16:21
Updated : 2013-06-17 16:21

20th century baseball farce

Cho Jong-kyu, the Korea Baseball Organization's umpire-in-chief, apologizes to the Nexen Heroes manager Yeom Kyung-yup, after an umpire's incorrect call hurt the Heroes in a critical loss on Saturday against the LG Twins, at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, Sunday. There are growing calls to expand instant video review by umpires to minimize wrong decisions. / Yonhap

Umpire's bad call stirs up debate over whether KBO needs video review

By Jung Min-ho

There are growing calls in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) to expand instant video review by umpires after one wrong decision turned Saturday's critical rival match between the Nexen Heroes and the LG Twins into a farce.

At Seoul's Jamsil Stadium, the first and second runners-up ran a 0-0 neck-and-neck race until the bottom of the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, when the Heroes' Seo Geon-chang caught the ball on the second base apparently before Oh Ji-hwan arrived, umpire Park Geun-young gave an obviously incorrect "safe" call to leave 23,812 fans there dumbfounded.

Cameras repeatedly showed Oh's hand was at least 50 centimeters away from the base when Seo received the ball, but the stubborn umpire did not change his decision. Then, the demoralized Nexen players fell to a 9-0 loss.

The KBO's homepage was immediately filled with fans' suggestions, complaints and anger over "what is the most ridiculous game in league history." And the umpire's name became the top search word over that of any player on Korea's most popular search engine Naver.

In a response, Cho Jong-kyu, the umpire-in-chief, apologized to the Nexen Heroes manager Yeom Kyung-yup the next day, and the KBO demoted Park to the second-league, Korea's equivalent of minor league baseball. Still, many ask for a systematic change to prevent further controversies over umpires' calls, criticizing the league that has failed to provide an ultimate solution other than demoting the umpires every time the same issue surfaces.

"I think Park made a mistake. There are wrong calls that are understandable, but this one wasn't," Cho said.

However, as former Major League Baseball (MLB) umpire Jim Joyce said after blowing Armando Galarraga's near-perfect game over an incorrect call in 2010, "nobody is perfect," and thus it is not all the umpires' fault, especially with useful but underutilized video technology available.

After a series of controversies over the umpires' bad calls, the Korean Volleyball Federation (KOVO) adopted a policy of reviewing a video upon each team's request ― one per game.

The reaction has been more than welcoming.

"We have received obviously less complaints since the launch of the new policy," Lee Jung-im, KOVO's public relations official, told The Korea Times.

"Initially, umpires fiercely opposed the adoption because they thought it was their sole discretion. But now, about a half of the umpires have become positive about it after they realized the policy also gives them an opportunity to minimize wrong calls."

With up-to-date technologies widely available, fans can clearly see when umpires give a wrong call; thus, without a video replay, it is only the umpires ironically who cannot make the right decision, Lee said.

In baseball, the current system allows an instant replay only for a boundary home run and foul calls.

It bears further watching if the firestorm will bring about the same improvement in the nation's most popular sport. And the change is already happening outside Korea.

The MLB seems set for an expansion of video review by umpires in 2014 and is checking whether all calls except for balls and strikes should be subject to instant replay.

Commissioner Bud Selig confirmed the upcoming transition after a quarterly owners' meeting on May 16.

If the KBO is to improve with new stadiums and new marketing strategies in a newly-expanded 10-club league, the officials need to start it by fixing the solvable problem with some cameras and umpires who want to keep the rules rather than their self-esteem.

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