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HD Forcing Umpires to Drop Bad Habits

The highly defined images that 1080i and 720p transmissions now offer seem to be having a positive effect on perhaps breaking some bad habits on the part of the national pastime's umpires, at least according to The New York Times.

It's not coming merely in the form of HD instant replays (now allowed in the game after many years of resistance)—at least not completely, although some umps have reversed a few of their calls already this season. The biggest change, according to some longtime observers, is on the part of the seemingly traditional (and just a bit lazy) approach that a lot of umps apparently have over the years: namely that if the ball reaches the bag before a player in a tag-out attempt (especially if the crowd thinks it's an out), a lot of umps have always typically gone with the flow and called it an out.

But longtime observers know that a lot of base runners are not actually tagged out prior to reaching base, and often not technically tagged out at all. Double-play outs at second base also are notorious for an infielder's failure to touch the bag in a force-out at the same time the ball is actually in his glove.

This rather populist approach by some umps to call 'em they way the crowd sees it was most recently dramatized in late June when New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter was called out for attempting to steal third when it was obvious to a lot of HD viewers at home that he was not tagged by the third baseman. Jeter, who rarely ever gets into disputes with umpires, said after the game the ump told him he called him out simply because the ball beat him to the bag (even though technically he had to be tagged; it was not a force-out play).

The umpiring crew chief later told reporters he's trying to make it clear to his fellow umps that getting the call right is more important than ever in a world where virtually every play of every game in the majors is now usually captured in HD for re-play. One longtime major league scorekeeper told the Times he thinks "SportsCenter" on ESPN (and ESPN HD) began to change the way umpires made decisions (and for the better) several years ago.