Jeff’s Crusade Prevails: Major League Baseball To Adopt Instant Replay In 2014

24 Aug

“Silver lining from this debacle: MLB will expand its use of instant replay.  It has to.  History shouldn’t be altered the way that it was tonight, and the least we can do is learn from our mistakes.  Our country’s history is replete with examples of this.  People have made some egregious decisions in our country’s past—some infinitely worse than what Joyce did—but for the most part, we’ve been able to overcome them and have progressed as a society.

Now it’s time for one of those progressions.  Joyce’s flagrant error has scarred our country’s pastime, in plain view for all of us to see.  The ‘purists’—those who love talking about the necessity of preserving the game’s ‘human element’—must fade into the background.  We need to do everything in our power to increase the accuracy of calls in professional sports.  Expanding instant replay in MLB would lead us on the right path (frankly, I think replay should be heavily expanded into basketball as well since NBA refs suck so much, but out of respect to Galarraga I’ll keep my focus here on baseball).”

–Jeff Klein, “A Dream Denied: Galarraga’s Perfect Game Ruined by Umpire”, Talkin’ Sports Blog, June 2, 2010 (http://jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com/2010/06/dream-denied-galarragas-perfect-game.html)

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On August 15th, 2013, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig announced that the league would adopt broad use of instant replay beginning next season.

Of course he did.

It was only a matter of time before the crusade for which Jeff was a pioneering leader would achieve its objective–convincing Major League Baseball to adopt instant replay to review close calls.  Jeff began his quest in earnest in October of  2007 in classic Jeff Klein fashion, and from there he was relentless in his pursuit of the goal.

In the early morning hours of October 2nd, 2007, we were awakened by what all parents dread: the after midnight ringing of a land line phone when one or more of your children are not home.  Jeff was in London for his semester abroad.  It was probably 2AM Eastern Time, which was 7AM in London.  But after being awakened from a deep sleep, I barely knew where I was much less what time it was.  All I could think as I reached for the phone was that something terrible had happened to Jeff.

“DAD, DID YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PADRES-ROCKIES SUDDEN DEATH PLAYOFF GAME?”, my clearly outraged son screamed into my ears.

Well, he sure sounded alive and well, albeit extremely angry.

“No, Jeff, did you not realize I’ve been asleep for three hours?  But now that you woke me up in the middle of the night, it better be good.”

The Padres and Rockies had finished the 2007 season with identical records after 162 games and thus had to play a one game sudden death playoff to see who would get the National League wildcard berth.  In an alltime classic game, the Padres took a 2 run lead in the top of the 13th inning only to have the Rockies rally in the bottom of the 13th to tie it up.  Then, on the game deciding play, the Rockies’ Matt Holliday tagged up from third and barreled into the Padres catcher as he tried to score the winning run.  Umpire Tim McClelland called Holliday safe, though replays clearly indicated otherwise.  The Rockies began their celebration.  Jeff began his crusade for instant replay.

By this point, I was completely startled and awake, and so to this day, it is easy to remember his final words during this brief 2AM one-sided conversation:

“I will not rest until they start using instant replay.  These blown calls are ruining the game.”

At that moment I knew I wouldn’t rest either, much less get back to sleep, and I started to regret buying him a subscription to MLB-TV so he could watch the pennant races and playoffs on his computer while in London.  But that is who my Jeff was, and I absolutely loved his passion.  He certainly was never a rebel without a cause, and as a result, there was never a dull moment in our household.

After that 2007 season, Jeff got serious about this particular cause.  He wrote letters to the MLB, found email addresses of MLB officials and sent emails outlining his arguments for instant replay and one day, he even called the MLB office and demanded to speak to Bud Selig!  Fortunately for Bud, his administrative assistants didn’t put Jeff’s call through to him.  For the next three years, after any terrible call, he’d talk to anyone who would listen about this major flaw in baseball.  And in 2010, it was time to blog.

The beautiful thing about internet blogs is that, barring some sort of catastrophic event that might destroy the world’s information superhighway, they are forever.  And while I am sure that I’m the only person who still visits Jeff’s “Talkin’ Sports” blog—I do so at least once a week—it is a wonderful way for me to go back in time and literally feel Jeff’s passion for sports in every word of every sentence that he wrote.

Another beautiful thing is that the blogger’s words are memorialized in the record, and in Jeff’s case, that just means that it is easy to look back and see that, once again, he was right.  Over three years ago, he called in writing for instant replay to be adopted by Major League Baseball in order to improve a sport he loved, and through his writing, he continued his crusade to get it done.  And at long last, on August 15th, 2013 Bud Selig caved to the movement that Jeff began.  He finally submitted a proposal, which the owners and the players’ association need to approve, that calls for instant replay to be utilized starting next season.

But what strikes me more than anything is how the issues that Jeff so passionately blogged about in 2010, just months before his passion was ripped from him by his terrible job situation and then by misprescribed medication, remain extremely relevant today and how Jeff’s strong opinions continue to be validated nearly three years after his death.  The recent announcement by Major League Baseball is the latest example.  As with most issues, Jeff was way ahead of the curve on this one and called loudly for this change nearly six years ago.  Not only that, but Jeff was also specifically in favor of giving managers “challenges” , which is part of MLB’s new proposal.  Jeff wrote in his June 2nd, 2010 post:

“I like the idea ESPN writer Jayson Stark proposed: keep the home run replay system as is, expand it to all fair-or-foul plays, and give each team one challenge to use throughout the course of the game.  The thinking behind the latter idea is that teams will be inclined to save their challenge for later in a game when it matters most, thus mitigating the potentially devastating effect of a blown call that decides the outcome of a game.”

