Baseball should consider adding another impartial eye to its most important games. Like the NFL, it ought to at least seriously debate the use of instant replays -- on an extremely limited basis -- for the league playoffs and World Series.
Two reasons for replays are their availability, through the networks, and quickness. By the time a manager, who has the lousiest seat in the park, anyway, can scoot out of the dugout to protest a call, every reasonable view of the play has been rerun at least once.
A more compelling reason is that baseball no longer has its best umpires for its showcase events. In settling the umpires' strike during the league championship series last year, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth bargained that away.
All umpires with at least six years of major league experience are eligible for the playoffs. Each must be used sometime during a four-year period.
That's a lousy situation, and has been shown as such -- by instant replays -- in the American League series that ended here last night.
Replays offered strong evidence that close to half a dozen calls were wrong. That's quite a few. On one of the plays that even replays failed to judge conclusively, a man paid to make a decision, right or wrong, all but threw up his arms and said: "Beats the hell out of me."
That was the reaction of the second-base umpire, Ted Hendry, when Toronto center fielder Lloyd Moseby either caught Frank White's liner a half-inch before it hit the turf or a half-inch after in Game 2. Hendry froze, and right field umpire Dave Phillips, who may or may not have had a better angle, ruled trap.
Phillips seems as wise as he is forthright. At first base during Game 6, he called White out on a play that demanded a tag Willie Upshaw never made. Replays showed White should have been safe.
When Kansas City Manager Dick Howser burst toward him, Phillips asked if the home plate umpire, Derryl Cousins, had had a better look.
Yes, he had.
With the safe sign from Cousins, justice prevailed. Still, it seemed as though Cousins would have kept his convictions to himself if Phillips had not asked for help.
If Phillips could defer to his colleague this time, he easily could say to an irate manager in a future playoff: "Hey, you might be right. Let's take 30 steps and 90 seconds to that monitor by the dugout and find out."
Or Phillips could say to Cousins: "You saw it one way, I saw it another. Why don't we get a third opinion?"
Contrary to what your favorite-team prejudices might argue, umpires are not incompetent dregs who would be social outcasts if baseball didn't need foils for Earl Weaver.
Umpires are human, and as such capable of as many errors as, say, the Dodgers infield. Or the umpire in the umpires' fuss with baseball this postseason, Richard Nixon.
Let this be perfectly clear: some umpires are better than others. Phillips and most of the rest of baseball insist otherwise, that all arbitors are equally sharp-eyed and bold.
Besides, the umpires and Ueberroth agreed, a man ought to be ready for one postseason series after six years on the job. Hardly. The New Orleans Saints have been in the NFL 17 years -- and have yet to qualify for a playoff.
The early reaction to the notion of instant replays for baseball has been predictable -- and also curious. The knee-jerk answer is a firm no. Yet everyone embraces instant replays when it serves a purpose on a particular play.
"(Tony) Fernandez initially was safe (on a double to left in the third inning of the sixth game)," Royals second baseman White said. "But then his foot popped off the bag, and onto my forearm. I flipped my glove over on his foot and tagged him out.
"All he (second base umpire Dale Ford) would say right away was: 'Give me the ball; give me the ball.' Then he said: 'Bet you $1,000 his other foot was on the bag at the time.'
"The replay showed the other foot wasn't on the bag at all."
Too much can be made of too little with instant replays. For instance, no replays should be used for balls and strikes, or even judgments by the first- and third-base umpires on whether a batter broke his wrist during a swing.
The prevailing argument against replays was offered by Howser, who said, jokingly: "Look, I know how hard they (the umpires) have it. I ran a baseball school (between managing jobs) and some of it involved umpiring.
"That's why I got back in uniform."
Meanwhile, after long and lively examination, the NFL yesterday rejected replays for its playoffs. But by just three votes.
Had replays been implemented, they only would have been used for possession-type situations -- receptions and fumbles -- and out-of-bounds plays.
NFL experiments in the exhibitions confirmed both the hopes and suspicions of nearly everyone in sport: the officials are right a whole lot more often than wrong.
Of 28 calls that were questioned, only one was reversed (a fumble by Jerry Rice of the 49ers changed to an incomplete pass), 17 were proved right, four were inconclusive and no replay was available on six.
"The game would lose its personality (if replay cameras were the final judgment)," the Royals' Dan Quisenberry said. "It amounts to takeovers, saying an ump didn't get it right, so we should do it over again. That means if I throw a bad pitch, I should get to take it over, too."
No, it doesn't. All it means is that something blatantly wrong -- and obvious instantly -- ought to get rectified.