The annual rite of October, the Major League Base­ball post-​​season, has been marked this year by a number of umpiring calls so obvi­ously wrong that they’ve become as much of the story as any­thing the players have done. We asked Richardson Pro­fessor of Law Roger Abrams, an authority on sports law who has served as a scholar-​​in-​​residence at the National Base­ball Hall of Fame and Museum, to call ’em as he sees ’em.

We pre­sume you’ve been watching the games. Do you agree with the sports­writers and broad­casters that the umpiring in these play­offs has been about the worst in memory?
It is always dif­fi­cult to deter­mine “the worst.” Unlike home runs, the record books do not con­tain sta­tis­tics on “worst calls.” On the other hand, the umpiring this post-​​season has been dreadful.

Give us some his­tor­ical per­spec­tive. Have there been umpiring calls in the play­offs or World Series so con­tro­ver­sial or just plain bad that they’ve become part of base­ball his­tory? Assuming there have been, recall one or two for us.
Folks will remember the 1996 blown call involving Jef­frey Maier, the 12-​​year-​​old who reached over the right-​​field fence to inter­fere with New York Yan­kees short­stop Derek Jeter’s fly ball in the first game of the ALCS against the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles. It was ruled a home run, and the Yan­kees went on to win the game.
How­ever, every year there have been some doozies. It is not by chance that in the nine­teenth cen­tury, fans (then called cranks) began to chant, “Kill the umpire!” Frankly, I like the system used in the ear­liest days of the game in the 1850s. Then, each game had only one umpire and when he couldn’t see a play, he would ask the spec­ta­tors for advice.

We know that umpires are chosen to work the play­offs on merit, to ensure that the quality of the umpiring is equal to the quality of the base­ball being played. If these are the best umpires in the majors, what’s going on here? Why all the glar­ingly missed calls?
Although they claim to be infal­lible, umpires are only human. The recent con­tretemps is the result of the latest tech­nology, which allows us to see how wrong the umpires were. They have always been wrong on occa­sion. As my torts stu­dents in the law school know, we can only expect them to act as “rea­son­ably pru­dent umpires.”

Is it true that when umps know they missed a call, they’ll try to even things out by making the next judg­ment call in favor of the other team?
I don’t think this hap­pens in base­ball, although it does happen in basketball.

This has given rise to a great debate over instant replay. Some com­men­ta­tors, and even a few players and coaches, have called for extending it beyond the cur­rent review of home runs. The com­mis­sioner, Bud Selig, is dead set against this. What’s your opinion?
I would like to see instant replay extended to “boundary” issues—whether a ball is fair or foul. It is cur­rently used that way on the out­field boundary to deter­mine whether a hit was actu­ally a home run. I would not like to see it used for balls-​​and-​​strikes or on the bases. In the long run, the calls even out. On the other hand, as econ­o­mist John May­nard Keynes wrote: “In the long run, we are all dead.” That applies to the Red Sox this year—but wait until next year!