While Commissioner Bud Selig’s proposal is even more generous in that it grants managers three challenges instead of one, the way he structured it specifically addresses Jeff’s point about having teams save their challenges for later in games.  The way it works is that teams will have one challenge to use in the first six innings and then two more that can only be used from the seventh inning on.  Jeff would have hugely supported this construct.

The event that elevated Jeff’s ire to peak levels was umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call in the June 2010 game between the Tigers and the Indians which cost pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game and a place in baseball history.  Joyce called the Indians’ James Donald safe at first even though replays showed that he was clearly out.  Jeff’s bellows were so loud when it happened that I am surprised trees didn’t topple throughout Westchester County.   How did Jeff characterize the call in his June 2nd post?

“Terrible. Embarrassing. Shameful. Egregious. Call it what you want.”

The day after it happened, Jeff went out and bought the New York Post, as he knew that the paper famed for its outrageous headlines would appropriately capture the egregiousness of the moment.  He was overjoyed to see that it did: the headline was “Perfect Crime”.  Jeff tore off that back page and tacked it to his bedroom wall, where it remains today.

Perfect Crime headline

For Jeff, blogging about sports was the perfect way to express his intense fandom.  He was the most knowledgeable guy out there, he was deeply passionate about all sports and he had extremely strong views that he was always prepared to defend.  I was honored to be the recipient of his classic email which was written at the moment he decided to start the blog.  I know I’ve shared this one several times before, but as it may be my all-time favorite, I share it again.  This email conveys the sense that he wasn’t just planning to blog for himself, but rather he was going to blog on behalf of enraged sports fans around the world against all injustice.

Jeff starting a blog email

Bud Selig’s announcement on August 15th about instant replay is full of irony.  Jeff was merciless in his criticism of Selig in the aftermath of the Perfect Crime committed against Galarraga.  He was enraged that Selig refused to make the bold move of overturning the call and awarding Galarraga an official perfect game.  Jeff’s words in his next blog post, on June 3rd, 2010, entitled “Bud Selig Strikes Out…Again”  (http://jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com/2010/06/bud-selig-strikes-outagain.html) left nothing to the imagination:

“Bud Selig announced today that he will not overturn the call that ruined Armando Galarraga’s perfect game last night, which adds another layer of incompetence to his inept regime as commissioner of MLB…This was a unique situation that should have been dealt with in a unique manner.  A pitcher got robbed last night on the final out of the game.  Galarraga knew it.  Joyce knew it.  Selig knew it.  All the commissioner had to do was invoke the power that he had and overturn the call…It was the logical and correct decision.  Too logical, I guess, for clueless Bud.”

Jeff concluded his rant and that post by writing:

He had the ball in his court—a clear opportunity to right the wrong, to extricate the league from this quagmire.  But instead, Selig struck out…again.  What a coward.”

But now, as he parties in Heaven in celebration of MLB’s decision to acquiesce to the inevitable, I think Jeff would acknowledge that the Commissioner at least had the courage to change his position as the pressure mounted.  This landmark moment is a classic double-edged sword for me.  The good edge fills me with both a warm feeling of victory on Jeff’s behalf and with pride in the passion that he displayed in regard to so many things during his life.  I think about his successful and energetic efforts to get Obama elected and about his determination to get David Stern to step down as NBA commissioner, both of which ultimately happened.  I’m just so proud of him.

But the cruel edge of the sword stabs me in the heart with a reminder of how much more Jeff could have accomplished in the course of a normal lifespan and just how incredibly far his passion could have taken him.  My befuddlement over how quickly it all came crashing down for Jeff will never go away.  From July 8th to September 24th of 2010, Jeff’s blog went silent, and to use one of his own favorite phrases, the silence was deafening.  His struggles began in late July, and I spent over two months pleading with him to blog again and to find his spirit again.  Finally, on September 24th, I received the email that I had been praying for:

DSC02881

He sent his new blog post link to Carey, me, Drew and Brett, signifying that he was excited for all of us to read it.  It was a vintage Jeff tirade against the dictatorial policies of David Stern.  My son was back, or so I thought.  But in the end, it turned out to be a mirage, and in retrospect, I believe that if I hadn’t pushed him, he never would have written it.   It was his last post.

On opening day of the 2014 MLB season, there will almost certainly be a game in which a disputed call is overturned as a result of a manager’s challenge.  It will be an historic moment in our national pastime.  Though Jeff will not be here to see it, his imprint on the moment will be palpable to everyone who knows and loves him.  The best that I can hope for is that when each of you either sees it live, reads about it the next day or hears it on the news, you’ll think of Jeff and the 2AM phone call from London that started his quest for justice in baseball.  And if you do, it’s fair to say that my son’s passionate efforts will certainly not have been in vain.

-Rich Klein

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