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Video Vexation

I'm still not sure about this replay review that's in its third season of use in MLB. In this Instagram-Twitter world, I don't ignore that fact that the technology is available to try to make every umpire's decision accurate. Nor am I opposed to tweaking the game to make it better.

But I have questions, ranging from the mundane to the pertinent.

I continue to be amused every time it takes two - not just one - umpires to apply the earphones for contact with the people in New York who make the ultimate decision. I can only assume that this is perpetuated for security purposes. Like what if an umpire is crooked or his ego won't permit his decision to be overturned? Is the second ump listening so that no one can disregard instructions from Review Central? Has it never occurred to Commissioner Rob Manfred that the fellows looking at those screens might also keep observing long enough to make certain that their instructions are followed?

That's the mundane.

Consider that there are almost 300 pitches thrown in a major league game. This is where the vast majority of umpires' decisions are made. Yet there is no mechanism for a player or manager to challenge any of these calls unless he wishes to risk a command to leave the premises. No, the calling of balls and strikes is sacred. The home plate umpire - with the exception of a checked swing - is the lone judge. At the risk of prolonging games, maybe MLB should consider giving a manager a couple of challenges on balls and strikes.

I thought about this Friday night at The Cell as the White Sox lost a 4-1 decision to the World Series champion Kansas City Royals, one of four losses suffered by our athletes last week as they dropped series' to the Royals and Astros. The Sox have now dropped two-of-three in four consecutive series.

The Sox are in the middle of the pack when it comes to striking out. Sixteen teams have struck out more often than the Sox and 13 less frequently. Furthermore, Robin Ventura's crew gets called out on strikes a tick more than 20 percent of the time.

However, on Friday, Royals' pitchers recorded 10 strikeouts, and the statistics were the exact opposite from what they had been in the Sox's first 41 games. Eight Sox hitters were called out looking. I can't say for sure because the video boards at the ballpark wouldn't dare screen a replay of a called strike three, but I suspect - judging from a fairly large sample - that some of those third strikes weren't strikes at all.

Apparently Adam Eaton, who was called out by home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt, an 18-year veteran, to end the game, agrees with me because he was so incensed that he had to be restrained by Ventura when he charged Wendelstedt to inform him in no uncertain terms exactly how he felt about the guy's judgement.

In one of the more bizarre responses in history, Wendelstedt kicked Eaton out of a game that had already ended. Talk about judgement! At least we have the answer to a trivia question that will live a lot longer than any of us.

(Note: Sox pitchers fanned seven Royals on Friday, all on swinging strike threes. Not one Royal was called out on strikes. Ten times Royals' hitters had two strikes in the count without being called out later in the at-bat. This is what happens when a team - I'm talking about the White Sox - can't buy a win.)

Jose Quintana was sailing along through five innings, pitching as effectively as he has at any time this season. However, the Royals slashed three doubles and two singles in the sixth to take a 3-1 lead.

In the bottom of the inning, with Luke Hochevar pitching for Kansas City, Avisail Garcia was called out on a 2-2 pitch before Alex Avila walked on a full count. Austin Jackson followed by also being called out on strikes by Wendelstedt to end the inning.

Hochevar has great control. In his previous seven appearances, he hadn't walked anyone. Possibly he didn't have his best command on Friday. Let's say that Wendelstedt blew the call on Garcia, creating a full count. In his career, Garcia has fanned about 45 percent of the time when he faces a 2-2 count. With a full count, the percentage predictably goes down to 24 percent. Garcia reaches base almost half the time with a 3-2 count. So if Wendelstedt erred on the call, Garcia's chances of reaching base would have increased by about half.

A similar situation occurred in the third inning with two out. Todd Frazier reached on an error, and Melky Cabrera followed with a hit to bring Brett Lawrie to the plate. Wendelstedt called him out on another 2-2 count. Lawrie's on-base percentage increases to .453 with a full count versus .175 on 2-2. He's a .272 hitter on full counts, but, of course, the at-bat never got that far.

Having been at the game, I still don't know whether the Sox simply were helpless with two strikes - in which case Wendelstedt would have been supported by video replay - or whether the ump took the bats out of their hands. I do know that after paying for a ticket, parking, and a beer (well, actually my pal Tom bought the beer), I was out a hundred bucks. Had I stayed home and watched on TV, I would have known right away whether the calls were accurate. I haven't audited my cable bill recently, but I know one thing: a Sox telecast doesn't cost $100.

It's as though fans in the park are penalized by not enjoying the same video accoutrements as the people viewing at home. While Hawk Harrelson frequently critiques an umpire's performance often using PitchTrax to back up his criticism, not one called strike three is replayed at the ballpark. If a Sox player makes an error or gets picked off first base, there's no way the paying spectators will ever see it again.

The perks the fans at The Cell do receive include a group of perky 20-somethings throwing cheap t-shirts to the crowd twice a game similar to zookeepers tempting seals with dead fish.

Meanwhile, the new videoboards at The Cell are huge and impressive. However, aside from a lack of replays, the information disclosed is at best inadequate. Few people keep score anymore, so it's helpful if fans can see what a hitter has done in his previous appearances. The Sox post that information in left field but only briefly as the screen switches to an ad or the Sox logo before the hitter either is retired or reaches base. We find out what a hitter is batting against left- or right-handed pitching, but information and replays of the game on the field is sketchy.

Can it be that the folks operating the boards don't know much about baseball? They seem more focused on the music, showing snapshots of fans, and in non-baseball entertainment. Maybe they have determined that this is what people want.

As far as what's happening during the game in progress, you learn far more by staying home. Maybe Sox personnel should travel to a game at Wrigley Field, where every play is replayed on the videoboard for the fans in attendance, and balls and strikes are posted at lightning-fast speed.

Clearly I must be in the minority since the weekend series against the Royals drew an average of 28,726 fans who saw the Sox score a total of only five runs in the three games. Quintana was joined by starters Miguel Gonzalez on Saturday and Carlos Rodon on Sunday for a trio of solid performances. In Sunday's 3-2 victory, giving the Sox a 26-18 season record, the bullpen of Matt Albers, Zach Duke, Nate Jones and David Robertson retired the final seven Royals to preserve the win.

Until Frazier, who was 0-for-8 in the two previous games, hit a game-tying home run on Sunday, and Cabrera's clutch two-out, two-run hit in the fifth inning, the Sox could muster little offense during the week. The biggest culprit has been Jose Abreu, who sat on the bench Sunday after going a combined 4-for-20 in the Astros and Royals series'.

Abreu had a chance to win the game last Tuesday in a 5-3, 11-inning loss to Houston. With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and runners at first and third, Jose grounded out to send the game into overtime. In Saturday's 2-1 loss, the big guy hit into a double-play with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh inning.

The Sox closest pursuer, the Cleveland Indians, invade The Cell at 4 p.m. Monday for a doubleheader before single games Tuesday and Wednesday. Then it's on to Kansas City for four games to complete a week that will tell whether the Sox are legitimate contenders or simply fast starters.

It will take a refreshed and efficient Abreu and continued production from Frazier and Cabrera - along with pitching like the Sox enjoyed over the weekend - to fight off challenges from the Indians and Royals. All that and not leaving it up to the plate umpire to call "Strike Three!" without a challenge.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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